Biden travels to air base to honour US troops killed in Afghanistan

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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE – US President Joe Biden arrived at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday (Aug 29) to honour members of the military killed in a suicide bomb attack during the evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan last week.

An Islamic State suicide bombing on Thursday killed scores of Afghans and 13 American troops who were guarding Kabul’s airport amid an airlift that has evacuated about 114,400 people in the past two weeks.

American forces launched a military strike in the Afghan capital on Sunday targeting a possible suicide car bomb, US officials said.

“We are in a period of serious danger given what we are seeing in the intelligence,” Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told CNN’s State of the Union programme in an interview broadcast on Sunday, before the latest strike was reported.

“We are taking every possible measure at the direction of the president to ensure that our forces are protected on the ground even as they complete their mission of bringing in the remaining American citizens and Afghan allies.”

Biden, a Democrat, faced criticism from Republican lawmakers, who accused his administration of bungling the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

After arriving at the base in Delaware, Biden and his wife, Jill, met with the families of service members killed in the attack.

They watched as flag-draped cases carrying 11 service members’ remains were loaded into vans. The sounds of crying could be heard and one woman collapsed and was taken to an ambulance. After the event, a woman let out anguished screams.

The remains of two more service members will be transferred in an event not covered by media at the request of their families.

Thursday’s attack, which was claimed by ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, was the most lethal incident for US service members in Afghanistan in a decade.

The bombing took place just outside the gates of the airport, where thousands of people have gathered to try to get a flight out of the South Asian nation since the Taleban returned to power on Aug 15.

The Taleban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of American and allied troops combined with the chaotic scenes at the airport have presented Biden with his biggest foreign policy challenge as president.

Biden has vowed to punish those responsible for the airport bombing. The US military said on Saturday that it had killed two ISIS-K militants in a drone attack in eastern Afghanistan.

Sullivan said the two “are individuals involved in the facilitation and planning and production of explosive devices and they are part of the larger network of ISIS-K.”

US diplomatic presence ‘unlikely’

The United States has evacuated nearly 5,500 American citizens from Afghanistan since Aug 14, including 50 in the last day, and was still working to get about 250 American citizens still in the country onto evacuation flights, a State Department spokesman said.

Nato, the European Union and 97 other countries signed on to a statement with the United States on Sunday saying they will continue to issue travel documents to at-risk Afghans and expect the Taleban to stick to its commitment to allow those people to leave.

The United States was unlikely to have any diplomats in the country after the Tuesday deadline for the withdrawal of Nato forces, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press programme.

“In terms of having an on-the-ground diplomatic presence on September 1st, that’s not likely to happen,” Blinken said.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the administration had failed to plan for a Taleban takeover, and criticized Blinken for giving an overly positive view of the evacuation effort.

“Their plan has basically been happy talk. People have died and people are going to die because President Biden decided to rely on happy talk instead of reality,” Sasse told ABC’s This Week. Other members of Congress have vowed to probe what went awry in Afghanistan.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat, said earlier this month his panel will hold a hearing on US policy toward Afghanistan “including the Trump administration’s flawed negotiations with (the) Taleban, and the Biden administration’s flawed execution of the US withdrawal.”

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