Winning tip: A ‘film set’ close to the Polish border
We arrived in Görlitz, Germany’s most easterly town, to find it packed with peasants swilling beer from pewter mugs and devouring sausages to a background of drums and pipes. It was the annual medieval festival, and they take the past seriously here. That’s understandable: Görlitz is jammed with arcaded squares, ancient towers and magnificent churches that have bedazzled film-makers from Tarantino to Wes Anderson. We lucked into the building that served as the Grand Budapest Hotel – actually an art nouveau department store. We went to Poland for a beer – the town of Zgorzelec is just over the River Neisse – before returning to Görlitz for carousing, 15th-century style. David Ellis
Black Forest bathing
We had a great family holiday in the Black Forest near Oppenau. It’s a beautiful old small town but the best thing about it was the huge, public open-air swimming pool, with water slides, grassy picnic areas and a cafe. Best of all when you pay your tourist tax you receive free entry and free train travel around the Black Forest region. This means you can explore the small towns, lakes, forests and waterfalls by train. Rebecca
Alpine views and a beach, near Munich
Herrsching am Ammersee is a small town at the end of the S-Bahn line from Munich, next to Ammersee, a beautiful 15km-long glacial lake. There are views to the Bavarian Alps over 60km away, a promenade, and beaches where people swim in the summer. A short hike through the woods brings you to Kloster Andechs, a stunning Benedictine abbey on a hill overlooking the lake. The abbey brews its own beer and has a Biergarten where you can sip its brews – some with evocative names: Spezial Hell, Weizenbock and Bergbock Hell – and crunch on a Brezeln (pretzel) or two. If you over-indulge on the “hells”, Nefis, on Seestrasse, does the best Turkish meze and kebabs. Taking the boat to Dießen am Ammersee is also a must, as is hiring a bike to explore the many fairytale Bavarian villages nearby. Tom
Luther’s legacy, near Berlin
Lutherstadt Wittenberg is a beautiful town less than an hour by train from Berlin. It’s the perfect place for a day trip or overnight stay. For a cheap stay, Wittenberg Youth Hostel (€28.50) is next to where, according to some accounts, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses. It’s a beautiful place, especially if you are a fan of reformation history. The market square is stunning at sunset, and there is a shop where you can by anything in Martin Luther form, including a tiny Lego Luther. Ellen
Into the Harz mountains, Lower Saxony
I recommend Goslar, a Unesco-listed city in an untouched area in the Harz mountains. It’s a beautiful old town with a charming centre. The slate-clad Kaiserringhaus has a glockenspiel (pictured) and automatons that chime regularly each day. The enchanting figures act out scenes from Goslar’s mining past. Parts of the Martkbrunnen fountain date back to the 12th century, adding to the timeless atmosphere of the centre. A great trip from Goslar is to take a scenic ride on the narrow-gauge, steam Brocken railway, an ideal way to see some of the least-known natural landscapes in Germany. Gerard Gordon
Medieval magic, northern Bavaria
The fortified hilltop city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is not just a beautiful place to visit but one of Germany’s most significant historical centres. Ringed by a huge defensive wall punctuated by towering city gates, the enclosed warren of narrow streets, lanes and alleyways are a delight to wander. Lush parks and gardens are to be stumbled across among the quintessentially German medieval architecture of half-timbered and brightly painted and decorated buildings. Cafes, restaurants and beer halls abound, as do museums, not least the glittery Christmas Museum, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum and the Imperial City Museum, celebrating the town’s long and prestigious history. Graeme Black
Architectural oddity near the North Sea
Bremen is a fascinating, beautiful small city with ancient streets, a lively Marktplatz, art at the Kunsthalle from such diverse sources as Masolino, Dürer, Monet, Van Gogh, Beckmann, Cage and Paik, and the fine Theater am Goetheplatz. There’s great countryside around, with nature parks, castles and Bremerhaven, where there’s the excellent German Maritime Museum. There are loads of good restaurants outside and in, with sensible Covid restrictions. The Böttcherstraße, which hosts a plethora of arts and crafts shops, is a remarkable piece of interwar architecture, and there’s a hotel right in the middle of it in Atlantis House. The walks along the River Weser are lovely too. Nigel Gann
Where Bach played the organ, Thüringen
Mühlhausen, in Thüringen in the former GDR, is a small town with a huge history. The young JS Bach was organist here, and you can hear organ music in the church where he worked. Earlier, the theologian Thomas Müntzer, who opposed both the Roman Catholic church and Martin Luther, preached here and was executed outside the city in 1525. The medieval centre is one of the largest in Germany, with beautiful churches and buildings wherever you look. There are lovely old wooden doors, behind one of which is the town hall where a friendly civil servant can lead you to the amazing painted council chamber. The train journey goes through quiet countryside to the sleepy station, far from the bustle of the big cities. Barbara Forbes
