Early Edition: April 23, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The U.N. Security Council yesterday made its first public comment about the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, despite it having been privately briefed five times on the conflict that began in November. “The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern about allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls in the Tigray region, and called for investigations to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” the Security Council said in the statement, drafted by Ireland and agreed by consensus. Reuters reporting.

The majority of those arrested earlier this month over an alleged coup attempt against Jordan’s King Abdullah II will soon be released, Jordanian authorities said. “Sixteen of those detained would be freed, according to a statement from the State Security Court. Two other two individuals — royal family member Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and former finance minister Bassem Awadallah — were described as having “different roles” in the alleged plot and would remain imprisoned, the statement said. The king’s half brother, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who was also implicated by authorities in the alleged plot and confined to his palace in Amman, was not mentioned in the statement,” Steve Hendrix reports for the Washington Post.

Britain’s parliament called on Wednesday for the government to act to end what they described as genocide in China’s Xinjiang region. “Lawmakers backed a motion brought by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani stating Uighurs in Xinjiang were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide, and calling on government to use international law to bring it to an end … The support for the motion is non-binding, meaning it is up to the government to decide what action, if any, to take next,” Reuters reporting.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE RELATIONS

Russian will re-deploy over 10,000 of its personnel and 1,200 units of equipment that it recently deployed to conduct military exercises in Crimea, Russian defense officials said. The personnel will be sent back to their permanent bases by May 1, “but an undisclosed number of troops have also been deployed for exercises along Russia’s western border near eastern Ukraine, where a conflict has been festering between Kyiv and Kremlin-backed separatists. The defense ministry didn’t say when they would be returned to base,” Ann M. Simmons and Georgi Kantchev report for the Wall Street Journal.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the decision to return troops to their bases was because they had completed what he called an “inspection” in the border area. “I believe the objectives of the snap inspection have been fully achieved. The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defense for the country,” Shoigu said. Reuters reporting.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia’s latest move is not enough resolve the tension in the eastern Donbass region. “In a statement, Kuleba also urged Ukraine’s Western partners to continue to monitor the situation closely and to take effective measures to deter Russia,” reports Reuters.

The U.S. is “watching closely” for Russia to follow through on its May 1 pledge, said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “[Ukraine] is always vigilant, yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace. Grateful to international partners for their support,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

U.S. RELATIONS

The U.S. scrambled fighter jets to escort Russia’s Tupolev Tu-142 anti-submarine aircraft as they made a routine flight across the Pacific, the Russian defense ministry was cited as saying Friday. Reuters reporting.

Russia’s military scrambled its MiG-31 fighter jet to escort a U.S. Air Force RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft over the Pacific as it approached the Russian border, the Interfax news agency said on Friday, citing the Russian Pacific Fleet. Reuters reporting.

“There’s no denying that the repositioning of [U.S.] forces out of Somalia has introduced new layers of complexity and risk,” U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. Stephen Townsend told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our understanding of what’s happening in Somalia is less now than it was when we were there on the ground physically located with our partners.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

IRAN

Iran has cut — from two to one — its number of centrifuges enriching uranium to up to 60% at its above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. “Iran was now using one cascade, or cluster, of IR-6 centrifuges to enrich to up to 60% and feeding the tails, or depleted uranium, from that process into a cascade of IR-4 machines to enrich to up to 20%, the report said. The IR-4 cascade was previously being used to enrich to up to 60%,” reports Reuters.

Iran has done “nothing” in its nuclear program “that is irreversible,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters yesterday. Reuters reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

“My concern is the ability of the Afghan military to hold the ground that they’re on now without the support that they’ve been used to for many years,” Gen. Frank McKenzie told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave, the ability of the Afghan Air Force to fly, in particular, after we remove the support for those aircraft,” McKenzie added. Reuters reporting.

