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Younger Military Personnel Reject Vaccine, in Warning for Commanders and the Nation

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About one-third of the troops have declined to take the vaccine. Many say they worry the vaccines are unsafe or were developed too quickly. Others want a sense of independence, even in uniform.

WASHINGTON — Americans who go into the military understand the loss of personal liberty. Many of their daily activities are prescribed, as are their hairstyles, attire and personal conduct.
So when it comes to taking a coronavirus vaccine, many troops — especially younger enlisted personnel as opposed to their officers — see a rare opportunity to exercise free will.
“The Army tells me what, how and when to do almost everything,” said Sgt. Tracey Carroll, who is based at Fort Sill, an Army post in Oklahoma. “They finally asked me to do something and I actually have a choice, so I said no.”
Sergeant Carroll, 24, represents a broad swath of members of the military — a largely young, healthy set of Americans from every corner of the nation — who are declining to get the shot, which for now is optional among personnel. They cite an array of political and health-related concerns.
But this reluctance among younger troops is a warning to civilian health officials about the potential hole in the broad-scale immunity that medical professionals say is needed for Americans to reclaim their collective lives.
“At the end of the day, our military is our society,” said Dr. Michael S. Weiner, the former chief medical officer for the Defense Department, who now serves in the same role for Maximus, a government contractor and technology company. “They have the same social media, the same families, the same issues that society at large has.”
Roughly one-third of troops on active duty or in the National Guard have declined to take the vaccine, military officials recently told Congress. In some places, such as Fort Bragg, N.C., the nation’s largest military installation, acceptance rates are below 50 percent.
“We thought we’d be in a better spot in terms of the opt-in rate,” said Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman at Fort Bragg, one of the first military sites to offer the vaccine.
While Pentagon officials say they are not collecting specific data on those who decline the vaccine, there is broad agreement that refusal rates are far higher among younger members, and enlisted personnel are more likely to say no than officers. Military spouses appear to share that hesitation: In a December poll of 674 active-duty family members conducted by Blue Star Families, a military advocacy group, 58 percent said they would not allow their children to receive the vaccine.
For many troops, the reluctance reflects the concerns of civilians who have said in various public health polls that they will not take the vaccine. Many worry the vaccines are unsafe or were developed too quickly.
Some of the concerns stem from misinformation that has run rampant on Facebook and other social media, including the false rumor that the vaccine contains a microchip devised to monitor recipients, that it will permanently disable the body’s immune system or that it is some form of government control.
In some ways, vaccines are the new masks: a preventive measure against the virus that has been politicized.
There are many service members like Sergeant Carroll, officials said, who cite the rare chance to avoid one vaccine among the many required, especially for those who deploy abroad.
Young Americans who are not in the military, and who believe they do not need to worry about becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, are likely to embrace their own version of defiance, especially in the face of confusing and at times contradictory information about how much protection the vaccine actually offers.
“I don’t think anyone likes being told what to do,” Dr. Weiner said. “There is a line in the American DNA that says, ‘Just tell me what to do so I know what to push back on.’ ”
Other troops cite the anthrax vaccine, which was believed to cause adverse effects in members of the military in the late 1990s, as evidence that the military should not be on the front lines of a new vaccine.
In many cases, the reasons for refusal include all of the above.
