Afghan pullout has US spies reorienting in terrorism fight
WASHINGTON (AP) — The two-decade war in Afghanistan has given U.S. spies a perch for keeping tabs on terrorist groups that might once again use the beleaguered nation to plan attacks against the U.S. homeland. But that will end soon.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is leaving intelligence agencies scrambling for other ways to monitor and stop terrorists. They’ll have to depend more on technology and their allies in the Afghan government — even as it faces an increasingly uncertain future once U.S. and NATO forces depart.
“You may not be blind, but you’re going to be legally blind,” said Rep. Mike Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret who served in Afghanistan. Waltz said in an interview that while he believed American forces would still be able to detect threats, they would have to respond with lesser intelligence and more complex operations from bases outside the country.
The Afghanistan withdrawal was ordered by President Joe Biden. He has said it’s time to end America’s longest war after two decades of a conflict that killed 2,200 U.S. troops and 38,000 Afghan civilians, with a cost as much as $1 trillion.
But that withdrawal comes with many uncertainties as a resurgent Taliban captures ground and fears mount that the country could soon fall into civil war. The U.S. is still working on agreements to base counterterrorism forces in the region and evacuate thousands of interpreters and other Afghans who helped the American war effort.
As condo crashed down, they escaped through smoke and ruin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Alfredo Lopez and his wife Marian were asleep when the first thundering blast jolted them awake. Moments later, a second boom, much louder than the first, shook the bed on the sixth floor of their Miami apartment.
Alfredo rushed to wake his 24-year-old son Michael, urging him to get dressed, before running to the balcony window.
“All I could see was just white dust, very thick. I could barely see the balcony railing.”
The lights cut out and the emergency alarm came on, warning the residents of Champlain Towers South to evacuate. Lopez thought about sneakers, but his hands were shaking so badly he knew he couldn’t tie the laces and settled on sandals with straps.
Marian Lopez was disoriented. The 67-year-old fumbled for shoes as her husband pressed her impatiently.
Another building evacuated; search goes on at collapse site
NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Residents of a Miami-area high-rise loaded clothes and valuables into suitcases, laundry baskets and wagons and wheeled them to waiting cars after they were forced to evacuate the building when it was found to be unsafe in a review prompted by the deadly collapse of a building just a few miles away.
An audit prompted by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in nearby Surfside found that the 156-unit Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, had been deemed structurally and electrically unsafe in January, the city said in a news release. Friday afternoon law enforcement authorities cordoned off the area and went door-to-door in the apartment building, telling residents they had to leave the 49-year-old structure.
Harold Dauphin was on his way home from picking up his son at camp Friday when he noticed a helicopter buzzing around his apartment and a heightened police presence. He wondered whether there had been a shooting nearby but then came home to find out that his building was being evacuated.
“They said the building is unsafe to live and it’s an immediate evacuation,” Dauphin said, speaking outside after he’d cleared out. He and his son live on the second floor. He said he hadn’t previously heard anything about the problems that the city mentioned in their news release. He grabbed what he could — clothes, his work uniform and some electronic devices — and the two left.
“It’s unfortunate, but I understand. Knowing what happened in Surfside, you know, it’s understandable,” he said.
Europe in vaccination race against COVID-19’s delta variant
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations and outpace the spread of the more infectious delta variant, in a high-stakes race to prevent hospital wards from filling up again with patients fighting for their lives.
The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holiday months, with fair weather bringing more social gatherings and governments reluctant to clamp down on them. Social distancing is commonly neglected, especially among the young, and some countries are scrapping the requirement to wear masks outdoors.
Incentives for people to get shots include free groceries, travel and entertainment vouchers, and prize drawings. The president of Cyprus even appealed to a sense of patriotism.
The risk of infection from the delta variant is “high to very high” for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, which monitors 30 countries on the continent. It estimates that by the end of August, the variant will account for 90% of cases in the European Union.
“It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace,” the ECDC warned.
Jill Biden’s travel shows breadth covered by first lady
PHOENIX (AP) — After wrapping up a hectic, two-day swing through Dallas, Houston and Phoenix to promote COVID-19 vaccinations, Jill Biden didn’t relax on the four-hour flight back to Washington.
She prepped for yet more travel in a week that by itself demonstrated the range of missions and emotions associated with the first lady’s movements around the country.
Within the span of 36 hours this past week, Biden went from clinking cups of beer with Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, at an Astros baseball game in Houston to joining the president in Florida to comfort families whose loved ones were lost or missing after the Surfside condo collapse.
Along the way, she continued the juggling act that comes with being the first first lady to continue the career she had outside the White House. In Texas, she set aside an hour to Zoom into a book club meeting back in Virginia with women at the community college where she teaches English.
Jill Biden’s pace of travel is on par with the president’s.
