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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
Iran-backed militias in Iraq are suspected of carrying out recent drone strikes on sensitive American targets in Iraq which evaded U.S. defenses. The Iranian proxies are said to specialize in operating weaponry such as armed drones, and “at least three times in the past two months, those militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases — including those used by the CIA and U.S. Special Operations units, according to American officials,” report Jane Arraf and Eric Schmitt for the New York Times.
President Biden’s first foreign trip later this week to Europe, holding meetings with the Group of 7, NATO, the E.U. and Russian President Vladimir Putin, will be more than “symbolic.” Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.
Biden said in an op-ed for the Washington Post that his trip to Britain will “affirm the special relationship” between the two nations, his attendance at the NATO summit will affirm the U.S.’s “unwavering commitment to Article 5 and to ensuring our alliance is strong in the face of every challenge, including threats like cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure,” and his meet with the European Commission and the president of the European Council will discuss “close coordination on global challenges.” On his summit with Putin, Biden said: “So, when I meet with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, it will be after high-level discussions with friends, partners and allies who see the world through the same lens as the United States, and with whom we have renewed our connections and shared purpose. We are standing united to address Russia’s challenges to European security, starting with its aggression in Ukraine, and there will be no doubt about the resolve of the United States to defend our democratic values, which we cannot separate from our interests.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Biden to meet with him before Biden’s summit with Putin, saying he would meet “at any moment and at any spot on the planet,” according to an interview with Axios released yesterday.
The Biden administration is expected to announce today new measures to tackle smuggling and human trafficking, a senior administration official said yesterday. “In addition to the comprehensive approach to addressing the many causes, it’s also a comprehensive approach in terms of building out partnerships… One of the things the vice president has done is, she met with CEOs and issued a ‘call to action’ two weeks ago now,” the official told reporters traveling with Harris as her plane landed in Guatemala. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
The State Department on Friday called on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government to free opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro and her two colleagues, saying: “their detention on trumped-up charges is an abuse of their rights, and it represents an assault on democratic values, as well as a clear attempt to thwart free and fair elections.” “Chamorro was placed under house arrest after her home was raided by Nicaraguan police on June 2 in an escalating political battle before November elections in which Ortega is seeking to maintain his grip on power,” reports Al Jazeera.
American and British diplomats yesterday urged Houthi rebel forces to end an offensive in northern Yemen after more than 17 people were killed in an explosion which the Saudi-backed government blamed on a Houthi missile strike. Reuters reporting.
The CIA is facing intense pressure to find new ways to gather intelligence and carry out counterterrorism strike in Afghanistan as the U.S. military rapidly withdraw from the country.Analysts from the C.I.A. are warning of the growing risks of a Taliban takeover and U.S. officials are in last-minute efforts to secure bases to Afghanistan for future operations. The C.I.A. will lose bases in Afghanistan “from where it has run combat missions and drone strikes while closely monitoring the Taliban and other groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State,” Mark Mazzetti and Julian E. Barnes report for the New York Times.
U.N. experts have said that the “unprecedented violence” in Afghanistan of 2020 is carrying over into 2021. In a new report, U.N. experts have warned that Taliban insurgents show no sign of reducing the level of violence to facilitate peace negotiations and appear to be trying to strengthen their military position as leverage. The report said the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces by Sept. 11 “will challenge Afghan forces by limiting aerial operations with fewer drones and radar and surveillance capabilities, less logistical support and artillery, as well as a disruption in training.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Afghan government forces could lose air power, the most important military advantage they have over the Taliban, when private contractors and U.S. troops leave the country. The Afghan security forces rely heavily on U.S.-funded contractors, who are due to depart within weeks, to repair and maintain their fleet of aircraft and an array of other equipment. “Without the contractors’ help, Afghan forces will no longer be able to keep dozens of fighter planes, cargo aircraft, U.S.-made helicopters and drones flying for more than a few more months, according to military experts and a recent Defense Department inspector general’s report,” Dan De Luce reports for NBC News.
Eleven people were killed in Afghanistan on Sunday after a roadside bomb exploded next to a minivan carrying civilian passengers. “No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the provincial government accuses the Taliban of placing the bomb to target security forces. There was no immediate response from the Taliban,” Tameem Akhgar reports for AP.
An Afghan airstrike that targeted Taliban fighters in the southern Helmand province killed at least 20 people including civilians, according to reports. There were conflicting accounts of the site of the strike and the number of casualties, with the Taliban saying that stood at 30 killed, and that all the fatalities were civilians. Tameem Akhgar reports for AP.
The director of Israel’s internal security service has warned of “extremely violent and inciting discourse” amid new efforts to form a government in Israel. “Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said Saturday that the spike in vitriol targeting [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s opponents online and in public demonstrations ‘may be interpreted by certain groups or individuals as one that allows for violent and illegal activities that may even, God forbid, become lethal,’” reports Shira Rubin for the Washington Post.
The new coalition in Israel seeking to oust Netanyahu from office spans the political spectrum and could bring about a more liberal civil rights agenda. The coalition does not include representation from ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, whose two main parties have forged a tight alliance with Netanyahu and obtained influence and official privileges, which “many critics view as disproportionate power over state policy,” Isabel Kershner reports for the New York Times.
