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The Biden administration says it will evacuate Afghans who worked with U.S. troops

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to evacuate at least some of the Afghans who worked with the U.S. military and who face the threat of retribution from the Taliban before the U.S. withdrawal’s official completion date of Sept. 11, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The White House had previously declined to endorse the idea but President Joe Biden gave the green light to evacuation plans on Thursday, telling reporters, “Those who helped us are not going to be left behind.”

The decision follows an internal debate and urgent appeals in recent weeks from lawmakers from both parties, veterans of the war in Afghanistan, the Afghans who risked their lives to support U.S. soldiers, and from diplomats in America’s longest war.

Asked about the fate of Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other jobs, Biden said: “We’ve already begun the process” of helping the Afghan partners.

Asked which country they would be relocated to, the president said he didn’t know and mentioned he would be meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House on Friday.

An unspecified number of Afghans who worked as interpreters for the U.S. government and who applied for a visa will be moved to a third country, where their paperwork will be reviewed, senior administration officials said.

It remained unclear how many Afghans would be evacuated, which third country would accept them and when the operation would begin.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby indicated the relocation might involve civilian aircraft and not military planes. An evacuation of 6,600 Iraqi Kurds to Guam in 1996-97 also used chartered, civilian planes.

To help Afghans facing threats from the Taliban due to their work for U.S. forces, Congress created the special immigrant visa program. But the SIV program has been hampered by bureaucratic delays and advocates say Afghan partners are in grave danger from the Taliban while they wait for their applications to be processed.

“Although we have surged resources and sped up SIV processing times significantly, we recognize that some of these interpreters and translators have been in the process, in some cases for years, and are still waiting to receive their visas,” a senior administration official said.

“We have identified a group of SIV applicants who have served as interpreters and translators to be relocated to another location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September, in order to complete the visa application process,” the official said.

The U.S. withdrawal is likely to be effectively complete next month, according to officials.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said the evacuees would come from the 18,000 Afghans already in the Special Immigrant Visa pipeline. She declined to say which countries they would be evacuated to but said the relocation would be done in “full compliance with all applicable laws, as well as in full coordination with Congress.”

The administration is identifying Afghans who worked with the U.S. government to be relocated to a third country to allow the Afghans to “safely complete” the remainder of the visa application process, she said.

The senior administration official left open the possibility that evacuations might have to be expanded. “We are planning for all contingencies, so that we are prepared for all scenarios. Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options,” the official said.

Lawmakers, veterans groups and rights organizations welcomed the announcement.

Chris Purdy, project manager of the Veterans for American Ideals program at Human Rights First, said the Biden administration should fly the Afghans to the U.S. territory of Guam, where the governor already has said the Afghans would be welcome.

“This is America’s responsibility, we don’t need to outsource to another country,” he said.

Purdy added that the administration should “release their plan to ensure that we get as many people out as possible.”

Congressional aides from both parties said the White House had informed lawmakers of the decision to proceed with an evacuation and that some officials in the administration favored flying the Afghan partners to Guam.

Visa applicants in Guam would be accorded more rights than in a third country, and it would be more difficult to deport them back to Afghanistan from U.S. territory, rights advocates said.

Advocates have accused the Biden administration of moving far too slowly to protect the tens of thousands of Afghans whose lives are in mortal danger because of their association with the U.S. and Western organizations.

Veterans and refugee organizations said they have been inundated with pleas for help from former interpreters.

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Democrats blast FBI as new details of Kavanaugh inquiry emerge

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A group of Democratic senators is demanding more answers from the FBI after the agency revealed new details about the limited scope of its supplemental investigation into Brett Kavanaugh‘s background when he was a nominee for the Supreme Court.

In a letter June 30 to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Chris Coons, D-Del., made public Thursday, Jill Tyson of the FBI’s congressional affairs office acknowledged that the department conducted only 10 additional interviews in its supplemental investigation, even though it had received over 4,500 tips.

