October 22, 2021

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‘We Will Not Forgive,’ Biden Says, Vowing Retaliation for Kabul Attack

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‘We Will Hunt You Down,’ Biden Vows After Kabul Explosions

President Biden condemned a terrorist attack near the Kabul airport that killed scores of people, including at least 13 American service members, pledging to retaliate against the attackers and continue evacuations.

To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. These American service members who gave their lives — that’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate here — were heroes. Heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others. They’re a part of an airlift and evacuation effort, unlike any seen in history. We will not be deterred by terrorists. We’ll not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation. I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing. Here’s what you need to know: These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans in there. We will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.

President Biden condemned a terrorist attack near the Kabul airport that killed scores of people, including at least 13 American service members, pledging to retaliate against the attackers and continue evacuations.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden on Thursday denounced a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport that killed at least 13 American service members and injured 18 more, saying that the frantic evacuation of U.S. citizens and allies from Afghanistan will continue even as he pledged to hunt down those responsible for the attacks.

Mr. Biden spoke after the U.S. military sustained one of its highest single-day American tolls during its 20-year Afghanistan campaign.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive,” the president said. “We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

The bombs were set off near a crowd of families at the airport gates who were desperately hoping to make one of the last evacuation flights out. Gunfire was reported in the aftermath of the explosions.

Mr. Biden said he had asked his commanders to find ways to target ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks earlier in the day on behalf of its loyalists in Afghanistan.

He vowed the United States would respond with force at “a moment of our choosing,” echoing President Bush’s remarks days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others; it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing,” Mr. Bush said, weeks before the U.S. military began fighting in Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden spoke from the East Room of the White House shortly after the Pentagon confirmed the deaths of the American service members in what officials said were suicide bomber attacks.

“These American service members who gave their lives,” Mr. Biden said, were “heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.”

He called Thursday “a tough day” and pledged that the United States would uphold its “sacred obligation” to the families of the fallen.

The night before the attack, a senior U.S. official warned of a “specific” and “credible” threat at the airport by an affiliate of the Islamic State — the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K — and Western governments began urging people to leave the area.

Even with such a specific warning, military officials said, it would be very difficult to pick out a suicide bomber with a concealed explosive vest in a huge throng of people, like that at the airport.

The troops who died Thursday were the first American service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020. For the U.S. military, it was a day with more deaths than any other since 2011.

Those deaths were just the kind of military loss Mr. Biden has repeatedly said he was trying to avoid by ending America’s 20-year war in the country.

Acting against the advice of his generals and overruling some of his top foreign policy advisers, Mr. Biden made the decision in April that he could not ask more American troops — or their families — to sacrifice themselves for a war that he no longer believed was in the best interests of the United States or its allies.

The president has said that he did not want to call the parents of another Marine, soldier or airman killed in action in Afghanistan.

But the rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban caught the administration off-guard and set in motion a chaotic evacuation in which 6,000 American troops attempted to secure the Kabul airport against the Taliban and terror groups. Earlier this week, Mr. Biden rejected calls from lawmakers, activists and other world leaders to extend the American presence at the airport past Aug. 31, citing the potential for terrorist attacks.

Last Friday, as he pledged to evacuate all Americans and Afghan allies who wanted to leave the country, Mr. Biden vowed that “any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with a swift and forceful response.”

It was unclear on Thursday whether a military response of any kind was already in the works, or whether the U.S. troops on the ground had the capacity to strike back while also securing the airport.

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The Pentagon said at least 13 U.S. service members were killed and 15 wounded in the attack near an airport gate on Thursday. Scores of Afghan civilians were killed and wounded.CreditCredit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Two suicide bombers struck a packed crowd outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, killing 13 American service members and scores of Afghan civilians, officials said.

“Today is a hard day,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the United States Central Command. And he warned that the danger was not over.

“We have other active threats against the airfield,” General McKenzie told reporters at a news conference in Washington.

The Islamic State released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

The American death toll was confirmed by General McKenzie. He said that 15 other service members were wounded.

