A U.S. military drone strike blew up a vehicle laden with explosives in Kabul on Sunday, a Defense Department official said, as the immense American effort to airlift U.S. citizens and Afghan allies fleeing the Taliban neared its conclusion.
The strike came during a precarious final chapter of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan, with just two days remaining before President Biden’s Tuesday deadline to complete the American withdrawal from the country.
The strike thwarted an imminent threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport from the Islamic State Khorasan, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said. “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material,” the spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban, said.
Captain Urban said the military was trying to determine whether the strike had caused civilian casualties. A senior military official said it was confident no civilians were in the targeted vehicle but acknowledged that the secondary explosions may have caused damage.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that civilians had suffered casualties in the U.S. strike and that a house had been hit. “We are investigating the reason of the airstrike and the exact number of casualties,” he said.
Earlier Sunday, the United States Embassy in Kabul had said that there was a “specific, credible threat” to the airport area, where a suicide bombing on Thursday killed as many as 170 civilians and 13 members of the American military. The Islamic State Khorasan claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Biden had warned on Saturday that another attack was “highly likely” in the coming hours.
With Mr. Biden’s Tuesday deadline looming, the military was shifting its focus from vetting and airlifting Afghan and American civilians to bringing its own personnel home. And the impending American exit created anguishing questions about who would be left behind.
American University of Afghanistan students boarded buses bound for the Kabul airport in the morning but were turned away, according to people familiar with efforts to evacuate them.
That left hundreds of university students, faculty and staff members facing the choice of fleeing overland or remaining in the country to face possible persecution by the Taliban. University students and faculty were among the most outspoken advocates in Afghanistan for human rights, women’s rights, free expression and democracy.
As many as 250 Americans remain in Afghanistan who are seeking to leave the country, while some 280 Americans are undecided about leaving or intend to stay, the State Department said Sunday afternoon.
For Americans who choose to stay past Tuesday, the administration plans to ensure there is a “mechanism to get them out of the country should they choose in the future to come home,” Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“The Taliban have made commitments to us in that regard,” he said. “We intend to hold them to those commitments, and we have leverage to hold them to those commitments.”
The United States is unlikely to keep diplomats in Afghanistan after Tuesday’s deadline for the military to withdraw, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Sunday.
The American troop departures will mark the tumultuous end to a 20-year war that has left the country awash in grief and desperation, with many Afghans fearing for their lives under Taliban rule and struggling to support their families amid cash shortages and rising food prices. At least some banks had opened in Kabul on Sunday, and long lines had formed outside their doors.
The attack at the airport on Thursday, which happened as U.S. troops were screening people hoping to enter, once again underscored the human toll of the war — both for Afghans, the overwhelming majority of the victims, and for the American families who lost loved ones sent to fight it.
The 13 American military personnel who were killed came from across the country, from California to Wyoming to Tennessee, and had an average age of just over 22. Eleven were Marines, one was a Navy medic and another was in the Army.
Mr. Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday to witness the transfer of their remains.
Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting.
The United States is unlikely to keep diplomats in Afghanistan after the U.S. military departs on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Sunday, ending a 20-year mission of one of the largest American embassies in the world.
Officials said it was expected that the U.S. mission to Afghanistan would open a diplomatic mission in a country elsewhere in the region, in part to continue helping the surge of expected refugees obtain necessary departure documents. That effort could be based in Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates, an official said, given the large Afghan diaspora in both countries. American diplomats have also for years held peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, where there is a large U.S. military base that is being used now as a way station for tens of thousands of Afghans who have been evacuated.
After saying last week that the Biden administration was reviewing options for the future of the embassy in Kabul, Mr. Blinken told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that “in terms of having an on-the-ground diplomatic presence on Sept. 1, that’s not likely to happen.”
“But what is going to happen is that our commitment to continue to help people leave Afghanistan who want to leave and who are not out by Sept. 1, that endures,” Mr. Blinken said. “There’s no deadline on that effort. And we have ways, we have mechanisms to help facilitate the ongoing departure of people from Afghanistan if they choose to leave.”
The Taliban had wanted the United States and other foreign diplomats to remain in Kabul as acknowledgment of the Taliban’s legitimacy as Afghanistan’s rulers.
Ending the American diplomatic presence in the country will be a blow to the U.S. diplomatic corps. Hundreds of American diplomats served in Afghanistan after the embassy was reclaimed by Marines in December 2001 during the U.S.-led invasion. It had been closed since 1989, when the Soviet military withdrew from Afghanistan after a 10-year war.
