She was left traumatized and with chronic pain, but still continued to attend classes. By August, when Taliban soldiers entered Kabul, she was only months away from receiving her degree. But now the Taliban decree appears to have rendered her dream impossible.

“All the hard work I have done so far looks like it is gone,” she said. “I find myself wishing I had died in that attack with my classmates instead of living to see this.”

Wali Arian and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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A Journey Through Merkel’s Germany: Affluent, Anxious and Almost Normal

As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.


STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.

Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacation and a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.

All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.

“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.

But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.

parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.

successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.

phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.

Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Could This Covid Wave Reverse the Recovery? Here’s What to Watch.

The spread of the Delta variant has delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of school and generally dashed hopes for a return to normal after Labor Day. But it has not pushed the U.S. economic recovery into reverse.

Now that recovery faces a new test: the removal of much of the aid that has helped keep households and businesses afloat for the past year and a half.

The Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses, concluded last spring. A federal eviction moratorium ended last month after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s last-minute effort to extend it. Most recently, an estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits when programs that expanded the system during the pandemic were allowed to lapse.

Next up: the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday indicated it could start pulling back its stimulus efforts as early as November.

OpenTable, for example, have fallen less than 10 percent from their early-July peak. That is a far smaller decline than during the last Covid surge, last winter.

“It has moved down, but it’s not the same sort of decline,” Mr. Bryson said of the OpenTable data. “We’re living with it.”

$120 billion in monthly bond purchases — which have kept borrowing cheap and money flowing through the economy — but it will almost certainly keep interest rates near zero into next year. Millions of parents will continue to receive monthly checks through the end of the year because of the expanded child tax credit passed in March as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.

That bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, also provided $350 billion to state and local governments, $21.6 billion in rental aid and $10 billion in mortgage assistance, among other programs. But much has not been spent, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution.

“Those delays are frustrating,” she said. “At the same time, what that also means is that support is going to continue having an effect over the next several quarters.”

Economists, including officials in the Biden administration, say that as the economy heals, there will be a gradual “handoff” from government aid to the private sector. That transition could be eased by a record-setting pile of household savings, which could help prop up consumer spending as government aid wanes.

A lot of that money is held by richer, white-collar workers who held on to their jobs and saw their stock portfolios swell even as the pandemic constrained their spending. But many lower-income households have built up at least a small savings cushion during the pandemic because of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid, according to researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

“The good news is that people are going into the fall with some reserves, more reserves than normal,” said Fiona Greig, co-director of the institute. “That can give them some runway in which to look for a job.”

recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small business owners. Not all have had sales turn lower, said Eric Groves, the company’s chief executive. But the uncertainty is hitting at a crucial moment, heading into the holiday season.

“This is a time of year when business owners in the consumer sector in particular are trying to pull out their crystal ball,” he said. “Now is when they have to be purchasing inventory and doing all that planning.”

open a new location as part of a development project on the West Side of Manhattan.

Go big. If some aid ended up going to people or businesses that didn’t really need help, that was a reasonable trade-off for the benefit of getting money to the millions who did.

Today, the calculus is different. The impact of the pandemic is more tightly focused on a few industries and groups. At the same time, many businesses are having trouble getting workers and materials to meet existing demand. Traditional forms of stimulus that seek to stoke demand won’t help them. If automakers can’t get needed parts, for example, giving money to households won’t lead to more car sales — but it might lead to higher prices.

That puts policymakers in a tight spot. If they don’t get help to those who are struggling, it could cause individual hardship and weaken the recovery. But indiscriminate spending could worsen supply problems and lead to inflation. That calls for a more targeted approach, focusing on the specific groups and industries that need it most, said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll processing firm.

“There are a lot of arrows in the quiver still, but you need them to go into the bull’s-eye now rather than just going all over,” Ms. Richardson said.

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How Will The US Cope With Taliban Rule?

Even as the United States finalizes its departure from Afghanistan, it faces a dilemma there as wrenching as any during the 20-year war: how to deal with the new Taliban government.

The question is already manifest in the debate over how deeply to cooperate against a mutual enemy, the Islamic State branch in the region, known as ISIS-K.

