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News Brief: Kabul Attack, Evacuations To Continue, Eviction Moratorium Ruling

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States is continuing evacuations from an airport in Afghanistan despite an attack that hit right outside the gates.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Dozens of Afghans were killed crowded together outside the gates. Thirteen American troops also died in the bombings and gunfire. An affiliate of ISIS, ISIS-K, claimed responsibility. At the White House, President Biden said the U.S. would not be intimidated.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans in there. We will get our Afghan allies out. And our mission will go on.

INSKEEP: Let's begin our coverage by going to Kabul, where Charlotte Bellis of Al-Jazeera is on the line. Welcome.

CHARLOTTE BELLIS: Hello.

INSKEEP: Where are you now, and what have you been seeing?

BELLIS: I'm currently in - it's called EMERGENCY hospital. It's the main trauma center in Kabul. We've just been talking with patients here. We've been in the ICU talking to people who were caught up in the blast. Just tragic. Everywhere I look, there's men who had worked with U.S. forces, who had served alongside U.S. forces who have been hurt in the blast. They were there. They said we were showing our papers to the soldiers at the time, pleading our case to enter for evacuations. And then next thing we knew, we were unconscious. And one man I just spoke with a few minutes ago said, I don't know where my family is. I went there with 15 people. My - we had a U.S. visa, and I don't know where my wife or children are right now. So there's - I went to a funeral this morning as well. It is - there's a lot of heartache in Kabul this morning.

INSKEEP: I'm interested, as you speak with people, if they knew the risk when they approached that gate. The United States had issued warnings that they expected an attack, possibly at that very gate. Americans had been told to stay away. Were the Afghans and others who came to that gate aware that they could be attacked, and they just felt it was so desperate they needed to go anyway?

BELLIS: I think there was a mix. Talking to people today, they were aware that there was a threat, but they're always aware there's a threat. You know, ISIS has been here for years and attacking minority populations and conducting suicide attacks. It's always in the back of their mind. And for a lot of these people, they were desperate. They knew that the Americans were planning to leave on Tuesday. And they thought, this is our last chance. There's always a threat here, but we have to take it because we don't know what the future will hold. So I think for many it was a calculated risk.

INSKEEP: And it's got to be even more devastating for people because aside from their wounds and even lost family members, their chance to get on a plane would seem to be going away at this point.

BELLIS: Indeed. I mean, many of these people will be here for weeks recovering. And - yeah, I just talked to actually a young boy. It's in the forefront of my mind, and he's in a very bad way in ICU. And all he could do was whisper to us. And I said, why were you down there? And he said, to get on a plane. And I said, who were you with? And he said, my uncle - and he died next to me, and he had a red passport. So we were just trying to think, you know, which passports were red, whether it was German or what. But a lot of these people were entitled to leave. They had the right passports. They had the visas, but there was such disorganization and - that they just couldn't get through the gate. And they've died in their efforts.

INSKEEP: Charlotte, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it.

BELLIS: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Charlotte Bellis is reporting from a hospital today in Kabul. She's a correspondent with Al-Jazeera.

Now, President Biden here in Washington cast yesterday's attack as one more reason for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan.

FADEL: He also said he's ordered military commanders to develop plans to strike a branch of ISIS wherever they may be.

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BIDEN: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.

FADEL: The attack came from a group that's an enemy of the United States and also, apparently, the Taliban. And in the aftermath, the president gave some idea how he intends to continue pressing Afghanistan's new rulers to play a helpful role.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was in the room as the president spoke. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Does the President plan, so far as we know, any course corrections in the evacuation after this attack?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Steve, it really doesn't appear that he does. You know, despite the loss of life, Biden says the withdrawal will continue. Here's a little bit of what he said.

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BIDEN: We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, President Biden emphasized that every day that they remained, it would be more dangerous. And his aides - you know, his generals came on and his other aides said that they even expected these attacks. So they argued that it was not a surprise. You know, and President Biden says that using these deaths as an example is why the United States really needs to get out of Afghanistan so that no more Americans are killed.

Biden did accept some responsibility for what happened, but he also directed some of the blame on his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who he said forged the agreement with the Taliban. But again, he emphasized that the mission will not change and that this tragedy is why the United States needs to get out of another country's civil war - that it's not worth sacrificing more American lives.

