Afghanistan Live Updates: The U.S. Occupation Is Over, Ending America’s Longest War
Twenty years after the U.S. invaded, the last military flight took off from Kabul airport. The withdrawal came after a last spasm of violence. Now the Taliban are in charge again.
Twenty years after the U.S. invaded, the last military flight took off from Kabul airport. The withdrawal came after a last spasm of violence. Now the Taliban are in charge again.
Here’s what you need to know:
The U.S. military finishes its evacuation, and an era ends in Afghanistan.
A family says 10 of its members were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul.
Blinken says American diplomats have left Kabul, a stunning turnabout for one of the world’s largest U.S. embassies.
She was lauded for challenging a Taliban member on live TV. Then she fled.
A planeload of sorely needed medical supplies lands in Mazar-i-Sharif.
An Afghan family struggles to reunite after being separated by the Kabul airport attack.
American University of Afghanistan students and relatives trying to flee were sent home.
U.S. Military Announces End of Evacuation Effort in Afghanistan
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the U.S. Central Command, said that the United States had finished its withdrawal, ending the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan.
I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and vulnerable Afghans. The last C-17 lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 30, this afternoon, at 3:29 p.m. East Coast time, and the last manned aircraft is now clearing the airspace above Afghanistan. While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues. Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. It’s a mission that brought Osama bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his Al Qaeda co-conspirators, and it was not a cheap mission. The cost was 2,461 U.S. service members and civilians killed, and more than 20,000 who were injured. Sadly, that includes 13 U.S. service members who were killed last week by an ISIS-K suicide bomber. I do want to provide some important context to the evacuation mission that we just completed in what was the largest noncombatant evacuation in the U.S. military’s history. Since August the 14th, over an 18-day period, U.S. military aircraft have evacuated more than 79,000 civilians from Hamid Karzai International Airport. That includes 6,000 Americans and more than 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the U.S. Central Command, said that the United States had finished its withdrawal, ending the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan.CreditCredit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The last vestiges of the American presence in Afghanistan have departed the Kabul airport, U.S. military officials said Monday, ending an occupation that resulted in a complete takeover of the country by the adversary the U.S. military spent two decades fighting.
In recent days, American military leaders said the United States would continue evacuation efforts and fully withdraw no later than Aug. 31, the deadline set by President Biden earlier this summer. But those efforts were wrapped up a full day early — just days after an attack on the Kabul airport by Islamic State Khorasan killed 13 U.S. service members and as many as 170 civilians in one of the war’s deadliest days.
Evacuation flights ended on Monday, and the military finished packing everything it intended to fly out of the airport onto transport planes before loading the remaining service members onto planes.
The last Air Force C-17, with the call sign MOOSE 85, departed at midnight local time carrying the final remaining American forces, a U.S. military official said.
“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, said Monday.
“No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who served,” he said.
President Biden said in a written statement late Monday afternoon that he would address the nation on Tuesday to mark the end of the war.
“I want to thank our commanders and the men and women serving under them for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled — in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, Kabul time — with no further loss of American lives,” Mr. Biden said.
“For now,” he said, “I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned. Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
General McKenzie said the last plane took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 11:59 p.m. local time on Monday. It cleared Afghan air space several minutes later, on Tuesday, Aug. 31, two U.S. military officials said.
Senior commanders made the decision a few days ago to depart unannounced roughly 24 hours before the withdrawal deadline, two military officials said. Commanders wanted to build in some cushion in case there were security challenges or a plane broke down at the last minute, delaying the final departures. Stormy weather forecast for parts of Monday and Tuesday was also a consideration.
There were also concerns that hundreds of Afghans could try to swarm the airfield in desperation on the last day, in a grim repeat of the chaos set off by the initial flights that left the Kabul airport after the capital fell on Aug. 15.
The risks posed by one more day of potential attacks by the Islamic State also loomed large, the officials said. On Monday morning, the U.S. military shot down rockets it said had been aimed at the airport. And a day earlier, a U.S. drone strike blew up a vehicle in Kabul that the military said was laden with explosives.
The Afghan commandos — the remnants of the Afghan security force — who were helping the Americans at the airport were among the last to be evacuated, along with their families, General McKenzie said. A Defense Department official said separately that the Afghan commandos were on one of the last planes out.