The diplomatic mission’s staffing levels ballooned during a so-called civilian surge that coincided with an increase in military troops that began in 2010. The embassy compound in Kabul later expanded, with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional office space, employee apartments, fortified gates and blast walls over 15 acres, about the size of Liberty Island in New York Harbor.
Just weeks before the embassy closed on Aug. 15, as the Taliban took over the capital, its staff stood at about 4,000 employees, around 1,400 of whom were American diplomats, contractors and officials from other U.S. agencies.
Nonessential employees had been flown out months before, and by the time the American flag was lowered two weeks ago, only a small core of diplomats remained to be evacuated to a secure compound at the international airport where they could be protected by the military. Now, with the military departing — as part of an agreement with the Taliban — the State Department saw little choice but to also withdraw its diplomats.
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — President Biden landed in Delaware on Sunday morning to join the families of the 13 members of the U.S. military who were killed in a bombing last week in Afghanistan.
The service members include 11 Marines, a Navy medic and a member of the Army. They were killed at the airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, by a bomber from the Islamic State Khorasan group as they attempted to help people escape the country before American troops complete their withdrawal.
The president and first lady, Jill Biden, met with the families on Sunday morning. They then participated in 13 transfers — 11 for families who chose to allow media to observe the remains of their loved ones returning home, and two for families who chose to keep their transfers private.
The fallen service members returning Sunday to Dover were: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City; Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.; Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.; Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha; Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.; Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn.
Mr. Biden stood at attention with his right hand over his heart as service members in varying shades of green fatigues — first for the Army, then the Marines, then the Navy — carried flag-draped transfer cases containing remains of the fallen from the belly of a gray C-17 transport plane to a fleet of four gray vans with their back doors open.
The carry teams, as they are called, worked in three-minute cycles, with the public set of 11 transfers lasting just under 40 minutes total, including a prayer at the beginning.
In between transfers, the president spread his legs wider, clasped his hands at his belt or behind his back, and frequently closed his eyes and bowed his head.
A large group of federal dignitaries were on hard for the transfers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III; Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken; Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and several members of Congress. One observer, who the White House later identified as Martha Carper, the wife of Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, appeared to faint midway through one of the transfers.
The White House did not announce the trip in advance. It is the first time Mr. Biden has witnessed the return of service members killed in the line of duty since assuming the presidency. The men and women killed in the Kabul attack were the first American service members killed by hostile forces since March 2020. Mr. Biden witnessed a transfer as vice president in 2016.
“The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement released on Saturday. “Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.”
WASHINGTON — The United States and 97 other countries said on Sunday that they would continue to take in people fleeing Afghanistan after the American military departs this week and had secured an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for those who are leaving.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, had announced on Friday that the group would not stop people from departing, no matter their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war.
The joint statement released on Sunday on behalf of more than half of the world’s governments and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that they had “received assurances from the Taliban” that people with travel documents showing they were clear to enter any of those countries could safely depart.
The countries also pledged to “continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans” and cited a “clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban” of their safe passage.
“We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding,” the statement said.
Notably missing from the statement were Russia and China, two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council who have pledged to help the Taliban rebuild Afghanistan.
The statement did not warn of any consequences should the Taliban renege on the agreement, although a senior State Department official said it was meant to convey an implicit message about incentives — namely, foreign aid to the government — that the international community would use to enforce it.
The chief American envoy to Taliban peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted on Saturday that the Taliban’s assurances were “positive” and that “we, our allies, and the international community will hold them to these commitments.”
That stood in stark contrast to the tens of thousands of Afghans who relief agencies said feared being left behind and living under Taliban rule. That includes those who worked for the American military or the U.S. Embassy since 2001 and were eligible to immigrate to the United States.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told ABC News on Sunday that there were 300 Americans who were still waiting to be evacuated from Kabul.
“We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan,” Mr. Blinken said.
When he was asked about the assurances from the Taliban, Mr. Blinken said that the U.S. government was not under any illusions.
“I’m not saying we should trust the Taliban on anything,” he said. “I’m simply reporting what one of their senior leaders said to the Afghan people.”
Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.
Britain announced on Sunday that the last of its soldiers and staff, including the country’s ambassador to Afghanistan, had boarded evacuation flights out of Kabul, essentially ending its two-decade military involvement in the war.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, praising their efforts in a national address posted to Twitter, said that the troops and officials had worked around the clock “to a remorseless deadline in harrowing conditions” to airlift more than 15,000 people, including Britons and Afghans, to safety in less than two weeks.
