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Politics & Government

Biden Witnesses Dignified Transfer Of Remains In Delaware Ceremony

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden went to Dover, Del., today for a solemn ceremony to receive the remains of service members killed in Kabul last week. It was the first time that Biden had gone to Delaware as president to witness the ceremony. The visit came days after an attack by ISIS-K at Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans. The U.S. has set to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan on Tuesday, and the U.S. State Department said today that at least 250 Americans who are still in Afghanistan say they want to leave.

Joining us now to talk about all of this is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much for being with us.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: First, would you tell us a bit more about the ceremony earlier today? What stood out to you?

LIASSON: Well, actually, the military says this isn't a ceremony. It's something called a dignified transfer. And according to the Air Force, it means that it's a solemn movement of the transfer case, a coffin, by a carry team composed of military personnel from the fallen service members' respective service. And a dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation. President Biden and his wife were there today. They talked with some of the families. And that is what happened at Dover Air Force Base today.

MARTIN: And this visit to Dover, of course, came hours after the U.S. military carried out an airstrike on a vehicle in Kabul that it said eliminated an imminent threat by ISIS-K to Kabul Airport. Talk a bit more about what the U.S. counterterrorism strategy is here.

LIASSON: Well, this is what the military calls an over-the-horizon operation, which means it was bombing from afar - in this case, with drones. The military says what - they targeted a vehicle, an ISIS-K vehicle that was on the way to Hamid Karzai International Airport. It was packed with explosives. They don't think there were any civilian casualties. The president issued a statement after the strike saying the strike would not be the last one. He says we'll continue to hunt down any person involved in the heinous attack that killed American service members and make them pay.

MARTIN: And what's the latest on the evacuation efforts for getting American citizens out of Kabul?

LIASSON: Well, according to the administration, about 5,500 American citizens have been removed. And that means about an additional 50 individuals in the last 24 hours. They think there are about 250 to 300 Americans still left in Afghanistan who want to leave, and they will bring them out by Tuesday. And then there are other individuals who haven't decided whether they want to go or not. But the administration is determined to get them out if they do decide to leave. And then, of course, there are all of those thousands and thousands of Afghan citizens who were allies of the Americans.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, Mara, as briefly as you can, Biden has certainly come under criticism from members of both parties for his handling of Afghanistan and - especially this withdrawal. But he has remained committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan by August 31. What's the bigger strategy here?

LIASSON: Well, the bigger - the original strategy was hoping they could get everyone out without any American casualties. That all changed last week. Now he owns this chaotic withdrawal. And the Republicans are going to try to inflict as much political pain as possible, saying that he is leaving Americans behind. And then...

MARTIN: OK.

LIASSON: ...That will be debated.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.