awarded the JEDI contract to Microsoft. Amazon sued to block the contract, claiming that Microsoft did not have the technical capabilities to fulfill the military’s needs and that former President Donald J. Trump had improperly influenced the decision because of animosity toward Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s executive chairman and the owner of The Washington Post.

In July, the Defense Department announced that it could no longer wait for the legal fight with Amazon to resolve. It scrapped the JEDI contract and said it would be replaced with the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability.

The Pentagon also noted that Amazon and Microsoft were the only companies that likely had the technology to meet its needs, but said it would conduct market research before ruling out other competitors. The Defense Department said it planned to reach out to Google, Oracle and IBM.

But Google executives believe they have the capability to compete for the new contract, and the company expects the Defense Department to tell it whether it will qualify to make a bid in the coming weeks, two people familiar with the matter said.

The Defense Department has previously said it hopes to award a contract by April.

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These U.S. Veterans Won’t Rest Until They’ve Kept a Promise to Afghans

An informal network that includes former government and military officials is working around the clock to fulfill a pledge to save Afghans who put their lives on the line for America.


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Rex Sappenfield does not sleep well. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan, he is tormented by the fate of his interpreter, an Afghan with a wife and three young children to whom Mr. Sappenfield made a battlefield promise: We will never abandon you.

Now a high school English teacher who tries to instill a sense of rectitude in his students, Mr. Sappenfield has thought about his pledge every day since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

“We broke a promise, and I just feel terrible,” Mr. Sappenfield, 53, said. “I said it to the faces of our Afghan brothers: ‘Hey guys, you can count on us, you will get to come to the United States if you wish.’”

But if America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mr. Sappenfield and many other veterans have not. He is part of an informal network — including the retired general who once commanded his unit, retired diplomats and intelligence officers and a former math teacher in rural Virginia — still working to fulfill a promise and save the Afghan colleagues who risked their lives for America’s long fight in Afghanistan.

the American evacuation.

“I tell my students in 11th grade that they are the only ones who can betray their integrity,” Mr. Sappenfield said. “It’s theirs to give away if they choose to lie or cheat. But in this case, someone else broke my word for me. It just irritates the heck out of me.”

Did our service matter?

The question gnawed at Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson as he drafted a letter in August to the men and women with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. “Nothing,” he wrote, “can diminish your selfless service to our nation.”

Nothing — not the Taliban’s sweeping takeover after two decades of war, not the desperate Afghans falling from planes, not disbelief that Afghanistan had fallen overnight to the same enemy that the Americans had vanquished 20 years ago.

“I felt I had to say to the guys, ‘Hey, get your heads up,’” said General Nicholson, who retired as a three-star in 2018. Recalling the 92 Marines who died under his command in Helmand Province, the 2,461 American service members overall who died in Afghanistan and the untold treasure lost, he wrote to his fellow Marines:

“You raised your hand and said, ‘IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?’”

the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, the network worked with soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground in Afghanistan. She showed The Times a list of Afghan names, including large families, a few marked in purple with the words “GOT OUT!!!”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“Among Americans there is no shared scar tissue from the wars,” said J. Kael Weston, a retired foreign service officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside General Nicholson and has been part of the network. “A culture gap opened up.”

In rural Virginia, Ms. Hemp and others are still working to save more Afghans. She has three young grandchildren and doesn’t have to do this, given that many Americans have already forgotten Afghanistan, or scarcely paid attention to it before.

“I was raised with the Golden Rule, an honor code,” she said. “You do not lie to people. You honor your promises.”

She looked out at her crab apple tree and the rolling green fields. “People today don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. ‘Choices have consequences’ is now ‘choices have consequences for everyone but me.’ People are just so angry.”

On many days, Mr. Sappenfield speaks on Zoom with P, the interpreter. They exchange videos of their children but more often they talk about fear and frustration. The fear is about the Taliban. The frustration is with the State Department, which has been slow walking his visa application for many years.

“They are not taking any action,” P said in a Zoom call. “I feel hopeless. I feel I will be killed in front of my kids.”

For more than a decade, P has been caught in the Catch-22 labyrinth of the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, application process. He has already had two visa interviews — on March 3, 2020, and April 6 of this year — at the now closed U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Yet in a Sept. 21 email to Ms. Hemp, a foreign service officer wrote that P still needed another interview. “Obviously,” the officer added, “that will not be happening in Kabul.”

