Scenes From Afghanistan: Here’s What Happened Today

 Scenes From Afghanistan: Here’s What Happened Today

Shortly after the final C-17 transport plane left the airport in Kabul, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the U.S. Central Command, addressed the media. He sought to quickly reassure the American public that, among other things, much of the U.S. military’s equipment that was left behind had been dismantled or destroyed so the Taliban could not use it.

Some of it, General McKenzie acknowledged, had been left at the airport. And on Tuesday, striking images emerged of Taliban fighters inspecting and securing some of the damaged equipment that remained, including dozens of military vehicles and armored S.U.V.s.

Photographs taken Tuesday showed Taliban members looking over remnants of a Blackhawk helicopter and an Afghan Air Force plane, both of which had been deliberately damaged by departing U.S. forces.

U.S. officials said last week that they had conducted a controlled detonation at Eagle Base, the final C.I.A. outpost outside the Kabul airport, to ensure that equipment or information left behind could not be used by the Taliban.

Photos by Victor J. Blue For The World Best News. Text by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Julian E. Barnes, Farnaz Fassihi and Matt Stevens.

The last American plane had departed. A Taliban spokesman declared victory. And after two weeks of chaos, the Kabul airport had all but cleared out.

What was left on Tuesday was mostly disarray, disorder and Taliban members seeking to secure the space. Some held their afternoon prayer in front of an abandoned helicopter.

In the domestic terminal, shattered glass littered hallways, and destroyed vehicles filled the parking lot. Stray luggage lay discarded or forgotten by those who had hastily fled. Clothing was scattered across the grass.

On the northern side of the airport, where the U.S. military had conducted a rushed evacuation mission, there were piles of wrappers from food rations.

Farther from the airport, Taliban fighters — now in full control of the city and country — sat in the back of a truck as it drove by a banner of Afghanistan’s former president, Ashraf Ghani, who fled weeks ago.

Photos by Jim Huylebroek and Victor J. Blue For The World Best News. Video by Reuters, The Associated Press and AFP. Text by Matthieu Aikins, Jim Huylebroek, Aurelien Breeden and Matt Stevens.

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A boxer. A singer. A journalist. Three young women found success in Kabul, Afghanistan. When the Taliban took the city, their dreams and lives were shattered.

The sun rose on Tuesday to a changed Afghanistan — one with no American military presence — and women who remain in the country have said they are anxious about their futures.

Afghan women have made many gains since the Taliban were toppled, but now they fear that some of that progress may be lost. The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, they barred women and girls from taking most jobs or going to school.

Since retaking Kabul in recent weeks, Taliban officials have sought to reassure women that things will be different in 2021 and beyond. But there have already been some signs that, at least in a few areas, the Taliban have begun to reimpose the old order.

The World Best News spoke with three women on video before the U.S. had fully withdrawn about how their lives have changed since the Taliban reclaimed power. All three women had careers that made them targets. They wanted to share their stories despite the risks.

Taliban fighters watched as a C-17 military transport plane left Kabul at sunset on Monday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The World Best News

The last vestiges of the American presence in Afghanistan departed around midnight in Kabul, signifying the end of a two-decade occupation and meeting the Aug. 31 deadline that President Biden had set for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Speaking via video at a news conference at the Pentagon late Monday afternoon, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the U.S. Central Command, announced the completion of the military’s exit and the mission to evacuate American citizens and allies.

He said the last C-17 transport plane had lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul at 3:29 p.m. Eastern, transporting Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, the head of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Ross Wilson, the acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

“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,” General McKenzie said.

“No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who served,” he added.

Control of the airport was left in the hands of the Taliban, who said they were still working on their new government.

Celebratory whistling and honking could be heard in video recordings taken on the streets of Kabul after the final plane departed. Music played around crowds as cars flashed their headlights. Elsewhere in the city, gunfire and fireworks filled the night sky.

Text by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Lauren Katzenberg and Matt Stevens.

For days, there had been chaos at the airport in Kabul as thousands scrambled to leave Afghanistan. But by Monday evening, just hours before the U.S. deadline to withdraw troops, a sense of resignation had descended on the area.

A few hundred people were waiting outside the airport perimeter, but were kept at a significant distance by Taliban fighters guarding the area. American fighter jets and drones could be seen circling overhead, and a few planes — mostly C-17s, large military transport aircraft — took off and turned west into the setting sun. Early Monday morning, a White House spokeswoman said around 1,200 people had been airlifted from Kabul in the previous 24 hours.

Taliban fighters said they were preparing for the possibility that the American troops would be gone by day’s end, hours before the deadline.

Text by Megan Specia, Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Dan Bilefsky and Matt Stevens.

Stark images and video from Kabul on Monday showed people gathering around a charred vehicle that appeared to have been used to launch rockets.

“The situation here is that people are terrified and worried about the future,” a man at the scene said. “They are worried that the rocket launching might continue.”

