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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths each morning this week: Monday, 637,539; Tuesday, 638,711.
There was no triumphant address to Congress. No U.S. ticker tape or televised flag-waving. Just a long line of U.S. soldiers, their belongings slung over their shoulders on the sweltering tarmac of the Kabul airport as they boarded the last American military flights out of Afghanistan and departed before midnight local time, or 3:29 p.m. EDT on Monday.
In September 2001, former President George W. Bush sent U.S. forces to fight in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban, telling Americans they “should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign.” That war ended in national exhaustion, resignation and sorrow as President BidenJoe BidenWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE pulled U.S. forces out and turned Afghanistan back to the Taliban, who waited 20 years to again conquer a country of 38 million people in just 11 days.
Biden will deliver a speech to the nation today at 2:45 p.m. (The Hill). In his brief remarks on Monday, the president repeated that his advisers were fully behind his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces as well as the much-criticized planning to accomplish his instructions.
“I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned,” he said. “Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
How did the curtain fall on America’s longest war? Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, leader of the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., appeared remotely via video and read a few sentences in the soft lilt of his Alabama roots. He announced “completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and vulnerable Afghans.”
The toll: 2,400 U.S. fatalities, including 13 service members killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul on Thursday; a U.S. price tag approaching $1 trillion; and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who were trained by a global coalition of nations and fought for what they hoped would be peace and better lives.
The administration said a “small number” of U.S. citizens who want to leave remained in Afghanistan as of Monday (The Hill). A much larger number of Afghans, estimated in the tens of thousands, remained despite their efforts in the last few weeks to leave their country because of their fears of the Taliban’s villainy.
Reuters explainer: What happens now in Afghanistan?
The Hill: Last U.S. military plane out of Afghanistan.
The Hill: U.S. exit from Afghanistan ends 20 years of war.
The New York Times: The U.S. finishes its evacuation, and an era ends in Afghanistan.
The Hill: Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, was the last U.S. soldier to depart Afghanistan before midnight on Monday. The Pentagon released his picture taken in the ghostly green illumination of night vision as he boarded a U.S. Air Force C-17. Information about his role is HERE.
The Hill and The New York Times: Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS, Brazil discuss ways to slow migration Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden, Democrats dig into legislative specifics MORE explained in a speech on Monday that all diplomats had departed Afghanistan. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, once one of the largest U.S. posts in the world, will remain closed. U.S. diplomatic operations for Afghans now shift to Qatar.
The Taliban triumphantly took control today of the Kabul airport, declaring victory. The Associated Press reported that Taliban leaders pledged to secure the country, quickly reopen the airport and grant amnesty to former opponents. In a show of control, turbaned Taliban leaders were flanked by the insurgents’ elite Badri unit as they walked across the tarmac hours after the U.S. departure. The commandos in camouflage uniforms proudly posed for photos.
“Afghanistan is finally free,” Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official, told AP on the tarmac. “The military and civilian side (of the airport) are with us and in control. Hopefully, we will be announcing our Cabinet. Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addressed the gathered members of the Badri unit. “I hope you be very cautious in dealing with the nation,” he said, according to AP. “Our nation has suffered war and invasion and the people do not have more tolerance.” At the end of his remarks, the Badri fighters shouted: “God is the greatest!”
Mujahid told Afghan state television that the Taliban would get the airport up and running, with outside help, if necessary. “Our technical team will be checking the technical and logistical needs of the airport,” he said. “If we are able to fix everything on our own, then we won’t need any help. If there is need for technical or logistics help to repair the destruction, then we might ask help from Qatar or Turkey.” He didn’t elaborate on what was destroyed.
The Islamist militants face questions about a projected economic meltdown as Western countries, including the United States, halt essential financial support that kept Afghanistan afloat. Qatar, the tiny Gulf Arab state, is being asked to help shape what comes next because of its ties to both Washington and the Taliban (The Associated Press).
