Biden defends departure from ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan, praises airlift

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps via AP)
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Updated 01 September 2021
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Biden defends departure from ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan, praises airlift

  • Says those favoring war fail to recognize weight of deployment, scourge of PTSD, divorce and other problems for US troops 
  • The US president is under heavy criticism for his handling of evacuation from Afghanistan 

WASHINGTON: A defensive President Joe Biden called the US airlift to extract more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and other allies from Afghanistan to end a 20-year war an “extraordinary success,” though more than 100 Americans and thousands of others were left behind. 
Twenty-four hours after the last American C-17 cargo plane roared off from Kabul, Biden spoke to the nation and vigorously defended his decision to end America’s longest war and withdraw all US troops ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline. 
“I was not going to extend this forever war,” Biden declared Tuesday from the White House. “And I was not going to extend a forever exit.” 
Biden has faced tough questions about the way the US went about leaving Afghanistan — a chaotic evacuation with spasms of violence, including a suicide bombing last week that killed 13 American service members and 169 Afghans. 
He is under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans, for his handling of the evacuation. But he said it was inevitable that the final departure from two decades of war, first negotiated with the Taliban for May 1 by former President Donald Trump, would have been difficult, with likely violence, no matter when it was planned and conducted. 
“To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, ‘What is the vital national interest?’” Biden said. He added, “I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan.” 
Asked after the speech about Biden sounding angry at some criticism, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president had simply offered his “forceful assessment.” 
Biden scoffed at Republicans — and some Democrats — who contend the US would have been better served maintaining a small military footprint in Afghanistan. Before Thursday’s attack, the US military had not suffered a combat casualty since February 2020 — around the time the Trump administration brokered its deal with the Taliban to end the war by May of this year. 
Biden said breaking the Trump deal would have restarted a shooting war. He said those who favor remaining at war also fail to recognize the weight of deployment, with a scourge of PTSD, financial struggles, divorce and other problems for US troops. 
“When I hear that we could’ve, should’ve continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1 percent of this country to put that uniform on,” Biden said. 
In addition to all the questions at home, Biden is also adjusting to a new relationship with the Taliban, the Islamist militant group the US toppled after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America, and that is now once again in power in Afghanistan. 
Biden has tasked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to coordinate with international partners to hold the Taliban to their promise of safe passage for Americans and others who want to leave in the days ahead. 
“We don’t take them by their word alone, but by their actions,” Biden said. “We have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.” 
Biden also pushed back against criticism that he fell short of his pledge to get all Americans out of the country ahead of the US military withdrawal. He said many of the Americans left behind are dual citizens, some with deep family roots that are complicating their ability to leave Afghanistan. 
“The bottom line: 90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” Biden said. “For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out, if they want to come out.” 
Biden repeated his argument that ending the Afghanistan war was a crucial step for recalibrating American foreign policy toward growing challenges posed by China and Russia — and counterterrorism concerns that pose a more potent threat to the US. 
“There’s nothing China or Russia would rather have, want more in this competition, than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan,” he said. 
In Biden’s view the war could have ended 10 years ago with the US killing of Osama bin Laden, whose Al-Qaeda extremist network planned and executed the 9/11 plot from an Afghanistan sanctuary. Al-Qaeda has been vastly diminished, preventing it thus far from again attacking the United States. The president lamented an estimated $2 trillion of taxpayer money that was spent fighting the war. 
“What have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?” Biden asked. 
Congressional committees, whose interest in the war waned over the years, are expected to hold public hearings on what went wrong in the final months of the US withdrawal. 
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Tuesday described the Biden administration’s handling of the evacuation as “probably the biggest failure in American government on a military stage in my lifetime” and promised that Republicans would press the White House for answers. 
Meanwhile, the Senate met briefly Tuesday, with Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the chamber, to pass by unanimous consent a bill that increases spending for temporary assistance to US citizens and their dependents returning from another country because of illness, war or other crisis. Biden quickly signed the legislation, which raises funding for the program from $1 million to $10 million. 
A group of Republican lawmakers gathered on the House floor Tuesday morning and participated in a moment of silence for the 13 service members who were killed in the suicide bomber attack. 
They also sought a House vote on legislation from Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, which among other things would require the administration to submit a report on how many Americans remain in Afghanistan as well as the number of Afghans who had applied for a category of visas reserved for those employed by or on behalf of the US government. 
The GOP lawmakers objected as Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, gaveled the House into adjournment. They then gathered for a press conference to denounce the administration. 
For many US commanders and troops who served in Afghanistan, it was a day of mixed emotions. 
“All of us are conflicted with feelings of pain and anger, sorrow and sadness, combined with pride and resilience,” said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He commanded troops in Afghanistan earlier in his career. “But one thing I am certain of, for any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine and their families, your service mattered. It was not in vain.” 


WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

Updated 25 sec ago
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WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounds warning on declining vaccine coverage
  • Advices that people in highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose

Geneva: Covid-19 is still killing around 1,700 people a week around the world, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as it urged at-risk populations to keep up with their vaccinations against the disease.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a warning on declining vaccine coverage.

Despite the continued death toll, “data show that vaccine coverage has declined among health workers and people over 60, which are two of the most at-risk groups,” the UN health agency’s chief told a press conference.

“WHO recommends that people in the highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose.”

More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher.

Covid-19 also shredded economies and crippled health systems.

Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023, more than three years on from when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

The WHO has urged governments to maintain virus surveillance and sequencing, and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines.


China says conducting joint military drills with Russia

Updated 12 July 2024
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China says conducting joint military drills with Russia

  • China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years and tout their friendship as having ‘no limits’

BEIJING: China said Friday it was conducting joint military drills with Russia along its southern coast, after a US-led Western defense alliance met in Washington and Japan warned of a growing threat from Beijing’s strong ties with Moscow.
China’s defense ministry said the two militaries had begun the exercises, called Joint Sea-2024, in “early July” and they would last until the middle of this month.
The drills in the waters and airspace around Zhanjiang, a city in southern Guangdong province, are “to demonstrate the resolve and capabilities of the two sides in jointly addressing maritime security threats and preserving global and regional peace and stability,” the ministry said.
It added that the exercises “will further deepen China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era.”
They were taking place in accordance with Beijing and Moscow’s annual plan for military engagement, according to the ministry.
The announcement came in the same week that NATO leaders convened in Washington to reaffirm support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years and tout their friendship as having “no limits,” and both share hostile relations with NATO.
NATO leaders said in a declaration on Wednesday that China had “become a decisive enabler” of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting Beijing to warn NATO against “provoking confrontation.”
China maintains that it is not a party to the Ukraine conflict but has been criticized by Western leaders for giving political and economic support to Russia, including in the trade of goods with both civilian and military uses.
Chinese forces are also staging drills this week with Belarus, another Russian ally, on NATO’s eastern border.
And Japan said Friday that joint China-Russia activities near its territory pose a “grave concern from the perspective of national security.”


Covid still kills 1,700 a week: WHO

Updated 12 July 2024
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Covid still kills 1,700 a week: WHO

  • More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher

Geneva: Covid-19 is still killing around 1,700 people a week around the world, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as it urged at-risk populations to keep up with their vaccinations against the disease.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a warning on declining vaccine coverage.
Despite the continued death toll, “data show that vaccine coverage has declined among health workers and people over 60, which are two of the most at-risk groups,” the UN health agency’s chief told a press conference.
“WHO recommends that people in the highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose.”
More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher.
Covid-19 also shredded economies and crippled health systems.
Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023, more than three years on from when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
The WHO has urged governments to maintain virus surveillance and sequencing, and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines.


Four people die in attempt to cross the English Channel — French coast guard

Updated 12 July 2024
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Four people die in attempt to cross the English Channel — French coast guard

  • A total of 67 people were aboard the boat off the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France

Boulogne-sur-Mer: Four migrants who tried to reach Britain died in the night from Thursday to Friday after their boat capsized in the Channel, a French coast guard spokesperson said on Friday, confirming earlier media reports.
A total of 67 people were aboard the boat off the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France, the spokesperson said, adding that 63 of them were rescued by an operation involving four ships and one helicopter.
Several thousand people have arrived in Britain this year via small, overloaded boats — usually flimsy inflatable dinghies — that risk being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.


Biden says during press conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Updated 12 July 2024
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Biden says during press conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

  • Biden holds highly anticipated news conference to deliver forceful defense of foreign and domestic policies
  • Insists his support among the electorate was strong and he would stay in the race and would win