As the last elements of the 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations forces boarded their gray C-17s, the security cordon around the airfield grew tighter — “like the Alamo,” said one military official tracking the final hours — until the last transport plane was aloft.
Control of the airport was left in the hands of the Taliban, who said they were still working on the shape of their new government.
A senior Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, took to Twitter early Tuesday and declared: “Our country has achieved a full independence, thanks to God.”
A few hundred Afghans were waiting outside the airport perimeter on Monday evening, but were kept at a distance by Taliban fighters guarding the area. About 1,200 people had been airlifted from Kabul in the previous 24 hours, a White House spokeswoman said early Monday morning.
But that leaves behind at least 100,000 people, by one estimate, and possibly many more who might be eligible for an expedited U.S. visa and who dread staying in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Many are former interpreters for the U.S. military who are in some stage of the process to receive a Special Immigrant Visa, and who fear they are at immediate risk of being killed.
The United States and 97 other countries said on Sunday that they would continue to take in people fleeing Afghanistan and had secured an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Monday evening that there were fewer than 200 American citizens left in Afghanistan who wanted to leave, and that the U.S. would help them do so. He said it was difficult to give an exact number because some dual citizens have lived in Afghanistan for years and have family there, and are struggling to decide whether to stay or go.
“If an American in Afghanistan tells us they want to stay for now, and in a week or month or year they reach out and say, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ we will help them leave,” Mr. Blinken said.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, announced on Friday that the group would not stop people from departing, no matter their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war.
But whether the Taliban would uphold that commitment, and when the airport could reopen for commercial flights, was uncertain.
Jim Huylebroek, Helene Cooper and Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.
Samia Ahmadi, right, whose father and fiance were both killed on Sunday in a U.S. drone strike on a house in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Hours after a U.S. military drone strike in Kabul on Sunday, Defense Department officials said that it had blown up a vehicle laden with explosives, eliminating a threat to Kabul’s airport from the Islamic State Khorasan group.
But at a family home in Kabul on Monday, survivors and neighbors said the strike had killed 10 people, including seven children, an aid worker for an American charity organization and a contractor with the U.S. military.
Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for the charity organization Nutrition and Education International, was on his way home from work after dropping off colleagues on Sunday evening, according to relatives and colleagues interviewed in Kabul.
As he pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his three brothers and their families, the children, seeing his white Toyota Corolla, ran outside to greet him. Some clambered aboard in the street, others gathered around as he pulled the car into the courtyard of their home.
It was then that they say the drone struck.
At the time of the attack, the Corolla was in a narrow courtyard inside a walled family compound. Its doors were blown out, and its windows shattered.
Mr. Ahmadi and some of the children were killed inside his car; others were fatally wounded in adjacent rooms, family members said. An Afghan official confirmed that three of the dead children were transferred by ambulance from the home on Sunday.
Journalists on the scene for The New York Times were unable to independently verify the family’s account.
Mr. Ahmadi’s daughter Samia, 21, was inside when she was struck by the blast wave. “At first I thought it was the Taliban,” she said. “But the Americans themselves did it.”
Samia said she staggered outside, choking, and saw the bodies of her siblings and relatives. “I saw the whole scene,” she said. “There were burnt pieces of flesh everywhere.”
U.S. Investigating Civilian Casualties in Kabul Strike
Pentagon officials acknowledged the possibility of civilian casualties in Kabul, Afghanistan, following a U.S. military drone strike on a vehicle they said was carrying explosives related to an ISIS-K threat on the airport.
On Sunday, U.S. military forces conducted an unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike on a vehicle known to be an imminent ISIS-K threat. This self-defense strike successfully hit the target near Kabul airport. Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material. We are aware of reports of civilian casualties and we take these reports very seriously and we are continuing to assess the situation. Make no mistake, no military on the face of the Earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military. And nobody wants to see innocent life taken. We take it very, very seriously. And when we know that we have caused innocent life to be lost in the conduct of our operations, we’re transparent about it. We’re investigating this. I’m not going to get ahead of it. But if we have, you know, verifiable information that we did, in fact, take innocent life here, then we will be transparent about that, too. Nobody wants to see that happen. But you know what else we didn’t want to see happen? We didn’t want to see happen what we believe to be a very real, a very specific and a very imminent threat to the Hamid Karzai International Airport and to our troops operating at that airport, as well as civilians around it and in it.