The ambassador, Laurie Bristow, who had stayed in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to help with the evacuation process, confirmed in a video on Sunday morning that he had landed at a military air base in Oxfordshire, northwest of London.
“We’ve had to leave Afghanistan for now, and the embassy will operate from Qatar for the time being,” he said, adding that London would put pressure on the Taliban to allow the transport to Britain of other Afghans and Britons left behind.
“We’ll do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years,” Mr. Bristow added.
It was not immediately clear how many British citizens and Afghans with permission to travel to Britain were still in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, 150,000 British service members did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, 457 troops died, and thousands more were wounded, Mr. Johnson said. Two Britons and the child of a Briton were among those killed in a suicide bombing outside the gates of the international airport in Kabul on Thursday.
Critics have denounced the sudden withdrawal from the country, but Mr. Johnson said that Britain had followed the lead of the United States and that the efforts over the past two decades had saved lives.
“In the last 20 years, not a single terrorist attack has been launched from Afghan soil against the U.K. or any other Western country,” he said in a letter addressed to members of the armed forces, adding that troops had “kept Al Qaeda from our door for two decades.”
Britain would remain a presence in the region, Mr. Johnson said, adding that humanitarian assistance would double to 286 million pounds, or about $393 million. “We will use every lever we have — political, economic, diplomatic — to help the people of Afghanistan and to protect our country from harm,” he said.
Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting.
As American troops rush to complete their withdrawal by President Biden’s Tuesday deadline, many Afghans are afraid that reprisals from the country’s new rulers will soon follow.
When Taliban fighters seized control of Kabul two weeks ago, the invading units made a beeline for two critical targets: the headquarters of the National Security Directorate and the Ministry of Communications.
Their aim — recounted by two Afghan officials who had been briefed separately on the raid — was to secure the files of intelligence officers and their informers, and to obtain the means of tracking the telephone numbers of Afghan citizens. That could be disastrous for hundreds of thousands of people who had been working to counter the Taliban threat.
So far, the Taliban’s political leadership has presented a moderate face, promising amnesty to government security forces who lay down their arms. They have even written letters of guarantee that they will not be pursued, although reserving the right to prosecute serious crimes. Spokesmen for the Taliban have also talked of forming an inclusive government.
A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a Twitter post in English that there was no settling of scores. Nor, he said, was there a hit list with which the Taliban were conducting door-to-door searches, as has been rumored.
“General amnesty has been granted,” he wrote, adding that “we are focusing on future.”
Yet there are growing reports of detentions, disappearances and even executions at the hands of the Taliban, in what some current and former government officials describe as a covert pursuit of the militants’ enemies. The scale of the campaign is uncertain because it is being conducted covertly. And it is unclear what level of the Taliban leadership authorized detentions or executions.
“It’s very much underground,” said one former legislator, who was in hiding elsewhere when the Taliban visited his home in the middle of the night.
Two nonprofit organizations that have been trying, with disappointing results, to help scores of prominent Afghan women and their families escape their country have been finding increasingly formidable obstacles in their paths.
Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, the founder and chief executive of the Washington, D.C.,-based International Civil Society Action Network, said the group has been trying to find room on charter flights for the Afghans, who include journalists, human rights activists and others. But the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Thursday has made those efforts much more difficult.
“In the last day or two, I am getting a lot of women telling me goodbye. Women starting to give up,” said Deeyah Khan, an International Civil Society Action Network board member and a documentary filmmaker. “The least we can do is make sure they don’t stand completely alone.”
Too Young to Wed, a nonprofit based in Peekskill, N.Y., that was founded by the photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, has also been trying to organize charter flights to evacuate prominent Afghan women since the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
As of Saturday, Ms. Sinclair said the group had only been able to help about 60 women and their families leave the country on flights and is now considering trying to organize evacuations by land that would involve a long, dangerous journey to border areas.
“It is heartbreaking and terrifying that this generation of women leaders have to fear their lives, for simply having dreams and wanting to have a purpose in life as a woman,” Ms. Sinclair said.
The two organizations have received calls and messages from Afghan women who are unsure what to do and how to keep their family members safe.
The Taliban’s chief spokesman has said that “there will be no violence against women” under the new regime. Zabihullah Mujahid promised this week that “no prejudice against women will be allowed” and said that they could participate in society — “within the bounds of Islamic law.”
But in social media posts and interviews, many Afghan women say the Taliban have already imposed some restrictions. Some women who were employees of the former government have stopped going to work, fearing retribution.