The U.S. military said it shot down rockets aimed at the Kabul airport Monday morning. A U.S. official said that the rockets were brought down by a counter-rocket system, and that there were no initial reports of casualties. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the rockets.

A video recording showed a car parked on the street on Monday, fully engulfed in flames that were emitting dark smoke into the air. It was not clear how the vehicle had caught on fire.

The U.S. military also conducted a drone strike Sunday, blowing up a vehicle in Kabul that officials said was laden with explosives and headed toward the airport. Afghans have said the drone strike killed civilians, including children, and the U.S. military said it was investigating.

Photos by Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images and Reuters. Video by Aamaj News Agency, Reuters and The Associated Press. Text by Dan Bilefsky Eric Schmitt and Matt Stevens.

Hours after a U.S. military drone strike in Kabul on Sunday, Defense Department officials said that the strike 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.

“I saw the whole scene,” said Samia Ahmadi, whose father and fiancée were both killed. “There were burnt pieces of flesh everywhere.”

Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said on Sunday that the military was investigating reports of civilian casualties.

Relatives and colleagues of those killed said the drone struck as Zemari Ahmadi, a man who worked for a charity organization, was pulling his car into the narrow street where he lived with his three brothers and their families.

Children had run outside to greet Mr. Ahmadi. He and some of the children were killed inside the car; others who had been nearby were fatally wounded, family members said.

Text by Matthieu Aikins and Matt Stevens.

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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

As America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan wound down, with just two days remaining before President Biden’s Tuesday deadline to complete the American withdrawal from the country, officials said a U.S. military drone strike blew up a vehicle laden with explosives in Kabul on Sunday. The strike thwarted an imminent threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport from the Islamic State Khorasan, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said. The suspected site of the strike is shown in video footage above. Possible civilian casualties were being investigated.

Afghans fleeing fighting in the country’s provinces ended up in this makeshift camp, which stretches between the north and south lanes of the main route in and out of Kabul. There is little shelter from the sun. Sheets, scarves, curtains and tarps are tied together to form flimsy walls, the wind blowing them aside along with clouds of dust. Piles of trash and portable toilets overdue for maintenance attract swarms of flies.

Mohammed, 32, from Kunduz, was one of the first to arrive in the camp 20 days ago and became a de facto leader. On the floor of his makeshift shelter, he laid out page after page of names and phone numbers, a registry of the displaced. He said of the original 1,000 families he had noted, more than half left the camp after the fighting subsided. Those still at the camp either lost their home to fighting and have no where to go, or they can’t afford the return trip. He and his family were in the camp for lack of resources. “If the Taliban helps us, we will go home. We don’t even have money to eat,” he said.

Photos and text by Victor J. Blue for The World Best News

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The last six or seven days have been the toughest days of my life, honestly. I don’t want to lie, or I don’t want to exaggerate, but that is how it is. Things are really bad all around the airport. Every, every entrance you try to get in through, there’s a huge crowd. And especially if you have kids like I do, it makes it for you — like it makes it impossible for you to just, to just risk their lives to go through that huge crowd. Yesterday, I heard that a bomb blasted and also parts of my people, my relatives, they died. And, also, I’m very sorry for them. I was an interpreter for 10 years, so this is my last chance that I can go to the United States.

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CreditCredit…Reuters

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, exhausted and grateful to have landed in the United States after a deadly terrorist attack outside the airport in Kabul.

The evacuees, many of them holding infants and clutching the hands of their children, waved at reporters, flashed the thumbs-up sign or raised their hands in salutes.

One of the evacuees was Ahmad, a permanent U.S. resident who lives in Washington State, according to a video of the arrival filmed by The Associated Press. He went to Afghanistan to get some of his immediate family members out, but he was unsuccessful.

“Well, I would say the last six or seven days have been the toughest days of my life,” he said Friday. “And you kind of feel lucky if you can get just through those gates.”

One man, who said he had been an interpreter for 10 years and arrived in Virginia with his children, said he mourned the scores of people killed in the suicide bombing on Thursday.

“This is my last chance that I can come to the United States,” the man said, according to another video, filmed by Reuters.

Video by Reuters and The Associated Press. Text by Maria Cramer.

Afghans continued to try to get into the airport and leave Kabul on Saturday, even amid ongoing threats of terrorist attacks. The refugees were driven by the fast-approaching Tuesday deadline for the United States to end its evacuation efforts.

Children rode in the back of a minibus near the airport on Saturday. In the streets, families set up temporary shelters at a park near the airport as they waited to get inside. Afghans walking through the airport entrance passed armed Taliban fighters. On Saturday evening, members of the Badri 313 Battalion, an elite unit that the Taliban has assigned to guard the airport, performed evening prayers outside its gate.

Photos by Jim Huylebroek and Victor J. Blue for The World Best News, Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, and EPA, via Shutterstock. Text by Maria Cramer.

Many of the Afghan civilians injured by the blast in Kabul on Thursday were transported to a nearby hospital run by the nongovernmental organization EMERGENCY.

