The goal is not to replace workers but to lift their performance, said Zayd Enam, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. Cresta’s offering, he said, is made possible by recent advances in the power and speed of A.I. software, which he described as “game changing.”
Cresta has 200 employees, has raised more than $150 million in venture funding and has several dozen corporate customers including Verizon, Cox Communications and Porsche.
CarMax, the nation’s largest used-car retailer, started trying out the Cresta software in December. The A.I. experiment followed years of investment to shift the company’s computer operations to run on more flexible, cloud-based systems, said Jim Lyski, executive vice president for strategy, marketing and products.
Customer inquiries to CarMax’s contact centers tend to be lengthy. Used cars span different years, models, features and driving histories, and financing plans for what is a major purchase vary. The range of questions is all but unlimited, Mr. Lyski said, so purely automated communication is not an option.
But a computing assistant that could help sort all the automotive complexity, offering real-time suggestions and information, was appealing. Cresta first trained on the CarMax contact center data, and the experiment began with its live chat agents, who have text conversations with customers.
The experience has been encouraging, Mr. Lyski said. There has been about a 10 percent improvement in response time, conversion to sales and reduced session time. And the system keeps learning and getting better. The company has begun a pilot project with agents who field voice calls, lifting the total number of agents using the A.I. technology to 200.
When Jack Welch died on March 1, 2020, tributes poured in for the longtime chief executive of General Electric, whom many revered as the greatest chief executive of all time.
David Zaslav, the C.E.O. of Warner Bros. Discovery and a Welch disciple, remembered him as an almost godlike figure. “Jack set the path. He saw the whole world. He was above the whole world,” Mr. Zaslav said. “What he created at G.E. became the way companies now operate.”
Mr. Zaslav’s words were meant as unequivocal praise. During Mr. Welch’s two decades in power — from 1981 to 2001 — he turned G.E. into the most valuable company in the world, groomed a flock of protégés who went on to run major companies of their own, and set the standard by which other C.E.O.s were measured.
Yet a closer examination of the Welch legacy reveals that he was not simply the “Manager of the Century,” as Fortune magazine crowned him upon his retirement.
broken up for good.
the fateful decision to redesign the 737 — a plane introduced in the 1960s — once more, rather than lose out on a crucial order with American Airlines. That decision set in motion the flawed development of the 737 Max, which crashed twice in five months, killing 346 people. And while a number of factors contributed to those tragedies, they were ultimately the product of a corporate culture that cut corners in pursuit of short-term financial gains.
Even today Boeing is run by a Welch disciple. Dave Calhoun, the current C.E.O., was a dark horse candidate to succeed Mr. Welch in 2001, and he was on the Boeing board during the rollout of the Max and the botched response to the crashes.
When Mr. Calhoun took over the company in 2020, he set up his office not in Seattle (Boeing’s spiritual home) or Chicago (its official headquarters), but outside St. Louis at the Boeing Leadership Center, an internal training center explicitly built in the image of Crotonville. He said he hoped to channel Mr. Welch, whom he called his “forever mentor.”
The “Manager of the Century” was unbowed in retirement, barreling through the twilight of his life with the same bombast that defined his tenure as C.E.O.
He refashioned himself as a management guru and created a $50,000 online M.B.A. in an effort to instill his tough-nosed tactics in a new generation of business leaders. (The school boasts that “more than two out of three students receive a raise or promotion while enrolled.”) He cheered on the political rise of Mr. Trump, then advised him when he won the White House.
In his waning days, Mr. Welch emerged as a trafficker of conspiracy theories. He called climate change “mass neurosis” and “the attack on capitalism that socialism couldn’t bring.” He called for President Trump to appoint Rudy Giuliani attorney general and investigate his political enemies.
The most telling example of Mr. Welch’s foray into political commentary, and the beliefs it revealed, came in 2012. That’s when he took to Twitter and accused the Obama administration of fabricating the monthly jobs report numbers for political gain. The accusation was rich with irony. After decades during which G.E. massaged its own earnings reports, Mr. Welch was effectively accusing the White House of doing the same thing.
While Mr. Welch’s claim was baseless, conservative pundits picked up on the conspiracy theory and amplified it on cable news and Twitter. Even Mr. Trump, then merely a reality television star, joined the chorus, calling Mr. Welch’s bogus accusation “100 percent correct” and accusing the Obama administration of “monkeying around” with the numbers. It was one of the first lies to go viral on social media, and it had come from one of the most revered figures in the history of business.
When Mr. Welch died, few of his eulogists paused to consider the entirety of his legacy. They didn’t dwell on the downsizing, the manipulated earnings, the Twitter antics.
And there was no consideration of the ways in which the economy had been shaped by Mr. Welch over the previous 40 years, creating a world where manufacturing jobs have evaporated as C.E.O. pay soars, where buybacks and dividends are plentiful as corporate tax rates plunge.
By glossing over this reality, his allies helped perpetuate the myth of his sainthood, adding their own spin on one of the most enduring bits of disinformation of all: the notion that Jack Welch was the greatest C.E.O. of all time.
The Samara Metallurgical Plant, a sprawling complex in southwestern Russia that spans an area the size of a dozen city blocks, is a cornerstone of Russian industry. It is the country’s largest supplier of aluminum commercial and industrial products.
It is also a source of critical parts for the Russian warplanes and missiles that are now tearing through Ukraine. And atop its edifice, spelled out in giant blue letters, is the name of its American owner: Arconic, a Pittsburgh-based, Fortune 500 company that is one of America’s largest metalworking firms even after splitting out from the industrial giant Alcoa in 2016.
Arconic does not make weapons. But its sophisticated forges are among a handful of machines in Russia that can form lightweight metals into large aerospace parts like bulkheads and wing mounts.
Under an agreement with the Russian government, the company has from the start of its operations at Samara, in 2004, been legally required to supply the country’s defense industry as a condition of operating a plant whose mostly nonmilitary output has proved tremendously lucrative.
Even as Russia turned its military toward ever more aggressive ends around the world and the relationship between the United States and the Kremlin soured, Arconic maintained the Samara operation, despite the growing legal and political complications of operating there.
Now, however, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine polarizing the world, Arconic’s leadership has found that its business at Samara is, finally, unsustainable.
Though there is no indication that Arconic is in breach of American or other Western sanctions, those penalties have made it difficult to keep the plant supplied and operating. But shutting down production could expose its employees there to jail time under Russian laws on maintaining strategic production. And Russia has already cut off Arconic’s access to profits from the Samara plant.
“The conflict in Ukraine has made our continued presence in Russia untenable, which led to our decision to pursue a sale,” Timothy Myers, Arconic’s chief executive, said in a written statement on Friday.
Company documents acquired by The New York Times, along with financial filings and other public materials, reveal Arconic’s struggles to keep the plant running. The documents were provided by a whistleblower employee who objected to Arconic’s continued involvement in Russia even after the invasion of Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the day after The Times approached Arconic with details of its work in Russia, its board approved a plan that, according to internal documents, had been under internal consideration for weeks: to sell the plant outright. The company announced this decision on Thursday.
But any sale remains hypothetical, as the company does not yet have a buyer. And finding one would require regulatory approval at the highest levels from both the United States and Russia.
That is perhaps fitting, as those governments had cooperated to pave the way for Arconic’s ownership of Samara in the first place.
Now, the long-coming divorce, accelerated by the war in Ukraine, is proving costly, with European energy consumers and companies like Arconic caught between now-hostile powers.