He concluded, “Sorry this is so murky and chaotic.”

Ms. Hemp responded bluntly. “In this day and age of online meetings, zoom conference calls, FaceTime calls, Messenger video chat, why can’t they do an online interview?” she wrote.

The foreign service officer checked with a colleague in Washington, who confirmed that, given the closure of the embassy in Kabul, there was no way for P to get another interview unless he managed to leave Afghanistan.

“Then the SIV case can be transferred to that country,” the officer wrote. “So, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation.”

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said on Capitol Hill last month that only about 3 percent of the Afghans evacuated to the United States during the American withdrawal actually have special immigrant visas.

P’s application was first submitted in April 2010, when Mr. Sappenfield’s unit was rotating out of Helmand. Had the process not been so labyrinthine, P would have gotten out of Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban. Now he is trapped.

In an email, a State Department spokeswoman said the effort to help people like P was “of utmost importance” but acknowledged that “it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” in order to have a visa interview.

P has not given up. Every day there is a different word on flights. So far, none have had a spot for him.

Ms. Hemp, Mr. Sappenfield, Mr. Britton and General Nicholson haven’t given up, either.

“Since the weather is changing, people are asking me to find blankets and warm clothes for their families in Afghanistan,” Ms. Hemp wrote recently. “Of course, they continue to ask when their loved ones will be evacuated. No clue, probably never, but I don’t dare tell them that.”

Mr. Sappenfield, a religious man, also recently wrote: “Haunted by the promises I made but my government wouldn’t allow me to keep, I ponder my own Judgment Day.

“Irreverently, perhaps, I am hoping for a front row seat when that day of reckoning comes for those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”

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In US Drone Strike, Evidence Suggests No ISIS Bomb

[explosion] In one of the final acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the courtyard of a home, and the explosion killed 10 people, including 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. “The procedures were correctly followed, and it was a righteous strike.” What the military apparently didn’t know was that Ahmadi was a longtime aid worker, who colleagues and family members said spent the hours before he died running office errands, and ended his day by pulling up to his house. Soon after, his Toyota was hit with a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as the suspicious moves of a terrorist may have just been an average day in his life. And it’s possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were water canisters he was bringing home to his family — not explosives. Using never-before seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, co-workers and witnesses, we will piece together for the first time his movements in the hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi was an electrical engineer by training. For 14 years, he had worked for the Kabul office of Nutrition and Education International. “NEI established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It’s a California based NGO that fights malnutrition. On most days, he drove one of the company’s white Toyota corollas, taking his colleagues to and from work and distributing the NGO’s food to Afghans displaced by the war. Only three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 U.S. troops and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military had given lower-level commanders the authority to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were bracing for what they feared was another imminent attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on Aug. 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times pieced together the security camera footage from his office, with interviews with more than a dozen of Ahmadi’s colleagues and family members. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 9 a.m. He then picked up a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his house. It’s around this time that the U.S. military claimed it observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safehouse, around five kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the U.S. military said they tracked Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the safehouse, instructing the car to make several stops. But every colleague who rode with Ahmadi that day said what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious moves was just a typical day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped to get breakfast, and at 9:35 a.m., they arrived at the N.G.O.’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his co-workers to a Taliban-occupied police station to get permission for future food distribution at a new displacement camp. At around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we obtained from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera’s timestamp is off, but we went to the office and verified the time. We also matched an exact scene from the footage with a timestamp satellite image to confirm it was accurate. A 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi pulls out a hose, and then he and a co-worker fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring these same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a water shortage in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water home from the office. At around 3:38 p.m., a colleague moves Ahmadi’s car further into the driveway. A senior U.S. official told us that at roughly the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car pull into an unknown compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. That overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military called an unknown compound. With the workday ending, an employee switched off the office generator and the feed from the camera ends. We don’t have footage of the moments that followed. But it’s at this time, the military said that its drone feed showed four men gingerly loading wrapped packages into the car. Officials said they couldn’t tell what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying — their laptops one in a plastic shopping bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s co-workers said, were the water containers. Ahmadi dropped each one of them off, then drove to his home in a dense neighborhood near the airport. He backed into the home’s small courtyard. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A U.S. official said the military feared the car would leave again, and go into an even more crowded street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who hadn’t been watching Ahmadi’s home at all that day, quickly scanned the courtyard and said they saw only one adult male talking to the driver and no children. They decided this was the moment to strike. A U.S. official told us that the strike on Ahmadi’s car was conducted by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the scene of the attack. In the days after the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile strike set off other explosions, and that these likely killed the civilians in the courtyard. “Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us that it was only possible to probable that explosives in the car caused another blast. We gathered photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the courtyard multiple times. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts who said the damage was consistent with the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater beneath Ahmadi’s car and the damage from the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile strike. All three experts also pointed out what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown-out walls, including next to the trunk with the alleged explosives. No sign that a second car parked in the courtyard was overturned by a large blast. No destroyed vegetation. All of this matches what eyewitnesses told us, that a single missile exploded and triggered a large fire. There is one final detail visible in the wreckage: containers identical to the ones that Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before heading home. Even though the military said the drone team watched the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said they weren’t aware of any water containers. The Pentagon has not provided The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or shared what they say is the intelligence that linked him to the Islamic State. But the morning after the U.S. killed Ahmadi, the Islamic State did launch rockets at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had driven through the previous day. And the vehicle they used … … was a white Toyota. The U.S. military has so far acknowledged only three civilian deaths from its strike, and says there is an investigation underway. They have also admitted to knowing nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to interpret the work of an engineer at a U.S. NGO as that of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer had applied for his family to receive refugee resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the U.S. for protection, they instead became some of the last victims in America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers on this story. Our latest visual investigation began with word on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out that this was a U.S. drone strike, one of the final acts in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed exclusive security camera footage, and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the strike aftermath. You can see more of our investigations by signing up for our newsletter.”

