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U.S. Slaps New Sanctions On Russia Over Cyber Attack, Election Meddling : NPR

Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown at a meeting on Wednesday. The U.S. is imposing new sanctions against a group of Russian entities and personnel.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown at a meeting on Wednesday. The U.S. is imposing new sanctions against a group of Russian entities and personnel.

Alexei Druzhinin/AP

President Biden is ordering a new round of economic sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s election meddling and a Kremlin-linked computer breach that penetrated numerous U.S. government networks.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, speaking with CNN on Thursday, said that Biden is imposing the sanctions on Russia over the recent SolarWinds hack and election interference.

“What President Biden is going to announce today, we believe, are proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful Russia actions including cyber intrusions and election interference,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, Biden made clear that “his goal is provide a significant and credible response, but not to escalate the situation.”

According to the White House, the latest sanctions target more than 30 Russian entities and individuals, and order 10 personnel from the Russian diplomatic mission to be expelled from the U.S.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would wait for details from the White House before commenting in detail, but indicated that Moscow could retaliate.

“We condemn any intentions to impose sanctions, consider them illegal, and in any case the principle of reciprocity operates in this area,” he said, according to Reuters.

In his interview with CNN, Sullivan reiterated Biden’s intention to meet directly with Putin at an upcoming summit.

“We believe that altogether, both the actions we are taking today and that broader diplomacy, can produce a better set of outcomes for U.S.-Russia relations,” he said.

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Blinken Arrives In Afghanistan After Biden Announces Troop Withdrawal : NPR

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday before an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday before an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kabul on Thursday in an unannounced visit that comes just a day after President Biden announced that he has decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest conflict.

Blinken told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that his visit was intended to “demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan.”

“The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring,” Blinken said.

Ghani replied: “We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities.”

On Wednesday, Biden announced that the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops would be coming home by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The president said a continued military presence in Afghanistan was no longer sustainable. The war there has claimed the lives of more than 2,300 U.S. troops, and more than 100,000 Afghans civilians have been either killed or wounded in the conflict in the past decade.

Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital as NATO announced that it would follow the U.S. lead and withdraw its roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan within a few months.

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Poor Nations Left Behind In Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout : NPR

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Kate Elder, vaccine policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders, about the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in poor nations.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The United States has now fully vaccinated more than 1 of 5 residents against COVID-19, but the distribution of coronavirus vaccine is a different story elsewhere in the world. The entire continent of Africa, for example, has received just 2% of the world’s vaccine doses so far. Some countries are bracing to wait months or even years before they have enough supply to fully vaccinate their populations. Here to discuss is senior vaccine policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, Kate Elder.

Kate Elder, welcome to the show.

KATE ELDER: Hi, Mary Louise. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Can you paint us a global picture of how the vaccine rollout is going in poorer countries?

ELDER: It’s pretty devastating, I think. While we here in the U.S. are very optimistic about when we’ll achieve this thing called herd immunity, many of my colleagues working at Doctors Without Borders in developing countries are only just starting to see some vaccines – small volumes – arrive in countries where even the most vulnerable people – frontline health care workers – haven’t yet been able to be vaccinated. In high-income countries like the United States, almost 1 in 4 people has been vaccinated. In low-income countries, places where Medecins Sans Frontieres working, it’s 1 in more than 500 people who has been vaccinated. The global mechanism that’s supposed to deliver equity of vaccination called COVAX was expecting at this point to have distributed about a hundred million doses by the end of March. But to date, it’s only been able to distribute about 38 million doses.

KELLY: What is the holdup, as best as you can put your finger on it?

ELDER: There’s really just a scarcity of doses. If we had decided to adhere to what the World Health Organization has recommended, which is that frontline health care workers and other most vulnerable people should be vaccinated first, regardless of where they live, we would have distributed these vaccines very differently. But what happened is that there was just a run on vaccines even before they were tangible, even when there was just the promise of vaccines. And high-income countries really gobbled up the tremendous volume of the world’s supply. And that’s just left COVAX and other initiatives that are trying to deliver vaccines to developing countries, you know, really, unfortunately, with their hand out.

KELLY: Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Some would argue, look, this may not be fair, but it’s rich countries that funded the vaccines, that developed the vaccines. They have the right to first pick.

ELDER: I understand. And we did put a tremendous amount of public funding into the development of these vaccines, but it’s not an either/or. And at the same time as well, just thinking from a public health perspective, although we might be protecting ourselves at quite a rapid rate here in the U.S., it’s actually not at the end of the day in our self-interest. We shouldn’t rest on our laurels once we, you know, achieve herd immunity in the United States. We’re still just as susceptible to the variants as well. So it’s really in our collective best interest to make sure that everybody around the world is protected.