“The era in which the United States and Russia saw each other as an enemy or strategic threat has ended,” Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir V. Putin announced at a 2002 summit meeting in Moscow. Now, they said, “We are partners,” praising each other as like-minded allies in the war on terrorism.
Mr. Bush encouraged American companies to buy up Russian industries that had fallen into disrepair. Economic integration, it was widely thought, would bind Russia and the West for good.
American corporations snapped up whole factory compounds, once the engines of Soviet power. Moscow welcomed this, believing American financing and know-how might reconstitute Russian industrial might.
The American industrial giant Alcoa joined the gold rush in 2004, buying two complexes in Russia, including the one at Samara. It purchased both factories for $257 million but spent twice that rebuilding Samara, which it found running at one-third capacity.
Within the facility was a nine-story metal behemoth: a huge forge press that had been built right into the foundation, able to form the parts that make up the largest airplanes and missiles. It is one of only a handful like it in the world, including just two in Russia.
“These machines are essential to the defense industry,” Martino Barbon, a representative of the manufacturing firm Gasparini Industries, said, calling them “the backbone” of production.
In an interview, Mr. Myers said that Samara’s giant press had seen little use in recent years. Still, its presence, along with a number of smaller forges, underscores that Samara, like many Soviet-era facilities, had been designed to combine commercial and military work.
When it bought the Samara plant, Alcoa — which split part of its operations, including those in Russia, into the name Arconic in 2016 — did not explicitly seek to become a Russian military supplier. Rather, this was Moscow’s condition for the sale.
That condition remains in force, according to company documents that describe a legal obligation to “manufacture aerospace and defense products” for sale to Russia’s weapons industry.
Mr. Myers — who is now the chief executive and had been among the first employees to visit Samara in the early 2000s — said that the U.S. government knew about Moscow’s terms when it approved Alcoa’s purchase. The company’s Russian subsidiary sells most products through other distributors and therefore Arconic cannot control how those products are used, he said.
But company documents show that Arconic has known throughout that the Samara operation was supplying Russia’s military, even if it was only a small part of the company’s overall business.
Moscow required the company to sign an agreement, as a condition of purchase, that it would pledge to indefinitely supply programs that it deemed essential. Mr. Myers acknowledged these terms in an interview with a Russian news outlet just last year.
“The main condition of the deal,” Mr. Myers said, “was the obligation to ensure uninterrupted supplies” for “state defense and aerospace programs.”
The agreement included a supplemental document, a copy of which The Times acquired, detailing mandatory production contracts.
The file lists more than a half-dozen of Russia’s largest weapons-makers, such as N.P.O. Novator and Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant. Altogether, the companies provide the bulk of Russia’s cruise missiles, ICBMs, attack helicopters, strategic bombers and other hardware.
The file applied to both plants, the second of which Alcoa later sold. But it underscores Russia’s insistence on steady military supplies — and the American company’s willingness to comply.
For Moscow, the greatest benefit may have been modernization: Western financing and know-how brought the plant from derelict to state-of-the-art.
For Alcoa/Arconic, this was the cost of admission to Russia. In financial terms, it paid off handsomely.
Last year alone, Samara brought in nearly $1 billion, accounting for 16 percent of Arconic’s third-party sales worldwide, according to financial filings.
Before long, a string of Russian military interventions, chiefly its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its entry to the Syrian war the next year, transformed Western views of Russia.
Arconic found itself supplying, however indirectly, a Russian military that was now seen as a global threat.
Still, the company remained in Russia.
Moscow was no longer so welcoming. It codified sweeping “antimonopoly” laws allowing it to restrict or expel foreign companies involved in sensitive industries.
American companies became especially likely to face official investigation. This often came with supposedly temporary injunctions that make doing business difficult.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry consultant, said that Russia has since effectively seized control of many foreign-owned plants through what he termed “oligarchization.”
Rather than outright nationalize those businesses, Moscow coerces them into selling themselves off to Kremlin-linked firms, sometimes for pennies on the dollar. Just this week, the French automaker Renault sold a factory in the country to a Russian government-linked firm for one ruble.
In 2020, Arconic was hit with one such investigation. Russian officials barred Arconic from disbursing its profits from Samara or even restaffing leadership at the Russian subsidiary that runs the plant.
Richard Connolly, a University of Birmingham economist who advises companies on doing business in Russia, called it “very surprising” that Arconic, unlike many other American companies, had not yet been forced out of Russia.
From the Kremlin’s point of view, coercing Samara’s owners to sell the plant, as it has with several other American-owned business over the years, does carry some risk. It could disrupt production at a time when Russia already faces battlefield setbacks. But tolerating Arconic would mean leaving critical infrastructure in the hands of an American corporation.
Dr. Connolly suggested that Russian leaders may still see American knowledge and technology as too critical to lose at Samara, especially as battlefield losses wipe out advanced weapons that, because of sanctions, Russia may struggle to replace.
“They realize they might not be able to produce everything themselves,” he said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in February, forced difficult conversations within Arconic, according to internal documents and the account of a whistleblower employee who asked not to be named because the employee did not have the company’s permission to speak.
At the end of 2021, amid Mr. Putin’s buildup to war with Ukraine, Samara’s forging division had its best quarter on record, reporting an 82 percent increase in production from the prior year. An internal presentation touting the rise listed it under the heading “Aerospace.”
That constituted roughly one percent of the plant’s overall output, making it something of a financial afterthought compared with the rest of the company’s business.
Still, with Russian warplanes and missiles employed in shocking attacks in Ukraine considered to constitute possible war crimes, ethical considerations weighed heavily, according to the employee.
By March, even as sales poured in, Arconic’s leadership was exploring ways to leave Russia entirely, according to internal memos.
But any purchase would require the approval of the Russian government, as well as VSMPO-Avisma, the Kremlin-linked firm with which Arconic had formed a joint partnership.
Selling would also require a license from the Treasury Department to avoid violating sanctions.
Even as Arconic sought an exit, internal documents show that the company went to some lengths to keep Samara running.
As early as March, with shipping companies ceasing operations in Russia, the company began seeking new ways to supply the plant with production materials.
A few weeks later, the company concluded that, because of new sanctions, U.S.- and Europe-based employees could no longer work on efforts to supply the plant with materials, even from abroad.
The company shifted this work to its division in China, where employees were thought to be unconstrained by Western sanctions.
By early May, an internal presentation reported, Samara was hitting “numerous production volume records.” And sales were up: $233 million in the first quarter of 2022, from $195 million the year before. This likely reflected the commercial work that makes up most of Samara’s output, rather than military projects, but it underscored Arconic’s success in keeping the plant spinning at full speed.
Still, the company concluded around the same time, according to Mr. Myers, its chief executive, that the war would continue for a long stretch, and with it both the sanctions and Russian government restrictions constraining Arconic’s ability to operate. Mr. Myers said that moral considerations also factored into Arconic’s decision to seek to leave Russia.
That the partnership between Arconic and Russia ever seemed workable underscores how far the world has moved on from the notion that first brought them together: that economic integration would end a century of Russian-Western enmity and finally secure lasting peace.
Mr. Connolly, the economist, compared Arconic’s stake in Russia to Europe’s decision to build its energy grids atop Russian gas pipelines and oil shipments, which was thought to make conflict unthinkable.
Instead, European energy consumers are effectively funding Russia’s government even as they punish it with sanctions, much as Arconic appears caught up in Russian militarism that Washington had once hoped American investment might temper.
