President Joe Biden has met with the families of the 13 US soldiers who were killed in an attack at Kabul airport last week, as the remains of the fallen army personnel are returned to the United States from Afghanistan.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attended the “dignified transfer” of the fallen soldiers at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday, a military ritual of receiving the remains of those killed in foreign combat.
The president and his wife 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.
The remains of two more US military personnel will be transferred in an event not covered by media at the request of their families.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Washington, DC, said the US soldiers ranged in age from 20 to 31 – meaning that some were born not long before the US military mission in Afghanistan began in 2001.
At their deaths, the 13 young soldiers were on the ground for the US withdrawal from its longest war, helping to evacuate Americans and Afghans who had helped the US in its mission in Afghanistan and are now fleeing following the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
“The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday.
At least 175 people, including dozens of Afghan civilians and the US soldiers, were killed in the bombing at Kabul airport on Thursday, which was claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), an ISIL (ISIS) affiliate.
Biden warned on Saturday that his commanders had told him that another “attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours” as US military personnel work to complete Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan by an August 31 deadline.
Al Jazeera’s Reynolds reported that about 2,900 people were evacuated by US and other coalition aircraft in a 24-hour period ending on Sunday morning, bringing the total airlifted out of Afghanistan over the last two weeks to around 114,000.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said about 300 US citizens still in Afghanistan have said they want to leave the country.
“We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane, and get out of Afghanistan,” Blinken said in an interview with the ABC This Week programme.
But the situation in the Afghan capital remains precarious.
“This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission, these last couple of days,” Blinken said on Sunday. “And so we will do everything possible to keep people safe, but the risk is very high.”
That was echoed by Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who on Sunday described the current situation in Afghanistan as one “of serious danger”.
“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,” Sullivan told CNN’s State of the Union programme.
US Central Command confirmed that US military forces carried out a drone attack on a vehicle in Kabul on Sunday to eliminate what it said was “an imminent ISIS-K threat to Hamad Karzai International airport”.
“We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material,” Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.