The White House flag was at half-staff when President Biden left early Sunday morning for a drive under cloudy skies to a nearby military base, where he boarded Air Force One with First Lady Jill Biden. He wore a black suit instead of his usual blue and he was heading to a place he had hoped to never visit during his time as commander-in-chief.
He arrived at Dover Air Force Base shortly after taking off. This base has served as a point for returning service members who died in Afghanistan over the past two decades. Biden declared this year that he would pull troops out of Afghanistan, and that he was not prepared to send more American children and grandchildren to die there.
But in order to safeguard the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies after the Taliban swept into Kabul this month, he deployed thousands more service members to provide security at the airport. This is a dangerous mission that leaves them open to terrorist attacks as they screen travelers.
Those fears were realized Thursday, when a suicide bomber from an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group blew himself up at an airport gate. Eleven Marines, one Army soldier and one Navy corpsman died, along with nearly 200 Afghans.
Biden, like his predecessors went to Dover on Sunday in order to meet with the families of those who lost their children and grandchildren in America’s longest war. After the private meetings, Biden witnessed what is known as a dignified transport, when flag-draped cases containing human bodies were unloaded from a cargo plane.
Before the transfer began, Biden walked up the ramp into the plane to pray. He was accompanied by Lloyd J. Austin III, Defense Secretary, and other military leaders.
They stood outside as the bodies were taken away. The scene was almost silent. The background was silent except for the hum of the aircraft machinery. White-gloved transfer teams kept the time — “hup hup” — while a marshal shouted orders. The only sound that could be heard was the sobbing from the area where the families of the deceased were watching was
Biden shook his right hand and scanned each case as it passed. He remained focused on each case until it was loaded into the vehicle and driven away. Then he bowed his head.
Five were from California. The rest were from Indiana, Massachusetts and Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio. Tennessee, Texas, Texas, Wyoming.
” They were part of the most brave, most capable, selfless military on Earth. They were, simply put, the backbone of America, the best the country has to offer,” Biden stated Thursday after the attack. “They’re the spine of America, the best the country has to offer.”
Several of the dead service members were infants or toddlers during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that sparked the invasion of Afghanistan, a grim reminder of how long U.S. troops have served there. It is not clear if these will be the last U.S. casualties in the war. The evacuation effort is scheduled to last two more days, and there are an estimated 300 American citizens still trying to leave.
Biden said Saturday that “the situation at the ground continues to remain extremely dangerous” and that another attack is “highly probable.”
Later that night, U.S. officials advised Americans to “immediately avoid” the airport to ensure their safety. A U.S. drone strike that officials claimed was directed at a vehicle carrying additional suicide bombers towards the airport might have stopped another attack on Sunday.
“Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material,” said Capt. U.S. Central Command oversees operations in Afghanistan and Bill Urban is its representative.
Roughly 2,500 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan since the war began. Trump’s former president began the withdrawal process last year by reaching an agreement to the Taliban.
Biden delayed the deadline for withdrawing, but he is determined to complete the withdrawal.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” he said in April when announcing his plans. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
After making his announcement, he visited Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where U.S. troops who died in Afghanistan are buried. Rows upon rows of identical white headstones lined green grass.
” It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Biden stated after laying a wreath.
There could be new graves there soon.