“It’s a really graphic illustration,” Dr. Connolly said, “of the dashed hopes of that era.”
AerCap logo is seen displayed in front of the model of an airplane and a Russian flag in this illustration taken, May 4, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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Irish lessor had largest Russia exposure
AerCap submitted $3.5 bln insurance claim in March
Plans to vigorously pursue all claims
May 17 (Reuters) – The world’s top aircraft lessor AerCap (AER.N) said on Tuesday it booked a pretax charge of $2.7 billion in the first quarter as it recognised a loss on its more than 100 jets that remain stranded in Russia.
AerCap is the latest leasing company to take an immediate hit on its Russian exposure, something the firms had previously been expected to defer until they had more clarity over the amount that could be reclaimed from insurers. read more
But with lessors and insurers gearing up for an historic battle over record potential claims worth an estimated $10 billion, industry executives said some lessors had been advised by lawyers to take writedowns as soon as possible to buttress claims that could drag through the courts for years. read more
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Dublin-based AerCap had the largest exposure of any lessor, accounting for 5% of its fleet by value. It submitted a $3.5 billion insurance claim in March and said on Tuesday it had not recognized any receivables relating to the claims. read more
“We have filed insurance claims related to these assets and will vigorously pursue all available remedies to recover our losses,” AerCap Chief Executive Officer Aengus Kelly said in a statement, describing the Russian hit as an undoubted setback, but a manageable one.
Over 400 leased planes worth almost $10 billion remained in Russia after a March 28 deadline to cancel the contracts in line with Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
AerCap’s charge comprised of an impairment loss and complete write off of flight equipment that remains in Russia. It removed 22 aircraft and three engines that were based outside of Russia when the sanctions were announced, but has 113 aircraft and 11 engines still stuck in the country.
The charge was partially offset by $210 million in payments from letters of credit related to the Russian-based assets. AerCap said it had initiated legal proceedings against one financial institution which rejected its payment demands.
AerCap said that excluding the charge, its first quarter net income was $540 million and Kelly said he expected to see demand for travel continue to grow as a broad-based recovery progresses.
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Reporting by Nathan Gomes in Bengaluru, Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Tim Hepher in Paris
Editing by Maju Samuel and Mark Potter
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
For much of last year, established automakers like General Motors and Ford Motor operated in a different reality from Tesla, the electric car company.
G.M. and Ford closed one factory after another — sometimes for months on end — because of a shortage of computer chips, leaving dealer lots bare and sending car prices zooming. Yet Tesla racked up record sales quarter after quarter and ended the year having sold nearly twice as many vehicles as it did in 2020 unhindered by an industrywide crisis.
Tesla’s ability to conjure up critical components has a greater significance than one year’s car sales. It suggests that the company, and possibly other young electric car businesses, could threaten the dominance of giants like Volkswagen and G.M. sooner and more forcefully than most industry executives and policymakers realize. That would help the effort to reduce the emissions that are causing climate change by displacing more gasoline-powered cars sooner. But it could hurt the millions of workers, thousands of suppliers and numerous local and national governments that rely on traditional auto production for jobs, business and tax revenue.
Tesla and its enigmatic chief executive, Elon Musk, have said little about how the carmaker ran circles around the rest of the auto industry. Now it’s becoming clear that the company simply had a superior command of technology and its own supply chain. Tesla appeared to better forecast demand than businesses that produce many more cars than it does. Other automakers were surprised by how quickly the car market recovered from a steep drop early in the pandemic and had simply not ordered enough chips and parts fast enough.
G.M. and Stellantis, the company formed from the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, all sold fewer cars in 2021 than they did in 2020.
Tesla’s production and supply problems made it an industry laughingstock. Many of the manufacturing snafus stemmed from Mr. Musk’s insistence that the company make many parts itself.
Other car companies have realized that they need to do some of what Mr. Musk and Tesla have been doing all along and are in the process of taking control of their onboard computer systems.
Mercedes, for example, plans to use fewer specialized chips in coming models and more standardized semiconductors, and to write its own software, said Markus Schäfer, a member of the German carmaker’s management board who oversees procurement.
traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:
A reduction in shipping. With fewer goods being made and fewer people with paychecks to spend at the start of the pandemic, manufacturers and shipping companies assumed that demand would drop sharply. But that proved to be a mistake, as demand for some items would surge.
Demand for protective gear spiked. In early 2020, the entire planet suddenly needed surgical masks and gowns. Most of these goods were made in China. As Chinese factories ramped up production, cargo vessels began delivering gear around the globe.
Then, a shipping container shortage. Shipping containers piled up in many parts of the world after they were emptied. The result was a shortage of containers in the one country that needed them the most: China, where factories would begin pumping out goods in record volumes
Demand for durable goods increased. The pandemic shifted Americans’ spending from eating out and attending events to office furniture, electronics and kitchen appliances – mostly purchased online. The spending was also encouraged by government stimulus programs.
Strained supply chains. Factory goods swiftly overwhelmed U.S. ports. Swelling orders further outstripped the availability of shipping containers, and the cost of shipping a container from Shanghai to Los Angeles skyrocketed tenfold.
It also helps that Tesla is a much smaller company than Volkswagen and Toyota, which in a good year produce more than 10 million vehicles each. “It’s just a smaller supply chain to begin with,” said Mr. Melsert, who is now chief executive of American Battery Technology Company, a recycling and mining firm.
recall more than 475,000 cars for two separate defects. One could cause the rearview camera to fail, and the other could cause the front hood to open unexpectedly. And federal regulators are investigating the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot system, which can accelerate, brake and steer a car on its own.
“Tesla will continue to grow,” said Stephen Beck, managing partner at cg42, a management consulting firm in New York. “But they are facing more competition than they ever have, and the competition is getting stronger.”
The carmaker’s fundamental advantage, which allowed it to sail through the chip crisis, will remain, however. Tesla builds nothing but electric vehicles and is unencumbered by habits and procedures that have been rendered obsolete by new technology. “Tesla started from a clean sheet of paper,” Mr. Amsrud said.
It was the quintessential American company, a corporate behemoth whose ambition matched the country’s.
Formed in 1892, General Electric reached into nearly every home over the next century. It sold light bulbs, televisions and washing machines. Its jet engines opened up long-distance travel, its generators lit houses, and its medical equipment helped diagnose patients.
Now G.E. is making a final break with its storied past, splitting itself into three businesses, a victim of the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis and a fast-growing economy less hospitable to global conglomerates.
On Tuesday, the company said it would spin off its health care division in early 2023 and its energy businesses a year later. That would leave its aviation unit as its remaining business.
Mr. Welch also built up a huge finance arm at G.E. The assumption was that G.E.’s managers were the best in the world, and there was easy money to be made on Wall Street.
The buildup backfired when the financial crisis hit in 2008, putting G.E. in a credit crunch. Its chief executive at the time, Jeffrey R. Immelt, moved to drastically pare back the big finance unit, GE Capital.
Other businesses hit hard times because of the financial crisis as well, and some Wall Street firms collapsed. But few outside of Wall Street are still paying a price like G.E. As the company scrambled to shed many of its troubled financial assets, its overextended power-generation business became a drag on the operation.
dropped from the blue-chip index. By the fall of that year, Mr. Flannery had been forced out, replaced by Mr. Culp, a former chief executive of Danaher, a more compact conglomerate that makes scientific, medical and automotive equipment.