Wonky wonder, Bavaria
Not too far from Nuremberg is the red-roofed medieval town of Dinkelsbühl. A trout-filled river, a city wall reminiscent of Carcassonne, and more taverns than you can shake a schnitzel at. In the middle of July the town is overflowing with lederhosen-wearing young people swilling beer at bunting-bedecked trestle tables in the central square – all as part of the Children’s Festival, which marks the town’s escape from decimation by the Swedish army when the general took pity on the local peasant children. Brightly coloured doors, wonky windows and curious cobbled streets make Dinklesbuhl a fantastic historic stay. Rosey
Handsome and Hanseatic, Lübeck
The moment you walk through Lübeck’s Unesco-listed Holstentor Gate (pictured) you find a city stuffed with treats. As the former capital of the Hanseatic League, it abounds in history and culture, and has the added bonus of being within a few kilometres of wide, sandy beaches. The highlight for me, though, was savouring the tastes and sights of its edible claim to fame: marzipan. After walking down Breite Straße and sampling Niederegger Café’s signature nut tart, I visited the free museum upstairs and saw, among other fascinating exhibits, lifesize, local figures, including novelist Thomas Mann, sculpted from almond paste. Rod
For those of you who think the days of the travel agent are gone, you might want to think again. New research by AAA confirms what many of us already knew — travel agents are here to stay.
In fact, the study shows that 27 million of us are planning to use a travel agent within the next year. The reason most often cited is the value travel agents offer when things go wrong — flight delays, hotel cancellations, weather, etc.
Surprisingly, the study also found that younger travelers are using travel agents and millennials are just as likely as baby boomers to use a travel agent.
The key to successfully using a travel agent is specialization. Don’t just use one travel agent. Use the ones that specialize in where you want to go or what you want to do when you get there.
If you need to take a COVID-19 test for your upcoming travels, you’ll find plenty of options — from spitting to swabbing, at-home to drive-through testing locations.
We needed COVID tests for our recent family trip to Hawaii, which requires proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of travel — by an approved testing partner — to avoid a mandatory 10-day quarantine upon arrival. As of May, all non-vaccinated transpacific travelers to Maui must also take a rapid coronavirus test upon landing, offered for free at Kahului Airport.
Since we needed our initial test results so quickly, we decided to try out two methods to determine (for us) which proved the most reliant and the easiest to use, and to make sure we wouldn’t miss our flights because of late test results or, worse, end up quarantined — not a fun way to spend vacation.
Hawaii and Puerto Rico require a negative COVID-19 test result to enter, and many other states still recommend visitors and returning residents get tested. Hawaii requires visitors to take a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) from a certified Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) lab, and although the list is long, not many were accessible to us.
You can get a nasal swab PCR test at a participating CVS pharmacy (www.cvs.com) for $139. About 10 Walgreens pharmacies in Greater Boston also offer free drive-through swab tests — make sure you choose the PCR test out of the three options (https://walgreens.com/covid19testing).
We live in Washington state and chose the free nasal swab test at our local Walgreens (available to anyone 3 and older) and a mail-in Vault Health saliva test ($119 per person), which works nationwide (https://www.vaulthealth.com).
We scheduled our Walgreens test for 72 hours before flight time, filling out all our information online in advance so the paperwork was ready when we arrived. The entire test for four of us took less than five minutes. We drove up to the pharmacy window, verified our information, swabbed our own noses, and packaged up the samples on the spot. We had our negative results back 20 hours later — a total relief.
The same day as our Walgreens test, we performed Vault’s home test. We had ordered the Vault mail-in test kits a month in advance and bought a jar of pickles and a bottle of vinegar for the test — not necessary, but we had heard that sniffing pickles, vinegar, lemon, and other tart liquids can help people generate saliva (it works). We just had to make sure no one had eaten, had anything to drink, or chewed gum within 30 minutes of taking the test.
To complete the test, we initiated a video call through Zoom with a Vault test supervisor who guided us through the process, verifying our identities and test serial numbers, and then instructing us to spit into a tube up to a black marker. The spitting part proved to be a long process (even sniffing pickle juice): It took us each about 10 to 15 minutes to generate enough saliva to fill the tube.
