MEXICO CITY — Observed from a soaring cable car, the city is a sea of concrete stretching to the horizon, ruptured only by clusters of skyscrapers and the remains of ancient volcanoes. Some 60 feet below is the borough of Iztapalapa, a warren of winding streets and alleyways, its cinder block houses encasing the neighborhood’s hills in insipid gray.
But then, on a rooftop, a sudden burst of color: a giant monarch butterfly perched atop a purple flower. Further along the route of Mexico City’s newest cableway, a toucan and a scarlet macaw stare up at passengers. Later, on a canary yellow wall, there is a young girl in a red dress, her eyes closed in an expression of absolute bliss.
The 6.5-mile line, inaugurated in August, is the longest public cableway in the world, according to the city government. As well as halving the commute time for many workers in the capital’s most populous borough, the cable car has an added attraction: exuberant murals painted by an army of local artists, many of which can be viewed only from above.
most crime-ridden areas of Mexico City.
“People want to rescue their history, the history of the neighborhood,” said the borough’s mayor, Clara Brugada Molina. “Iztapalapa becomes a giant gallery.”
Sprawling toward the outer edge of Mexico City, Iztapalapa is home to 1.8 million residents, some of whom are among the poorest in the city. Many work in wealthier neighborhoods, and before the cable car, this often meant hourslong commutes.
As with many poor urban areas of Mexico, Iztapalapa has long been afflicted by both a lack of basic services, like running water, as well as high levels of violence, often linked to organized crime.
June survey from Mexico’s national statistics agency, nearly eight of 10 residents said they felt unsafe — among the highest rate for any city in the country.
Women in particular face pervasive violence in Iztapalapa, which ranks among the top 25 municipalities in the country for femicide, in which a woman is killed because of her gender. From 2012 to 2017, city security cameras recorded more instances of sexual assault against women in Iztapalapa than in any other Mexico City borough, according to a 2019 report from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
a giant re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ.
“That religious stigma weighs against you,” Ms. Cerón said.
As far as the murals go, she says they look beautiful but have done little to make her feel safer.
“It does nothing for me to have a very pretty painted street if three blocks away, they’re robbing or murdering people,” she said.
Alejandra Atrisco Amilpas, an artist who has painted some 300 murals across Iztapalapa, believes they can make residents prouder of where they live, but she admits they can only go so far.
“Paint helps a lot, but sadly it can’t change the reality of social problems,” she said.“A mural isn’t going to change whether you care about the woman being beat up on the corner.”
Ms. Atrisco, who is gay, said she had come up against conservative attitudes during the project, whether from male artists doubting her abilities or local officials barring her from painting L.G.B.T.Q.-themed murals.
“Violence against women, yes, but lesbians, no,” she said, smiling ruefully.
Still, Ms. Atrisco believes her work can affect residents’ lives by representing the characters of Iztapalapa in full color.
“Every day you confront a new challenge, every day a new wall and a new story,” she said. “You make dreams come true a little bit — you become a dream maker.”
The country’s experience has become a sobering case study for other nations pursuing reopening strategies without first having had to deal with large outbreaks in the pandemic. For the Singapore residents who believed the city-state would reopen once the vaccination rate reached a certain level, there was a feeling of whiplash and nagging questions about what it would take to reopen if vaccines were not enough.
“In a way, we are a victim of our own success, because we’ve achieved as close to zero Covid as we can get and a very, very low death rate,” said Dr. Paul Tambyah, an infectious diseases specialist at National University Hospital. “So we want to keep the position at the top of the class, and it’s very hard to do.”
vaccinated people are already gathering at concerts, festivals and other large events. But unlike Singapore, both of those places had to manage substantial outbreaks early in the pandemic.
Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s finance minister and a chair of the country’s Covid-19 task force, said the lesson for “Covid-naive societies” like Singapore, New Zealand and Australia is to be ready for large waves of infections, “regardless of the vaccine coverage.”
up against the Delta variant, Mr. Wong said.
“In Singapore, we think that you cannot just rely on vaccines alone during this intermediate phase,” he said. “And that’s why we do not plan an approach where we reopen in a big bang manner, and just declare freedom.”
highest since 2012, a trend that some mental health experts have attributed to the pandemic. People have called on the government to consider the mental health concerns caused by the restrictions.
“It’s just economically, sociologically, emotionally and mentally unsustainable,” said Devadas Krishnadas, chief executive at Future-Moves Group, a consultancy in Singapore. Mr. Krishnadas said the decision to reintroduce restrictions after reaching such a high vaccination rate made the country a global outlier.
granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for mandates in both the public and private sectors. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
Schools. California became the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all educators and to announce plans to add the Covid-19 vaccine as a requirement to attend school, which could start as early as next fall. Los Angeles already has a vaccine mandate for public school students 12 and older that begins Nov. 21. New York City’s mandate for teachers and staff, which went into effect Oct. 4 after delays due to legal challenges, appears to have prompted thousands of last-minute shots.
Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Mandates for health care workers in California and New York State appear to have compelled thousands of holdouts to receive shots.
Indoor activities. New York City requires workers and customers to show proof of at least one dose of the Covid-19 for indoor dining, gyms, entertainment and performances. Starting Nov. 4, Los Angeles will require most people to provide proof of full vaccination to enter a range of indoor businesses, including restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theaters and salons, in one of the nation’s strictest vaccine rules.
At the federal level. On Sept. 9,President Biden announced a vaccine mandate for the vast majority of federal workers. This mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services.
In the private sector. Mr. Biden has mandated that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies. Some companies, like United Airlines and Tyson Foods, had mandates in place before Mr. Biden’s announcement.
“I think a lot of times we are so focused on wanting to get good results that we just have tunnel vision,” she said.
Ms. Ng lives across from a testing center. Almost daily, she watched a constant stream of people go in for tests, a strategy that many public health experts say is a waste of resources in such a highly vaccinated country.
“Freedom Day — as our ministers have said — is not the Singapore style,” said Jeremy Lim, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore and an expert on health policy, referring to England’s reopening in the summer. But moving too cautiously over the potential disadvantages of restrictions is a “bad public health” strategy, he said.
The government should not wait for perfect conditions to reopen, “because the world will never be perfect. It’s so frustrating that the politicians are almost like waiting for better circumstances,” Dr. Lim said.
Sarah Chan, a deputy director at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, said she had a fleeting taste of what normal life was like when she arrived in Italy last month to visit her husband’s family.
No masks were required outdoors, vaccinated people could gather in groups, and Dr. Chan and her son could bop their heads to music in restaurants. In Singapore, music inside restaurants has been banned based on the notion that it could encourage the spread of the virus.
Dr. Chan said she was so moved by her time in Italy that she cried.
“It’s almost normal. You forget what that’s like,” she said. “I really miss that.”
Beloved shows removed from the airwaves. A television station cutting from a news report a story about a pregnant police officer who was reportedly fatally shot by the Taliban. A radio editor telling his colleagues to edit out anti-Taliban cheers from coverage of demonstrations in the capital.
Afghanistan’s vibrant free press and media industry, once celebrated as a success story and labeled one of the country’s most important achievements of the past two decades, has abruptly been transformed after the Taliban takeover of the country. Now, its survival is threatened by physical assaults, self-censorship and a dwindling journalist population less than a month after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the capital, and began enforcing their hard-line Islamist policies.
The Taliban’s crackdown on the free press was even more evident on Wednesday after two Afghan journalists were detained and violently assaulted for covering a protest in Kabul. Photos showed the backsides of both reporters covered with bruises and gashes from being whipped repeatedly with cables, sparking an international outcry.
“The situation of free media is very critical,” said Neda, an anchor for a local television station in Kabul, identified by her nickname to protect her identity. “No one dares to ask the Taliban about their past wrongdoings and the atrocities they have committed.”
the Taliban rounded up scores of demonstrators around Kabul and journalists covering the protests, subjecting them to abuse in overcrowded jails, according to journalists who were present. The crackdown on the demonstrations and the ensuing coverage followed a Taliban announcement Tuesday that protests would not be allowed without government approval. At least 19 journalists were detained on Tuesday and Wednesday, the United Nations said.