Under Mr. Culp, the company has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle with the Securities and Exchange Commission over claims that it misled investors before his arrival. He has also accelerated cost-cutting at the company. G.E., which had more than 300,000 employees worldwide in 2014, now has 161,000 workers.
Mr. Culp on Tuesday described the breakup of the company as being in step with the times, as other industry conglomerates have streamlined. In the last few years, G.E.’s big German rival Siemens has spun off its health care and energy businesses. And Honeywell International, another wide-ranging industrial company, has sold off some operations.
Trian, the activist shareholder firm led by Nelson Peltz, have pressured the company to spin out or sell various businesses, and they cheered the move on Tuesday.
“Trian enthusiastically supports this important step in the transformation of G.E.,” a spokeswoman for Trian said.
Shares of G.E. climbed about 3 percent in trading on Tuesday.
The three new stand-alone companies will be sizable. The jet engine business had revenue of $22 billion last year. There are 36,000 G.E. engines on commercial airliners worldwide and 26,000 engines on military aircraft.
Its health care business had $17 billion in revenue last year, with four million of its imaging and other machines in use at hospitals and clinics around the world.
The new energy and power company will include wind turbines and gas-fueled power generators that produce about one-third of the world’s electricity.
Each of those businesses faces challenges — the aviation unit is emerging from the pandemic falloff in air travel, and the power business must adapt to the shift to alternative energy sources.
But each one, Mr. Culp insisted, would be a strong competitor in its respective market, “a simpler, stronger and more focused company,” easier to manage and easier for investors to understand.
It is a message very different from the G.E. of old.
FRANKFURT — The name MG used to be synonymous with spirited but finicky sports cars from Britain. Nowadays the iconic octagonal badge serves a different kind of motoring ambition: China’s push to become a big player in the global auto market.
SAIC Motor, one of China’s Big Four automakers, bought the MG brand in 2007 and is stamping it on a line of electric sport utility vehicles on sale in Germany and other European markets. MG is an example of how Chinese carmakers are exploiting the shift to electric cars to challenge the American, European and Japanese carmakers that have long dominated the industry.
The Chinese automakers are arriving as electric cars surge in popularity, accounting for almost 10 percent of new car sales in Western Europe, and consumers are in a mood to buy, with savings built up during the pandemic. At the same time, car manufacturers are cutting back production because of shortages of microprocessors.
MG already has 350 dealers in 16 European countries and is still expanding. Two other Chinese automakers, Nio and BYD, are moving into Europe by way of Norway, the world’s most electrified large car market.
Nio, based in Shanghai, opened a dealership in Oslo at the end of September, the company’s first outlet outside China. BYD, based in Shenzhen, delivered an electric S.U.V. called the Tang, to the first Norwegian customer in August.
Polestar, which is based in Sweden but belongs to Geely Holding of China, has been selling a Chinese-made battery-powered model in Europe and the United States since 2020. And many of the Teslas on European roads were imported from the company’s factory in Shanghai. (That will change once the company finishes building a factory near Berlin.)
Foreign automakers like Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz or General Motors sell millions of cars in China, so they can hardly complain when Chinese automakers encroach on their turf. Even though China is the world’s largest car market, its brands have only a sliver of the international market. Even buyers in China prefer foreign brands, although local carmakers are growing quickly and have captured more than 40 percent of the domestic market.
global semiconductor shortage. The wait time for an MG hybrid is only four weeks, and three months for an all-electric model, “which is pretty much OK compared to other brands right now,” Mr. Stark said.
Waits for many European brands can be much longer, especially for lower-priced models. Carmakers like Renault are allocating scarce chips to higher-end vehicles, which generate more profit.
While the market may be ripe for Chinese electric cars, the political timing may not be so ideal. Many European leaders share their American counterparts’ concern about Chinese trade practices, accusing Beijing of subsidizing companies to give them an unfair advantage in international competition.
are negotiating to form a government that is likely to include the Green Party, which favors a harder line against China than Angela Merkel, the departing chancellor. MG may be particularly vulnerable to concerns about the mingling of government and corporate interests because its parent company, SAIC, is majority owned by the state.
international car show in Munich in September. “Car brands, wherever they are located, have export business.”
As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.
By Katrin Bennhold
Photographs by Lena Mucha
STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.
Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacationand a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.
All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.
“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.
But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.
parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.
successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.
phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.
Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.
Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.
She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.
“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”
lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.
But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”
Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.
Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.
Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.
That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.
Two Fathers and Two Sons
was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.
Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.
Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.
On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.
“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”
Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”
She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.
“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.
“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”
The Post-Merkel Generation
Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.
Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.
This time they won.
“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.
Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.
“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”
Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.
“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.
The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”
“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.
announced on Twitter that he was forming a coordinating council together with Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan delegation to peace talks, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hesb-i-Islami party, to manage a peaceful transfer of power. Mr. Karzai called on both government and Taliban forces to act with restraint.
But the Taliban appeared to ignore his appeal and advanced into the city on its own terms.
The Taliban’s lead negotiator in talks with the government, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, congratulated all of Afghanistan for the victory. “Now it will be shown how we can serve our nation,” he said. “We can assure that our nation has a peaceful life and a better future.”
Mr. Baradar made the comments in a video posted on social media, surrounded by other members of the Taliban delegation to the talks in Doha, Qatar.
“There was no expectation that we would achieve victory in this war,” he said. “But this came with the help of Allah, therefore we should be thankful to Him, be humble in front of Him, so that we do not act arrogantly.”
Al Jazeera reported that it had interviewed Taliban fighters who were holding a news conference in the presidential palace in Kabul, the capital. The fighters said they were working to secure Kabul so that leaders in Qatar and outside the capital could return safely. Al Jazeera reported that the fighters had taken down the flag of Afghanistan.
As it became clear that Taliban fighters were entering Kabul, thousands of Afghans who had sought refuge there after fleeing the insurgents’ brutal military offensive watched with growing alarm as the local police seemed to fade from their usual checkpoints. The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to not head to the airport in Kabul after reports that the facility was taking fire, and said that the situation was “changing quickly.”
Late in Kabul’s evening, President Ghani released a written statement on Facebook saying he had departed the country to save the capital from further bloodshed.
“Today I was presented with a hard choice,” he wrote. “I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the presidential palace or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting the past twenty years.”
“If I had stayed, countless countrymen would have been martyred and Kabul city would have been ruined,” he added, “in which case a disaster would have been brought upon this city of five million.”
At 6:30 p.m. local time, the Taliban issued a statement that their forces were moving into police districts in order to maintain security in areas that had been abandoned by the government security forces. Taliban fighters, meeting no resistance, took up positions in parts of the city, after Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, posted the statement on Twitter.
“The Islamic Emirates ordered its forces to enter the areas of Kabul city from which the enemy has left because there is risk of theft and robbery,” the statement said. The Taliban had been ordered not to harm civilians and not to enter individual homes, it added. “Our forces are entering Kabul city with all caution.”
As the sun set behind the mountains, the traffic was clogged up as crowds grew bigger, with more and more Taliban fighters appearing on motorbikes, police pickups and even a Humvee that once belonged to the American-sponsored Afghan security forces.
Earlier in the afternoon, Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal announced that an agreement had been made for a peaceful transfer of power for greater Kabul, and that his forces were maintaining security.
“The city’s security is guaranteed. There will be no attack on the city,” he said. “The agreement for greater Kabul city is that under an interim administration, God willing, power will be transferred.”