Another: Whether to release $9.4 billion in Afghan government currency reserves that are frozen in the United States. Handing the Taliban billions would mean funding the machinery of its ultraconservative rule. But withholding the money would all but ensure a sudden currency crisis and halt on imports, including food and fuel, starving Afghan civilians whom the United States had promised to protect.

These are only the beginning. Washington and the Taliban may spend years, even decades, pulled between cooperation and conflict, compromise and competition, as they manage a relationship in which neither can fully tolerate nor live without the other.

already seeking from the United States.

Washington, for its part, sees Afghanistan as a potential haven for international terrorists, a center of geopolitical competition against its greatest adversaries and the site of two looming catastrophes — Taliban rule and economic collapse — that could each ripple far beyond the country’s borders.

At home, President Biden already faces a backlash over Afghanistan that would be likely to intensify if he were seen as enabling Taliban rule. But he may find that securing even the most modest American aims in the country requires tolerating the group that now controls it.

His administration got a taste of this new reality last week, when American forces evacuating Kabul relied on Taliban fighters to help secure the city’s airport.

testing quiet, mostly tacit coordination.

The United States has a long history of working with unsavory governments against terrorist groups.

But such governments have routinely exploited this to win American acquiescence, and even assistance, in suppressing domestic opponents they have labeled extremists.

This dynamic has long enabled dictators to disregard American demands on human rights and democracy, confident that Washington would tolerate their abuses as long as they delivered on terrorism matters.

less extreme opposition groups.

It may ultimately be a question of whether Washington prefers an Afghanistan divided by civil war — the very conditions that produced the Taliban and now ISIS-K — or one unified under the control of a Taliban that may or may not moderate itself in power.

The Taliban, desperate for foreign support, have emphasized a desire to build ties with Washington.

The longer the United States holds out recognition, formal or informal, the more incentive the Taliban have to chase American approval. But if Washington waits too long, other powers may fill the diplomatic vacuum first.

Iran and China, which border Afghanistan, are both signaling that they may embrace the Taliban government in exchange for promises related mostly to terrorism. Both are eager to avoid an economic collapse or return to war on their borders. And they are especially eager to keep American influence from returning.

“Beijing will want to extend recognition to the Taliban government, likely after or at the same time that Pakistan does so but before any Western country does,” Amanda Hsiao, a China analyst for the International Crisis Group, wrote in a recent policy brief.

Iran has already begun referring to the “Islamic Emirate,” the Taliban’s preferred name for its government. Iranian missions remain open.

eased. But the former enemies have drawn much closer over one issue that is not likely to apply in Afghanistan, extensive trade, and another that is — opposition to China.

Many Afghans fear that American recognition, even indirect, could be taken as a blank check for the group to rule however it wants.

Still, some who are fiercely opposed to both the Taliban and the American withdrawal have urged international engagement.

“Everyone with a stake in the stability of Afghanistan needs to come together,” Saad Mohseni, an Afghan-Australian businessmen behind much of the country’s media sector, wrote in a Financial Times essay.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Neither engagement nor hostility is likely to transform the group’s underlying nature. And even when engagement works, it can be slow and frustrating, with many breakdowns and reversals on a road to rapprochement that might take decades to travel.

Perhaps the only scenario as dire as a Taliban takeover is one that is all but assured without American intervention: economic collapse, even famine.

Afghanistan imports much of its food and fuel, and most of its electricity. Because it runs a deep trade deficit, it pays for imports mostly through foreign aid, which amounts to nearly half of the country’s economy — and has now been suspended.

The country holds enough currency reserves to finance about 18 months of imports. Or it did, until the U.S. froze the accounts.

As a result, Afghanistan may soon run out of food and fuel with no way to replenish either.

“Acute famines generally result from shortages of food triggering a scramble for necessities, speculation and spikes in food prices, which kill the poorest,” a Columbia University economist, Adam Tooze, wrote last week. “Those are the elements we can already see at work in Afghanistan.”

As the United States learned in 1990s Somalia, flying in food does not solve the problem and may even worsen it by putting local farmers out of business.

according to Save the Children, a charity. The group also surveyed some of the thousands of families displaced from rural areas to Kabul and found that many already lack the means to buy food.

It is difficult to imagine a harder sell in Washington than offering diplomatic outreach and billions of dollars to the group that once harbored Al Qaeda, barred women from public life and staged public executions.

