Afghanistan’s former finance chief says the country is on the brink of an economic meltdown – and the local currency could fall rapidly within days

Former Afghan finance chief Khalid Payenda talking on stage at Georgetown University
Ex-Finance Minsiter Khalid Payenda, right, on stage at Georgetown University with Joel Hellman, dean of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

  • A former Afghan finance chief said the country’s economy is “on a freeze” with an uncertain future.
  • “Right now, the situation looks really, really bad,” Khalid Payenda said this week.
  • Payenda, who resigned August 10 and fled the country, spoke at Georgetown University.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The most recent acting Afghan finance minister said his country’s economy was perhaps days from a meltdown, with the Afghan currency poised for rapid devaluation.

The speed at which the Afghan government collapsed “shocked everyone,” Khalid Payenda said this week during a talk at Georgetown University.

Payenda on August 10 resigned as acting finance minister, exiting a few days before the country’s government essentially broke down.

He said he submitted his resignation, but didn’t hear from President Ashraf Ghani for three days, so he packed his bags and left. Ghani on August 15 fled the country.

The country’s economy grew from 2001 to 2012 at an average rate of about 10% each year, Payenda said. But that growth came to a screeching halt, basically dropping to zero for the last few years, he said. The World Bank said the country’s economy contracted by 1.9% in 2020

“Right now, the situation looks really, really bad,” Payenda said. “It’s on a freeze, because everything has collapsed, the banks have closed, you don’t know the extent of it.”

In the last few weeks, Afghanistan’s currency has slipped in value, falling about 10% versus theUS dollar. In the week after the Taliban took control, it slipped from about 79 afghanis per dollar to 86 afghanis per dollar.

“But it’s because most of these banks and money providers are closed,” Payenda said. “Maybe it will shoot up to 200 per dollar in a week or two.”

Afghans sit on a wall outside New Kabul Bank waiting to withdraw cash
Afghans waiting to withdraw cash on August 15.

After the Taliban took control of the country, they installed their own finance minister, Gul Agha Ishakzai, Reuters reported.

Ishakzai formerly led the Taliban’s financial commission, according to the UN, which added him in 2010 to the list of people and groups who could face economic sanctions.

The UN Security Council said in a bulletin that Ishakzai had traveled abroad to buy weapons, been involved with collecting money for suicide attacks, and helped create new taxes for the Taliban.

About half of the country’s federal budget comes from outside aid organizations and foreign governments. As the Taliban took over, the World Bank paused its aid to the country.

The International Monetary Fund likewise said the country couldn’t access millions while there was a “lack of clarity” over whether the Taliban government would be recognized by the international community.

Ex-Finance Minister Khalid Payenda answers questions from students at Georgetown University
Payenda on stage at Georgetown University on Wednesday

“It’s going to be impossible” without foreign aid, Payenda said this week. Other officials have said the country’s economy may be weeks from collapse.

Payenda added: “Even if you have the people and the staff, but the funding is stopped by the World Bank … how are you going to pay? It looks really difficult.”

The Taliban was also reportedly unable to get its hands on about $10 billion in central bank reserves because most of the funds were held in New York.

“Giving full access to the reserves would be catastrophic,” Payenda said. “You are dealing with a terrorist organization which still deals with Al Qaeda and others.” Having that much money at their disposal is not good for the US or global security, he added.

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The congressman who attempted to conduct freelance rescue missions in Afghanistan says Biden has ‘blood is on his hands’

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021.

  • Mullin attempted to enter Afghanistan with a large sum of cash to rescue Americans who had not been evacuated.
  • The Defense Department denied Mullin permission to visit Kabul last week.
  • In an August 31 speech, Biden said that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After attempting multiple freelance rescue missions in Afghanistan, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., told Fox News’ Brett Baier that “blood is on [President Joe Biden’s] hands.”

Mullin said he attempted to enter Afghanistan via Georgia and Tajikistan with a large sum of cash to get through Taliban checkpoints and rent a helicopter for a rescue mission. The Washington Post reported that this effort failed when John Mark Pommersheim, the US ambassador to Tajikistan, declined to assist him in skirting Tajikistan’s laws on cash limits.

A similar attempt was made a week prior when Mullin traveled to Greece and the Defense Department denied him permission to visit Kabul.

