‘Time to End America’s Longest War,’ Biden Says, Defending Afghan Exit
President Biden’s move to set a Sept. 11 deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan triggered similar action among NATO allies. Here’s the latest.,
President Biden formally ended the 20-year, largely unsuccessful American effort to remake Afghanistan, declaring from the White House on Wednesday afternoon that he would withdraw the remaining few thousand United States troops in the country by Sept. 11 and refocus American attention elsewhere.
“It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said. “It’s time for America’s troops to come home.”
He warned the Taliban that if American forces are attacked on the way out of the country, “we’re going to defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.”
Speaking from the Treaty Room in the White House, Mr. Biden made the case that the United States had only one real task in the country: ousting Al Qaeda and making sure that the country would never again be the launching pad for a terrorist attack on the United States, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001.
In announcing his decision, the president made only passing mention of the other objectives that had been used over the years to justify the continued American military presence: building a stable democracy, eradicating corruption and the drug trade, assuring an education for girls and opportunity for women, and supporting peace talks between the Taliban and the government.
All were noble goals, he suggested, but keeping American troops in the country until they were accomplished was a formula for a perpetual presence after the killing of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden.
“We delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago,” he said. “And we’ve stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since.”
Saying he was the fourth president to deal with the question of troops in Afghanistan, two Republicans and two Democrats, he added, “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
For the United States, Mr. Biden’s announcement was a humbling moment. The Afghan war was not only the longest in American history, it was one of the costliest — more than $2 trillion. Nearly 2,400 American service members were killed, more than 20,700 wounded.
And while the United States accomplished the key strategic objective that led President George W. Bush to order the invasion of the country in October 2001 — ousting Al Qaeda and preventing it from using Afghanistan’s mountains and deserts to launch another attack on the United States — few of the broader, shifting goals of building the nation proved lasting.
Mr. Biden is the first president to have rejected the Pentagon’s recommendations that any withdrawal be “conditions based,” meaning that security would have to be assured on the ground before Americans pulled back. To do otherwise, military officials have long argued, would be to signal to the Taliban to just wait out the Americans — after which, they would face little opposition to taking further control, and perhaps threatening Kabul, the capital.
But some architects of the policy agreed that it was time to go. Douglas Lute, a retired general who ran Afghan policy on the National Security Council for Mr. Bush and then for President Barack Obama, wrote for CNN with Charles A. Kupchan on Wednesday that “those who argue that we need to stay in Afghanistan to thwart attacks against the homeland are wrong,” because the terror threat from inside the country “has been dramatically reduced in the last 20 years.”
And Mr. Biden has made clear that Afghanistan has become a drain on resources and attention, at a moment he wants to focus on inequality and investments in infrastructure and new technology at home, and far more complex threats from China and other adversaries. In so doing, he is joining the British and the Soviets, among others, who thought they could reshape Afghanistan, only to discover the cost was unacceptably high.
The nation’s top intelligence officials faced a congressional panel on Wednesday for the first time in two years to discuss global threats faced by the United States, fielding questions on China, Russia, Iran and more.
Lawmakers said they would press the intelligence chiefs on China, Russia, Iran, as well as domestic extremism, cyberattacks and election interference. Senators are also likely to raise prospects for continued violence in Afghanistan now that President Biden has decided to pull out troops by September.
The intelligence community’s annual threat assessment report released ahead of the hearing emphasized the growing challenge of China and the continuing threat from Russia, though it acknowledged that both powers wanted to avoid direct confrontation with the United States.
“China is employing a comprehensive approach to demonstrate its growing strength and compel regional neighbors to acquiesce to Beijing’s preferences,” Avril B. Haines, the director of national intelligence, told senators.
The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, also emphasized the threat from China. “We’re opening a new investigation into China every 10 hours,” he said of the bureau, “and I can assure the committee that’s not because our folks don’t have anything to do with their time.”
In his opening statement, Senator Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat who leads the committee, emphasized that the challenge was not from the Chinese people, and especially not with Asian-Americans, but Beijing’s communist government.
Ms. Haines was joined at the hearing by four other agency directors: Mr. Wray, William J. Burns of the C.I.A., Gen. Paul M. Nakasone of the National Security Agency and Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Both Russia and China have been blamed for conducting cyberoperations that compromised broad swaths of the software supply chain. Lawmakers said they would press Ms. Haines and the other intelligence officials on the Russian hacking, which penetrated nine federal agencies, and another by China that compromised Microsoft Exchange servers. The Biden administration is expected to respond to the Russian hacking soon.
