Early Edition: May 3, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.

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

MYANMAR

Eight people killed Sunday after Myanmar security forces opened fire on some of the biggest protests against the military coup. Reuters reporting.

A military helicopter was shot down by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmars leading rebel groups, in retaliation to air strikes by the military, the group reported Monday. Reuters reporting.

The above follows calls by the U.N. Security Council Friday for democracy to be restored and political detainees to be released. AP reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

A withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and personnel from Afghanistan formally started Saturday.  “The military has been taking inventory, deciding what is shipped back to the U.S., what is handed to the Afghan security forces and what is sold as junk in Afghanistan’s markets. In recent weeks, the military has been flying out equipment on massive C-17 cargo planes,” AP reporting.

Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Afghan forces could face bad possible outcomes once U.S. troops fully withdraw from the country on Sept. 11, while describing the Afghan military and police as “reasonably well equipped, reasonably well trained, reasonably well led.” Responding to questions by reporters, Milley said: “Your question: The Afghan army, do they stay together and remain a cohesive fighting force or do they fall apart? I think there’s a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities … On the one hand you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes. On the other hand, you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together.” “Which one of these options obtains and becomes reality at the end of the day? We frankly don’t know yet. We have to wait and see how things develop over the summer,” he added. AP reporting.

The Taliban warned of future attacks on U.S. troops after the initially agreed withdrawal date, May 1, passed this weekend. “As withdrawal of foreign forces from #Afghanistan by agreed upon May 1st deadline has passed, this violation in principle has opened the way for [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] [(IAE)] Mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces,” tweeted Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, adding, “The Mujahidin of IEA will now await what decision the leadership of Islamic Emirate takes in light of the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country, and will then take action accordingly, Allah willing,” he added. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Army Gen. Scott Miller, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATOs Resolute Support Mission, warned the Taliban that an attack on U.S. troops would be a mistake. “Make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the (Afghan) security forces,” he said. Reuters reporting.

Taliban checkpoints along key roadways have proliferated as U.S. troop levels have reduced over the past year.  “Dozens of temporary Taliban checkpoints now dot the main highways leading into and out of the Afghan capital, according to eight local officials, and more than 10 permanent outposts have been established by the militants along the country’s main north-south highway. Many of the new permanent outposts are checkpoints abandoned by government forces stretched thin by the U.S. drawdown, pushed out by expanding Taliban influence, or both,” report  Susannah George, Aziz Tassal and Sharif Hassan for the Washington Post.

At least 27 killed and 90 others injured following a suicide truck bombing that struck a guest house in eastern Afghanistan the day before the initially set May. 1 deadline passed. “If the blast was the work of the Taliban — there was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Afghan government quickly blamed the insurgents — it would be the most overt signal yet that the deal the Americans reached with the group at Doha in February 2020 is off,” reports Adam Nossiter for the New York Times.

IRAN

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Irans foreign minister, yesterday issued an apology for leaked comments he made about the countrys internal power struggle, in which he said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has more influence in foreign and nuclear matters than the Afghan government has, citing interferences by the late Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Zarif’s made his apology after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticized his comments during a televised speech Sunday. AP reporting.

Sanctions … on Irans energy sector, which include oil and gas, or those on the automotive industry, financial, banking and port sanctions, all should be lifted based on agreements reached so far [during indirect talks in Vienna], Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was quoted as saying by Iranian state media, although no detail of how sanctions would be lifted was given. “We will negotiate until the two sides’ positions come closer and our demands are met,” he said, adding, “If they are met there will be an agreement, if not there will naturally be no agreement.” Reuters reporting.

White House officials later denied reports of Araqchis comments, saying there was still much to be negotiated and agreed. “There is no deal now,” said national security adviser Jake Sullivan yesterday on ABC News’ “This Week,” adding that “there’s still fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps.” Veronica Stracqualursi and Donald Judd report for CNN.

The U.S. also denied reports that a prisoner swap deal had been agreed following reports by Iranian state media. State television said on Sunday that Tehran would free four Americans accused of spying in exchange for four Iranians held in the United States as well as the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds under U.S. sanctions in other countries. Reuters reporting.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have held secret meetings to discuss ongoing tensions: “Last month, the chief of Saudi intelligence began secret talks with a senior Iranian security official in Baghdad to discuss several areas of contention, including the war in Yemen and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Iraqi and Iranian officials said,” report Ben Hubbard, Farnaz Fassihi and Jane Arraf for the New York Times.

U.S. IMMIGRATION

The Biden administration has canceled U.S.-Mexico border wall projects funded by diverted Defense Department funds. “The Department of Defense is proceeding with canceling all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds originally intended for other military missions and functions such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account,” Jamal Brown, deputy Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement, adding, “Today’s action reflects this Administration’s continued commitment to defending our nation and supporting our service members and their families.” Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.

Four migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration will be reunited, while more than 1,000 families remain separated, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said yesterday. “The four families include at least one child who was separated from his or her parent at age 3 and at least two women who were separated from their children in late 2017 — part of a pilot program for … Trump’s 2018 ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff report for NBC News.