A 24-year-old female airman first class in Virginia said she declined the shot even though she is an emergency medical worker, as did many in her squadron. She shared her views only on the condition of anonymity because, like most enlisted members, she is not permitted to speak to the news media without official approval.
“I would prefer not to be the one testing this vaccine,” she explained in an email. She also said that because vaccine access had become a campaign theme during the 2020 race for the White House, she was more skeptical, and added that some of her colleagues had told her they would rather separate from the military than take the vaccine should it become mandatory.
The military has been offering the vaccine to older personnel, troops on the medical front lines, immediate response and contingency forces, some contractors who fall into those groups and some dependents of active-duty troops.
Hundreds of thousands of people in those categories have received shots so far.
The vaccine, unlike many other inoculations, is not required by the military at this time because it has been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. Once it becomes a standard, approved vaccine, the military can order troops to take the shot.
The prevalence of fear about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine has frustrated military officials.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Robert G. Salesses, an acting assistant secretary of defense, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. One member of the committee, Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, suggested that the military personnel who refused vaccines “risk an entire community” where bases are.
While military leaders insist that vaccine acceptance rates will rise as safety information continues to spread, officials and advocacy groups are scrambling to improve the rates, holding information sessions with health care leaders like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. On some bases, health care workers follow up with those who refuse the vaccine to explore their reasons.
This week, the Army held live sessions on Facebook with high-ranking officers to press the message that the vaccine was a boon, and hundreds of commenters balked throughout. “It has not been proven this vaccine saves lives,” one person wrote.
The concern is felt at the top tier of the Pentagon’s leadership. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III released a video saying, “You know, I’ve taken it myself.”
“After talking with my doctor, I believed it was the right thing to do, not only for my health, but also for my ability to do the job and to contribute to our readiness,” Mr. Austin said.
Many public health experts say that such appeals from leaders on high may be the least effective method to convince groups that distrust government or authority figures.
“Many enlisted folks watch an admiral getting a shot and say, ‘I don’t see me in you at this point in my life,’” Dr. Weiner noted. “I appreciate you got a vaccine, but that’s not me.”
Staff Sgt. Jack Jay, who is stationed at an Army base at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., has heard every manner of fear, distrust and wild conspiracy theories from his peers — and has tried to gently share his own views.
“The reasons go from political, to the history of unproven research being carried out, and because of our age group and health we are not a high risk population of hospitalization,” said Sergeant Jay, 33, who has already taken his shot.
“The best I feel that I can do is respect the other person’s reasons even though I may not agree,” he said. “However, if one of my peers makes false statements as if they are true, I will challenge them to back up their argument with legitimate sources.”
The thread of politics that weaves through those discussions complicates the conversation, Sergeant Jay said, and reflects those he sees on Facebook and elsewhere outside the military.
“The Army is just a good barometer of what will most likely happen nationally, due to the thought processes of our country at this current moment,” he said.
In making decisions, “the biggest factor is do you know someone who got the vaccine,” said Jennifer Akin, a director of applied research at Blue Star Families. “There are so many narratives out there, it’s hard to know what to do. We are trying to provide people with trustworthy information from trustworthy sources.”
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'Just Asking' for Censorship

