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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
The number of people wounded in multiple bomb blasts yesterday in the Afghan city of Jalalabad has risen to 123, officials said today. No militant group has yet claimed responsibility for the 14 bombs which exploded in public squares, markets and outside restaurants in the eastern city as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its independence; a government health official in Jalalabad Gulzada Sangar said no deaths were reported in the attacks, Reuters reports.
Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani yesterday pledged that his country “will take revenge for every civilian drop of blood” following an attack by a local Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) on Saturday that killed 63 people. “Our struggle will continue against [I.S.I.S.], we will take revenge and will root them out,” Ghani said, alleging that the Taliban is also responsible for the surge of bombings and violence because the group has “created the platform for terrorists,” the AP reports.
“Despite decades of conflict … Afghans remain committed to a nation that is stable … peaceful and prosperous … and that upholds the human rights of women and men alike,” Head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (U.N.A.M.A.) Tadamichi Yamamoto said in a statement yesterday, after a series of terror attacks in recent days, the U.N. News Centre reports.
“An acceptable agreement with the Taliban would condition the final withdrawal of U.S. troops on a settlement between the insurgents and the Afghan government …[and would] provide for a continuing presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces to strike the Islamic State and other emerging terrorist threats,” the Washington Post editorial board argues, warning that if U.S. President Trump “agrees to a pullout that omits such requirements, he will risk turning what could still be a successful outcome for the United States in Afghanistan into a shameful failure.”
“We have seen too often the tragic cost in human lives and resources from the repeating cycle of violence from failed men-only peace processes,” Ambassador Donald Steinberg comments at Just Security, making the case for an agenda for urgent action, centered around the “visionary language” of the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 1325 aimed at ensuring gender equity, women’s empowerment, and civilian protection in times of conflict and crisis.
A Syrian government air strike yesterday aiming to stop a Turkish military convoy reaching a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed three civilians and wounded 12, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. The ministry did not provide other details but “strongly condemned” the airstrikes, stating they were contrary to “existing agreements as well as our cooperation and dialogue with Russia;” Syria said the Turkish convoy was transporting ammunition to rebels who have lost ground this month amid a government offensive to regain their last stronghold in the country, Albert Aji and Suzan Fraser report at the AP.
A Syrian jihadist group said today rebel fighters had “redeployed in the southern part of the town of Khan Sheikhoun and still controlled towns in adjoining area of Hama province,” after a war monitor reported insurgents had pulled out of the area early today. Reuters reports.
The Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) is “gathering new strength,” American and Iraqi military and intelligence officers have said, warning the group is “conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp,” contrary to President Trump’s claims this year of a “total defeat” of I.S.I.S., Eric Schmitt, Alissa J. Rubin and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the New York Times.
The Russian and the Syrian governments knew exactly where the 14 medical facilities in Idlib were when they bombed them, Anchal Vohra argues at Foreign Policy, commenting that the U.N.’s system of sharing the G.P.S. coordinates of health care facilities in rebel-held territory with the Russian government “is not working.”
CHINA, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN
The U.S. Commerce Department yesterday announced it would extend a reprieve that allows Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to purchase components from American companies to supply existing customers. At the same time, the Department also moved to add 46 more companies to its list of Huawei subsidiaries and affiliates that would be covered by the ban if it is implemented in full — taking the total on the economic blacklist to more than 100, Katy Stech Ferek and Drew FitzGerald report at the Wall Street Journal.
The three-month extension “is intended to afford consumers across America the necessary time to transition away from Huawei equipment … given the persistent national security and foreign policy threat,” the department said in a statement. As a result of the extension, Huawei can continue to buy U.S.-made semiconductors and other materials vital to its phones and network equipment, while U.S. telecommunications companies can continue to purchase Huawei’s networking equipment, Reuters reports.
Huawei today brushed off Washington’s 90-day delay to a ban on U.S. firms selling to the Chinese tech giant — saying the decision would not change the fact it had been “treated unjustly.” “It’s clear that this decision, made at this particular time, is politically motivated and has nothing to do with national security,” Huawei responded in a statement, adding that the actions “are in no one’s interests, including U.S. companies … attempts to suppress Huawei’s business won’t help the United States achieve technological leadership,” AFP reports.