Mullin said he has a list of 50 Americans trapped in Afghanistan who want out.

When Baier asked Mullin if he thinks the US will be able to get the remaining Americans out of Afghanistan, he replied: “We’re going to get some, but there’s going to be some that are going to die because of the failure from President Biden.”

In his August 31 speech about the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, Biden said that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave, despite previously saying that he would get 100% of Americans out before withdrawing forces, the Associated Press reported.

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The US, Canada, and New Zealand all have wildly different plans for tackling the housing crisis

US CA NZ
US President Joe Biden, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

  • Home prices have surged around the world as the pandemic sparked a wave of new moves.
  • Housing shortages slammed affordability and forced first-time buyers to the sidelines.
  • The US, Canada, and New Zealand all recently announced big plans to solve their housing crises.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several countries are battling historic housing shortages and record-breaking price spikes. Three world leaders have different ideas for solving the crunch.

While several sectors still haven’t recovered from their pandemic slumps, housing remains on an absolute tear. Lockdowns and the turn to remote work sparked an unprecedented demand for homes as people moved from densely-packed cities to suburbs, exurbs, and rural neighborhoods. Home prices surged higher, supply evaporated, and first-time buyers were trapped between frothy bidding wars and missing out on homeownership.

Governments waited throughout 2021 to see whether the market would heal on its own, but were met with more months of rising prices and strained supply. Recent announcements from the US, Canada, and New Zealand show policymakers finally stepping up, and reveal a range of potential solutions.

The home shortage has been particularly dire in the US, with home prices now rising at a record pace for four straight months. But other advanced economies are dealing with their own housing crises. The average home price in Canada is up 22% from July 2020 and has roughly doubled over the last decade. And in New Zealand, the lack of affordable homes has captured the attention of the country’s human rights commission.

The three countries’ plans for normalizing the market vary in size and scope. Where the US is mostly focused on shoring up supply, Canada is interested in fighting investor speculation. New Zealand is forging its own path and letting its central bank take unprecedented action to cool mortgage lending.

Here’s how the US, Canada, and New Zealand are trying to fix their housing markets.

President Joe Biden announced several regulatory changes and aims to build 2 million homes with Congress’s help

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on July 13, 2021.

The Biden administration rolled out its latest plan to address the housing shortage on Wednesday. The effort, which relies on a series of regulatory changes, aims to build 100,000 new homes over the next three years. By leveraging its authority over several government agencies, the White House can enact its plan without the time-consuming and uncertain process of congressional legislation.

Each proposed change is small on its own. One seeks to boost investment in manufactured homes, which are made in factories and are typically cheaper than homes built on lots. Another pushes state and local governments to cut down on exclusionary zoning.

And a collection of changes could give first-time buyers a leg-up over the investment firms that have been snapping up homes at rapid pace. First-time buyers and philanthropies will be prioritized when distressed buildings insured by the Federal Housing Agency hit the market.

The plan isn’t President Joe Biden’s only effort to aid the strained market. The president is also pushing Congress to approve a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package that includes $213 billion in spending on home construction. The administration estimates the funding can create another 2 million homes.

Yet passing the legislation will be an uphill climb. Democrats aim to pass the measure through the budget reconciliation process, but more moderate party members have balked at the package’s price tag. The loss of any member’s support would likely doom the plan in the face of almost-certain unified Republican opposition, and shrinking the measure to secure the moderates’ support could cut down on homebuilding funds.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to build 1.4 million homes and cut down on speculation and ‘blind bidding’

justin trudeau
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau smiles after attending the APEC 2018 Economic Leaders Meeting at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also taking a multifaceted approach to cooling the market, but a handful of unique ideas set his plan apart from his southern neighbor’s.

The situation is direr than in most advanced economies. The Bank of Nova Scotia estimated in May that Canada has fewer homes per 1,000 residents than any other G-7 country.

The strategy’s headline measure is a supply bump of 1.4 million homes over the next four years. The massive effort will be fueled by $4 billion in subsidies for cities to incentivize construction. 