Pentagon officials acknowledged the possibility of civilian casualties in Kabul, Afghanistan, following a U.S. military drone strike on a vehicle they said was carrying explosives related to an ISIS-K threat on the airport.CreditCredit…U.S. Network Pool
The Pentagon acknowledged the possibility that Afghan civilians had been killed in the drone strike, but suggested that any civilian deaths resulted from the detonation of explosives in the vehicle that was targeted.
“We’re not in a position to dispute it,” John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman said Monday about reports on the ground of civilian casualties. He repeated earlier Pentagon statements that the military was investigating the strike on a vehicle two miles from Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“No military on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military,” Mr. Kirby said. “We take it very, very seriously. And when we know that we have caused innocent life to be lost in the conduct of our operations, we’re transparent about it.”
Among the dead was Samia’s fiance, Ahmad Naser, 30, a former army officer and contractor with the U.S. military who had come from Herat, in western Afghanistan, in the hopes of being evacuated from Kabul.
Footage showed the site of a U.S. military drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The strike targeted a vehicle carrying explosives, a Defense Department official said.CreditCredit…EPA, via Shutterstock
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said on Sunday that the U.S. military had carried out a drone strike against an Islamic State Khorasan vehicle planning to attack the airport. The group had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the airport on Thursday.
On Monday, Capt. Bill Urban, the spokesman, reaffirmed an earlier statement that the military hit a valid target, an explosives-laden vehicle.
Mr. Ahmadi was a technical engineer for the local office of Nutrition and Education International, an American nonprofit based in Pasadena, Calif. His neighbors and relatives insisted that the engineer and his family members, many of whom had worked for the Afghan security forces, had no connection to any terrorist group.
They provided documents related to his long employment with the American charity, as well as Mr. Naser’s application for a Special Immigrant Visa, based on his service as a guard at Camp Lawton, in Herat.
“He was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy,” Steven Kwon, the president of NEI, said of Mr. Ahmadi in an email. He wrote that Mr. Ahmadi had just recently “prepared and delivered soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul.”
Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that American diplomats will remain engaged in Afghanistan, but from outside its borders. Credit…Pool photo by Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON — American diplomats have left Afghanistan, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul will remain closed, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday, after the military announced that it had completed its withdrawal from the country.
The disintegration of U.S. diplomacy was a stunning turnabout from plans to stay and help Afghanistan transition away from 20 years of war and work toward peace, however tenuous, with a government that would share power with the Taliban. Earlier this month, Mr. Blinken had pledged that the United States would remain “deeply engaged” in Afghanistan long after the military left.
But that mission was largely dashed on Aug. 15, when the Taliban advanced into the capital, Kabul, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country and American diplomats to evacuate to a compound secured by the U.S. military at the international airport.
Mr. Blinken’s comments came as the last U.S. military flights departed Afghanistan, carrying a small core of diplomats who had tried to process immigration visas for tens of thousands of Afghans and secure safe passage for about 6,000 American citizens in a two-week evacuation mission from the Kabul airport.
American diplomats will remain engaged in Afghanistan, but from outside its borders. Mr. Blinken said the effort would now be led out of Qatar.
Of paramount importance to the Biden administration are the people — including a small number of U.S. citizens — who were left behind. Mr. Blinken said fewer than 200 were still trying to leave.
Until recently, the embassy in Kabul was one of the largest American diplomatic missions in the world. Just weeks before it closed, and the American flag outside its headquarters was lowered, the embassy’s staff numbered about 4,000 employees, around 1,400 of whom were U.S. diplomats, contractors and officials from other U.S. agencies.
Hundreds of American diplomats had served there after the embassy was reclaimed by Marines in December 2001 during the U.S.-led invasion. It had been closed since 1989, when the Soviet military withdrew from Afghanistan after a 10-year war.
Before Kabul fell, President Biden had promised that the end of the war would bring the departure of American troops from Afghanistan, but not its diplomatic corps. Years of frustrated peace talks were set to continue between the Taliban and the Afghan government, an effort largely fostered by the United States.