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Democrats expand their effort to shut down speech by targeting newsrooms.
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Coronavirus: unions criticise UK's age-based vaccine approach

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JCVI says adults aged 40-49 should be next in line, despite calls for teachers and police to be prioritised

Unions representing police, prison officers and teachers have expressed dismay at the decision to base the next stage of the coronavirus vaccination programme purely on age, with no account taken for people’s profession.

The recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), endorsed by the government, means people over 40 will be the next group to be prioritised once those in phase 1 of the rollout, aimed at older and more vulnerable people, have been offered at least one dose of the vaccine.

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Crushing Dissent: The Saudi Kill Team Behind Khashoggi’s Death

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An elite unit assigned to protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is said to have carried out dozens of operations, including forcibly repatriating Saudis.

WASHINGTON — Seven Saudis involved in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi belonged to an elite unit charged with protecting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a declassified report on the assassination released on Friday. The New York Times has linked the group to a brutal campaign to crush dissent inside the kingdom and abroad, citing interviews with American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign.
The role of operatives from the so-called Rapid Intervention Force, or R.I.F., in the Khashoggi killing helped bolster the American intelligence case that Prince Mohammed approved the operation. “Members of the R.I.F. would not have participated” in the killing without the crown prince’s consent, according to the report.
The group “exists to defend the crown prince” and “answers only to him” the report said, and on Friday, the Treasury Department designated the Rapid Intervention Force for economic sanctions for its role in the Khashoggi killing.
Here is some of what is known about the unit:
The killing of Mr. Khashoggi was but one particularly egregious operation involving members of the group. The Rapid Intervention Force appears to have begun its violent campaign in 2017, the year when Prince Mohammed pushed aside his older rival to become heir to the Saudi throne.
According to American officials, the group has carried out dozens of operations both inside the kingdom and beyond — including forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries. The group also appears to have been involved in the detention and abuse of prominent women’s rights activists who had campaigned for lifting the kingdom’s ban on women driving. One of them, Loujain al-Hathloul, was imprisoned in 2018 and released only this month.
Another of the women detained by the group, a university lecturer, tried to kill herself in 2018 after being subjected to psychological torture, according to American officials. Some of the detainees were held temporarily inside an opulent palace belonging to Prince Mohammed and his father, King Salman.
The group was so busy that, in June 2018, its field commander asked an adviser to Prince Mohammed whether the Rapid Intervention Force might get bonuses for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, according to American officials who have read an intelligence report that mentions the request.
The group was overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, one of the crown prince’s top aides who served as a media czar for the Royal Court. One of Mr. al-Qahtani’s roles was to manage the kingdom’s “troll farms” — organizations that used legions of online bots and avatars to smother the voices of prominent critics like Mr. Khashoggi. The intelligence report released on Friday made reference to a 2018 quote from Mr. al-Qahtani that he “did not make decisions without the crown prince’s approval.”
American officials said the field commander for the Rapid Intervention Force was Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, an intelligence officer who often traveled overseas with Prince Mohammed. Another operative on the team, Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, was a member of the Saudi Royal Guard who in 2017 was promoted for acts of valor during an attack on one of Prince Mohammed’s palaces.
The declassified report on Friday named all three men as part of a group of 21 people who “participated in, ordered or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi” on behalf of the crown prince.
The Saudi government has long denied that Prince Mohammed had any role in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, and it put eight men on trial for it. The government never released the names of the accused.
In September, a Saudi court announced that five of the men had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, and three others received lesser sentences. Some of the defendants had originally received death sentences, but those sentences were lifted after one of Mr. Khashoggi’s sons said publicly that he and his siblings had pardoned the men who killed their father.
It was unclear whether any members of the Rapid Intervention Force were put on trial or sentenced, but Mr. al-Qahtani was publicly exonerated by the Saudi government because prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to try him in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.
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Remember the Good Old Days? No Need to Feel Ashamed If You Do

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Nostalgia can bring comfort and meaning, even inspiration. It’s about the future more than the past.
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Biden Orders Airstrikes in Syria Targeting Iran-Backed Militias

