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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
President Biden called off a second air strike which was scheduled to hit Syria on Feb. 26, after an aide warned 30 minutes before the strike that a woman and children were in the courtyard of the targeted site, report Gordon Lubold, Michael R. Gordon and Nancy A. Yousseff in a Wall Street Journal exclusive. The authors detail a step-by-step of the internal decision-making process that led to the decisions that day, as well as the policy officials involved. The authors note that: “On Feb. 20, four rockets targeted Balad Airbase in Iraq. No U.S. troops were based there, but the facility hosts hundreds of Western contractors. One American was wounded, reinforcing the growing recognition within the administration that there would need to be some sort of military response.”
Biden wants to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force [(AUMF)] currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement to POLITICO. “The olive branch to Capitol Hill marks the first time as president that Biden has publicly endorsed jettisoning resolutions passed by Congress a generation ago that have been used to justify military operations in places few envisioned at the time. The AUMFs include one passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and another passed in the fall of 2002 ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003,” report Bryan Bender and Andrew Desiderio for POLITICO.
Top State Department diplomatic security official in Afghanistan, Nick Sabruno, was removed from his role after stating on his Facebook page “death to America” and making racist comments about Kamala Harris following Trump’s presidential election loss in November, according to sources. Those sources said that acting U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, said he had lost confidence in Sabruno and sent him back to Washington. They added that Sabruno still works at the department but is not currently assigned to a role or an office. Kylie Atwood reports for CNN.
Colin Kahl, the Biden administration’s nominee to serve as the top policy official at the Pentagon, yesterday came under fire from GOP members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for his past tweets which criticized Republican officials and Trump-era policies as well as his past policy position on Middle East issues, particularly the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — although “Democrats appeared largely supportive of Kahl,” reports Connor O’Brien for POLITICO. The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), said: “National security is too important for partisan politics … Unfortunately, in the past, in many cases, your public policy positions have been couched in partisan politics rather than fact-based analysis.” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said: “Your tweets have been tough, and in many cases incendiary, something for which many members had issues with the previous administration’s nominee for this very same position.”
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled against an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and was attempting to appeal a 2009 deportation decision stemming from a misdemeanor conviction he received for using a fake Social Security card to secure employment. An appellant, in this case Clemente Pereida, can apply to the Attorney General to have a removal order canceled if they meet certain criteria, including no criminal convictions of “moral turpitude.” The lower courts decided that Pereida’s conviction was a crime of “moral turpitude” under Nebraska state law and therefore he had no right to challenge the deportation; the St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit was unsure if the crime met the necessary threshold to block Pereida’s appeal but concluded that the burden of proof was on the appellant to demonstrate he met the criteria to have the deportation canceled, which he failed to do; the Supreme Court’s reasoning is similar to previous appellate court’s, with Justice Neil Gorsuch stating in his written opinion that, “Individuals seeking relief from a lawful removal order shoulder a heavy burden … Mr. Pereida failed to carry that burden.” John Fritze reports for USA TODAY.
Two grand juries convened yesterday in Fulton County, Georgia, as part of District Attorney Fani Willis’ criminal investigation into former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election votes in Georgia. “A person familiar with the investigation said they are likely to rely heavily on subpoenas rather than voluntary requests for records and interviews, in part to establish a clear court record of their pursuit of evidence … In the meantime, some officials in Georgia have already hired personal attorneys amid the fallout from Trump’s efforts to upend the election results,” report Sara Murray and Jason Morris for CNN.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said yesterday that the video-sharing platform will lift Trump’s suspension once the risk of violence has decreased, but said she was unsure when that would be due to the current “elevated risk of violence.” Lauren Feiner reports for CNBC.
Facebook yesterday lifted its ban on political advertising — however, many right- and left- wing political groups were able to circumvent the social media giant’s 18-week moratorium, purchasing “tens of thousands of dollars in political ads that broke the company’s rules between January and March this year,” reports Mark Scott and Zach Montellaro for POLITICO.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett yesterday wrote her first Supreme Court majority opinion, a 7-2 decision that narrowed the category of documents required to be disclosed by federal agencies, under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act. Ariane de Vogue reports for CNN.
U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK
Acting chief of the Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman yesterday formally asked the Defense Department to extend the deployment of National Guard troops on Capitol Hill beyond next week amid growing concerns over domestic extremists that may target Congress — the request is reported to have first been sent to the Capitol Police Board, which appears to have failed to grant Pittman’s request. Pitman wrote a letter to congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to ask for support in ensuring Guard deployment was extended. “In her letter, which was obtained by POLITICO, Pittman writes that the Capitol Police “has not received the required authorization to request an extension of National Guard support.” She noted that the House sergeant-at-arms has approved her request, but said nothing about the Senate sergeant-at-arms. Both officials are members of the Capitol Police Board,” Andrew Desiderio, Lara Seligman and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.