“Even as we withdraw our forces from Afghanistan, the United States and our partners remain deeply engaged,” Mr. Blinken said at the State Department on Aug. 2. “Our partnership with the people of Afghanistan will endure long after our service members have departed. We will keep engaging intensely in diplomacy to advance negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the goal of a political solution, which we believe is the only path to lasting peace.”
Behishta Arghand in Doha last week.Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times
In the fear-filled days after the Taliban stormed into Kabul, she was hailed as the brave young woman who questioned one of the militants on live television, providing hope that Afghan women might not lose all their freedoms.
But days later, like others who feared the militants’ wrath, Behishta Arghand, a former news presenter with Tolo news, fled the country, landing with her parents and four siblings in a sparsely furnished villa in a walled compound on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar.
Ms. Arghand, 24, spoke proudly of her interview and said she hoped the Taliban would follow through on their vows to allow more openness than when they ruled the country before the United States invasion 20 years ago.
“We don’t have any government now,” she said in an interview. “We just hope they do what they promise. But now everyone is scared of the Taliban.”
Ms. Arghand recalled the shock she felt when she learned that the Taliban had entered Kabul, and the fear that gripped the Afghan capital the next day. Still, she said, she went to work to make a point about the role of women in public life.
“I wanted to show the Taliban that we want to work,” she said. “We want to be in the media. It’s our right in society.”
Ms. Arghand said she was presenting the news on Aug. 17 when she got a feeling that there was a guest in the studio. She soon realized it was Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a member of the Taliban’s media team.
She had only a few moments to prepare.
A female news anchor interviewed a Taliban official on an Afghan television station. The group’s takeover has raised fears of a return to repressive policies and human rights violations for women and girls.CreditCredit…Tolo News
Her producers, she said, told her to try to draw out information without challenging her guest. But once on the air, she challenged him anyway, asking about reports that the Taliban had conducted house-to-house searches in the city.
After the interview, her phone was flooded with messages from friends and relatives who were both proud and terrified that she had questioned her guest so directly.
Not long after, she and her family fled, fearing that remaining in Kabul was too dangerous.
Ms. Arghand is now staying in a house with no television or internet. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be there. She doesn’t know where she’ll go next.
But she dreams of returning home someday to help women.
“If I am alive, I will do a lot for my home,” she said. “My country needs my generation.”
A man injured in the bombing at the Kabul airport being treated at the Emergency NGO hospital last week. The W.H.O. reported the delivery of more than 12 tons of medical supplies to Afghanistan on Monday. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
A plane carrying 12.5 metric tons of medical supplies landed in Afghanistan on Monday afternoon, the first such shipment to arrive since the Taliban seized control of the country, the World Health Organization said in a news release.
The supplies include trauma kits and interagency emergency health kits, collections of critical medicine and equipment that the W.H.O. said could meet the basic health needs of 200,000 people, treat 6,500 trauma patients and complete 3,500 surgeries. They will be delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan.
The W.H.O. used a plane provided by the government of Pakistan, which landed at the Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, the first of three flights planned with Pakistan International Airlines.
“After days of nonstop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that — for now — W.H.O.-supported health services can continue,” Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the W.H.O.’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in the release.
Afghan people face a slew of health concerns, including the extremely contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has become all but an afterthought during the turmoil after the Taliban takeover.
“In the midst of a pandemic, we’re extremely concerned by the large displacement of people and increasing cases of diarrhea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, probable cases of Covid-19 and reproductive health complications,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said earlier this month. “There is an immediate need to ensure sustained humanitarian access and continuity of health services across the country, with a focus on ensuring women and girls have access to female health workers.”
Before Afghanistan’s government unraveled, its ministry of public health reported a third wave of coronavirus infections, with a record number of positive cases and deaths.
W.H.O. officials said in an email earlier this month that they were concerned that Covid-19 spikes exacerbated by the movement and mixing of newly displaced people, the low rate of vaccination among Afghans and the lack of medical supplies could further strain a health system struggling to keep up with trauma and emergency care.
People being sent away from the Abbey Gate area of the Kabul airport last week.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
The suicide bomb blast that killed more than 170 people crowded outside Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport on Thursday also sundered a family gathered there, hoping to flee.
