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US hands Bagram Airfield to Afghans after nearly 20 years

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — After nearly 20 years, the U.S. military left Bagram Airfield, the epicenter of its war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, two U.S. officials said Friday.

The airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety, they said on condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

One of the officials also said the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, "still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces."

Afghanistan's district administrator for Bagram, Darwaish Raufi, said the American departure was done overnight without any coordination with local officials, and as a result early Friday dozens of local looters stormed through the unprotected gates before Afghan forces regained control.

"They were stopped and some have been arrested and the rest have been cleared from the base," Raufi told The Associated Press, adding that the looters ransacked several buildings before being arrested and the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) took control.

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Collapse survivors escaped with their lives, but little else

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Susana Alvarez fled her home on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South, escaping with her life and almost nothing else.

"I don't have anything," said the 62-year-old survivor of the condominium building collapse just outside Miami. "I walked out with my pajamas and my phone."

The disaster that killed at least 18 people, with more than 140 still missing, also rendered dozens of people homeless. Many lost cars, too, buried in the building's underground parking garage.

Though most who managed to flee to safety lived in parts of the building that remain standing, they have little hope of returning to reclaim clothing, computers, jewelry and sentimental possessions they left behind.

Officials said Thursday they're making plans for the likely demolition of all parts of the building that didn't collapse. The announcement came after search and rescue operations were paused for hours because of growing signs the structure was dangerously unstable.

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As US companies scramble to hire, workers enjoy upper hand

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the economy growing rapidly as it reopens from the pandemic, many employers are increasingly desperate to hire. Yet evidence suggests that as a group, the unemployed aren't feeling the same urgency to take jobs. 

Many people who are out of work are either seeking higher pay than they had before or are still reluctant to take jobs in public-facing service companies for fear of contracting COVID-19. How those two trends balance themselves out will likely set the pace for how many open positions employers can fill in the coming months.

On Friday, analysts expect the government to report that the economy added 675,000 jobs in June. That would be a substantial gain but nowhere near the gains that could be expected given the record-high number of job openings.

In fact, some economists have estimated that monthly job growth would be at least twice what the three-month average gain was for March, April and May — 540,000 — if there were no constraints on the number of workers available to fill jobs. 

For June, the unemployment rate is projected to have dipped from 5.8 percent in May to a still-elevated 5.7 percent. 

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Experts question if WHO should lead pandemic origins probe

BEIJING (AP) — As the World Health Organization draws up plans for the next phase of its probe of how the coronavirus pandemic started, an increasing number of scientists say the U.N. agency it isn't up to the task and shouldn't be the one to investigate.

Numerous experts, some with strong ties to WHO, say that political tensions between the U.S. and China make it impossible for an investigation by the agency to find credible answers.

They say what's needed is a broad, independent analysis closer to what happened in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The first part of a joint WHO-China study of how COVID-19 started concluded in March that the virus probably jumped to humans from animals and that a lab leak was "extremely unlikely." The next phase might try to examine the first human cases in more detail or pinpoint the animals responsible — possibly bats, perhaps by way of some intermediate creature.

But the idea that the pandemic somehow started in a laboratory — and perhaps involved an engineered virus — has gained traction recently, with President Joe Biden ordering a review of U.S. intelligence within 90 days to assess the possibility.

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TAKEAWAYS: Trump's safe for now, but company's in hot water

NEW YORK (AP) — With Thursday's arraignment of Donald Trump's company and his longtime finance chief on tax fraud charges, New York authorities notched their first indictment in a two-year ongoing investigation of the former president.

Trump and his lawyers say the Democrats who brought the case against the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg are making a criminal case out of what should be minor disputes usually settled in civil court. Both the Trump Organization and Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors say this is serious. Weisselberg alone, they say, cheated the federal government, state and city out of more than $900,000 in unpaid taxes.

Takeaways from Thursday's arraignment in New York:

TRUMP WASN'T CHARGED. IS HE OUT OF THE HOT SEAT?

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Anxious Afghans fear tomorrow; many seeking to leave

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Imtiaz Mohmand, just 19, makes a living selling melons out of a crate perched on his three-wheel motorcycle in the Afghan capital's Kart-e-Now neighborhood. He only managed to finish Grade 7 before being sent to work to help support a family of 13. He has been robbed twice. Both times, his mobile phone was taken, along with his meager earnings of the day.