Republicans are already seizing on the chaos of the withdrawal to criticize Mr. Biden as soft on adversaries abroad.

He may also face pressure from Afghan émigrés, a number of whom already live in the United States. Diasporas, like those from Vietnam or Cuba, tend to be vocally hawkish toward the governments they fled.

The administration, which is pursuing an ambitious domestic agenda in a narrowly divided Congress, may be hesitant to divert more political capital to a country that it sees as peripheral.

Still, Mr. Biden has seemed to relish rejecting political pressure on Afghanistan. Whether he chooses to privilege geopolitical rivalry, humanitarian welfare or counterterrorism in Afghanistan, he may find himself doing so again.

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Live Updates: Security Threats at Kabul Airport Prompt Multiple Warnings

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.

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Blinken Provides Update on U.S. Rescue Mission in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken gave details on the number of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals rescued so far, as well as the number of Americans still in Afghanistan who want to leave.

Since Aug. 14, more than 82,300 people have been safely flown out of Kabul. In the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday, approximately 19,000 people were evacuated on 90 U.S. military and coalition flights. Our first priority is the evacuation of American citizens. Since Aug. 14, we have evacuated at least 4,500 U.S. citizens, and likely more. More than 500 of those Americans were evacuated in just the last day alone. Now, many of you have asked how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan who want to leave the country. Based on our analysis, starting on Aug. 14, when our evacuation operations began, there was then a population of as many as 6,000 American citizens in Afghanistan who wanted to leave. Over the last 10 days, roughly 4,500 of these Americans have been safely evacuated, along with immediate family members. Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely. From my perspective, from the president’s perspective, this effort does not end on Aug. 31. It will continue for as long as it takes to help get people out of Afghanistan who wish to leave.

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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken gave details on the number of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals rescued so far, as well as the number of Americans still in Afghanistan who want to leave.CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

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‘We Are Working as Fast as We Can’: U.S. Rushes Evacuations

A Pentagon spokesman said U.S. and allied forces would work “all the way to the end” to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul, but that the priority would shift to flying out American troops and equipment in the mission’s final days.

Ninety flights total yesterday that left the Kabul airport, that is accounted for 19,000 evacuees now safely out of Afghanistan within a 24-hour period. Since the U.S. and coalition forces began the evacuation, to date, approximately 88,000 have safely departed from Afghanistan. We will continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end. If if, if we have to, and we need to, if you’re an evacuee, that we can get out, we’re going to continue to get you out right up until the end. But in those last couple of days, we’re going to try to preserve as much capability as we can at the airport, as you might imagine. So in those last couple of days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out. That doesn’t mean that if you’re an evacuee and you need to get out, that we’re not going to try to get you out, but that we will have to reserve some capacity in those last couple of days to prioritize the military footprint leaving. We know there are a lot of desperate people who want to leave, and that’s why we are working as fast as we can. And you saw the numbers that we continue to be able to get out. We’re working as fast as we can to get out American citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and vulnerable Afghans.

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A Pentagon spokesman said U.S. and allied forces would work “all the way to the end” to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul, but that the priority would shift to flying out American troops and equipment in the mission’s final days.CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a senior Taliban official, after a briefing in the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul on Tuesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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

Selling bread on a street in Kabul on Saturday.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

Outside the international airport in Kabul on Wednesday. The biggest immediate threat to the Americans and the Taliban as the United States escalates its evacuation is ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany would continue to support Afghans remaining in the country after the U.S. withdraws troops and ends its evacuation mission.CreditCredit…Tobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.”

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

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.

People protest the situation in Afghanistan in front of the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva last week.
Credit…Martial Trezzini/KEYSTONE, via Associated Press

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 York urged Mr. Guterres to take steps that would enable Afghan 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.

Correction: 

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.

A defaced beauty shop window display in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

The New York Times’s Afghanistan staff and their families arriving at Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Credit…Azam Ahmed/The New York Times

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.

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A group of former mujahedeen fighters and Afghan Army commandos rallied 70 miles north of Kabul in the Panjshir Valley, the last area of Afghanistan not under Taliban control.CreditCredit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.’’

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Pelosi: ‘Real Concern’ Over Lawmakers’ Kabul Trip

Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged lawmakers not to travel to Afghanistan against government advisement, after Representatives Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, both veterans, secretly flew to Kabul unauthorized to witness evacuations.