“The U.S. military is no longer the primary force in Asia … and missiles from China’s rapidly improving military could overwhelm its bases in hours,” a new report by the United States Study Center, at the University of Sydney, in Australia, has warned. The report alleges that America’s defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific region “is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis” and “could struggle to defend its allies against China,” highlighting areas where China’s military is making vast advances in comparison to the U.S. and its partners, such as Australia and Japan, Brad Lendon reports at CNN.
Tech giants Twitter and Facebook yesterday accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and “sow political discord” in the city. In a blog post, Twitter announced it had suspended 936 active accounts linked to what it called a “significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong,” Christiano Lima reports at POLITICO.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong … including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it removed for violations against Twitter’s platform manipulation policies — including breaches around spam content, coordinated activity, fake accounts, attributed activity and efforts to avoid Twitter bans. Facebook removed seven pages, three groups, and five accounts from the platform in light of the investigation; more than 15,000 Facebook users were estimated to follow the Chinese-backed pages that were shut down, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined direct comment on the Twitter and Facebook actions — but defended the right of Chinese people and media to “express their point of view” over the Hong Kong protests. “What is happening in Hong Kong, and what the truth is, people will naturally have their own judgment … why is it that China’s official media’s presentation is surely negative or wrong?” Geng told a daily news briefing after the tech giants announced they had dismantled a state-backed social media campaign, Reuters reports.
Hong Kong’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam today offered talks with anti-government critics following weeks of demonstrations, without confirming the withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill. In a news conference this morning, Lam announced that her office “will start immediately a platform for dialogue with people from all walks of life,” while pledging to carry out an investigation into alleged police abuse; “this is something that we want to do, in a very sincere and humble manner,” Lam said, adding her administration is “committed to listen to what the people have to tell us,” Al Jazeera reports.
Lam expressed hope that Sunday’s peaceful protest would mean that the semi-autonomous Chinese territory is on its way to peace. “On Sunday, many Hong Kong residents participated in a rally at Victoria Park that was largely peaceful,” Lam said at a televised press conference, adding: “I wholeheartedly hope that this is the beginning of society returning to calm and staying away from violence,” AFP reports.
Britain today said it was “extremely concerned” by reports that a member of the British consular staff in Hong Kong had been detained in mainland China. Simon Cheng did not return to work on Aug. 9 after visiting the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen the previous day, Hong Kong news website HK01 reported, citing an interview with his girlfriend and family, Lily Kuo reports at the Guardian.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen “thanked” the U.S. today for approving the sale of 66 advanced F-16V fighter jets on Sunday, and called on rival China to respect Taiwan’s right to defend itself, Taijing Wu reports at the AP.
PAKISTAN AND INDIA
President Trump yesterday spoke by telephone with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan amid escalating tensions between the two Indo-Pacific nations. “The President conveyed the importance of reducing tensions between India and Pakistan and maintaining peace in the region,” the White House said; the president’s call with Khan marks the second time in four days the pair have spoken about the disputed Kashmir and Jammu regions, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.
Trump took to Twitter to hail the dialogue: “Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister Khan of Pakistan, regarding Trade, Strategic Partnerships and, most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir … a tough situation, but good conversations!” the president stated in a message sent on Twitter, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.
YEMEN AND The KINGDOM
At least three people were killed in clashes between forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government and U.A.E.-backed separatists in southern Abyan province, according to reports from Yemeni officials and local residents, Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.
The U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen launched an attack yesterday on military targets in the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthi movement, Saudi state T.V. reported. The coalition advised civilians to stay away from the targeted areas, state TV added, Reuters reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday insisted there was “no threat” and “no risk of increased radiation levels” after an accidental blast at a military site in northern Russia on Aug. 8 that killed five people and sparked international fears about radiation leaks. Putin explained that experts sent to the site on the White Sea are “controlling the situation” and no “serious changes” have been reported, the AP reports.
Russia’s foreign ministry said it is not obliged to share data with other nations, in response to reports that several of its radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the blast at Nonoksa missile testing facility. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that “it is Russia’s choice, not an obligation,” to share information under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, without directly addressing the reports that information on radiation levels was not shared, the AP reports.