“You’re lucky you have not been beheaded,” Taliban guards told one detained journalist as they kicked him in the head, Ravina Shamdasdani, a spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office in Geneva, told reporters.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
Reporters with Etilaat e Roz described being detained at the protests, then brought to a nearby police station where they were tied up and beaten with cables.
Taqi Daryabi, one of the reporters, said about a half-dozen Taliban members handcuffed him behind his back when he was on the ground on his stomach, then began kicking and hitting him until he lost consciousness.
“They beat so much that I couldn’t resist or move,” he said. “They forced me to the ground on my stomach, flogging me on my buttocks and back, and the ones who were in the front were kicking me in the face.”
Reporters working for Tolo News, Ariana News, Pajhwok News Agency and several freelance journalists have also been detained and beaten by the Taliban in the past three weeks, according to local media reports.
“The Taliban is quickly proving that earlier promises to allow Afghanistan’s independent media to continue operating freely and safely are worthless,” Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement Wednesday. “We urge the Taliban to live up to those earlier promises, to stop beating and detaining reporters doing their job.”
On top of the dangerous environment, the flow of information from the government has slowed and become very limited. There used to be dozens of government spokesmen; now there are only a handful speaking for the new Taliban government, and they are less responsive than during the group’s insurgency.
In the late 1990s, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on the media, banning television and using the state-owned radio and newspapers as propaganda platforms. But the group promised greater openness toward freedom of expression once it seized power last month.
“We will respect freedom of the press, because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the acting deputy information and culture minister, told Reporters Without Borders last week. “We declare to the world that we recognize the importance of the role of the media.”
Many Afghan journalists said those promises are just “words” by Taliban’s leaders, citing recent assaults on reporters in Kabul and elsewhere.
“Press freedom is dead in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Quraishi, the media advocate. “And the society without a free press dies.”
Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Nick Bruce contributed from Geneva.
U.S. Embassy warned Americans to stay away from the Kabul airport and told anyone outside the perimeter to “leave immediately,” citing unnamed security threats.
The British and Australian governments issued similar warnings, with Australian officials describing “an ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack.”
The warnings came as the last of the estimated 1,500 Americans and countless other foreigners still in Afghanistan try to make it to the airport to leave before the U.S. withdrawal on Aug. 31. Thousands of Afghan nationals are camped outside the perimeter of the airport in desperate attempts to escape on the last flights out, some with documents allowing them to leave.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about confidential assessments, confirmed that the United States was tracking a “specific” and “credible” threat at the airport from the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, which has carried out dozens of attacks in recent years, many targeting ethnic minorities and other civilians.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul cited three areas of particular concern in its advisory.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the statement said, without further detail.Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, said at a news conference Thursday that the Taliban will allow Australian citizens and visa holders to leave safely but added, “Our travel advice remains: You should not come to Hamid Karzai airport because it is not safe to do so, and if you are in Kabul, you should shelter in place, move to a safe location and await further advice.”
The U.S. government has been warning about potential security threats at the airport, and access to the airport has been adjusted accordingly, with some gates temporarily closed.
WASHINGTON — About 1,500 American citizens remain in Afghanistan, and about a third of them are in contact with the U.S. government and hope to leave in the coming days, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday.
Some of the remaining 1,000 may not want to leave, Mr. Blinken said, describing an ever-changing estimate that the Biden administration has tried to pin down as American troops wind down an evacuation effort that has overwhelmed the airport in Kabul, the capital.
That number does not include legal permanent American residents or green card holders, he said.
Mr. Blinken said more than 4,500 U.S. citizens have so far been flown out of Afghanistan since Aug. 14, as the Taliban bore down on Kabul. He said the State Department has sent more than 20,000 emails and made 45,000 phone calls to identify and locate Americans in Afghanistan ahead of an Aug. 31 withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country after 20 years of war.
But Mr. Blinken sought to assure that any Americans or Afghans who have worked with the U.S. mission and want to leave after that date should be free to do so.“That effort will continue every day,” he said.
U.S. and allied planes flew an additional 19,200 people out of Kabul in the past 24 hours, officials said on Wednesday, as the Biden administration made substantial inroads into evacuating American citizens and Afghans who worked for the United States over the last 20 years.
More than 10,000 people were still inside the international airport in Kabul awaiting flights out of the country on Wednesday, and Afghans with proper credentials continued to be cleared into the airfield, Pentagon officials said.
With President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops rapidly approaching, tens of thousands of Afghans who qualify for special immigration visas are also waiting to be evacuated.
As of 3 a.m. in Washington, the United States had evacuated about 82,300 people from Kabul’s international airport since the government fell to Taliban forces.
John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that American officers in Kabul, including the top commander, Rear Adm. Peter G. Vaseley, were talking daily with Taliban counterparts to ensure safe passage of Americans and Afghan allies with proper credentials.
Experts predict that hundreds of thousands of Afghans will be targeted by the Taliban if they stay, including Afghan security forces, government officials, women’s rights advocates and other defenders of democracy. Those Afghans are desperately hoping to join the U.S. military’s airlift before it begins to wind down, potentially as soon as this weekend.
For the third time in a week, American military helicopters rescued Americans inside Kabul. On Tuesday, about 20 American citizens who were flown onto the airfield from a location inside the city, Maj. Gen. William Taylor told reporters. A similar flight rescued 169 Americans from a Kabul hotel meeting place last week.
Though Mr. Biden has vowed to stick to the Aug. 31 exit plan, as the Taliban have demanded, he also has instructed Mr. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin to draw up plans to push back the date if necessary.
The Taliban have warned of potential reprisals should the United States renege on its promise to withdraw its forces by the deadline, and Mr. Biden on Tuesday noted the danger to American troops should they remain much longer.
Beyond the Taliban, extremists affiliated with the Islamic State are also believed to pose a threat to the evacuation effort that has drawn crowds of people to Kabul’s airport gates, clamoring to be allowed on one of the flights that are departing every 45 minutes.
“I’m determined to ensure that we complete our mission,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “I’m also mindful of the increasing risks that I’ve been briefed on and the need to factor those risks in. There are real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration.”
But the dwindling hours are weighing heavily on the minds of people seeking to flee Afghanistan and members of Congress who want the United States to retain a presence there until Americans and high-risk Afghans can get out.
The Pentagon spokesman, Mr. Kirby, said that the military would put high priority on flying out American troops and equipment in the mission’s final days. “There will be a transition more toward getting military assets out as we get closer to the end, but again, we’re going to continue to work the evacuation mission right up until the last day,” he said.
KABUL, Afghanistan — In his first sit-down interview with a Western media outlet since the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan, one of the group’s leaders on Wednesday offered a portrait of a group intent on rebuilding a country shattered by decades of war.
“We want to build the future, and forget what happened in the past,” the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in an interview with The New York Times. He rejected widespread fears that the Taliban are already exacting vengeance on those who opposed them and want to reimpose the harsh controls on women that made them notorious when they ruled the country 20 years ago.
The interview came just a day after Mr. Mujahid warned the women of Afghanistan that it might be safest for them to remain home until more rank-and-file Taliban fighters have been trained in how not to mistreat them.
It was a notable acknowledgment of the many changes to Afghan society that greeted the Taliban when they re-entered a city they had not controlled for two decades.
Many of those changes involve women. Not only have they been free to leave home unaccompanied — dressed as they see fit — they have also returned to school and jobs, and their images can be seen on everything from billboards to TV screens.
On Wednesday, Mr. Mujahid suggested that longer-term, women would be free to resume their daily routines.
Concerns that the Taliban would once again force them to stay in their homes or cover their faces are baseless, he said. He added that the requirement they be accompanied by a male guardian, known as a mahram, was misunderstood. It applies only to journeys of three days or longer, he said.
