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Today’s Headlines: Afghanistan’s imperiled air force

 Silhouetted people appear far in front of a descending helicopter.
During a resupply mission, a second UH-60 arrives at an outpost in the Shah Wali Kot district north of Kandahar, Afghanistan.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Afghanistan’s air force is a rare U.S.-backed success story. It may soon fail.

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Afghanistan’s imperiled air force

As U.S. forces continue toward their complete withdrawal from Afghanistan this year, the Afghan air force — which the U.S. and its partners have nurtured to the tune of $8.5 billion since 2010 — will be the government’s spearhead in its fight against the Taliban.

But the American pullout has revealed that the viability of that air force is in question.

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Since May 1, the original deadline for the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban military has overpowered government troops to take at least 23 districts to date, according to local media. That advance has further denied Afghan security forces the use of roads, meaning all logistical support to the thousands of army and police outposts and checkpoints must be done by air. The result is an operational tempo the pilots can’t sustain; their aircraft routinely exceed the maximum number of hours they’re allowed to fly.

And there is a deeper problem: Since late 2019, 94% of U.S. forces involved in training and advising the air force have left, so contractors have taken on almost all roles. “We don’t know when the contractors are going to leave here,” said Col. Salim Razmendah. “When they do, it’ll be very bad.”

On Sunday, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the departing U.S. and NATO troops were leaving behind a disaster.

A person looks outside a helicopter window.
A soldier surveys the terrain out the window during a resupply flight on a UH-60 Black Hawk toward an outpost in the Shah Wali Kot district north of Kandahar, Afghanistan, on May 6.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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A roadblock to recovery

California’s borrowing to pay unemployment benefits will balloon to $26.7 billion by the end of next year as state funds prove inadequate to cover the costs of unprecedented joblessness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a report released by the state Employment Development Department warns.

Even as the economy is rebounding, unemployment remains high, and the debt is forecast to grow beyond the $24.3 billion estimated for the end of this year, state officials said.

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Business leaders said that as borrowing from the federal unemployment trust fund is paid back by higher payroll taxes, state officials must tap more of a projected budget surplus to lessen the financial hit on employers already struggling to recover from the economic shutdown of the last year.

A return to gridlock?

As Los Angeles reopens after enduring more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, traffic congestion is back — and rapidly approaching pre-pandemic levels. But, according to data reviewed by The Times, traffic flows have changed.

The findings are fairly consistent among L.A.'s major arteries. The afternoon commute has bounced back faster than the morning trek, which remains a bit more free-flowing in many areas. Both morning and evening rush hours are shorter than they used to be, with the latter jams clearing out by 7 p.m. instead of 8 or later.

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So, how could things change in the next few months? One factor will be how flexible companies will be in requiring employees to return to the office. Another question is how many riders will return to buses, trains and subways. Perhaps the most predictable part of the traffic equation will come in September, when schools fully reopen.

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L.A.’s COVID-19 death rate has fallen below that of the Bay Area in another sign of widening recovery.

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OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

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— A Warrior fallen: the life and death of onetime Hawaii football star Colt Brennan.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

After 2,300 Los Angeles Transit Lines streetcar and bus employees went on strike, traffic in downtown Los Angeles spiked.

The June 21, 1955, Los Angeles Times reported: “Traffic, thy name was jam yesterday, especially in the downtown area, as the Los Angeles Transit Lines were idled by strike.

“Dep. Police Chief Harold Sullivan, in charge of the Traffic Bureau, estimated that an additional 100,000 automobiles were added to the normal downtown vehicular crush.…

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“Sullivan said traffic to downtown was up about 40%. With this increase in automobiles, the usually grim parking problem became almost hopeless for thousands.”

A woman stands and a man hangs over the trunk of a car in a bumper-to-bumper jammed parking lot.
June 20, 1955: Sue Diane Blanke asks lot attendant Billy Funkhouser to get her car out of a jammed parking lot. Impossible, Funkhouser replied.
(Bill Murphy / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

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— Four months after Dist. Atty. George Gascón sent a request to law enforcement agencies across Los Angeles County, more than 40 departments have yet to provide his office with names of officers who have histories of dishonesty and other misconduct that could affect their credibility in court.

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Mark Peel, the revolutionary chef who helped pioneer California cuisine and establish Los Angeles as a dining destination, died at 67.

— South L.A.’s Leimert Park honored Juneteenth with a bustling festival and a reopened park.

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NATION-WORLD

— A member of a men’s chorus group unintentionally slammed into fellow singers at the start of a Pride parade in south Florida, killing one member of the group and seriously injuring another, the group’s director said.

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— Eight children in a van from a home for abused or neglected youths were killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on a wet interstate in Alabama. They were among the 12 who’ve died in a Southeastern storm.

Jordan’s version of a trial of the century gets underway this week when a relative of King Abdullah II and a former chief of the royal court are ushered into the defendants’ cage to face charges of sedition and incitement.

— Partial results in Armenia’s snap parliamentary elections show a strong lead for the party of the acting prime minister. But the bloc of his main rival said it wouldn’t accept the results until doubts about the vote were dispelled.

— Biden said that Champ, the older of the family’s two dogs, had died “peacefully at home.” The German shepherd was 13.

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— How the “F9" team sought justice for Han and shaped the “Fast and Furious” franchise’s future.

— TV critic Robert Lloyd explains why you should watch the radical new AMC comedy that comes with its own dark reboot.

— Ahead of her June 23 conservatorship hearing, Britney Spears took to Instagram to respond to fans’ questions, including whether she thinks she’ll ever perform live again.

— Rapper, entrepreneur and activist Nipsey Hussle and actor, author and screenwriter Carrie Fisher will receive posthumous stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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BUSINESS

Large national banks want communities of color to trust them. But it’s not so simple.

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SPORTS

— Organizers at the Tokyo Olympics set a limit of 50% of capacity or up to a maximum of 10,000 fans at all Olympic venues. The decision contradicts advice from Japan’s top medical advisor.

— In Game 1 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals ,the Clippers pushed the Suns, but Devin Booker’s big game and another injury were too much.

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— The Dodgers bullpen nearly blew a huge lead before edging the Diamondbacks in a series sweep, while the Angels missed out on a series sweep by losing to the Tigers in 10 innings.

— The LAFC’s fiercest fans returned to nearly a full roar over the weekend, but as columnist Bill Plaschke writes, their beloved leader is gone.

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OPINION

— The key to treating Alzheimer’s disease may not be a drug, writes Leroy Hood, a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

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— Columnist Doyle McManus on why Republicans are suddenly reluctant to condemn political violence.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

Abigail Disney, an heir to the Disney fortune, looks at how the law helps the ultra-wealthy stay that way. (The Atlantic)

Elisabetta Covizzi is in charge of conserving the Watts Towers. “There is nothing in the world that is built like” them, she says. (L.A. Taco)

ONLY IN L.A.

Joni Mitchell has spent much of the pandemic curating a series of archival releases that will span her genre-busting career. She also has brought back a jam session at her Bel-Air home. In this Times subscriber exclusive, writer-director Cameron Crowe took in the star-studded scene in May and talked with Mitchell about singing again after a brain aneurysm, lost loves and the 50th anniversary of her album “Blue.”

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