In four days, he and four friends will leave Afghanistan. They have paid a smuggler to sneak them across the border to Iran and into Turkey.

"There's no job, no security here. There are thieves everywhere. I tried to make a living but I can't," said Mohmand, who has seven friends already on their way to Turkey.

Mohmand's frustration and anxieties run like a theme through most conversations in today's Afghanistan as Afghans witness the final withdrawal of the U.S. military and its NATO allies.

U.S. President Joe Biden said America did what it came to Afghanistan to do -- hunt down and punish the al-Qaida terrorist network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. After nearly 20 years, Biden said it was time to end America's "forever war"

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Interview: Merkel's likely heir favors her centrist path

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — As a child of the Cold War in West Germany, Armin Laschet remembers when then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan came to Berlin in 1987, stood at the barrier separating East from West, and said, "Tear down this wall!"

"For many West Germans, that was a utopia that didn't seem realistic, but which fulfilled itself in the end," said Laschet, who is seeking to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in the country's Sept. 26 election.

The 60-year-old governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, is still grateful that in his youth the Americans were reliable guarantors of peace and stability against the Soviet Union.

"They were always there for us, they secured the freedom of Berlin," Laschet said in an interview this week with The Associated Press at his office in the western city of Duesseldorf. 

For Laschet, close U.S. relations are of utmost importance as Merkel steps down after nearly 16 years in power. He hopes to advance progress on global challenges with the help of a new U.S. leader, President Joe Biden.

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A look at 8 lawmakers appointed to probe Jan. 6 attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is acting swiftly to launch a new investigation of the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, choosing a diverse slate of eight lawmakers — one from the opposing party — to serve on a select committee with subpoena power.

Republicans have the chance to recommend five additional members, but it's unclear whether they will do so. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who could be called to testify about a conversation with former President Donald Trump as the attack unfolded, has not committed to any appointments. 

All but two Republicans voted against creating the committee in a vote Wednesday. Pelosi made one of the two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming, an unsparing critic of Trump — one of her appointments to the panel.

A look at eight lawmakers who have been appointed to the committee so far:

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, D-MISS.

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Hundreds believed dead in heat wave despite efforts to help

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Many of the dead were found alone, in homes without air conditioning or fans. Some were elderly — one as old as 97. The body of an immigrant farm laborer was found in an Oregon nursery.

As forecasters warned of a record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada last weekend, officials set up cooling centers, distributed water to the homeless and took other steps. Still, hundreds of people are believed to have died from Friday to Tuesday.

An excessive heat warning remained in effect for parts of the interior Northwest and western Canada Thursday.

The death toll in Oregon alone reached 79, the Oregon state medical examiner said Thursday, with most occurring in Multnomah County, which encompasses Portland. 

In Canada, British Columbia's chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 "sudden and unexpected deaths" between Friday and Wednesday afternoon. Normally, she said about 165 people would die in the province over a five-day period.

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'Nobody's winning' as drought upends life in US West basin

TULELAKE, Calif. (AP) — Ben DuVal knelt in a barren field near the California-Oregon border and scooped up a handful of parched soil as dust devils whirled around him and birds flitted between empty irrigation pipes. 

DuVal's family has farmed the land for three generations, and this summer, for the first time ever, he and hundreds of others who rely on irrigation from a depleted, federally managed lake aren't getting any water from it at all. 

As farmland goes fallow, Native American tribes along the 257-mile-long (407-kilometer) river that flows from the lake to the Pacific watch helplessly as fish that are inextricable from their diet and culture die in droves or fail to spawn in shallow water.

Just a few weeks into summer, a historic drought and its on-the-ground consequences are tearing communities apart in this diverse basin filled with flat vistas of sprawling alfalfa and potato fields, teeming wetlands and steep canyons of old-growth forests.

Competition over the water from the river that snakes through it has always been intense. But this summer there is simply not enough, and the farmers, tribes and wildlife refuges that have long competed for every drop now face a bleak and uncertain future together. 

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