Biden to Announce Full U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan by Sept. 11
The decision will keep more than 3,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 withdrawal deadline announced by the Trump administration.,
President Biden has decided to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 20 years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon launched the country into its longest war, United States officials said Tuesday.
The decision will keep more than 3,000 American troops on the ground in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 withdrawal deadline announced by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump.
But it signals what Mr. Biden plans to present as a definitive end to America’s “Forever War.”
Administration officials said that since Mr. Biden was fixing a definite date on an American troop withdrawal, he hoped to avoid an increase in violence — which the Taliban have threatened if the United States kept troops beyond May 1.
The decision was reported earlier Tuesday by The Washington Post.
A new intelligence report released Tuesday offered a grim assessment of Afghanistan and the prospects for peace. American intelligence agencies assessed that a peace deal was unlikely in the next year, and that the Taliban would make battlefield gains.
“The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” the report said.
Military and other officials who favored troops remaining in the country longer had used a similar classified intelligence assessment to argue for a slower drawdown, worried that an exit of American troops could trigger a wider civil war and an eventual return of terrorist groups.
The report released Tuesday did not contain an assessment of the likelihood of a return of Al Qaeda to Afghanistan, and some senior officials remain skeptical the Taliban would allow it. The report did say that Afghan government forces continued to hold major cities. But they have been “tied down in defensive missions and have struggled to hold recaptured territory.”
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III are in Europe this week and no doubt will be discussing Mr. Biden’s withdrawal plans with NATO allies.
Afghan officials are afraid that Mr. Biden’s decision to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline, as outlined in last year’s peace deal, would pressure Kabul’s government to release the roughly 7,000 Taliban prisoners the insurgent group has long asked to be freed.
Right now, those prisoners and the lifting of United Nations sanctions were some of the last leverage the United States had over the Taliban. The Afghan government has been staunchly opposed to any further prisoner release.
After 5,000 Taliban prisoners were released last fall to start negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, government officials say many of them returned to the battlefield.
Withdrawing by Sept. 11 “essentially means that the Biden administration policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ to pressure Afghan parties to reach a political settlement is not working,” said Tamim Asey, a former Afghan deputy defense minister under President Ashraf Ghani.
Officer William F. Evans of the Capitol Police, who was killed when a car rammed into him outside the Capitol this month, lay in honor on Tuesday in the building he gave his life protecting, the latest tragedy for a police force still reeling from the mob violence of Jan. 6.
In a ceremony beneath the soaring Capitol Dome, President Biden, grief-stricken fellow officers and leaders of Congress remembered Officer Evans as an unflappable 18-year veteran of the force, whose service was shaped as much by laughter as steadfast loyalty, and a doting father who loved Legos and Harry Potter.
“He was defined by his dignity, his decency, his loyalty and his courage,” said Mr. Biden, who summoned the tragedies that have shaped his own life to speak directly to Officer Evans’s family and fellow officers.
“Never has there been more strain,” the president said, “on the shoulders of Capitol Police.”
Officer Evans, 41, was the second member of the Capitol Police force who was killed in the line of duty to be honored in the Rotunda in just over two months. Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who was attacked by the rioters who stormed the Capitol in January, lay in honor in February.
The Capitol Police have named Noah R. Green, 25, as the man who rammed his car into two officers outside the Capitol on Good Friday, killing Officer Evans. The second officer, Ken Shaver, suffered injuries that were not life-threatening and lay a wreath beside Officer Evans’s coffin. Other officers who frequently manned the Senate security checkpoint where he was struck stood together, saluting him.
“His death has left a gaping void in our lives that will never be filled,” Officer Evans’s family said in a statement released last week.
On Tuesday, Officer Evans’s wife wiped away tears as the nation’s top leaders paid tribute. When his daughter Abigail, 7, dropped a toy version of the Capitol Dome, the president crossed the aisle and picked it up for her. Mr. Biden also gave a challenge coin to the fallen officer’s son, Logan, 9, who wore a police cap and clutched a stuffed bear.
Speaking directly to the children, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told them their father now lay where Abraham Lincoln once had in death. He, too, she said was a “martyr for our democracy.”
And Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, described Officer Evans as “famous within the Senate for his friendly spirit and easy manner.”