“We will have an architecture in the theater that will allow us to look into Afghanistan … I am confident we will have the combat capability to provide an overwhelming response should we be attacked or our allies and partners be attacked as we execute the drawdown,” McKenzie said, adding, “We don’t plan to go back in. We’re not planning for that … I didn’t say we wouldn’t go back in to strike. But we’re not planning to go back in to reoccupy.” “A defense official told CNN that McKenzie has requested a constant aircraft carrier presence in the region to provide air support, at least until the scheduled end of the withdrawal on September 11. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is currently operating in the region. In addition, the military is considering deploying several hundred additional ground troops to provide security, especially in remote areas where US forces are located. Force protection is a priority in any withdrawal or disengagement, but it has taken on an added urgency because of Taliban threats to attack US forces if they’re still in Afghanistan at the beginning of next month,” report Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr for CNN.

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS

A Pentagon review panel has recommended that decisions to prosecute service members for sexual assault should be made by independent authorities instead of commanders, a senior defense official told CNN. “The proposal is one of an initial set of recommendations submitted to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday, the official said, as part of the independent commission’s broader 90-day review of sexual assault in the military. These initial recommendations focus on accountability, one of the specific targets put forward when Austin created the commission in late February, where he called for ‘outside views and ideas.’ The commission is also recommending investigating sexual harassment claims outside the chain of command and immediately beginning the process of discharging a service member from the military if a charge is deemed credible,” reports Oren Liebermann for CNN.

The 2017 ISIS-inspired Manhattan subway bomber, Akayed Ullah, was yesterday sentenced to life imprisonment for the attack. Ullah’s attempt to set off a bomb did not result in any fatalities as the device malfunctioned, although a few were injured, including himself. “The Islamic State supporter was found guilty at trial in 2018 of providing material support to a terrorist organization, using a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a public place and related counts. On Thursday, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan granted federal prosecutors’ request that Ullah spend the rest of his life in prison,” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.

The Senate yesterday passed legislation – the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act – in a 94-1 vote aimed at strengthening investigations into hate crimes, particularly those against Asian Americans following last month’s shooting at three Atlanta spas and during the pandemic. The bill is expected to be considered by the House next month. “With Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) as the lead House sponsor, the legislation would assign an official in the Justice Department to review and expedite all reports of hate crimes related to the coronavirus, expand support for local and state law enforcement agencies responding to these hate crimes, and issue guidance on mitigating the use of racially discriminatory language to describe the pandemic,” Paul Kane reports for the Washington Post.

JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK

The Capitol Police has rejected claims made by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) during a House panel hearing Wednesday that a commanding official directed officers on the morning of Jan. 6 to pursue only anti-Trump protesters and ignore those that support him. The department has said that the official in question told other officers at 8:24 a.m.: “With regards to pedestrian traffic on – on the grounds today, we anticipate a – a large presence for pro-Trump participants. What we’re looking for is any anti-Trump counter protestors.” “The radio call does not mean USCP was only looking out for anti-Trump counter protestors,” the department statement said. “The next radio transmission requests that officers be on the lookout for a pro-Trump protester carrying a possible weapon.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

A key member of the Proud Boys charged for his involvement in the Capitol attack has been denied bail while he awaits trial after a federal magistrate judge said, “Here, the danger posed by his [Charles Donohoe] release is that he will continue in the future, with his co-conspirators, both indeed and unindicted, to engage in acts of political violence or to aid and abet those who do.” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Pro-Trump supporter Brendan Hunt, currently on trial for allegedly calling for the “slaughter” of Democratic senators following the Jan. 6 attack, supported Nazi ideology and suggested to his father that former President Trump should override the 2020 presidential election results and declare the U.S. a dictatorship like Adolf Hitler did in Germany, according to evidence presented by federal authorities in a Brooklyn courtroom yesterday. The evidence suggests that Hunt was “fixated on extremist ideas and conspiracy theories – including that Democrats falsely portrayed covid-19 as a deadly epidemic to gain political advantage over Trump – when on Jan. 8 he posted a video titled ‘KILL YOUR SENATORS: Slaughter them all,’” reports Shayna Jacobs for the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 31.93 million and now killed over 570,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 144.80 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.07 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to meet today to discuss whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should again be used in the United States. What to watch out for is explained by Angelica LaVito for Bloomberg.

Here’s just how unequal the global coronavirus vaccine rollout has been reports Atthar Mizra and Emily Rauhala for the Washington Post. “Nearly half of doses administered so far have gone to high-income countries — just 16 percent of the world’s population”

A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. 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. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)