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed that his country would maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. He downplayed a suggestion that Turkey would operate the Kabul airport and the Taliban would be responsible for security, saying Ankara would be in a tough position if another attack occurred there. “How can we give the security to you? How would we explain it to the world if you took over security and there is another bloodbath there? This is not an easy job,” he said (Al Jazeera).
The Washington Post: The fall of Kabul: Surprise, panic and fateful choices: The day America lost its longest war.
The Washington Post: Biden’s tough meeting with relatives of the fallen at Dover Air Force Base in Del.
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LEADING THE DAY
GULF COAST RECOVERY: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said on Monday that the focus after Hurricane Ida is on search and rescue to ensure that the areas of his state hit hardest by 150 mph winds and storm surge on Sunday into Monday will be searched multiple times to find those who need help. Parts of the state were unreachable Monday (The Associated Press).
Two people were confirmed dead in Louisiana late Monday and two in Mississippi along with 10 injured there in a major highway washout (The Washington Post). Because the city of New Orleans and approximately 1 million customers were without electricity on Monday, the governor welcomed utility crews from other states as well as the pre-positioned assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard and the American Red Cross. New Orleans schools are closed.
The Louisiana National Guard on Monday rescued 191 people — some clinging to roofs — across St. John the Baptist, Jefferson and Orleans parishes by using boats, helicopters and high-water vehicles, Edwards said. More than 5,000 Guard soldiers are working on the disaster response, and more are expected from other states.
The Hill: Scientists detail role of climate change in Ida's intensity.
Ida’s strength and its 16 hours of sustained destruction once it made landfall also took a toll on the Mississippi River, forcing its flow to reverse briefly. A U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Belle Chasse, La., also detected that the river rose to 16 feet, nearly twice its usual depth (The Hill).
The Times Picayune: New Orleans-area levees provided a mix of good and bad responses during devastating Hurricane Ida.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: The European Union (EU) on Monday recommended that its member states reimpose a new round of restrictions on nonessential travel from the U.S. amid an increase in COVID-19 infections.
The EU removed the U.S. from a safe list of countries, essentially reversing guidance issued in June to allow American travel to the region ahead of the Summer tourism season. The development, however, is non-binding, giving each of the 27 member states the ability to determine whether (and/or how) to keep their borders open to U.S. visitors.
“Nonessential travel to the EU from countries or entities not listed (on the safe list) ... is subject to temporary travel restriction,” the European Council said in a statement. “This is without prejudice to the possibility for member states to lift the temporary restriction on nonessential travel to the EU for fully vaccinated travelers” (The Associated Press).
According to the council’s criteria, countries need to have fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, a stable or decreasing trend of new cases, and a positivity rate of 4 percent or less. The U.S. has about 588 cases per 100,000 people, while its positivity rate is about 10 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition to the U.S., the E.U. also removed Israel, Montenegro, Lebanon and North Macedonia from the “safe” list (The Hill).
CNBC: CDC panel unanimously endorses full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 and older.
Axios-Ipsos poll: Vaccine hesitancy may be crumbling.
The Associated Press: Mormon vaccine push ratchets up, dividing faith’s members.
> Mask wars: The Education Department announced on Monday that it has opened civil rights investigations into bans on mask mandates in five states to determine whether they discriminate against students with disabilities.
School officials in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah received letters from the department’s Office for Civil Rights detailing how bans on mask mandates could prevent schools from implementing policies to guard against COVID-19, including those with underlying medical conditions “related to their disability” (The Hill).
In the letters, the agency wrote that the prohibition of mask mandates “may be preventing schools … from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
Niall Stanage: The Memo: COVID-19 frustrations rise alongside delta surge, school reopenings.
The Washington Post: Schools open for full-scale in-person learning in D.C., Montgomery County, Md., and Arlington, Va., as pandemic persists.
SciTechDaily: “Inescapable” COVID-19 antibody discovery — neutralizes all known SARS-CoV-2 strains.