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President Biden ordered retaliatory strikes against the militias whose attacks in Erbil this month killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member.
Helene Cooper and
WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria against buildings belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for recent attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.
President Biden authorized the strikes in response to the rocketing in Iraq and to continuing threats to American and coalition personnel there, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, who spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III in California.
A rocket attack on Feb. 15 on the airport in Erbil, in northern Iraq, killed a Filipino contractor with the American-led military coalition and wounded six others, including a Louisiana National Guard soldier and four American contractors.
Populated areas
TURKEY
Aleppo
Mosul
Erbil
Raqqa
Feb. 15
Rocket attack
on American and
coalition personnel
Syria
Kirkuk
Feb. 25
U.S. airstrikes
in response
Damascus
Baghdad
Jordan
Iraq
Populated areas
TURKEY
Mosul
Raqqa
Erbil
Feb. 15
Rocket attack
on American and
coalition personnel
Syria
Kirkuk
Feb. 25
U.S. airstrikes
in response
Baghdad
Iraq
Jordan
Populated areas
TURKEY
Mosul
Erbil
Feb. 15
Rocket attack
on American and
coalition personnel
Syria
Kirkuk
Feb. 25
U.S. airstrikes
in response
Baghdad
Iraq
Sources: WorldPop (populated areas)
By Jugal K. Patel
American officials said the strikes were a relatively small, carefully calibrated military response: seven 500-pound bombs dropped on a small cluster of buildings at an unofficial crossing at the Syria-Iraq border used to smuggle across weapons and fighters.
The strikes were just over the border in Syria to avoid diplomatic blowback to the Iraqi government. The Pentagon offered up larger groups of targets but Mr. Biden approved a less aggressive option, American officials said.
The American airstrikes on Thursday “specifically destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militia troops, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mr. Kirby said.
“This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” he added. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.”
Mr. Kirby said the American retaliation was meant to punish the perpetrators of the rocket attack but not to escalate hostilities with Iran, with which the Biden administration has sought to renew talks on a nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump had shelved.
“We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Mr. Kirby said.
The attack on the Erbil airport was claimed by a little-known group called Awliya al Dam, or Guardian of the Blood, brigades. The group also claimed responsibility for two bombings against U.S. contractor convoys in August.
Little is known about the group, including whether it is backed by Iran or related to the organizations that used the facilities the American airstrikes targeted on Thursday. Some American officials contend that the group is merely a front for one of the better-known Shia militias.
Michael P. Mulroy, a former top Middle East policy official at the Pentagon, said the limited strikes appeared intended to signal that Iran’s use of militias as proxies would not allow them to avoid responsibility for attacking Americans. But the time and place of the attack also were significant.
“The decision to strike in Syria instead of Iraq was likely to avoid causing issues for the Iraqi government, a key partner in the continuing efforts against ISIS,” Mr. Mulroy said in an email. “It was smart to strike in Syria and avoid the blowback in Iraq.”
Mr. Biden had discussed the rocket attacks in a phone call on Tuesday with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi of Iraq. A White House statement afterward said that the two agreed “that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account.”
The retaliatory strikes, which took place about 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, or 2 a.m. Friday in eastern Syria, had been in the works for several days as American intelligence agencies worked to establish high confidence that the two Iraqi militia were responsible for the rocket attacks.
American officials said the attack killed a “handful” of militia, but the Pentagon did not provide any detailed assessment of the damage.
Saberin News Telegram channel, which is affiliated with Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, reported one dead and several injured. It said the strikes targeted an empty building and another structure used by the militia. The bases were in an area between Al Qaem and Abu Kamal, near the Syria-Iraq border.
Mr. Biden authorized the strikes on Thursday morning, as his defense secretary was at a hotel in San Diego, preparing to visit the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which was returning home from the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Austin expressed confidence that the facilities targeted were used by militia groups responsible for the attacks. Speaking to reporters aboard his plane Thursday evening, he said that the Biden administration had been “deliberate” in its approach.
“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and it was very helpful to us in refining the target,” he said.
The Biden administration has taken a more measured response to the rocket fusillade in Erbil than Mr. Trump’s pitched campaign against Iran and past actions of its proxies in Iraq — one that often caught the Iraqi government in the crossfire.
Administration officials have said since the Erbil attack that the United States would respond to the strike at a time and place of its choosing.
Even so, the deliberateness of the new administration’s approach has raised questions both in Washington and in Baghdad about where Mr. Biden’s red lines are when it comes to responding to attacks from Iranian-backed militias that target Americans in Iraq.
The United States military has drawn down the number of its troops in Iraq to under 2,500 and has pulled out of several bases there over the past two years. It says Iraq no longer needs the help it did in the past to fight the Islamic State, though American officials have acknowledged that militia attacks also factored into the decision to move troops to bases more easily defended.
Iran has made clear that it intends to retaliate further for the American drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020 that killed a top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official. Days after that strike, the Iranian government launched missile attacks against U.S. forces at the Ain al Assad air base in Iraq’s Anbar Province, wounding more than 100 troops.
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.
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The Old New York Won't Come Back

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‘The pandemic changed everything,’ we say. But we have yet to absorb fully everything that means.
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Biden Orders Airstrike in Syria Targeting Iran-Backed Militias

