Your Monday Briefing: Flooding in Australia

Good morning. We’re covering climate change in Australia, a Times investigation into U.S. airstrikes in Syria and a possible motive for the assassination of the Haitian president.

A fire truck carried two people through flooded roads in western New South Wales last month.Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Climate crises batter Australia

Many of the same areas that suffered through the Black Summer bush fires in 2019 and 2020, the worst in the country’s recorded history, are now dealing with prodigious rainfall during the wettest, coldest November since at least 1900.

Hundreds of people across several states have been forced to evacuate. Many more are stranded on floodplain islands with no way to leave except by boat or helicopter, possibly until after Christmas.

And with a second year of the weather phenomenon known as La Niña in full swing, meteorologists are predicting even more flooding for Australia’s east coast, adding to the stress from the pandemic and a recent rural mouse plague of biblical proportions.

Quotable: “It feels constant,” said Brett Dickinson, a 58-year-old wheat farmer who lives in northwest New South Wales, about a six-hour drive from Sydney. “We’re constantly battling all the elements — and the animals, too.”

Related: The planet is getting its own “black box” in case climate change destroys humanity. The steel vault — which will be located in Tasmania, an Australian island state — will create an archive that could be critical to piecing together the missteps that led to our self-destruction.

Talon Anvil directed thousands of strikes in Syria.Credit…Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

U.S. unit killed Syrian civilians

A single top secret American strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria. The unit, Talon Anvil, pinpointed targets for airstrikes, including convoys, car bombs and command centers.

But the small, shadowy force — at times fewer than 20 people — sidestepped safeguards, alarmed its military partners and repeatedly killed civilians, a Times investigation found. Senior C.I.A. officers complained to Special Operations leaders about the disturbing pattern of strikes.

Details: The U.S. military billed the air war against the Islamic State as the most precise and humane in military history. It said strict rules and oversight by top leaders kept civilian deaths to a minimum. In reality, the majority of strikes were ordered not by top leaders but by relatively low-ranking commandos in Talon Anvil.

Background: The Times reported last month that a bombing carried out by Talon Anvil in 2019 killed dozens of women and children, and that the aftermath was concealed from the public and top military leaders. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a high-level investigation into the strike. People who saw the unit operate firsthand said it was part of a pattern of reckless strikes that started years earlier.

A mural depicting Jovenel Moïse near his home.Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Inside the Moïse assassination

President Jovenel Moïse was about to name names when he was assassinated in July. Officials believe he was killed for it.

Moïse had been working on a list of powerful politicians and businesspeople involved in Haiti’s drug trade, with the intention of handing over the dossier to the American government, according to four senior Haitian advisers and officials tasked with drafting the document. The Times interviewed more than 70 people to understand what happened in the last seven months of the president’s life.

He had ordered his staff to be ruthless, even with the power brokers who had helped propel him into office. Moïse had known several of them for years, and they felt betrayed by his turn against them, his aides say.

Details: His wife, Martine Moïse, described how gunmen stayed to search the room after they shot him, hurriedly digging through files. In interrogations, some of the captured hit men confessed that retrieving the list was a top priority.

Big picture: Haiti may now provide the largest route for drugs destined for the U.S. Deep corruption often stymies American efforts. “Anyone involved in drug trafficking here has at least one police officer on their team,” a Haitian police commissioner said.


Asia and the Middle East

Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, in Israel last month.Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli leader to make an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, the latest sign of deepening ties between Israel and parts of the Arab world.

  • Alibaba dismissed an employee who had accused her boss of rape, blaming her for damaging the company’s reputation with what it said were false claims.

  • Voters in New Caledonia, a tiny scattering of islands in the South Pacific, rejected independence, choosing to remain part of France.

  • Migrants crossing the English Channel were “surrounded by dead bodies” after another boat sank last month, killing at least 27 people.

  • Nicaragua switched diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing. Only 13 nations and the Vatican still recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, down from 21 at the beginning of 2017.

World News

Police and National Guard officers investigated after a truck crash killed migrants from Central America on Dec. 9 in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico.Credit…Alfredo Pacheco/Getty Images
  • At least 55 people died when a tractor-trailer full of migrants apparently heading to the U.S. crashed in Mexico.

  • Tigray rebels executed 49 civilians in Ethiopia this year, Human Rights Watch reported.

  • At least 90 people died after tornadoes hit Kentucky and at least five other U.S. states. Here are live updates and a map of the storms.


Here are the latest updates, maps and information about Omicron.

  • New British studies indicate that the Omicron variant is indeed more contagious than Delta, but that booster shots offer strong protection.

  • Indifference, supply chain issues and other economic pressures have snarled African vaccination efforts.

  • As Omicron looms, a growing number of companies are continuing to delay their return-to-office plans.

What Else Is Happening

  • For only the second time in Formula 1 history, two drivers went into the final Grand Prix of a season tied for the championship. Max Verstappen won a thrilling victory on a disputed last lap.

  • My colleague Michael Schwirtz traveled to the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists.

  • Researchers have figured out how a tiny freshwater creature, the hydra, manages to regenerate its own head.

A Morning Read

A military transport plane took off behind members of the “Victorious Force” unit at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in September.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek have been in Afghanistan since the government collapsed. Read their exhaustive four-part story of how the Taliban took control and what life there is like now.


Scaffolding covered the exterior of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris in August.Credit…Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Notre-Dame’s modernization stirs critics

The beloved Paris cathedral is still being restored after the devastating 2019 fire. But plans are in the works to change the building before the planned reopening in 2024.

On Thursday, the latest in a series of controversies around the renovation unfolded when the National Heritage and Architecture Commission of France approved proposals to modernize the interior. New lighting and contemporary art will be installed, and the cathedral will rearrange its furniture.

Proponents say the proposals will create a conversation across centuries and allow for an easier and more pleasant visit. But critics argue that the changes will disfigure the 850-year-old cathedral and disturb the harmony of its Gothic design. On Tuesday, about 100 public figures in France signed their names to an open letter titled “Notre-Dame de Paris: What the fire spared, the diocese wants to destroy.”

Still, Notre-Dame’s choir sings on, albeit at other churches around Paris. “We have become the city’s ambassadors of sound,” said the master organist, who has played at Notre-Dame for 33 years.


What to Cook

Credit…Anna Williams for The New York Times

Rainbow cookies, a classic Italian American treat, stack layers of almond cake, jam and chocolate.

What to Watch

Our critic A.O. Scott calls the new “West Side Story” movie by Steven Spielberg “uneven” but also “a dazzling display of filmmaking craft that also feels raw, unsettled and alive.”

What to Listen to

Our pop music critics recommend 10 new tracks from Tame Impala, Jean Dawson, Mac DeMarco and others.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

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. — Amelia

P.S. Join us for a Times virtual event on Wednesday to explore the role of music in protest movements. R.S.V.P. here.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star.

You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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