Mr. Mirzakwal later announced a 9 p.m. curfew in the capital, and called on its residents to go home.
Mr. Ghani left Kabul in a plane with his wife, Rula Ghani, and two close aides, and arrived in Uzbekistan, according to a member of the Afghan delegation in Doha, Qatar, that has been in peace negotiations with the Taliban since last year. The official asked not to be named because he did not want to be identified speaking about the president’s movements.
It could not be confirmed that Mr. Ghani was in Uzbekistan, and there were reports that he had gone to other countries.
In a Facebook video, Mr. Abdullah, former chief executive of the Afghan government, criticized Mr. Ghani for fleeing.
“That the former president of Afghanistan has left the country and its people in this bad situation, God will call him to account and the people of Afghanistan will make their judgment,” Mr. Abdullah said in the video.
In negotiations being managed by Mr. Abdullah, Mr. Ghani had been set to travel to Doha on Sunday with a larger group to negotiate the transfer of power, but flew instead to Uzbekistan, the peace delegation member said.
Mr. Ghani had resisted pressure to step down. In a recorded speech aired on Saturday, he pledged to “prevent further instability” and called for “remobilizing” the country’s military. But the president was increasingly isolated, and his words seemed detached from the reality around him.
With rumors rife and reliable information hard to come by, the streets were filled during the day with scenes of panic and desperation.
“Greetings, the Taliban have reached the city. We are escaping,” said Sahraa Karimi, the head of Afghan Film, in a post shared widely on Facebook. Filming herself as she fled on foot, out of breath and clutching at her headscarf, she shouted at others to escape while they could.
“Hey woman, girl, don’t go that way!” she called out. “Some people don’t know what is going on,” she went on. “Where are you going? Go quickly.”
Wais Omari, 20, a street vendor in the city, said the situation was already dire and he feared for the future.
“If it gets worse, I will hide in my home,” he said.
Christina Goldbaum, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Carlotta Gall, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Sharif Hassan, Jim Huylebroek, Najim Rahim, and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.
Panic gripped the Afghan capital, Kabul, Sunday as Taliban fighters started arriving in the city, inmates broke out of the main prison on the east side of the city, and the American-backed government appeared to crumble.
By the afternoon, President Ashraf Ghani was reported to have fled. And as American forces focused their energies on evacuation flights for embassy staff and other personnel, Afghan government officials were shown in video footage accepting a handover of power to their Taliban counterparts in several cities.
Early in the day, senior Afghan politicians were seen boarding planes at Kabul airport. Bagram Air Base was taken by Taliban forces midday Sunday as was the provincial town of Khost in eastern Afghanistan, according to Afghan media reports. The fall of Khost was part of a domino-like collapse of power of astonishing speed that saw city after city fall in just the last week, leaving Kabul as the last major city in government hands.
Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal announced in a video statement in the early afternoon that an agreement had been made for a peaceful transfer of power for greater Kabul and sought to reassure residents, saying that the security forces would remain in their posts to ensure security in the city.
“As the minister of interior, we have ordered all Afghan National Security Forces divisions and members to stabilize Kabul,” he said in a video statement released on the Facebook page of the ministry at 2 p.m. local time. “There will be no attack on the city. The agreement for greater Kabul city is that under an interim administration, God Willing, power will be transferred.”
But residents seemed unconvinced by their leaders’ assurances. In the center of the city people were pictured painting over advertisements and posters of women at beauty salons, apparently preparing for a takeover by the fundamentalist Taliban who do not allow images of humans or animal life, and have traditionally have banned music and the mixing of the sexes.
Residents confirmed that police had abandoned many of their posts or changed into civilian clothes. The Taliban denied rumors that their chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was already in the capital and preparing to take over control at the Interior Ministry.
Throughout the day, surreal scenes played out as it appeared ever more clear the Taliban were taking over.
The insurgency has long had its own power structure of shadow governors appointed for every province, and Sunday it was clear who was in control in strategic areas. The governors and tribal and political leaders who had been in power were shown in videos formally handing control to their Taliban counterparts in the strategic cities of Kandahar, the main stronghold of the south, and in Nangarhar, the main city of the east.
But in Kabul fears of the city being overrun were running high after a breakout of prisoners, many of them members of the Taliban, from the main prison at Pul-i-Charkhi.
“Look at this, the whole people are let free,” a man said as he filmed a video footage of people carrying bundles walking away from the prison, posted on Facebook. “This is the Day of Judgment.”
The breakout seems to have been by the prisoners from the inside, rather than an attack by Taliban forces from the outside.
Some Afghans still found room for humor amid the chaos: “Taliban have reached Kabul airport … their speed is faster than 5G,” one resident of Kabul posted on Facebook.
But others fled, though it is unclear where they could go with the Taliban in control of so much of the country.
“Greetings, the Taliban have reached the city. We are escaping,” said Sahraa Karimi, the head of Afghan Film, in a post shared widely on Facebook. Filming herself as she fled on foot, out of breath and clutching at her head scarf, she called on passers-by to get away.
The former president Hamid Karzai and other leaders tried to step into the vacuum, and announced they were not leaving. Mr. Karzai, who has been involved in discussions with the Taliban for an interim government, posted a video on his Facebook page of himself with his daughters in his garden as helicopters sounded overhead.
“My dear residents of Kabul, I want to say that I and my daughters and family are here with you,” he said. “We are working with the leader of the Taliban to resolve the difficulties of Afghanistan in a peaceful way.”
Abdullah Abdullah, who has led recent talks with the Taliban also made a video statement from his garden.
“The last few days have been very hard for our countrymen all over the country,” he said. He called on the Taliban to negotiate “so that the security situation does not deteriorate and our people do not suffer further.”
As news broke that the president had left the country, Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former head of intelligence who has been fighting against the Taliban from the 1990s, tweeted that he would not surrender.
Yet the Afghan security forces seemed to be melting away. Abdul Jabar Safi, head of the Kabul Industrial Park, an area of hundreds of factories and businesses, said business owners were trying to fend off looters with a few pistols and rifles left them by the government guards.
“We want the Taliban to reach us as soon as possible so they can secure the area,” he said when reached by telephone. “We are in touch with the Taliban and they have assured us that until they reach the industrial park we must keep the security of the park by ourselves.”
Officials at the National Museum of Kabul on the western side of Kabul also appealed through a western official for help, saying that police guards had abandoned their post outside the museum and that they feared the museum, which was badly looted in the 1990s, would fall prey again to thieves.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. embassy warned Americans not to head to the airport in Kabul because of a situation that was “changing quickly” after the Taliban entered the city on Sunday.
Witnesses at the civilian domestic terminal said they had heard occasional gunshots and said thousands of people had crammed into the terminal and filled the parking lots, desperately seeking flights out.
“The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport,” the embassy said in a statement. “There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place.”
Late Sunday, the State and Defense Departments issued a statement saying the U.S. was working to secure control of the airport and to speed up the evacuation using civilian and military flights.
“Tomorrow and over the coming days,” the statement said, “we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.”
The Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, completing the near total takeover of Afghanistan two decades after the American military drove them from power. A frenzied evacuation of U.S. diplomats and civilians kicked into high gear last week, while Afghans made a mad dash to banks, their homes and the airport. Crowds of people ran down the streets as the sound of gunfire echoed in downtown Kabul.
Helicopter after helicopter — including massive Chinooks with their twin engines, and speedy Black Hawks that had been the workhorse of the grinding war — touched down and then took off loaded with passengers. Some shot flares overhead.