KELLY: So what should the U.S. do now, in your view, to try to get more vaccines to less wealthy countries?

ELDER: I think there are two things. One is urgently, the U.S. government has to allocate some of our supply to COVAX. We’re estimating that by July, there will be a surplus of almost up to half a billion doses in the United States. In tandem with that, if the U.S. government could use its pressure to push companies like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson to share that technology with other competent manufacturers that can be producing around the world, it wouldn’t be an either/or. We would have more vaccine for everybody.

KELLY: Kate Elder – she is senior vaccine policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders.

Thank you for speaking with us.

ELDER: Thanks so much, Mary Louise.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Former Army Commander Weighs In On Biden’s Decision To Pull Troops Out Of Afghanistan : NPR

Host Mary Louise Kelly speaks with former U.S. Army Col. Christopher Kolenda about President Biden’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 of this year.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let’s get reaction to the president’s plan from someone who has commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Chris Kolenda led troops in combat against the Taliban and then later participated in diplomatic talks with them.

Colonel Kolenda, welcome back to the program.

CHRIS KOLENDA: It’s really nice to be here. Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I know you have been saying for a while now it’s time; let’s bring the troops home. Do you agree with the timeline that the president laid out today?

KOLENDA: Well, I think what his decision reflects is the basic principle in which you make all decisions, which is the grapefruit principle. And that is, is the juice worth the squeeze? Is keeping American troops there in Afghanistan worth the – you know, worth the price and worth the downside risk? And his calculation was, no, it’s not anymore. It may have been at one time, but it’s not anymore. We’ve done all we could.

KELLY: I noticed David Petraeus, the former commanding general of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan – he weighed in today, very critical of this decision and specifically warning the Taliban is going to go on the offensive, ungoverned spaces are going to get bigger and terrorist organizations are going to flourish. Is he wrong?

KOLENDA: Well, I think you’ve got to bear in mind three things about Afghanistan. I mean, the first one is that the United States can’t give the Afghan government legitimacy. The Afghan government has to earn it, and it has to earn it in the eyes of the people. And they haven’t done that yet. Second is, you know, the Taliban live there, and we don’t, so they’re always going to be able to wait us out because they live there. And then third is geography matters. We can’t wish away the geography. Afghanistan is surrounded by states that are hostile to our presence there. They also live there. And so, you know, you’ve got this situation where a conditions-based approach – I mean, it briefs well. People say, oh, yes, conditions-based makes sense. But you’ll never get there from here. And we’ve shown that the last 20 years because of some of these problems.

KELLY: I don’t actually hear you saying Petraeus is wrong. It’s more like you’re arguing there is no perfect outcome. There’s no perfect ending here.

KOLENDA: I wish there was an easy ending. It would’ve been nice. I spent a lot of quality time in Afghanistan. I’ve had soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan. I’d love to see a – you know, an easy solution. But at the – where we were right now, with 2,500 to 3,500 troops there, it’s just encouraging the worst behavior on the part of all actors – the Afghan government slow-rolling a peace process, the Taliban waiting to see if we’ll actually leave and regional actors, you know, fomenting further conflict in Afghanistan through their proxies.

KELLY: So let me ask you, in the minute or so we have left, a basic question. Was it worth it? Twenty years, so much money spent, so many lives lost – was it worth it?

KOLENDA: Well, my new book, which is called “Zero-Sum Victory: What We’re Getting Wrong About War,” is, you know, we – talks about the chronic errors that we keep making in these conflicts. We’ve made them in Afghanistan. We’ve made them in Iraq. We’ve made them in Vietnam. And there needs to be some reckoning about why these interventions continue turning into quagmires. And the extent to which things are worth it, as you asked, is going to be measured, I think, by the accountability and by the reforms that we make to how we wage war and how we engage in these sort of conflicts in the future.

KELLY: That is retired U.S. Army Colonel Chris Kolenda. He’s a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and founder of the Strategic Leadership Academy (ph).

Colonel Kolenda, glad to speak with you.

KOLENDA: Thank you very much for having me.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Biden Plans To Withdraw U.S. Troops From Afghanistan, Ending America’s Longest War : NPR

President Biden says he will withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 20 years without conditions, ending America’s longest war.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today, President Biden said America’s longest war is almost over. By this September 11, he says U.S. combat troops will be out of Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us.