Other elements of Trudeau’s measure strike at the causes of the nationwide home shortage. For one, the prime minister aims to ban “blind bidding,” a process through which prospective buyers can’t see what other buyers have offered for a house. Such a ban would “crack down on predatory speculators” and shift more power into first-time buyers’ hands, Trudeau said in an August 24 speech unveiling the housing plan.

The prime minister also proposed a ban on the buying of Canadian homes for investment purposes. Investment firms have been a growing source of demand in the Canadian market as prices soar higher. Trudeau seeks to block new foreign ownership of Canadian homes for two years and expand taxes for vacant foreign-owned houses.

“You shouldn’t lose a bidding war on your home to speculators,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants to build more homes, improve critical infrastructure, and lend a hand to first-time buyers

Jacinda Ardern
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, speaks during the “Safeguarding the planet” session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plans for combatting New Zealand’s housing crisis focus just as much on accessibility as bolstered supply.

The first strategy, unveiled in January, aims to build an additional 8,000 homes through its public home construction program. The increase places the country on track to build 18,000 new homes by 2024, according to a press release.

A follow-up plan announced in March places greater emphasis on community improvement and lending. The government allocated NZ$3.8 billion ($2.7 billion) to help local governments improve roads and infrastructure needed to service home construction. The plan also expands a program that offers loans and grants to first-time buyers.

The country also extended its bright-line test, which mandates investors pay income taxes on gains made from selling homes they don’t live in, further curbing speculation in the housing market. The prime minister extended the test to 10 years, meaning investment properties owned for less than a decade will be taxed.

And in an unprecedented move, New Zealand called on its central bank in February to formally consider housing prices when setting interest rates and making other monetary policy decisions. While most advanced economies’ central banks broadly pursue stable prices and maximum employment, the new policy more closely links home prices to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s inflation target.

The shift raised eyebrows, with some economists voicing concerns around how the mandate could harm the central bank’s independence. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has since said it aims to tighten mortgage lending in October to slow the market boom.

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Biden’s new plan to fix the housing crisis includes 100,000 new homes when the US actually needs as many as 7 million

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden rolled out a plan to boost home construction and counter soaring prices in the housing market.
  • The move follows four months of record price growth and would address just a fraction of the US housing shortage.
  • Regulatory changes aim to build 100,000 affordable homes over three years, but the US is short millions of homes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After months of soaring prices, supply shortages, and affordability pressures, the Biden administration is finally doing something about the US housing crisis.

The White House rolled out several regulatory changes on Wednesday in an effort to boost home construction and lower barriers for first-time homebuyers. The administration will leverage its authority over regulators including the Federal Housing Finance Agency to address the nationwide home shortage. Together, the changes aim to build and preserve 100,000 new and affordable homes for buyers and renters over the next three years, according to a press release.

The White House’s proposed measures are relatively small on their own. One would expand a grant program for Community Development Financial Institutions to spur construction of affordable homes. Another would push state and local governments to reduce exclusionary zoning.

One change seeks to increase investment in manufactured homes, which are made in factories and not on their own lots, tend to cost less, and offer more affordable alternatives to lower-income buyers.

A handful of other efforts aim to level the playing field between investors and everyday Americans. Investment firms rushed to the housing market after the financial crisis, snapping up properties at low prices and earning steady income by renting them out. That trend accelerated through the pandemic as more institutional investors started buying rapidly appreciating homes, but the spree further eroded affordability. The administration plans to give first-time buyers and philanthropies a chance to buy distressed properties insured by the Federal Housing Administration, giving them a critical head start over Wall Street.

The trouble is that decades of underbuilding have left the US with a massive shortage of available homes. Estimates of the housing deficit range from 3.8 million units to 6.8 million units, according to Freddie Mac and the National Association of Realtors, respectively. And while construction has steadily increased, it’s still well below the levels needed to match supply with demand.

A crisis already in full swing

The changes are a promising first step toward countering the price surge seen through 2021, but they might arrive too late for the country’s most desperate buyers.

Home prices have already risen at record pace for four straight months. The unprecedented level of home-price inflation has been a product of massive demand from pandemic-era movers and inadequate home inventory.

The crisis has also been unusually broad-based. Where major cities had been the epicenters of home shortages and soaring prices, pandemic-era migration saw those problems spill over into smaller cities, suburbs and even more rural exurbs.

