Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 18, 2021

The Taliban's leader returns to Afghanistan, Tropical Storm Grace hampers earthquake rescue efforts in Haiti, and more

1

Taliban leader arrives in Afghanistan

The Taliban's co-founder and de facto leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday, returning for the first time in more than a decade just two days after his Islamist group's fighters regained control of the country. Taliban leaders made conciliatory comments at a news conference, promising not to discriminate against women, who were denied basic rights when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan women said they were skeptical the Taliban would keep their promise of tolerance. Taliban leaders also said they would "pardon" Afghans who worked for the ousted government or foreign military forces. The United States military and allies continued to evacuate Afghans and other civilians seeking to escape Taliban rule. 

2

Tropical storm delays earthquake rescue effort in Haiti

Tropical Storm Grace on Tuesday forced a temporary halt to rescue efforts in Haiti, where the death toll from Saturday's 7.2-magnitude earthquake rose to 1,941. The delayed aid efforts caused by the storm fueled growing frustration for thousands left homeless by the temblor, which destroyed thousands of buildings in the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie, and in numerous smaller towns on the Caribbean nation's southwestern peninsula. Grace drenched some parts of the region with up to 15 inches of rain. In addition to the mounting death count, more than 9,000 people were left injured by the earthquake, and many have been left to lie outside in high heat awaiting medical care.

3

Body parts found in wheel well of plane from Kabul

The Air Force on Tuesday confirmed that human body parts had been found in the wheel well of an American military C-17 cargo plane that took off from Kabul's international airport, where crowds of Afghan civilians have been desperately trying to get onto evacuation flights to escape after the Taliban toppled the government. An undetermined number of Afghans have died in the chaos. Some of them climbed onto the wings of departing aircraft and fell to their deaths after the planes took off. "We are all contending with a human cost to these developments," said Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser. "The images from the past couple of days at the airport have been heartbreaking." The military allowed commercial flights to resume Tuesday after pausing them while troops secured the airfield.

4

Texas governor tests positive for COVID-19

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office announced Tuesday that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Abbott, a Republican, is fully vaccinated and gets tested daily. This is the first time one of his tests came back positive. Abbott's office said he has not experienced any COVID-19 symptoms and is in good health. His wife, Texas first lady Cecilia Abbott, has tested negative for the coronavirus. Abbott last month issued an executive order barring local government entities in the state from imposing mask mandates to fight a surge of new coronavirus infections fueled by the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant. The state Supreme Court upheld it, but at least one county and a school district are sticking with plans to require face coverings.

5

New Zealand imposes nationwide lockdown over 1st COVID case since February

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday that her government was imposing a national lockdown after confirming the country's first COVID-19 case since February. Ardern said authorities assumed the infection was caused by the highly infectious Delta variant, although genome sequencing had not been completed to confirm that. The patient, an unvaccinated man, tested positive in Auckland, but had traveled elsewhere in the country. Under the lockdown, people must stay home for three days. All businesses except those deemed essential, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, must remain closed. The last time the country was under a "level four" lockdown was a year ago.

6

Caldor fire reduces California town to 'pile of ash'

California's Caldor fire expanded rapidly on Tuesday, ripping through the small town of Grizzly Flats fueled by high heat and dry conditions. The blaze scorched 30,000 acres, up from 6,500, and destroyed many buildings in the town, injuring two people. "It's a pile of ash," local resident Derek Shaves said of the town of 1,200 people. To the north, the massive Dixie fire — the largest of 100 wildfires burning in more than a dozen Western states — threatened Susanville, a town of about 18,000. Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation's largest utility, said it had started cutting power to 51,000 customers in parts 18 northern counties to prevent the threat of new fires from power lines knocked down by high winds.

7

Fed chair says pandemic has permanently changed U.S. economy

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic had permanently changed the U.S. economy. Powell told participants in a Fed virtual town hall for students and educators that the changes included an increase in remote work, more take-out meals offered by restaurants, and more virtual showings by real estate agents. "We're not simply going back to the economy that we had before the pandemic," Powell said. "It seems a near certainty that there will be substantially more remote work going forward. That's going to change the nature of work and the way work gets done." Powell said it was too early to say whether the recent surge in cases attributed to the fast-spreading Delta variant would prompt further changes.

8

TSA to extend transportation mask mandate

The Transportation Security Administration plans to extend the federal transportation mask mandate through Jan. 18, Reuters and CNN reported Tuesday, citing a source familiar with the matter. The policy had been scheduled to expire Sept. 13. The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that there have been more than 2,867 cases in which passengers have violated the mandate. The TSA said it did "not yet have an announcement regarding face masks at this time." Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson said the extension would "help tremendously to keep passengers and aviation workers safe." The union represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines.

9

Jaguars cut Tim Tebow, ending his NFL comeback attempt

The Jacksonville Jaguars cut Tim Tebow on Tuesday, abruptly ending his attempt to revive his NFL career. The former quarterback and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner switched positions in a bid to return to pro football. He tried out for the Jaguars as a tight end. His performance in Jacksonville's preseason opener against Cleveland was widely panned, with video of two botched blocks going viral. "We knew that was an uphill battle for Tim," said coach Urban Meyer. "He has a bunch of good plays but can't have a bad play at that position." Tebow failed to catch any passes against the Browns, and he showed a lack of consistency on special teams. In college, Tebow helped Meyer and the Florida Gators win two national championships. After a short pro career, he tried his hand at baseball, but never made it to the big leagues.

10

Pete and Chasten Buttigieg to become parents

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced Tuesday that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, were about to become parents, saying he was "overjoyed." Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post in U.S. history, said the couple had been hoping to "grow our family" for some time. "The process isn't done yet and we're thankful for the love, support, and respect for our privacy that has been offered to us," Buttigieg said. "We can't wait to share more soon." Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Chasten Buttigieg said the adoption process had been a "cycle of anger and frustration and hope," but they look forward to telling their future child "we waited so long for you."

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