There’s a real concern about members being in the region. And so, with the, shall we say, shall we say, knowledge of the Secretary of Defense as to what the risk would be to these members, the resources necessary to facilitate their visit and to protect them was an opportunity cost of what we needed to do to be evacuating as many people as possible. Point is, is that we don’t want anybody to think that this was a good idea and that they should try to follow suit. Again, I haven’t — I’ve been busy — it’s an important thing we want to make sure they were safe for themselves, but also for what consequences could flow and ramification if something happened to them while they were there. So they have to make their own case as to why they went and this or that. But it is, it was not, in my view, a good idea.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged lawmakers not to travel to Afghanistan against government advisement, after Representatives Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, both veterans, secretly flew to Kabul unauthorized to witness evacuations.CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

Credit…Erin Schaff for The New York Times
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

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.”

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Taliban Reject Extended Deadline as U.S. Races to Finish Evacuation

As a desperate U.S. effort to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan gained momentum on Monday, Taliban leaders rejected a suggestion from President Biden that American forces might remain past an Aug. 31 deadline to complete the operation, injecting fresh urgency into an already frantic process.

American officials are increasingly worried that even with the vast number of Afghans, Americans and people of other nationalities evacuated in recent days — a total of about 10,400 people in the 24 hours from Sunday to Monday alone, according to the White House — many still remain to be rescued. In recent days, that operation has increasingly focused on the Americans still left, over the Afghans who worked with the United States.

On Monday, a State Department official said that some former Afghan military interpreters or other close U.S. allies, a designated priority group for evacuations, were being turned away from the airport by American officials in order to give priority to U.S. passport and Green Card holders in recent days. The official was not authorized to brief the press, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official’s account was supported by interviews with Afghans who have approached the airport in recent days, and with American veterans’ groups and other organizations that have tried to organize evacuations for interpreters and other Afghans at risk from the Taliban.

the capital fell to the Taliban.

talks daily with his Taliban counterparts regarding security measures at the airport.

Other American officers down the military chain of command in Kabul have also engaged with Taliban commanders on specific security and threat reduction issues, the officials said.

The regular discussions between American and Taliban commanders yielded an agreement in which Taliban fighters expanded the security perimeter outside the airport, pushing back the enormous crowds of Afghans and others seeking access to flights out.

The Taliban have also continued to hold talks in Kabul with former Afghan leaders — one of whom, former President Hamid Karzai, abruptly vacated his state-owned residence after the Taliban had disarmed his guards and took over security of his compound, Afghan officials said.

Taliban leaders also met with hundreds of Afghan imams and religious school administrators in Kabul to begin the group’s directions for education and morality. No women could be seen at the gathering.

Around other areas of Kabul on Monday, residents described a calm that was partly welcome but mostly eerie. Dozens of residents said they were trying to stay home as much as possible out of fear and uncertainty about what might trigger punishment from their new Taliban rulers. Women, in particular, have scarcely been seen in the central public areas where the Taliban were present in the largest numbers, some said.

Banks, government offices and schools were all still closed around the city, and some residents said the cash shortage was growing urgent.

“People have money in the bank, but they can’t cash it out. And the people can’t borrow because no one has cash,” said Rahmatullah, a journalist in Kabul who asked only to be identified by a single name out of fear of the Taliban.

Grocery stores were still largely open, he said, but prices for some staples had gone up sharply, increasing the misery.

Biden administration officials say they are still unable to give an exact number of Americans left in Afghanistan, no less of Afghan interpreters still waiting to be evacuated.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the United States had been in touch with “a few thousand Americans” and was working on making arrangements to get them out of the country.

In Kabul, Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and secured Special Immigrant Visas said they had received emails from the State Department in recent days asking them to come to the airport for evacuation.

“We’re telling people to be prepared to survive up to a day in the scrum” outside the airport, said Matt Zeller, a former C.I.A. officer on the Afghanistan desk, who founded No One Left Behind to help his former Afghan colleagues escape the country. “They make it inside only to be turned back.”