On Saturday, President Biden accelerated the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to aid in the evacuation. On Sunday, orders went out to deploy another 1,000, temporarily bringing the U.S. presence there to 6,000, according to a Pentagon official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and was granted anonymity.
Those being evacuated over the weekend included a core group of American diplomats who had planned to remain at the embassy in Kabul, according to a senior administration official. They were being moved to a compound at the international airport, where they would stay for an unspecified amount of time, the official said.
The runway of the airport was filled with a constellation of uniforms from different nations. They joined contractors, diplomats and civilians all trying to catch a flight out of the city. Those who were eligible to fly were given special bracelets, denoting their status as noncombatants.
For millions of Afghans, including tens of thousands who assisted the U.S. efforts in the country for years, there were no bracelets. They were stuck in the city.
Hundreds of people swarmed to the civilian side of the airport in the hopes of boarding planes out, but by evening scores were still waiting inside the terminal and milling around on the apron amid the constant roar of planes taking off from the adjacent military air base. A long line of people waited outside the check-in gate, unsure if the flights they had booked out of the country would arrive.
While President Biden has defended his decision to hold firm and pull the last U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, his administration has become increasingly worried about images that could evoke a foreign policy disaster of the past: the fall of Saigon at the end of the conflict in Vietnam in 1975.
Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Christina Goldbaum, Sharif Hassan, Jim Huylebroek, Najim Rahimand Lara Jakes contributed reporting.
A conference call between members of Congress and the Biden administration’s top diplomatic and military leaders on Afghanistan turned contentious on Sunday, as lawmakers pressed the administration on how intelligence on the Taliban could have failed so badly and how long the military will secure the Kabul airport.
Lawmakers said the 45-minute call with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not particularly revelatory.
“It was, I would say, a rote exercise in telling us what we had already learned from the media and social media,” said Representative Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan and a former Army reservist who did conflict analysis in Afghanistan.
The questioning was pointed and at times contentious. Much of it centered on which Afghans the United States would get out of Afghanistan — and how.
Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who was a State Department official in the Obama administration and a former leader of Human Rights Watch, pressed for answers on how long the U.S. military would be able to keep its hold on the Kabul airport, so that charter and commercial flights can continue.
Lawmakers also asked whether the Afghans that Americans are trying to help leave would go beyond those who worked for the embassy, interpreters for the military and others with special immigrant visas. The briefers assured them that the United States would try to help a broader group, including human rights and women’s rights activists, journalists and students at the American University of Afghanistan.
“I want to make sure we don’t pick up and leave when all the Americans and S.I.V.’s are out,” Mr. Malinowski said, referring to the special visa holders.
But there is no guarantee that all Afghans who want to get out will be able to do so.
“It is overwhelmingly clear to me that this has been a cascade of failures at the Defense Department, with the intelligence community and within our political community,” Mr. Meijer said. “And nothing on the call gave me the confidence that even the magnitude of the failures has been comprehended.”
As their homeland fell once again into the hands of the Taliban, more than 300 Afghan Americans went to the White House on Sunday to make their frustrations known.
Demonstrators, some with young children and babies in strollers, spilled into Lafayette Square, wielding signs that read “Help Afghan kids” and “America betrayed us.”
Some held up the flag of Afghanistan. Others draped it over their shoulders. They stood in a circle around organizers who used bull horns to get their message out.
“We want justice,” they declared.
Among those attending the three-hour protest was Sohaila Samadyar, a 43-year-old banker in Washington, who was there with her 10-year-old son. Ms. Samadyar, who immigrated to America in 2000, said she wanted to raise awareness about Afghans still stuck in the country, like her brother and sister in Kabul.
Ms. Samadyar said that she voted for President Biden in November, but that she now regretted that decision, “disappointed” in his handling of the war.
“He has basically disregarded the Afghan community,” she said. “It’s unbelievable how fast everything has changed.”
Yasameen Anwar, a 19-year-old sophomore in college, drove about three hours from Richmond, Va., with her friends and sister to attend the protest. Ms. Anwar said she was concerned about the future of women and children in Afghanistan.
“Before, when America was in Afghanistan, there was hope in that we were fighting the Taliban and that they could finally be defeated after 20 years,” Ms. Anwar said. “But by the Biden administration completely stepping out, it’s giving them no hope anymore.”
A first-generation Afghan American, Ms. Anwar said she had always dreamed of visiting her family’s home country. She now doubts that she will be able to go.
“It just seems like we’re never going to get peace,” Ms. Anwar said.
As the U.S. raced to evacuate personnel from its embassy in Kabul, human and refugee rights groups sharply criticized the Biden administration for not moving faster to relocate America’s Afghan allies from a country where they are at risk of lethal Taliban reprisals.
“The Biden administration has taken too long to create a process that ensures safety for Afghans who served with American military and civil society actors,” Jennifer Quigley, senior director for government affairs at Human Rights First, said in a statement. “As Afghanistan’s military and political leaders abandon their posts, the United States risks abandoning allies who stood with us, who translated for and protected our troops.”
“Unless there is a swift and meaningful effort to evacuate the thousands of allies and their families to the United States or a U.S. territory, we will have broken our promise to leave no one behind,” she added.
Congress this year created the Special Immigrant Visa program to allow Afghans who worked with the Americans over the past 20 years to relocate to the United States. The State Department has given eligibility to tens of thousands of people and their families, and some have been flown out of Afghanistan.
But the rate of evacuation has not matched the speed of the Afghan government collapse. “If evacuation flights continue at their current pace, it would take until March 2023 to evacuate all the eligible Afghans out of the country,” Ms. Quigley said.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced that Afghans who are not eligible for the program — including ones who worked for U.S.-based media organizations and nongovernmental organizations — could apply for high-priority refugee status.
But U.S. officials said those Afghans, who may number in the tens of thousands, must first leave the country under their own auspices merely to begin an application process that can take more than a year. With the Taliban in control of cities, highways and border crossings, it may now be too late for many of them to leave.
The fall of Kabul follows days in which one urban center after another fell to the insurgents with astonishing speed, often with little or no resistance, leaving the government in control of nothing but fast-shrinking pockets of the country.
The insurgents took Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north, late on Saturday, only an hour after breaking through the front lines at the city’s edge. Soon after, government security forces and militias — including those led by the warlords Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Noor — fled, effectively handing control to the insurgents.
On Sunday morning, the Taliban seized the eastern city of Jalalabad. In taking that provincial capital and surrounding areas, the insurgents gained control of the Torkham border crossing, a major trade and transit route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They took over Bagram Air Base, which had been the hub of U.S. military power in the country until the Americans handed control of it back to Afghan forces six weeks earlier.
Later on Sunday, Taliban fighters began taking up positions in Kabul, the capital — the last major city that had been under government control — as government forces melted away and the president fled the country.
The Taliban offensive, which started in May when the United States began withdrawing troops, gathered speed over the past week. In city after city, the militants took down Afghan government flags and hoisted their own white banners.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken acknowledged on Sunday that the offensive had moved faster than U.S. officials had expected.
Despite two decades of war with American-led forces, the Taliban have survived and thrived, without giving up their vision of creating a state governed by a stringent Islamic code.
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s, movie theaters were closed, the Kabul television station was shut down and the playing of all music was banned. Schools were closed to girls.
Despite many Afghans’ memories of years under Taliban rule before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the insurgents have taken control of much of the country in recent days with only minimal resistance.
