Afghanistan Live Updates: U.S. Says Its Airstrike Killed a Planner of the Kabul Airport Attack

Afghanistan Live Updates: U.S. Says Its Airstrike Killed a Planner of the Kabul Airport Attack

U.S. military officials say they have killed one of the planners of the deadly suicide bombing attack at Kabul airport in a retaliatory unmanned airstrike that was carried out in a mountainous region of Afghanistan.

The reprisal attack came as the clock was winding down before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, bringing a tumultuous end to a 20-year war. At the Kabul airport, there were indications on Saturday that the evacuation effort was steadily slowing.

Roads leading to the airport were closed, and the large crowds that had strained in recent days to push inside had largely dissipated in the aftermath of Thursday’s suicide bombing. At the Abbey Gate, near where the bombing occurred, only two families and two young men were still waiting on Saturday. Few people, if any, were getting through the airport gates.

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Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are thought to be seeking an escape from the country, fearing Taliban rule, but Mr. Biden and other global leaders have acknowledged that many will not get out before the deadline.

U.S. troops were screening Afghans at the Abbey Gate when the suicide bomber detonated on Thursday, killing 13 U.S. troops and as many as 170 other people, one of the deadliest attacks since the U.S.-led invasion began. The U.S. military said on Friday that it had launched a retaliatory unmanned airstrike in Nangarhar Province, east of Kabul.

Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said in a statement that the airstrike had targeted an “ISIS-K planner.” He was referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan, which has claimed responsibility for the airport attack.

“Initial indications are that we killed the target,” Captain Urban said. “We know of no civilian casualties.”

An assistant to the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday in response to the U.S. airstrike: “We have heard the reports about the Nangarhar incident, but we are trying to find the type of the incident and the casualties. After an investigation, we will react to that.”

A mountainous area in Nangarhar Province in 2019. The U.S. said it had targeted an ISIS planner in Nangarhar after the attack near the Kabul airport on Thursday.
A mountainous area in Nangarhar Province in 2019. The U.S. said it had targeted an ISIS planner in Nangarhar after the attack near the Kabul airport on Thursday.
A mountainous area in Nangarhar Province in 2019. The U.S. said it had targeted an ISIS planner in Nangarhar after the attack near the Kabul airport on Thursday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
In Kabul, Britain was ending its evacuation program on Saturday. Britain’s evacuation of citizens will end on Saturday, and the country will begin bringing its remaining troops home, Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of the defense staff, told the BBC’s Radio 4. France, too, has ended its evacuations, French officials said on Friday.

Because of the continuing security threat, U.S. officials are again warning Americans to leave the airport area. American officials believe that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

Civilian evacuations on chartered planes had halted since the attack. Private security companies and aid groups have told Afghans to remain in safe houses and avoid the airport as they plan to shift to evacuations by chartered buses through land crossings over the border with Pakistan, according to several people involved in the efforts.

At the Kabul airport on Saturday, two brothers, Hassan and Mahdi, said they had traveled from Herat to Kabul, a journey that took 26 hours. After spending the night in a guesthouse, they had managed to sneak past the outer perimeter guards and reached the Abbey gate with their families.

Mahdi had been selected in a U.S. visa lottery, and said he had been waiting for a visa interview when the families heard that an evacuation process was underway.

They knew of Thursday’s suicide bombing at the airport — “but what can we do?” said Hassan, who is 23. “This is our only way out.”

— Daniel Victor, Eric Schmitt, Zia ur-Rehman, Jim Huylebroek, Najim Rahim and Matthieu Aikins

Where Suicide Bombers Struck at the Kabul Airport
With cash scarce, protesters in Kabul demand that banks reopen.

Waiting in line at an ATM at an Azizi Bank branch in Kabul on Wednesday.
Waiting in line at an ATM at an Azizi Bank branch in Kabul on Wednesday.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
As Afghans try to move forward with their lives amid the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops, many are finding themselves confronted with another obstacle: a shortage of cash. Each day, people gather outside banks and ATMs in hopes of withdrawing money, only to later return home in despair.