KELLY: Joining me from the White House to talk about this decision and what it means, NPR’s national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Why is the president making this decision and why now?

LIASSON: President Biden believes that the U.S. did what it set out to do in Afghanistan. He says, in 20 years, we’ve prevented more large scale al-Qaida attacks. We eventually got Osama bin Laden. By the way, Biden noted he did call President Bush, the first of four presidents to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. He says the terrorist threat has changed. It’s metastasized to other parts of the world. Plus, we have other threats like China.

And this is a rare but significant point of agreement between President Biden and Donald Trump, who signed an agreement with the Taliban to leave Afghanistan by May 1. Biden thought that was a little too soon, but he’ll start pulling out on May 1. He also confronted the question that’s faced the past four presidents, which is, should you wait around for a conditions-based withdrawal? Because that’s a recipe in his mind for staying there forever. Here’s what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result.

KELLY: Mara, he’s talking about a military calculation there.

LIASSON: Yes.

KELLY: What about the political calculation for Biden?

LIASSON: I think in the short term, the politics are pretty good. The public is tired of this war after 20 years. I think in the long term, the political risks could be enormous, though. And Republican critics are talking about that. Some of them were also opposed to Trump’s plan to pull out on May 1. What if the Taliban waits us out? What if al-Qaida and ISIS come back in? What if Kabul falls? What if Afghan women are oppressed again? Also, can the U.S. contain that with just troops in the region, not in the country?

And also, we’ve seen this movie before. Remember, we pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011. And ISIS came along. And we had to send troops back. But this is Biden’s first major decision as commander in chief. It’s something he has always believed in. He was against the last surge in Afghanistan, and he’s willing to take the risk.

KELLY: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR’s Mara Liasson at the White House.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Behind The COVID-19 Surge In Papua New Guinea : NPR

COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea have been surging. As hundreds become sick each day, the healthcare system is struggling to keep up. NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with journalist Rebecca Kuku.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases for several weeks now after having very few cases for nearly a year. Now the health system there is becoming overburdened. There are just not enough medical workers in the country to care for the thousands of people who’ve gotten sick since the beginning of March and the hundreds more becoming infected every day. Rebecca Kuku is a journalist based in the capital, Port Moresby. She joins me now.

Hey, Rebecca.

REBECCA KUKU: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: We’re glad to have you with us. I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances, the circumstances being COVID cases were nearly non-existent in Papua New Guinea until last month. What happened?

KUKU: I think basically because a lot of people didn’t take COVID seriously, and most of them didn’t comply with the new measures that was put in place to protect people like masking up and social distancing. One of the other reasons was the country lost its founding father, and there was a big gathering.

KELLY: This is the – Papua New Guinea’s founding father, the first prime minister of the country, who died in February. And then there were – there was a funeral and mass gatherings to mourn, which had a lot of people together, I guess, and allowed the virus to spread.

KUKU: Yeah, there were thousands of people gathered. We had a two-week national haus krai and then followed by the state funeral event. And then everyone flew over to Wewak for the burial, so it was just packed. Even the government knew the risk, but we went on ahead to pay our last respects to him.

KELLY: Give me a little bit more of a sense of what the situation is. I’m told you spent time in a COVID unit in Port Moresby last month. Can you describe what you saw, who you talked to?

KUKU: It was really an eye-opener. The beds were full. There were patients on oxygen, like – and the oxygen tanks were running out. The nurses were running here and there. It’s really full inside, and I think there’s a shortage of staff as well. The public health system is exhausted from years of neglect by authorities. And with COVID-19 now, it’s even worse.

KELLY: What about vaccines? How is the vaccine campaign going in Papua New Guinea?

KUKU: It’s the same response, like the first time COVID was talked about. People don’t believe in the vaccines. They’re afraid that the vaccine is going to kill them. Some even believe that this vaccine is aimed at killing off Black population.

KELLY: Yeah.

KUKU: But there’s been good response too. We’ve had about 1,500 people vaccinated so far, and the rollout is continuing. New vaccines arrived yesterday as well – 132,000 (ph).

KELLY: Is it fair to say then the greater challenge right now is not supply of vaccines, it’s convincing people to get the vaccine?

KUKU: Yes, I think the greater challenge right now is to convince people to be vaccinated. There are some doctors posting inaccurate information. COVID vaccines is not good and all that; don’t trust it. So there was a debate organized for the doctors to have an argument out where the public could witness it. So they brought in the doctors who didn’t believe, and they brought in the doctors who believed. And the University of Papua New Guinea hosted this debate. Yeah, so they are trying their best to get this misinformation now.