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As Afghan Refugee Crisis Unfolds, Koreans Recall ‘Miracle’ Evacuation

SEOUL — When he watched the scenes of desperate refugees trying to escape Afghanistan during the American withdrawal ㅡ mothers clutching babies, men begging to board airplanes in Kabul — Sohn Yang-young, 70, felt tears welling up in his eyes, his heart aching as if he were there.

His family had lived through a similarly traumatic wartime experience.

Mr. Sohn’s parents were among 91,000 refugees that the American military evacuated from Hungnam, a port on the eastern coast of North Korea, in a frantic retreat from Chinese Communist troops during the Korean War in 1950. They boarded the last ship leaving the port with refugees — the S.S. Meredith Victory, a United States merchant marine cargo freighter.

Mr. Sohn was one of five babies born on the ship.

“When I watched the chaotic scenes at the Afghan airport, I thought of my parents and the same life-or-death situation they had gone through in Hungnam,” Mr. Sohn said in an interview. “I could not fight back tears, especially when I saw those children.”

Mass extrajudicial executions of civilians accused of collaborating with the enemy were rampant during the war.

said Han Geum-suk, a nurse in Hamhung who joined the evacuation. “We rushed through the cross-fire back and forth several times before we could catch a ship. The ground was strewn with people with their luggages who were killed. There was hardly any standing room on the ship.”

Few events of the Korean War have seared the psyche of older South Koreans as deeply as the Hungnam evacuation, which they saw as a symbol of wartime calamity and humanitarian grace. It is memorialized in South Korean textbooks, as well as in one of the country’s most beloved pop songs​​. “Ode to My Father,” a 2014 movie based in part on the evacuation, became one of the highest-grossing films in ​the history of South Korean cinema​​. ​

Mr. Moon’s parents were among the refugees who caught the Meredith Victory. The ship, designed to carry no more than 59 people, left Hungnam on Dec. 23, 1950, with 14,000 refugees. Sailing with no escort, it arrived at Geoje Island, off the south coast of South Korea, on Christmas Day. Mr. Moon, who was born in a refugee camp on Geoje in 1953, said his mother used to tell him about the candies handed out to refugees who were jam-packed into the cargo hull on Christmas Eve.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

The Meredith Victory’s captain, Leonard LaRue, made the decision to abandon weapons and cargo to carry as many refugees as he could in what has been called “the largest evacuation from land by a single ship.” The captain became a Benedictine monk in New Jersey after the war and died in 2001. The U.S. bishops’ conference has recently expressed support for his canonization.

