President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended a “dignified transfer” event Sunday to mark the homecoming of the remains of U.S. service members killed last week in the terrorist attack outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Dressed in black, the first couple arrived early Sunday at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where they met with the families of the fallen service members.
The service members were killed guarding the Kabul airport as part of the airlift to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees from Afghanistan’s capital, now in the hands of the Taliban.
In the solemn event, Biden, the first lady and other high-ranking officials saluted or put their hands over their hearts as pallbearers slowly carried each flag-draped casket off a C-17 military transport plane and into black vans waiting nearby.
Dignitaries standing with the president included the chiefs of four military service branches, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. All wore black masks.
Biden at several moments closed his eyes tightly and stood with his head bowed, hands behind his back.
Family members observed from a private area on the tarmac, where sobs could be heard during the otherwise silent event, according to a pool report.
The fallen service members traveled from Kabul to Kuwait to a major U.S. base in Germany before they arrived in Dover.
Thirteen U.S. service members and at least 95 Afghans were killed in twin explosions Thursday. The self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group, which has battled the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
The 11 service members honored at the event were Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, Marine Staff Sgt. Darin Hoover, Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, Marine Cpl. Daegan Page, Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, Marine Lance Cpl. David Espinoza, Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui and Navy Hospitalman Maxton Soviak. Most were in their early 20s.
The families of the two other slain Marines did not take part in the public event.
The transfers were kept mostly private until 2009, when the military’s policy toward the news media changed. Since then, more than 2,000 fallen service members have passed through Dover in transfer events attended by about 10,000 family members.
Former President Barack Obama attended two dignified transfers. Former President Donald Trump attended four. Sunday marked Biden’s first. Dover is also where his late son, Beau, was deployed on his way to Iraq during a tour of duty with the Delaware National Guard. He later died of brain cancer.
Addressing the country Thursday, Biden praised the Americans who were killed as “the spine of America” and vowed revenge on those who perpetrated the attack. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said.
Authorities have been on high alert for more attacks, and the Defense Department said a U.S. drone conducted a “self-defense” strike Sunday on a vehicle that posed “an imminent threat” to the Kabul 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,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement. “We remain vigilant for potential future threats.”
The U.S. launched a retaliatory strike Friday, killing two “high-profile” Islamic State targets in a drone strike in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.
CORRECTION (Aug. 29, 2021, 6:45 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of one of the Marines killed in the attack last week outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, not Kareemnikoui.