Their rapid successes have exposed the weakness of an Afghan military that the United States spent more than $83 billion to support over the past two decades. As the insurgents’ campaign has accelerated, soldiers and police officers have abandoned the security forces in ever greater numbers, with the cause for which they risked their lives appearing increasingly to be lost.
The speed of the Taliban’s advance has thrown exit planning into disarray. While many analysts had believed that the Afghan military could be overrun after international forces withdrew, they thought it would happen over months and years.
President Biden has accelerated the deployment of an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to help get American citizens out. He made it clear that he would not reverse his decision to withdraw all combat forces.
“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats,” Mr. Biden said on Saturday afternoon. “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
With their seizure of Jalalabad on Sunday, and its entry into Kabul, the Talibaneffectively took control of Afghanistan. Planes departing the airport in Kabul, the capital, were filled with people fleeing the city.
The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday morning after the Taliban appeared to take control of Afghanistan, where the U.N. has maintained an extensive aid operation since the early days of the American-led occupation two decades ago.
Secretary General António Guterres, who had repeatedly condemned attacks on Afghan civilians and implored the Taliban and government representatives to negotiate a peaceful settlement, was expected to speak at the emergency meeting. On Friday, as it was becoming increasingly clear that the Afghan government was collapsing as Taliban fighters walked into city after city, Mr. Guterres said the country was “spinning out of control.”
It remains unclear how the Taliban would be regarded by the United Nations should the militant movement declare itself the legitimate power in Afghanistan. Many countries in the 193-member organization have condemned the Taliban’s brutality and would most likely not recognize such a declaration.
The United Nations employs roughly 3,000 employees who are Afghan and about 720 international staff members in Afghanistan, but roughly half of the international staff have been working outside the country since the pandemic started last year.
U.N. officials have repeatedly said there were no plans to evacuate any staff members from the country. But Mr. Guterres’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, told reporters last week that the organization was evaluating the security situation “hour by hour.”
The Taliban have pledged not to interfere in United Nations aid operations. But on July 30, a U.N. office in the western city of Herat was attacked by the Taliban, and a local security official guarding the office was killed.
The main U.N. mission, based in Kabul, is known as the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or Unama, and was established in 2002 to help create a government following the American-led invasion.
It was his first day as the Taliban-appointed mayor of Kunduz, and Gul Mohammad Elias was on a charm offensive.
Last Sunday, the insurgents seized control of the city in northern Afghanistan, which was in shambles after weeks of fighting. Power lines were down. The water supply, powered by generators, did not reach most residents. Trash and rubble littered the streets.
The civil servants who could fix those problems were hiding at home, terrified of the Taliban. So the insurgent-commander-turned-mayor summoned some to his new office, to persuade them to return to work.
But day by day, as municipal offices stayed mostly empty,Mr. Elias grew more frustrated — and his rhetoric grew harsher.
Taliban fighters began going door to door, searching for absentee city workers. Hundreds of armed men set up checkpoints across the city. At the entrance to the regional hospital, a new notice appeared on the wall: Employees must return to work or face punishment from the Taliban.
The experience of those in Kunduz offers a glimpse of how the Taliban may govern, and what may be in store for the rest of the country.
In just days, the insurgents, frustrated by their failed efforts to cajole civil servants back to work, began instilling terror, according to residents reached by telephone.
“I am afraid, because I do not know what will happen and what they will do,” said one, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “We have to smile at them because we are scared, but deeply we are unhappy.”
Nearly every shop in Kunduz was closed. The shopkeepers, fearing their stores would be looted by Taliban fighters, had taken their goods home. Every afternoon the streets emptied of residents, who feared airstrikes as government planes buzzed in the sky. And about 500 Taliban fighters were stationed around the city, manning checkpoints on nearly every street corner.
At the regional hospital, armed Taliban were keeping track of attendance. Out of fear, the health worker said, female staff wore sky-blue burqas as they assisted in surgeries and tended to wounds from airstrikes, which still splintered the city each afternoon.
With the Taliban on the verge of regaining power in Afghanistan, President Biden has defended his decision to leave the country after two decades of U.S. military involvement.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden said that the United States had invested nearly $1 trillion in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and had trained and equipped more than 300,000 Afghan security forces, including maintaining the Asian country’s air force.
“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” Mr. Biden said. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
Mr. Biden’s statement came hours after the Taliban seized Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, but before the group captured the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday, The group entered Kabul, the capital, on Sunday as President Ashraf Ghani fled.
Mr. Biden partly blamed President Donald J. Trump for the unfolding disaster in Afghanistan, saying that the deal made with the Taliban in 2020 had set a deadline of May 1 this year for the withdrawal of American forces and left the group “in the strongest position militarily since 2001.”
“I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” Mr. Biden said.
This year, a study group appointed by Congress urged the Biden administration to abandon the May 1 deadline and slow the withdrawal of American troops, saying that a strict adherence to the timeline could lead Afghanistan into civil war. Pentagon officials made similar entreaties, but Mr. Biden maintained his long-held position that it was time for Afghanistan to fend for itself.
Since international troops began withdrawing in May, the Taliban have pursued their military takeover far more swiftly than U.S. intelligence agencies had anticipated. On Saturday, Mr. Biden accelerated the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to help ensure the safe evacuation from Kabul of U.S. citizens and Afghans who worked for the American government.
On Sunday, a decision was made to send another 1,000, temporarily bringing to 6,000 the number of American troops in the country.
In his statement, Mr. Biden warned the Taliban that “any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”
A high school student in Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-scarred capital, worries that she now will not be allowed to graduate.
The girl, Wahida Sadeqi, 17, like many Afghan civilians in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal and ahead of a Taliban victory, keeps asking the same question: What will happen to me?
The American withdrawal, which effectively ends the longest war on foreign soil in United States history, is also likely to be the start of another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people.
“I am so worried about my future. It seems so murky. If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” said Ms. Sadeqi, an 11th grader at Pardis High School in Kabul. “It is about my existence. It is not about their withdrawal. I was born in 2004, and I have no idea what the Taliban did to women, but I know women were banned from everything.”
Uncertainty hangs over virtually every facet of life in Afghanistan. It is unclear what the future holds and whether the fighting will ever stop. For two decades, American leaders have pledged peace, prosperity, democracy, the end of terrorism and rights for women.
Few of those promises have materialized in vast areas of Afghanistan, but now even in the cities where real progress occurred, there is fear that everything will be lost when the Americans leave.
The Taliban, the extremist group that once controlled most of the country and continues to fight the government, insist that the elected president step down. Militias are increasing in prominence and power, and there is talk of a lengthy civil war.
Over two decades, the American mission evolved from hunting terrorists to helping the government build the institutions of a functioning government, dismantle the Taliban and empower women. But the U.S. and Afghan militaries were never able to effectively destroy the Taliban, who sought refuge in Pakistan, allowing the insurgents to stage a comeback.
The Taliban never recognized Afghanistan’s democratic government. And they appear closer than ever to achieving the goal of their insurgency: to return to power and establish a government based on their extremist view of Islam.
Women would be most at risk under Taliban rule. When the group controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it barred women from taking most jobs or receiving educations and practically made them prisoners in their own homes — though this was already custom for many women in rural parts of the country.
“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban, said in April. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country — no one can deny them their rights or status.”
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Sunday that the defeat of Afghan security forces that has led to the Taliban’s takeover “happened more quickly than we anticipated,” although he maintained the Biden administration’s position that keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan was not in American interests.