President Biden and other U.S. officials insisted that the carnage and continued danger would not halt the American-led airlift that, after a belated and rocky start, has ferried more than 100,000 people out of Afghanistan in the last two weeks. Many of those were Afghans who had worked with NATO forces and their families, and who feared Taliban reprisals and hoped to start new lives in other parts of the world.

“We will not be dissuaded from the task at hand,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement. “To do anything less — especially now — would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan.”

Estimates of the total dead and wounded differed, and were rising quickly as different hospitals and officials reported in.

The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, condemned the attack, and said that at least 13 civilians had been killed and 60 wounded.

In one part of one hospital alone, a New York Times journalist saw dozens of people who were killed or severely wounded.

As the day drew to a close, the Taliban tried to reassure jittery Afghans that the blasts punctuating the evening air were not more attacks but the U.S. military destroying its equipment as it prepared to withdraw.

Since the Taliban takeover earlier this month, thousands of Afghan civilians and foreign citizens have gathered at the gates of the airport, which has a military and civilian side, desperate to be airlifted out of the country. At times, the area has descended into chaos as people scrambled toward evacuation flights.

Two U.S. military officials said evacuation flights were continuing, though it was not clear whether any gates at the airport were open.

Most of the bombing victims were Afghan civilians, including families with small children, who had thronged the airport hoping to get precious space on one of the departing military transports. One blast detonated at the Abbey Gate on the southeast perimeter of the airport, and the other near the Baron Hotel a few hundred feet away.

U.S. military officials at the airport said that given the speed and confusion surrounding the entire evacuation, an attack was never a matter of if but when. The U.S. Marines guarding Abbey Gate had been briefed on the potential of a suicide bomber striking near their position, but continued processing those trying to gain entry.

One Afghan, Barat, who had traveled to the airport with his cousin to show documents to foreign soldiers, said he was about 30 feet away from one of the blasts.

“The crowd was packed and people were pushing,” he said. “I tripped — and that’s when the explosion happened. I think four or five soldiers were hit.”

Then chaos.

“We fell to the ground and the foreign soldiers started shooting,” Barat said. “There were bodies everywhere, people were running.”

Fahim, a shopkeeper from Kunduz Province, came to Kabul two weeks ago in an attempt to leave the country, and was outside the airport when he witnessed what he described as “two big explosions” nearby. “People were fleeing and the Taliban forced us to leave the area,” he said.

“Americans were firing to disperse people,” Fahim said.

Elsewhere in the city, sporadic gunfire and alarms could be heard from the airport.

General McKenzie said it appeared that a suicide bomber, most likely wearing a concealed explosives vest, had made it through the checkpoints outside the airport, many of them run by Taliban soldiers, who are supposed to detect such attackers. He said he had no reason to believe that the Taliban, who are eager for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible, knowingly let the bomber through.

The chief Taliban spokesman, however, made a point of saying that the attack took place in an area where American forces controlled security.

Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper, Megan Specia, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Victor J. Blue, Fatima Faizi, Najim Rahim, Fahim Abed and Sharif Hassan contributed reporting.

Victims of an attack at Kabul airport arriving at an emergency hospital.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

For more than a week, the roadways outside the Kabul airport had been a scene of desperation and chaos, but in a single instant Thursday, unspeakably bad somehow found a way to become even worse.

At least two blasts tore through crowds of people trying to flee Afghanistan, killing dozens and wounding well over a hundred others, including U.S. service members.

The explosions happened at Abbey Gate, one of Hamid Karzai International Airport’s main entries, and the Baron Hotel, which boasts “the most secured lodging arrangement in Kabul” on its website.

After the explosion at Abbey Gate, sounds of gunfire and sirens could be heard.

Taliban fighters, wearing a medley of uniforms, brandished lengths of pipe and cables in an attempt to clear the crowds that had gathered earlier to try to enter the airport.

“There was an explosion against the Americans, a bunch of people were killed, civilians and military,” said one Taliban fighter at the gate, who declined to give his name. “The situation is out of control. There’s a lot of dead people on the ground there.”