“If they go to school, the office, university, or the hospital, they don’t need a mahram,” said Mr. Mujahid, who also serves as the Taliban’s chief spokesman.
He also offered assurances to Afghans trying to leave the country, saying — contrary to news reports based on his news conference on Tuesday, including in The Times — that those with valid travel documents would not be prevented from entering the airport.
“We said that people who don’t have proper documents aren’t allowed to go,” Mr. Mujahid said. “They need passports and visas for the countries they’re going to, and then they can leave by air. If their documents are valid, then we’re not going to ask what they were doing before.”
He also denied allegations that the Taliban have been searching for former interpreters and others who worked for the American military, and claimed that they would be safe in their own country. And he expressed frustration at the Western evacuation efforts.
“They shouldn’t interfere in our country and take out our human resources: doctors, professors and other people we need here,” Mr. Mujahid said. “In America, they might become dishwashers or cooks. It’s inhuman.”
For the past decade, Mr. Mujahid had been a key link between the militants and the news media, but remained faceless. On Wednesday, he granted the interview at the Ministry of Information and Culture as Taliban leaders and other Afghan power brokers were engaging in protracted discussions about the future shape of the country.
Mr. Mujahid is seen as likely to be the future minister of information and culture. Fluent in both Pashto and Dari, the country’s principal languages, Mr. Mujahid, 43, described himself as a native of Paktia Province and a graduate in Islamic jurisprudence from the well-known Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasa in Pakistan.
Despite the tense situation at the airport on Wednesday, where thousands of people were still crowded around most entrance gates, Mr. Mujahid expressed hope that the Taliban would build good relations with the international community, pointing out areas of cooperation around counterterrorism, opium eradication and the reduction of refugees to the West.
Although he sought to convey a much more tolerant image of the Taliban, Mr. Mujahid did confirm one report: Music will not be allowed in public.
“Music is forbidden in Islam,” he said, “but we’re hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them.”
— Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek
The Americans are all but gone, the Afghan government has collapsed and the Taliban now rule the streets of Kabul. Overnight, millions of Kabul residents have been left to navigate an uncertain transition after 20 years of U.S.-backed rule.
Government services are largely unavailable. Residents are struggling to lead their daily lives in an ecconomy that, propped up for the past generation by American aid, is now in free fall. Banks are closed, cash is growing scarce, and food prices are rising.
Yet relative calm has reigned over Kabul, the capital, in sharp contrast to the chaos at its airport. Many residents are hiding in their homes or venturing out only cautiously to see what life might be like under their new rulers.
Even residents who said they feared the Taliban were struck by the relative order and quiet, but for some the calm has been ominous.
A resident named Mohib said that streets were deserted in his section of the city, with people hunkering down in their homes, “scared and terrorized.”
“People feel the Taliban may come any moment to take away everything from them,” he said.
WASHINGTON — The United States has been battling the Taliban and their militant partners in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, for 20 years.
But the biggest immediate threat to both the Americans and the Taliban as the United States escalates its evacuation at the Kabul airport before an Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline is a common rival that is lesser known: Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the terrorist group’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
Created six years ago by disaffected Pakistani Taliban, ISIS-K has carried out dozens of attacks in Afghanistan this year. American military and intelligence analysts say threats from the group include a bomb-laden truck, suicide bombers infiltrating the crowd outside Hamid Karzai International Airport and mortar strikes against the airfield.
These threats, coupled with new demands by the Taliban for the United States to leave by Aug. 31, probably influenced President Biden’s decision on Tuesday to stick to that deadline. “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Mr. Biden said.
The threats lay bare a complicated dynamic between the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, and their bitter rival, ISIS-K, in what analysts say portends a bloody struggle involving thousands of foreign fighters on both sides.
A United Nations report in June concluded that 8,000 to 10,000 fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in western China have poured into Afghanistan in recent months. Most are associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, the report said, but others are allied with ISIS-K.
“Afghanistan has now become the Las Vegas of the terrorists, of the radicals and of the extremists,” said Ali Mohammad Ali, a former Afghan security official. “People all over the world, radicals and extremists, are chanting, celebrating the Taliban victory. This is paving the way for other extremists to come to Afghanistan.”
Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Paris.
Germany will maintain support for Afghans who remain in their country after the deadline for the U.S. troop withdrawal and evacuation mission passes in six days, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday. She also called for talks with the Taliban to preserve progress made in Afghanistan in the last two decades.
Speaking to a session of Parliament convened to discuss the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, the chancellor defended Germany’s decision to join the international intervention there in 2001.
“Our goal must be to preserve as much as possible what we have achieved in terms of changes in Afghanistan in the last 20 years,” Ms. Merkel told lawmakers. “This is something the international community must talk about with the Taliban.”
She cited changes such as improved access to basic necessities, with 70 percent of Afghans now having access to clean drinking water and 90 percent having access to electricity, in addition to better health care for women.
“But what is clear is that the Taliban are reality in Afghanistan and many people are afraid,” Ms. Merkel said. “This new reality is bitter, but we must come to terms with it.”
Germany pulled its last contingent of soldiers, about 570 troops, out of Afghanistan in June, but several hundred Germans were still engaged in development work funded by Berlin, and the German government believed they would be able to remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. and international forces.
Ms. Merkel defended her government’s decision to leave development workers on the ground, saying that they had hoped to continue to provide essential support for Afghans after the troop withdrawal, and that an earlier retreat could have appeared as if they were abandoning people.
“At that time there were very good reasons to stand beside the people in Afghanistan after the troops were gone,” Ms. Merkel said.
But the opposition leaders criticized her government for not developing a plan to bring people to safety in the spring, when other European countries were evacuating citizens and Afghan support staff.
“The situation in Afghanistan is a catastrophe, but it did not come out of nowhere,” said Christian Lindner, the head of the Free Democratic Party, which together with the Green Party petitioned Parliament in June to begin evacuations of German staff and Afghans who could be in danger.
Ms. Merkel did not apologize, instead calling for a deeper examination of where the West went wrong in Afghanistan and what lessons could be learned. That will be the work of the next government, as she is stepping down after the German elections on Sept. 26.
“Many things in history take a long time. That is why we must not and will not forget Afghanistan,” said Ms. Merkel, who was raised in communist East Germany.
“Even if it doesn’t look like it in this bitter hour,” she said, “I remain convinced that no force or ideology can resist the drive for justice and peace.”
When President Biden briefly referred to the Berlin airlift — the operation 73 years ago to feed a city whose access had been choked off by the Soviet Union — in describing the United States’ evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, he was revealing the inspiration for a broader plan to redeem America’s messy exit.
After 10 days of missed signals, desperate crowds and violence around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Mr. Biden and his team are eager to shift the narrative about the chaotic end of America’s longest war.
Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, said on Monday that the scores of rescue flights the United States was initiating each day were likely to be regarded as “one of the largest airlifts in history.”
“There is no other country in the world who could pull something like this off — bar none,” he said.
As of Tuesday evening, 12,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul during the previous 12 hours, Biden said. That brought the total number evacuated since the end of July to 75,900 people, the president said.
The comparison to the rescue operation in Berlin is not a bad one. Berlin had been divided since the end of World War II, and tensions were growing. The United States and Britain took to the sky to carry in material by plane.
The two countries managed to get just shy of 300,000 flights into Berlin over 11 months, from June 24, 1948, to May 11, 1949, and the State Department’s record notes that “at the height of the campaign, one plane landed every 45 seconds at Tempelhof Airport,” which until recently was Berlin’s main air hub.
The United Nations leadership faced growing anger from staff unions Wednesday over what some called its failure to protect Afghan co-workers and their families, who remain stuck in Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban even as the majority of the organization’s non-Afghan staff have been relocated to other countries.
Many of the Afghan employees, their foreign colleagues say, are in hiding or are reluctant to keep working, fearful of reprisals by triumphant Taliban militants who may perceive them as apostates, traitors and agents of foreign interference.
That fear has persisted even though the Taliban’s hierarchy has indicated that the U.N. should be permitted to work in the country unimpeded during and after the forces of the United States and NATO withdraw, a pullout that is officially scheduled for completion in less than a week.
