Pentagon reverses itself, calls deadly Kabul strike an error
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon retreated from its defense of a drone strike that killed multiple civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing Friday that a review revealed that only civilians were killed in the attack, not an Islamic State extremist as first believed.
“The strike was a tragic mistake," Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference.
McKenzie apologized for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims. He said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief" — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty" — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.
For days after the Aug. 29 strike, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, despite 10 civilians being killed, including seven children. News organizations later raised doubts about that version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon's assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.
The airstrike was the last of a U.S. war that ended as it had begun in 2001 — with the Taliban in power in Kabul. The speed with which the Taliban overran the country took the U.S. government by surprise and forced it to send several thousand troops to the Kabul airport for a hurried evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others. The evacuation, which began Aug. 14, unfolded under a near-constant threat of attack by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate.
US panel backs COVID-19 boosters only for elderly, high-risk
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dealing the White House a stinging setback, a government advisory panel overwhelmingly rejected a plan Friday to give Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots across the board, and instead endorsed the extra vaccine dose only for those who are 65 or older or run a high risk of severe disease.
The twin votes represented a heavy blow to the Biden administration's sweeping effort, announced a month ago, to shore up nearly all Americans' protection amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
The ruling came from an influential committee of outside experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration.
In a surprising turn, the panel rejected, by a vote of 16-2, boosters for almost everyone. Members cited a lack of safety data on extra doses and also raised doubts about the value of mass boosters, rather than ones targeted to specific groups.
Then, in an 18-0 vote, it endorsed the extra shot for select portions of the U.S. population — namely, those most at risk from the virus.
France recalls ambassadors to US, Australia over sub deal
PARIS (AP) — France said late Friday it was immediately recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after Australia scrapped a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology.
It was the first time ever France has recalled its ambassador to the U.S., according to the French foreign ministry.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
He said Wednesday's announcement of Australia's submarine deal with the U.S. is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allied countries. In 2019, Paris recalled its envoy to neighboring Italy after the country’s leaders made critical public comments about the French government. Last year, France recalled its ambassador to Turkey after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Macron needed mental health treatment.
Thousands of Haitian migrants converge on Texas border town
DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — Thousands of Haitian migrants have assembled under and around a bridge in a small Texas border town as chaos unfolded Friday and presented the Biden administration with a new challenge as it tries to manage large numbers of asylum-seekers who have been reaching U.S. soil.
Haitians crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, going back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico through knee-deep water with some parents carrying small children on their shoulders. Unable to buy supplies in the U.S., they returned briefly to Mexico for food and cardboard to settle, temporarily at least, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that has been severely strained by migrant flows in recent months.
Migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.
The vast majority of the estimated 12,000 migrants at the bridge on Friday were Haitian, said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county's top elected official and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio. Some families have been under the bridge for as long as six days.
Trash piles were 10 feet (3.1 meters) wide and at least two women have given birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to a hospital, Owens said.
Milley: Calls to China were 'perfectly' within scope of job
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The top U.S. military officer said Friday that calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final stormy months of Donald Trump's presidency were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job.
In his first public comments on the conversations, Gen. Mark Milley said such calls are “routine” and were done "to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to The Associated Press and another reporter traveling with him to Europe.
Milley has been at the center of a firestorm amid reports he made two calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the United States was not going to suddenly go to war with or attack China.
Descriptions of the calls made last October and in January were first aired in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book says Milley told Li that he would warn Li in the event of an attack.
Milley on Friday offered only a brief defense of his calls, saying he plans a deeper discussion about the matter for Congress when he testifies at a hearing later in September.
North Carolina judges strike down state’s voter ID law
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina judges struck down the state’s latest photo voter identification law on Friday, agreeing with minority voters that Republicans rammed through rules tainted by racial bias as a way to remain in power.
Two of the three trial judges declared the December 2018 law is unconstitutional, even though it was designed to implement a photo voter ID mandate added to the North Carolina Constitution in a referendum just weeks earlier. They said the law was rushed and intentionally discriminates against Black voters, violating their equal protections.