> Congressional COVID: Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate appears poised to advance first Native American to lead National Park Service Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act GOP tries to take filibuster pressure off Manchin, Sinema MORE (I-Maine) said in an interview that the COVID-19 vaccine “saved my life” as the 77-year-old rests and recovers from the virus at his home in Maine.
“It was pretty bad,” King told The Associated Press on Monday. “It was like the worst head cold you ever had, times two.”
During his brief visit to the hospital, King was given monoclonal antibodies, which marked a turning point in his recovery. King was one of three U.S. senators, along with Sens. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell Pentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability White House scrambles to avert supply chain crisis MORE (R-Miss.) and John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperOhio GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Colo.), who tested positive for the virus on Aug. 19.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Why the COVID-19 origin report came up inconclusive.
Reuters: McDonald's, others consider closing indoor seating amid delta surge in U.S.
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Biden’s Afghan best-case scenario, by Walter Russell Mead, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/2WAlfj4
Democrats, calm down. Afghanistan is a mess, but it’s not the end of the Biden presidency, by Matt Bai, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2WDRyO4
The hard COVID-19 questions we’re not asking, by Joseph G. Allen and Helen Jenkins, opinion contributors, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/2YdIMHi
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet at 11:30 a.m. for a pro forma session. Lawmakers return to the nation’s capital on Sept. 20.
The Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m. for a pro forma session. Senators are expected back in Washington on Sept. 13.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden and Vice President Harris will receive updates about Afghanistan at 10:30 a.m., and deliver remarks on the end of the war in the region at 1:30 pm. He will also discuss with his homeland security team the Gulf Coast recovery operations following Hurricane Ida.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. The White House COVID-19 response team will brief reporters at 2 p.m.
➔ 9/11 20th ANNIVERSARY: Bush will deliver remarks in person on Sept. 11 at a private memorial in Shanksville, Pa., to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the tragic attacks, a spokesman for the 43rd president confirmed on Monday. Shanksville, a town in western Pennsylvania, is where 40 passengers and crew members died on United Airlines Flight 93 (The Hill).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: China is banning children from playing online games for more than three hours a week, the harshest restriction so far on the game industry there (The Associated Press).
➔ ABLAZE: A wildfire that had burned through remote areas in the Sierra Nevada for two weeks crested a ridge on Monday and began descending toward the major population centers along Lake Tahoe, potentially threatening more than 20,000 structures, according to fire officials. As California’s Caldor fire intensified amid dry and windy conditions, thousands of people along the lake’s southern and western shores were ordered to evacuate. Crews of firefighters sped to put out spot fires only miles from South Lake Tahoe, Calif. (The New York Times).
➔ INVESTIGATIONS: The House select committee probing events on Jan. 6 asked 35 telecommunications and social media companies on Monday to retain records of those who may have been involved in the attack on the Capitol — a group that likely includes lawmakers (The Hill).
➔ ENVIRONMENT: The Interior Department on Monday announced an expansion of hunting and fishing rights across 2.1 million acres, which it tied to the Biden administration’s lands conservation target. The announcement applies to a single national fish hatchery and 88 national wildlife refuges (The Hill).
➔ POLITICS: Former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), 61, on Monday ended his campaign for his old job with the announcement that he recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer, saying he will spend time focusing on his treatment and expects a full recovery (The Hill).
And finally … It happens after every big hurricane, and it’s praiseworthy: Power crews from many states pack up, head out and get to work in debris-strewn and sodden communities knowing that recovery can’t happen without electricity.
Ida’s wrath is being repaired by utility crews from all over, including the Washington, D.C., area. Dominion Energy on Monday sent 200 crews of contractors from Virginia and South Carolina to assist with power restoration in the Gulf Coast. Contract crews from Baltimore Gas and Electric and Pepco also are on their way (WTOP).
The Associated Press: New Orleans faces weeks without power.
--Updated at 10:19 a.m.