The Taliban condemned the attack, and U.S. officials said they believed the organization was not behind it, given its desire to maintain an orderly evacuation. Officials this week warned about potential attacks by a Taliban rival, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the terrorist group’s affiliate in Afghanistan.

A number of U.S. service members were among the dead, and others were being treated for wounds, the Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a statement. They appeared to be the first American service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates” of those killed, Mr. Kirby said.

Estimates of the number of casualties varied. But video posted on Twitter after the explosions appeared to show bloodied bodies piled on a sidewalk and floating in a canal near the entrance to the airport.

At one emergency hospital, ambulance after ambulance could be seen arriving under the glare of floodlights and the eyes of an anxious crowd, some of them children.

A journalist and former government worker wept as she described how she had received a call from a taxi driver, informing her that her husband was among the wounded.

“I begged him not to go, but he went this morning with his government I.D. card to try to show the foreigners,” she said. “We have four children. What will happen to us now?”

Seth Eden, a former U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who worked for years in Afghanistan, said he had been helping an Afghan friend, a former deputy minister, try to get out of the country. His friend was told to go to the Abbey Gate to get into the airport.

But when the former minister arrived with his family on Thursday, the gate was closed.

Mr. Eden got on the phone with the Marines guarding it, who had been warned of a possible attack, and persuaded them to let his friend in. Two minutes after the former minister and his family were let through, a bomb went off.

“It is a really, really bad situation right now,” said Mr. Eden, who has worked over the last two weeks to get some 100 former colleagues and family members through the American bureaucracy and on the airport.

The coffin of Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter was carried to a waiting car at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver in August 2011. He was among the 30 servicemen who died when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.
Credit…Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post, via Associated Press

Just three months after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. military endured its biggest single-day loss of life during its two-decade war in Afghanistan. On Aug. 6, 2011, insurgents shot down a transport helicopter, killing 30 Americans and eight Afghans.

The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack, had found an elite target: U.S. officials said that 22 of the dead were Navy Seal commandos, including members of Seal Team 6. Other commandos from that team had conducted the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Bin Laden in May of that year.

The helicopter, on a night-raid mission in the Tangi Valley of Wardak Province, to the west of Kabul, was most likely brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade, an official said then. It was the second helicopter to be shot down by insurgents within two weeks.

The deadly attack, which came during a surge of violence that accompanied the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, showed how deeply entrenched the insurgency remained even far from its main strongholds in southern Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the east.

The Tangi Valley traverses the border between Wardak and Logar Province, an area where security worsened over the years and brought the insurgency closer to the capital, Kabul. It was one of several inaccessible areas that became havens for insurgents.

President Barack Obama offered his condolences at the time to the families of the Americans and Afghans who died in the attack. “Their death is a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice made by the men and women of our military and their families,” he said.

President Biden echoed Mr. Obama’s words after an attack by Islamic State Khorasan killed 13 U.S. service members.

“The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security and the service of others,” Mr. Biden said.

Outside Kabul’s airport on Wednesday. ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, has been identified as the biggest immediate threat to the Americans and the Taliban during the evacuation.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

DOHA, Qatar — With the Taliban’s return to power after two decades underground, counterterroism experts have feared that Afghanistan will become a fertile environment for terrorist groups, notably Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Driving home that threat on Thursday were two explosions near the Kabul airport that killed dozens of people and injured scores of others, just hours after U.S. officials had warned of just such a scenario.

The warnings had cited threats from the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State, the jihadist organization that once ruled large swaths of Syria and Iraq and created franchises in other countries in an effort to globalize its violent ideology.

By day’s end, the Islamic State had released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack on behalf of its loyalists in Afghanistan, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K.

Both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda remain a potent threat in the country, terrorism experts say, despite having their numbers ground down by years of military action by the United States and a range of partners.

Yet the two are bitter rivals and operate in different ways.

Al Qaeda has changed substantially since Osama bin Laden oversaw the organization and plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the years since, the stature of its central leadership has declined while local militant groups in Syria, Iraq, West Africa and parts of Asia have adapted, sometimes jettisoning Al Qaeda ideology in pursuit of local goals.

