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Taliban fighters celebrate the deal. Photo: Wali Sabawoon/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Today offered an immediate reminder that while a deal was struck Saturday for the U.S. to begin to leave Afghanistan, peace remains elusive.

Driving the news: The Taliban said it had resumed offensive operations against Afghan forces following a "reduction in violence" during negotiations.

  • Three civilians were killed and 11 wounded by a bomb blast in Khost. The Taliban denied responsibility.
  • Gen. Mark Milley acknowledged in a press briefing that "an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan ... is probably not going to happen."
  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he would not abide by a deal to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, saying the U.S. was "only a facilitator" and couldn't dictate such steps.

What they're saying:

"This is going to be a long, windy, bumpy road. That’s going to be the nature of this over the next days, weeks and months. ... We’re just going to deal with each situation as it arises and make sure we stay focused on the mission.”
— Defense Secretary Mark Esper

The big picture: America has wanted out of Afghanistan for at least a decade. The deal signed in Doha could accomplish that.

  • It calls for some 4,000 U.S. troops to pull out "within months" and for a complete exit within 14 months.
  • The Taliban has declared it a victory.

The big picture: Since the American invasion in the wake of 9/11, 3,500 U.S. and allied troops have been killed, tens of thousands of Afghans have lost their lives, and the U.S. has spent $2 trillion.

  • Polls suggest most Americans tend to consider the war a failure.
  • It's unclear what will happen to the protections the U.S. has helped guarantee for minorities and women, including access to education.

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Five companies this morning announced plans to go public via reverse mergers with SPACs, at an aggregate market value of more than $15 billion. And there might be even more by the time you read this.

The bottom line: SPAC merger activity hasn't peaked. If anything, it's just getting started.

Moderna says vaccine appears to protect against new COVID-19 variants

Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new variants of the virus that first appeared in the U.K. and in South Africa, the company announced on Monday.

Yes, but: The vaccine was as effective against the strain from U.K., but saw a six-fold reduction in antibodies against the South Africa variant. Even still, the neutralizing antibodies generated by the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective," according to the company.

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Xi Jinping warns against "new cold war" in Davos speech

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wang Zhao - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that a "new cold war" could turn hot, and must be avoided, in a speech on Monday at World Economic Forum’s virtual “Davos Agenda” conference.

Why it matters: Xi didn't refer directly to U.S.-China tensions, but the subtext was clear. These were his first remarks to an international audience since the inauguration of President Biden, whose administration has already concurred with Donald Trump's determination that China is committing "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims, and issued a warning about China's aggression toward Taiwan.