Afghanistan likened to fall of Saigon amid advance by Taliban | First Thing

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The situation in Afghanistan has been likened to the fall of Saigon, as officials confirmed on Friday that the Taliban had captured the country’s second-biggest city, Kandahar, as well as Lashkar Gah in the south.

The Pentagon announced on Thursday it would send three battalions, about 3,000 soldiers, to Kabul’s international airport within 24 to 48 hours. The defence department spokesman, John Kirby, said the reinforcements would help the “safe and orderly reduction” of US nationals and Afghans who worked with Americans and had been granted special immigrant visas.

However, Mitch McConnell has warned that America’s retreat from the country risks a replay of the nation’s humiliating withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict in 1975. The Senate minority leader said the US was “careening towards a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster”.

  • Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he does not regret his decision, noting that Washington has spent more than a trillion dollars in America’s longest war and lost thousands of troops.

  • On Thursday, US officials scrambled to answer questions about the mission, with the Pentagon declining to describe it as a so-called “noncombatant evacuation operation”, or NOE.

  • Afghan military resistance to the Taliban is collapsing with greater speed than even most pessimists had predicted. There is talk among US officials of Kabul falling in months – if not weeks.

America’s white population has declined for the first time, while US metro areas were responsible for almost all of the country’s population growth, according to groundbreaking data released on Thursday by the US Census Bureau.

The rapid diversifying of the US was among the most notable findings of the census. Nationwide, the number of people who identified as white fell by 8.6%, which means 58% of Americans now identify as solely white, a drop from 2010 when they made up 63.7% of the population.

Meanwhile, there was significant growth among minority groups over the last decade. The Hispanic or Latino population grew by 23%, while the Asian population surged by more than 35%. The Black population also increased by more than 5.6%.

“The US population is much more multiracial and much more racially and ethnically diverse than we have measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, a Census Bureau official.

  • How will the data be used? Lawmakers will use the data to begin the process of drawing political maps that will be in place for the next decade.

  • Could this affect future elections? Yes. The 435 districts in the US House of Representatives as well as state and legislative districts will be carved up and the Republicans are once again poised to dominate that process.

  • What could the impact be? The districts will probably heavily advantage GOP candidates and could dilute the political voice of the same minority voters who are driving US population growth.

Jamie Spears has agreed to step down from his longtime role as conservator of his daughter Britney Spears’ estate “when the time is right,” according to court filings.

His departure would mark a significant development in the singer’s fight to be freed from her father’s control. The developments come nearly two months after the singer spoke in court and called for an end to the controversial arrangement that has given her father and others authority over her personal life and career.

In a court filing on Thursday, a lawyer for Jamie Spears wrote that he “intends to work with the court and his daughter’s new attorney to prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator.” The filing said Jamie had “already been working on such a transition” with his daughter’s previous lawyer.

Spears has repeatedly accused her father of “conservatorship abuse” and has alleged the conservatorship forced her to work against her will and controlled personal health decisions and whether she could marry or have another child.

  • Has the pop star reacted to the news? Mathew Rosengart, a lawyer for the singer, said the filing was “a major victory for Britney Spears and another step toward justice.” Meanwhile, an illustration of a girl has since been shared on Britney’s Instagram account but there was no caption.

Temperatures in Portland reached 102F (39 C) by late Thursday afternoon and Seattle reached highs in the 1990s, with more heat expected on Friday.

Although the temperatures were not expected to be as severe as during the heatwave in late June, when some areas exceeded 115F (46C), several cities had put in excessive heat warnings.

In Seattle, the temperature was forecast to reach 96F (36C) on Friday, while the record for that day is only 92F (33C), according to Eric Schoening, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Yakima, in southern Washington, could hit 104F (40C) Friday.

In Beaverton, Oregon, where temperatures could reach 102F (39C) again on Friday, the community center was offering overnight air-conditioned shelter for those in need.

  • When will it cool down? Temperatures are expected to peak on Friday and Saturday and start to significantly cool down across the entire area Sunday and Monday.

  • What’s causing the heatwave? Officials attributed this week’s heatwave to a high-pressure system or heat dome over the north-east Pacific Ocean.

  • Anything else? A study from World Weather Attribution determined that the heatwave would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.”

  • Israel is preparing to resume settlement building in the occupied West Bank after a hiatus of almost a year, the country’s defence minister has said. The anticipated approval of new settlement homes would be the first issued by the government of the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett.

  • Children born during the coronavirus pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor and overall cognitive performance compared with children born before, a US study suggests. Limited stimulation at home and less interaction with the world outside are thought to be the cause.

  • Boston is on the brink of electiing its first non-white, female mayor. The east coast city with a reputation for racial inequality is poised to choose a new leader from an all-ethnic minority shortlist, including four women.

  • A California man who has been charged with killing his children has claimed he was ‘enlightened by QAnon’. During an interview with the FBI, Matthew Taylor Coleman confessed that he had taken his two young children to Rosarito, Mexico, where he shot a “spear fishing gun” into their chests.

Since the coronavirus was first reported in China, members of Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities across the US have faced bigotry in the form of verbal harassment and physical attacks. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks and responds to racially motivated hate crimes, received 9,081 reports between 19 March 2020 and June this year. A total of 4,548 hate crimes occurred in 2020 and another 4,533 occurred in 2021. According to the report, about 13.7% of the reports were of physical assault while online harassment made up 8.3%.

Health officials in Mississippi have warned the state’s hospital system is on the brink of failure due to a surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US south as the Delta variant rips through the country. The deep south state, where only 35.6% of residents are fully vaccinated, is opening a 50-bed field hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) car park with the assistance of the federal government as officials brace for a climbing death toll and ICU units reach capacity.

The large infrastructure bill passed by the US Senate and hailed by Joe Biden as a key tool to tackle the climate crisis includes billions of dollars to support a supposedly clean fuel that is potentially even more polluting than coal, research has found. The $1tn infrastructure package, which passed with bipartisan support on Tuesday, includes $8bn to develop “clean hydrogen” via the creation of four new regional hubs. The White House has said the bill advances Biden’s climate agenda.

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Researchers say they have discovered a woolly mammoth called Kik who traipsed almost far enough in his life to circle the Earth twice. Experts say the work not only sheds light on the movements of the giant proboscideans, but adds weight to ideas that climate change or human activity may have contributed to the demise of most of the creatures about 12,000 years ago. Kik’s long-distance hikes were probably down to seasonal changes in resources, the academics said.

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