Daily briefing

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

FDA panel recommends Pfizer boosters for people 65 and older, Pentagon admits August drone strike killed 10 Afghans, and more

1

FDA panel recommends Pfizer boosters for people 65 and older

An independent Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted Friday to recommend booster doses for people 65 and older and individuals at high risk who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Data suggest that Pfizer's protection wanes somewhat over time, but the panel did not recommend an extra dose for everyone, voting 16 to 2 against administering boosters for Americans 16 and older despite a White House plan to roll out the additional shots next week. During Friday's meeting, committee member Dr. Michael G. Kurilla said "it's unclear everyone needs to be boosted, other than a subset of the population that clearly would be at high risk for serious disease." 

2

Pentagon admits August drone strike killed 10 Afghans

The Pentagon on Friday admitted that a drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 — initially calculated to target ISIS-K and prevent an attack on Americans troops — resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians, including seven children. United States Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the "strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology." He added that he is "fully responsible" for the fatal error. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Zemari Ahmadi, the driver of the targeted vehicle, "was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed," while Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, who had previously defended the Aug. 29 drone operation, also condemned the "horrible tragedy."

3

France recalls ambassador to the U.S.

France has recalled its ambassadors to both the U.S. and Australia in protest of the countries' controversial nuclear submarine partnership. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday that the "exceptional decision," apparently made by President Emmanuel Macron, "is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States." On Wednesday, the U.S. announced a new nuclear submarine partnership with Australia and the U.K. that effectively cancels out an existing defense deal between Australia and France. Le Drian called the arrangement a "stab in the back." The White House, for its part, will "continue to be engaged [with France] in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance," an official told CNBC. France does not appear to have recalled its ambassador from the United Kingdom.

4

D.C. prepares for "Justice for J6" rally

Washington, D.C., is bracing for a Saturday rally in support of the hundreds of people who were charged with crimes after breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overturn President Biden's election victory over former President Donald Trump, who pushed baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Hundreds of police officers will be on duty in the nation's capital, an eight-foot-high fence is again surrounding the Capitol complex, and 100 National Guard troops are on standby in case extra security is needed. Organizers of the "Justice for J6" rally said the event will be peaceful. Earlier this week, Trump expressed sympathy for his supporters who are now being prosecuted, describing them as "political prisoners.

5

U.S. reportedly to begin flying migrants back to Haiti

The Biden administration plans to begin flying thousands of Haitian migrants who are being held by the Border Patrol under a bridge in Texas back to their home country as soon as Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reports. The White House will invoke Title 42, a pandemic health measure that gives the government authority to turn back any migrant caught crossing the border illegally, to do so. Haiti has agreed to accept at least three flights per day, though the U.S. is reportedly aiming for as many as eight. One U.S. official told The Washington Post that the flights are not a targeted measure aimed at Haitians, insisting "this isn't about any one … country of origin." Instead, it's "about enforcing border restrictions on those who continue to enter the country illegally and put their lives and the lives of the federal workforce at risk."

6

Taliban replaces Afghanistan's Women's Affairs Ministry

The building that once housed Afghanistan's Women's Affairs Ministry will now be the office of the Taliban's ministry for the "propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice." It's yet another sign that, despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise, the group will again restrict women's rights. Relatedly, the Taliban announced that boys in grades 7-12 should return to school alongside their male teachers, but there was no mention of girls or female teachers. Previously, the Taliban's higher education minister said girls could continue their studies, including at the university and post-graduate level, in gender-segregated settings. The latest declaration appears to contradict that, which left Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan Women's Network, to speculate whether more moderate, pragmatic voices within the Taliban are losing out to hard-liners at the moment.

7

Images suggest North Korea expanding uranium enrichment facility

Satellite images captured by commercial imaging company Maxar earlier this week appear to reveal that North Korea is expanding a facility capable of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. The renovations likely suggest Pyongyang is aiming to ramp-up production at the site, which has been dormant, in the near future. Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told CNN that the facility's new area is enough space to house 1,000 additional centrifuges, which could eventually increase the plant's capacity to produce highly enriched uranium by 25 percent. The images line up with U.S. intelligence assessments about North Korea's commitment to its weapons program, as well as a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the fact that Pyongyang has been conducting missile tests in recent days.

8

Bureau of Land Management returning to D.C.

The headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management will again be in Washington, D.C., after the Trump administration moved operations solely to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2019. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland informed staffers of the news during a phone call Friday. The move out West caused upheaval in the agency, resulting in the departure of 90 percent of staff who worked at the D.C. headquarters, The Washington Post reports. The Trump administration said the decision was made because the vast majority of lands managed by the agency are in the Western United States, though current and former employees have said they believe the previous White House sought to weaken the bureau because it does environmental assessments and regulates the fossil fuel industry. The Grand Junction office will remain as the Western headquarters.

9

Longtime Algerian President Bouteflika dies at 84

Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika died on Friday after years of ill health. He was 84. Bouteflika rose to prominence during after Algeria's war of independence from France and eventually became president in 1999 following a 10-year period of political violence in the country. He stayed in power until 2019 when he resigned in response to large scale protests against corruption and economic mismanagement. By that point, Bouteflika had rarely been seen in public since 2013 when he was incapacitated by a stroke. In 2014, he was elected to a fourth consecutive term despite not appearing in person on the campaign trail. While Bouteflika oversaw an era of calm in Algeria, things were often rockier behind the scenes as he fought to maintain ultimate authority and economic stability remained reliant on soaring oil prices. When they dropped in 2014, the public mood changed.

10

Jury finds Robert Durst guilty of 1st-degree murder

A Los Angeles jury found Robert Durst guilty of first-degree murder for the killing of his longtime friend Susan Berman more than 20 years ago. Berman was murdered in 2000 at her home in Beverly Hills hours before she was set to talk to investigators about the disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who was last seen in 1982 and declared legally dead in 2017. The jurors agreed Durst's crime met "special circumstances" under California law that allow the 78-year-old to be sentenced to life without parole. A judge is scheduled to set the terms next month. Durst, a millionaire real estate heir, was the subject of a 2015 HBO documentary miniseries called The Jinx.

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