A World Best News photojournalist went there on Friday and captured several scenes, including a man with a gunshot wound being moved to the care center and a survivor recovering in a wheelchair.

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“I fell into the canal and thought I was the only one still alive. Everyone else I saw was dead.”

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CreditCredit…Reuters

At another hospital roughly two miles away, a survivor spoke of being thrown into a drainage canal after the blast. Horrific images of the canal in the moments after the explosion that circulated on Thursday appeared to show bodies of those who perished intermingled with the living.

“I fell into the canal and thought I was the only one still alive,” the man said. “I saw all the other people were dead.”

Health officials on Friday revised their estimates of the number of casualties resulting from the bombing, saying that as many as 170 people were killed and at least 200 wounded.

The new figures did not include the 13 U.S. service members killed and 15 wounded in the attack, which was one of the deadliest in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion.

Photos by Jim Huylebroek for The World Best News. Video by Reuters. Text by Matt Stevens and Karen Zraick.

Afghans who lost loved ones in the attack near the airport spent Friday in mourning.

Across Kabul and outside the capital, they gathered in prayer, knelt along roadways and shielded the dead from view with garments, cloths and other coverings. Some carried coffins to burial sites, while others painstakingly dug graves into the dusty, stubborn terrain.

“Our hearts are on fire,” one man said. “For how long must we lose our lives and be humiliated? This is really a big loss for all of us.”

Estimates of the total dead and wounded had varied, and rose sharply on Friday, with local health officials saying that as many as 170 people were killed, in addition to 13 American service members. The officials said that at least another 200 people were wounded. Their estimate was supported by interviews with hospital officials.

Images showed people near a hospital in Kabul with their heads bowed, carrying a wooden coffin and loading it into a vehicle. Elsewhere, a woman knelt on the street, her hand touching the face of a victim whose body was wrapped in a black bag.

Photographs by Victor J. Blue For The World Best News, Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, Wali Sabawoon/Associated Press and EPA, via Shutterstock. Video by The Associated Press and Reuters. Text by Matt Stevens.

The morning after a deadly explosion shook the area near the Kabul airport, a space that for days had been filled with large crowds of people seeking to be evacuated, it had almost entirely cleared out, leaving only grim reminders of the casualties hours before.

Images of the area from Friday showed mounds of debris clogging a thin stretch of space between an airport wall and a canal. Blood splatter baked onto the stone barriers under the day’s hot sun, a visceral reminder of the destruction.

Backpacks and clothing were scattered all over the scene — items that were left behind in a hasty and chaotic attempt to flee the mayhem. Taliban guards stood watch in the desolation.

Video footage taken on Friday at other airport entrances showed a somewhat smaller crowd milling about, still hoping to be evacuated. An American military flight could be seen taking off from the runway.

“Believe me, I think that an explosion could happen at any second, with God is our witness,” said one Afghan man waiting outside the airport in hopes of fleeing the country. “But we have a lot of challenges in our lives. That is why we are taking the risk to come here even though we are afraid.”

The White House said early Friday that 12,500 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in the previous 24 hours, despite the attacks.

Slightly farther from the airport gates, video showed Taliban fighters standing guard and directing traffic at checkpoints. A World Best News reporter at the airport’s southern and eastern gates was turned away by a Taliban guard on Friday.

Photos by Wakil Kohsar/Afp – Getty Images. Video by The Associated Press and Reuters. Text by Matt Stevens

As night fell on Kabul late Thursday, scores of people injured by a blast near the airport were taken to nearby hospitals so they could receive urgent care.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of United States Central Command, said in a televised briefing Thursday that 12 U.S. service members had been killed, and 15 wounded. That number was later revised to 13 American service members and as many as 170 others killed, with over 200 wounded, according to Afghan health officials.

The attack was near a crowd of families at the airport gates who were desperately hoping to make one of the last evacuation flights out. Gunfire was reported in the aftermath of the explosion.

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The Pentagon said at least 13 U.S. service members were killed and 15 wounded in the attack near an airport gate on Thursday. Scores of Afghan civilians were killed and wounded.CreditCredit…Jim Huylebroek for The World Best News

The Islamic State released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

The deaths on Thursday came on what was likely to be one of the final days of America’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan. It will go down as one of the U.S. military’s highest single American tolls of the war.

Speaking Thursday evening from the White House, President Biden honored the lives of the fallen service members, calling them “part of a great and noble company of American heroes” and evoking the memory of his own deceased son, Beau, to talk in personal terms about the pain of loss.

“We’re outraged as well as heartbroken,” Mr. Biden said.

He also later issued a direct message to the attackers: “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.”

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CreditCredit…The World Best News

A World Best News journalist reporting from inside a nearby hospital saw dozens of people who were severely wounded or did not survive.

Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper, Megan Specia, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Jim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins, Victor J. Blue, Fatima Faizi, Najim Rahim, Fahim Abed Sharif Hassan and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.