U.S. PROTESTS

Hundreds of protesters exposed to tear gas during last years protests in Portland, Oregon, have reported abnormal menstruations, a scientific paper reveals after numerous media stations reported on the matter. “Even though we cannot say anything scientifically definitive about these chemical agents and a causal relationship to menstrual irregularities,” said Dr. Torgrimson-Ojerio, who surveyed around 2,200 adults for the study, adding, “we can definitively say that in our study most people who had menstrual cycles or a uterus reported menstrual irregularities after reporting exposure to tear gas.” Heather Murphy reports for the New York Times.

Judge Algenon Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ordered police in Columbus, Ohio, to stop using force, including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, against nonviolent protestersin the city as part of a preliminary injunction in which the judge condemned police officers’ tactics as running “amok” against demonstrators following the death of George Floyd last summer in Minneapolis. In his 88-page opinion, Judge Marbley quote Martin Luther King JR.: “But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.” Catherine Whelan report for NPR.

OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

The Biden administration has disclosed a set of 2017 Trump-issued rules for counterterrorism operations outside war zones, including commando attacks and drone strikes, following a freedom of information request by the New York Times and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The rules were part-redacted but revealed that “commanders were given the authority to launch attacks if there was ‘near certainty’ no harm would come to civilians” and “exceptions to those rules were also permitted ‘where necessary’,” reports Tal Axelrod for The Hill.

An influx of U.S. military personnel and vehicles arrived at Albanias main port of Durres Saturday ahead of NATO exercises, part of the U.S. Army-led Defender-Europe 21 multinational military exercises, focused on deterring aggression and bolstering operational readiness with NATO and other allies and partners, expected to run from May 17 to June 2. “Some 700 pieces of equipment from the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were being discharged from the USNS Bob Hope at Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital, Tirana. They will be used for two weeks of training involving up to 6,000 U.S. troops at six Albanian military bases,”AP reporting.

North Korea warned President Biden against his hostile policy following his Wednesday address to Congress where he spoke on the threat posed by Pyongyangs nuclear capacities. “His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) as it had been done by the U.S. for over half a century,” Kwon Jong Gun, head of the Foreign Ministry’s department of U.S. affairs, said in a statement. Gun added that Biden had made “a big blunder” by describing North Korea as a threat, and warned that the United States would face “a very grave situation” it if maintained its hostile policies. Simon Denyer reports for the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS 

The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.42 million and now killed over 577,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 152.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.2 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and

Vaccination rates for police officers are lower than or about equal to the general public, despite having priority access to Covid-19 vaccines. “At the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, just 39 percent of employees have gotten at least one dose, officials said, compared to more than 50 percent of eligible adults nationwide. In Atlanta, 36 percent of sworn officers have been vaccinated. And a mere 28 percent of those employed by the Columbus Division of Police — Ohio’s largest police department — report having received a shot,” reports Isaac Stanley-Becker for the Washington Post.

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.

RUSSIA

The G7 will consider a rapid rebuttal mechanism to counter Russian propaganda and disinformation, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Reuters. “So that when we see these lies and propaganda or fake news being put out there, we can — not just individually, but come together to provide a rebuttal and frankly to provide the truth, for the people of this country but also in Russia or China or around the world,” Raab said. Reuters reporting.

The E.U. has condemned Russia after the Kremlin banned European Parliament President David Sassoli, European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová and other senior European officials from entering the country in retaliation for E.U. sanctions on Russians. Top E.U. officials have said the bloc was prepared to take further action. Daniel Boffey reports for the Guardian.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Chinas Shandong aircraft carrier task group recently conducted an exercise in the South China Sea, the country’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) confirmed Sunday. Reuters reporting.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has issued a decree granting amnesty and reducing sentences for several categories of criminal offenses committed before May 2, state news agency SANA said. “SANA did not give a reason for the amnesty but it came days before Muslims celebrate Eid el-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It also comes ahead of the May 26 presidential elections, which Assad will most likely win for a fourth, seven-year term in office,” AP reporting.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan agree to a ceasefire Saturday after border clashes last week saw 49 people killed. Reuters reporting.

Two separate shooting incidents left a Palestinian woman dead and two Israelis injured in the occupied West Bank on Sunday. “An Israeli soldier shot a Palestinian woman who tried to carry out a stabbing attack, the military said. Palestinian officials said the woman, aged 60, died of her wounds … Later in the day Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a busy intersection, seriously wounding two Israelis. Israeli soldiers were searching for the gunmen, who fired from a car near a Jewish settlement before driving off, the military said,” Reuters reporting.

At least 16 soldiers killed and six injured in southwest Niger by unidentified gunmen, security forces said Sunday. The attack on an army patrol took place on Saturday afternoon in the Tahoua region of the West African country. Reuters. reporting.

Somali lawmakers voted unanimously on Saturday to reverse a two-year presidential term extension they had approved last month for President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. The decision followed a request by Mohamed for the country’s parliament to instead support efforts to address the country’s long-delayed national election. AP reporting. 

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)