KELLY: That is Rebecca Kuku, a journalist based in Port Moresby. That’s the capital of Papua New Guinea.

Thank you very much, Rebecca.

KUKU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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China, Russia Viewed As Biggest Threats By U.S. Intel Chiefs : NPR

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

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Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Graeme Jennings/AP

The top U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday provided their assessment of worldwide threats affecting the U.S. interests, focusing on cybersecurity and military concerns posed by Beijing and Moscow, but also the threat of both domestic and international terrorism.

It was the first such assessment formally presented at a hearing to Congress in two years, due to tensions between former President Donald Trump and the nation’s intelligence community.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, in her opening statement before lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, echoed language in the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment, officially released Tuesday. She described China as “a near-peer competitor challenging the United States in multiple arenas, while pushing to revise global norms in ways that favor the authoritarian Chinese system.”

Her opening statement also touched on concerns about Russia’s efforts to undermine U.S. influence, Iran’s contributions to instability in the Middle East, global terrorism and the threat of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

In addition to Haines, CIA Director William Burns, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier also appeared before the committee to discuss findings in the assessment.

Among other things, the assessment stated that Beijing sees “an epochal geopolitical shift” that has occurred in its favor at the expense of the U.S. It also concluded that Russia is continuing to use cyberattacks to target critical U.S. infrastructure. Tehran, the report said, will seek to avoid direct conflict with the U.S., calibrating attacks so as not to provoke a response from Washington. Finally, it speculated that North Korea may be considering a resumption of nuclear or long-range missile tests this year.

The four countries “have demonstrated the capability and intent to advance their interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, despite the pandemic,” according to assessment.

However, the intelligence chiefs’ Senate interlocutors showed special interest in cyber threats, noting the Russia-linked and far-reaching SolarWinds attack that infected a stunning breadth of U.S.-based computer systems.

Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., suggested the U.S. might want to “develop new international norms where certain types of attacks are prohibited, just as the use of chemical or bio-weapons is banned.”

The hearings also touched on domestic and international terrorism as well as President Biden’s plan to withdraw remaining U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Asked if “new authorities” were needed to defend against cyber threats, NSA Director Nakasone said he was “not seeking legal authorities for either NSA or U.S. Cyber Command.”

“With an adversary that has increased its scope, scale and sophistication, we have to understand that there are blind spots in our nation today,” he said. “One of the blind spots that our adversaries are using is the fact that they are utilize U.S. infrastructure.”

China

Tuesday’s assessment said that Beijing viewed competition with the U.S. “as part of an epochal geopolitical shift” and Washington as aiming “to contain China’s rise.”

“Beijing is increasingly combining its growing military power with its economic, technological, and diplomatic clout to preserve the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], secure what it views as its territory and regional preeminence, and pursue international cooperation at Washington’s expense,” the report said.

The assessment also predicted that China will at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile in the next decade, fielding a full Cold War-style triad of nuclear assets — intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-armed bombers and submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles.

China’s ballistic missile arsenal “more survivable, more diverse, and on higher alert than in the past, including nuclear missile systems designed to manage regional escalation and ensure an intercontinental second-strike capability,” the report stated.

It cautioned that “Beijing is not interested in arms-control agreements that restrict its modernization plans and will not agree to substantive negotiations that lock in U.S. or Russian nuclear advantage.”

The assessment specifically highlighted China’s expansive claims and increasingly assertive presence in the South China Sea, saying “Beijing will continue to intimidate rival claimants and will use growing numbers of air, naval, and maritime law enforcement platforms to signal to Southeast Asian countries that China has effective control over contested areas.”

It also predicted that it will step up pressure on Taiwan for unification and criticize any U.S. effort to move closer to Taipei.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, asked about the hypothesis that a leak from a Wuhan, China-based virus laboratory could be the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The intelligence community has does not know exactly what, where or when the coronavirus emerged initially,” she acknowledged.

FBI Director Wray reminded lawmakers of several arrests last year of individuals involved in what prosecutors described as a Chinese-government operation to conduct “uncoordinated, illegal law enforcement activity” aimed at tracking down and repatriating Chinese dissidents residing in the United States.

“It’s an indication and illustration of just how challenging and diverse this particular threat is,” Wray said. “We have now over 2,000 investigations that tie back to the Chinese government.”

He said that in just one area — economic espionage tied to the Chinese government — investigations were up about 1,300% over the last several years.

