- President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
- The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
- Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
- Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.
Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’
The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.
The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.
Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.
As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.
According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.
Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.
However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens.
Concerns Over Withdrawal
The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.
As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust
Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.
Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.
But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.
While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.
Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.
Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.
“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”
Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave.
Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.
“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”
In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.
“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.
The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.
“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”
It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Restrictive Elections Bill Into Law
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that critics say will significantly limit voting access.
- Among other measures, the bill will impose new restrictions on ballot drop boxes, add barriers to mail-in voting, and limit who can hand out materials to voters at polling locations — a provision many believe will ban the distribution of food and water.
- While Republicans claim the bill is necessary to provide election security and transparency, Democrats and voting rights advocates argue that it will suppress voters, particularly voters of color.
- DeSantis also received widespread backlash from critics and the media for taking the unprecedented step of blocking all journalists from attending the signing ceremony for the law, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.
Newest Voting Restrictions Law
Florida became the latest Republican-led state to impose new voting restrictions Thursday when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a broad elections bill into law.
The new law contains many provisions similar to the dozens of pieces of legislation aimed at restricting voting access that have been proposed and approved in the months following the 2020 election.
Among other measures, the Florida law will:
- Limit the use of drop boxes and impose new restrictions on where they can be placed.
- Add more identification requirements for requesting absentee ballots.
- Require voters to request absentee ballots for each election, rather than getting them automatically through a voting list.
- Limit who can collect and drop off ballots.
- Give more power to partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Expand a current rule that bans outside groups from engaging in actions that could influence voting within a 150-foot radius of a polling place, which voting rights experts say could be used to prohibit people from giving out food and water to voters waiting in line to vote.
On top of that, critics have also said the new law could result in longer lines for both early in-person and Election Day voting. Democrats and voting rights advocates have also argued that this is just a transparent attempt to suppress voters, and specifically voters of color.
Republicans, meanwhile, have claimed the new law is necessary to make elections more secure — claims that were reiterated by DeSantis during the signing ceremony.
“Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts,’” he said. “Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy.”
DeSantis Blocks Media From Bill Signing
In addition to backlash against the new law itself, many condemned DeSantis for speaking about transparency but then completely shutting the media out of the signing, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.
Numerous individual reporters and outlets were blocked from accessing the event, including Jay O’Brien, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate, who tweeted that the station was supposed to film pool footage of the event to feed to affiliates nationwide.
“This isn’t a story about the press being locked out of an event,” O’Brien later added. “It’s about Floridians who had their eyes and ears in that room cut off. @GovRonDeSantis signed a law today that will impact ALL Floridians. And only some viewers were allowed to see it. That’s not normal.”
That disbelief was also echoed by other outlets, like The New York Times, which explained that “Giving exclusive access to a cable news network was unusual, if not unprecedented.”
The Flordia law, which was immediately challenged by civil rights groups in federal court, comes just months after Georgia passed a similar, widely controverisal bill.
Meanwhile in Texas, Republican leaders are ignoring the pleas of major corporations like Dell, Microsoft, and American Airlines by moving forward with legislation that would make the state one of the toughest to vote in throughout the entire country. That proposal, which has already been passed by the state Senate, could see a full state House vote as early as next week.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)
Biden Administration To Reunite Four Migrant Families Separated Under Trump
- Four migrant families split up under former President Trump’s child separation policy will be reunited this week, Biden administration officials said Sunday.
- More than 5,500 children were separated from their parents from 2017 to 2018. Around 1,000 families remained separated when Trump left office and over half had not been contacted by the administration.
- Shortly after taking office in January, President Biden formed the Family Reunification Task Force, which has located at least 200 more parents. The families that will be reunited later this week mark the first that the task force has connected.
- While immigration advocates applauded the move, they also criticized Biden’s team for not moving faster or pouring adequate resources into reunification efforts.
Four Migrant Families To Reunite
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Sunday that four migrant parents who were separated from their children and deported alone under former President Donald Trump’s controversial family separation policy will be allowed to return to the U.S. and reunite with their kids.
The “zero tolerance” policy, one of Trump’s most notorious actions on immigration, was formally enacted in April 2018 and ended just months later in June after a federal judge forced the administration to stop.
It was later revealed that the administration had actually been regularly separating families throughout much of 2017. According to government documents, over 5,500 children were separated from their parents in 2017 and 2018.
Most of those families were later reunited, but at least 1,000 parents remained separated because a parent had been deported. More than half of those parents — an estimated 645 — still had not been contacted by the time Trump left office.
President Joe Biden has said reuniting families would be a top priority as he begins undoing the complex network of immigration policies set by Trump. This latest move marks the first families that will be reunited through the Family Reunification Task Force, which Biden created shortly after taking office in January.
So far, that task force has managed to find around 200 of the 645 remaining parents and recently reported that it’s looking into 5,600 files from the first few months of the Trump administration that may have evidence of even more separations.
Immigration Advocates Call for More
While immigration advocates and lawyers applauded the move, they also criticized the slow rate of reunification. Some also accused the Biden administration of taking credit for the reunions despite doing very little to facilitate them.
“Despite what Secretary Mayorkas would have the public believe, DHS has done nothing to facilitate the return and reunification of these parents this week, other than to agree to allow them in,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, a managing attorney for the reunification project run by immigrant advocacy organization Al Otro Lado.
“The only reason these mothers will be standing at the port of entry is because Al Otro Lado negotiated their travel visas with the Mexican government, paid for their airline tickets and arranged for reunification,” she added.