“I am waiting for some kind of miracle to take me out of this country,” said Hossy, 24, a college student in Kabul who wanted to create an engineering company led by women engineers. “My future under the Taliban is a dead end.”
Two congressmen who made an unauthorized trip to the airport in Kabul last week defended themselves on Sunday amid accusations that their visit was an unwelcome distraction from the evacuation effort.
“Those accusations are just not true,” one of the congressmen, Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“At the end of the day, I don’t care what pundits in Washington are saying,” he added. “They’ve been wrong about this war for 20 years.”
Mr. Moulton and the other congressman, Representative Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan, visited the airport days before a suicide bombing there killed as many as 170 civilians and 13 members of the American military.
Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Mr. Meijer said that he and Mr. Moulton were “uniquely positioned” among members of Congress to make the trip, given their backgrounds.
“Not only have we both served with the military in Iraq, we’d also spent time in Afghanistan as civilians,” Mr. Meijer said. He added, “We were uniquely situated to be able to get in, get out, be as quiet as possible, but also take away as much information as possible.”
More than 70 House members are veterans, according to the Republican minority on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
The two lawmakers also continued to criticize the Biden administration’s handling of the evacuation, while acknowledging that their trip to Kabul had changed their minds about President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for a full withdrawal, which they had previously urged the administration to extend.
“We realized that we did not have that leverage,” Mr. Meijer said. “We were wholly dependent on the cooperation of the Taliban.”
He added, “This is the least worst of the options that are before us.”
The Department of Defense on Saturday identified the 13 members of the U.S. military who were killed in the attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday as they worked to evacuate people to safety. They hailed from across the country — from California to Wyoming to Tennessee — and had an average age of just over 22. Eleven were Marines, one was a Navy medic and another was a member of the Army.
Here is what we know about them.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City.
Staff Sergeant Hoover was a born leader, his father Darin Hoover said, who loved the United States and was on his third tour in Afghanistan. “He led his men into that, and they followed him, but I know — I know in my heart of hearts, he was out front,” Mr. Hoover said. “And they would’ve followed him through the gates of hell if that’s what it took, and, ultimately, that’s pretty much what he did.”
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.
Sergeant Rosario should be “recognized as the hero that she was,” her family told the mayor of Lawrence. Her former junior R.O.T.C. instructor recalled her as an “absolute warrior” in high school, and Marine First Lt. John Coppola said in a statement that she had been “crucial to evacuating thousands of women and children.” The Dominican Republic’s embassy in the U.S. said that she was Dominican-American.
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.
In Sergeant Gee’s most recent post on Instagram, less than a week ago, she stands next to a long line of people waiting to file into a military plane at the Kabul airport. “Escorting evacuees onto the bird,” she wrote. In another post, in which she is holding a child in Kabul, she wrote, “I love my job.” A fellow sergeant wrote on Facebook that Sergeant Gee’s car was still in the lot at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina: “I drove it around the parking lot every once in a while to make sure it would be good for when she came home.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.
Corporal Lopez’s mother told a reporter in Southern California that her son had recently carried an Afghan toddler several miles to safety, and asked people to light a candle in his honor. Corporal Lopez’s parents both work for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in California, his father as a captain and his mother as a deputy. “Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn’t a job; it was a calling,” the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association wrote in a statement.
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha.
Corporal Page grew up in Red Oak, Iowa, and in the area around Omaha, and joined the Marines after high school, his family said in a statement. He had four siblings and was a member of the Boy Scouts, played club hockey, hunted with his father and had a “soft spot in his heart for dogs,” they said. “To his younger siblings, he was their favorite jungle gym and to his friends, he was a genuinely happy guy that you could always count on,” the family said, adding that he was being mourned by his parents, stepparents, siblings, grandparents and his girlfriend.
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.
Corporal Sanchez lived in a small city about an hour and a half north of Indianapolis and had graduated from Logansport High School. The mayor of Logansport said that Corporal Sanchez “still had his entire life ahead of him” and that the young man had sacrificed himself by “putting himself into harm’s way” as part of the mission in Kabul. Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana vowed “to honor him in every way” possible. “Few among us answer a call of duty so dangerous as Corporal Sanchez volunteered to do,” he said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.
Lance Corporal Espinoza’s mother told a local television station that she had received a call at 2:30 a.m. informing her of her young son’s death. “I am proud of him because of what he did but as a mother, you know, it’s hard,” his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, told the station, KGNS-TV, as she teared up. The station reported that Lance Corporal Espinoza’s sister had just turned 13. The corporal was born in Laredo, Texas, his family said, and he had been stationed in Jordan for two years before being transferred to Kabul about a week ago. “He always knew” how much his parents loved him, Ms. Holguin said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.