Tyson said “relevant tips” from phone calls and messages were forwarded to the White House counsel’s office. It’s unclear what became of the tips after that.

Whitehouse, who had written FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for details about the inquiry in July 2019, said, “This long-delayed answer confirms how badly we were spun by Director Wray and the FBI in the Kavanaugh background investigation and hearing.”

While Wray has said the FBI followed tip line procedures, “he meant the ‘procedure’ of doing whatever Trump White House counsel told them to do,” Whitehouse tweeted. “That’s misleading as hell.”

A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment. Former White House counsel Don McGahn did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Then-President Donald Trump tasked the FBI with conducting a supplemental background investigation into Kavanaugh at the urging of some Republican senators after his nomination to the high court in 2018 was endangered by sexual misconduct allegations dating to his high school and college years. Kavanaugh repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

“As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” Trump said at the time.

Republicans said the subsequent FBI report vindicated Kavanaugh, while Democrats maintained that it was incomplete. NBC News reported at the time that the FBI hadn’t contacted over 40 people with potential information about the sexual misconduct allegations.

The Senate confirmed the nomination in a narrow 50-48 vote.

Attorneys for the accuser who testified at Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, Christine Blasey Ford, said in a statement that the FBI letter confirmed that the agency’s investigation was “a sham and a major institutional failure.”

“Because the FBI and Trump’s White House Counsel hid the ball on this, we do not know how many of those 4,500 tips were consequential, how many of those tips supported Dr. Ford’s testimony, or how many showed that Kavanaugh perjured himself during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said the lawyers, Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks. “Our nation deserved better.”



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Mississippi asks U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade

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WASHINGTON — Lawyers for the state of Mississippi urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn Roe v Wade, taking a more aggressive approach than the one presented when they asked the court a year ago to hear the case.

The case for overturning the two main decisions that legalized abortion in the United States — Roe v Wade in 1973 and a later case, 1992’s Planned Parenthood v Casey — is overwhelming, the state said. “The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition.”

By ruling that a state may not impose an undue burden on a right to abortion, the Supreme Court has placed itself “at the center of a controversy that it can never resolve.”

The state is appealing lower court rulings that struck down a law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Gestational Age Act would allow later abortions only in medical emergencies or cases of severe fetal abnormality.

When the state last year asked the court to take up its appeal, it said hearing the issues raised in its appeal “do not require the court to overturn either Roe or Casey. They merely ask the court to reconcile a conflict in its own precedents. But in Thursday’s filing, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch called the Roe and Casey rulings “egregiously wrong.”

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the state’s brief “reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country. Their goal is for the Supreme Court to take away our right to control our own bodies and our own futures — not just in Mississippi, but everywhere.”

The court agreed in May to hear the case, which will be argued in the fall, most likely in November or December.



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U.S. is still carrying out airstrikes against Taliban in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has conducted a half-dozen airstrikes against the Taliban in the past 30 days, including several since the symbolic end of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan with the departure ceremony for the U.S. commander last week, two defense officials said.

The officials said the U.S. conducted two strikes overnight in Kandahar, targeting stolen military vehicles and equipment that was directly threatening the Afghan military. As the Taliban take over land, they have been collecting Afghan military vehicles and equipment left behind.

Army Gen. Scott Miller stepped down as commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan on July 12 after three years. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, took over control of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and has full responsibility for approving airstrikes.

The officials said most of the recent strikes have been conducted by unmanned Predator drones that have flown in from the “across the horizon” locations — in other words, they fly in from outside Afghanistan.

The officials said the U.S. will continue to conduct strikes against the Taliban in support of the Afghan National Security Forces until at least the end of August, when the U.S. military mission officially ends.

It’s not clear whether the Biden administration will grant the military the authority to continue airstrikes against the Taliban beyond then or whether the strikes will be allowed only against Al Qaeda or Islamic State terrorist targets.



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