China’s growing capabilities in space is also noted in the report, including Beijing’s plans for a space station in low-Earth orbit, a moon base and its fielding of ground and space-based anti-satellite weapons.

“There’s just no question as a general matter that China is focused on achieving leadership in space, in effect, as compared to the United States and has been working hard on a variety of different efforts in this area to try to contest what has been presumed to be our leadership in these areas,” Haines said.

Russia

Moscow is likely to continue Cold War-style confrontation with the U.S. and its allies, wielding influence through arms and energy agreements, to further its aims.

“In the Western Hemisphere, Russia has expanded its engagement with Venezuela, supported Cuba, and used arms sales and energy agreements to try to expand access to markets and natural resources in Latin America, in part to offset some of the effects of sanctions,” the assessment said. “In the former Soviet Union, Moscow is well positioned to increase its role in the Caucasus, intervene in Belarus if it deems necessary, and continue destabilization efforts against Ukraine while settlement talks remain stalled and low-level fighting continues.”

In 2014, Russian forces infiltrated and annexed Crimea — a territory on the Black Sea that had long been considered part of Ukraine. Moscow has also waged a proxy war against Kyiv in the country’s east that has claimed more than 13,000 lives. In recent days, tensions have escalated further, with Kyiv claiming that 40,000 Russian troops are massed on its eastern border and another 40,000 are stationed in Crimea.

Responding to a question about the significance of the Russian troop movements near Ukraine from Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, CIA Director Burns called the buildup is “a serious concern,” and suggested that it could be “a way of trying to intimidate the Ukrainian leadership.”

“But also the buildup has reached the point where it could be the basis of a limited military incursion,” he said.

Russia was continuing to deploy cyberattacks targeting “critical infrastructure, including underwater cables and industrial control systems, in the United States and in allied and partner countries,” the threat assessment said, saying such attacks hones capabilities and demonstrates Moscow’s “ability to damage infrastructure during a crisis.”

Terrorism

The intelligence community’s assessment said ISIS and al-Qaida continue to pose threats to U.S. interests overseas and “they also seek to conduct attacks inside the United States, although sustained US and allied CT pressure has broadly degraded their capability to do so.”

Even so, “US-based lone actors and small cells with a broad range of ideological motivations pose a greater immediate domestic threat. We see this lone-actor threat manifested both within homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), who are inspired by al-Qa’ida and ISIS, and within domestic violent extremists (DVEs), who commit terrorist acts for ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as racial bias and antigovernment sentiment.”

Asked about how the FBI views the QAnon conspiracy movement, Wray said the bureau has a “focus on the violence regardless of the inspiration.”

He described QAnon as “a set of complex conspiracy theories largely promoted online which has sorted of morphed into more of a movement.”

“Like a lot of other conspiracy theories, the effects of COVID — social isolation, financial hardship, etc., all exacerbate people’s vulnerability to those theories,” he said.

“Where it is an inspiration for federal crime, we are going to aggressively pursue it.”

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Denmark Discontinues Use Of AstraZeneca Vaccine : Coronavirus Updates : NPR

Danish health authorities announced Wednesday that the country will continue its COVID-19 vaccine rollout without the shot made by AstraZeneca, citing its possible link to rare blood clotting events, the availability of other vaccines and the “fact that the COVID-19 epidemic in Denmark is currently under control.”

Dirk Waem/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images


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Danish health authorities announced Wednesday that the country will continue its COVID-19 vaccine rollout without the shot made by AstraZeneca, citing its possible link to rare blood clotting events, the availability of other vaccines and the “fact that the COVID-19 epidemic in Denmark is currently under control.”

Dirk Waem/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Denmark will stop administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, health officials said Wednesday.

In a statement, the Danish Health Authority emphasized that the shot’s benefits outweigh the risks for those who do get it, but said they had decided to discontinue its use because of its possible link to rare cases of blood clotting and the “fact that the COVID-19 epidemic in Denmark is currently under control and other vaccines are available.”

“Based on the scientific findings, our overall assessment is there is a real risk of severe side effects associated with using the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca,” said Søren Brostrøm, director general of the Danish Health Authority. “We have, therefore, decided to remove the vaccine from our vaccination [program].”

All AstraZeneca vaccination appointments will be cancelled, and those who have already received their first dose will get their second in the form of another vaccine, officials said. Individuals who have had forthcoming appointments cancelled will be able to reschedule “based on an assessment of the current epidemic situation.”

“The consequence of this decision is that anyone aged 16 or older can expect to receive an offer of vaccination in late June,” officials said. “Thus, everyone who accepts the offer will be fully vaccinated about five weeks later – in early August.”