The law “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters,” Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier wrote in their 102-page order.
“Other, less restrictive voter ID laws would have sufficed to achieve the legitimate nonracial purposes of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, deterring fraud, or enhancing voter confidence," the judges added.
The majority decision, which followed a three-week trial in April, will be appealed, Republicans at the legislature said. A state appeals court had previously blocked the law’s enforcement last year. The law remains unenforceable with this ruling.
Protest for jailed Capitol rioters: Police ready this time
WASHINGTON (AP) — Burned before, Capitol Police say they are taking no chances as they prepare for a Saturday rally at the U.S. Capitol in support of rioters imprisoned after the violent Jan. 6 insurrection.
Though it is unclear how big the rally will be, the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department are fully activating in an effort to avoid a repeat of the pre-inauguration attack. Under-prepared police were overwhelmed as hundreds of President Donald Trump's supporters broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden's victory.
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said at a news conference Friday it was difficult to say whether threats of violence at the event are credible, but he said that “chatter” online and elsewhere has been similar to intelligence that was missed in January.
A permit for the protest allows 700 people. Manger said he believes the most likely possibility for for violence Saturday will involve clashes between the protesters and counter-protesters who may show up.
“We’re not going to tolerate violence, and we will not tolerate criminal behavior of any kind," Manger said. “The American public and members of Congress have an expectation that we protect the Capitol. And I am confident that the plan we have in place will meet that expectation.”
Illegal marijuana farms take West's water in 'blatant theft'
LA PINE, Ore. (AP) — Jack Dwyer pursued a dream of getting back to the land by moving in 1972 to an idyllic, tree-studded parcel in Oregon with a creek running through it.
“We were going to grow our own food. We were going to live righteously. We were going to grow organic,” Dwyer said. Over the decades that followed, he and his family did just that.
But now, Deer Creek has run dry after several illegal marijuana grows cropped up in the neighborhood last spring, stealing water from both the stream and nearby aquifers and throwing Dwyer's future in doubt.
From dusty towns to forests in the U.S. West, illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts when there often isn't enough to go around for even licensed users. Conflicts about water have long existed, but illegal marijuana farms — which proliferate despite legalization in many Western states — are adding strain during a severe drought.
In California, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, there are still more illegal cannabis farms than licensed ones, according to the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Many faith leaders say no to endorsing vaccine exemptions
As significant numbers of Americans seek religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, many faith leaders are saying: Not with our endorsement.
Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said Thursday that while some people may have medical reasons for not receiving the vaccine, “there is no exemption in the Orthodox Church for Her faithful from any vaccination for religious reasons.”
The Holy Eparchial Synod of the nationwide archdiocese, representing the largest share of Eastern Orthodox people in the United States, urged members to “pay heed to competent medical authorities, and to avoid the false narratives utterly unfounded in science.”
“No clergy are to issue such religious exemption letters,” Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros said, and any such letter “is not valid.”
Similarly, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a recent statement encouraging vaccine use and saying that “there is no evident basis for religious exemption” in its own or the wider Lutheran tradition.
Tom Cruise gets sneak preview from SpaceX's 1st private crew
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Tom Cruise got a sneak preview of what it’s like to circle Earth in a SpaceX capsule.
Representatives for SpaceX’s first privately chartered flight revealed Friday that the actor took part in a call with the four space tourists orbiting more than 360 miles up. Thursday’s conversation, like the entire three-day flight, was private and so no details were released.
“Maverick, you can be our wingman anytime,” came the announcement from the flight's Twitter feed. Cruise starred as Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the 1986 film “Top Gun.” A sequel comes out next year.
Last year, NASA confirmed it was in talks with Cruise about visiting the International Space Station for filming. SpaceX would provide the lift, as it does for NASA astronauts, and like it did Wednesday night for the billionaire up there now with his two contest winners and a hospital worker.
They're flying exceedingly high in the automated capsule, even by NASA standards.
The Associated Press