Ms. Haines said Russia uses hacks to sow discord and threaten America and its allies. “Russia is becoming increasingly adept at leveraging its technological prowess to develop asymmetric options in both the military and cyber spheres in order to give itself the ability to push back and force the United States to accommodate its interests,” she said.
Biden administration officials have emphasized that they want the intelligence agencies to take a wider view of threats, and the officials are expected to discuss the impacts of climate change on national security. The threats report linked surges in migration to both the pandemic and climate change.
Ms. Haines noted that another recent intelligence report on global trends highlighted how the pandemic and climate change, along with technological change, were testing “the resilience and adaptability” of society. The “looming disequilibrium,” she said, compels intelligence agencies to broaden their definition of national security.
Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday that she would visit Mexico and Guatemala “as soon as possible” as part of the administration’s broader effort to stop surging numbers of migrants and unaccompanied children from traveling to the southern border.
Speaking ahead of a virtual meeting with immigration advocates, Ms. Harris said that Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, would address what is going on at the border, and she will focus on what is convincing migrants to leave their homes in Central America.
“I have been asked to lead the issue of addressing the root causes, similar to what the then-vice president did many years ago,” she said, referring to Biden’s actions as vice president under Barack Obama. “But I will tell you that these are not issues that are going to be addressed overnight.”
Border officials apprehended more than 170,000 migrants at the southwest border in March. The administration has especially struggled to move thousands of unaccompanied minors from border jails into shelters, although it has made progress in recent weeks. Nearly 3,000 children and teenagers were stuck in the jails on Tuesday, according to documents obtained by The New York Times, compared to the roughly 5,000 last month, the most in any month in more than a decade.
The announcement by Ms. Harris seemed to be a response to calls from Republicans that the travel to the border to see the situation firsthand.
“There is no substitute for seeing overcrowded migrant facilities in person and speaking directly with our border agents and officers who are dealing with this crisis on the human level every day,” a group of seven Republican lawmakers wrote to Ms. Harris in a letter dated Tuesday.
The remarks may also have been intended to clarify President Biden’s announcement, made in late March, that Ms. Harris would “lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle,” comprised by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It was a broad and politically fraught mandate, and since then, officials across the administration have been stressing that Ms. Harris will be focusing on the “root causes” of migration.
They have offered few specifics on what that means, but have said that Ms. Harris recently hosted calls with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the president of Mexico, and Alejandro Giammattei, the president of Guatemala.
On Monday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that “bilateral discussions” had led to a commitment from the countries to increase troops along their borders and along migration routes to deter people from making the journey.
On Wednesday, Ms. Harris’s office did not immediately respond to a question about whether the vice president had been the person to secure the deal. And Guatemalan officials said the troops were sent to the border months ago, according to news reports.
Addressing the root causes of migration, which administration officials say include gang violence, human trafficking and natural disasters, could take years, and providing humanitarian aid to combat those problems has become a matter of political debate.
The Biden administration has committed $4 billion to Central American countries to address migration.
Ms. Harris will also soon be taking over work from a departing official with years of experience. Last week, Roberta S. Jacobson, the former ambassador to Mexico chosen as Mr. Biden’s “border czar,” said that she would retire from government. She said she was happy to see Ms. Harris assume the work of stemming migration from Central America.
“Nobody could be more delighted to see the vice president take on that role,” Ms. Jacobson said.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.
A new report by the Capitol Police’s internal watchdog found that department leaders overlooked key intelligence in the run-up to the riot on Jan. 6, including a warning that “Congress itself is the target,” and barred the force’s riot response unit from using its most powerful crowd-control measures.
The 104-page document is the most searing portrait yet of the lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
Michael A. Bolton, the Capitol Police’s inspector general, classified the report as “law enforcement sensitive” and has not released it to the public. But The New York Times reviewed a copy before his testimony to the House Administration Committee, scheduled for Thursday.
Here are the highlights.
Capitol Police leaders ignored or overlooked intelligence reports warning of attacks on lawmakers.
The department’s own intelligence unit, which monitors potential threats, warned three days before the riot that supporters of President Donald J. Trump, motivated by his false election fraud claims, were targeting Congress and could become violent.
“Unlike previous postelection protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counterprotesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th,” said a threat assessment from Jan. 3.
But Mr. Bolton found that when an operations plan was written two days later, leaders included that there were “no specific known threats related to the joint session of Congress.” His report blames dysfunction within the Capitol Police for the omission.