Then we slipped each sample into a biohazard bag that went into a UPS pre-paid package — and missed the UPS air freight drop-off time by 20 minutes, pushing back our test results by 24 hours. We took the test on a Thursday afternoon, but we didn’t receive our results until Saturday night — just 14 hours before we left for the airport. Had we planned better and known about the drop-off times, we would have had our results back within 27 hours of taking the test (times vary, of course, but Vault says it will have results to you within 24 hours of receiving them).
The biggest benefits to the Vault test: It can be completed at home, at any time of day, and at a time that works for you. It’s a great option for those living in rural areas who may not have access to drive-through test sites and for those who need results for prescheduled events, such as a wedding. But make sure you allow enough time to complete the test (you can’t rush spit) and that you know the drop-off deadlines for UPS airmail so you can avoid added stress.
Finally, if you are headed to Hawaii, you’ll need to take part in the mandatory online Safe Travels Hawaii program, which aims to mitigate the spread of COVID on the islands. Make sure you create a Safe Travels account (kids can be added under an adult’s account) so you can upload your negative test results when you receive them and complete the mandatory health questionnaire 24 hours before flying.
Here’s the catch: You must receive the negative test results and upload those to the Safe Travels website before boarding the final leg of your flight to Hawaii. Otherwise, you’ll have to quarantine for 10 days or the duration of your trip, if shorter. That means you can’t get out of quarantine even if your negative results come in after landing.
Once you upload your results and complete the health questionnaire, the program generates a QR code that you’ll need to show at the airport and at hotels during check-in.
After landing in Maui, all nonvaccinated travelers 5 and older must also take a rapid COVID test. You are exempt from this second test if you have still not received your pre-trip test results or have opted to quarantine.
Even with testing requirements or recommendations, it’s still worth it for a chance to travel again.
A travel blogger says she felt “chills” when she realized she had filmed Gabby Petito’s converted white van near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming last month — in the same area where a body believed to be the missing 22-year-old was found over the weekend.
Jenn Bethune said she discovered her footage of Petito’s van Saturday night and alerted authorities, who found the body Sunday.
In an interview with TV’s “Fox & Friends” on Monday, Bethune said someone tagged her in a social media post calling on people who were in the national park Aug. 27 to check through their videos and photos to try to help investigators searching for Petito.
“I got chills all over my body and ran right straight back to my laptop, got my GoPro footage, and lo and behold, Gabby’s van was on there,” Bethune said.
Bethune said she and her husband, Kyle, remembered seeing the van as they drove through the park that day but “didn’t think anything of it” at the time.
“The reason why we noticed the van is because we’re from Florida, and the van had Florida plates, and we wanted to stop by and say hi,” she said. “But the van was very dark, closed up, looked like no activity, so we ended up just keeping driving.
“Each of these dispersed camping spots are kind of tucked away behind the trees,” Bethune added. “It was very busy. It was pretty full that day we were there.”
She said she only made the connection between the van and the Petito case after being tagged in the social media post.
Bethune, who posted her footage of the van on her YouTube page Sunday before authorities revealed they had found a body, said she spoke to Petito’s mother after realizing she’d seen the van.
“It was beautiful, we got to share some moments together on FaceTime. Just two moms, really just have a great cry,” Bethune said of her call with Petito’s mom.
“I am so sad that we couldn’t bring her back alive. To be able to bring her home to her family, or help with that, is everything,” she added.
Petito had last spoken to her mom over FaceTime around Aug. 25 while on a tour of national parks in the converted van with her 23-year-old boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.
Laundrie returned home to Florida without Petito on Sept. 1, retained a lawyer and refused to cooperate with authorities.
Authorities had been poring through hundreds of tips and searching large swaths of Wyoming and Utah ever since Petito was reported missing Sept. 11.
Police in Florida ended up also searching for Laundrie after his family reported him missing since he reportedly set off on a hike last week and failed to return.
Wilmington- Delaware State Police are investigating a fatal motorcycle crash that occurred early this morning.