For the Capitol Police force, hundreds of whom were on hand to witness Officer Evans’ last trip into the Capitol, it was yet another painful chapter in an exceedingly painful year. The agency has been struggling since Jan. 6, when hundreds of pro-Trump rioters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to stop the formalization of Mr. Biden’s victory and keep former President Donald J. Trump in power. The rampage injured nearly 140 police officers.
Two Capitol Police officers, James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, have sued Mr. Trump for the injuries they sustained.
“These past few months have been devastating. Just as the scars of Jan. 6 had begun to heal, another wound was opened,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “I say to you now, our dear Capitol Police force that protects us: There is no shame in grief and sorrow and shock.”
China’s effort to expand its growing influence represents one of the largest threats to the United States, according to a major annual intelligence report released on Tuesday, which also warned that Beijing was capable of cyberattacks that could temporarily disrupt critical infrastructure in the United States.
The report puts China’s push for “global power” first on the list of threats, followed by Russia, Iran and North Korea. There are typically few broad revelations in the annual reports, which are a collection of declassified assessments, although the intelligence agencies’ ranking of threats and how they change over time can be telling.
“Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang have demonstrated the capability and intent to advance their interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, despite the pandemic,” the report said. “China increasingly is a near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas — especially economically, militarily and technologically — and is pushing to change global norms.”
The section on Iran could influence the negotiations over the United States rejoining the nuclear deal. Importantly, the intelligence agencies assess that Iran “is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities” needed to build a nuclear device. But Iranian leaders, the report said, are most likely to remain reluctant to engage in talks with the United States without sanctions relief.
The intelligence assessment also offered a grim assessment on Afghanistan, just days before President Biden is set to announce when he will pull the last troops out of the country. The intelligence agencies believe a prospect for a peace deal remains low and the Taliban is likely to make battlefield gains, the report said. In recent weeks, officials saying American troops should remain longer have used the assessment to reinforce their arguments.
China’s strategy, according to the report, is to drive wedges between the United States and its allies. Beijing has also used its success in combating the Covid-19 pandemic to promote the “superiority of its system.”
The report predicts that China will press the government of Taiwan to move forward with unification, and criticize efforts by the United States to step up engagement with Taipei. But the report stopped short of predicting any kind of direct military conflict.
China uses its electronic surveillance and hacking capabilities to not only repress dissent inside its country but also conduct intrusions that affect people beyond its borders, the report said. Also, China represents a growing threat of cyberattacks against the United States, and the intelligence agencies assess that Beijing “at a minimum, can cause localized, temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure within the United States.”
There are few surprises in the intelligence assessment of Russia. It makes clear despite many viewing Moscow as a declining power, American spy agencies still see it as a pre-eminent threat, noting how a Russian supply chain hacking operation created vulnerabilities in some 18,000 computer networks worldwide. The assessment said while Russia would avoid direct conflict with America, it would use influence campaigns, mercenary operations and military exercises to advance its interests and undermine those of the United States.
While the report emphasizes the traditional kinds of national security threats facing the nation, it does give a nod to the challenges of climate change and global pandemics, which the Biden administration has said the intelligence agencies will study more closely. The threats, for the most part, are long term, but can also have short-term impacts, the report said.
“The American people should know as much as possible about the threats facing our nation and what their intelligence agencies are doing to protect them,” said Avril B. Haines, the director of national intelligence, whose office released the report.
The new report will be followed by congressional testimony by Ms. Haines; William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director; and other top intelligence officials on Wednesday and Thursday.
Former President Donald J. Trump made a thinly veiled racial appeal to white suburban voters during the height of protests against police violence last summer, touting his rollback of an Obama-era desegregation program as proof he had “saved” the suburbs.
On Monday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development took the first steps necessary to restore the regulation, called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, by submitting a plan to the White House budget office that would quickly get it back on the books.
The department also submitted a request to restore the 2013 “disparate impact” rule, another regulation aimed at stopping bias in housing, which was eliminated under Mr. Trump.
“The president has every confidence in HUD to advance a regulatory agenda rooted in fairness and equity,” an agency spokeswoman, Meaghan B. Lynch, wrote in an email.
Both rules are expected to be approved, according to two administration officials with direct knowledge of the decisions.
The fair housing rule, adopted in 2015, requires localities to identify and address patterns of racial segregation outlawed under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by creating detailed corrective plans, or face the possible loss of federal grants.