On Saturday morning, scores of protesters marched through central Kabul to demand that banks that were closed following the Taliban takeover reopen.

“Islamic government, give us our rights!” they chanted.

One of the country’s largest banks, Azizi Bank, issued a statement telling customers that it was waiting for Afghanistan’s central bank to resume operations before reopening.

A representative of the central bank said that it would reopen on Sunday, but that to prevent bank runs, the process of distributing money might not begin until the new government is established.

The Taliban have indicated that Hajji Mohammad Idris, a member of the movement, will serve as acting head of the central bank. News reports suggest, however, that Mr. Idris has no formal financial training.

Despite ending its presence in Afghanistan, the United States still has control over billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank, money that Washington is making sure remains out of the reach of the Taliban.

— Najim Rahim and Matthieu Aikins
Waiting in line at an ATM at an Azizi Bank branch in Kabul on Wednesday.
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One Afghan family resettling in the U.S. finds a respite.

Brishna Yousafzi, center, blowing bubbles with her brothers Huzzaif, left, and Murtaza.
Brishna Yousafzi, center, blowing bubbles with her brothers Huzzaif, left, and Murtaza.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
Zar Mohammad Yousafzai applied for a job with the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan 14 years ago. The money was good, and he believed in the American mission to root out extremists there and develop their homeland.

This week, his family of nine settled into their new apartment in Houston. They are among the Afghans who, by virtue of the help they provided to American forces during the two-decade war in their country, were able to flee Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.

The family fled on Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban seized Kabul, the capital. Mr. Yousafzai and his wife, Bibi, worried for the fate of several brothers, nephews and cousins who also had worked for the Americans.

Still, after years of threats and tumult, their eventual arrival in Houston with the help of a refugee aid group has offered a respite.

“I can walk comfortably to places,” said his son Huzzaif, 11, who was kidnapped four years ago and held for ransom. “My mother doesn’t have to worry about me being stolen anymore.”

Mr. Yousafzai was attached to U.S. Army units in Kandahar, a hotbed of Taliban activity, and Zabul Province, where the Taliban had support among many villagers and reaped financial rewards from cultivating opium. He won accolades for his performance and helped three brothers, three nephews and a brother-in-law secure jobs on bases.

Working with Army engineers, he taught Afghan military personnel how to use and maintain equipment like bulldozers and backhoes. He also went on combat missions with soldiers in several provinces, and they came under fire on and off the base.

Threats against him and his family intensified. In 2015, he quit his job with the military and took a position with the government in Kabul as an audit manager. But the threats continued. His car was hit my gunfire, and Huzzaif was kidnapped.

Having sought a visa for years, Mr. Yousafzai was notified last year that he could get one, and found out in July that he could board a relocation flight to the United States.

Now the family is dealing with modern American problems. A trip to Walmart inspired admiration over American plenty but cost the family $82.43. Mr. Yousafzai is also juggling his appointments with drop-offs at three schools.

“I am having time-management challenges,” he said.

— Miriam Jordan
A heavily fortified C.I.A. base in Kabul is destroyed.

Afghans outside Kabul’s airport on Thursday. While most Afghans trying to escape the city have gone to the airport, the C.I.A. has shepherded hundreds of others, at particular risk of reprisals, to a base it destroyed on Thursday.
Afghans outside Kabul’s airport on Thursday. While most Afghans trying to escape the city have gone to the airport, the C.I.A. has shepherded hundreds of others, at particular risk of reprisals, to a base it destroyed on Thursday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
A controlled detonation by American forces that was heard throughout Kabul has destroyed Eagle Base, the final C.I.A. outpost outside the Kabul airport, U.S. officials said on Friday.

Blowing up the base was intended to ensure that any equipment or information left behind would not fall into the hands of the Taliban.

Eagle Base, first started early in the war at a former brick factory, had been used throughout the conflict. It grew from a small outpost to a sprawling center that was used to train the counterterrorism forces of Afghanistan’s intelligence agencies.

