Afghanistan's arc from 9/11 to today: Once hopeful, now sad

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — It was Nov. 13 , 2001. The sun had just begun to rise over the Hindu Kush Mountains when the Taliban disappeared from Kabul, the battered capital of Afghanistan.

The bodies of foreign Arabs who had stayed behind were mutilated and bloodied. They had been found and killed by advancing Afghans of another faction who were brought to the city by a blistering U.S.-led campaign that drove the Taliban from power.

America was still reeling from the horrific terrorist attacks of two months earlier, when planes flown by al-Qaida terrorists crashed into three iconic buildings and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people.

The perpetrators and their leader, Osama bin Laden, were somewhere in Afghanistan, sheltered by the Taliban .

The mission: Find him. Bring him to justice.

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Biden defends departure from 'forever war,' praises airlift

WASHINGTON (AP) — A defensive President Joe Biden called the U.S. airlift to extract more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and other allies from Afghanistan to end a 20-year war an "extraordinary success," though more than 100 Americans and thousands of others were left behind.

Twenty-four hours after the last American C-17 cargo plane roared off from Kabul, Biden spoke to the nation and vigorously defended his decision to end America's longest war and withdraw all U.S. troops ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.

"I was not going to extend this forever war," Biden declared Tuesday from the White House. "And I was not going to extend a forever exit."

Biden has faced tough questions about the way the U.S. went about leaving Afghanistan — a chaotic evacuation with spasms of violence, including a suicide bombing last week that killed 13 American service members and 169 Afghans.

He is under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans, for his handling of the evacuation. But he said it was inevitable that the final departure from two decades of war, first negotiated with the Taliban for May 1 by former President Donald Trump, would have been difficult, with likely violence, no matter when it was planned and conducted.

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In Ida's aftermath, no quick relief in sight for Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana residents still reeling from flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Ida scrambled for food, gas, water and relief from the sweltering heat as thousands of line workers toiled to restore electricity and officials vowed to set up more sites where people could get free meals and cool off. 

Power and water outages affected hundreds of thousands of people, many of them with no way to get immediate relief. 

"I don't have a car. I don't have no choice but to stay," said Charles Harris, 58, as he looked for a place to eat Tuesday in a New Orleans' neighborhood where Ida snapped utility poles and brought down power lines two days earlier.

Harris had no access to a generator and said the heat was starting to wear him down. New Orleans and the rest of the region were under a heat advisory, with forecasters saying the combination of high temperatures and humidity could make it feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday.

New Orleans officials announced seven places around the city where people could get a meal and sit in air conditioning. The city was also using 70 transit buses as cooling sites and will have drive-thru food, water and ice distribution locations set up on Wednesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said state officials also were working to set up distribution locations in other areas around the state. 

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UN: Weather disasters soar in numbers, cost, but deaths fall

GENEVA (AP) — Weather disasters are striking the world four to five times more often and causing seven times more damage than in the 1970s, the United Nations weather agency reports. 

But these disasters are killing far fewer people. In the 1970s and 1980s, they killed an average of about 170 people a day worldwide. In the 2010s, that dropped to about 40 per day, the World Meteorological Organization said in a report Wednesday that looks at more than 11,000 weather disasters in the past half-century. 

The report comes during a disaster-filled summer globally, including deadly floods in Germany and a heat wave in the Mediterranean, and with the United States simultaneously struck by powerful Hurricane Ida and an onslaught of drought-worsened wildfires.

"The good news is that we have been able to minimize the amount of casualties once we have started having growing amount of disasters: heatwaves, flooding events, drought, and especially ... intense tropical storms like Ida, which has been hitting recently Louisiana and Mississippi in the United States," Petteri Taalas, WMO's secretary-general, told a news conference.

"But the bad news is that the economic losses have been growing very rapidly and this growth is supposed to continue," he added. "We are going to see more climatic extremes because of climate change, and these negative trends in climate will continue for the coming decades."

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Strong winds push California wildfire closer to Lake Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — Flames raced across treetops and through drought-stricken vegetation as firefighters scrambled Wednesday to keep a growing California wildfire from reaching a resort city at the southern tip of Lake Tahoe after evacuation orders were expanded to neighboring Nevada.

Thick smoke from the Caldor Fire enveloped the city of South Lake Tahoe, which was all but deserted during a summer week usually bustling with tourists.

The National Weather Service warned that critical weather conditions through Wednesday could include extremely low humidity, dry fuel and gusts up to 30 mph (48 kph).