Department leaders ordered a special crowd-control unit not to use its most powerful nonlethal weapons.
The report catalogs several problems related to the force’s civil disturbance unit, a group of officers who contain large crowds and protests.
The problems were compounded when department leadership directed the unit not to use some of its most powerful crowd-control tools — such as stun grenades — that rank-and-file officers later said they believed would have helped fight the crowds that eventually overtook them and broke into the building.
“Heavier less-lethal weapons,” Mr. Bolton wrote, “were not used that day because of orders from leadership.”
Officers responded with defective protective equipment.
Elsewhere in the report, the inspector general found that officers responding on Jan. 6 had been outfitted with protective shields that had been stored in a trailer without climate control and “shattered upon impact.”
In another case, officers frantic for something to protect them could not use their shields during the siege because they were locked on a bus.
Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.
Three decades after it was first introduced and a century and a half after the end of slavery, a bill to create a national reparations commission to propose ways to redress the wrongs of human bondage in the United States will get its first vote in a committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The bill — labeled H.R. 40 after the unfulfilled Civil War-era promise to give former slaves “40 acres and a mule” — faces an uphill path amid opposition from Republicans and many Democrats. Democratic leaders have not yet promised a vote by the full House.
But as the country grapples anew with systemic racism, the bill now counts support from the president of the United States and key congressional leaders.
“We think it will be cleansing for this nation and it will be a step moving America forward to see us debate this issue on the floor of the House,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, who became the lead sponsor of the bill first proposed in 1989 by the late Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan.
Mr. Biden has positioned addressing racial inequities at the center of his domestic policy agenda, proposing billions of dollars in investments in Black farmers, business owners, neighborhoods, students and the poor. The White House has said Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion jobs agenda aims, in part, to “tackle systemic racism and rebuild our economy and our social safety net so that every person in America can reach their full potential.
Though the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill for the first time in 2019, it has never voted to advance it, as it is expected to on Wednesday.
Proponents of reparations differ on what form, precisely, they should take, though many agree that Mr. Biden’s proposals encompass the kinds of compensation that might be considered the modern-day equivalent of 40 acres and a mule. But that does not mean they are a replacement, they say.
“If this is about the full ramifications on Black wealth, about the destruction of entire businesses or neighborhoods, or the deprivation and loss of land, then we are talking about numbers that are far beyond the reach of what are relatively small programmatic initiatives,” said William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who has written a book on reparations.
Mr. Darity’s vision of reparations primarily focuses on closing the wealth gap between African Americans and white people, something that he estimates would take $10 trillion or more in government funds.
The bill under consideration in the House, and a companion measure introduced by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, would impanel a 13-person commission to study the effects of slavery and the decades of economic discrimination that followed, often with government involvement, and propose possible ways to address their negative impact. The commission would also consider a “national apology” for the harm caused by slavery.
Opponents of reparations often argue that the wrongs of slavery are simply too far past and too diffuse to be practically addressed now. They question why taxpayers, many of whom came to the United States long after slavery ended, should foot a potentially large bill for payments or other forms of compensation to Black Americans.
Roy L. Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego who has also written on the issue, argues that the purpose of reparations should not be viewed as primarily monetary nor something that can be dealt with in the course of normal policymaking, no matter how effective.
“The purpose has to be bringing about racial reconciliation, and it can’t get swallowed up in generic domestic legislation, or else the significance is lost,” he said.
Amazon, BlackRock, Google, Warren Buffett and hundreds of other companies and executives signed on to a new statement released on Wednesday opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote.
It was the biggest show of solidarity so far by the business community as companies around the country try to navigate the partisan uproar over Republican efforts to enact new election rules in almost every state. Senior Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, have called for companies to stay out of politics.
The statement was organized in recent days by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck. A copy appeared on Wednesday in advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Last month, with only a few big companies voicing opposition to a restrictive new voting law in Georgia, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier led a group of Black executives in calling on companies to get more involved in opposing similar legislation around the country.
Since then, many other companies have voiced support for voting rights. But the new statement, which was also signed by General Motors, Netflix and Starbucks, represented the broadest coalition yet to weigh in on the issue.
“It should be clear that there is overwhelming support in corporate America for the principle of voting rights,” Mr. Chenault said.
The statement does not address specific election legislation in states, among them Texas, Arizona and Michigan, and Mr. Chenault said there was no expectation for companies to oppose individual bills.