Those forces were some of the only ones to keep fighting as the government collapsed, according to current and former officials.

“They were an exceptional unit,” said Mick Mulroy, a former C.I.A. officer who served in Afghanistan. “They were one of the primary means the Afghan government has used to keep the Taliban at bay over the last 20 years. They were the last ones fighting, and they took heavy casualties.”

Local Afghans knew little about the base. The compound was extremely secure and designed to be all but impossible to penetrate. Walls reaching 10 feet high surrounded the site, and a thick metal gate slid open and shut quickly to allow cars inside.

Once inside, cars still had to clear three outer security checkpoints where the vehicles would be searched and documents would be screened before being allowed inside the base.

In the early years of the war, a junior C.I.A. officer was put in charge of the Salt Pit, a detention site near Eagle Base. There the officer ordered a prisoner, Gul Rahman, stripped of his clothing and shackled to a wall. He died of hypothermia. A C.I.A. board recommended disciplinary action but was overruled.

A former C.I.A. contractor said that leveling the base would have been no easy task. In addition to burning documents and crushing hard drives, sensitive equipment needed to be destroyed so it did not fall into the hands of the Taliban. Eagle Base, the former contractor said, was not like an embassy where documents could be quickly burned.

The base’s destruction had been planned and was not related to the huge explosion at the airport that killed an estimated 170 Afghans and 13 American service members. But the detonation, hours after the airport attack, alarmed many people in Kabul, who feared that it was another terrorist bombing.

The official American mission in Afghanistan to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies is set to end next Tuesday. The Taliban have said that the evacuation effort must not be prolonged, and Biden administration officials say that continuing past that date would significantly increase the risks to both Afghans and U.S. troops.

— Julian E. Barnes and Farnaz Fassihi
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Brishna Yousafzi, center, blowing bubbles with her brothers Huzzaif, left, and Murtaza.

Relatives and other mourners gathered at a funeral for Hussein, one of the numerous Afghans killed in a suicide bombing near Kabul’s airport on Thursday.

The U.K. is ending its civilian evacuations from Kabul today.

Passengers evacuated from Afghanistan arriving at the Royal Air Force’s Brize Norton station in southern England this week.
Passengers evacuated from Afghanistan arriving at the Royal Air Force’s Brize Norton station in southern England this week.Credit…Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Britain is ending its civilian evacuations from Afghanistan on Saturday, the head of the British armed forces said, telling the BBC that the operation had “gone as well as it could do in the circumstances.”

The military chief, Gen. Nick Carter, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program that Britain would stop flying civilians out of Kabul’s airport from Saturday as the evacuations wind down before a withdrawal deadline Tuesday.

“Then, of course, it’ll be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft,” he said, acknowledging that many people who want to leave Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover have been unable to do so.

“We haven’t been able to bring everybody out, and that has been heartbreaking,” General Carter said. “There have been some very challenging judgments that have had to be made on the ground.”

The country’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, who has helped with the efforts from Kabul, said that Britain had evacuated almost 15,000 British nationals, Afghans and others since Aug. 13.

In a video posted on Twitter, he said it was “time to close this phase of the operation now.”

“But we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave,” Mr. Bristow said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them. Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security.”

General Carter also warned that in the wake of the suicide bombing near Kabul’s airport on Thursday, the risk of further terrorist attacks remained. Three British nationals, including one child, were among the nearly 200 people killed in that bombing.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths.

“These were innocent people,” he in a statement on Friday, “and it is a tragedy that as they sought to bring their loved ones to safety in the U.K. they were murdered by cowardly terrorists.”

Afghans outside Kabul’s airport on Thursday. While most Afghans trying to escape the city have gone to the airport, the C.I.A. has shepherded hundreds of others, at particular risk of reprisals, to a base it destroyed on Thursday.

On the ground: A dispatch from Kabul on the day of the Taliban takeover.

