Your Wednesday Briefing

U.S. plans full Afghan withdrawal by Sept. 11

President Biden has decided to pull out the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that launched the country into its longest war. The announcement is expected Wednesday.

The decision will keep more than 3,000 troops on the ground beyond the May 1 deadline set by former President Trump. Officials said that by fixing a definite date on withdrawal, Mr. Biden hoped to avoid an increase in violence threatened by the Taliban if the U.S. stayed beyond May 1. The withdrawal will begin before May 1.

Mr. Biden rejected the Pentagon’s push for a “conditions-based” withdrawal, in which the U.S. would remain until Afghanistan’s security forces can assert themselves. He overruled warnings that the departure could lead to a resurgence of terror threats.

According to a senior administration official, the U.S. will reposition its troops in the region to keep an eye on the country. The U.S. will most likely rely on a combination of special forces, contractors and operatives for the most dangerous Al Qaeda or Islamic State threats.

What’s next: Turkey is holding an Afghan peace summit beginning April 24 as part of the U.S.-backed diplomatic push. Turkey’s foreign ministry announced that representatives from Afghanistan and the Taliban would attend, although the Taliban says it has not agreed to the date, Reuters reports.

Context: A new intelligence report released Tuesday offered a grim assessment — prospects for a peace deal in the next year are low and the Taliban is likely to make battlefield gains.

U.S. calls for pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Injections of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine came to a sudden halt in much of the U.S. on Tuesday. Federal health agencies called for the pause after six recipients in the U.S., out of nearly seven million, developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.

All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second has been hospitalized in critical condition.

Several states including New York were following the recommendation to pause the vaccines, as well as the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains, CVS and Walgreens. Johnson & Johnson said it would pause the rollout of its vaccine in Europe.

Context: The vast majority of the U.S. vaccine supply comes from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but the Biden administration had been counting on using hundreds of thousands of the Johnson & Johnson doses every week. The pause complicates its plan to vaccinate all 260 million adults in the country by the end of May. Officials now expect to be able to cover fewer than 230 million adults by that date.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

India is fast-tracking vaccines approved in other countries in order to combat the world’s biggest Covid outbreak.

Muslims worldwide began celebrating a second Ramadan under pandemic restrictions, though a degree of normalcy has returned in some places.

The World Health Organization called on governments to suspend the sale of live wild mammals in food markets to help prevent the emergence of new diseases.

Iran boosts uranium enrichment

Iran announced it would begin enriching uranium to a level of 60 percent purity, three times the current level, a move that appears to be in retaliation for an Israeli attack that knocked the Natanz plant offline.

The deputy foreign minister, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, also announced the country would replace the centrifuges damaged in the attack — several thousand, according to a member of Parliament — and add 1,000 more, increasing the plant’s capacity by 50 percent.

Context: Mr. Araghchi is in Vienna this week for indirect talks with the U.S. meant to restore the nuclear deal, which could be undermined by the attack or Iran’s announcement.


Asia News

Japan plans on discharging Fukushima wastewater into the ocean over local opposition and international concern.

China’s effort to expand its influence represents one of the largest threats to the United States, according to a U.S. intelligence report. It also warned that Beijing was capable of cyberattacks that could disrupt critical U.S. infrastructure.

The Hong Kong government introduced the final details of a push to drastically overhaul the city’s election system, including a proposal that would make it illegal to encourage voters to cast blank ballots or boycott elections.

An Irish artist’s doctored portraits of Cambodian prisoners under the Khmer Rouge has caused an outcry from Cambodians worldwide who see them as a desecration of their national tragedy. In some of the portraits, he put smiles on the victims’ faces.

What Else Is Happening

The U.S. will send an extra 500 military personnel to Germany, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday, as Europe grows uneasy over Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine.

The assault of a 13-year-old girl in Venezuela and the arrest of her mother and a teacher who helped her end the pregnancy have forced a national debate about legalizing abortion.

A U.S. police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop near Minneapolis resigned Tuesday, along with the chief of police. Police officials said she mistakenly confused her gun for her Taser.

A Morning Read

NFTs, the digital collectibles taking the art world by storm, have a mind-boggling environmental footprint. An Austrian artist canceled plans to sell 300 items of digital art because it would have burned through the same amount of electricity that an average European would use in two decades.


Inside Big Ben

Imagine being charged with taking apart what is arguably the best-known clock in the world. That’s the job of Ian Westworth, a certified repairer and conservator of antique clocks. He spoke to The Times about restoring the Palace of Westminster’s Elizabeth Tower and its Great Clock, a yearslong project that has been hit with delays and rising costs.

Why was the restoration needed?

The point of the work is to safeguard both the clock and the tower for future generations. If this work isn’t carried out, there is a risk that the clock mechanismcould fail, and that the structural integrity of the tower could be at risk.

At the start of the restoration, we winched pieces of it down to ground level as it was so heavy and took it off site for a complete overhaul. We’ve been able to repaint, clean, repair and document each piece (there are hundreds). The original winding mechanism installed in 1912 will be put back in place when the Great Clock returns home.

What was the trickiest part?

The hardest part is just the sheer size of the clock and all of its parts, having to remove it all from the tower and then clean, repair and paint and then put back into the tower. It’s a very complex task. There are some little repairs, but no plans for great changes to the mechanism.

Will the public see differences when the project is done?

The most noticeable changes will be to the exterior: The clock dials are being restored to their original Victorian color scheme of Prussian blue. A paint analysis took it all the way back to bare metal and discovered that the original color was blue. The decorative shields on the tower are being repainted and will be a lot more vibrant.


What to Cook

This simple pasta primavera uses a combination of asparagus, peas and spring onions.

What to read

Paul Theroux’s new novel, “Under the Wave at Waimea,” follows the transformation of a past-his-prime Hawaiian surfer into a compassionate human.

What to do

Drying your clothes in the sun is easy and saves electricity. Here are tips on how to hang your laundry.

Now time to play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Well ___-di-dah” (3 letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Whet

P.S. The Los Angeles Press Club named Kyle Buchanan, the Times awards-season columnist, as Journalist of the Year at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on the craze for the digital artworks known as NFTs.

You can reach Whet and the team at

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