“We are not being prescriptive,” he said. “There is no one answer.”
Mr. Frazier emphasized that the statement was intended to be nonpartisan, arguing that protecting voting rights should garner support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
“These are not political issues,” he said. “These are the issues that we were taught in civics.”
Yet in this hyperpartisan moment, the issue has become an all-out political battle, with big business caught in the middle. In just the last month, since companies started speaking out against the law in Georgia and legislation in other states, top Republicans have accused the corporate world of siding with the Democratic Party.
Lawmakers in Georgia threatened to rescind a tax break that saves Delta Air Lines, which is based in Atlanta, millions of dollars a year. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida posted a video in which he called Delta and Coca-Cola, another Atlanta company, “woke corporate hypocrites” for criticizing the Georgia law. Mr. Trump joined the calls for a boycott of companies speaking out against the voting laws. And last week, Mr. McConnell said companies should “stay out of politics.”
Prosecutors will not pursue criminal charges against the Capitol Police lieutenant who shot to death a woman who stormed the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday after a three-month investigation.
The department’s decision to formally close the case followed the results of a preliminary inquiry that determined in February that charges were not warranted.
The woman, Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was among a mob of pro-Trump supporters that sought to gain entrance to the floor of the House through the Speaker’s Lobby while officers were evacuating lawmakers from the chamber.
At one point, as people in the mob shattered the lobby’s glass doors, Ms. Babbitt tried to climb through one and a police lieutenant on the other side fired a single shot, hitting her in the left shoulder, the Justice Department said in a statement. After being taken to a hospital, she died.
In conducting their investigation, prosecutors inspected videos posted on social media, evidence from the scene of the shooting, Ms. Babbitt’s autopsy and statements from the lieutenant, who has not been named, the Justice Department said. Officials determined there was “insufficient evidence” to warrant a criminal prosecution.
Ms. Babbitt was one of five people who died as a result of the assault on the Capitol and in its immediate aftermath. In death, she became a martyr-like figure for the far-right extremists who have supported former President Donald J. Trump.
The investigation into her shooting involved civil rights prosecutors who opened an excessive force inquiry. In its statement on Wednesday, the Justice Department said that inquiry had not produced evidence that the police lieutenant had willfully deprived Ms. Babbitt of her civil rights.
After a nationwide flurry of arrests in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, defense lawyers are homing in on what they describe as fundamental weaknesses in the government’s case.
Some have challenged the marquee indictments against members of the Oath Keepers militia and the far-right group the Proud Boys, saying that the evidence so far does not support claims that their clients conspired to plan an attack against Congress.
Others have complained about prosecutors’ use of an unlawful entry statute and a 1960s-era law intended to silence leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Still others have questioned the relevance of a federal obstruction law used to charge dozens of people, saying that it does not technically cover a proceeding like the certification of the presidential vote.
“The statutes being used don’t always describe what actually happened at the Capitol,” said Gregory T. Hunter, who has represented several people charged in connection with the riot. “I don’t think that anyone foresaw, when they wrote these laws, that they would be meant for a violent mob willing to do damage and stop Congress from doing its job.”
Without a legal guidepost, prosecutors have sometimes seemed to reach. They have, for instance, charged many defendants with aiding and abetting but not fully explained who they helped or precisely what they did.
“The Capitol attack was, thankfully, an unprecedented event,” said Aitan Goelman, a former federal prosecutor who helped try Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. “But that means you’re not going to have any blueprint cases to know how — or what — to charge.”
From the start, prosecutors have run into an overarching problem: The attack was committed by a mob, but justice is supposed to be meted out on an individual level.
“Those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned or coordinated such actions,” the federal appeals court that oversees the Capitol cases wrote in a recent ruling, “are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.”
To federal health officials, asking states on Tuesday to suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine until they could investigate six extremely rare but troubling cases of blood clots was an obvious and perhaps unavoidable move.
But where scientists saw prudence, public health officials saw a delicate trade-off: The blood clotting so far appears to affect just one out of every million people injected with the vaccine, and it is not yet clear if the vaccine is the cause. If highlighting the clotting heightens vaccine hesitancy and helps conspiracy theorists, the “pause” could ultimately sicken — and even kill — more people than it saves.
“It’s a messaging nightmare,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, an expert in health risk communications at the N.Y.U. School of Global Public Health. But officials had no other ethical option, she added. “To ignore it would be to seed the growing sentiment that public health officials are lying to the public.”