COVID-19 cases and deaths have decreased considerably in Denmark following a winter surge. The country reported 4,552 new cases and 14 deaths in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Just under 8% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins. Of that group, Reuters reports that 77% got the Pfizer vaccine, 7.8% had Moderna and 15.3% received AstraZeneca.

Denmark was one of several European countries to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-March in order to investigate reports of rare blood clotting events in some recipients.

The European Medicines Agency and World Health Organization both continued to recommend its use, and many of those countries resumed vaccinations within a few days following a preliminary EMA investigation that concluded its benefits outweighed its risks.

Wednesday’s announcement comes exactly one week after the EMA said rare blood clotting events should be listed as a possible side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but stressed that it has been proven to prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Such clotting events are rare, officials emphasized, and appear to be more common in women under the age of 60.

Several countries including France, Germany and South Korea have reintroduced the vaccine with age restrictions, while others including Australia, Greece and Britain are now recommending alternatives for young people.

Also on Wednesday, the EMA announced that it is continuing to monitor the phenomenon of “very rare blood clots with low blood platelets” occurring after vaccination, and will review more data at the request of the EU’s Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

The review will provide more context on the benefits of ongoing vaccination campaigns, it said, and consider whether to update recommendations for a second dose for those who have already received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Public health experts have been largely hesitant about the idea of mixing and matching vaccines without more data, and a newly-expanded U.K. study is working to assess the potential benefits.

“EMA considers the overall benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks in people being vaccinated,” it said, adding that the review “will support ongoing national vaccination campaigns in their decisions on how to optimally deploy the vaccine.”

The EMA said last week that the use of the vaccine in member nations’ vaccination campaigns would vary based on the severity of the pandemic and availability of vaccines in each country, Danish authorities noted.

And in the case of Denmark, they said, the country has already made progress vaccinating the older age groups at highest risk of becoming severely ill, and has vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna at its disposal.

Danish authorities said research and scientific studies in Denmark revealed a “higher than expected frequency” in the number of blood clotting events, particularly in veins in the brain, following vaccination.

Brostrøm described the situation as “a known risk of severe adverse effects from vaccination with AstraZeneca, even if the risk in absolute terms is slight.”

Brostrøm emphasized that the AstraZeneca vaccine is still approved. He also said that the country may reintroduce it at a later point if the situation changes.

“If Denmark were in a completely different situation and in the midst of a violent third outbreak, for example, and a healthcare system under pressure – and if we had not reached such an advanced point in our rollout of the vaccines – then I would not hesitate to use the vaccine, even if there were rare but severe complications associated with using it,” Brostrøm said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is not currently being used in the U.S., though the company has said it will seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is reviewing its own reports of rare blood clotting cases — six out of nearly 7 million doses — in the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The FDA on Tuesday recommended its use be paused “out of an abundance of caution” while it reviews data.

That same day, the company announced it would “proactively delay” the rollout of its vaccine in Europe. On the subject of Johnson & Johnson, Danish health officials said they are closely monitoring the risk assessments initiated by authorities in the U.S. and Europe, and will cooperate with research into the safety and efficacy of that and all COVID-19 vaccines.

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Biden Speech On Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal : NPR

President Biden speaks at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. On Wednesday, he will announce the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war.

Alex Brandon/Pool/Getty Images


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Alex Brandon/Pool/Getty Images


President Biden speaks at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. On Wednesday, he will announce the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war.

Alex Brandon/Pool/Getty Images

The United States will withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Biden will announce on Wednesday, turning the page on a conflict that has cost trillions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,300 American troops.

“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden is expected to say, according to excerpts released by the White House. He will say the U.S. cannot continue “hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result.”

The withdrawal of U.S. troops will complete a process that began under the Obama administration, starting with a drawdown from a peak of more than 100,000 U.S. service members in the country in 2011.

As of 2021, some 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. As many as 1,000 more special operations forces are also reported to be in the country. Biden is expected to say the U.S. will continue diplomatic and humanitarian work in the country, including assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, had pledged to the Taliban a full withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 1, which Biden had previously said would be “tough” to meet.

A senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday that the withdrawal would not be conditions-based, as Biden had deemed such an approach “a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”

Some U.S. personnel will remain in the country, which the administration official said would be necessary to protect America’s diplomatic presence in the country.

The White House said the president will visit Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery following the speech, the location where U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried.

Watch Biden’s remarks live beginning at 2:15 p.m. ET.