An internal U.N. document reported by Reuters on Wednesday said Taliban operatives had detained and beaten some Afghan employees of the United Nations. Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary General António Guterres, did not confirm or deny the report but said it was “critical is that the authorities in charge in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan realize that they have the responsibility to protect U.N. premises and for the safety of U.N. staff.”
Mr. Guterres has repeatedly said the U.N. fully supports the Afghan staff, who are said to number between 3,000 and 3,400, and that he is doing everything in his power to ensure their safety. Mr. Dujarric said about 10 percent of those Afghan workers are women, who are especially at risk of facing Taliban repression.
The secretary general reiterated his assurances during a private virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday with staff members, said Mr. Dujarric, who told reporters that Mr. Guterres “understands the staff’s deep anxiety about what the future holds.”
But rank-and-file staff members of the United Nations have grown increasingly skeptical of Mr. Guterres’s pronouncements. A resolution passed on Tuesday by the U.N. staff union in New Yorkurged Mr. Guterres to take steps that would enableAfghan staff members to avoid “unacceptable residual risks by using evacuation from Afghanistan as soon as possible.”
U.N. officials have said they are powerless to issue visas to Afghan personnel without cooperation from other countries willing to host them. U.N. officials also have said the organization remains committed to providing services in Afghanistan, where roughly half the population needs humanitarian aid. Such services, including food and health care, are impossible to conduct without local staff.
The town hall was held a few days after a second batch of non-Afghan U.N. staff had been airlifted from Kabul. Many of the roughly 350 non-Afghan U.N. personnel who had been in the country, including Deborah Lyons, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, are now working remotely from Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The unequal treatment of non-Afghan and Afghan personnel working for the U.N. has become an increasingly bitter sore point between management and staff at the global organization. An online petition started this past weekend by staff union members calling on Mr. Guterres to do more to help Afghan employees and their families had, as of Wednesday, garnered nearly 6,000 signatures.
An earlier version of this item misidentified the U.N. staff union organization that passed a resolution urging the U.N. secretary general to help Afghan employees evacuate Afghanistan. It was the U.N. staff union in New York, not the coordinating committee of the association of staff unions.
When the Taliban were last in power, Afghan women were generally not allowed to leave their homes except under certain narrowly defined conditions. Those who did risked being beaten, tortured or executed.
In the days since the Taliban swept back into control, their leaders have insisted that this time will be different. Women, they say, will be allowed to work. Girls will be free to attend school. At least within the confines of their interpretation of Islam.
But early signs have not been promising, and that pattern continued on Tuesday with a statement from a Taliban spokesman that women should stay home, at least for now. Why? Because some of the militants have not yet been trained not to hurt them, he said.
The spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, called it a “temporary” policy intended to protect women until the Taliban could ensure their safety.
“We are worried our forces who are new and have not been yet trained very well may mistreat women,” Mr. Mujahid said. “We don’t want our forces, God forbid, to harm or harass women.”
Mr. Mujahid said that women should stay home “until we have a new procedure,” and that “their salaries will paid in their homes.”
His statement echoed comments from Ahmadullah Waseq, the deputy of the Taliban’s cultural affairs committee, who told The New York Times this week that the Taliban had “no problem with working women,” as long as they wore hijabs.
But, he said: “For now, we are asking them to stay home until the situation gets normal. Now it is a military situation.”
During the first years of Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, women were forbidden to work outside the home or even to leave the house without a male guardian. They could not attend school, and faced public flogging if they were found to have violated morality rules, like one requiring that they be fully covered.
The claim that restrictions on women’s lives are a temporary necessity is not new to Afghan women. The Taliban made similar claims the last time they controlled Afghanistan, said Heather Barr, the associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.
“The explanation was that the security was not good, and they were waiting for security to be better, and then women would be able to have more freedom,” she said. “But of course in those years they were in power, that moment never arrived — and I can promise you Afghan women hearing this today are thinking it will never arrive this time either.”
Brian Castner, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International who was in Afghanistan until last week, said that if the Taliban intended to treat women better, they would need to retrain their forces. “You can’t have a movement like the Taliban that has operated a certain way for 25 years and then just because you take over a government, all of the fighters and everyone in your organization just does something differently,” he said.
But, Mr. Castner said, there is no indication that the Taliban intend to fulfill that or any other promises of moderation. Amnesty International has received reports of fighters going door to door with lists of names, despite their leaders’ public pledges not to retaliate against Afghans who worked with the previous government.
“The rhetoric and the reality are not matching at all, and I think that the rhetoric is more than just disingenuous,” Mr. Castner said. “If a random Taliban fighter commits a human rights abuse or violation, that’s just kind of random violence, that’s one thing. But if there’s a systematic going to people’s homes and looking for people, that’s not a random fighter that’s untrained — that’s a system working. The rhetoric is a cover for what’s really happening.”
In Kabul on Wednesday, women in parts of the city with minimal Taliban presence were going out “with normal clothes, as it was before the Taliban,” said a resident named Shabaka. But in central areas with many Taliban fighters, few women ventured out, and those who did wore burqas, said Sayed, a civil servant.
Ms. Barr, of Human Rights Watch, said that in the week since the Taliban said the new government would preserve women’s rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” the Afghan women she has spoken to offered the same skeptical assessment: “They’re trying to look normal and legitimate, and this will last as long as the international community and the international press are still there. And then we’ll see what they’re really like again.”
It might not take long, Ms. Barr suggested.
“This announcement just highlights to me that they don’t feel like they need to wait,” she said.
A group of Afghans who worked for The New York Times, along with their families, touched down safely early Wednesday — not in New York or Washington, but at Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City.
Mexican officials, unlike their counterparts in the United States, were able to cut through the red tape of their immigration system to quickly provide documents that, in turn, allowed the Afghans to fly from Kabul’s embattled airport to Qatar.
The documents promised that the Afghans would receive temporary humanitarian protection in Mexico while they explored further options in the United States or elsewhere.
“We are right now committed to a foreign policy promoting free expression, liberties and feminist values,” Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said in a telephone interview.
He cited a national tradition of welcoming people including the 19th-century Cuban independence leader José Martí, German Jews and South Americans fleeing coups, and he said that Mexico had opened its doors to the Afghan journalists “in order to protect them and to be consistent with this policy.”
But the path of the Afghan journalists and their families to Mexico was as arbitrary, personal and tenuous as anything else in the frantic and scattershot evacuation of Kabul.
Just days after the Taliban swept into Kabul and toppled Afghanistan’s government, a group of former mujahedeen fighters and Afghan commandos said they had begun a war of resistance in the last area of the country that is not under Taliban control: a narrow valley with a history of repelling invaders.
The man leading them is Ahmad Massoud, the 32-year-old son of the storied mujahedeen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. And their struggle faces long odds: The resistance fighters are surrounded by the Taliban, have supplies that will soon start dwindling and have no visible outside support.
For now the resistance has merely two assets: the Panjshir Valley, 70 miles north of Kabul, which has a history of repelling invaders, and the legendary Massoud name.
Spokesmen for Ahmad Massoud insist that he has attracted thousands of soldiers to the valley, including remnants of the Afghan Army’s special forces and some of his father’s experienced guerrilla commanders, as well as activists and others who reject the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate.
The spokesmen, some of whom were with him in the Panjshir Valley and some who were outside the country drumming up support, said that Mr. Massoud has stocks of weapons and matériel, including American helicopters, but needs more.
‘‘We’re waiting for some opportunity, some support,” said Hamid Saifi, a former colonel in the Afghan National Army, and now a commander in Mr. Massoud’s resistance, who was reached in the Panjshir Valley by telephone on Sunday. “Maybe some countries will be ready for this great work. So far, all countries we talked to are quiet. America, Europe, China, Russia, all of them are quiet.’’
Two members of Congress secretly flew to Kabul without authorization on Tuesday to witness the frenzied evacuation of Americans and Afghans, infuriating Biden administration officials and prompting Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge other lawmakers not to follow their example.