​Since the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Moon’s government has sent millions of face masks as a token of gratitude to Korean War veterans around the world, including three surviving crew members of the Meredith Victory: Robert Lunney, Burley Smith and Merl Smith.

Mr. Sohn, one of the babies born on the ship, met with Mr. Lunney several years ago when the American was invited to South Korea. Together they confirmed that Mr. Sohn was “Kimchi One.” According to Mr. Lunney, the ship’s American crew nicknamed the five babies born on board “Kimchi” because, apparently, it was the Korean word most familiar to them, Mr. Sohn said.

Mr. Lee was “Kimchi Five​.”

Both Mr. Lee and Mr. Sohn said that when they saw the news of a young Afghan soccer player falling off an American plane and of ​babies being born during airlifts from Kabul​, they relived the pain ​of war-torn Korean families.

Before joining the mad rush onto the Meredith Victory, Mr. Sohn’s father and mother entrusted their 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to his brother, who stayed behind. His parents believed the family would be reunited when the tide of the war turned in favor of the United States.

Instead, the war was halted in a cease-fire and the Korean Peninsula remains divided. Mr. Sohn’s parents died without seeing their two children in the North again.

Thousands of refugees were stranded in Hungnam after the last ship departed. The American military bombarded the harbor to destroy its equipment and supplies so that the Communists could not use them. Mr. Lee, 70, said he ​has ​heard from North Korean defectors who say that many refugees left behind at the port died during the bombing, and that others were sent to prison camps. ​

​After resettling in South Korea, Mr. Lee’s father ran a photo studio and his mother a grocery store. Mr. Lee became a veterinarian. They all named their shops “Peace,” he said. “My father didn’t want another war ​in Korea.”

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U.S. War in Afghanistan Ends as Final Evacuation Flights Depart

The last United States forces left Afghanistan late Monday, ending a 20-year occupation that began shortly after Al Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11, cost over $2 trillion, took more than 170,000 lives and ultimately failed to defeat the Taliban, the Islamist militants who allowed Al Qaeda to operate there.

Five American C-17 cargo jets flew out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul just before midnight, the officials said, completing a hasty evacuation that left behind tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country, including former members of the security forces and many who held valid visas to enter the United States.

“A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday evening. “It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over.”

But the war prosecuted by four presidents over two decades, which gave Afghans a shot at democracy and freed many women to pursue education and careers, failed in nearly every other goal. Ultimately, the Americans handed the country back to the same militants they drove from power in 2001.

scenes of mass desperation and carnage this past week became indelible images of the Americans’ final days, only a few hundred Afghans still waited at the gates on Monday night as the last flights departed.

Bin Laden was killed by an American SEAL team in Pakistan in 2011.

But the United States, confident it had routed the Taliban, refused their entreaties for a negotiated surrender and plowed ahead with an enormous effort to not only drive them out but to construct a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan. The lengthy occupation allowed the Taliban to regroup, casting itself as the national resistance to the American invaders and, three American presidents later, driving them out in a war of attrition, much as Afghans had done to the Soviets in the 1980s.

The United States departure was marred by a ghastly burst of civilian casualties that seemed emblematic of the American missteps in the war.

A drone strike that the U.S. military said was aimed at thwarting an attack on the airport killed 10 civilians, survivors said, including seven children, an aid worker for an American charity organization, and a contractor with the U.S. military.

according to Brown University’s Cost of War project — approached the number of dead fighters.

The Taliban gave few signs on Monday that they were ready to govern a country of nearly 40 million facing a major humanitarian crisis, with about half the population malnourished, according to the United Nations.

a suicide attack that killed more than 170 people, including 13 American service members, at the airport on Thursday.

The spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban, said that the military was investigating the claims of civilian casualties, and suggested that any civilian deaths may have resulted from the detonation of the explosives in the vehicle. The New York Times could not independently verify whether the American missile strike killed the 10 civilians.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

In the final hours of the evacuation, American surveillance and attack aircraft locked down the skies over Kabul, circling high overhead until the last transport plane was aloft.

“Job well done,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne, who was on the last plane out. “Proud of you all.”

