WASHINGTON — 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 terror attack outside the airport in Kabul.
Dressed in black, the first couple arrived early Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they met with family members of the fallen service members.
The service members were killed while 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, the president, 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, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. All wore black face 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 arriving in Dover.
Thirteen U.S. service members and at least 95 Afghans were killed in twin explosions Thursday. The self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group, which has battled with the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
The 11 service members honored in 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. KareemNikoui and Navy Hospitalman Maxton Soviak. Most were in their early 20s.
The families of the remaining two slain Marines did not participate in the public event.
The transfers were kept mostly private until 2009, when the military’s policy towards 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 the base where his late son, Beau, was deployed on his way to Iraq during a tour of duty with the Deleware National Guard. Beau later died of brain cancer.
Addressing the Thursday, Biden praised the Americans 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 Pentagon said a U.S. drone on Sunday conducted a “self-defense” strike 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,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command said in a statement. “We remain vigilant for potential future threats.”
The U.S. earlier launched a retaliatory strike Friday, killing two “high-profile” Islamic State targets in a drone strike in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.
Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.