The Islamic State, which itself defected from Al Qaeda, has maintained a more centralized leadership, with its local branches maintaining not just the ideology of the original organization, but also strong operational links to it.

That difference has allowed the Islamic State to maintain unity in a way that Al Qaeda has not, said Hassan Hassan, the co-author of a book about the Islamic State and the editor-in-chief of Newlines Magazine.

For Al Qaeda, “it’s like opening a Domino’s franchise and you send someone out for quality control,” he said.

The Islamic State, on the other hand, would “take it one step further and appoint a manager from the original organization,” he said.

In Afghanistan, Al Qaeda is still believed to operate under the umbrella of the Taliban, who vowed in an agreement last year with the Trump administration not to allow the group to use Afghan territory to attack the United States.

How closely the Taliban will respect that commitment remains an open question — but the Islamic State, which has condemned the Taliban as not hard line enough, has no such constraints.

That could leave it better positioned to exploit the chaos surrounding the Aug. 31 deadline for the United States’ withdrawal and the transition from a United States-backed government to the Taliban.

“The changeover from one security force to another, by default, provides an opportunity for ISIS,” Mr. Hassan said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

American citizens boarded a plane in Kuwait during the airlift last week.
Credit…U.S. Embassyi Kuwait, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Most of the estimated 1,500 U.S. citizens who officials believed were still in Afghanistan had either left the country as of Thursday or were preparing to evacuate, the State Department said in a statement.

An additional 500 people have come forward over the last day, claiming to be Americans, and are now being vetted to verify their citizenship, the statement said.

A State Department analysis had identified around 6,000 American citizens who were living in Afghanistan as of Aug. 14, shortly before the Taliban seized power. By Wednesday, about 4,500 of them had been evacuated in an airlift of U.S. military and government charter planes from the international airport in Kabul.

Another 500 American citizens were flown out as of Thursday afternoon, the statement said. It said that U.S. officials were in contact with most of the rest of the remaining 1,000 — and that about two-thirds wanted to leave.

Nearly all of the people whom the Biden administration has sought to track down over the past week — in tens of thousands of emails, phone calls and text messages — are dual citizens of the United States and Afghanistan.

Dozens of them have signaled they do not want to leave, for “a range of reasons,” the statement said. That all but certainly includes Americans who do not want to leave behind Afghan relatives who do not qualify for a U.S. visa, former U.S. officials have said.

At the same time, about 500 people have reached out over the last 24 hours, identifying themselves as U.S. citizens and asking for help to evacuate.

“Based on our experience, many of these will not turn out to be U.S. citizens in need of our assistance,” the State Department statement said. It said the shifting numbers of Americans in Afghanistan “speak to the realities” of the fast-moving situation in Kabul as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw by Aug. 31.

Senior Democrats and Republicans in Congress have demanded that President Biden delay the deadline until all Americans, as well as Afghan allies who worked for the 20-year U.S. mission, in Afghanistan are evacuated.

Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, who retired from the military in 2008, and his wife, Jan, at a displaced persons camp in Kabul in March 2010.
Credit…Mahboob Shah

Since the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15, Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, a retired Air Force officer, and his wife, Jan, have spent nearly every waking moment submitting reams of paperwork to various government agencies to help about 500 Afghans trying to evacuate the country.

So far, only one family they have helped has made it out.

“Nothing is working,” Ms. Bradley said on Thursday. “It’s a broken system, and it’s heartbreaking.”

The couple’s frustrations reflect the broader challenges facing those who once helped Americans and those who are now in turn trying to help those people. With President Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline fast approaching, many Afghans are desperate to get out.

In 2008 the Bradleys founded the Lamia Afghan Foundation, a nonprofit group, to help people in Afghanistan. Necessity has turned it into an impromptu refugee resettlement organization.

General Bradley served in the Air Force for more than four decades before he started the foundation, which he said had built seven schools for girls and distributed 3.5 million pounds of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. The foundation is named for a young woman whom General Bradley met near Bagram Air Base while he was still in the service.

