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Last troops exit Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan late Monday, ending America’s longest war and closing a chapter in military history likely to be remembered for colossal failures, unfulfilled promises and a frantic final exit that cost the lives of more than 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, some barely older than the war.

Hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for shutting down a final airlift, and thus ending the U.S. war, Air Force transport planes carried a remaining contingent of troops from Kabul airport. Thousands of troops had spent a harrowing two weeks protecting a hurried and risky airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans, Americans and others seeking to escape a country once again ruled by Taliban militants.

In announcing the completion of the evacuation and war effort. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29 p.m. Washington time, or one minute before midnight in Kabul. He said a number of American citizens, likely numbering in “the very low hundreds,” were left behind, and that he believes they will still be able to leave the country.

The airport had become a U.S.-controlled island, a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.

The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama. American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats — and at least two actual attacks — by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on Aug. 26 killed 13 American service members and some 169 Afghans.


Taliban celebrate victory as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban fighters watched the last U.S. planes disappear into the sky around midnight Monday and then fired their guns into the air, celebrating victory after a 20-year insurgency in Afghanistan that drove the world’s most powerful military out of one of the poorest countries.

The departure of the cargo planes marked the end of a massive airlift in which tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan, fearful of the return of Taliban rule after they took over most of the country and rolled into the capital earlier this month.

“The last five aircraft have left, it’s over!” said Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter stationed at Kabul’s international airport. “I cannot express my happiness in words. … Our 20 years of sacrifice worked.”

In Washington, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, announced the completion of America’s longest war and the evacuation effort, saying the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29 p.m. EDT — one minute before midnight Monday in Kabul.

“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” he said.


Hurricane Ida traps Louisianans, shatters the power grid

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rescuers set out in hundreds of boats and helicopters to reach people trapped by floodwaters Monday, and utility repair crews rushed in, after a furious Hurricane Ida swamped the Louisiana coast and ravaged the electrical grid in the stifling, late-summer heat.

Residents living amid the maze of rivers and bayous along the state’s Gulf Coast retreated desperately to their attics or roofs and posted their addresses on social media with instructions for search-and-rescue teams on where to find them.

More than 1 million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi — including all of New Orleans — were left without power as Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. mainland, pushed through on Sunday and early Monday before weakening into a tropical storm.

The damage was so extensive that officials warned it could be weeks before the power grid was repaired.

As the storm continued to make its way inland with torrential rain and shrieking winds, it was blamed for at least two deaths — a motorist who drowned in New Orleans, and a person hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge.


State mask bans face federal civil rights inquiries

The Education Department on Monday opened civil rights investigations into five Republican-led states that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights announced the investigations in letters to education chiefs in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Those states have issued varying prohibitions on mask requirements, which the office says could prevent some students from safely attending school.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona accused the states of “putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve.”

“The department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely,” Cardona said in a statement.

It marks a sharp escalation in the Biden administration’s battle with Republican states that say mask-wearing should be a personal choice. President Joe Biden last week asked Cardona to explore possible legal action, prompting the department to examine whether the policies could amount to civil rights violations.


As districts insist on vaccines, some teachers push back

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Some of the biggest school systems in the U.S. are taking a hard line with teachers and staff members who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19: Get a jab or lose your job.

Most teachers already are vaccinated, and national teachers’ unions have endorsed vaccine mandates, but the policies have sparked protests from educators and, in some cases, pushback from local district leaders who fear large numbers of departures.

In Oregon, where school staffers statewide are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, the board for the 7,500-student district of Redmond last week passed a resolution protesting the mandate and mandatory mask-wearing in schools after “significant” opposition.

“This could do serious damage to the other mandate that we have, which is to provide excellent education to the children and the families of our district,” board member Michael Summers said. “We’re attempting to speak for people.”

Teachers in many school districts with vaccine requirements can opt out as long as they submit to regular testing for the coronavirus, but New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis are among a growing list of places that are limiting exemptions to bona fide medical and religious reasons. Washington and Oregon have adopted similarly strict vaccination policies statewide.


New Orleans levees pass Ida’s test while some suburbs flood

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The levees, floodwalls and floodgates that protect New Orleans held up against Hurricane Ida’s fury, passing their toughest test since the federal government spent billions of dollars to upgrade a system that catastrophically failed when Hurricane Katrina struck 16 years ago.

But strengthening the flood protection system in New Orleans couldn’t spare some neighboring communities from Ida’s destructive storm surge. Many residents of LaPlace, a western suburb where work only recently began on a long-awaited levee project, had to be rescued from rising floodwaters.