Mr. Zeller is one of many U.S. veterans who have mobilized to help their former Afghan colleagues get out of the country. On Sunday night, Mr. Zeller said, veterans and contacts in Afghanistan organized an operation to bring to the airport some 500 S.I.V. holders who were considered at high risk of Taliban reprisals. They were able to get the Afghans inside the airport, he said, but were turned back at what he described as a State Department checkpoint.

On Monday evening, Mr. Zeller said, Taliban soldiers approached the Afghans outside the airport gate and separated them according to their paperwork, telling visa holders they would not be allowed to enter.

Fearing that opportunities to get their colleagues safely out of Afghanistan were tightening, the veterans working on evacuation from afar described feelings of helplessness.

“I feel a moral obligation to get these people out,” said Tripp Adams, an Army veteran who has been working on the effort. “When you’re halfway across the world and you can’t do anything — when hardened warriors are calling me and they’re cracking — this is going to destroy a generation of veterans.”

Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt, Lara Jakes, Helene Cooper, Sharif Hassan, Najim Rahim, Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Carlotta Gall, Dan Bilefsky, Niraj Choksi and Isabella Kwai.

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Covid Vaccines Produced in Africa Are Being Exported to Europe

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine was supposed to be one of Africa’s most important weapons against the coronavirus.

The New Jersey-based company agreed to sell enough of its inexpensive single-shot vaccine to eventually inoculate a third of the continent’s residents. And the vaccine would be produced in part by a South African manufacturer, raising hopes that those doses would quickly go to Africans.

That has not happened.

South Africa is still waiting to receive the overwhelming majority of the 31 million vaccine doses it ordered from Johnson & Johnson. It has administered only about two million Johnson & Johnson shots. That is a key reason that fewer than 7 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated — and that the country was devastated by the Delta variant.

At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has been exporting millions of doses that were bottled and packaged in South Africa for distribution in Europe, according to executives at Johnson & Johnson and the South African manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare, as well as South African government export records reviewed by The New York Times.

donated by the United States. But about four million of the country’s 60 million residents are fully vaccinated.

That left the population vulnerable when a third wave of cases crested over the country. At times in recent months, scores of Covid-19 patients at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg were waiting in the emergency department for a bed, and the hospital’s infrastructure struggled to sustain the huge volumes of oxygen being piped into patients’ lungs, said Dr. Jeremy Nel, an infectious-disease doctor there.

“The third wave, in terms of the amount of death we saw, was the most heartbreaking, because it was the most avoidable,” Dr. Nel said. “You see people by the dozens dying, all of whom are eligible for a vaccine and would’ve been among the first to get it.”

a United Nations-backed clearinghouse for vaccines that has fallen behind on deliveries. South Africa was slow to enter negotiations with manufacturers for its own doses. In January, a group of vaccine experts warned that the government’s “lack of foresight” could cause “the greatest man-made failure to protect the population since the AIDS pandemic.”

announced in November. Aspen’s facility in Gqeberha, on South Africa’s southern coast, was the first site in Africa to produce Covid vaccines. (Other companies subsequently announced plans to produce vaccines on the continent.)

South African officials hailed Aspen’s involvement as indispensable.

Aspen “belongs to us as South Africans, and it is making lifesaving vaccines,” South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said during a visit to Aspen’s plant in March. He said he had pushed Johnson & Johnson to prioritize the doses made there for Africans.

“I want them now,” Mr. Ramaphosa added. “I’ve come to fetch our vaccines.”

results of a clinical trial suggested that the vaccine from AstraZeneca offered little protection from mild or moderate infections caused by the Beta variant that was circulating in South Africa.

Weeks later, Johnson & Johnson and the government signed a contract for 11 million doses. South Africa ordered another 20 million doses in April. That would be enough to vaccinate about half the country.

South Africa agreed to pay $10 per dose for the 11 million shots, according to the contract. That was the same price that the United Statespaid and slightly more than the $8.50 that the European Commission agreed to pay. The South African contract prohibited the government from banning exports of the vaccine, citing the need for doses to “move freely across national borders.”

introduced export controls this year to conserve scarce supplies. India halted exports produced by the Serum Institute, which was supposed to be a major vaccine supplier to poor countries. In the United States, officials said they didn’t ban exports, but they didn’t need to. The combination of the extensive vaccine production on American soil and the high prices the U.S. government was willing to pay meant that companies made the delivery of shots for Americans a priority.