On October 15, 2021, at approximately 12:40 a.m., a 2011 Yamaha FZ8 motorcycle operated by a 27-year-old Pennsylvania man was traveling southbound on Interstate 95 in the single southbound lane of travel and was approaching its interchange with Route 141. Due to active road construction in the area, Interstate 95 southbound traffic was restricted to the left most lane of travel. The Yamaha was traveling at a high rate of speed as it passed a vehicle on the left shoulder. The Yamaha then reentered the southbound lane and proceeded to travel past another vehicle on the right. At that point, the operator of the Yamaha lost control and struck the guardrail which separates Interstate 95 southbound from I-295 southbound. The operator was ejected from the motorcycle and struck two additional guardrail posts. The Yamaha came to rest within the lane of travel inside the construction area.
The 27-year-old operator of the Yamaha was pronounced deceased at the scene. His identification is pending notification to the next of kin.
The Yamaha motorcycle was a reported stolen vehicle by New Castle County Police on August 23, 2021.
Interstate 95 southbound was closed for approximately 3 hours while the collision was investigated, and the roadway cleared.
This collision remains under investigation by the Delaware State Police Troop 2 Collision Reconstruction Unit. Anyone with information regarding the crash should contact Master Corporal John Breen by calling 302-365-8486.Information may also be provided by calling Delaware Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333 or via the internet at http://www.delaware.crimestoppersweb.com.
If you or someone you know is a victim or witness of a crime or have lost a loved one to a sudden death and are in need of assistance, the Delaware State Police Victim Services Unit/Delaware Victim Center is available to offer you support and resources 24 hours a day through a toll-free hotline 1800 VICTIM-1. (1-800-842-8461). You may also email the unit Director at Debra.Reed@delaware.gov.
You can follow the Delaware State Police by clicking on:
Several months ago, the idea of a city break might have seemed like a bad idea. Crowds and concrete weren’t top of anyone’s agenda. But as we gradually tip toe back to some degree of normality, the cultural void left by months of lockdown is becoming more pronounced. Theatres, galleries, shops and restaurants have been noticeably absent from our lives.
While it might take some time before we’re ready to embrace a metropolis again, smaller cities have greater appeal. Easily navigable on foot and populated by more trees than people, Finland’s capital Helsinki strikes a perfect balance between space and social activity. Mornings can be spent admiring Art Nouveau architecture, while sunny autumn afternoons are ideal for a sauna and bracing sea swim.
Any double vaccinated travellers can enter without a PCR test, and most restrictions on venues have been lifted. Not that overcrowding is ever an issue in a city where there’s always enough space to freely roam. The only stressful decision is deciding what to do…
Take a sauna at Löyly
As much a piece of art as a place to relax, this angular building has become a trendy hangout for locals who prefer a modern take on the Finnish tradition of sauna. Named after the metal ladle used to throw water on coals and increase steam, the site is set on the waterfront in a former industrial area a little out of town.
Bathing suits are worn in the communal saunas which can reach up to 90C if overzealous Finns are in the room. Cool off by going outside and taking a dip in the sea, accessed via a ladder. An outdoor restaurant provides a relaxing space to chill and chatter between sweat sessions. In the winter, drink beer around an indoor fire. A two-hour session costs €19 (around £16), including a towel and seat cover. Visit loylyhelsinki.fi/en/
Walk around the Amos Rex
Originally built for the 1936 Olympics, which only happened several years later, this Art Nouveau masterpiece has been lovingly restored and given a new lease of life. Climb a spiral staircase to find a cinema with striking red leather seats and head downstairs to an art gallery built in the basement. Perfect for showcasing largescale installations, the cavernous area hosts several shows throughout the year.
Light streams through windows built into cones rising from the marketplace square outside. Cherished by locals, the futuristic structures have been a particular hit with skateboarders. The gallery even has a stash of spare skateboards behind the counter should any tourists like to have a go. Pop into the neighbouring Lasipalatsi cafe to admire the frescoes and more 1930s design. Visit amosrex.fi/en/
Dine at Cheri
The latest venture from adventurous, trend-setting chef Richard McCormick only opened a few weeks ago, but it’s already causing a stir. Overlooking Esplanade Park in the centre of Helsinki, the unabashedly pink parlour is a playful mix of plush dining booths and tacky Eighties antiques.
Once the Instagram frenzy is over, however, it’s worth sticking around for the food. Using local Finnish ingredients to transform French and European favourites, the menu is a delight. A tartare of foraged mushrooms is rich in earthy, forest flavours; a lobster linguine is a sweet and salty nod to the sea.