The two members — Representatives Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan, both veterans — said in a statement that the purpose of their trip was “to provide oversight on the executive branch.” Both lawmakers have blistered the Biden administration in recent weeks, accusing top officials of dragging their feet on evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies.
“There is no place in the world right now where oversight matters more,” they said.
Today with @RepMeijer I visited Kabul airport to conduct oversight on the evacuation.
Witnessing our young Marines and soldiers at the gates, navigating a confluence of humanity as raw and visceral as the world has ever seen, was indescribable. pic.twitter.com/bWGQh1iw2c
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) August 25, 2021
But administration officials were furious that Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meijer had entered Afghanistan on an unauthorized, undisclosed trip, arguing that efforts to tend to the lawmakers had drained resources badly needed to help evacuate those already in the country.
The trip was reported earlier by The Associated Press.
Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meijer said that they had left Afghanistan “on a plane with empty seats, seated in crew-only seats to ensure that nobody who needed a seat would lose one because of our presence,” and that they had taken other steps to “minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground.” They were in Kabul for less than 24 hours.
Still, Ms. Pelosi pressed other lawmakers not to do the same.
“Member travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan,” Ms. Pelosi wrote in a letter. She did not refer to Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meijer by name.
In their statement on Tuesday night, the congressmen sharpened their criticism of the administration’s handling of the evacuation, saying that “Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in” and that the situation they had witnessed on the ground was more dire than they had expected.
“After talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late,” they wrote, “that no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time.”
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.
When I came to Nagorno-Karabakh after the war last year, the sight of a hillside Armenian military cemetery brought to my mind the layers of tragedy embedded in this land.
After returning in June, I left wondering just how much heartbreak a patch of earth can bear.
In Shusha last October, I stepped into the concrete basement of an apartment block, where Armenian women were sheltering on flattened cardboard boxes. They thought they had known what war was like, one said, recalling the 1990s conflict. But the enormous firepower of modern weapons was different, “a horror, a horror.”
Back then, as Communism collapsed, the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh — an area mostly populated by Armenians within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Armenia won that war, leaving about one-seventh of Azerbaijan’s territory under Armenian control.
As international efforts to mediate the conflict failed, and Azerbaijan’s oil and gas riches boomed, the country invested in modern drones from Israel and Turkey. By the time Azerbaijan attacked last September, its military, supported by Turkey, was overpowering compared with that of poorer and smaller Armenia.
When I returned last month to the Shusha apartment block, it was gone, razed to bare, brown ground. The area will become part of a new “streetscape,” the British architect, Adrian Griffiths, told me.
Rather than allow the Azerbaijanis to simply return to their homes, President Ilham Aliyev, the country’s authoritarian ruler, wants to rebuild Shusha as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital. About 15,000 people, mainly Azerbaijanis, lived there before the 1990s war; until last fall, there were roughly 5,000 Armenian residents.
The striking hilltop city was a cradle of Azerbaijani music and poetry in the 19th century, though Armenians also see it as core to their historical identity.
jostling for power that it took them a week just to announce that they had formed a committee to organize the president’s funeral.
For months, as Haiti fell deeper into crisis over Mr. Moïse’s rule, with protests upending the nation and Parliament reduced to a shell in the absence of elections, the Commission had been meeting regularly, desperate to come up with a plan to get the country functioning again. Health care, a working judiciary, schools, food: Their goals were at once basic and ambitious.
Now all the focus seems to be on who will emerge as Haiti’s next leader, said Monique Clesca, a former United Nations official, a promiment Commission member. But the group wants the country to think bigger — to reimagine itself, and plan for a different future.
While they are still hammering out their plans, Ms. Comeau-Denis was emphatic about one thing: less fighting and more collaboration. “Together, we can become a force,” she said.
Among the group’s biggest concerns is corruption, and members said they wanted an inquiry into how foreign aid had been squandered in Haiti. Three damning reports by the country’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes revealed in lengthy detail that much of the $2 billion lent to Haiti as part of a Venezuela-sponsored oil program, PetroCaribe, had been embezzled or wasted over eight years by a succession of Haitian governments.
The call by Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, for the United States to send troops to Haiti to help stabilize the country has drawn loud criticism from the civil society leaders, who do not want foreign forces to step in. The issue of foreign intervention is especially sensitive in a former slave colony that has suffered historically under the repression of colonial powers like France. The United States has sent troops into Haiti several times, and occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.
“We have racist whites who want to impose their own solution,” said Josué Mérilien, an activist who fights for better conditions on behalf of teachers.
Amid a continuing power struggle in Haiti and swirling questions about the country’s future nearly a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, there’s at least one thing that some people in the nation seem to agree on: a state funeral for the slain leader.
Haiti’s government says it is setting up a committee to plan a state funeral for Mr. Moïse “with the respect, solemnity and dignity attached to his rank as head of state.”
Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official who has criticized Mr. Moïse’s leadership, said that while the president had been a deeply divisive figure, many Haitians felt it was imperative that the dignity of the office be respected.
“He was Haiti’s president. Even if we disagreed and thought he should be out of office, this is a former president who died, and there is respect for the office,” Ms. Clesca said. “Jovenel Moïse was not loved, and this is a guy who traumatized the country for the past few years. But in our culture the dead are sacred. A Haitian president has died, and we must rise above it all.”
Carmen Cajuste, 68, a grandmother in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, observed that Mr. Moïse was human, after all, and she wanted the president to have a big funeral. “He came out of here,” she said, touching her belly, before making the sign of the cross.
Still, while there is some support for a state funeral, Mr. Moïse had many detractors. There is also ambivalence in some quarters about how much respect to afford him given what his critics say was the suffering that he brought about.
Over the weekend, Claude Joseph, Haiti’s interim prime minister, said his priority was to investigate the assassination and to find answers. He commended the Haitian people for maintaining their calm, suggesting that the assassination may have been calculated to “push the population to revolt and carnage.”
Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” immediately after the assassination, effectively placing the country under martial law. In that period of 15 days, the police and members of the security forces can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins.”
In recent days, the country has been convulsed by photos circulating on social media that purport to show the president’s corpse, and even his harshest critics have been angered over the pictures and their impingement on the dignity of the dead.
Last Wednesday, just hours after Mr. Moïse was assassinated in his residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s official government journal, Le Moniteur, published a government order declaring 15 days of national mourning.
The order called for the national flag to be flown at half-staff, and nightclubs and other establishments to remain closed. It “invited” radio and television stations to program circumstantial programs and music.
Two days later, the interim prime minister, Mr. Joseph, released a video on Twitter praising Mr. Moïse’s legacy.
“He believed in change that would last,” read one of the captions of the video, which showed images of Mr. Moïse mingling with crowds while a nostalgic piano soundtrack played.
“Rest in peace President,” Mr. Joseph wrote.
The planning for the funeral comes as Haiti is facing a political crisis with several rival claims to power. Two men are competing for the job of prime minister even as Haiti’s democratic institutions have been severely hollowed out. And the president of the Senate has also been jockeying for power.
Mr. Moïse had planned to remove Mr. Joseph as prime minister, naming a replacement who was supposed to have been sworn in last week.
Mr. Moïse had presided over a country shaken by political instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His mandate was contested, with opponents saying that his five-year term should have ended in February. But Mr. Moïse had insisted that he had more than a year to serve, arguing that his term did not begin until a year after the presidential election, amid accusations of voting fraud.
Nearly a week after Haiti’s president was gunned down in his bedroom, the country is still wracked by questions over who was behind the killing, and their motives. And even as a state funeral is being planned for President Jovenel Moïse, political leaders are battling over who should lead the shaken nation.
Now, as a sprawling multinational investigation broadens, with suspects stretching from Colombia to Florida, the Haitian authorities have turned their focus to a little-known doctor who they said coveted the presidency. But how he might have managed to set in motion such an ambitious plot — involving perhaps two dozen heavily armed mercenaries recruited from abroad — is not easily explainable.