Its main targets are single-family suburban zoning restrictions that have historically been used to limit construction of multifamily buildings, which attract a more diverse population of renters.
The one-line announcement on the Office of Management and Budget’s website late Monday night was a stark contrast to Mr. Trump’s bullhorn approach to the issue.
Ben Carson, Mr. Trump’s housing secretary, scrapped the rule in July. The timing of Mr. Carson’s announcement coincided with Mr. Trump’s accusation that protesters were terrorists, and was made in consultation with White House officials, according to two people involved in the matter.
Mr. Trump made the rule a none-too-subtle theme during the final days of the campaign, saying he was fighting for the “suburban housewives of America.” He punctuated one speech in Michigan last October with the plea, “suburban women, you’re supposed to love Trump!”
Mr. Biden meets with the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members strongly support restoration of the regulations, on Tuesday. One of the group’s former members is Marcia L. Fudge, his new housing secretary, who has said she will revitalize HUD’s fair housing division, which withered under Mr. Carson.
The administration’s infrastructure package, which includes $213 billion for housing, is also expected to include provisions requiring localities to prove their zoning laws are not discriminatory.
Critics have argued that the rule, and others like it, is a dangerous overreach by federal officials, and have pointed to HUD’s ineffective desegregation efforts in suburban Westchester County, N.Y., as proof such policies are divisive and unworkable.
Mr. Biden, whose comeback in the Democratic primaries last year was fueled by strong support among Black voters, disagrees.
Six days after he was sworn in, the White House released a memo promising to attack housing discrimination against “Black, Latino, Asian-American and Pacific Islander, and Native American families.”
Ms. Lynch declined to say whether the renewed regulations would be expanded or changed.
The last time the centrifuges crashed at Iran’s underground nuclear fuel-production center at Natanz, more than a decade ago, the sabotage was the result of a joint Israeli-American cyberattack intended to slow Tehran’s progress toward nuclear weapons and force a diplomatic negotiation.
When they crashed again this weekend, the White House asserted that the United States had no involvement.
The operation raised the question of whether Israel was acting on its own to strike Iran and undermine American diplomacy as the Biden administration seeks to reconstitute a nuclear agreement. Or, alternatively, whether Israel was operating in concert with American interests, carrying out dirty work that would weaken Iran’s negotiating position in the talks.
The White House was saying almost nothing in public on Monday about the apparent explosion inside Iran’s Natanz facility, below more than 20 feet of reinforced concrete, which destroyed the power supply that keeps the centrifuges spinning at supersonic speeds, enriching uranium.
“The U.S. was not involved in any manner,” the White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Monday. “We have nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts.”
While Israel usually stays silent when attacks like this happen, Israeli news outlets, citing intelligence sources, attributed this one to the Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.
White House officials did not comment on whether the United States had been given advance notice of the attack.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, who landed in Israel on Sunday, the morning the attack took place, held two press briefings before he left Israel on Monday and never once uttered the word Iran.
White House and State Department officials said they had no idea whether the Iranians would show up in Vienna again on Wednesday, when the talks were scheduled to resume.
In Tehran, lawmakers asked Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to suspend the talks, saying that Iran should not be engaged in negotiations when it is under attack.
“Talks under pressure have no meaning,” said Abbas Moghtadaie, the deputy chairman of Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said in a Clubhouse talk on Monday. “This was a message we conveyed very clearly today.”
The Biden administration is seeking to revive an agreement, scuttled by President Donald J. Trump three years ago, in which Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, opposed the original agreement and has made no secret of his opposition to resurrecting it.
Mr. Zarif, in a statement broadcast by Iranian state television, said that Israel wanted “to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions.”
“But we will take our revenge on the Zionists,” he continued.
Federal health agencies on Tuesday called for an immediate pause in use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.
All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.
Nearly seven million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., said in a joint statement. “Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare.”
While the move was framed as a recommendation to health practitioners in the states, the federal government is expected to pause administration of the vaccine at all federally run vaccination sites. Federal officials expect that state health officials will take that as a strong signal to do the same.
Within two hours of the announcement, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, advised all health providers in his state to temporarily stop giving Johnson & Johnson shots. In New York, the health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said the state would halt the use of the vaccine. Appointments for Johnson & Johnson’s shot on Tuesday at state sites would be honored with Pfizer doses, Dr. Zucker said.