Other benefits for Johnson & Johnson were embedded in the South African contract.

While such contracts typically protect companies from lawsuits brought by individuals, this one shielded Johnson & Johnson from suits by a wider range of parties, including the government. It also imposed an unusually high burden on potential litigants to show that any injuries caused by the vaccine were the direct result of company representatives engaging in deliberate misconduct or failing to follow manufacturing best practices.

“The upshot is that you have moved almost all of the risk of something being wrong with the vaccine to the government,” said Sam Halabi, a health law expert at Georgetown University who reviewed sections of the South African contract at the request of The Times.

Mr. Halabi said the contract’s terms appeared more favorable to the pharmaceutical company than other Covid vaccine contracts he had seen. South African officials have said Pfizer, too, sought aggressive legal protections.

The contract said Johnson & Johnson would aim to deliver 2.8 million doses to South Africa by the end of June, another 4.1 million doses by the end of September and another 4.1 million doses by the end of December. (The government expects the 20 million additional doses to be delivered by the end of this year, Mr. Maja said.)

The company has so far fallen far short of those goals. As of the end of June, South Africa had received only about 1.5 million of the doses from its order. The small number of doses that have been delivered to the African Union were on schedule.

The difficulties in procuring doses have revealed the limits of fill-and-finish sites, which leave countries dependent on vaccines from places like the European Union or the United States, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, who until March was co-chairman of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid.

“Ultimately,” he said, “the solution to our problem has to be in making our own vaccines.”

Lynsey Chutel and Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting.

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Afghanistan Live Updates: 20-Year U.S. War Ending as It Began, With Taliban Ruling Afghanistan

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.

Leaving Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Sunday as the Taliban looked set to take over.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.

The entrance to the United States embassy in Kabul after staff were evacuated to the airport on Sunday.
Credit…Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.

The white Taliban flag flying above a Coca-Cola advertisement at a roundabout in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.”

A rally outside the White House on Sunday.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

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.

Taliban fighters greeting bystanders as they drive through Kabul in an Afghan Police vehicle on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.

Taliban fighters roared into the city on motorbikes and in police pickup trucks.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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 Taliban effectively took control of Afghanistan. Planes departing the airport in Kabul, the capital, were filled with people fleeing the city.

Taliban members at the entrance to the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.

Taliban fighters in Kunduz last week.
Credit…Abdullah Sahil/Associated Press

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.

American and Afghan soldiers attended a handover ceremony at a military camp in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in May.
Credit…Afghan Ministry of Defense, via Associated Press

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.”

Displaced Afghan women pleading for help from a police officer in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last month.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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 this month at the State Department.
Credit…Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski

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.”

Lights in the windows of the United States embassy in Kabul on Sunday night.
Credit…Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

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.

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Red Ventures, the Biggest Digital Media Company You’ve Never Heard Of

The marketing of financial products promises far higher profit margins than the online “affiliate” businesses that underlie websites like The New York Times’s Wirecutter. While a publisher recommending a gadget on Amazon might earn a single-digit percentage of a shopper’s purchase, the “bounties” paid to Red Ventures for directing a consumer to a Chase Visa Sapphire Reserve credit card or an American Express Rose Gold card can range from $300 to $900 per card.

The arrival of Red Ventures’ executives hasn’t always gone over well among the journalists who find themselves working under Mr. Elias. Journalists, like members of a medieval guild (the guild hall is Twitter), tend to be more connected to the folkways of their profession than to any corporate culture, and some roll their eyes at Red Ventures’ rah-rah retreats, which feature fireworks and song. More troublingly, some reporters at The Points Guy, which also covers the travel industry in general (it has been a comprehensive source for information on where vaccinated Americans can travel), have complained that the new owners have eroded the already rickety wall between the site’s service journalism and the credit card sales that fund it.

Red Ventures is “all about profit maximization,” said JT Genter, who left the site more than a year ago. He and other Points Guy writers said they hadn’t been pushed to publish stories they found dubious — indeed, the site has occasionally offered carefully critical coverage of Chase and American Express, its dominant business partners. But he noted that Points Guy journalists are required to attend regular business meetings detailing how much money the site makes from credit card sales, which some take as a tacit suggestion to put their thumbs on the scale.