Our correspondent Catherine Porter, who has reported on Haiti during about 30 trips over many years, has now landed in Haiti. Here’s what she saw on her arrival.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Green mountains peek through the heavy clouds below me, little farms clinging to their steep edges seemingly by magic.
Haiti is a beautiful country.
Flying into Port-au-Prince Monday evening, I thought of a Creole proverb: “dèyè mòn, gen mòn.”
Mountains beyond mountains. It is used to portray the endless difficulties in life.
The Haitian eye doctor seated next to me on the plane explained one of the expression’s meanings: Nothing is simple. There are always many layers.
We agreed it seemed a perfect expression for Haiti, and this moment in particular.
A president assassinated in his fortified home. Not one of his bodyguards reportedly injured. A group of Colombian ex-military commandos labeled by the police chief as the culprits, and a Haitian-born American doctor the alleged mastermind.
Yet, if they were specially trained army commandos, why did they not have an escape plan? Why would they have announced their arrival via a loudspeaker, alerting the whole neighborhood, and not been covert?
The first time I came to Haiti was after another devastating event: the 2010 earthquake. I have returned some 30 times since to report, and on a few occasions to visit friends.
The first thing I noticed leaving the airport this time was how empty the city seemed. The normally bustling, chaotic streets were barren of life.
It became clear quickly that it wasn’t just from mourning.
As dusk fell, our car was enveloped in darkness as though we were in the countryside, not in a city jammed with more than one million people.
Few lights shone from the concrete two-story buildings around us: The city was experiencing another power outage — an increasingly common phenomenon that President Jovenel Moïse, killed on Wednesday, had promised and failed to fix.
When we did see people, they were lined up at a gas station, sitting in their cars and tap-taps — local buses made from converted pickup trucks. My fixer, Harold Isaac, explained that the city’s violently warring gangs had essentially shut down one of the country’s main highways, separating the city from its main gas reserves, causing fuel shortages.
Then we went through the Christ-Roi neighborhood, where 11 people, including a journalist and well-known activist, were gunned down on the street one week before the president.
Pink bougainvillea tumbled over the high walls lining the streets, like flowers atop gravestones.
There were many complicated problems in Haiti before Mr. Moise’s horrific assassination. His death has simply added to them.
Dèyè mòn, gen mòn.
The accusation that a Florida-based doctor was a central figure in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti has been met with bewilderment by some who knew him and surprise by prominent Haitian Americans who said he was not known as a major political player.
At the same time, a university professor who met with the doctor twice last month said that he had spoken then of being sent by God to take over Haiti’s presidency.
About two dozen people have been arrested in the killing, and Haitian officials have placed the doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, at the center of an investigation that has stretched out from Haiti to Colombia and the United States.
The doctor’s brother, Joseph Sanon, said that he had not been in touch with him for a while and that he had no idea what was going on. “I am desperate to know what’s happening,” he said.
A former neighbor of the doctor’s in Florida, Steven Bross, 65, said, “He was always trying to figure out ways to make Haiti more self-sufficient, but assassinating the president, no way.”
In a telephone interview on Monday, Michel Plancher, a civil engineering professor at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, said he had received a call from out of the blue to attend a meeting with Dr. Sanon, who he was told was planning a political campaign.
Professor Plancher said he had never heard of the doctor but decided to attend the meetings, which were held at a home in the capital, after internet searches showed Dr. Sanon to be a pastor who had done charitable work.
The two men had a first meet-and-greet encounter on June 1, Professor Plancher said. The initial contact was followed a day or two later by an hourlong meeting with Dr. Sanon and a group of six to eight people. Both meetings happened in the same home in Port-au-Prince.
There, he said, Dr. Sanon outlined his political ambitions.
“He said he was sent by God. He was sent on a mission of God to replace Moïse,” Professor Plancher said. “He said the president would be resigning soon. He didn’t say why.”
Haiti’s national police chief, Léon Charles, has accused Dr. Sanon of playing a pivotal role in the assassination and wanting to become president, but offered no explanation for how the doctor could possibly have taken control of the government.
During a raid of his home, the Haitian authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap — the team of hit men who assaulted Mr. Moïse’s home appear to have falsely identified themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents — six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.
A YouTube video recorded in 2011 titled “Dr. Christian Sanon — Leadership for Haiti” appears to present Mr. Sanon as a potential leader of the country. In it, the speaker denounces Haiti’s leaders as corrupt plunderers of its resources.
As the authorities focus on Dr. Sanon’s actions in recent months, a clearer picture of his past is also coming into view.
Dr. Sanon was born in 1958 in Marigot, a city on Haiti’s southern coast, and graduated from the Eugenio María de Hostos University in the Dominican Republic and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., according to a short biography from the Florida Baptist Historical Society.
Public records show that Dr. Sanon was licensed to practice conventional medicine and osteopathic medicine. In 2013, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Florida, a process in which people can liquidate assets to pay creditors. Dr. Sanon stated at the time of his bankruptcy filing that he was a doctor and the director of the Rome Foundation, a nonprofit involved in assisting people in Haiti.
And though Dr. Sanon was straddling two worlds, dividing time between his homes in Haiti and Florida, some in Miami’s Haitian diaspora expressed surprise when Dr. Sanon was named as a central figure in the assassination plotting.
“I never heard of this Sanon before,” said Georges Sami Saati, 68, a Haitian American businessman who is a prominent figure in Miami’s community of Haitian émigrés. “Nobody ever heard of him.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The retired soldiers trusted Duberney Capador because he was one of them: a former soldier who had spent years traversing Colombia, fighting left-wing guerrillas and other enemies in rugged conditions.
So when Mr. Capador, 40, reached out with a job offer — high-paying and important, he told them — many of the men jumped at the opportunity, and asked few questions.
The New York Times interviewed a dozen retired Colombian soldiers who were recruited for a potentially dangerous security operation in Haiti shortly before the president’s assassination last week. The soldiers interviewed did not end up participating — in some cases because they were part of a second wave of people who were supposed to arrive in Haiti at a later point, they said.
The exact relationship between Mr. Capador, the ex-soldiers and the death of the president is unclear. But Mr. Capador died in the aftermath of the assassination, and Haitian officials have 18 Colombians in custody in connection with the president’s death.
The narrative began with Mr. Capador, who retired from the military in 2019 and was living on a family farm in western Colombia with his mother. His sister, Yenny Carolina Capador, 37, said in an interview in Bogotá that Mr. Capador had received a phone call in April from a security company that asked him to put together a group that would “protect important people in Haiti.”
Mr. Capador took the job, and by mid-May he had flown with a military buddy to Haiti to find a home base for the men and gather supplies.
He also started recruiting his military friends and asking them to call their friends. He organized them in at least two WhatsApp groups, and told them to buy boots and black polo shirts and to prepare their passports.
Some of the men said they had been promised $2,700 a month.
Carlos Cifuentes, one of the men recruited by Mr. Capador, said he had been told that it would be a “long-term post, initially a year.” Mr. Cifuentes said he had been told he would be fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.
Others were told that they would be providing security for “dignitaries” and “important people.”
“All we know is that we were going to provide security in an exclusive area under the command of Mr. Capador,” said one recruit who asked that he not be named to protect his safety. “We weren’t interested in how long, or where, or the name of the person we were going to protect. For these types of jobs there are never any details.”
Two of the 12 people interviewed said they had been told they would be protecting a president.
Others said that they had struggled to find well-paid work after leaving the military.
“I’ve been out of the military for four years and I’ve looked for work,” said Leodan Bolaños, 45, one of the recruits. What he had found paid too little, he said.
Mr. Capador started one of the WhatsApp groups, called “First Flight,” on May 26. By early June, the first wave of men had arrived in Haiti, several of the ex-soldiers said.
“We’re doing well,” wrote a former soldier in Haiti to one of the recruits still in Colombia, “they’re treating us like they promised.”
But the second wave of men never arrived.