If you’re lucky, Richard’s mum, Nisa, might be on waitress duty. A flamboyant character with a background in singing musicals, she’ll happily share stories of her colourful life. Visit cherihelsinki.com
Sleep in the new Scandic Grand Hotel
So much of Helsinki’s architecture deserves attention. One of the most iconic structures is the train station, built in the early 20th century. An example of Art Nouveau splendour, its pistachio-hued clocktower rises above two pairs of lantern-bearing statues flanking the entrance.
Designed by the same architect, Eliel Saarinen, the neighbouring railway administration building has been transformed into a hotel. Inside, long corridors are laid out in a grid system, with wide staircases connecting each floor. Highlight features include original murals signposting different departments and a wooden boardroom table scarred by the imprint of a speaker’s hammer.
The breakfast buffet is one of the city’s finest offerings. Find three types of porridge, a seasonal apple crumble with custard, and egg soufflé served with a chimichurri sauce. From €102 per night (around £87), including breakfast. Visit scandichotels.com
Shop with a conscience
Living so close to nature, Finns have an inbuilt desire to live as sustainably as possible. Mindful of the waste generated by over-consumption, citizens are changing their habits and finding new ways to eat and shop.
Alongside popular charity stores featuring furnishings and bric a brac, several designer clothes shops aim to give used items a new home. A cut above any jumble sale, clothing hangs neatly from rails and accessories are displayed in glass cabinets at Flea (Iso Roobertinkatu 11), which also doubles as a champagne bar. It’s a similar set up at Relove (Fredrikinkatu 25), where a section is set aside for a trendy café serving elaborate cakes and pastries.
Go one step further and start from scratch with an excellent collection of yarns sold at multiple knitting shops in the city. Part of the school curriculum, the popular pastime is taught to boys and girls.
*Leave a trip itinerary with family or friends. If hiking by yourself and don’t have family or friends in the area with whom you could leave an itinerary with, leave an itinerary in the vehicle.
*Every hunter should carry these “ten essentials”: map, compass, flashlight, extra food and water, extra clothes, sunglasses, first-aid kit, pocketknife, waterproof matches, and fire starter.
*Shooting and/or hunting is prohibited in developed recreation sites and trailheads including Lake Como and Bass Creek Recreation Areas.
*Be aware that there may be bears in the area, store food properly. Also, carcasses should not be closer than 100 yards to your sleeping area.
*Your cell phone can save your life, but don’t depend on having sufficient coverage, particularly in remote parts of the Bitterroot National Forest.
*Follow the ‘Pack It In, Pack It Out’ and ‘Leave No Trace’ principles while camping.
*Campers, hunters, and others are not allowed to camp for more than 16 consecutive days in one location. New camps must be located five air miles from the previous camp.
*Choose a site for a campfire carefully, near water if possible, and clear it of any combustible material. Remember, just because it’s cold in the morning doesn’t mean fires can’t spread quickly! NEVER walk away from a smoldering campfire. ALWAYS make sure a fire is dead out.
If you don’t have cash but you do have a smartphone, consider mobile-payment apps. Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, Zelle and Apple Pay all offer ways to send money quickly and easily. Some of these companies also offer non-mobile ways to pay online; if your smartphone dies, you might be able to access payment services through a laptop or, in desperation, a hotel computer.
While President JOE BIDEN has made progress in filling some of the empty watchdog positions — installing new permanent Senate-confirmed inspectors general for the intelligence community and the CIA — there are still 12 remaining IG vacancies nine months into his administration. The White House has not even announced nominees for four of these positions, most significantly watchdogs for the Pentagon and the State Department.
The problem predates both Biden and Trump, to some extent. The massive Pentagon job, for example, has been vacant or filled by an acting official for a shocking total of almost six years. Trump in April 2020 demoted Glenn Fine, the longtime acting DOD IG with a reputation for independence and aggression, preventing him from serving as the head of a committee of IGs created to look into the administration’s pandemic-related spending.
While Biden is ahead of his predecessors in filling IG vacancies overall, the president’s slowness in announcing nominees for the two major national security jobs is a missed opportunity to draw a contrast with the previous administration on the issue of government corruption, according to Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight.
Trump’s firing campaign was broadly seen not just as retaliation for IGs investigating inappropriate behavior by the administration — including the whistleblower complaint into the president’s attempts to pressure Ukraine’s leader — but also as an effort to intimidate the historically apolitical watchdog community into silence.
“Because things got so bad in the Trump administration, it would seem to me that the Biden administration would want to plant a flag and say, ‘We’re different … Our administration is not going to try to silence the watchdogs,’” Brian told NatSec Daily.
