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An al-Nusra fighter holds his group flag as he stands in front of the governor building in Idlib province, north Syria. Photo: Al-Nusra Front Twitter page via AP

After al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, broke off in 2016, the U.S. government and other observers portrayed the split as a public relations move. The assumption was that al-Qaeda would retain an unofficial link to its loyal force in Syria, which would then be free to partner with local groups that must reject al-Qaeda in order to secure aid from the U.S. and its allies.

In fact, the separation may have been more of an acrimonious divorce. Recent revelations, including a statement by a senior Syrian jihadist, a public chastisement from Ayman Zawahiri, and an exchange among various jihadists in Syria, suggest that al-Qaeda wields less influence than previously feared and that U.S. efforts to isolate al-Qaeda in Syria are bearing some fruit.

Why it matters: The al-Qaeda core has not carried out a major terrorist attack in years, and much of the “action” is undertaken by local groups bearing its name. As the Islamic State’s caliphate collapses, Al-Qaeda’s inability to hold on to its most important affiliate raises questions about its ability to regain leadership over the global jihadist movement.

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Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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  2. Health: CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use" — Death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased testing can reduce transmission.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
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  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
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  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.
1 hour ago - Health

Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate

Golden Gate Park. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.

2 hours ago - Podcasts

Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process

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Axios Re:Cap digs in with former FDA commissioner Rob Calif about the EUA process, the science and who should make the final call.