“This is heart-wrenching stuff,” said Mr. Blinken, who looked shaken, in an interview on CNN after a night that saw members of the Taliban enter the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the shuttering of the U.S. Embassy as the last remaining American diplomats in Afghanistan were moved to a facility at the city’s airport for better protection.
Mr. Blinken stopped short of saying that all American diplomats would return to the United States, repeating an intent to maintain a small core of officials in Kabul.
But he forcefully defended the administration’s decision to withdraw the military from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, saying it could have been vulnerable to Taliban attacks had the United States reneged on an agreement brokered under President Donald J. Trump for all foreign forces to leave the country.
“We would have been back at war with the Taliban,” Mr. Blinken said, calling that “something the American people simply can’t support — that is the reality.”
He said it was not in American interests to devote more time, money and, potentially, casualties, to Afghanistan at a time that the United States was also facing long-term strategic challenges from China and Russia. But, Mr. Blinken said, American forces will remain in the region to confront any terrorist threat against the United States at home that might arise from Afghanistan.
He also appeared to demand more conditions for the prospect of recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government or establishing a formal diplomatic relationship with them.
Earlier, the Biden administration had said the Taliban, in order to acquire international financial support, must never allow terrorists to use Afghanistan as a haven, must not take Kabul by force and must not attack Americans.
On Sunday, Mr. Blinken said the Taliban must also uphold basic rights of citizens, particularly women who gained new freedoms to go to work and school after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
There will be no recognition of a Taliban government “if they’re not sustaining the basic rights of the Afghan people, and if they revert to supporting or harboring terrorists who might strike us,” the secretary of state said.
Mr. Blinken’s comments were swiftly criticized by the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who said the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan “is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency.”
“They totally blew this one,” Mr. McCaul said. “They completely underestimated the strength of the Taliban.”
“I hate to say this: I hope we don’t have to go back there,” he said. “But it will be a threat to the homeland in a matter of time.”
More than a hundred journalists employed by the American government’s own radio stations remain in Afghanistan as the Taliban take power, U.S. officials and Afghan journalists said Sunday.
“Journalists are being left behind,” said Rateb Noori, the Kabul bureau news manager of Radio Azadi, in a telephone interview from Kabul on Sunday.
The station, a branch of the U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty services, formerly called Radio Free Afghanistan, broadcast through the day Sunday, including airing an interview with a Taliban spokesman. Its sister station, Voice of America, reported on Sunday that one of its reporters “was in the passport office when everyone was told to leave immediately and go home.”
The Afghans working for the U.S. government broadcasters in Kabul and around the country have long been targets of the insurgents, who killed a journalist with Radio Free Afghanistan in a targeted bombing in November. They are among the most exposed of hundreds of Afghans who have worked with American news organizations since the arrival of U.S. troops in 2001, and media organizations have been scrambling to help local employees evacuate. The U.S. government made journalists eligible for a visa program that could allow them to leave the country. They have yet to be evacuated and the window to do so is closing quickly.
The acting interim chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the broadcasters, said in an email to staff Sunday that the agency is “doing everything in our power to protect” journalists and “will not back down in our mission to inform, engage, and connect Afghans in support of freedom and democracy.”
The president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly, said in a text message that the service is “doing everything possible to make sure they can safely continue their work.”
Mr. Noori, who was awake late on Sunday because he was worried about looters at his home, said there was no protection and little certainty — including whether the stations will continue to broadcast Monday.
“Everybody is locked down in their homes, and no one knows what happens tomorrow,” he said.
Afghan journalists have little to do but rely on early Taliban promises that they will not attack members of the news media.
“Having experience last time of their role in Afghanistan, I think they cannot keep their promises — they cannot control their people,” he said. “I’m just hoping that we can survive for a while, and then let’s see if we have a way out to any neighboring country,” Mr. Noori said.
Mujeeb Angaar, who worked for Radio Free Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013 before fleeing the country, said in a telephone interview from his home in Canada that he was told by the Taliban at the time that he “should be killed, because you work for Jews, you work for the CIA.”
The American-backed services “will be the first target,” he said.
ZHENGZHOU, China — More than 200 cars were caught in a highway tunnel on Tuesday in central China when record-setting rainfall soaked the area. Torrents of water poured in the tunnel’s entrances, nearly filling it to the ceiling.
The death toll that day probably would have been higher had it not been for a semiretired special forces commando who swam back and forth among the bobbing, colliding vehicles to rescue drowning drivers as their cars filled with water and sank. The authorities are still draining the tunnel, and have said that at least four people died.
Initially, international attention to transportation safety risks from extreme weather focused on drownings in a subway tunnel that filled with water during the same cloudburst in Zhengzhou, in central China’s Henan Province. But the highway-tunnel flooding deaths highlight the risks that climate change can also pose to motorists, transportation safety experts said this weekend.
Indeed, the deaths show that road engineers, like subway-system designers, will need to cope with the more intense rainfalls associated with climate change, said Kara M. Kockelman, a transportation engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
1993 during the Mississippi River floods in the Midwest to alleviate pressure on dams when the water behind them became dangerously high.
Only two months ago, the Henan Province government was promoting its “smart tunnel” investments in the same mile-long, four-lane highway tunnel that flooded on Tuesday. Sensors could be used to track and precisely locate any person or vehicle, and to closely monitor the tunnel’s water pumps. An artificial intelligence system could be used to instantly analyze problems and suggest solutions.
Highway tunnels, including Zhengzhou’s, are built with their own pumping systems. But extreme cloudbursts like the one last week, in which eight inches of rain fell in a single hour, pose formidable challenges for road designers.
To work, such pumping systems need to be able to move the water somewhere that is not underwater itself. Zhengzhou is nearly flat and slow to drain. The entire street at the south end of the tunnel filled with water several feet deep.
Dr. Kockelman said that any investigation of what went wrong in Zhengzhou would need to examine whether the exit point for the pumps had become submerged. That could cause the flow of water through the pumps to reverse direction and fill the tunnel.
Liu Chunge, an owner of a tiny grocery store that sits two stairs above the sidewalk next to the south end of the tunnel, said that the water in the streets rose fast. She was soon calf-deep inside her store.
The freezer from which she sells ice cream began to float, so she loaded beverage bottles onto it to force it back down to the floor.
“I’ve never experienced such a big flood,” said Ms. Liu, 50. “In previous floods, the water never rose above the two steps.”
Zhengzhou officials have held three news conferences since the tunnel floods, but they have yet to directly explain what went wrong.
Local authorities have struggled to remove water from the highway tunnel. On Friday afternoon, they were operating a pair of pumps nearly the size of commercial jet engines attached to bright red, fire engine-size suction trucks at the tunnel’s south end. But the muddy water was still deep enough in the tunnel that only the roof of a white car inside was visible.
Several workers maneuvered a large yellow tow truck to try to pull a mud-covered black minivan out of the tunnel’s exit. The minivan had its rear wheels on a nearly yard-high highway median, and its driver’s door hung open. Five other mud-soaked cars and vans lay in the water nearby, including a dark blue Ford sedan with a white car on its roof.
Many Zhengzhou residents watched and filmed the crews’ work on Friday afternoon, and were occasionally chased away by a few municipal police officers.
As for Mr. Yang, Caocao gave him a new, $25,000 electric minivan on Friday night.
Li You, Claire Fu and Liu Yi contributed research.