Many advocacy groups have also slammed the Biden administration for not doing enough to plan what happens next for these families. Some have urged them to provide permanent legal status to parents so they cannot be separated from their children again, as well as support services and potential financial compensation.
The parents arriving this week will be allowed to temporarily stay in the country under what’s called humanitarian parole, their long-term immigration status and what happens from here is largely up in the air.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (NBC News)
Matt Gaetz’s “Wingman” Reportedly Said the Congressman Paid for Sex With a Minor
- The Daily Beast reported Thursday that it had obtained a letter written by Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a close associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), where he admitted that he and the congressman paid for sex with numerous young women, including a 17-year-old girl.
- In the letter, Greenberg allegedly claimed that he and Gaetz believed the girl was 19 but ended contact in September 2017 after realizing she was a minor. Once she turned 18, he said both men re-established contact.
- The Daily Beast also obtained alleged screenshots of messages where Greenberg offered to pay Roger Stone to help him secure a pardon from then-President Trump. Greenberg admitted he and Gaetz paid for sex with a minor in those messages as well.
- In a statement, Stone confirmed that he had spoken to Greenberg about a possible pardon and said he had requested Greenberg’s letter but denied receiving compensation. Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for possible violations of sex trafficking laws, denied ever paying for sex or having sex with a minor.
Alleged Greenberg Letters
Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a central figure in the ongoing federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), admitted that both men paid for sex with multiple young women and a 17-year-old girl, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Beast Thursday.
Greenberg was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a minor. The former Florida politician is an ally of Gaetz, who is currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation that is allegedly part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
The letter in question was reportedly written after Greenberg asked Roger Stone, a close associate of former President Donald Trump, to help him obtain a pardon from the then-president before he left office.
According to The Daily Beast, Greenberg had written multiple drafts of the letter at Stone’s request, including “two typed versions and an earlier handwritten one,” seen by the outlet. In at least one of the letters, Greenberg reportedly said both he and Gaetz had repeated interactions with a girl who was 17-years-old.
“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” he allegedly wrote of the girl.
“From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”
In the drafts, Greenberg purportedly stated that “all of the girls were in college or post college,” and he claimed that he and Gaetz had believed the minor was 19 at the time of their sexual relationships with her.
He said he learned she was underage in September of 2017 and contacted Gaetz, who he reportedly wrote was “equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.” After that Greenberg said, “there was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday.”
However, after she was legal, Greenberg contacted her again, according to The Daily Beast, which previously reported Gaetz had sent Greenberg $900 on Venmo asking him to “hit up” the same girl five months after she turned 18.
Messages Between Greenberg and Stone
The outlet also obtained a series of private messages between Greenberg and Stone starting in late 2020 that had been sent over the encrypted app Singal. Greenberg appears to have taken screenshots of a number of conversations, which are automatically deleted after a set period of time.
“If I get you $250k in Bitcoin would that help or is this not a financial matter,” Greenberg wrote to Stone in one of the screenshots published in the exposé.
“I hope you are prepared to wire me $250,000 because I am feeling confident,” Stone appears to have responded in a message The Daily Beast said was sent on Jan. 13. Just weeks before, Trump pardoned Stone himself for his 2019 conviction.
The images also appear to show Greenberg describing his activities with Gaetz, who he repeatedly refers to as “MG” or “Matt.” In one exchange, Greenberg says that he has not spoken to Gaetz and implored Stone to help him reach out to the congressman.
“He absolutely has to know that the sex charge they hit me with would be what they would hit him with,” he wrote, per the screenshot.
The Daily Beast additionally detailed several other messages between the two men that it did not provide screenshots of. In one alleged interaction, the outlet claims that Greenberg said that federal law enforcement officials were pressuring him to cooperate with their investigation and that he fired his lawyers for urging him to do the same.
“My lawyers that I fired, know the whole story about MG’s involvement,” he purportedly wrote. “They know he paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage. So naturally they think that is my golden ticket.”
However, according to the outlet, Stone said several times that Gaetz refused his request to help with the matter. Greenberg did not ultimately receive the pardon, though The Daily Beast stated that White House officials confirmed his name had made it on a list of possible candidates, a detail backed up messages seen by the outlet.
“What I don’t understand is why [Gaetz] would not help me at all and actually told me not to help you which I tried to do anyway. In the end it would not have mattered,” Stone purportedly wrote after Trump had announced his final pardons.
Official Responses to Latest Allegations
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Stone confirmed that Greenberg had tried to hire him to help get a pardon, but denied that he asked for or received payment.
“I made no formal or informal effort in regard to a pardon for Mr. Greenberg,” Stone said. “I recall requesting a document explaining his prosecution The [sic] details of which I was unfamiliar with.”
“I never requested or received a penny from Mr. Greenberg,” he continued. “I recall him offering to retain me and I declined.”
Stone also acknowledged that there may be “copies of correspondence” between him and Greenberg, but he questioned whether they were in full context.
“Sounds to me like you have been presented some kind of cut and paste record,” he said, warning the outlet to “be very careful” and threatening legal action if it published “anything that is false or defamatory.”
Greenberg’s lawyer declined to comment on the story. Gaetz’s office did not respond to the request to comment, but Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm hired by the Congressman, denied the accusations in a statement.
“Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex nor has he had sex with a 17 year old as an adult,” the firm said. “We are now one month after your outlet and others first reported such lies, and no one has gone on record to directly accuse him of either.”