The latest measures of housing-market activity suggest the boom is slowing. Sales of new and previously owned homes edged higher in July while inventory also increased, suggesting Americans were having an easier time finding homes and closing deals. Yet prices continue to climb at record pace, suggesting the post-pandemic market will still feature a higher barrier to entry.

The White House’s plan isn’t the only housing support in the works. President Joe Biden has also urged Congress to spend roughly $213 billion on homebuilding initiatives as part of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion infrastructure proposal. That funding is estimated to create another 2 million new homes. Yet pushback from moderate Democrats in the Senate stands to shrink the package’s price tag, which may mean housing initiatives shrink as well.

The US isn’t alone in working to shore up home supply. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a plan last week that aims to build 1.4 million homes over the next four years. He also wants to ban blind bidding – a process where buyers can’t see each others’ offers – and block the buying of Canadian homes for investment purposes. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed measures in March meant to bolster residential infrastructure and provide more loans and grants to first-time buyers; she also became the first head of state to instruct their central bank to assess housing prices as part of its mandate.

Biden’s plan doesn’t require congressional approval, meaning it will probably take effect before Democrats’ infrastructure package gets a vote. And while it represents a critical step toward normalizing the market, its 100,000 target is a drop in the bucket for the country’s historic shortage.

[Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include Freddie Mac’s estimate of the housing shortage, as well as the number of homes expected to be built with funding from Democrats’ infrastructure proposal.]

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Election fraud conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell pressed by Australian reporter: ‘Do you ever hear yourself and think it sounds ridiculous?’

Attorney Sidney Powell speaks during a rally on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Alpharetta, Ga.
Attorney Sidney Powell speaks during a rally on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Alpharetta, Ga.

  • Powell is being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, another electronic voting systems company.
  • Powell represented Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI investigators in 2017.
  • A US judge ruled on August 25 that Powell engaged in “historic and profound abuse” of the legal system.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During an interview for the Australian Broadcast Company’s two-part series, “Fox and the Big Lie,” Sidney Powell struggled to respond to “basic factual errors” that correspondent Sarah Ferguson pointed out in her claims and threatened to end the interview.

Powell was one of many public figures who propagated former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie,” a baseless conspiracy that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election. For her involvement in spreading the conspiracy, Powell is being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, another electronic voting system company.

At one point during the interview, Powell responded to a line of questioning by asking Ferguson if she works for Smartmatic and stated that she was confused about why Ferguson came to interview her in Highland Park, Texas.

“Because you’ve made a series of very strong allegations against Smartmatic and against Dominion containing many errors of fact,” Ferguson responded.

Shortly after, Powell attempted to stop the interview, saying it was “wholly inappropriate” because of pending litigation.

After reluctantly returning to finish the interview, Powell continued to stick by her baseless claims that widespread election fraud was perpetrated in 2020.

“I am saying that thousands of Americans had some role in [2020 election fraud], knowingly or unknowingly. It was essentially a bloodless coup where they took over the presidency of the United States without a single shot being fired,” Powell said.

After Powell added that the election fraud had been planned for at least three years, Ferguson asked her, “Do you ever hear yourself and think it sounds ridiculous?”

“No, I know myself very well. I’ve been in me a long time. I know my reputation. I know my level of integrity,” Powell replied.

Powell formerly served as a federal prosecutor and represented former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI investigators in 2017 and was later pardoned by then-President Donald Trump.

On August 25, a US judge ruled that Powell and L. Lin Wood, another attorney who worked with Powell to sue Michigan election officials, engaged in “historic and profound abuse” of the legal system.

This case “was never about fraud – it was about undermining the People’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so,” the judge wrote.

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McConnell blasts Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal as ‘one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history’

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

  • McConnell called Biden’s Afghanistan exit “one of the worst foreign policy decisions” in US history.
  • The Kentucky Republican maintained that keeping a small troop presence in the country was working.
  • Biden has so far rejected calls to extend the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday blasted President Joe Biden for his plan to withdraw from Afghanistan, calling it “one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history.”

During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” the Kentucky Republican told host Chris Wallace that the decision to leave the country after a nearly 20-year time span was worse than the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, when the city of Saigon fell to communist forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

“We’re looking at the exit, and over the next two days, our heroic military is doing the best they can with a horrible policy decision. This is one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history, much worse than Saigon,” he said.