Lance Corporal Schmitz, who lived in a suburb of St. Louis, had been stationed in Jordan on his first deployment before being transferred to Afghanistan for the evacuation mission about two weeks ago, his father, Mark Schmitz, told KMOX radio in St. Louis. “It’s something he always wanted to do and I’ve never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be,” Mr. Schmitz said, adding that the family was both devastated and furious. “Somebody just came along and took the easy way out and ended everything for him and for us — and for those others that were killed,” he said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.
Lance Corporal McCollum had dreamed of becoming a Marine ever since he was 3 years old, his father, Jim, said in an interview. He, too, was recently transferred from Jordan to Afghanistan, and Mr. McCollum began checking his phone for a little green dot on a messaging app that showed that his son was online — and OK. When news came that 13 Americans had died in the attack, he again checked for the dot and sent him a message with no response. “In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” Mr. McCollum said, adding that his son was “a beautiful soul.”
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Lance Corporal Merola was “one of the best kids ever,” said Cheryl Merola, his mother. He was “kind, loving” and “would give anything for anybody,” she told KCBS-TV. His grandmother told the station that Lance Corporal Merola would frequently say he wanted to come home to his family. He had been transferred to Afghanistan about a week and a half ago, and left a voice mail message with his mother saying he would not be able to talk to her for a while and that he loved her. Los Osos High School in Southern California, from which he recently graduated, held a moment of silence for him at a football game on Friday.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.
Lance Corporal Nikoui was a young martial arts champion whose father told Reuters that he had watched television nonstop for updates on the attack until he learned the devastating news from three Marines at his door. “He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war,” Steve Nikoui said. He told The Daily Beast that his son loved his Marine family and wanted to “make a career out of this,” and added that he was frustrated that President Biden had sent his and others’ children into harm’s way. “They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security,” he said.
Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.
Mr. Soviak grew up playing football in a small northern Ohio community where his death has left a “Maxton-sized hole” in his loved ones’ lives, his sister Marilyn wrote in an Instagram post. He was a Navy medic who had graduated from high school in 2017. “Everybody looked to Max in tough situations,” said Jim Hall, his high school football coach, who described Mr. Soviak as a deeply loyal friend. “He was energetic. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was a passionate kid. He didn’t hold anything back.”
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn.
Staff Sergeant Knauss was “a motivated young man who loved his country,” his grandfather Wayne Knauss told WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tenn. “He was a believer so we will see him again in heaven.” He had been in the military for five years, his grandfather said, and his stepmother told the station that he had planned to move to Washington when he returned to the United States. One of his former teachers said he had been “quiet but confident” in school and that he had written an essay that said his role models were people who stand up against power to help people. “He wrote that nine years ago as a 14-year-old boy, not knowing the man he was going to become,” Angela Hoffman, the teacher, told the station.
Jack Healy and Dave Philipps contributed reporting.
With a final race to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan underway, Republican senators forcefully rebuked President Biden and his predecessor on Sunday for a decision that they warned could dangerously undermine two decades of American counterterroism investment.
The senators, among the loudest defenders of the war, praised American troops who lost their lives last week while helping evacuate Americans and their Afghan allies from the country by an Aug. 31 deadline. But they said the situation could have been avoided had President Donald J. Trump not struck a rapid withdrawal agreement with the Taliban or had Mr. Biden more rigorously planned for the war’s drawdown.
“This is one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history, much worse than Saigon,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate. “Just because we decided to quit fighting doesn’t mean the terrorists go away, so they are still out there, they are invigorated, they are emboldened.”
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. McConnell argued that the United States’ approach to Afghanistan — including stationing thousands of troops in the country to prop up the Afghan military — had been working, preventing deadly attacks against the homeland at a relatively modest cost in recent years.
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, called the deadly scramble playing out around the Kabul airport a “humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.” He dinged Mr. Trump for agreeing to release thousands of Taliban prisoners and Mr. Biden for abandoning Bagram Air Base.
“Recognize that we are in the position we are in right now because of terrible decisions made by two administrations,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“The war is not over, we are just in a weaker position,” Mr. Romney continued. “The idea that somehow we could pull out of a dangerous place where radical violent jihadists are organizing, that we could pull out of that and that is going to stop them — that’s fantasy.”
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said of the Biden administration, “Their plan has basically been happy talk.”
“Joe Biden put our forces at risk by having no plan for how to evacuate,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We are absolutely at risk.”