Haitian officials say that a group of assailants stormed President Jovenel Moïse’s residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, last Wednesday at about 1 a.m., shooting him and wounding his wife, Martine Moïse, in what the Haitian authorities called a well-planned operation that included “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.
On Monday, the head of Colombia’s national police, Jorge Luis Vargas, said Colombian officials had determined that at least two of the Colombian ex-soldiers found in Haiti, including Mr. Capador, had contact with a Florida-based company called CTU Security, run by a Venezuelan American named Antonio Intriago. But Mr. Vargas said nothing about Mr. Capador’s motives or the motives of the many men who followed him to Haiti.
Edinson Bolaños and Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.
The photos are horrifying. They seem to portray the body of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti laid out in the morgue, his left eye crushed in, the flesh of one of his arms torn by bullets, his mouth gaping.
A country already reeling from the assassination of its leader on Wednesday and the chaos that followed reacted to the images with horror and despair, afraid that the photos circulating on social media channels would rip the last shreds of dignity from both the person and the office he held.
Even his critics were outraged.
“Even if @moisejovenel was decried and declared a de facto president, let’s not go down to the level of dehumanization established by the @PHTKhaiti,” tweeted the journalist Nancy Roc, referring to Mr. Moïse’s political party. “Haitians are better than that.”
She was among many who beseeched others not to forward the photos that were circulating through the country’s buzzing WhatsApp channels.
Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister in charge of elections, said on Tuesday that the photos were of Mr. Moïse and that an autopsy had been carried out on the president’s body.
“The pictures that are circulating were taken at the laboratory by technicians during the scan,” Mr. Pierre said, referring to part of the autopsy procedure.
He did not say when the autopsy results would be made public.
Forensic experts consulted by The Times who reviewed the photographs said that rumors that Mr. Moïse had been tortured — which swirled around social media along with the photos — were unlikely to be true.
“I don’t see anything that looks like it would be typical of torture,” said Dr. Michael Freeman, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Freeman noted that an autopsy would be needed to determine conclusively whether Mr. Moïse was tortured, but the wounds visible in the photographs appeared consistent with gunshots.
“The fact that he’s not bound is a pretty strong indication that he’s not been tortured,” Dr. Freeman added.
Photos of dead bodies left on the streets are sadly regular fare in Haiti. But that the country’s leader would face the same wretched indignity seemed to underscore just how cheap life had become in the country.
The Rev. Rick Frechette, an American Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Passion order and a doctor who regularly treats Haiti’s poor in clinics in Port-au-Prince’s slums and in the hospitals he built in a suburb of the capital, said that for some of his staff members, the president’s brutal assassination had brought back memories of past violence.
“People are traumatized and afraid,” he said.
And then there were those who believed the distribution of the photos was politically motivated, part of the struggle over who will govern the country in the president’s absence.
“Last night’s photos show how much they want to create a climate of violence and instability in the country after their heinous crime,” tweeted Danta Bien-Aimé, a nurse and former Fulbright scholar.
Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
An atmosphere of unease persisted in Haiti this week as investigators tried to make sense of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, how the killing was plotted and what the motives were behind it.
Barely a week after withdrawing nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden faces a strikingly similar dilemma much closer to home, in Haiti.
In Afghanistan, Mr. Biden concluded that American forces could not be expected to prop up the country’s frail government in perpetuity. His critics argue that the withdrawal makes Washington culpable for the collapse that seems likely to follow.
There is no threat of insurgent takeover in Haiti. But with the authorities there requesting U.S. troops to help restore order and guard its assets, Mr. Biden faces a similar choice.
Past interventions in Haiti suggest that another could forestall further descent into chaos. Those occupations lasted years, did little to address (and may have worsened) the underlying causes of that chaos and left the United States responsible for what came after.
Still, after decades of involvement there, the United States is seen as a guarantor of Haiti’s fate, also much as in Afghanistan. Partly because of that involvement, both countries are afflicted with poverty, corruption and institutional weakness that leave their governments barely in control — leading to requests for more U.S. involvement to prop them up.
Refusing Haiti’s request would make Washington partly responsible for the calamity that U.S. forces likely could otherwise hold off. But agreeing would leave it responsible for managing another open-ended crisis of a sort that has long proven resistant to outside resolution.
President Biden took office with bold warnings for Russia and China about human rights as he pressed democracies around the world to stand up against autocracy. But this week he is facing a string of similar challenges in America’s neighborhood.
On Monday, a day after huge protests across Cuba, Mr. Biden accused officials there of “enriching themselves” instead of protecting people from the coronavirus pandemic, repression and economic suffering.
By early afternoon, Mr. Biden has refocused on Haiti, urging its political leaders to “come together for the good of their country,” less than a week after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his bed.
The turmoil presents a potential crisis closer to home, with a possible exodus of Haitians as the Biden administration contends with a surge of migrants at the southwestern border. It is also forcing the White House to focus on the region more broadly after years of indifference — or limited attention — from previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
U.S. influence began waning in the region over the past decade as it turned toward focusing on terrorism in the Middle East and as Russia and especially China moved in to finance projects and offer political support and other incentives.
As Haitians continued to process a presidential assassination that has all the hallmarks of a sinister thriller, one baffling aspect of the killing dominated conversations in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora: How were the assassins able to so easily breach the presidential guard?
The Haitian authorities have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning this week as investigators try and understand how armed assassins could have entered a heavily guarded residence where Mr. Moïse was protected by dozens of officers.
Bedford Claude, the chief public prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, said that he had asked the police to interrogate all of the security staff close to Mr. Moïse including two key security officials, Jean Laguel Civil, who is head of the unit protecting current and former presidents, akin to the U.S. Secret Service; and Dimitri Hérard, the head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace, the seat of executive power in Haiti. The two were expected to be interrogated this week.
An employee at the National Palace, who is familiar with the investigation and requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about it, said that the night of the assassination, Mr. Moïse was supposed to have a force of 50 security guards at his residence. Instead, he said there were fewer than 10, all of whom have been arrested. “People here are baffled as to how that could have happened,” he said.
He said the president had made several calls from the residence the night of the assassination, including to Haiti’s top police official, but the precise timing of the calls was not clear.
Haitian security experts said that, given the magnitude of the crime, it was odd that the chief security officers were being summoned so late after the killing. They said they were concerned that some among the president’s security detail could have fled or tried to flee the country.
Manel Mauvais, the Haitian-Canadian director of Production Sécurité, a Montreal-based security company with 1,000 security agents and close ties to Haiti, said the delay in questioning the senior security guards underlined how the poor Caribbean nation was ill-equipped to conduct a professional investigation. The country is buffeted by lawlessness and violence, and the courts have barely been functional.
He said many Haitians abroad and in Haiti were viewing the investigation as a farce that seemed to be “just for show.” He said the security personnel should have been summoned within 24 or 48 hours of the assassination, before some could flee, or suspects could talk with each other to concoct false stories of what had happened.
“How can you do an investigation a week later and give people time to escape after such a major crime was committed?” he asked.
Some two dozen people have been detained so far in connection with the assassination.
Colombian officials said that some of the accused people had traveled to Haiti from Bogotá in May, flying to Panama, and the Dominican Republic before arriving in Haiti. The United States and Colombian officials said they would work with Haitian law enforcement to try and untangle the plot. The Biden administration officials have said that those efforts would include sending staff from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Haiti.
Conspiracy theories about the assassination were swirling in Haiti at supermarket lines, in cafes and bars, and on social media. One unsubstantiated theory was that the president was already dead when he was attacked. Another is that the Colombians were being framed for a plot they had no part in. Still another was that it was a plot from within the president’s own ranks.
KABUL, Afghanistan — In June, when the Taliban took the district of Imam Sahib in Afghanistan’s north, the insurgent commander who now ruled the area had a message for his new constituents, including some government employees: Keep working, open your shops and keep the city clean.
The water was turned back on, the power grid was repaired, garbage trucks collected trash and a government vehicle’s flat tire was mended — all under the Taliban’s direction.