McConnell said the Afghanistan withdrawal is much more perilous than the exit from Vietnam because the threat of terrorism will remain in the country once the US leaves.

“After we left Saigon, there weren’t Vietnamese terrorists who were planning on attacking us here at home,” he said. “We leave behind exactly what we went in to solve 20 years ago, and I fear for the future and continuing the war on terror.”

He added: “You know, just because we decided to quit fighting doesn’t mean the terrorists go away. So they’re still out there. They’re invigorated. They’re emboldened and excited about the success they see in bringing America to its knees in Afghanistan.”

Read more: How Americans who helped prosecute the Taliban are going down a ‘black hole’ to help their Afghan interpreters

McConnell has said that the US keeping a small presence in Afghanistan had been successful, and firmly opposed Biden announcing his plans to withdraw from the country in April (which was based on a Trump administration plan).

“We went there to prevent the Taliban from having a regime that would allow terrorists to reconstitute themselves and hit us again here at home,” he said. “It’s been a total success.”

He added: “With the continued deployment of 2,500 people, we were in effect keeping a lid on, keeping terrorists from reconstituting and having a light footprint in the country. The policy was working.”

McConnell’s comments come as the US is entering the final stages of the August 31 withdrawal and just days after a terrorist attack in Kabul that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, marking the deadliest day for US military members in the country since 2011.

Earlier this month, McConnell was unforgiving in his criticism of the administration after the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban.

“The Biden Administration’s botched exit from Afghanistan including the frantic evacuation of Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul is a shameful failure of American leadership,” he said in a statement at the time. “The strategic, humanitarian, and moral consequences of this self-inflicted wound will hurt our country and distract from other challenges for years to come.”

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Republican Sen. Ben Sasse accuses Biden of using ‘happy talk’ in Afghanistan approach, says he is ‘disconnected from reality’

ben sasse
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

  • Sen. Sasse said President Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal strategy amounted to “happy talk.”
  • “President Biden has been repeatedly disconnected from reality,” the Nebraska senator said Sunday.
  • Sasse is worried about Afghan allies and US citizens who could be left in the country after Aug. 31.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Ben Sasse on Sunday slammed President Joe Biden, accusing him of employing “happy talk” in his strategy for evacuating US citizens and allies from Afghanistan before the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” the Nebraska Republican told host Martha Raddatz that Biden didn’t have a plan for getting people out of the country and charged that people have died because of what he sees as the administration’s missteps.

“There is clearly no plan. There has been no plan. Their plan has basically been happy talk,” he said. “People have died and people are going to die because President Biden decided to rely on happy talk instead of reality.”

He added: “What we need is a commander-in-chief that actually has a big plan and a big way to solve this problem. President Biden has been repeatedly disconnected from reality.”

Sasse’s comments come after Thursday’s terrorist attack near the Kabul airport, which killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members and marked the deadliest day for US military members in the country since 2011.

Read more: How Americans who helped prosecute the Taliban are going down a ‘black hole’ to help their Afghan interpreters

The senator also pointed to a recent Politico report, which said that the US had sent a list of American citizens and Afghan allies to the Taliban to help them get access to the Kabul airport, which he tore into as “insane.”

“They passed a list of American citizens and America’s closest allies, people who fought alongside us, they passed those lists to the Taliban, relying on them, thinking they could trust on them. It was stupid then. It’s insane now,” Sasse said. “And their plan still seems to be, ‘Let’s rely on the Taliban because the Taliban cares a lot about what world opinion thinks of them at French restaurants.’ It was a disgusting revelation of yet again no plan.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back on the allegation that the administration gave names to the Taliban, saying they would not put Americans or allies in harms way.

“The idea that we’ve done anything to put at further risk those that we’re trying to help leave the country is simply wrong,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “And the idea that we shared lists of Americans or others with the Taliban is simply wrong.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a Friday briefing also refuted the notion that the administration would endanger individuals in Afghanistan.

“The notion that we are just providing names upon names of individuals who may stay behind in Afghanistan or in a way that would expose anyone to additional risk – that is simply false,” Price said at the time.