The Pentagon said yesterday that it had tested a conventional ground-launched cruise missile with a range of more than 500 km, the first such test since the U.S. formally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty on Aug. 2. The test would have been prohibited by the treaty, Ryan Browne reports at CNN.
Russia today slammed the U.S. for testing the missile, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov expressing concern that the U.S. is increasing “the destabilizing potential” of the issue. Speaking to the state-owned R.I.A. Novosti news agency, Ryabkov also said that the test “proved Russia’s earlier suspicions that the U.S. was testing the banned missiles even before it withdrew from the treaty,” the AP reports.
CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY
Top prosecutors from a group of U.S. states are readying a joint investigation into whether major technology companies — such as Google and Facebook — have violated antitrust law, according to people familiar with the matter. The U.S. Department of Justice last month announced it is reviewing “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” John D. McKinnon and Brent Kendall report at the Wall Street Journal.
Facebook’s bid to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp more closely could complicate any attempt to break up the social media giant, Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (F.T.C.) Joseph Simons said yesterday, as the agency investigates Facebook for potential antitrust violations, Kadhim Shubber reports at the Financial Times.
Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Lujan (N.M) yesterday became the highest ranking House Democrat to back an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. “I support moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, which will continue to uncover the facts for the American people and hold this president accountable,” Lujan, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, said in a statement, adding: “this is not a position I’ve reached lightly,” Alex Moe reports at NBC.
The Trump administration was sued yesterday over its official policies and lack of oversight related to the border and immigration crisis that have caused “major lapses” in medical and mental health care in almost 160 detention facilities across the country in a sweeping, first-of-its kind class action lawsuit. Renuka Rayasam reports at POLITICO.
“Building a vibrant … diverse workforce that is adaptive in countering emerging global threats is vital to U.S. national security,” Asha C. Castleberry and Camille Stewart argue at Just Security, commenting “operationalizing the intellect and lived experiences of a diverse workforce is the best way to confront the wide spectrum of global risks and competition today.”
A U.S. official yesterday offered to triple the number of temporary farmworker visas available to Guatemalans, in an effort to bolster an asylum deal struck between Guatemala’s outgoing president Jimmy Morales and the U.S., Reuters reports.
Top Iranian official and close adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Shamkhani says his country “should never have signed” the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.) — that has since been condemned by U.S. President Trump. Shamkhani said that there were people in Iran who believed that signing the J.C.P.O.A. was “a mistake,” making the remarks in an interview with N.B.C. News; Washington withdrew from the accord last May, Ali Arouzi reports at NBC.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) the “antithesis” of “strong bipartisan support for Israel in the United States Congress” before his government blocked the pair from visiting Israel last week, according to a letter he wrote to House Democrats this summer. The letter, addressed to Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), indicates that Netanyahu had long identified Tlaib and Omar — strong critics of Israeli policy on Palestinians — as a problem for his government; many considered Netanyahu’s decision was a surrender to President Trump, who had said that allowing the lawmakers into Israel “would show great weakness,” Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration is extending a travel ban for Americans traveling to North Korea through next year, according to a State Department memo released yesterday. The ban, initially instituted in June 2017, will remain in place until Aug. 31, 2020, unless revoked earlier by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and comes amid an impasse in nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea; U.S. citizens looking to go to North Korea for humanitarian- or journalism-related purposes will be able to apply for exceptions through the State Department, the AP reports.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has described the appointment of Sri Lankan Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the country’s army as “deeply troubling,” adding that the military leader had been given the role despite “serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” the U.N. News Centre reports.
Sudan’s former President Omar Hassan al-Bashir received $90 million in cash from Saudi royals, investigator Ahmed Ali told a court yesterday at the opening of the ousted leader’s corruption trial. “The accused told us that the money was part of a sum of $25 million sent to him by Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be used outside of the state budget,” Ali said, telling the court that Bashir had said he also received two previous payments of $35 million and $30 million from Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015, AFP reports.
The U.S. military conducted an air raid today targeting an al-Shabab fighter in Somalia in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow. In a statement, U.S. Africa Command said no civilians were wounded or killed in the raid, Al Jazeera reports.
Burkina Faso’s military said extremists killed at least ten soldiers and wounded several more yesterday in the country’s north in an attack in Soum Province near Mali’s border, the AP reports.