A military official said that every American who wanted to leave and could get to the airport was taken out. But a number of Americans, thought to be fewer than 300, remain, either by choice or because they were unable to reach the airport.

But the evacuation did not reach all those Afghans who had assisted the United States over the years, and who now face possible Taliban retribution. An unknown number of those who made it through the tortuous process for special visas granted to American collaborators never even made it to the airport, much less onto an evacuation flight.

“Because I worked with the Americans, I won’t be able to put food on my table, and I won’t be able to live in Afghanistan,” said one special visa holder, Hamayoon, in an interview on Monday from Kabul. “I risked my life for many years, working for the Americans, and now my life is at even greater risk.”

a deadly Taliban attack in 2016, were also left behind. Some 600 hundred students and relatives had boarded buses to the airport but in the end were not cleared to enter the airport gates.

Mr. Blinken said the United States had “worked intensely” to evacuate Afghans who worked with the Americans and were at risk of reprisal.

“We’ve gotten many out but many are still there,” he said. “We will keep working to help them. Our commitment to them has no deadline.”

He also said that the Taliban had pledged to let anyone with proper documents “freely depart Afghanistan.”

Conditions are bound to get much worse soon, both in Kabul and across the country, U.N. officials warned. Food stocks will likely run out at the end of September, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

The Taliban have promised amnesty to those who opposed them, but it is a promise they may not have the power to keep.

“The Taliban are going out of their way to emphasize the amnesty message,” the veteran diplomat said. “But they may not have full command and control.”

In Kabul, “we may be on the brink of an urban humanitarian catastrophe,” the diplomat said. “Prices are up. There are no salaries. At some point millions of people will reach desperation.”

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Najim Rahim, Helene Cooper, Fahim Abed, Lara Jakes and Farnaz Fassihi.

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U.S. Launches Strike on ISIS-K as Bombing’s Death Toll Soars

The U.S. military said on Friday night that it had launched its first reprisal strike for the devastating suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport the day before, using a drone to target and apparently kill a planner for the group that claimed responsibility for the deaths of as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan.

“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan,” Captain Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

The attack at the airport on Thursday was one of the deadliest bombings in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion. American officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

attack also killed 13 U.S. service members, and one of the first to be identified was Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine who had been on his first overseas deployment, according to his father. He was one of 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic killed in the attack, according to defense officials.

ISIS-K, instead saying it was just one. The explosion hit right near the airport’s Abbey Gate, at a security chokepoint that squeezed together an enormous crowd that U.S. troops were checking for entry.

It was not only fear that trimmed the crowd at the airport Friday, what had been a constant mass since the Taliban assumed power nearly two weeks ago. Taliban fighters with Kalashnikov rifles kept people farther away from the airport’s entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee.

Flights to evacuate people already within the airport resumed soon after the bombing. But the airport itself was largely locked down on Friday.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Both exercises — the walk and the nudging — are proving to be challenges. In the normally bustling and noisy Shahr-e Naw neighborhood, once alive with street vendors and jostling pedestrians, there is now an unsettling silence. And so far his encounters with the Taliban have not yielded the results he had hoped for.

on pace to fall well short of providing an exit for everyone who wants to leave.

That left Afghans scrambling to find a way out of the country.

In the southwest, thousands of people have been trying to flee into Pakistan, gathering daily near the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing, the only one designated for refugees. In the west, several thousand people a day are also crossing into Iran, U.N. officials said.

Daniel Victor, Zia ur-Rehman, Jim Huylebroek, Megan Specia, Fahim Abed, Jack Healy and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

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Suicide Bombers in Kabul Kill Dozens, Including 13 U.S. Troops

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two explosions killed dozens of people, including at least 13 U.S. troops, ripping through the crowds outside Afghanistan’s main airport on Thursday, just hours after Western governments had warned of an imminent Islamic State attack and told their people to stay away from the airport.

The attack, by at least two suicide bombers, struck at the only avenue of escape for the thousands of foreign nationals and tens — or hundreds — of thousands of their Afghan allies who are trying to flee the country following the Taliban takeover and ahead of the final withdrawal of U.S. troops, set for next Tuesday.

