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.

The explosion hit at the airport gate, where U.S. troops screen people who are trying to get in. Gunfire followed, but it was not clear who was shooting. The general said American forces will work with the Taliban to keep crowds farther back from the airport gates, and to close some roads to thwart vehicle attacks.

“This is close-up war — the breath of the person you are searching is upon you,” General McKenzie said, adding, “I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the heroism” of the service members doing that perilous work.

“If we can find who’s associated with this, we will go after them,” he said.

Mr. Biden vowed, “we will respond with force and precision at our time” against the Islamic State leaders who ordered the attack. He added, “We have some reason to believe we know who they are.”

U.S. Marines at Abbey Gate had been working tirelessly for days, well aware that their time to help Afghans and U.S. citizens flee the country was running short as the Aug. 31 withdrawal date drew near. Ten of them were among the dead.

The State Department had identified about 6,000 Americans who were in Afghanistan on Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban began entering Kabul and the U.S.-backed president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. On Wednesday, the department said that figure was down to 1,500 and it was trying frantically to reach them all, telling them to get to the airport or sending helicopters to extract them.

But then the intelligence on an impending attack prompted the United States and NATO allies to tell people overnight not to approach the airport. Even so, by Thursday afternoon, the State Department said, about 500 more Americans had left the country, and hundreds more were awaiting evacuation, while some U.S. citizens had signaled that they do not intend to leave.

Early Friday morning, alarmed Kabul residents reported another series of explosions near the airport, setting off fears of another bombing attack. Taliban officials and Afghan journalists soon reported otherwise: It was the Americans, they said, destroying their own equipment as they prepared to leave Afghanistan.

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek, Victor Blue, Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Fatima Faizi, Helene Cooper, Michael Shear and Lara Jakes.

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A US Envoy is Heading to the Middle East to Urge Calm Between Israel and Palestinians

A senior American diplomat is headed to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to urge de-escalation and to bring calm,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday amid mounting violence.

Speaking at the State Department in Washington, Mr. Blinken repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs the Gaza Strip.

“There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets, in fact, targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself,” Mr. Blinken said.

But he also said Israel “has an extra burden” to try to prevent civilian deaths, noting that Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli strikes.

Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides in coming days. Mr. Amr was expected to depart Washington later Wednesday for the region.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III also offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s right to self-defense during a conversation earlier Wednesday with Israel’s defense chief, Benny Gantz.

A readout of their talk, issued by John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Mr. Austin had condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas, and urged calm among all parties, but did not mention the matter of casualties among Palestinian civilians.

President Biden took office this year with little interest in pursuing an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement, given the failure by previous presidents from both parties to foster a lasting accord. But the latest outbreak of violence has prompted growing calls from within the Democratic Party for Mr. Biden to play a more active role.

later said he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to reinforce his message. “It’s vital now to de-escalate,” Mr. Blinken said on Twitter.

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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Pentagon Struggles to Wean Afghan Military Off American Air Support

But as the Taliban ramp up their attacks and Afghan forces call for help, American commanders will have to decide where the support is allocated, an especially difficult decision given that Afghan security forces have a record of calling for air support at the first sign of danger.

General Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, stays in touch with the Afghan corps commanders spread across the country, frequently over WhatsApp, as they request support or keep him abreast of the situation.

Rules of engagement of American air power are extremely restrictive, according to a U.S. official, meaning that in some cases approval to strike could take longer than some jets can stay airborne. Many targets need to be preplanned and watched for hours, if not days, by drones and other surveillance aircraft, meaning immediate support for Afghan forces under siege is increasingly difficult.

U.S. officials have noted the gains made by the Afghan air force in recent years. Their fleet of small helicopters and armed propeller planes — that look more at home in a World War II movie — have become increasingly capable, though civilian casualties caused by their attacks have spiked.

But with about 17,000 military contractors also leaving with U.S. and NATO troops, the Afghan government is panicking on how to continue to maintain their aircraft. Almost the entire air force, minus some aging Soviet-era helicopters, is nearly completely dependent on contractor support for maintenance. The contractors even control the supply of fuel, one Afghan pilot said, because it has been siphoned and sold off by Afghan troops in the past.