Ahmad Wali Stanekzai’s wife, Zakya, died from injuries sustained in the explosion. He couldn’t find his three children — Mina, Ahmad Faisal and Masiullah — who disappeared in the bedlam after the explosion.
Masiullah, a teenager, was dazed from the blast and called his aunt, Ferishta Stanekzai, who lives in Virginia.
“He said, ‘I don’t know about my mom, dad, brother and sister, what happened to them, but I am here alone, and there is firing, and I don’t know where I should go,'” Ms. Stanekzai said in an interview on Sunday.
Ms. Stanekzai began working the phones with the help of Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, a retired Air Force officer who has been trying to extricate several hundred Afghans in the two weeks since the Taliban captured Kabul. This account is based on interviews with Ms. Stanekzai and General Bradley, who have been in contact with Mr. Stanekzai and other relatives and neighbors.
Mr. Stanekzai’s family had traveled to the airport in Kabul in a desperate attempt to get on a flight. They had documentation from General Bradley, but no official clearance to board a plane. As they tried to navigate a path out of the country, the Islamic State Khorasan, the terrorist group’s Afghan affiliate, attacked the gate.
“Finally we contact my brother, and he says that ‘I don’t know about my two kids, but I lost my wife,'” Ms. Stanekzai said.
Mr. Stanekzai began searching the hospitals in Kabul for his missing children, and in time reunited with his oldest son. But he couldn’t find his other two children, and he and Ms. Stanekzai contacted dozens of friends and neighbors to scour the city.
In time, they learned that the children had boarded an airplane with a neighbor, Imran Ibrahim. But Mr. Stanekzai did not know the flight’s destination.
Ms. Stanekzai eventually reached Mr. Ibrahim. He and the children had landed in Germany, where the children received treatment for injuries from the Kabul blast at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, near Ramstein Air Base.
But Mr. Stanekzai and Masiullah are still in Kabul, with no way out, as President Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline fast approaches. They are just two of the tens of thousands of Afghans with connections to the United States who are desperate to escape.
General Bradley said he and family members had appealed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and retired military leaders to reach out to Mr. Biden or other officials who could help the Stanekzais secure a flight out of Kabul.
A White House staffer and an aide to Senator Warner said they were working on it, but so far a flight has not been approved, General Bradley said.
“The security situation is making things very difficult,” Rachel Cohen, Mr. Warner’s communications director, said in an email on Sunday, adding, “This is a priority for us.”
Mr. Stanekzai and his son have stayed in a home in Kabul, leaving briefly to hold an Islamic funeral for his wife.
Reaching the airport means enduring Taliban checkpoints, chaotic streets and the possibility of another terrorist attack.
“I understand how difficult it is, since we’ve already lost so many precious young American lives in this operation, but I feel that it is an obligation of our country to reunite this family,” General Bradley said in an interview on Sunday.
Ms. Stanekzai said her brother and nephew were concerned that their time was running out.
“‘What will happen if we don’t get out?'” Ms. Stanekzai said her nephew asked in a recent conversation. “‘I just want to be with my brother and sister.'”
The campus of the American University in Kabul.Credit…Hosay
Hundreds of students, their relatives and staff of the American University of Afghanistan gathered at a safe house on Sunday and boarded buses in what was supposed to be a final attempt at evacuation on U.S. military flights, the students said.
But after seven hours of waiting for clearance to enter the airport gates and driving around the city, the group met a dead end: Evacuations were permanently called off. The airport gates remained a security threat, and civilian evacuations were ending Monday.
“I regret to inform you that the high command at HKIA in the airport has announced there will be no more rescue flights,” said an email sent to students from the university administration on Sunday afternoon, which was shared with The New York Times.
“The scholar pilgrims who were turned away today while seeking safe passage to a better future need the help of the U.S. government, who gave them the hope they must not lose,” the American University president, Ian Bickford, said.
The email asked the 600 or so students and relatives to return home. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan must be completed by a Tuesday deadline, so the military is turning from evacuating civilians to bringing its own personnel home.
The group was then alarmed after learning that their names had been shared with the Taliban fighters guarding the airport checkpoints. Mr. Bickford said that the university had given the names only to the U.S. military.
