What We’re Watching: US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Fukushima wastewater, US stops J&J jab, big rabbit hunt
The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.
Japan's nuclear waste problem: Japan has announced that in two years it will begin dumping treated radioactive wastewater from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster directly into the Pacific Ocean. Unsurprisingly, the decision has outraged local fishermen, environmental groups, and Japan's neighbors China and South Korea. Tokyo says the water, which has been treated, is safe, and that there is no other choice: the tanks that now store the liquid are almost full and they can't build more on current sites. Critics, in turn, argue that the Japanese government could acquire more land for the tanks, or follow the International Atomic Energy Agency's alternative recommendation to release the water into the atmosphere as vapor. Whether or not Tokyo reverses course, what to do with Fukushima's wastewater will likely be a hot-button issue in Japan's domestic politics and foreign relations over the next two years.
US hits pause on J&J vaccine: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have jointly recommended a "pause" in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine "out of an abundance of caution" following news that six people have developed a "rare and severe" type of blood clot after receiving doses. Out of more than 6.8 million doses, six people have developed these symptoms, all of them within 6 to 13 days of vaccination. Some observers will congratulate US health officials for their abundance of caution. Others will criticize a decision to slow vaccinations over a "very rare event" at a time when vaccine rollout is critical. But even if the pause in J&J jabs is a brief one, doubts have now been raised about the safety of a vaccine already administered to millions of Americans. The challenge of persuading the vaccine-averse in the US — and elsewhere — to roll up their sleeves just got a lot bigger.Good Rabbit Hunting: Have you seen Darius? He is the world's largest rabbit, and he's been stolen from his home in the village of Stoulton in central England. Be on the lookout, Signal readers. Darius is 4 feet 3 inches long and weighs 44 pounds. For those of you on the metric system, that's 129 cm and 20 kg. There's a reward of more than a thousand dollars/euros/pounds for his return. But we're not in this for the money ourselves - we're searching because… who wouldn't want to see a rabbit that big? Here's to Darius's rediscovery and safe return to an owner who loves and cares for him.