A White House spokesperson said the Biden administration has nominated people for eight watchdog positions awaiting Senate confirmation and is in the process of selecting nominees for the remaining four vacancies.
But privately, even some Democratic lawmakers are frustrated with the White House over the slow pace of IG nominations. This is a particular source of frustration in the context of the various investigations into the withdrawal from Afghanistan, said one senior Democratic aide.
Having Senate-confirmed inspectors general in place at the Pentagon and State Department would take some of the pressure off the congressional committees spearheading those reviews, the aide suggested.
Another senior Democratic aide pushed back on that characterization, saying the State Department’s acting IG, Diana Shaw, is “incredibly competent” and the IG’s office has been able to “effectively carry out its work, compared to other IG offices that were decimated during the previous administration.”
There’s also a general feeling within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that other nominations should be prioritized, especially given the monthslong campaign by Sen. TED CRUZ (R-Texas) to slow-walk even the most non-controversial State Department picks over his objections to Biden’s Nord Stream 2 policy.
Many of those nominees are set to clear their first hurdle next week and advance to the Senate floor for consideration, where Cruz is expected to demand votes on each one — a process that eats up valuable hours on the floor as Democrats look to carve out time for Biden’s domestic agenda.
The IG nominees probably won’t escape this fate, as Cruz is likely to hold up NICOLE ANGARELLA — Biden’s nominee to be inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development — when she is discharged from the Foreign Relations Committee. The Texas senator is also likely to block Biden’s yet-to-be-named State Department IG nominee, whenever he or she eventually clears that key hurdle.
DESPERATE FOR HELP IN AFGHANISTAN:While a lot has been happening inside the Beltway, there’s still ongoing fallout over the Biden’s administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. A group of volunteer-run organizations now say they are at their wits’ end with the lack of communication, coordination and funding from the U.S. government — specifically faulting the State Department — as they seek to get Americans and U.S. allies out safely.
Our own OLIVIA BEAVERS spoke to leaders of these organizations that have teamed up, including Task Force Argo’s ZACH NUNN, who serves in the Iowa State Senate; Liberty Operations Alliance’s TOMMY BREEDLOVE; and AFGfree’s Lt. Col. PERRY BLACKBURN. Here’s what they want you to know…
Americans are still trying to get out: They say there are dozens of American citizens still trying to escape from Afghanistan. “One of the most recent press conferences by the State Department highlighted that there are maybe a couple dozen Americans left, and they don’t want to leave. And the irony is, I literally sent that morning a manifest to the State Department that showed that we had 30 Americans on our flights alone who were desperate to get out of the country with their family,” said Nunn.
In some cases, they say an individual may choose to stay behind as their spouse waits to get their paperwork in order, but that doesn’t mean those Americans aren’t trying to leave. The situation is getting increasingly desperate. Through private funding, Americans as well as SIVs and LPRs (referring to the lawful permanent resident status granted to certain Afghan and Iraqi nationals) are being housed in safe houses. But since Breedlove says “it is down to the wire” with funding running out, these Americans and U.S. allies may soon be forced onto the streets with the Taliban.
Between Liberty Operations Alliance and AFGfree, they say they have 60 American citizens (or AMCITs), 140 Green Card Holders, two California student AMCITs, four approved and issued SIVs, and four SIVs with a case number. These numbers do not include their family members, however.
Problems piling up: In addition to private funding drying up, they say they are in the dark about the government’s evacuation plan for individuals who didn’t make those last flights out. Flights have also been delayed and canceled. Another one is access to various lily pads in different countries. These organization leaders say they have repeatedly run into issues where a country is willing to allow them to bring evacuees over by plane — which they are paying for rather than the government — only for the U.S. government not to give them the green light. They say that while the administration has allowed them to land in UAE and Doha, they haven’t allowed these groups to utilize lily pads in Kuwait or Jordan, despite having the infrastructure in place.
They had some choice words for the State Department, in particular. From red tape, “that’s not my job” excuses, disorganization and other examples of poor communication, these officials say State is botching the evacuations. “I respect the chain of command, but when it’s something as fundamental as, ‘How do we rescue an American citizen trapped in Mazar-i-Sharif — there is a Taliban militia who is circling the building that we have provided through private funders, and we have an aircraft that can get them out of country — can you tell me where I can land?’ And you don’t hear anything back, it baffles me,” Nunn added.
