In Brief: October 10, 2021

Taliban say they won’t work with US to contain Islamic State

ISLAMABAD — The Taliban on Saturday ruled out cooperation with the United States to contain extremist groups in Afghanistan, staking out an uncompromising position on a key issue ahead of the first direct talks between the former foes since America withdrew from the country in August.

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Senior Taliban officials and U.S. representatives are meeting this weekend in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials from both sides have said issues include reining in extremist groups and the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country. The Taliban have signaled flexibility on evacuations.

However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press there would be no cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active Islamic State group in Afghanistan. IS has taken responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a suicide bombing Friday that killed 46 minority Shiite Muslims and wounded dozens as they prayed in a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz.

“We are able to tackle Daesh independently,” Shaheen said, when asked whether the Taliban would work with the U.S. to contain the Islamic State affiliate. He used an Arabic acronym for IS.

IS has carried out relentless assaults on the country’s Shiites since emerging in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. It is also seen as the terror group that poses the greatest threat to the United States for its potential to stage attacks on American targets.

Texas clinics cancel abortions after court reinstates ban

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas clinics on Saturday canceled appointments they had booked during a 48-hour reprieve from the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S., which was back in effect as weary providers again turn their sights to the Supreme Court.

The Biden administration, which sued Texas over the law known as Senate Bill 8, has yet to say whether it will go that route after a federal appeals court reinstated the law late Friday. The latest twist came just two days after a lower court in Austin suspended the law, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant. It makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

The White House had no immediate comment Saturday.

For now at least, the law is in the hands of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which allowed the restrictions to resume pending further arguments. In the meantime, Texas abortions providers and patients are right back to where they’ve been for most of the last six weeks.

Out-of-state clinics already inundated with Texas patients seeking abortions were again the closest option for many women. Providers say others are being forced to carry pregnancies to term, or waiting in hopes that courts will strike down the law that took effect on Sept. 1.

McConnell seizes on debt standoff to undermine Biden agenda

WASHINGTON — In the frantic bid to avert a default on the nation’s debt, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell held a position of unusual power — as the one who orchestrated both the problem and the solution.

McConnell is no longer the majority leader, but he is exerting his minority status in convoluted and uncharted ways, all in an effort to stop President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda and even if doing so pushes the country toward grave economic uncertainty.

All said, the outcome of this debt crisis leaves zero confidence there won’t be a next one. In fact, McConnell engineered an end to the standoff that ensures Congress will be in the same spot in December when funding to pay America’s bills next runs out. That means another potentially devastating debt showdown, all as the COVID-19 crisis lingers and the economy struggles to recover.

“Mitch McConnell loves chaos,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “He’s a very smart tactician and strategist, but the country pays the price so often for what he does.”

The crisis has cemented McConnell’s legacy as a master of misdirection. He’s the architect of the impasse and the one who resolved it, if only for the short term. More battles are to come as Democrats narrow Biden’s big agenda, a now-$2 trillion expansion of health, child care and climate change programs, all paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy that Republicans oppose.

From wire sources

Allen West, Texas GOP gubernatorial hopeful, has COVID-19

GARLAND, Texas — Tea party firebrand Allen West, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor of Texas, said Saturday that he has received monoclonal antibody injections after being diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia.

The antibodies are used to treat those in the early stages of a coronavirus infection.

“My chest X-rays do show COVID pneumonia, not serious. I am probably going to be admitted to the hospital,” West wrote. “There’s a concern about my oxygen saturation levels, which are at 89 and they should be at 95.”

He also said his wife, Angela West, also tested positive and has received monoclonal antibodies. According to his Twitter account, Allen West did not get vaccinated against the virus, but his wife did.

Allen West on Thursday said he had attended a “packed house” Mission Generation Annual Gala &Fundraiser in Seabrook, Texas. On Saturday he tweeted that he is “suspending in-person events until receiving an all-clear indication.”

Russians flock to Serbia for Western-made COVID-19 vaccines

BELGRADE, Serbia — When Russian regulators approved the country’s own coronavirus vaccine, it was a moment of national pride, and the Pavlov family was among those who rushed to take the injection. But international health authorities have not yet given their blessing to the Sputnik V shot.

So when the family from Rostov-on-Don wanted to visit the West, they looked for a vaccine that would allow them to travel freely — a quest that brought them to Serbia, where hundreds of Russian citizens have flocked in recent weeks to receive Western-approved COVID-19 shots.

Serbia, which is not a member of the European Union, is a convenient choice for vaccine-seeking Russians because they can enter the allied Balkan nation without visas and because it offers a wide choice of Western-made shots. Organized tours for Russians have soared, and they can be spotted in the capital, Belgrade, at hotels, restaurants, bars and vaccination clinics.

“We took the Pfizer vaccine because we want to travel around the world,” Nadezhda Pavlova, 54, said after receiving the vaccine last weekend at a sprawling Belgrade vaccination center.

Her husband, Vitaly Pavlov, 55, said he wanted “the whole world to be open to us rather than just a few countries.”

Kurz to quit as Austrian chancellor amid corruption probe

BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Saturday that he will step down in a bid to defuse a government crisis triggered by prosecutors’ announcement that he is a target of a corruption investigation.

Kurz, 35, said he has proposed to Austria’s president that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg become chancellor. But Kurz himself will remain in a key political position: he said he will become the head of his conservative Austrian People’s Party’s parliamentary group.

Kurz’s party had closed ranks behind him after the prosecutors’ announcement on Wednesday, which followed searches at the chancellery and his party’s offices. But its junior coalition partner, the Greens, said Friday that Kurz couldn’t remain as chancellor and demanded that his party nominate an “irreproachable person” to replace him. The coalition government took office in January, 2020.

The Greens’ leader, Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, welcomed Kurz’s decision as “a right and important step.”

“This means that we can continue our work in government,” he said.

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Army general who commanded in Iraq dies of cancer at age 67

WASHINGTON — Raymond T. Odierno, a retired Army general who commanded American and coalition forces in Iraq at the height of the war and capped a 39-year career by serving as the Army’s chief of staff, has died, his family said Saturday. He was 67.

“The general died after a brave battle with cancer; his death was not related to COVID,” a family statement said. “There are no other details to share at this time. His family is grateful for the concern and asks for privacy.”

Odierno died Friday; the family declined to say where. It said funeral and interment information was not yet available.

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A native of Rockaway, New Jersey, Odierno graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1976 with a commission in field artillery. He served in a wide range of Army and Defense Department roles with multiple tours abroad, including in Iraq, Germany, Albania and Kuwait. As a three-star general he was assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a job that made him the main military adviser to the secretary of state.

Odierno served three tours in Iraq, capped by two years, from 2008 to 2010, as the top U.S. commander in Baghdad. He was succeeded in that post by Gen. Lloyd Austin, who is now the secretary of defense. Odierno served as commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq from 2006 to 2008.