Indonesia caught between surge and slow vaccine rollout
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Sri Dewi stood in the graveyard with her family, waiting their turn to bury her brother. He suffered a stroke and needed oxygen, but there wasn’t any in a hospital overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
“We took him to this hospital, but there was no room for him,” said Dewi. “The hospital was out of oxygen.”
The family finally bought an oxygen tank at a shop and brought the brother home, but he died later that evening.
After a slow vaccination rollout, Indonesia is now racing to inoculate as many people as possible as it battles an explosion of COVID-19 cases that have strained its health care. But inadequate global supply, the complicated geography of the world’s largest archipelago nation, and hesitancy among some Indonesians stand as major roadblocks.
Fueled by travel during the Eid holiday in May, and the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus first found in India, the most recent spike has pushed some hospitals to the limits. Over the past two weeks, the seven-day rolling average of daily cases rose from over 8,655 to 20,690. Nearly half of those PCR tested return positive results.
French far-right chief under fire for her mainstream turn
PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is facing stinging criticism for making her party too mainstream, dulling its extremist edge, and ignoring grassroots members, with voices from inside and outside warning this could cost her votes in next year’s presidential race.
The rumblings grew louder after the National Rally’s failure a week ago in regional elections, and come just ahead of this weekend’s party congress.
Le Pen is the anti-immigration party’s unquestioned boss, and her fortunes aren’t expected to change at the two-day event in the southwestern town of Perpignan, hosted by local Mayor Louis Aliot — Le Pen’s former companion and, above all, the party’s top performer in last year’s municipal elections. But there could be an uncomfortable reckoning, just as Le Pen is trying to inject new dynamism into the National Rally.
Critics say Le Pen has erased her party’s anti-establishment signature by trying to make it more palatable to the mainstream right. As part of the strategy, she softened the edges and strove to remove the stigma of racism and antisemitism that clung to the party after decades under her now-ostracized father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She even changed the name from National Front, as it was called under her father, who co-founded the party in 1972 and led it for four decades.
“The policy of adapting, of rapprochement with power, even with the ordinary right, was severely sanctioned,” said Jean-Marie Le Pen. “(That) was a political error and translates into an electoral failure, and perhaps electoral failures,” he added, referring to the regional election result and the 2022 presidential vote.
At least 19 missing as mudslide west of Tokyo hits houses
TOKYO (AP) — A powerful mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in a town west of Tokyo following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving at least 19 people missing, officials said.
Dozens of homes may have been buried in Atami, a town known for hot springs, said Shizuoka prefecture spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama.
Public broadcaster NHK gave the number of missing people at 20, but Sugiyama said the prefecture confirmed at least 19, although he said the number may grow.
Torrential rains have slammed parts of Japan starting earlier this week. Experts said dirt had been loosened, increasing landslide risks in a country filled with valleys and mountains.
Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu told reporters that the Coast Guard had discovered two people who had been washed into the sea by the mudslide. Their hearts had stopped, but their deaths were not yet officially declared, he said. Other details of their identity were not released.
Ransomware hits hundreds of US companies, security firm says
WASHINGTON (AP) — A ransomware attack paralyzed the networks of at least 200 U.S. companies on Friday, according to a cybersecurity researcher whose company was responding to the incident.
The REvil gang, a major Russian-speaking ransomware syndicate, appears to be behind the attack, said John Hammond of the security firm Huntress Labs. He said the criminals targeted a software supplier called Kaseya, using its network-management package as a conduit to spread the ransomware through cloud-service providers. Other researchers agreed with Hammond’s assessment.
“Kaseya handles large enterprise all the way to small businesses globally, so ultimately, (this) has the potential to spread to any size or scale business,” Hammond said in a direct message on Twitter. “This is a colossal and devastating supply chain attack.”
Such cyberattacks typically infiltrate widely used software and spread malware as it updates automatically.
It was not immediately clear how many Kaseya customers might be affected or who they might be. Kaseya urged customers in a statement on its website to immediately shut down servers running the affected software. It said the attack was limited to a “small number” of its customers.
Hurricane Elsa races toward Haiti amid fears of landslides
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Elsa raced toward Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, where it threatened to unleash flooding and landslides before taking aim at Cuba and Florida.
The Category 1 storm was located about 395 miles (635 kilometers) east-southeast of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic and was moving west-northwest at 29 mph (46 kph). It had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), with the hurricane expected to become a tropical storm after hitting Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The long-term forecast track showed it heading toward Florida as a tropical storm by Tuesday morning, but some models would carry it into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast.
In Haiti, authorities used social media to alert people about the hurricane and urged them to evacuate if they lived near water or mountain flanks.
“The whole country is threatened by this hurricane,” the Civil Protection Agency said in a statement. “Make every effort to escape before it’s too late.”