A State Department spokesperson, when asked to respond to this criticism, provided a 12-bullet-point response, saying department officials are “working closely with allies and partners” to get people out safely. They declined to comment on the particulars of U.S. diplomatic engagements with other countries and their involvement with any specific groups at this time. But they did said they are continuing to work to “resolve any issues,” keep the Taliban at bay, and carry on with the “monumental task” of evacuations and relocation efforts — including the challenge of “verifying the facts on the ground” or dealing with manifest lists that prove to be wrong on privately chartered flights.
INTEL OFFICIALS DOUBTFUL OF TAIWAN INVASION:As Congress ramps up pressure on the White House to answer China’s aggression toward Taiwan — with some lawmakers calling on Biden to abandon the longtime U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” — the State Department and intelligence community remain reluctant to countenance any potential American action that could unnecessarily escalate the situation, per CNN’s NATASHA BERTRAND and OREN LIEBERMANN.
“Intelligence officials have not yet seen anything to suggest that China is readying a military offensive,” they report, and “[o]fficials in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs … are leery of taking a much more aggressive posture toward China over the Taiwan issue than the strategically ambiguous status quo.”
Meanwhile, “defense officials said they see 2027 — the 100th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army and the final year of [Chinese President] XI JINPING‘s third presidential term — as a key year in which Beijing could try to take Taiwan by force if peaceful unification has not yet been achieved.”
BORDERS BACK OPEN FOR THE VACCINATED: The United States is reopening its borders to the international community, with the White House announcing today that America will begin welcoming fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 8, per our own ANDY BLATCHFORD and ORIANA PAWLYK.
The new travel policy “is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent,” according to the White House, and it applies “to both international air travel and land travel.” The U.S. border has been closed to discretionary travel since March 2020.
But it still remains unclear — especially for Canadians — whether the United States will accept travelers who were given a mixed-dose regimen of two different Covid-19 shots. The United States will look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the appropriate definition of “fully vaccinated,” a U.S. government official told Blatchford and Pawlyk.
TEHRAN NOT READY FOR NUCLEAR TALKS WITH WASHINGTON:After meeting with a top European Union mediator yesterday in Tehran, Iranian officials still aren’t ready to return to formal talks with the United States and other world powers seeking a renegotiation of the 2015 nuclear deal, per Reuters’ JAN STRUPCZEWSKI and JOHN IRISH.
Instead, EU envoy ENRIQUE MORA and the Iranian Foreign Ministry agreed Tehran’s negotiating team would continue its conversations with the international body in Brussels in the next few weeks.
“They are not yet ready for engaging in Vienna,” a senior EU official told reporters, referring to the series of talks in the Austrian capital among the original parties of the nuclear agreement that have been stalled since June.
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN warned again this week that “time is running short” for Tehran to return to full compliance with the 2015 pact — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — which Trump withdrew the United States from in 2018.
DRINKS WITH NATSEC DAILY: At the end of every long, hard week, we like to highlight how a prominent member of Washington’s national security scene prefers to unwind with a drink.
Today, we’re featuring Sen. BILL HAGERTY (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Per his staff, the freshman lawmaker takes a load off with “a nice Tennessee whiskey,” which makes sense for the Volunteer State senator. So where and when does he like to sip on that sweet nectar? “Fireside at his home in Nashville surrounded by family and friends,” we’re told. Cheers, senator!
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“There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the carnage,” they wrote. But if “the attack was carried out by [the Islamic State], it would be the first major assault by the extremist group in southern Afghanistan since the U.S. departure enabled the Taliban to consolidate control of the country.”
Today’s bloodshed in Kandahar comes just a week after an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a separate Shiite mosque in northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, killing at least 46 people.
PUTIN SETS THE TABLE FOR TALIBAN SUMMIT:In more Islamic State news, Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN said today that the Kremlin’s intelligence indicated roughly 2,000 members of the militant group were massing in northern Afghanistan, per AFP.
Those comments come ahead of a planned summit between Russia and the Taliban, set to take place in Moscow next week. ZAMIR KABULOV, Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan, said today that Russian officials “do not expect any breakthroughs” to occur during the talks, per Reuters.
According to Russian news agencies, Kabulov also said that “officials from Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan would meet separately in Moscow on Tuesday to come up with a united position on the changing situation in Afghanistan.”
Representatives from Washington, Moscow and Beijing previously convened earlier this week for a G-20 meeting on Afghanistan and agreed they would not grant the Taliban formal government recognition.
