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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news
The removal of all U.S. contractors from Afghanistan is underway, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: “We’re going to responsibly retrograde all of our capabilities that we are responsible for and the contractors fall in that realm as well.” Reuters reporting.
The U.S. has deployed 12 F-18 fighter jets to Afghanistan to bolster protection of U.S. and coalition forces during their final withdrawal, said Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The F-18s are on top of the previously announced six B-52 bombers sent to Qatar and the extension of the deployment of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the region, as well as elements of an Army Ranger team sent to Afghanistan,” reports Rebecca Kheel for The Hill.
“It’s possible” that the U.S. may continue to train Afghan forces from a different country, Gen. Milley said, adding, “There’s a lot of different options out there, and we haven’t settled on one of them yet.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
“The Afghan security forces will play the major role in stopping the Taliban and I know we, what we’re seeing unfold is what we expected to unfold – increased pressure,” said Austin. Al Jazeera reporting.
Members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan worked closely with Russian operatives from the notorious Unit 29155o of Russia’s military intelligence service, the G.R.U., —bolstering the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia privately offered and paid bounties for attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, particularly because members of the criminal network interrogated by the C.I.A. were the first to reveal the alleged bounties. “The involvement of this G.R.U. unit is consistent with Russia encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan given its leading role in such lethal and destabilizing operations abroad,” the National Security Council (NSC) said in a statement provided to The New York Times. “We have independently verified the ties of several individuals in this network to Russia,” the NSC statement said, adding, “Multiple sources have confirmed that elements of this criminal network worked for Russian intelligence for over a decade and traveled to Moscow in April 2019.” Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz report for the New York Times.
“I think there’s a high likelihood that the Taliban will be back in control of the country, maybe as early as the end of the year,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The interagency government Periodic Review Board, a national security panel responsible for examining the basis for holding individuals at Guantánamo Bay, has decided to grant detainee Haroon al-Afghani a new hearing after previously refusing a hearing last year, reports Carol Rosenberg on Twitter.
Afghan War Casualty Report: May 2021 by Fahim Abed and Najim Rahim for the New York Times: “At least 139 pro-government forces and 44 civilians were killed in Afghanistan the past week, the highest death toll in a single week since October.”
A senior State Department official says “it’s possible” that “we’ll see a mutual return to compliance [with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal] in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance,” adding, “Only time will tell, because as I said, this is ultimately a matter of a political decision that needs to be made in Iran,” the official added. Al Jazeera reporting.
The U.S. is considering unfreezing $1 billion in Iranian funds that the country could use for humanitarian aid. “The funds would not be provided in cash; instead, they’d be allocated to a Swiss channel, known as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement, which was set up last year to allow humanitarian aid like food and medicine to be sent to Iran without violating U.S. sanctions,” reports Natasha Bertrand for CNN.
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
Putting the Secret Service in charge of security preparations for the Jan. 6 Electoral College vote would have helped protect the Capitol, although additional precautions could have been taken regardless of the leading agency, Secret Service Director James Murray told the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee yesterday. “Had the count been declared a National Special Security Event, a designation used by the Department of Homeland Security for events such as the President’s State of the Union address, the Secret Service would have been in charge of security,” report Whitney Wild and Zachary Cohen for CNN.
Murray also renewed calls for a $8 million plan “to create and construct venues that replicate the areas of operation that our officers and agents work in. I’m looking to build things like White House training facilities,” he told House lawmakers, adding that such a facility would “serve the security of this country and the Secret Service for many decades to come.” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Lawyers for alleged Capitol rioter Anthony Antonio say his actions stemmed from six months of watching Fox News, eventually developing “Foxitis.” “He believed what was being fed to him,” his lawyer Joseph Hurley said. Hannah Rabinowitz and Marshall Cohen report for CNN.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is hopeful that a $2 billion supplemental funding bill to boost security at the Capitol will be introduced in the “next couple of weeks,” with a focus on addressing security flaws exposed by the attack, a measure supported by leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees. However, it’s unclear if Republicans will support the move. Annie Grayer and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
An alleged Capitol rioter, Robert Petrosh Jr., has been arrested by the FBI after his mother gossiped with a family friend about his presence inside the Capitol and the friend’s grandchild then reported it to the bureau on Jan. 17, court paperwork made public this week indicates. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
PROSECUTING SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE RANKS
“My mind is very open” to a proposal to take decisions on whether to prosecute sexual assault out of the chain of command, Gen. Milley said, citing that his decision to drop his opposition to the potential change was based in part on data indicating that 20,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2020. Missy Ryan and Dam Lamothe report for the Washington Post.
Defense Sec. Austin remained elusive on whether he will implement the proposals, saying he was waiting for top military officials to offer their opinion. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The U.S. has begun rolling out a new system that seeks to identify the most vulnerable migrants at ports of entry and allow them entry on humanitarian groups, according to three people briefed on the matter. Reuters reporting.
The average time for unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Patrol custody is down more than 75% compared to March: children spent over 100 hours in March but now spend on average 24 hours, a Biden administration official said. Geneva Sands reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
Brian Kolfage, a war veteran indicted last year alongside Steve Bannon and others for an alleged scheme to defraud donors of a fundraising campaign for the Trump administration’s border wall with Mexico, was further indicted yesterday for filing false information on his 2019 federal income tax returns, the Justice Department said. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday signed into law a slew of new voting restrictions as Texan lawmakers passed an election bill which would increase penalties for voting irregularities. Elizabeth Findell and Jon Kamp report for the Wall Street Journal.
U.N. disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu told the U.N. Security Council yesterday that an undeclared chemical warfare agent at a Syrian site has been found. “Nakamitsu didn’t name the agent detected in samples by the international chemical weapons watchdog, but said its presence ‘inside storage containers of large volume at a previously declared chemical weapons facility may imply undeclared production activities,’” AP reports.
Amnesty International will soon reverse its decision to strip jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny of its “prisoner of conscience” status, a top aide said. Reuters reporting.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.6 million and now killed over 580,000 people in the United States,according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 156.15 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.25 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.