“I think she’s under threat because her name’s on our foundation,” General Bradley said.

Lamia’s family is still in Afghanistan and is one of many that the Bradleys are trying to help.

That is never easy on the best of days, and Thursday was not the best of days, especially in Kabul.

In the morning, General Bradley got a phone call from a young Afghan American woman in Virginia whose family had been working with the foundation. She told him her brother had gone to the Kabul airport with his wife and three children that day to try to secure a flight out of the country, even though they had not yet been approved for one.

The Bradleys had submitted paperwork to the Defense Department to request a noncombatant evacuation for the family. They also provided the young Afghan man with copies of General Bradley’s redacted passport and driver’s license, as well as a letter on his military letterhead to present to guards at the airport.

On Thursday, the whole family was standing near the Abbey Gate, a main entry to the international airport, when an explosion tore through the crowd. Dozens were killed and many more wounded in the terrorist attack.

The young woman, who declined to be interviewed, initially thought that most of her brother’s family had been killed, the Bradleys said.

But over the course of the day, and with the couple’s help, she learned that her brother and his wife had initially survived the blast. By Thursday night in the United States, however, the wife had died in the hospital and the family had not found their two younger children.

“We don’t know anything on their status: whether they are hurt, killed or someone took them away to help them,” General Bradley said.

General Bradley said he hoped that his charity could resume something close to normal operations once conditions on the ground calm down. And he said he would keep up his efforts to get people out, hopeless as it often feels.

He also said he understood the United States’ rationale for leaving Afghanistan, but took issue with the way the Biden administration has carried it out.

“I don’t know why it wasn’t started earlier,” General Bradley said of the evacuation. “That’s the baffling thing to me, and I’d love to have an answer someday on that.”

Sayed, right, was reunited with his wife, Kebria, and 6-month-old son, Mustafa, after they were released from the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va., following their evacuation from Afghanistan.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Hours after the deadly explosion outside the Kabul airport on Thursday, people were gathered at another airport back in the United States, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their loved ones from Afghanistan.

Many expressed grief over the attack, which killed at least 13 U.S. service members and scores more, and wondered what would happen to their relatives trapped in Afghanistan.

Baryalai, 31, drove six hours from Brooklyn to Northern Virginia to help a friend pick up his wife and three children at Dulles International Airport. The two men arrived at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday and were still waiting for the family to be released from the processing center at 2 p.m.

Baryalai said he was “heartbroken” over the bombing and worried about his mother and brother, who are stuck in Afghanistan.

“They are home. I cannot send them to the airport because it’s so bad,” he said. “I cannot take the risk.”

Joe, a 35-year-old hospitality worker who lives in Prince William County, Va., arrived at Dulles on Wednesday morning to pick up his wife and two daughters, who were returning from a visiting to Afghanistan for a wedding that was scheduled for Aug. 15, the day the Taliban took control of Kabul.

He was still waiting on Thursday evening after spending the night sitting in a cafe and wandering around the airport. Although they had landed the day before at 4:30 p.m., they were not able to get off the tarmac until 8 a.m. on Thursday.

Joe said that the attack was devastating but that he was not surprised it had occurred.

“The writing was on the wall,” he said. “They’ve pretty much been announcing it, that threats have been active and present.”

Holding a bouquet of roses and two balloons, Joe said that he was relieved to get his wife and children out before the attack, but that he was worried about his wife’s two sisters, who had not yet decided whether to risk their lives trying to get into the airport.

“They still haven’t left the house,” he said. “They’re ready to leave, but they can’t.”

People waiting to gain access to the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Several nations announced on Thursday that they were halting their evacuations from the Kabul airport, as governments around the world gave dire warnings about threats to the crowds gathered there in an attempt to flee Afghanistan.

By nightfall, at least two explosions struck the area: one at the Abbey Gate and another by the nearby Baron Hotel. A Pentagon spokesman said the blasts were “a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties.”