Investigators are looking at records of communications between rioters and congressional lawmakers to understand whether the latter wittingly or unwittingly aided the former in their attack on the Capitol, said an official familiar with the matter, adding that some data gathered indicates contact was made between members of Congress and rioters in the days around Jan. 6 and that rioters spoke between themselves about their ties to lawmakers. “The existence of such communications doesn’t necessarily indicate wrongdoing by lawmakers and investigators aren’t yet targeting members of Congress in the investigation, the official noted. Should investigators find probable cause that lawmakers or their staffs possibly aided the insurrectionists, they could seek warrants to obtain the content of the communications. There’s no indication they’ve taken such a step at this point,” Evan Perez reports for CNN.
Former Trump-appointed State Department aide Federico Klein was yesterday arrested by FBI agents on charges related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the first such person appointed by former President Trump to have been arrested in connection to the riots. “Klein, 42, was taken into custody in Virginia, said Samantha Shero, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Details on the charges against him were not immediately available,” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
The U.N. Security Council is set to meet today to discuss the Feb. 1 Myanmar military coup which has seen mounting protests across the country, with police officers opening fire on protesters Friday, killing one man. The U.N. human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, urged the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the country’s junta. Reuters reporting.
The U.S. yesterday announced new measures on Myanmar’s military, including “blocking top military conglomerates and the ministries of defense and home affairs from certain types of trade … [and] also introducing export restrictions, requiring U.S. suppliers to seek hard-to-obtain licenses to ship Myanmar’s military certain items,” reports Reuters.
Myanmar’s military rulers tried to move around $1 billion held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Feb. 4, which prompted U.S. officials to put a freeze on the funds, said three people familiar with the matter, including a U.S. government official. “The transaction on Feb. 4 in the name of the Central Bank of Myanmar was first blocked by Fed safeguards. U.S. government officials then stalled on approving the transfer until an executive order issued by President Joe Biden gave them legal authority to block it indefinitely, the sources said,”Humerya Pamuk reports for Reuters.
Women protesters have been on the front lines of demonstrations across Myanmar. “By the hundreds of thousands, the women have gathered for daily marches, representing striking unions of teachers, garment workers and medical workers — all sectors dominated by women. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces appear to have singled them out. Two young women were shot in the head on Wednesday and another near the heart, three bullets ending their lives,” reports Hannah Beech for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Iran has agreed to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), regarding uranium particles found at several sites, potentially clearing the way for talks between the U.S. and Iran on a nuclear deal. Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian.
15 rights groups wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urging the Biden administration to address human rights abuses in Bahrain, calling for a rights-based foreign policy towards the Gulf-nation. Al Jazeera reporting.
Although the U.S. announced over $190 million in additional aid to Yemeni people, the Biden administration “can’t bring peace to Yemen while Iran keeps sending weapons,” writes Bradley Bowman and Katherine Zimmerman for Foreign Policy.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 28.82 million and now killed over 520,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 115.61 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 2.57 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO)’s team tasked with investigating the origins of Covid-19 in China is expected to scrap an interim report on its recent visit to the country following growing tensions between Beijing and Washington over the need for greater transparency in the investigation and an open letter from an international group of two dozen scientists calling for a new probe. Betsy McKay, Drew Hinshaw and Jeremy Page report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Indian government has approved the use of Indian-based vaccine company Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine. “Late Wednesday, Bharat Biotech released interim data showing its vaccine prevents COVID-19 in 81% of patients who receive two doses. The phase 3 clinical trial involved 25,800 subjects, making it the largest ever in India, the company said,” reports Lauren Frayer for NPR.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.
China’s national legislature intends to rewrite election rules in Hong Kong which would make it particularly difficult for Beijing critics to hold official positions within Hong Kong’s elective office. Keith Bradsher and Austin Ramzy report for the New York Times.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang said that country stands by the “one China principle,” which holds that Taiwan is part of China, and will deter any attempts seeking to assert Taiwan’s independence, although he said China remains committed to promoting peaceful relations between the two countries. Reuters reporting.
U.S. and United Nations officials have urged Eritrean and Amhara region troops to withdraw from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “We urged the Ethiopian government to support an immediate end to the fighting in Tigray, and to that end the prompt withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential steps.” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council said: “Eritrean Defence Forces must leave Ethiopia, and they must not be enabled or permitted to continue their campaign of destruction before they do so,” adding, “It is now abundantly clear to all, and openly acknowledged by officials of the government administration in Tigray, that Eritrean Defence Forces are operating throughout Tigray … Countless well-corroborated reports suggest their culpability for atrocities.” Michelle Nichola reports for Reuters.
Why Ethiopia’s deadly Tigray crisis is growing is explained by Cara Anna for AP.