Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 17, 2021

Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal after Taliban takeover, Haiti earthquake toll rises as storm hampers rescuers, and more

1

Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal after Taliban takeover

President Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. Biden blamed the Taliban's swift toppling of the Afghan government on the failure of Afghanistan's security forces to fight the Islamist insurgents. "American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves," Biden said. The Taliban's return to power 20 years after they were driven out by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 touched off a chaotic evacuation effort. At least seven people were killed at the Kabul airport as panicked crowds of Afghans tried to escape the country as the Taliban took over.

2

Haiti earthquake toll rises as tropical storm hampers relief effort

The death toll from Haiti's 7.2-magnitude earthquake rose to more than 1,400 people on Monday, with at least 6,000 more injured. A hospital on the Caribbean southwestern peninsula, where the damage was concentrated, was overwhelmed with patients, who were left to wait for care on patios and in hallways. Rescue efforts were threatened by newly strengthened Tropical Storm Grace, which dumped heavy rains on some affected areas Monday night. "We had planned to put up tents [in hospital patios] but we were told that could not be safe," said Gede Peterson, director of Les Cayes General Hospital. The earthquake was centered about 80 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, which was devastated in a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010.

3

Taliban official says 'amnesty' declared in Afghanistan 

A Taliban official said Tuesday that the Islamist group had declared an "amnesty" across Afghanistan. Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, said women could join the government. The remarks amounted to the first public comments on how the group would govern Afghanistan after toppling the country's fragile democratic government after a blitz across the country by Islamist insurgents. Many people have stayed home since the Taliban took control on Sunday, fearing a return to the ultraconservative Islamic policies, including stonings, public executions, and denial of women's rights imposed by the group before the U.S.-led invasion that drove them from power following the 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. 

4

Federal government declares 1st-ever Colorado River water shortage

Low water triggered the first federal declaration of a shortage in the Colorado River's largest reservoir, Lake Mead, on Monday. The lake, created by the Hoover dam, is projected to be 1,065.85 feet above sea level on Jan. 1, nearly 10 feet under a threshold requiring Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico to cut their water consumption in 2022. Drought, extreme heat, and other climate-change-driven factors already have reduced the water level to under 1,068 feet, or about 35 percent full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is responsible for managing water rights for states and Mexico. "This drought is like a boa constrictor. It just keeps getting tighter every year," said Tom Davis, president of the Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona.

5

COVID-19 cases hit record highs in 5 states

Daily new COVID-19 cases rose to record highs in Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, Oregon, and Mississippi over the weekend, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The per capita infection rates in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida were the highest in the nation, CNBC reported Monday. Louisiana had 126 cases per 100,000 residents as of Sunday, more than any state and more than three times the national average. Mississippi and Florida had 110 and 101 cases per 100,000, respectively. The records came as the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant drove a new surge just as schools prepared to resume classes at the end of summer vacation. "This current wave is the pandemic of the unvaccinated," said Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican.

6

Biden administration to announce need for COVID booster shots

The Biden administration is expected to announce that most vaccinated Americans will need a booster shot to keep them fully protected against COVID-19, USA Today and The Washington Post reported Monday, citing sources familiar with the decision by administration health officials. All Americans, regardless of age, will be urged to get the booster eight months after they became fully vaccinated, according to the reports. The move is expected to be announced as early as this week. Boosters could be given starting in mid- or late September. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA said in July that boosters weren't necessary, but data released since then has shown waning immunity among vaccinated people. The FDA last week authorized an extra dose for immunocompromised patients.

7

Safety regulators investigate Tesla's Autopilot

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday said it had launched an investigation into Tesla's Autopilot system. The investigation came after accidents involving at least 11 of the hundreds of thousands of Tesla electric cars using the system. The cars drove into parked firetrucks, police cars, and other emergency vehicles, the safety regulator said. The Autopilot system can steer, accelerate, and brake without driver input. The first fatal accident linked to the system occurred in 2016, when a Tesla Model S hit a tractor-trailer in Florida, killing the Tesla's driver. "Driver monitoring has been a big deficiency in Autopilot," said Raj Rajkumar, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University. "I think this investigation should have been initiated some time ago, but it's better late than never."

8

Texas local officials keep mask mandates in place despite court loss

Local officials in Texas said Monday that they would stick to their mask requirements in schools despite a state Supreme Court decision upholding Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning such mandates. The mask policies adopted by officials in Dallas County and San Antonio were adopted to fight a rise in infections driven by the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The Dallas Independent School District, which resumed classes on Monday, said on its website that it was "still requiring that masks be worn while on district property." Texas is one of eight states with Republican governors that have passed laws barring local officials from imposing mask mandates.

9

N.Y. man pleads guilty to online threats against Sen. Raphael Warnock

A New York man has pleaded guilty to posting online violent threats against Congress and newly elected Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock before the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters, federal prosecutors announced Monday. Eduard Florea posted the comments on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 on Parler under the name "LoneWolfWar." One of them said that Warnock would "have a hard time casting votes for communist policies when he's swinging with the f***ing fish." He commented on another Parler user's post that "Dead man can pass s**t laws," according to filings by prosecutors. Florea reportedly did not take part in the insurrection. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 29.

10

Report: Prince Andrew person of interest in Epstein-related investigation

U.S. prosecutors investigating British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and others connected the late financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein are treating Prince Andrew as a person of interest, Reuters reported Monday, citing a source familiar with the inquiry. Investigators are seeking an interview with the prince to ask him about his relationship with Epstein, who reportedly was a friend of Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son. The investigators from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York don't believe they will get to question the prince. "He doesn't seem to want to talk to us," the source said. One woman who said she was abused by Epstein, Virginia Giuffre, said earlier this month that Andrew forced her to have unwanted sexual intercourse at Maxwell's London home.

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