"With those winds, as it ran through the forest it created what's called an active crown fire run, where the fire actually goes from treetop to treetop," said Stephen Vollmer, a fire behavior analyst for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 

He said embers were being cast up to a mile out in front of the fire, creating new ignition points, including in some parts of the dense forest that haven't burned since 1940 or before.

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Vaccinations in rural India increase amid supply concerns

NEW DELHI (AP) — India has dramatically increased COVID-19 vaccination rates in its vast rural hinterland, where around 65 percent of the country's nearly 1.4 billion people live. But supply constraints remain for the world's largest maker of vaccines and experts say it's unlikely India will reach its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of the year.

India opened shots for all adults in May. But the campaign faltered in villages due to vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. That started changing in mid-July and of the nearly 120 million shots administered in the past three weeks, around 70 percent were in India's villages — up from around half in the initial weeks of May.

Although the increased vaccine acceptance in rural areas is promising, the pandemic is far from done in India: After weeks of steady decline, the 46,000 new infections reported Saturday was its highest in almost two months. 

Only about 11 percent of India's vast population is fully vaccinated. Half of all adults and about 35 percent of the total population have received at least one shot. This has left large swathes of people still susceptible to the virus.

Several nations, including the U.S. and Israel, are offering or plan to offer booster shots to people, deepening global vaccine inequity. India was expected to be a pivotal producer of shots to immunize the world but stopped exports after an explosion of infections. And while India had expected to get 1.35 billion shots in the final five months of 2021 to resolve its supply constraints, the question of whether Indian vaccine makers can scale up production to meet India's needs will have global implications.

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A sound bite reexamined: 'pandemic of the unvaccinated'

WASHINGTON (AP) — This summer's coronavirus resurgence has been labeled a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" by government officials from President Joe Biden on down.

The sound bite captures the glaring reality that unvaccinated people overwhelmingly account for new cases and serious infections, with a recent study of government data showing that hospitalization rates among unvaccinated adults were 17 times higher than among those fully vaccinated.

But the term doesn't appear to be changing hearts and minds among unvaccinated people. And it doesn't tell the whole story, with some breakthrough infections occurring among the fully vaccinated. That's led health officials to recommend a return to masks and a round of booster shots.

"It is true that the unvaccinated are the biggest driver, but we mustn't forget that the vaccinated are part of it as well, in part because of the delta variant," said Dr. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California. "The pandemic clearly involves all people, not just the unvaccinated."

Topol points to Louisiana, where data from the state suggest that nearly 10 percent of hospitalized patients are vaccinated. 

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Texas 6-week abortion ban takes effect, with high court mum

A Texas law banning most abortions in the state took effect at midnight, but the Supreme Court has yet to act on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold.

If allowed to remain in force, the law would be the most dramatic restriction on abortion rights in the United States since the high court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion across the country in 1973.

The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, would prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks and before most women even know they're pregnant.

Abortion providers who are asking the Supreme Court to step in said the law would rule out 85 percent of abortions in Texas and force many clinics to close. Planned Parenthood is among the abortion providers that have stopped scheduling abortions beyond six weeks from conception.

At least 12 other states have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.

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Black US farmers awaiting billions in promised debt relief

BOYDTON, Va. (AP) — There was a time when Black farms prospered.

Just two generations out of slavery, by 1910 Black farmers had amassed more than 16 million acres of land and made up about 14 percent of farmers. The fruit of their labors fed much of America.

Now, they have fewer than 4.7 million acres. Black farms in the U.S. plummeted from 925,000 to fewer than 36,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest farm census. And only about one in 100 farmers is Black.

What happened?

They were able to overcome the broken promise of "40 acres and a mule" to the newly freed slaves — a military order, later rescinded. But over the last century, they faced one obstacle after another because of their race.

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Hezbollah hammered with criticism amid Lebanon's crises

BEIRUT (AP) — Driving back to base after firing rockets toward Israeli positions from a border area last month, a group of Hezbollah fighters was accosted by angry villagers who smashed their vehicles' windshields and held them up briefly.

It was a rare incident of defiance that suggested many in Lebanon would not tolerate provocations by the powerful group that risk triggering a new war with Israel. 

As Lebanon sinks deeper into poverty, many Lebanese are more openly criticizing Iran-backed Hezbollah. They blame the group — along with the ruling class — for the devastating, multiple crises plaguing the country, including a dramatic currency crash and severe shortages in medicine and fuel.

"Hezbollah is facing its most consequential challenge in maintaining control over the Lebanese system and what is called the 'protective environment of the resistance' against Israel," said Joe Macaron, a Washington-based Middle East analyst.

The incident along the border and other confrontations — including a deadly shooting at the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter and rare indirect criticism by the country's top Christian religious leader — have left the group on the defensive.

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