Addressing the contractor issue, General Milley said that much would be determined by the security conditions on the ground. “The intent,” he said, “is to provide them with continued support.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed and Najim Rahim in Kabul, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Zabihullah Ghazi in Nangarhar and Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost.

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Biden to Withdraw Combat Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11

But Mr. Biden’s decision drew fire from Republicans.

“This is a reckless and dangerous decision,” said Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan — and create a breeding ground for international terrorists.”

President Donald J. Trump had set a withdrawal deadline for May 1, but he was known for announcing, and reversing, a number of significant foreign policy decisions, and Pentagon officials continued to press for a delay. Mr. Biden, who has long been skeptical of the Afghan deployment, spent his first three months in office assessing that timeline.

The Afghan central government is unable to halt Taliban advances, and American officials offer a grim assessment of prospects for peace in the country. Still, American intelligence agencies say they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups pose an immediate threat to strike the United States from Afghanistan. That assessment has been critical to the Biden administration as it decided to withdraw most of the remaining forces from the country.

A senior administration official said the troop withdrawal would begin before May 1 and conclude before the symbolic date of Sept. 11. Any attacks on withdrawing NATO troops, the official said, would be met with a forceful response.

Taliban leaders have long pledged that any breach of the deadline means that their forces will again begin attacking American and coalition troops. Under a withdrawal deal negotiated during the Trump administration, the Taliban mostly stopped those attacks — but in past weeks, they have rocketed American bases in Afghanistan’s south and east.

In public statements on Tuesday, Taliban leaders focused not on Mr. Biden’s decision for a full withdrawal — leaving behind a weak central government that has proved incapable of halting insurgent advances around the country — but rather on the fact that the administration was going to miss the May 1 deadline.

“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said on local television. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”

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Biden to Withdraw All Combat Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11

But Mr. Biden’s decision drew fire from Republicans.

“This is a reckless and dangerous decision,” said Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan — and create a breeding ground for international terrorists.”

President Donald J. Trump had set a withdrawal deadline for May 1, but he was known for announcing, and reversing, a number of significant foreign policy decisions, and Pentagon officials continued to press for a delay. Mr. Biden, who has long been skeptical of the Afghan deployment, spent his first three months in office assessing that timeline.

The Afghan central government is unable to halt Taliban advances, and American officials offer a grim assessment of prospects for peace in the country. Still, American intelligence agencies say they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups pose an immediate threat to strike the United States from Afghanistan. That assessment has been critical to the Biden administration as it decided to withdraw most of the remaining forces from the country.

A senior administration official said the troop withdrawal would begin before May 1 and conclude before the symbolic date of Sept. 11. Any attacks on withdrawing NATO troops, the official said, would be met with a forceful response.

Taliban leaders have long pledged that any breach of the deadline means that their forces will again begin attacking American and coalition troops. Under a withdrawal deal negotiated during the Trump administration, the Taliban mostly stopped those attacks — but in past weeks, they have rocketed American bases in Afghanistan’s south and east.

In public statements on Tuesday, Taliban leaders focused not on Mr. Biden’s decision for a full withdrawal — leaving behind a weak central government that has proved incapable of halting insurgent advances around the country — but rather on the fact that the administration was going to miss the May 1 deadline.

“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said on local television. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”

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Pentagon Chief Orders New Review of Attack in Kenya That Killed 3 Americans

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a high-level review of an initial military investigation into an attack on a Kenyan base by Islamic extremists in January 2020 that left three Americans dead, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The brazen assault by about a dozen Shabab fighters at Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, marked the largest number of U.S. military-related fatalities in Africa since four soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017.

The attack by the Shabab, Al Qaeda’s East Africa affiliate, revealed several glaring security shortfalls, an examination by The New York Times found soon after the assault, and underscored the American military’s limits on the continent, where a lack of intelligence, along with Manda Bay’s reputation as a quiet and unchallenged locale, allowed a lethal strike.

American commandos took about an hour to respond. Many of the local Kenyan forces, assigned to defend the base, hid in the grass while other American troops and support staff members were corralled into tents, with little protection, to wait out the battle. It would require hours to evacuate one of the wounded to a military hospital in Djibouti, roughly 1,000 miles away.

according to a statement that John F. Kirby, Mr. Austin’s spokesman, released late Monday. The Army appointed Gen. Paul Funk, the head of the service’s Training and Doctrine Command, to conduct the review.