A mural in downtown Kabul shortly before the city fell to the Taliban.
A mural in downtown Kabul shortly before the city fell to the Taliban.Credit…Mujib Mashal/The New York Times
Mujib Mashal, a New York Times correspondent who grew up in Kabul, had returned to the Afghan capital in the days before the Taliban takeover this month. Below is an excerpt from a dispatch he wrote about his observations on the end of one era and the fearful start of another.

I was a boy when the Taliban were toppled in 2001, growing up here as new life was injected into the ruins of a capital that had been deeply scarred by civil war. For years, the world felt like it was opening up to many of us.

Now, on the eve of another power change in Kabul, I was back in the city again to visit family and colleagues. And I knew — everyone here knew — that an era of hope, however uneven and misplaced, was about to end.

In the days to come, the world would fix its eyes on the latest catastrophe in this small nation, after barely noticing years of gruesome daily bloodletting. Cameras would zoom in on the stream of humanity descending on Kabul’s airport in hopes of an evacuation flight; on the blood of the dead mixing with sewage outside the airport where they’d waited, documents in hand, for rescue before terrorist bombs took as many as 170 of their lives.

But before all of that, I wanted to see our city one last time — the way it had been.

HOMECOMINGRead Mujib Mashal’s full dispatch about returning to Kabul amid the Taliban takeover.
The Taliban and U.S., once enemies, are now uneasy partners.

President Biden now has to deal with the Taliban after two decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
President Biden now has to deal with the Taliban after two decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Two decades ago, President George W. Bush denounced the Taliban for “aiding and abetting murder” after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, the United States is locked in an uneasy partnership with them, relying on the Taliban to help safeguard American citizens and their Afghan allies as they race to evacuate the country.

The group is serving as America’s first line of defense at the airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital. On Thursday, rival terrorists managed to pass through Taliban checkpoints around the airport and set off a suicide bomb that killed 13 American troops and scores of Afghan civilians.

“No one trusts them,” Mr. Biden said Thursday evening, referring to the Taliban. “We’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities. And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama approved talks with the Taliban in order to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was captured by the group a year before. During the Trump administration, U.S. officials sought direct peace talks with the Taliban, which took place for nearly two years.

Later, the Trump administration cut a deal with the Taliban to end America’s presence in Afghanistan by May 1, a deadline that Mr. Biden pushed back until Aug. 31.

And although the United States and the Taliban maintained the deal, their relationship remains complicated. Once the evacuation is complete, much of the regular communication with the Taliban could fall to the C.I.A.

— Michael D. Shear and Julian Barnes
UNEASY PARTNERSRead the full article on how the United States and the Taliban began working together.
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The Pulitzer Board awards a citation and $100,000 to Afghan journalists at risk.

Afghan and foreign journalists gather at a Taliban press conference in Kabul on Tuesday.
Afghan and foreign journalists gather at a Taliban press conference in Kabul on Tuesday.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
The Pulitzer Prize board issued a special citation on Friday for Afghan journalists, some of whom worked alongside Western news organizations, and announced a grant of $100,000 to provide emergency relief for the journalists and their families.

The grant is to be administrated by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit group that provides resources to journalists around the world facing threats, violence and censorship. Reporters in Afghanistan are deeply concerned about a crackdown by the Taliban regime as it takes control of the country in the wake of the American military withdrawal.

“It’s critical in a moment of stark threat to support those Afghans whose bravery, skill and commitment to the ideals of a free press have helped create so much important journalism in recent decades,” the co-chairs of the Pulitzer board — Katherine Boo, Gail Collins and John Daniszewski — said in a written announcement.

The citation includes Afghan correspondents, interpreters, drivers, hosts and other journalistic staff who have “chronicled decades of life and war.” The $100,000 grant is intended to protect the safety of the recipients and, in some cases, to help fund their efforts to resettle in other countries.

Hundreds of Afghan journalists and their relatives have left Afghanistan in recent days, with news outlets including The New York Times endeavoring to arrange flights and safe passage out of the country. Major English-speaking media organizations have depended for years on local reporters, fixers and other employees who assisted in news gathering efforts.

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