Mr. Elias said Red Ventures has a “nonnegotiable line” concerning the editorial independence of its sites, adding that he has given his cell number to CNET employees and instructed them to call him if they ever face pressure from the business side.

“I told them, ‘There’s a red line,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll see,’” he said.

Red Ventures’ roots in marketing, its investment in tech aimed at selling you something and its almost-accidental move into trying to provide readers with trusted, even journalistic, advice have made for an odd amalgam. And the company’s Silicon Valley style extends only so far. Most employees don’t receive equity in the company, and lunch isn’t free, just subsidized.

The company does offer a maxim-happy workplace, though, with inspirational slogans printed on the walls of its atrium in cheery fonts. The one I heard executives refer to most was “Everything Is Written in Pencil,” a motto that makes sense for a company that has changed almost entirely from its marketing origins to become a leading purveyor of service journalism. And its executives seem to have absorbed the idea that they are selling trust, even if they don’t put it in the language of journalism professors.

“Brand and trust are at the core of everything that we do,” said Courtney Jeffus, the president of the company’s financial services division, which includes Bankrate. “If you lose brand trust, then you don’t have a business.”

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Why the Afghan Military Collapsed So Quickly

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The surrenders seem to be happening as fast as the Taliban can travel.

In the past several days, the Afghan security forces have collapsed in more than 15 cities under the pressure of a Taliban advance that began in May. On Friday, officials confirmed that those included two of the country’s most important provincial capitals: Kandahar and Herat.

The swift offensive has resulted in mass surrenders, captured helicopters and millions of dollars of American-supplied equipment paraded by the Taliban on grainy cellphone videos. In some cities, heavy fighting had been underway for weeks on their outskirts, but the Taliban ultimately overtook their defensive lines and then walked in with little or no resistance.

This implosion comes despite the United States having poured more than $83 billion in weapons, equipment and training into the country’s security forces over two decades.

Building the Afghan security apparatus was one of the key parts of the Obama administration’s strategy as it sought to find a way to hand over security and leave nearly a decade ago. These efforts produced an army modeled in the image of the United States’ military, an Afghan institution that was supposed to outlast the American war.

in an accumulation of losses that started even before President Biden’s announcement that the United States would withdraw by Sept. 11.

It began with individual outposts in rural areas where starving and ammunition-depleted soldiers and police units were surrounded by Taliban fighters and promised safe passage if they surrendered and left behind their equipment, slowly giving the insurgents more and more control of roads, then entire districts. As positions collapsed, the complaint was almost always the same: There was no air support or they had run out of supplies and food.

But even before that, the systemic weaknesses of the Afghan security forces — which on paper numbered somewhere around 300,000 people, but in recent days have totaled around just one-sixth of that, according to U.S. officials — were apparent. These shortfalls can be traced to numerous issues that sprung from the West’s insistence on building a fully modern military with all the logistical and supply complexities one requires, and which has proved unsustainable without the United States and its NATO allies.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, an infamous warlord and a former Afghan vice president who has survived the past 40 years of war by cutting deals and switching sides.

On Friday, another prominent Afghan warlord and former governor, Mohammad Ismail Khan, who had resisted Taliban attacks in western Afghanistan for weeks and rallied many to his cause to push back the insurgent offensive, surrendered to the insurgents.

the Taliban were breaching the outskirts of the southern city of Lashkar Gah, a hodgepodge group of border force soldiers were holding the line. The police officers who were supposed to be defending the area had long surrendered, retreated or had been paid off by the Taliban, as has occurred in many parts of the country over the past year.

Equipped with rifles and machine guns, some dressed in uniforms, others not, the border soldiers beamed when their stubble-bearded captain, Ezzatullah Tofan, arrived at their shell-racked position, a house abandoned during the fighting.

He always comes to the rescue, one soldier said.

Late last month, as the Taliban pushed into Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, an outpost called their headquarters elsewhere in the city asking for reinforcements. In an audio recording obtained by The New York Times, the senior commander on the other end asked them to stay and fight.

Captain Tofan was bringing reinforcements, he said, and to hold on a little longer. That was around two weeks ago.

By Friday, despite the Afghan military’s tired resistance, repeated flights of reinforcements and even American B-52 bombers overhead, the city was in the hands of the Taliban.

Taimoor Shah and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed from Kabul. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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