Imam Sahib is one of dozens of districts caught up in a Taliban military offensive that has swiftly captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts, many in the north, since the U.S. withdrawal began in May.
It is all part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive across the country. The combination is a stark signal that the insurgents fully intend to try for all-out dominance of Afghanistan once the American pullout is finished.
have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.
report. Some homes there were burned down by the Taliban, residents said.
“The Taliban burned my house while my family was in the house,” said Sirajuddin Jamali, a tribal elder. “In 2015, a military base was under siege and we provided food and water for them, but now the Taliban are taking revenge,” Mr. Jamali sobbed. “Do they do the same in any area the Taliban take?”
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.
The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.
On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.
But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.
The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.
Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.
But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.
Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.
“They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.
Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.
KIBBUTZ NIR DAVID, Israel — A whimsical chain of inflatable rafts tethered together by a flimsy rope floated along the Asi, a gentle stream that runs for a mile through a sunbaked plain in northern Israel.
The boats were packed with residents of the area, their children and day trippers from farther afield, but this was no picnic, even though it was a holiday. The goal of this unarmed armada was nothing less than reclaiming the small river.
“This is a strategic takeover!” the leader of the ragtag crew, Nati Vaknin, shouted through a bullhorn as he waded ahead of the group.
The flotilla’s destination was a forbidden paradise: an exquisite, aquamarine stretch of the stream that runs through, and that has effectively been monopolized by, Kibbutz Nir David, a communal farm founded by early Zionist pioneers, Ashkenazi Jews from Europe who historically formed the core of the Israeli elite.
Free the Asi campaign, a group fighting for public access to a cherished beauty spot and against perceived privilege. On the other is a kibbutz eager to maintain its hard-earned assets and tranquil lifestyle. The dispute has landed in court, awaiting resolution; in late May, the state of Israel weighed in, backing the public’s right to access the stream through the kibbutz.
But underlying the battle are much greater tensions that extend across Israel.
The Asi dispute pits advantaged scions of the country’s socialist founders against a younger generation from a traditionally marginalized group. And it has resonated across Israel as a distillation of the identity politics and divisions that deepened under the long prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s fourth in two years, 93.5 percent of the vote in Beit Shean, with a population of about 18,000, went to right-wing or religious parties mostly aligned with Mr. Netanyahu, then the prime minister. Three miles away in Nir David, a community of about 650 people, over 90 percent of the votes went to centrist or left-wing parties that belong to the new governing coalition that ousted him.
Free the Asi campaign has attracted a variety of supporters, including left-wing social justice advocates and environmentalists. But left-wing political parties have mostly stayed mum to avoid alienating the kibbutz movement, their traditional base of support.
Some on the right have enthusiastically taken up the cause, like Yair Netanyahu, the former prime minister’s elder son, who has called to liberate the Asi on Twitter. It was a lawmaker from Shas, the ultra-Orthodox, Mizrahi party, who brought the court case against the kibbutz.
“It’s worth it for them to fan the ethnic narrative,” said Lavi Meiri, the kibbutz’s chief administrator. “It gets them votes.”
Nir David denies any discrimination, asserting that 40 percent of its population is now Mizrahi.
To end the standoff, Nir David has backed developing a new leisure area outside the kibbutz or extending the Asi’s flow toward Beit Shean. But the Free the Asi leaders said that could set a precedent for the privatization of natural resources.
Perah Hadad, 36, a campaign leader from Beit Shean, said the relationship with Nir David had always been one of “us on the outside and them inside.”
Ms. Hadad, a political science student, argues that part of the kibbutz could be opened to the public with fixed hours and prohibitions on barbecues and loud music.
“After all,” she said, “there are not that many streams like this in Israel.”
The flotilla led by Mr. Vaknin took place on Mimouna, a North African Jewish holiday marking the end of Passover.
Mr. Vaknin, 30, an information systems analyst, had organized a noisy and festive demonstration that began outside the kibbutz gate, complete with a D.J. and piles of mufletot, Mimouna pancakes dripping with honey.
“Open your gates and open your hearts!” Mr. Vaknin shouted, inviting kibbutz residents to join the party.
An eclectic mix of about two dozen people turned up to protest.
While the kibbutz offers the most practical entry into the Asi, it is possible to reach the water where the stream meets the irrigation channel. But that way involves several hazards, including clambering down a steep incline off a busy road and the possibility that sharp rocks in this untamed part of the stream would tear a raft.
Despite those obstacles, the protesters moved from the kibbutz down the road to launch their flotilla from that unblocked spot and later disembarked near the kibbutz cemetery. Children swam and chased ducks as grim-faced security guards looked on, filming on their cellphones.
The wet interlopers then sauntered off into the heart of the kibbutz. Nobody stopped them, and they posed for victory photos on the manicured bank of the Asi.
Despite the loud busking music, arcade lights and swarms of people, it was hard to be distracted from the corner street stall serving steaming cupfuls of tteokbokki — a medley of rice cake and fish cake covered in a concoction of hot sweet sauce. I gulped when I felt my friend tugging on the sleeve of my jacket, anticipating that he wanted to try it. After all, I promised to treat him out if he visited me in Korea over winter break.
The cups of tteokbokki, garnished with sesame leaves and tempura, was a high-end variant of the street food, nothing like the kind from my childhood. Its price of 3,500 Korean won was also nothing like I recalled, either, simply charged more for being sold on a busy street. If I denied the purchase, I could console my friend and brother by purchasing more substantial meals elsewhere. Or we could spend on overpriced food now to indulge in the immediate gratification of a convenient but ephemeral snack.
At every seemingly inconsequential expenditure, I weigh the pros and cons of possible purchases as if I held my entire fate in my hands. To be generously hospitable, but recklessly drain the travel allowance we needed to stretch across two weeks? Or to be budgetarily shrewd, but possibly risk being classified as stingy? That is the question, and a calculus I so dearly detest.
Unable to secure subsequent employment and saddled by alimony complications, there was no room in my dad’s household to be embarrassed by austerity or scraping for crumbs. Ever since I was taught to dilute shampoo with water, I’ve revised my formula to reduce irritation to the eye. Every visit to a fast-food chain included asking for a sheet of discount coupons — the parameters of all future menu choice — and a past receipt containing the code of a completed survey to redeem for a free cheeseburger. Exploiting combinations of multiple promotions to maximize savings at such establishments felt as thrilling as cracking war cryptography, critical for minimizing cash casualties.
However, while disciplined restriction of expenses may be virtuous in private, at outings, even those amongst friends, spending less — when it comes to status — paradoxically costs more. In Asian family-style eating customs, a dish ordered is typically available to everyone, and the total bill, regardless of what you did or did not consume, is divided evenly. Too ashamed to ask for myself to be excluded from paying for dishes I did not order or partake in, I’ve opted out of invitations to meals altogether. I am wary even of meals where the inviting host has offered to treat everyone, fearful that if I only attended “free meals” I would be pinned as a parasite.
Although I can now conduct t-tests to extract correlations between multiple variables, calculate marginal propensities to import and assess whether a developing country elsewhere in the world is at risk of becoming stuck in the middle-income trap, my day-to-day decisions still revolve around elementary arithmetic. I feel haunted, cursed by the compulsion to diligently subtract pennies from purchases hoping it will eventually pile up into a mere dollar, as if the slightest misjudgment in a single buy would tip my family’s balance sheet into irrecoverable poverty.
Will I ever stop stressing over overspending?
I’m not sure I ever will.
But I do know this. As I handed over 7,000 won in exchange for two cups of tteokbokki to share amongst the three of us — my friend, my brother and myself — I am reminded that even if we are not swimming in splendor, we can still uphold our dignity through the generosity of sharing. Restricting one’s conscience only around ruminating which roads will lead to riches risks blindness toward rarer wealth: friends and family who do not measure one’s worth based on their net worth. Maybe one day, such rigorous monitoring of financial activity won’t be necessary, but even if not, this is still enough.