“An independent review will provide added insight, perspective and the ability to assess the totality of this tragic event involving multiple military services and Department of Defense components,” Mr. Kirby said.

“It is the secretary’s desire to ensure there is a full examination and consideration of the contributing factors that led to this tragic event and that appropriate action is taken to reduce the risk of future occurrence,” Mr. Kirby added. “The families impacted deserve nothing less.”

An outside review of the Africa Command’s investigation could seek to avoid a repeat of the contentious Defense Department inquiry into the Niger attack in 2017. That report found widespread problems across all levels of the military counterterrorism operation, but focused in particular on the actions of junior officers leading up to the ambush — unfairly so in the view of many family members, lawmakers and even Jim Mattis, the defense secretary at the time.

ordered most of the 700 American troops in Somalia to leave the country, but not out of the region. Most of the forces transferred to nearby Djibouti or to Kenya, including Manda Bay, now with beefed up security. The Biden administration is conducting a review to determine whether to send any of those troops back to Somalia.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Makes Secret Visit to Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III landed in Afghanistan’s capital Sunday morning, becoming the first member of President Biden’s cabinet to set foot in the country that is home to America’s longest war.

The United States is tentatively set to withdraw American forces from the country on May 1, the date set in an agreement signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

Speaking to reporters before his departure from Afghanistan, Mr. Austin declined to comment on whether the Taliban had met their obligations under that agreement, which would trigger the departure of U.S. forces from a country where they have had a continuous presence since 2001.

“It’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country,” Mr. Austin said. “We’d really like to see that violence come down, and I think if it does come down it can begin to set the conditions for some really fruitful diplomatic work.”

that meeting the deadline would be “tough.” On Saturday, speaking with reporters in India, Mr. Austin expressed confidence that he could remove all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, should the president direct him to do so.

The defense secretary’s visit to Afghanistan came at the end of more than a week of travel across the Pacific during which he reassured allies that they would have the United States’ support in countering potential threats from China.

First, at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, the secretary was briefed by Adm. Philip S. Davidson on various threats in the region and how American military assets have been deployed in response. Flying next to Japan and South Korea, Mr. Austin joined Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for talks with the foreign and defense ministers of both nations.

Both secretaries emphasized the Biden administration’s stance that diplomacy would again be the United States’ first course of action in foreign affairs.

In New Delhi, where Mr. Austin met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the defense minister, Rajnath Singh, senior U.S. defense officials said that Indian leaders spoke mostly about their concerns regarding China. It was only toward the end of their talks that the issue of Pakistan — India’s neighbor and traditional main enemy — came up.

The trip, Mr. Austin’s first as a cabinet member, comes as President Biden seeks to build a series of security agreements with various nations who could band together to respond to Chinese military operations in the South and East China Seas.

One such agreement between the United States, Australia, Japan and India — called “the quad” — was repeatedly cited by both Mr. Austin and Mr. Blinken as a model for combined military operations in region. Mr. Austin did not ask South Korea to join the quad during his time in Seoul, according to a senior defense official.

Mr. Austin’s trip to Kabul was kept secret, and was to remain confidential until two hours after he left, but local reporters broke news of his visit after he met with President Ashraf Ghani.

The secretary’s arrival in Kabul came on Nowruz, the Persian new year — a date on which the Islamic State in Afghanistan had pledged to carry out attacks. That led the Pentagon to keep the secretary’s visit under wraps as long as possible.

After landing in Kabul, Mr. Austin boarded a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter for a brief flight to the headquarters of the American military mission. Just off the former soccer stadium that serves as the command’s heliport, Gen. Austin S. Miller, the American commander in Afghanistan, quickly walked Mr. Austin through a warren of small buildings and tall concrete blast walls to his office.

Mr. Austin told reporters that he had no particular message that he conveyed to President Ghani, preferring instead to listen to the Afghan president’s thoughts on the situation in his country.

“We’ve done a lot to work with the Afghan security forces,” Mr. Austin said in response to a question regarding concerns Afghans might have following a U.S. withdrawal. “And I don’t want to speculate about what could happen or what could not happen going forward.”