Scientists with the F.D.A. and C.D.C. will jointly examine possible links between the vaccine and the disorder and determine whether the F.D.A. should continue to authorize use of the vaccine for all adults or limit the authorization. An emergency meeting of the C.D.C.’s outside advisory committee has been scheduled for Wednesday.
The move could substantially complicate the nation’s vaccination efforts at a time when many states are confronting a surge in new cases and seeking to address vaccine hesitancy.
Regulators in Europe and elsewhere are concerned about a similar issue with another coronavirus vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University researchers. That concern has driven up some resistance to all vaccines, even though the AstraZeneca version has not been authorized for emergency use in the United States.
The vast majority of the nation’s vaccine supply comes from two other manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which together deliver more than 23 million doses a week of their two-shot vaccines. There have been no significant safety concerns about either of those vaccines.
But while shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been much more limited, the Biden administration had still been counting on using hundreds of thousands of doses every week. In addition to requiring only a single dose, the vaccine is easier to ship and store than the other two, which must be stored at extremely low temperatures.
The development also throws a wrench into the Biden administration’s plans to deliver enough vaccine to be able to inoculate all 260 million adults in the United States by the end of May. Now federal officials expect there will only be enough to cover fewer than 230 million adults. But a certain percentage of the population is expected to refuse shots, so the supply may cover all the demand.
Senate Democrats will gather on Tuesday for the first time in more than a year for an in-person caucus lunchtime meeting, as Capitol Hill slowly begins to loosen some restrictions implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Both parties have traditionally held lunches during the week in order to allow rank-and-file lawmakers to discuss upcoming legislation and issues. But reports that Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, had tested positive for the coronavirus in March 2020 abruptly ended the practice and sent multiple lawmakers and staff members into quarantine.
Senate Republicans eventually returned to hosting in-person gatherings in a larger room during the final months of 2020, but Democrats had steadfastly maintained virtual meetings.
All congressional lawmakers and a growing number of staff members have access to the vaccine, leading the caucus to resume the in-person practice. The meeting will be held in a larger room than usual, a Democratic aide said, and the senators will not be eating.
The in-person gathering is the latest indication that Capitol Hill is returning to its normal routines as the vaccine becomes more widely available. The meeting also comes as Democrats are weighing a number of policy and strategy decisions over how to pass legislation — including President Biden’s infrastructure plan and voting rights legislation — that would fulfill the campaign promises that delivered them control of the upper chamber.
President Biden has picked Christine E. Wormuth to be the first woman to serve as secretary of the Army, Pentagon officials said on Monday.
If approved by the Senate, Ms. Wormuth, who was the Defense Department’s top policy official at the end of the Obama administration, would take control of the largest branch of the military at a time when the armed services are wrestling with a range of challenges, including weeding out right-wing extremists from their ranks and confronting rising threats from China and Russia.
Ms. Wormuth, who was on Mr. Biden’s Pentagon transition team after the election, would join other women appointed to top Pentagon jobs, including Kathleen Hicks, the deputy defense secretary, and Kelly Magsamen, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
The Biden administration has come under criticism for its slow pace of nominating officials to top Pentagon jobs, including high-ranking civilian positions overseeing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. In many cases, the service branches and other important parts of the Defense Department have been run by acting officials in the administration’s first months.
Ms. Wormuth, whose nomination was reported earlier Monday by Politico, began her government career in 1996 in the Pentagon policy office, which she eventually led from 2014 to 2016. Earlier in the Obama administration, she served as the main liaison from the White House’s National Security Council to the Pentagon on defense issues.
Ms. Wormuth has also worked in senior positions dealing with international security and defense policy at the RAND Corporation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, two research institutions in Washington.
President Biden picked Chris Magnus, the police chief of Tucson, Ariz., and a critic of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies, to lead Customs and Border Protection, one of six new leaders at the Department of Homeland Security.
If confirmed, Mr. Magnus would be expected to address a politically divisive challenge now before the Biden administration: how to handle a record number of border crossings that are projected to increase in the coming months. The administration has failed to safely move thousands of children and teenagers from jails run by the Border Patrol into shelters throughout the United States.
Members of Congress have called for additional accountability measures at Customs and Border Protection after it was revealed in 2019 that dozens of border agents had joined private Facebook groups and other social media pages that included obscene images of Hispanic lawmakers and threats to members of Congress. D.H.S. has also faced an investigation from the department’s Office of the Inspector General for its aggressive tactics against protesters in Portland, Ore.