Afghan health officials gave varying estimates of the toll at the international airport in Kabul, the capital — from at least 30 dead to more than 60, and from 120 wounded to 140 — while a Taliban spokesman cited at least 13 civilians killed and 60 wounded.

Islamic State Khorasan, the terrorist branch known as ISIS-K.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of its loyalists in Afghanistan.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

General McKenzie said it appeared that a suicide bomber, most likely wearing a concealed explosives vest, had made it through the checkpoints outside the airport, many of them run by Taliban soldiers, who are supposed to detect such attackers. He said he had no reason to believe that the Taliban, who are eager for the Americans to leave as quickly as possible, knowingly let the bomber through.

The chief Taliban spokesman, however, made a point of saying that the attack took place in an area where American forces controlled security.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Biden Sticks to Afghan Deadline, Resisting Pleas to Extend Evacuation

“People are going to die, and they are going to be left behind,” Mr. McCaul said.

Mr. Biden has emphasized that he was taking the threats to the safety of Americans in Kabul seriously. In a closed-door meeting with leaders of the Group of 7 nations on Tuesday, the president told them that the danger of a terrorist attack was “very high,” according to a senior American official.

A deadly attack against American and Afghan civilians by ISIS-K would be a disaster not only for the United States, but also for the Taliban, who are moving to consolidate control over Kabul. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been enemies, fighting each other on the battlefield for control of parts of the country.

ISIS-K refers to the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who led the meeting, sought to put a good face on the discussions, saying the evacuation had been remarkably successful. He said leaders had agreed on a road map for dealing with the Taliban in the long term, vowing to use Afghan funds held in Western banks as a lever to pressure the Taliban.

“The No. 1 condition is that they’ve got to guarantee, right the way through to Aug. 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out,” Mr. Johnson said to the BBC after the meeting.

But Mr. Johnson failed in his effort to persuade Mr. Biden to extend the evacuation beyond Aug. 31, and it was not clear what other options the allies had to protect their own citizens and Afghan allies without American military might.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that plans were being made to find a way to ensure that “afterward we can still get as many local employees and people needing protection to be allowed to leave the country.” But her downbeat tone laid bare the sense of futility felt by Western leaders about Afghanistan.

“How can it be that the Afghan leader left the country so quickly?” Ms. Merkel said. “How can it be that Afghan soldiers who we trained for so long gave up so quickly? We will have to ask these questions, but they were not the most pressing today.”

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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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Biden Defends Evacuation as Thousands Besiege Kabul Airport

LONDON — The desperate scenes at the Kabul airport reverberated around the world on Friday, forcing President Biden to defend his handling of the chaotic evacuation and fueling recrimination from American allies that are struggling to get their own citizens out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden insisted the American-led operation made “significant progress” after a rocky start, with nearly 6,000 American troops evacuating 5,700 Americans, Afghans, and others on Thursday. Flights were suspended for several hours on Friday to process the crush of people at the airport, but they were resuming, he said.

“We’re acting with dispatch,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Signs of the Taliban’s tightening grip over the capital were everywhere on Friday. An activist posted a photo on Twitter of billboards of women’s faces outside a Kabul beauty salon that were blacked out.

Khalil Haqqani, the leader of one of the most powerful and violent Taliban factions, appeared at Friday prayers, the high point in the Islamic week. Mr. Haqqani, 48, is on both the U.S. and United Nations terrorist lists, responsible for kidnapping Americans, launching suicide attacks and conducting targeted assassinations. He is now playing a prominent role in the new Taliban government.

crystallized a sense in Britain that their leaders were asleep at the wheel — a striking turn for a NATO member that contributed more troops to the Afghan war than any but the United States. It has also hardened feelings toward the United States, which barely consulted its ally about the timing or logistics of the withdrawal.

British newspapers pointed out that Mr. Biden did not take a call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson until Tuesday, days after Britain requested it. Some British diplomats said they could not recall a time when an American president came under harsher criticism than Mr. Biden has in recent days.

“It shows that Biden wasn’t that desperate to get the prime minister’s input on the situation,” said Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to Washington. “It’s all escalated a bit. It’s not a great sign.”

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek in Kabul, Carlotta Gall in Istanbul, Eric Schmitt and Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Washington, Nick Cummings-Bruce in Geneva, Steven Erlanger in Brussels, and Marc Santora in London.

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