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U.S. Punishes 24 Chinese Officials on Eve of First Talks Under Biden

Such remarks have heartened traditional American allies and stirred anger in China, which has repeatedly called on the United States to abandon a confrontational approach. Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Mr. Blinken are scheduled to meet the top Chinese diplomats, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Alaska beginning on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, accused the United States of a “zero-sum mind-set” that was “doomed to end in the dustbin of history.”

“Those wearing colored lenses can easily lose sight of the right direction, and those entrenched in the Cold War mentality will bring harm to others and themselves,” Mr. Zhao said on Monday.

The United States has imposed sanctions against Chinese officials before under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was approved by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Trump last year. Among other things, it authorizes the State Department to restrict designated officials from using American financial institutions.

Wang Chen, a veteran party leader who led the legislative changes adopted last week, is the most senior Chinese official targeted so far. The Trump administration previously imposed the sanctions on Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, the police chief and the justice secretary.

The ultimate impact on Chinese behavior has, so far, been minimal, but the latest designations significantly expand the number of officials targeted.

In all, the latest American sanctions would affect 14 vice chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which recently concluded its annual gathering in Beijing, and officials from the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.

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Visiting Japan, Top U.S. Envoys Set Combative Tone for China Talks

Now, with the Biden administration in place and with China growing increasingly assertive, Japan seems more willing to join with the United States in its unequivocal criticism of China’s actions.

Mr. Kishi, the defense minister, said that Japan could “absolutely not accept” China’s actions to increase tensions in the East and South China Seas, and indicated they were violating international laws.

Yet the Japanese foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, was less overt in criticizing China.

While Mr. Blinken explicitly singled out China — and Myanmar, where the military staged a coup last month — for threatening “democracy, human rights and rule of law,” Mr. Motegi avoided mentioning China directly. He said that he welcomed the alliance for its role in protecting “peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.”

Analysts said Japan may temper its language because it has more to lose from confrontation with China.

“One big difference is their economic relationships with China,” said Narushige Michishita, vice president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “While the U.S. can live without China, Japan cannot. They have to find a common ground there.”

The high-level visit from Washington sought, in part, to remind Japan that it shares much common ground with the United States. That it was the first official trip overseas for both Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin since taking office was repeated several times on Tuesday to assure Japan of its value to the Biden administration.

The alliance with Japan never suffered as much damage under the Trump administration as U.S. partnerships in Europe. Mr. Abe maintained a close relationship with Mr. Trump and hosted him for two visits to Japan. Last October, when then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the two exchanged a fist bump that lasted 15 seconds.

On Tuesday, when Mr. Suga met with Mr. Austin and Mr. Blinken at his official residence, they all bowed — as is the custom in Japan.

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Toyko, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul.

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North Korea Accuses Washington of Raising ‘a Stink’ in First Comments on Biden

SEOUL — North Korea on Tuesday denounced Washington for raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula by going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea, striking a confrontational tone in its first official comment on the Biden administration.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off a powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said in a statement carried by state-run North Korean media on Tuesday. “If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Ms. Kim, who serves as her brother’s spokeswoman in North Korea’s relations with Seoul and Washington, dedicated most of her statement to criticizing Seoul for pushing ahead with its annual military drills with the United States this month, despite warnings from her brother.

The statement came as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III touched down in Japan for their joint visit this week. Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin were scheduled to fly to South Korea on Wednesday to meet with President Moon Jae-in and other senior South Korean leaders. How to deal with North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat sits high on their agenda.

through multiple channels in recent weeks, but Pyongyang has been unresponsive, according to the White House.

In her statement, Mr. Kim accused South Korea of opting for “war in March” and “crisis in March,” instead of “warmth in March,” by starting the joint military drills, which the North has described as rehearsals for invasion.

Under former President Donald J. Trump, Washington and Seoul suspended or scaled down their joint military drills to support diplomacy with Mr. Kim. After three meetings, Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim collapsed without a deal on how to end North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities.

a party meeting in January, he declared that North Korea would build new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

North Korea has also turned cool toward South Korea, ending all official dialogue with Seoul and blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office. In the party meeting in January, Mr. Kim warned that returning inter-Korean relations to a “point of peace and prosperity” depended on South Korea’s behavior.

And while Mr. Kim himself has largely refrained from personal attacks against Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon, his sister has frequently been dispatched to issue blistering statements against both Washington and Seoul.

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