Marcie Jacob Hebert evacuated before Ida, but she has no doubt that the storm flooded her LaPlace home based on what she has seen and heard from neighbors. Her house didn’t flood in 2005 during Katrina, but it took on nearly 2 feet (60 centimeters) of water during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

“We haven’t had these problems until everybody else’s levees worked,” said Hebert, 46. “It may not be the only factor, but I sure do think it contributes.”

Louisiana State University professor emeritus Craig Colten, who has taught historical geography, said most of the New Orleans levee systems has been in place for decades. He said the flooding in LaPlace can be explained by wind direction, not by any floodwater diverted from New Orleans.


Thousands rush to flee Lake Tahoe resort city as fire nears

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — Thousands of people rushed to leave South Lake Tahoe as the entire resort city came under evacuation orders and wildfire raced toward Lake Tahoe, a large freshwater lake straddling California and Nevada.

Evacuation warnings issued for the city of 22,000 on Sunday turned into orders Monday. Vehicles loaded with bikes and camping gear and hauling boats were stuck in traffic, stalled in hazy, brown air that smelled of campfire. Police and other emergency vehicles whizzed by.

“This is a systematic evacuation, one neighborhood at a time,” South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Travis Cabral said on social media. “I am asking you as our community to please remain calm.”

The new orders came a day after communities several miles south of the lake were abruptly ordered evacuated as the Caldor Fire raged nearby.

South Lake Tahoe’s main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, proactively evacuated 36 patients needing skilled nursing and 16 in acute care beds Sunday, sending them to regional facilities far from the fire, public information officer Mindi Befu said. The rest of the hospital was evacuating following Monday’s expanded orders.


Man testifies against R. Kelly in sex-trafficking trial

NEW YORK (AP) — After several days of testimony from women claiming they were groomed and sexually abused by R. Kelly, a man took the witness stand at Kelly’s sex-trafficking trial in New York City on Monday to say the R&B star exploited him in the same way when he was a high school student.

The witness, testifying in federal court in Brooklyn without using his real name, told a jury how Kelly lured him to his Chicago-area home in 2007 with false offers of helping him with his fledgling music career.

Kelly asked the alleged victim, then 17, “what I was willing to do for music,” the witness said. He replied, “I’ll carry your bags. … Anything you need, I’ll be willing to do.”

“That’s not it. That’s not it,” he said Kelly responded before asking him if he ever fantasized about having sex with men. He described how Kelly then “crawled down on his knees and proceeded to give me oral sex,” even though, “I wasn’t into it.”

Afterward, “he told me to keep between him and me,” he said.


Lithium fuels hopes for revival on California’s largest lake

CALIPATRIA, Calif. (AP) — Near Southern California’s dying Salton Sea, a canopy next to a geothermal power plant covers large containers of salty water left behind after super-hot liquid is drilled from deep underground to run steam turbines. The containers connect to tubes that spit out what looks like dishwater, but it’s lithium, a critical component of rechargeable batteries and the newest hope for economic revival in the depressed region.

Demand for electric vehicles has shifted investments into high gear to extract lithium from geothermal brine, salty water that has been overlooked and pumped back underground since the region’s first geothermal plant opened in 1982. The mineral-rich byproduct may now be more valuable than the steam used to generate electricity.

California’s largest but rapidly shrinking lake is at the forefront of efforts to make the U.S. a major global player in the production of lithium. Despite large deposits of the ultralight metal in the U.S., Nevada has the country’s only lithium plant, and U.S. production lags far behind Australia, Chile, Argentina and China.

Decades of environmental ruin have left some residents on the Salton Sea’s receding shores indifferent or wary. They have been disappointed before, most recently by solar plants that failed to be the economic engine many hoped.

The Salton Sea formed in 1905 after the Colorado River breached a dike and two years of flooding filled a sizzling basin, earning it the nickname “The Accidental Sea.” In the 1950s, the lake thrived as a tourist destination, drawing anglers, boaters and celebrity visitors including Frank Sinatra.


Birds of prey face global decline from habitat loss, poisons

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite a few high-profile conservation success stories – like the dramatic comeback of bald eagle populations in North America – birds of prey are in decline worldwide.

A new analysis of data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and BirdLife International found that 30% of 557 raptor species worldwide are considered near threatened, vulnerable or endangered or critically endangered. Eighteen species are critically endangered, including the Philippine eagle, the hooded vulture and the Annobon scops owl, the researchers found.

Other species are in danger of becoming locally extinct in specific regions, meaning they may no longer play critical roles as top predators in those ecosystems, said Gerardo Ceballos, a bird scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and co-author of the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The golden eagle is the national bird of Mexico, but we have very few golden eagles left in Mexico,” he said. A 2016 census estimated only about 100 breeding pairs remain in the country.

Harpy eagles were once widespread throughout southern Mexico and Central and South America, but tree cutting and burning has dramatically shrunk their range.





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