U.S. and Its Allies Look to Coordinated Withdrawal From Afghanistan
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, frustrated in his efforts to end America’s “Forever War” a decade ago, will announce on Wednesday a Sept. 11 deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 20 years, a move that immediately triggered similar action among the country’s NATO allies.
While a complete withdrawal has long been seen as inevitable, it is likely to lead to an expansion of the Taliban that could overwhelm the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, despite assurances by intelligence agencies that the withdrawal can be done without precipitating the kind of violent, entropic instability that led to the 2001 attacks on America.
In the hours leading up to Mr. Biden’s afternoon announcement at the White House, foreign and defense ministers met at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss “a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan,” as the American secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, told them on Wednesday.
The ministers, many of them attending the Wednesday meeting virtually, are expected to formally back the American withdrawal date in keeping with the alliance’s mantra “in together and out together.”
Of the 9,600 NATO troops officially in Afghanistan, about 2,500 of them are American, though that number can be as many as 1,000 higher. The second-largest contingent is from Germany, with some 1,300 troops.
In brief remarks Wednesday, Mr. Blinken limited those goals narrowly to antiterrorism, not mentioning the larger NATO efforts to liberate women, help girls to attend school and shift agriculture away from growing heroin poppies.
The German defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, referring to NATO, told the German television station ARD on Wednesday: “I am for an orderly withdrawal, and that is why I assume that we will agree to that today.”
Mr. Biden’s move, arguably the boldest foreign policy announcement of his early presidency, is rooted in his belief that there is no room for continuing 20 years of failed efforts to remake Afghanistan, as Mr. Biden pivots to pressing domestic issues.
In this regard, Mr. Biden is not drastically different than his predecessor former President Donald J. Trump. Time and again during the Obama administration, Mr. Biden lost arguments to reduce the American presence to a minimal counterterrorism force.
Mr. Biden’s approach carries clear risks. The annual worldwide threat assessment published by his intelligence chiefs on Tuesday morning, as word of his decision leaked, explicitly warned that “the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay” if the American-led coalition withdraws. Administration officials said that raised the specter of something akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon, after the United States gave up on another ill-considered war.
But Mr. Biden’s decision makes clear his belief that contending with a rising China takes precedence over the idea that with just a few more years in Afghanistan, and a few more billions of dollars, the United States could achieve with a few thousand troops what it could not achieve with hundreds of thousands and the more than $2 trillion already poured into two decades of warfighting and nation building.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Mr. Biden planned to say in his afternoon remarks, according to prepared excerpts. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
When historians look back at this moment, they may conclude Mr. Biden’s decision was predestined.
The place is not called the Graveyard of Empires for nothing: The British pulled out in 1842, after an expedition their textbooks call the “disaster in Afghanistan,” and the Soviets in 1989, after a decade of death and frustration. What Soviet leaders learned in a decade, four American presidents learned over the span of two.
President Biden will deliver a speech Wednesday afternoon in which he will lay out his plans for withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan, ending American involvement in a war that began 20 years ago.
The speech is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. in the White House’s Treaty Room. Immediately afterward, Mr. Biden is scheduled to travel to Arlington National Cemetery to visit Section 60, where service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.
In excerpts from his prepared remarks released to the news media hours before the speech, Mr. Biden argued that the United States cannot “continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result.”
He cautioned that diplomatic and humanitarian work would continue, along with American support for the Afghan government as it continues negotiations with the Taliban.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” the statement said. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
In Afghanistan, there is talk of civil war after the U.S. withdrawal. The Taliban, which once controlled most of the country, continue to fight the government. And they appear closer than ever to achieving the goal of their insurgency: to return to power and establish a government based on their extremist view of Islam.
Many Afghans had watched with cautious optimism when Mr. Biden assumed office in January, hoping he would reverse the Trump administration’s rushed pledge to withdraw all U.S. troops by May, after brokering a shaky peace deal with the Taliban last year.
While Mr. Biden extended the deadline to September, the pullout of the United States and its NATO allies will be a massive blow to the Afghan security forces. In addition to the Taliban, militias controlled by powerful local warlords are once more rising to prominence and attacking government forces.
“It is not the right time to withdraw their troops,” said Major Saifuddin Azizi, a commando commander in the southeastern province of Ghazni, where fighting has been especially brutal in recent days. “It is unreasonable, hasty and a betrayal to us. It pushes Afghanistan into another civil war. Afghanistan’s destiny will look like it did two decades ago.”