Even before the blasts, world leaders were deciding they could no longer assist the evacuations. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all said that they would no longer be able to facilitate airlifts from Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has both civilian and military sections.

“We stayed in Afghanistan as long as we could,” Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s acting chief of the defense staff, told a news conference on Thursday. “We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave. That we could not is truly heartbreaking.”

General Eyre said Canada had airlifted about 3,700 people out of Afghanistan on a combination of military flights and planes of allied nations. The exact number of Canadians, permanent residents and others assisted by the Canadian military was not immediately clear, nor was the number of people left behind.

After warnings of suicide attacks in the vicinity of the airport, Belgium decided to end its evacuation flights from Kabul on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Thursday morning.

“On Wednesday, during the day, the situation quickly got worse,” Mr. De Croo said. “We learned that there was a threat of suicide-bomb attacks in the vicinity of the airport and in the crowds. We also saw that access to the airport gates became more difficult and even impossible as a result.”

Defense officials from the Netherlands and Denmark made similar calculations. Before the explosions on Thursday, Britain urged people trying to flee Afghanistan to head for international land borders, like those with Pakistan or Iran, and to avoid the Kabul airport.

“We couldn’t do anything but change the travel advice last night to advise people against moving to Kabul airport and if they are at the airport to move away to a place of safety,” James Heappey, the armed forces minister, said in an interview with LBC Radio.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr. Heappey said that Britain had evacuated just fewer than 2,000 people in the previous 24 hours but said that perhaps a further 1,000 of those it wants to extract remained inside the country.

Evacuations had continued through the increasing alarm about security. White House officials said early on Thursday that 13,400 people had been evacuated from the Kabul airport in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total since the Taliban retook the city to 95,700.

The Pentagon vowed that the U.S. civilian airlift would continue, with a spokesman, John F. Kirby, saying, “we will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission.”

A picture provided by the Turkish Defense Ministry of a Turkish transport aircraft and an armored vehicle at Kabul’s international airport last week.
Credit…Turkish Defense Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Turkey’s troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, where they have run Kabul’s international airport for the last six years, abandoning a plan to remain after the U.S. withdrawal.

“We aim to complete the transfer of soldiers in the shortest possible time,” Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister, said in a statement on Thursday. He thanked Pakistan and Tajikistan for their cooperation in the evacuation of troops.

The Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Twitter on Wednesday the return of the first troops to Turkish soil that same day, adding that the whole operation would take just 36 hours.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had offered to keep Turkish troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul’s main airport with both a civilian and military sections, after the departure of American troops by the Aug. 31 deadline, in order to support the Afghan government and maintain access by air for Western embassy personnel and international aid organizations.

The Taliban had repeatedly demanded that Turkey, a member of the NATO mission in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, should leave. But Mr. Erdogan had continued to hold discussions with Taliban representatives and regional countries, in particular Pakistan, which has close ties with the Taliban, to explore the possibility for a continued Turkish presence.

When the Taliban seized control of the capital earlier this month and the United States and NATO partners accelerated their departures from the country, Turkey increased its force of some 600 personnel to 3,000 to assist with the evacuations.

But in the face of chaos at the airport during the last 10 days, worsening security concerns and the unyielding stance of the Taliban — as well as a growing chorus of opposition at home arguing that Turkey should not bear the risk of securing the airport on its own — Mr. Erdogan decided to withdraw troops.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the president and national security adviser, said that Turkey was still offering the Taliban government technical assistance to run the airport.

“After our soldiers withdraw, we can keep the duty of managing the airport,” he said in an interview on the Turkish news channel NTV. “There is a dimension of logistical capacity of running an airport. Negotiations on that are ongoing,” he said.

The Turkish help would be a professional service which the Taliban lacked, he added.

A Turkish Airlines airplane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport two weeks ago, one of the last commercial flights to leave Kabul.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Almost two dozen students and their parents from San Diego County in California are trapped in Afghanistan after they visited the country this summer, the authorities said.