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President Biden ordered retaliatory strikes against the militias whose attacks in Erbil this month killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member.
Helene Cooper and
WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria against buildings belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for recent attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.
President Biden authorized the strikes in response to the rocketing in Iraq and to continuing threats to American and coalition personnel there, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, who spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III in California.
A rocket attack on Feb. 15 on the airport in Erbil, in northern Iraq, killed a Filipino contractor with the American-led military coalition and wounded six others, including a Louisiana National Guard soldier and four American contractors.
American officials said the strikes were a relatively small, carefully calibrated military response: seven 500-pound bombs dropped on a small cluster of buildings at an unofficial crossing at the Syria-Iraq border used to smuggle across weapons and fighters.
The strikes were just over the border in Syria to avoid diplomatic blowback to the Iraqi government. The Pentagon offered up larger groups of targets but Mr. Biden approved a less aggressive option, American officials said.
The American airstrikes on Thursday “specifically destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militia troops, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mr. Kirby said.
“This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” he added. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.”
Mr. Kirby said the American retaliation was meant to punish the perpetrators of the rocket attack but not to escalate hostilities with Iran, with which the Biden administration has sought to renew talks on a nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump had shelved.
“We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Mr. Kirby said.
The attack on the Erbil airport was claimed by a little-known group called Awliya al Dam, or Guardian of the Blood, brigades. The group also claimed responsibility for two bombings against U.S. contractor convoys in August.
Little is known about the group, including whether it is backed by Iran or related to the organizations that used the facilities the American airstrikes targeted on Thursday. Some American officials contend that the group is merely a front for one of the better-known Shia militias.
Michael P. Mulroy, a former top Middle East policy official at the Pentagon, said the limited strikes appeared intended to signal that Iran’s use of militias as proxies would not allow them to avoid responsibility for attacking Americans. But the time and place of the attack also were significant.
“The decision to strike in Syria instead of Iraq was likely to avoid causing issues for the Iraqi government, a key partner in the continuing efforts against ISIS,” Mr. Mulroy said in an email. “It was smart to strike in Syria and avoid the blowback in Iraq.”
Mr. Biden had discussed the rocket attacks in a phone call on Tuesday with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi of Iraq. A White House statement afterward said that the two agreed “that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account.”
The retaliatory strikes, which took place about 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, or 2 a.m. in eastern Syria, had been in the works for several days as American intelligence agencies worked to established high confidence that the two Iraqi militia were responsible for the rocket attacks.
American officials said the attack killed a “handful” of militia, but the Pentagon did not provide any detailed assessment of the damage.
Saberin News Telegram channel, which is affiliated with Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, reported one dead and several injured. It said the strikes targeted an empty building and another structure used by the militia. The bases were in an area between Al Qaem and Abu Kamal, near the Syria-Iraq border.
Mr. Biden authorized the strikes on Thursday morning, as his defense secretary was at a hotel in San Diego, preparing to visit the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which was returning home from the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Austin expressed confidence that the facilities targeted were used by militia groups responsible for the attacks. Speaking to reporters aboard his plane Thursday evening, he said that the Biden administration had been “deliberate” in its approach.
“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and it was very helpful to us in refining the target,” he said.
The Biden administration has taken a more measured response to the rocket fusillade in Erbil than Mr. Trump’s pitched campaign against Iran and past actions of its proxies in Iraq — one that often caught the Iraqi government in the crossfire.
Administration officials have said since the Erbil attack that the United States would respond to the strike at a time and place of its choosing.
Even so, the deliberateness of the new administration’s approach has raised questions both in Washington and in Baghdad about where Mr. Biden’s red lines are when it comes to responding to attacks from Iranian-backed militias that target Americans in Iraq.
The United States military has drawn down the number of its troops in Iraq to under 2,500 and has pulled out of several bases there over the past two years. It says Iraq no longer needs the help it did in the past to fight the Islamic State, though American officials have acknowledged that militia attacks also factored into the decision to move troops to bases more easily defended.
Iran has made clear that it intends to retaliate further for the American drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020 that killed a top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official. Days after that strike, the Iranian government launched missile attacks against U.S. forces at the Ain al Assad air base in Iraq’s Anbar Province, wounding more than 100 troops.
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.
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Trump supporters aren't crying and looting. Yeah, we are angry, but we are level-minded and strong. We are resilient and we will fight on, not whine and complain. See you in court, Dems!

We love you, President Trump. Hope you and your family recover quickly. Take care and best wishes. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1312158400352972800

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