“They told us: We have given your names to the Taliban,” said Hosay, a 24-year-old sophomore studying business administration who was on the bus on Sunday. “We are all terrified. There is no evacuation, there is no getting out.”
Hosay earned a scholarship that covered half of her tuition. She wanted to get an M.B.A. and start an all-female engineering firm.
When the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15, one of the first sites they captured was the sprawling, modern American University campus. Men in traditional Afghan outfits swinging AK-47 rifles brought down the university flag and raised the flag of the Taliban, according to student and social media photos.
The Taliban posted a picture of themselves on social media standing at the entrance of a university building with an ominous message, saying this was where America had trained infidel “wolves” to corrupt the minds of Muslims.
The photograph was widely shared among Afghans and sent students and alumni into hiding. They had reason to be scared. In 2016, the Taliban attacked the campus with explosives and guns in a terrorist assault that lasted 10 hours and killed 15 people, including seven students.
The university shut down its campus on Aug. 14 as word reached administrators that the Taliban were on the outskirts of Kabul. Mr. Bickford and foreign staff left Kabul for Doha that night.
Mr. Bickford said in an interview last week that he was working with the State Department to evacuate about 1,200 students and alumni. But on Friday, after the deadly attack on the airport, Mr. Bickford said the effort had become much more complicated.
Mr. Bickford said the university was committed to ensuring all enrolled students would finish their degrees remotely.
The American University of Afghanistan opened in 2006, receiving most of its funding from the United States Agency for International Development, which gave $160 million. It was one of the U.S.A.I.D.’s largest civilian projects in Afghanistan.
Students said they had struggled emotionally over the past two weeks after they went from being college students to fugitives overnight.
Several students interviewed repeated a poetic saying in Dari: “Our hopes and dreams have turned into dust.”
Mohammad, a 31-year-old father of three and part-time government ministry worker, had three more courses left to finish his degree in business administration.
His job and salary are now gone. His degree is in jeopardy.
“It’s as if you throw a glass on a cement floor and your life shatters in a split second,” he said Sunday from a safe house.
Yasser, a 27-year-old political science student, said he had been told in an email from the university on Saturday to report to a safe location for evacuation. But after President Biden said there were security threats to the airport, the plan was scrapped and everyone was sent home.
Early Sunday morning, Yasser received another email from the university asking him to go to a safe house at 7:45 a.m. The students were told to bring only a backpack with two outfits. Videos shared with The New York Times show hundreds of students carrying backpacks and waiting on the roadside. Dozens of buses are lined up.
The chitchat among students abruptly ends, and someone gasps. Someone cries. The students have just been told that evacuations have been called off.
“It was a frightening day,” Yasser said. “We went there anticipating to be rescued and returned home defeated.”
An earlier version of this article misstated comments by the president of American University about attempts to evacuate students. He said that the university had shared the students’ names with the U.S. military, and that the military’s protocol was to share that information with the Taliban to coordinate access to the airport. He did not say the U.S. military had shared with the Taliban a list of students trying to leave Afghanistan.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, warned his U.S. counterpart that cooperation on Afghanistan would depend on the U.S.’s attitude toward Beijing. Credit…Pool photo by Francis Malasig
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, urged the United States to engage with the Taliban and provide urgently needed aid to Afghanistan.
In a phone call on Sunday, Mr. Yang warned Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, that the Chinese government’s cooperation on Afghanistan would depend on the United States and its attitude toward Beijing. The Chinese foreign ministry posted an account of the call on its website.
Mr. Wang told Mr. Blinken that the Biden administration should also maintain contacts with the Taliban to prevent Afghanistan from falling deeper into chaos. Before the Taliban seized control of Kabul earlier this month, Beijing had held talks with senior Taliban officials about the future of Afghanistan, which shares a narrow border with China.
“There has been a fundamental change in domestic developments in Afghanistan, and all sides need to engage in contacts with the Taliban,” Mr. Wang said, according to the foreign ministry’s account. “The United States, in particular, must work with the international community to provide Afghanistan with economic, public welfare and humanitarian aid, assisting the new political structure in Afghanistan in maintaining normal government operations and safeguarding social stability and public security.”