Sasse has been one of Biden’s most vocal critics in recent weeks, urging him to keep a “light footprint” of troops in the country and criticizing the administration’s decision to walk away from the Bagram Air Base that was once of the nerve center of US military operations in Afghanistan.

Biden has said he intends to stick with the August 31 deadline for leaving Afghanistan. To date, about 117,000 people, mostly Afghans, have been evacuated from the country since the Taliban seized Kabul earlier this month, according to Pentagon officials.

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Biden pays respects to the 13 fallen US service members killed in Afghanistan at Dover Air Force Base

us service members carry a us flag-laden casket as joe Biden jill biden and others look on
President Joe Biden, First lady Jill Biden, and other officials attend the dignified transfer of the remains of a fallen service member at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on August, 29, 2021.

  • President Biden on Sunday went to Dover to pay tribute to the service members killed in Afghanistan.
  • The service members who died were assisting in the evacuation efforts at the Kabul airport.
  • In a statement, Biden lauded the “bravery and selflessness” of the fallen in their service.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden on Sunday met privately with the families of the 13 US service members who were killed in the suicide bombing near the Kabul airport and received the bodies of the fallen officers who died in Afghanistan.

First lady Jill Biden joined the president at Dover Air Base to participate in the “dignified transfer” of remains, a solemn process where the remains of service members killed in foreign combat are transported from an aircraft to an awaiting vehicle.

The fallen officers ranged in age from 20 to 31, and included a Marine from Wyoming who was expecting his first child in just a few weeks and another Marine from California who raved about her job and was photographed holding an Afghan child just a few days ago.

Five of the fallen service members were only 20 years old, having been born shortly before the September 11, 2001 attacks that drove the US to invade Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda and bring down the Taliban.

The service members were in the country to aid in the evacuation efforts, as Biden has sought to end a war that has been waged under four US presidents, including himself.

“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 released on Saturday. “Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.”

Biden Dover Afghanistan
President Joe Biden and other officials attend the dignified transfer of the remains of fallen service members at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on August, 29, 2021. Last week, 13 members of the US military were killed in Afghanistan.

The fallen service members returning to Dover were:

  • Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California
  • Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California
  • Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
  • Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California
  • Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California
  • Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio
  • Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee

Family members of fallen officers often come to Dover to witness the return of their loved ones as they come back to the country they fought so valiantly to protect.

Also at the ceremony were a large group of US officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, US Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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Romney, criticizing Trump and Biden, says the US is facing current situation in Afghanistan ‘because of terrible decisions made by two administrations’

Mitt Romney
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney blasted the Afghanistan policies of President Biden and former President Trump.
  • On CNN, he called the current situation in Afghanistan “a humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.”
  • Romney said that it would be “a moral stain” to leave Afghan allies behind after the US withdrawal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Mitt Romney on Sunday said that the current on-the-ground situation in Afghanistan is a consequence of policy failures made by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the Utah Republican told host Jake Tapper that the rush to withdraw Afghan allies and Americans was “preventable” and criticized past decisions by the two administrations when asked if US troops should remain in the country past the Aug. 31 deadline to aid with further evacuations.

“Leaving Americans behind and leaving our Afghan friends behind who’ve worked with us would put upon us and will put upon us a moral stain,” the senator said. “This did not have to happen. It was preventable. We didn’t have to be in this rush-rush circumstance with terrorists breathing down our neck.”

He emphasized: “But it’s really the responsibility of the prior administration and this administration that has caused this crisis to be upon us and has led to what without question a humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.”

Romney, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, continued to focus on what he felt were serious missteps in the approaches taken by Biden and Trump, who both sought to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

Read more: How Americans who helped prosecute the Taliban are going down a ‘black hole’ to help their Afghan interpreters

“If you focus on what we should do right now, recognize we’re in the position we’re in right now is because of terrible decisions made by two administrations,” he said. “One, the Trump administration negotiating directly with the Taliban, getting ready to invite them to Camp David, opening up a prison of 5,000 Taliban and probably ISIS-K individuals and letting them free. We don’t know whether some of them were involved in the attack that occurred.”

He added: “These were the decisions that led to what you’re seeing and the danger that exists at the airport. This should not have happened.”