EXPERTS WARN APPLE TECH COULD ENDANGER DEMOCRACY:More than a dozen of the world’s leading information security experts are arguing that a new technology proposed by Apple to root out images of child sexual abuse on iPhones might actually pose a threat to democracy, per Sky News’ ALEXANDER MARTIN.
In a paper titled “Bugs in Our Pockets,” the 14 experts contend the technology — called client-side scanning — “would be an extremely dangerous societal experiment,” predicting “there would be enormous pressure to expand its scope” beyond the identification of child sexual abuse material.
“The introduction of scanning on our personal devices — devices that keep information from to-do notes to texts and photos from loved ones — tears at the heart of privacy of individual citizens,” the experts write. “Such bulk surveillance can result in a significant chilling effect on freedom of speech and, indeed, on democracy itself.”
After announcing the technology as part of its new slate of child protection features in August, Apple delayed its launch last month amid concerns about the breadth of its use.
CENTCOM, AIR FORCE SPLIT ON ATTEMPTED KABUL HIJACKING: U.S. Central Command is contradicting a report by the Air Force earlier this week that five people sought to hijack a commercial flight at Kabul’s international airport amid the American evacuation from Afghanistan in August, per CNN’s Liebermann.
According to an account published Tuesday on the Air Force’s website, Personnel Recovery Task Force troops were “tracking military and commercial flights into” the airport, and “[o]n one occasion after they received an intel tip, five people onboard one of the commercial flights intended to hijack the aircraft.”
Lt. Col. BRIAN DESAUTELS, quoted in the Air Force account, said of the incident: “Our team worked to get them clear of the NATO ramp, relocated to the north side away from friendly forces, then ultimately onto the south side where the situation was handled.”
But in a statement Thursday, U.S. Central Command spokesperson Lt. JOSIE LYNNE LENNY told CNN she was “unaware of any attempt to hijack a plane” at the airport.
“During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, an intel tip indicated the possibility of a plot to highjack [sic] a particular flight that was preparing to depart the airfield,” Lenny said. “Ground traffic controllers diverted the plane to a safe location on the airfield where security forces boarded the plane and determined that there was no active attempt to hijack the aircraft.”
KERRY SAYS U.S. CAN CUT EMISSIONS WITHOUT BIDEN’S SPENDING PLAN: Special Presidential Envoy for Climate JOHN KERRY — who’s tasked with tackling what the White House views as an existential national security threat — weighed in on the fate of the president’s legislative agenda in a new interview with E&E News’ SARA SCHONHARDT and JEAN CHEMNICK.
Even if congressional Democrats ultimately fail to pass Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social spending plan, which includes several provisions aimed at countering climate change, Kerry predicted the United States could still meet the administration’s stated goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030.
“I just think people are miscalculating if they think that the whole thing depends on one piece of legislation,” Kerry said. “Is it important as legislation? Yes, unequivocally.”
But Kerry went on to argue that the massive reconciliation bill “is not the key” to the upcoming climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of the month — where world leaders will work to develop a five-year plan for reducing global emissions. “It is not the sole determinant of what is going to unfold,” Kerry added of the bill.
COTTON TELLS BIDEN TO GET TOUGHER ON TAIWAN:Sen. TOM COTTON (R-Ark.) asserted today in a Fox News interview that China’s recent aggression toward Taiwan is merely an example of Beijing “exploiting weakness that Joe Biden has already demonstrated.”
“We had the humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, and then President Biden went to the United Nations and wouldn’t even say China’s name. Literally wouldn’t say the word China,” the Senate Armed Services Committee member said, adding: “It would be a catastrophe of historic proportions to allow China to invade and annex Taiwan.”
Cotton went on to outline “a few things” the United States can do to aid the contested island nation that “are very practical and immediate” measures: “We need to help Taiwan fortify its defenses, provide it more cybersecurity support, provide it more missiles [and] provide it sea mines for the Taiwan Strait.”
“More fundamentally,” he said, “we need to make it clear to Xi Jinping that we will support Taiwan, that we will come to its aid if China ever tries to invade. That is the best way to deter invasion in the first place.” No strategic ambiguity there.
— LEE FOSTER, senior vice president at the Alethea Group, also will be an affiliate and adjunct professor at the new Alperovitch Institute for Cybersecurity Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
— LYLE GOLDSTEIN will be director of Defense Priorities’ new Asia Engagement program. He was a research professor at the U.S. Naval War College for 20 years.
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who hasn’t let his lack of Senate confirmation stop him.