The Taliban, the ultra-conservative Islamic militia that once harbored Osama bin Laden, has seized control of the northern city of Kunduz. It’s the first major Afghan city to fall to the insurgents since they began their offensive in May, and deals yet another blow to US claims the Afghan government will manage fine when all foreign troops leave.
The White House said Sunday that Biden had been briefed on the fall of Kunduz but there is no sign the President will change his plan to get US troops home this month. The US “will continue to support” Afghanistan “with the authorities we have where and when feasible,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing on Monday.
The US has stepped up bombing raids against the Taliban in support of the Afghan government as its drawdown continues. But the situation continues to deteriorate. Several other provincial capitals have been overrun by the insurgent group. On Friday in Kabul, the Taliban killed Dawa Khan Menapal, director of the Afghan government’s media and information center. A district governor had been killed by Taliban fighters in the country’s capital just days earlier, government officials have told CNN.
“This is the beginning,” a Taliban commander told Reuters last week.
Things are so bad that the US and British embassies have told their citizens to get out of the country. “Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist US citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited even within Kabul,” the US embassy said in a statement.
Back to infrastructure
A bill that would spend money on America’s crumbling roads and bridges might seem rather dull. But it’s a huge deal for Joe Biden’s presidency.
The partisan deadlock in Washington has been so acute that successive Presidents have tried and failed to do what Biden may be about to achieve — writing a new law to invest in infrastructure. You might think that Donald Trump — who after all made his fortune by building things — was ideally placed to get it done. But his efforts were so derailed by his own inability to stick to the task that repeated efforts by his aides to get him back on track made the phrase “infrastructure week” a punchline.
When he was running for election, Biden told Americans that it was time to unite, to overcome gaping political divides that threaten to tear their country apart and to find ways to make politics work.
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill, currently working its tortuous way through the Senate, is the first, and likely the only fruit of this strategy and could pass in the chamber this week in a rare show of Democrats and Republicans joining behind a single cause. The infrastructure initiative is more than just a bill. It will be concrete evidence — in the wake of Trump’s insurrection and effort to destroy American democracy that the system can still deliver. A bill signing ceremony in the White House with political rivals at Biden’s side would be a powerful symbol. So powerful that Trump has been pressuring his party not to sign up to a measure that he was unable to pass while in office.
But the story won’t end when the Senate votes, likely later this week on a bill that is popular with the public. In order to get support from the most liberal Democrats, Biden has had to promise to also back a spending bill worth more than $3 trillion. The measure includes money for the kind of “infrastructure” that Republicans don’t want to fund — like home health care for the elderly and sick and projects designed to lessen US dependency on fossil fuels. Unless the President can get that measure through the 50-50 Senate using only Democratic votes, his big legacy building infrastructure bill could still founder in the House of Representatives.
Failure to act now on climate change will result in “catastrophic” consequences for the world, the leader of the next United Nations climate talks warned this weekend.
“I don’t think there’s any other word for it,” Alok Sharma, the British minister in charge of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), told British newspaper The Observer, warning that the November talks would be among the last chances to limit global warming and save lives.
“I don’t think we’re out of time but I think we’re getting dangerously close to when we might be out of time. We will see a very, very clear warning that unless we act now, we will unfortunately be out of time,” Sharma also told The Observer. On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a damning new assessment of human-made climate change.