Mr. Biden, who campaigned on increasing oversight at Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, chose not a veteran of the agency but rather a progressive police chief who promoted community policing efforts while overseeing departments in Tucson and Richmond, Calif. Mr. Biden chose him because of those efforts to reform departments, as well as his recent work policing a city close to the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a White House official.
Mr. Magnus, who is white and gay, received national attention when a photograph of him in uniform holding a Black Lives Matter sign during a protest in Richmond went viral. It also sparked criticism from the local police union. Last June, he abruptly offered to resign as chief of the Tucson police while releasing a video in which a 27-year-old Latino man, Carlos Ingram Lopez, died in custody. Mayor Regina Romero expressed confidence in Mr. Magnus and kept him on the job.
He also publicly criticized the immigration policies of President Donald J. Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as hindering police efforts to crack down on crime.
“The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and Mr. Sessions’s reckless policies ignore a basic reality known by most good cops and prosecutors,” Mr. Magnus wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in 2017. “If people are afraid of the police, if they fear they may become separated from their families or harshly interrogated based on their immigration status, they won’t report crimes or come forward as witnesses.”
Mr. Magnus last year also declined to accept homeland security “Stonegarden” grants issued to local police departments that assist the federal government on border enforcement, after the Trump administration refused to allow a portion of the funds to be spent on humanitarian aid for asylum-seeking migrants.
The nominations unveiled on Monday also include top cybersecurity officials, a sign of the administration’s intent to prioritize cyberattacks as a top national security threat. Jen Easterly, Morgan Stanley’s head of resilience and a former senior official at the National Security Agency, was tapped to lead the Homeland Security Department’s cybersecurity branch, and Robert Silvers, a top cybersecurity official at the department during the Obama administration, was picked to be under secretary for policy.
Mr. Biden also named Jonathan Meyer, another Obama administration official, to return to the department as general counsel, and John Tien, the former National Security Council senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to serve as deputy secretary.
Ur Jaddou, who worked as chief counsel at Citizenship and Immigration Services before leading an immigration advocacy group, was tapped to lead the immigration agency.
The officials would work under Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the first immigrant to run the department responsible not only for border security and immigration policies, but also providing a coordinated defense against terrorism, maritime, aviation and cybersecurity threats. During the Trump administration, the department was riddled with vacancies and interim leaders and was accused of having a unilateral focus on the border with Mexico, whether it be separating children from their parents or building a wall there.
The administration still has not nominated anyone to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that investigates sex and drug trafficking organizations and deports undocumented immigrants.
President Biden plans to nominate a former Pentagon official as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, he announced on Monday, giving her the task of adapting the agency to a world in which domestic threats loom as large as foreign ones.
Mr. Biden’s selection, Christine S. Abizaid, served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense during the Obama administration, focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as working on counterterrorism on the National Security Council.
If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Abizaid would be the first woman to hold the post on a permanent basis. Lora Shiao, a career official, served as an acting director of the center last year.
Avril B. Haines, the director of national intelligence, who oversees the counterterrorism center, praised the choice.
“Christy brings a command of counterterrorism issues, leadership acumen and enterprising approach that will enable her to effectively steer N.C.T.C.,” Ms. Haines said in a statement.
Ms. Abizaid, who works for Dell Technologies, is the daughter of the retired Gen. John P. Abizaid, who oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command and also served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Trump administration.
The National Counterterrorism Center was set up after the Sept. 11 attacks to improve how intelligence agencies share information. As the potential threat from China has grown, the national security establishment has begun to shift some resources away from terrorism to other challenges.
Last year, Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, conducted a review that resulted in the shrinking of the counterterrorism center, though mainly by eliminating unfilled positions.
But officials say the center remains critical in identifying threats, and former officials praised Ms. Abizaid as her name was floated for the position.
Ms. Abizaid has a range of expertise on terrorism issues, said Nicholas J. Rasmussen, a former director of the center. “She’s also someone who is instinctively collaborative and collegial, a natural leader, and someone who will think creatively about how to address the constantly evolving set of terrorism challenges we face as a nation,” he said.
A key question is whether the center will expand its work beyond foreign threats, to domestic terrorism. The Biden administration has made countering domestic terrorism a priority, and some officials believe the center can do more to help.