The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was just beginning to gain traction among doctors and patients after its reputation took a hit from early clinical trials suggesting its protection against the coronavirus was not as strong as that from the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Before Tuesday’s pause, some patients were asking for it by name.
But amid the blizzard of news and social media attention around the pause, those gains may well be lost, especially if the rare blood clotting feeds politically driven conspiracy theorists and naysayers, who seemed to be losing ground as the rate of vaccinations rose.
The problem is explaining relative risk, said Rupali J. Limaye, who studies public health messaging at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She noted that the potential rate of blood clotting in reaction to the vaccine is much smaller than the blood clotting rate for cigarette smokers or for women who use hormonal contraception, although the types of clots differ.
And officials are not “pulling” the vaccine. They are simply asking for a timeout, in effect, to figure out how best to use it.
Vaccinators were already fielding questions from worried patients on Tuesday.
Maulik Joshi, the president and chief executive of Meritus Health in Hagerstown, Md., which has given 50,000 doses of all three vaccines without any reported major reactions, said he had a simple message to calm patients’ fears: “It’s a great thing that they have paused it, and this is science at work.”
Jennifer Steinhauer, Madeleine Ngoand Hailey Fuchs contributed reporting.
Nearly three years ago, a little-known left-wing organization helped engineer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shock victory over Representative Joseph Crowley in a House primary. Last year, the group, Justice Democrats, aided Jamaal Bowman’s ouster of Representative Eliot Engel in another House primary.
Now the group has found its next New York target: Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, 75, a Democrat first elected to Congress in 1992, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Justice Democrats will throw its support behind Rana Abdelhamid, a community organizer and nonprofit founder, in her bid against Ms. Maloney, laying the groundwork for a generational, ideological and insider-versus-outsider battle that will test the power and energy of the left with President Donald J. Trump now out of office.
Ms. Abdelhamid, a 27-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America who is keenly focused on matters of housing access and equity, intends to officially launch her candidacy for the 2022 primary on Wednesday.
“We strongly believe in Rana’s leadership capabilities to build a coalition like we’ve been able to in some of our previous elections,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, adding that she believed Ms. Abdelhamid could connect with younger voters, working-class voters of color, some older white liberals and those inspired by left-wing leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.
Ms. Maloney’s district, the 12th District of New York, is home to wealthy, business-minded moderates along the East Side of Manhattan. But it also includes deeply progressive pockets of the city in western Queens and a corner of Brooklyn with a well-organized left-wing activist scene.
There is great uncertainty around what the district will ultimately look like following an expected redistricting process, and Ms. Abdelhamid is not Ms. Maloney’s only likely challenger; Suraj Patel, who has unsuccessfully challenged Ms. Maloney twice, has indicated that he intends to run again.
But for now, Ms. Abdelhamid’s candidacy will measure whether New Yorkers reeling from the pandemic and navigating economic recovery are skeptical of elevating another political outsider to steer the city forward — or if vast inequalities, which only worsened over the last year, have put the electorate in an anti-establishment mood.
Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, announced on Wednesday that he would retire from Congress at the end of this term after more than two decades in the House.
Mr. Brady, who first won his seat in the state’s Eighth Congressional district in 1996, is the latest seasoned lawmaker to announce his retirement in recent months.
“Is this because I’ve lost faith in a partisan Congress and the political system? Absolutely not,” Mr. Brady said in remarks announcing his departure at an economic conference. “In the end, I’ll leave Congress the way I entered it, with the absolute belief that we are a remarkable nation — the greatest in history.”
Mr. Brady is just the third Texan to lead the House Ways and Means Committee as chairman, overseeing the committee’s successful passage of the 2017 tax overhaul before Democrats won control of the House in 2018.
But should Republicans take back the House in 2022, Mr. Brady would not be allowed to take back the chairmanship because of term limits in the Republican conference.
“Did that factor into the decision? Yeah, some,” Mr. Brady acknowledged. But he said that the committee term limits ensured that a variety of members would be able to rise through the ranks of the conference, and he “remained confident in its future.”
The committee’s current chairman, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, said that he and Mr. Brady’s relationship was predicated “on doing our best for this country we both love so dearly.”
“With the time he has left on the dais, I look forward to once again coming together and tackling the unfinished business of the committee, starting with overhauling our nation’s infrastructure,” Mr. Neal said. “He has left his mark on this great committee, and I wish him and his family all the best in what’s to come.”
Representative Filemon Vela, Democrat of Texas, has also announced his plans to retire at the end of the 117th Congress.