INSKEEP: The attackers apparently got through the Taliban forces that encircle the airport and then reached the area where the U.S. troops were guarding the gate. And there was also a hotel that was attacked. What does all that say about the Taliban's reliability?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the president and the aides, you know, are repeatedly pressed on whether they trust the Taliban. You know, Biden says he doesn't trust the Taliban. He says no one trusts the Taliban. You know, and last week, Biden promised that any attack on our forces or disruptions of our operations at the airport would be met with a swift and forceful response. But he and his aides have been pretty clear that at this point, there is no evidence to suggest that the Taliban and ISIS colluded to carry out the airport attacks. So he feels there is interest on both sides to work together.

INSKEEP: Well, let's about how this continues after next week. The president is insisting on an August 31 departure for U.S. troops. Five thousand American citizens are out. They've been evacuated. But it seems some Americans remain along with a lot of Afghans, plausibly hundreds of thousands who'd like to go. How would Biden compel the Taliban to let anybody out after the troops leave?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, again it - you know, he says it's in their self-interests. And they are counting on their self-interests that the United States needs to leave. He says they want the United States to leave so that basically they can take over the country. And he says they need help from outsiders. Whether it's for the airport, for the economy, they just need American help.

INSKEEP: And because they need American help, they would have an incentive to cooperate. Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

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INSKEEP: Millions of Americans facing eviction no longer have federal protection.

FADEL: Last night, the Supreme Court struck down an eviction moratorium tied to the pandemic. More than 8 million people are currently behind on their rent. Many lost jobs during the pandemic and haven't been able to catch up.

INSKEEP: NPR's Chris Arnold has been following all of this and joins us now. Chris, good morning.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did the court say?

ARNOLD: Well, the majority of the justices say that the CDC lacks the power to impose this moratorium, and some of the language around that was very clear. They said the overreach here was, quote, "breathtaking." And the justices asked rhetorically - could the CDC mandate free grocery delivery to the homes of the sick or require manufacturers to provide free computers to let people work from home? - sort of where-does-this-end sort of thing. The three liberal justices on the court disagreed, we should say. Their quote was "The public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC's judgment." They noted that 90% of the country has high COVID transmission rates, but the majority said for the eviction moratorium to continue, Congress needs to vote to extend it further. And when Congress tried to do that last month, they didn't have the votes.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note this case was before the court before. This issue at least was before the court before, and so nobody is terribly surprised by the ruling here.

ARNOLD: That's right. And the court signaled back in July that the CDC didn't have the power to keep extending this moratorium anymore. The moratorium was set to expire at the end of July. The Biden administration warned about this saying, look; the Supreme Court has explicitly said we don't have the authority to do this. And Biden urged Congress to vote to extend it. But Congress, again, at that point, didn't have the votes to do it. Still, there was pressure from liberal Democrats. Congresswoman Cori Bush now famously slept on the Capitol steps, and COVID was raging - the delta variant. And so the CDC went ahead and extended this anyway with a slightly different, more targeted moratorium. But the court sided with the landlord group that brought the case, saying it's time basically to give property rights back to the landlords.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note that because it took a long time for this case to get before the Supreme Court at all, the CDC was able to impose this moratorium for something more than a year. They then extended the moratorium for at least a few more weeks. Has the moratorium actually been effective for renters?

ARNOLD: It has. During the moratorium, we've had twice as many people and families behind on rent, but only half the number of normal eviction filings - so 1.5 million fewer eviction filings than normal. Clearly, this is doing a lot. And so now everything really depends on one thing, and that is Congress approved nearly $50 billion to help renters avoid eviction. Can that money reach people in time?

INSKEEP: Has the money been reaching people?

ARNOLD: Well, we got new numbers this week. Only about 10% of that money has reached renters. It's flowed from the federal government to states and counties and cities. There's 500 different programs trying to distribute it. Some are doing a good job. Virginia, Texas, New York - more than half of the first round of the money, they've got it out the door to people. A bunch of other states, they've gotten less than 5% of the money out the door. And this is really important 'cause if landlords see that the programs are working - you can imagine if you were a landlord, you might be patient, work with the tenant, not evict the person. But if they see - look - this is a mess, they're going to throw up their hands and start evicting lots of people. So it's really crucial to get a lot of these programs working better.

INSKEEP: Chris, thanks.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Chris Arnold. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.