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden used his highly anticipated news conference Thursday to deliver a forceful defense of his foreign and domestic policies, and batted away questions about his ability to serve another four years even as he flubbed a reference to Donald Trump in one of his first answers.
“I’m not in this for my legacy. I’m in this to complete the job I started,” Biden said as he insisted his support among the electorate was strong and he would stay in the race and would win.
Fumbles notwithstanding, the president pushed back at every suggestion that was slowing down or showing noticeable signs of decline, or that he was not in command of the job. But he was facing a growing chorus of calls from lawmakers, celebrities and other prominent Democrats to step aside from the 2024 race.
“My schedule has been full bore,” he declared. “So if I slow down and I cant get the job done, that’s a sign that I shouldn’t be doing it. But there’s no indication of that yet — none.”
Democrats are facing an intractable problem. Top donors, supporters and key lawmakers are doubtful of Biden’s abilities to carry on his reelection bid after his disastrous June 27 debate performance, but the hard-fighting 81-year-old president refuses to give up as he prepares to take on Trump in a rematch.
“I’m determined on running but I think it’s important that I allay fears — let them see me out there,” he said.
The first questioner of Biden’s press conference asked about him losing support among many of his fellow Democrats and unionists, and asked about Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden was at first defiant, saying the “UAW endorsed me, but go ahead,” meaning the United Auto Workers. But then he mixed up Harris and Trump, saying, “I wouldn’t have picked Vice President Trump to be Vice President if she wasn’t qualified.”
Trump weighed in live on Biden’s news conference with a post on his social media network of a video clip of the president saying “Vice President Trump.”
Trump added sarcastically, “Great job, Joe!”
Most of the hourlong press conference was vintage Biden: He gave long answers on foreign policy and told well-worn anecdotes. He used teleprompters for his opening remarks on NATO, which ran about eight minutes. Then the teleprompters lowered and he took a wide range of questions from 10 journalists about his mental acuity, foreign and domestic policy and — mostly — the future of his campaign.
“I believe I’m the best qualified to govern. I believe I’m the best qualitied to win,” Biden said, adding that he will stay in the race until his staff says, “There’s no way you can win.”
“No one’s saying that,” he said. “No poll says that.”

Earlier, Biden’s campaign laid out what it sees as its path to keeping the White House in a new memo, saying that winning the “blue wall” states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan is the “clearest pathway” to victory. And it declared no other Democrat would do better against Trump.
“There is also no indication that anyone else would outperform the president vs. Trump,” said the memo from campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez that was obtained by The Associated Press.
The memo sought to brush back “hypothetical polling of alternative nominees ” as unreliable and it said such surveys “do not take into account the negative media environment that any Democratic nominee will encounter.”
Meanwhile, the campaign has been quietly surveying voters on Harris to determine how she’s viewed among the electorate, according to two people with knowledge of the campaign who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to talk about internal matters.
The people said the polling was not necessarily to show that she could be the nominee in Biden’s place, but rather to better understand how she’s viewed. The research came after Trump stepped up his attacks against Harris following the debate, according to another person familiar with the effort. The survey was first reported by The New York Times.
While Biden has expressed confidence in his chances, his campaign on Thursday acknowledged he is behind, and a growing number of the president’s aides in the White House and the campaign privately harbor doubts that he can turn things around.
But they’re taking their cues from Biden, expressing that he is in 100 percent unless and until he isn’t, and there appears to be no organized internal effort to persuade the president to step aside. His allies were well aware heading into the week there would be more calls for him to step down, and they were prepared for it.
But in announcing a compact that would bring together NATO countries to support Ukraine, Biden referred to the nation’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin” to audible gasps in the room. He quickly returned to the microphone: “President Putin — he’s going to beat President Putin ... President Zelensky,” Biden said.
Then he said, “I’m so focused on beating Putin,” in an effort to explain the gaffe.
“I’m better,” Zelensky replied. “You’re a hell of a lot better,” Biden said back.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited Biden’s team to meet with senators privately at the lunch hour to discuss concerns and the path forward, but some senators groused they would prefer to hear from the president himself. In the Senate, only Peter Welch of Vermont has so far called for Biden to step out of the race.
The 90-minute conversation with the president’s team, which one person said included no new data, polling or game plan on how Biden would beat Trump, did not appear to change senators’ minds. The person was granted anonymity to discuss the closed door session.
The meeting was frank, angry at times and also somewhat painful, since many in the room know and love Biden, said one senator who requested anonymity to discuss the private briefing. Senators confronted the advisers over Biden’s performance at the debate and the effect on Senate races this year
One Democrat, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said afterward, “My belief is that the president can win, but he’s got to be able to go out and answer voters’ concerns. He’s got to be able to talk to voters directly over the next few day.”
At the same time, influential senators are standing strongly with Biden, leaving the party at an impasse.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, told the AP he thinks Biden “is going to win this election. I think he has a chance to win it big.”
Sanders said he has been publicly critical of the campaign, and said Biden needs to talk more about the future and his plans for the country. “As we come closer to Election Day, the choices are very clear,” he said.