The 20 students and 14 parents are stuck in Afghanistan and have requested government assistance to fly home, according to a statement from the Cajon Valley Union School District and a tweet from Representative Darrell Issa, who represents the district where the students are from. The children range in age from preschool to high school, said David Miyashiro, the district superintendent.

The students and parents, who make up five families, went to Afghanistan to visit their extended families, the school district said. But they soon realized they wouldn’t make it back for the first day of school on Aug. 17; two days earlier, the Taliban had stunned the world by capturing Kabul at alarming speed.

It became nearly impossible to secure a flight out of the country, and the families could not reach the airport even though they had plane tickets, Cajon Valley School Board President Tamara Otero told the Los Angeles Times.

The families were not among the hordes of people desperately trying to board a plane out of the Kabul airport, Dr. Miyashiro said in an interview on Wednesday night.

“Most of them are hiding and sheltering in place until somebody contacts them to help them get out,” he said.

One of the families asked on Aug. 16 that the school “hold their children’s spots in their classrooms while they were stranded,” the school district said.

However, one family secured passage out of Afghanistan. Four students and two parents, along with one infant, returned home this week after stopping in another country, Dr. Miyashiro said.

Mr. Issa said Wednesday on Twitter that he was “working diligently” to bring the stranded families home.

“I won’t stop until we have answers and action,” he said.

Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesman for Mr. Issa, said in a statement that the congressman is trying to obtain immigration paperwork for his constituents who are stuck in Afghanistan.

“We are in consistent contact with official channels including the State Department and the Pentagon,” the statement said.

Buying Taliban flags outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Just days after the Taliban took Kabul, their flag was flying high above a central mosque in Pakistan’s capital. It was an in-your-face gesture intended to spite the defeated Americans — and a sign of the real victors in the 20-year Afghan war.

Pakistan was ostensibly America’s partner in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But it was a relationship rived by duplicity and divided interests from its very start after 9/11. Pakistan’s intelligence service nurtured and protected Taliban assets inside Pakistan through the course of the war.

Already Pakistan, along with Russia and China, is helping fill the space the Americans have vacated. The embassies of the three nations have remained open since the Taliban seized Kabul.

But Robert L. Grenier, a former C.I.A. station chief in Pakistan, said that Pakistan should be careful what it wished for.

“If the Afghan Taliban become leaders of a pariah state, which is likely, Pakistan will find itself tethered to them,” he said.

A Taliban-run state on its border will no doubt embolden Taliban and other Islamist militants in Pakistan itself. And aside from maintaining the stability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the Americans now have less incentive to deal with Pakistan.

So the question for Pakistan is: What will it do with the broken country that is its prize?

A C-17 military transport plane taking off from the international airport in Kabul.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Afghan parents of a baby born on a C-17 aircraft evacuating passengers to Germany named their daughter after the aircraft’s call sign, a senior U.S. general said this week.

“They named the little girl Reach, and they did so because the call sign of the C-17 aircraft that flew them from Qatar to Ramstein was Reach,” Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. European Command, said in a Pentagon news conference on Wednesday.

The Afghan mother, who has not been named, went into labor and began experiencing complications on a flight leaving a base in Qatar for Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said on Twitter.

In response, the C-17 — identified as Reach 828 in radio transmission — descended in altitude to increase air pressure inside the aircraft, “which helped stabilize and save the mother’s life,” the Air Force said.

After the plane landed, medics boarded and helped deliver the baby in the cargo bay. A group of women had protected the mother’s privacy with their shawls, Capt. Erin Brymer, a nurse who helped deliver the child, told CNN.

By the time they reached her, the woman had been “past the point of no return,” she said. “That baby was going to be delivered before we could possibly transfer her to another facility.”

Pictures released by the U.S. Air Force showed the woman being transported, shortly after her daughter’s birth, from the aircraft to a nearby medical facility.

General Wolters said the baby was one of three — all in good condition — born to women who boarded evacuation flights out of Afghanistan. Two others were delivered at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a military hospital in southern Germany.

“It’s my dream to watch that young child, called Reach, grow up and be a U.S. citizen and fly United States Air Force fighters in our air force,” General Wolters told reporters.