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 the 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.
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.
The Biden administration is nearing agreements with Japan, Korea and Canada to bolster carbon emission reduction targets in all four countries ahead of a closely watched summit of global leaders on Earth Day, April 22.
But in the latest sign of how difficult it will be for President Biden to make climate change a core part of his foreign policy, similar deals with China, India and Brazil, economic powerhouses that together produce more than a third of global emissions, remain elusive.
The focal point of the Leaders’ Summit on Climate will be the Biden administration’s plan to cut American emissions by 2030, and how it can overcome fierce Republican opposition. The ambitions and practicality of that target could determine the Biden administration’s success in convincing other nations to do more than they have already pledged.
“Summitry is theater, and it can be extremely impactful if there is a big centerpiece,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a climate adviser for the United Nations Secretary General. “That centerpiece is the U.S. plan.”
The end goal is a productive United Nations meeting in November in Glasgow, where the nearly 200 nations who have joined the Paris Agreement on climate change are expected to legally enshrine their tougher targets, which are aimed at keeping the worst consequences of climate change at bay.
China has already announced it would release no net emissions of carbon by 2060. Several analysts said the Chinese government felt little need to set another new target, particularly on Mr. Biden’s timeline, and was cautious of being seen as caving to U.S. pressure.
Equally significant, Beijing leaders remain worried that the Biden administration’s assurances that the United States is truly prepared to curb its own emissions are as shaky as the ones former President Barack Obama made shortly before his successor gutted virtually all of his policies.
Li Shuo, senior climate policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia, said he thought if talks with Mr. Kerry went well this week, China may make an announcement of new targets at the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference that will be held in Boao, China, starting on Monday. That, he said, would allow China to make an announcement on its home turf to avoid the appearance of being pressured by the United States. But any new targets would give China something to deliver at Mr. Biden’s summit.
“A lot depends on what happens in the next three days or so,” Mr. Shuo said
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.
Even before President Biden took office, some of his closest aides were focused on a question that risked derailing his economic agenda: Would his plans for a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package and additional government spending overheat the economy and fuel runaway inflation?
To find the answer, a close circle of advisers now working at the White House and the Treasury Department projected the behaviors of shoppers, employers, stock traders and others, if Mr. Biden’s plans succeeded. Officials as senior as Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pored over the analyses in video calls and in-person meetings, looking for any hint that Mr. Biden’s plans could generate sustained price increases that could hamstring family budgets. It never appeared.
Those efforts convinced Mr. Biden’s team that there is little risk of inflation spiraling out of the Federal Reserve’s control — an outcome that Wall Street analysts, a few prominent Republicans and even liberal economists like Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, have said could flow from the trillions being pumped into the economy.
Traditional readings of price increases are beginning to turn upward as the recovery accelerates. On Tuesday, the Consumer Price Index rose 0.6 percent, its fastest monthly increase in more than a decade, while a less volatile index excluding food and energy rose a more muted 0.3 percent.
But Mr. Biden’s advisers believe any price spike is likely to be temporary and not harmful, essentially a one-time event stemming from the unique nature of a pandemic recession that ruptured supply chains and continues to depress activity in key economic sectors like restaurant dining and tourism.
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.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday invited President Biden to speak at a joint session of Congress on April 28, which the president accepted, according to a White House official.
Ms. Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said in the letter addressed to the White House that the invitation would allow Mr. Biden to talk about the “challenges and opportunities of this historic moment.”
Presidents traditionally address a joint session of Congress, not an official State of the Union, in their inauguration year.
Mr. Biden took office on Jan. 20 pledging to unite a divided America and begin to heal the social and economic devastation wrought by the spread of the coronavirus.
After signing a $1.9 trillion stimulus package last month, he is now trying to build support for his $2 trillion infrastructure plan that is intended to bolster the U.S. economy by funding the construction of everything from roads to high-speed internet networks, while also addressing climate change and racial inequities.
But other challenges remain, including a surge of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and the spread of dangerous new variants of the virus throughout the United States.
Ms. Pelosi said the invitation to speak to both chambers of Congress would be an opportunity for Mr. Biden to lay out his vision for the U.S. three months into office.
Earlier this month, Pelosi said that the coronavirus pandemic had forced officials, including medical personnel at the Capitol, to assess safety precautions for attendees before moving forward with the address.
— Traci Carl