So far, the Chinese government has not specified what aid and other support it may provide Afghanistan, nor any conditions it has for recognizing a new Taliban-dominated government in Kabul. But Mr. Wang suggested that Beijing’s willingness to work alongside the Biden administration on such issues was conditional on tamping down broader tensions between the two big powers.
The United States has criticized the Chinese government over its security crackdown in Hong Kong, repression of largely Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, and warnings to Taiwan, the democratically governed island that Beijing regards as a part of China.
“Recently, China and the U.S. have opened up communication over Afghanistan, climate change and other issues,” Mr. Wang said. “China will consider how to engage with the U.S. based on U.S. attitudes toward China. If the U.S. also hopes for Chinese-U.S. relations to return to a normal track, then stop persistently maligning and attacking China and harming Chinese sovereignty, security and development interests.”
Safa, center, with her friends Tamana, left and Oranous in Doha, Qatar, after being evacuated from Kabul on the weekend.Credit…Safa
As gunfire rang out in Kabul, an Afghan college graduate named Batool tried not to show her fear.
For days, she and about 150 other Afghan women — mostly students and alumni of Asian University for Women in Bangladesh — had essentially lived on a convoy of buses that they hoped would get them into the Kabul airport, the center of the U.S. military’s last-ditch evacuation efforts.
University officials and volunteers had secured them visas and chartered a plane for them, but several times, the buses failed to make it past Taliban and military checkpoints.
Fear about being in the open intensified after a deadly terrorist attack on Thursday and a night on the buses listening to gunfire outside.
“We accepted that we will either die or we will leave,” said Batool, 25. “Every single one of us wanted to follow our dreams and continue our education.”
Finally on Saturday, with university leaders and other volunteers pleading their case to American officials, 148 women passed the final checkpoint. Told to leave their luggage behind, they were allowed to bring only their phones and phone chargers.
Their passage past that checkpoint and onto a plane capped a frantic, round-the-clock campaign by a university officials and others to get the women out after the sudden collapse of Kabul to the Taliban two weeks ago.
As the Taliban advanced, school officials quickly created a masters program so alumni could obtain student visas, said a university founder, Kamal Ahmad.
To keep track of the buses at all times in the chaotic scene around the airport, the school used a geocommunications app that was also used to help evacuate an Afghan girls robotics team.
Lawyers with the firm Mayer Brown helped the effort, according to Marcia Goodman, a partner for the firm who said they had “reached out to to contacts and friends of contacts, including military on the ground and government officials at various levels.”
But they ran into issues booking a charter plane out of Kabul, and feared paying up to $450,000 for a single flight that might fail to pick the students up.
In the desperate effort to enter the airport, overwhelming fatigue was itself a threat to the evacuation plans.
When Safa, 20, and two friends separated from the group at the airport to tell their families they had made it past the checkpoints, they fell asleep from exhaustion as their phones charged in a hall.
When they woke up an hour later, they discovered to their horror that they had missed the flight. “We were not able to say anything,” Safa said. “We were not able to cry. We were just in shock what to do.”
Eventually, military officers put them on a flight to Doha, Qatar.
Safa has decided to “never sleep again,” she joked during a telephone interview.
Leaving Afghanistan brings mixed feelings, she said,
At the evacuation’s lowest moments, she felt resigned to giving up her dream of finishing her degree and working in public health.
“It was killing me inside,” she said. “Why I should give up? Why should I bury it? I deserve to be happy. I deserve my old dreams.”
Now, she said, she intends to finish her public health degree and return one day to Afghanistan, after the Taliban have left.
“I want to serve my country,” she said. “I can see my future, and I will be able to turn my dreams in reality.”
Most of the students are now in Spain, Batool said, with the next leg of their journey to the United States. They are not sure when they will make it to Bangladesh.
Safa said she felt “grateful” to the university but was worried for the family left behind.
“I saved my life,” she said, “but still I can’t say I have a good feeling.”
Afghanistan evacuees departing from a processing center at the Dulles Expo Center in Virginia on Thursday.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The United States and 97 other countries said on Sunday that they would continue to take in people fleeing Afghanistan after the American military departs this week, and that they had secured an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for those who are leaving.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, had announced on Friday that the group would not stop people from departing, no matter their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war.