The Thursday terrorist attack near the Kabul airport that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members marked the deadliest day for US military members in the country since 2011.

Romney was also critical of Biden’s decision to close Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, which was once the largest US military base in the country but has since fallen to the Taliban.

The key facility was abandoned by the US ahead of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Romney went on to say that the fight against terrorism will continue, even with troops out of the country.

“You can’t, as one party, end a war,” he said. “It takes two parties to end a war. The Taliban and the radical violent jihadists in the world haven’t stopped fighting. They’re going to continue to fight us. The war is not over.”

While Romney focused on Biden and Trump in his criticism, the handling of the war was also overseen by former President George W. Bush, who first deployed US troops to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, along with former President Barack Obama, who sent 30,000 additional troops to the country in late 2009.

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Biden plans to evacuate all US diplomatic staff from Afghanistan by withdrawal deadline: report

US embassy Kabul
A US Chinook military helicopter flies above the US embassy in Kabul.

  • Biden is planning to evacuate diplomatic staff in Afghanistan by Aug. 31, per The Washington Post.
  • Without any plans set in place, the US diplomatic presence in Kabul will go dark for some time.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken tamped down the likelihood of an on-the-ground presence in Kabul.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is planning to evacuate all diplomatic staff in Afghanistan by the Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline with no concrete plans on whether or not they will return to the country, according to The Washington Post.

The Taliban has signaled some interest in the US keeping a diplomatic outpost in Kabul, but the Biden administration has not yet concluded on what their potential presence in the country might resemble.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Friday said that the Biden administration is “actively discussing” the Taliban’s request with allies. But he said that the US has not spoken with the Taliban about a vision for a future US diplomatic presence, according to a US official who spoke to The Washington Post.

Without any plans set in place, it is all but assured that the US diplomatic presence in Kabul will go dark for some time, which would make it more difficult for the Biden administration as they have sought to continue aiding Americans and Afghans who hope to leave the country after Aug. 31. The withdrawal comes two decades after US-led troops ousted the Taliban in the “War on Terror.” The group made a lightning-quick advance to regain control of the country this month.

In crafting plans for a potential diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, the Biden administration must also determine whether they will formally acknowledge a Taliban government, according to The Post report.

When asked how the US can help individuals who will remain in Afghanistan after Aug. 31, the US said it was working on the logistics.

“We’re developing detailed plans for how we can continue to provide consular support and facilitate departures for those who wish to leave after August 31,” a senior State Department official said.

Read more: How Americans who helped prosecute the Taliban are going down a ‘black hole’ to help their Afghan interpreters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Sunday appearance on “Meet the Press” was not optimistic about a future on-the-ground diplomatic presence in the country, saying “that’s not likely to happen.”

“What is going to happen is that our commitment to continue to help people leave Afghanistan who want to leave and who are not out by September 1st, that endures,” he said. “There’s no deadline on that effort. And we have ways, we have mechanisms to help facilitate the ongoing departure of people from Afghanistan if they choose to leave.”

There are roughly 350 Americans remaining in Afghanistan who want to leave the country, a State Department spokesperson told The Post. Several of the individuals may have already found a way to leave Kabul, the spokesperson added.

The State Department also conversed with 280 additional individuals who claimed to be American citizens in Afghanistan but had either not yet relayed their plans or informed officials that they wanted to stay in the country.

US passport holders who want to depart Kabul can get into the airport, despite the rush in evacuations before the looming withdrawal date, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Saturday.

Army Maj. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor reported that in a 24-hour period between Friday and Saturday, 6,800 individuals were flown out of Kabul – with 4,000 of the evacuees on US military planes.

Roughly 117,000 individuals have been flown out of Afghanistan since the evacuation undertaking began on Aug. 14, Taylor said.

As Afghanistan prepares for a full US troop withdrawal, many residents of fearful of the impending Taliban rule.

A terrorist attack at the Kabul airport that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members last week only served to magnify the level of danger that has permeated much of Kabul. The suicide bombing was carried out by ISIS-K, the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US on Friday retaliated to the airport attack with a drone strike that killed two high-profile Islamic State militants, according to the Pentagon.

Biden on Saturday reiterated that “this strike was not the last” and warned that another terrorist attack at the Kabul airport is “highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours.”

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