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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news:
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced that “it is time to end the forever war” in Afghanistan. The roughly 2,500 American troops on the ground there will begin withdrawing on May 1, with the process complete by Sept. 11. David E. Sanger and Michael D. Shear report for the New York Times.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced stop in Afghanistan on Thursday for meetings with Afghan officials “to reassure them that Washington’s support for the war-torn country will continue despite the U.S. decision to withdraw all military forces by Sept. 11,” John Hudson reports for the Washington Post.
Responding to the news that U.S. troops will stay in the country past the previously agreed to deadline of May 1, the Taliban issued a warning Wednesday: “If the [Doha] agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those whom failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted. Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
Afghans are now left to worry: What comes next? Few of the United States’ “promises have materialized in vast areas of Afghanistan, but now even in the cities where real progress occurred, there is fear that everything will be lost when the Americans leave,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports for the New York Times.
And American veterans ask themselves: Was it worth it? Dave Philipps and John Ismay report for the New York Times.
The United States is discussing with allies how it can prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists once Western troops leave. This could include repositioning forces to neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper report for the New York Times.
On Wednesday, Denmark became the first country to stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine altogether, Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen report for Reuters.
The European Union is pivoting its vaccination campaign away from AstraZeneca and is now relying on the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. “In announcing the change in strategy, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said Pfizer had agreed to an early shipment of doses that she said should likely allow the bloc to reach its goal of inoculating 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer,” Matina Stevis-Gridneff reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. “pause” on the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine might now stay in place for seven to 10 days, “with potentially painful consequences that could ripple worldwide,” the New York Times reports.
American and European cautions about the safety of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are beginning to provoke anti-vaccine fervor in African countries with few other options to bring the pandemic to an end. “In Malawi, people are asking doctors how to flush the AstraZeneca vaccine from their bodies. In South Africa, health officials have stopped giving the Johnson & Johnson shot, two months after dropping the AstraZeneca vaccine. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses have gone unused.” Benjamin Mueller reports for the New York Times.
In Brazil, new doubts about the Chinese vaccine the country is relying on have surfaced in right-wing media, complicating Brazil’s already beleaguered vaccination campaign. Heloísa Traiano and Terrence McCoy report for the Washington Post.
The United States is expected to have an oversupply of hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses as soon as July, Adam Taylor reports for the Washington Post.
According to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday, more than two in five Republicans said they would avoid getting vaccinated if possible, Giovanni Russonello reports for the New York Times.
SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA
The Biden administration is announcing a raft of new sanctions on Russia today, “including long-feared restrictions on buying new sovereign debt, in retaliation for alleged misconduct including the SolarWinds hack and efforts to disrupt the U.S. election.” Alberto Nardelli, Nick Wadhams, and Jennifer Jacobs report for Bloomberg.
Speaking with CNN this morning, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described the measures as “proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful Russia actions including cyber intrusions and election interference.” Scott Neuman reports for NPR.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday that Iran would keep negotiating with world powers over how to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal. The talks were thrown into disarray after Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment site was attacked this weekend in an operation believed to have been carried out by Israel. The diplomatic discussions, which are being overseen by the European Union, are set to resume at 12:30 p.m. local time in Vienna today. Farnaz Fassihi and Megan Specia report for the New York Times.
In his remarks, Khamenei dismissed initial offers in Vienna as “not worth looking at.” Jon Gambrell reports for the AP.
SENATE INTELLIGENCE HEARING
China dominated much of the discussion at yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats. “I don’t think there is any country that presents a more severe threat to our innovation, our economic security and our democratic ideals,” FBI Director Chris Wray told the committee. In its annual threat assessment report, released Tuesday, the Intelligence Community noted that China wants to avoid direct confrontation with the United States. Martin Matishak and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.
While it remains unclear what Russia’s intention is, its military buildup at the Ukraine border is enough for a limited military incursion, according to CIA Director William Burns. “It is something not only the United States but our allies have to take very seriously,” he told the committee. Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times.
Amnesty International says Eritrean soldiers remain in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and are killing civilians weeks after Ethiopia claimed the soldiers would leave. AP reports.
At the request of the United States, the U.N. Security Council will meet today to discuss the conflict in Tigray. The meeting will be behind closed doors and the 15 members are “expected to hear a briefing on the situation by U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock,” AFP reports.
The iPhone used by a terrorist in the San Bernardino shooting was unlocked by Azimuth Security, a small Australian hacking firm, in 2016, Ellen Nakashima and Reed Albergotti report for the Washington Post.
Somalia’s President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, signed a law early Wednesday that extended his term in office by two years, a move that represents “a worst-case scenario for United Nations and Western officials,” Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that Myanmar is heading toward a “full blown conflict” and that “there are clear echoes of Syria in 2011.” Helen Regan reports for CNN.
The Biden administration is operating “with the sincere belief” that Austin Tice is alive. Tice was kidnapped in 2012 while reporting in Syria. The Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell is leading the effort to find and free him. Chris O’Leary, who formerly worked at the FBI’s New York field office, has recently become director of the group, Michael Wilner reports for McClatchy.
The Biden administration is expelling tens of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the United States using Title 42 authority, which the Trump administration first invoked last March, when it said “the public health authority allowed officials to suspend U.S. asylum laws during a global pandemic, an argument the Biden administration has continued to defend in federal court.” Camilo Montoya-Galvez reports for CBS News.
In a rare bipartisan vote, the Senate advanced legislation aimed at improving anti-Asian hate crime tracking and identification. Shawna Chen reports for Axios.
Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation Thursday to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices. The bill has little chance of becoming law, but it could renew debate to reform the Court. Last week, Biden announced the formation of a bipartisan commission to study the structure of the Supreme Court, including the number of justices and the length of their service. Sahil Kapur reports for NBC News.