A joint statement released on Sunday on behalf of more than half of the world’s governments and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that they had “received assurances from the Taliban” that people with travel documents showing they were clear to enter any of those countries could safely depart.
The countries also pledged to “continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans” and cited a “clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban” to their safe passage.
“We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding,” the statement said.
Notably missing from the statement were Russia and China, two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council who have pledged to help the Taliban rebuild Afghanistan.
The statement did not warn of any consequences should the Taliban renege on the agreement, although a senior State Department official said it was meant to convey an implicit message about incentives — namely, foreign aid to the government — that the international community would use to enforce it.
The chief American envoy to Taliban peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted on Saturday that the Taliban’s assurances were “positive” and that “we, our allies and the international community will hold them to these commitments.”
Relief agencies say that tens of thousands of Afghans fear being left behind and living under Taliban rule. That includes people who have worked for the American military or the U.S. Embassy since 2001 and are eligible to immigrate to the United States.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told ABC News on Sunday that 300 Americans were still waiting to be evacuated from Kabul.
“We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan,” Mr. Blinken said.
When he was asked about the assurances from the Taliban, Mr. Blinken said that the U.S. government was not under any illusions.
“I’m not saying we should trust the Taliban on anything,” he said. “I’m simply reporting what one of their senior leaders said to the Afghan people.”
Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.
A memorial for Sgt. Johanny Rosario, one of the U.S. Marines killed this week in the bombing at the Kabul airport, at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Sunday.Credit…Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
One of the last photos that Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee shared with her family from Afghanistan shows her in dusty body armor with a rifle, her long blond hair pulled back, her hands in tactical gloves. Amid the chaos of Kabul, those hands are carefully cradling a baby.
It was a moment captured on the front lines of the airport, where Marines worked feverishly to shepherd tens of thousands of evacuees through chaotic and dangerous razor wire gates. It showed how, even in the tumult, many took time to comfort the families who made it through.
In a short message posted with the photo, the sergeant said, “I love my job??.”
Sergeant Gee never made it out.
“She believed in what she was doing. She loved being a Marine,” her brother-in-law, Gabriel Fuoco, said. “She wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
Sergeant Gee, 23, of Roseville, Calif., was one of two women in uniform killed at the gate. The other was Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass. Sergeant Rosario was commended by her unit in May for excellence in a supply chief job usually given to someone of higher rank.
“Her service was not only crucial to evacuating thousands of women and children, but epitomizes what it means to be a Marine: putting herself in danger for the protection of American values so that others might enjoy them,” Marine First Lt. John Coppola said about Sergeant Rosario in a statement.
For most of military history, women were not allowed in combat. The few admitted to the Marines largely did clerical work. In 2001, at the start of the war in Afghanistan, women in the Marines were not assigned to gate duty, said Kate Germano, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
But decades of insurgency wars fought in conservative Muslim countries forced the military to evolve.
The Marine Corps slowly, often grudgingly, opened all combat jobs to women. They now make up about 9 percent of the force. It’s still a small percentage compared with other military branches, Ms. Germano said, “but every year, more women are out front, bearing the burden more equally with men.”
Air Force drones at a base in the Gulf region in 2016.Credit…John Moore/Getty Images
The Biden administration has nearly completed a policy to govern counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional war zones, but the abrupt collapse of the Afghan government and a recent flurry of strikes in Somalia have raised new problems, according to current and former officials.
The administration has hoped to finish its playbook by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. It was envisioned as part of a broader recalibration, as President Biden seeks to wind down the “forever war” on terrorism and reorient national security policy to how the world has changed since 2001.
But his team’s ability to meet that deadline is now in doubt amid rapidly changing events and uncertainties about the future. Many of the same officials who would develop and approve an updated drone plan for Afghanistan are focused on the emergency evacuation operations in Kabul, officials said.
In January, Mr. Biden had set out to establish his own overarching policy for drone strikes targeting terrorist threats emanating from countries where the United States does not have troops on the ground. His administration viewed with suspicion President Donald J. Trump’s decision in 2017 to loosen a version of such rules that President Barack Obama had imposed in 2013.