Netanyahu has said that the newly formed coalition is the result of “the greatest election fraud” in the history of Israel and of any democracy. The allegations, which focused on a broken campaign promise from Naftali Bennett, who had pledged not to partner with left-wing, centrist and Arab parties, were made to legislators from his right-wing Likud party. Jeffrey Heller reports for Reuters.
Israeli police detained for several hours two prominent Palestinian activists on Sunday. Mona el-Kurd, 23 and her twin brother Muhammad el-Kurd have become the faces of a campaign to halt Palestinian evictions from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Police said that they were “suspected of having participated in riots and other recent incidents in Sheikh Jarra.” Josef Federman reports for AP.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Operation Cocoon — tasked with disrupting international drug trafficking rings, working closely with foreign law enforcement agencies — “does not do enough to warn unwitting drug mules that they are being duped; instead, U.S. officials in some cases are delivering vulnerable older Americans straight into the hands of investigators in foreign countries, where they can be locked up for years,” reports Zolan Kanno-Youngs for the New York Times.
Vice President Harris yesterday set off for Guatemala and Mexico, a two-day trip to address the “root causes” of mass migration from Central America to the U.S., where she will meet with both countries’ presidents. “In advance of the trip, White House officials have sought to lower expectations that Harris’s efforts will produce short-term results at the U.S. southern border,” reports Nick Miroff, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Kevin Sieff for the Washington Post.
The aim of Harris’s trip “isn’t to roll out a massive plan to solve the problems driving thousands to flee the region … but simply to show that the U.S. cares and isn’t just looking for quick fixes,” suggest administration officials, those closely linked to the White House and experts. Eugene Daniels and Sabrina Rodriguez reports for POLITICO.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that it will no longer secretly obtain reporters’ private phone records as part of investigations into leaks. The announcement confirms a reversal of a longstanding government practice to try to uncover reporters’ sources, which news organization have repeatedly decried. “DOJ has now completed a review to determine all instances in which the Department had pending compulsory requests from reporters in leak investigations. All reporters involved have now been notified,” a DOJ spokesperson said. “The Department strongly values a free press, protecting First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists,” the spokesperson said. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
The DOJ fought a secret legal battle to obtain the email logs of four New York Times reporters in a hunt for their sources, according to a lawyer for the newspaper. The legal fight began in the last few weeks of the Trump administration, who never informed the newspaper about it, and continued under Biden’s administration, who while telling a handful of top New York Times executives about it imposed a gag order to shield it from public view. Charlie Savage and Katie Benner report for the New York Times.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson has said that political rhetoric is a “key driver” behind the rise in “anger” towards political figures that drove an increase in threats against Congress members during 2020. The comments were made during an interview with CNN, where she said that political rhetoric “certainly keeps things interesting and it means that there are continued threats unfortunately against a number of elected officials… because some Americans choose to respond in that way.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AK) has been served with a lawsuit filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) which accuses Brooks and other allies of former President Trump of provoking the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Attorneys for Swalwell have recently said that they were having trouble tracking down Brooks, however “Brooks tweeted on Sunday that he had been served with the suit and claimed members of ‘Swalwell’s team’ broke into his home and served the lawsuit to his wife,” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has said that Trump inciting the Jan. 6 attack was “the most dangerous thing, the most egregious violation of an oath of office of any president in our history.” Cheney also criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over his visit to Trump at Mar-a-Lago following the Jan. 6 attack. Caroline Kelly reports for CNN.
Former President Trump has made one of his first public appearances in months, during which he heavily criticized the Biden administration and said China should pay the world $10 trillion in reparations over Covid-19. “Our movement is far from over. In fact, it is just getting started,” Trump said. Alex Leary reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Analysis of what Trump’s return to the electoral battlefield means for 2024 is provided by Jonathan Allen for NBC News.
Trump will be suspended from Facebook until at least Jan. 7, 2023, announced Facebook. Facebook said that it will re-assess the circumstances then to see if the ban should be lifted. “The move guarantees Trump won’t be able to post from his Facebook account, which had tens of millions of followers, prior to the 2022 midterm elections. But Facebook’s announcement does leave open the possibility his suspension could lift ahead of the 2024 presidential election,” Dave O’Sullivan reports for CNN.
The Biden administration is looking at “all of the options” to defend the U.S. against ransomware attacks, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said yesterday when asked if military action was being considered: “we’re not taking anything off the table as we think about possible repercussions, consequences or retaliation.” “Raimondo did not detail what those options could look like, but said the topic will be on the agenda when the president meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month,” reports Reuters.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson is more concerned about a possible cyberattack on the government than another insurrection like the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “Members have sensitive information that they would not necessarily want to have disclosed that may be in documents. Much of what we do is public. And meant to be so,” Gibson said, adding, “but I would worry about … nation-state actors or others who might try to just really cripple the government’s ability to function by locking down cybercommunications networks.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Cox Media Group, which owns 57 TV and radio stations across 20 U.S. media markets, appears to have been hit by a ransomware attack Friday, according to Inside Radio, TV news gossip site FTVLive and computer security site The Record. “Reportedly, a number of the sites were back up and running as of Friday, but a check of several websites of the company radio stations Friday morning revealed streams that were not working,” reports Thomas Moore for The Hill.
Former CIA chief Leon Panetta denounced Russian hackers behind recent cyberattacks on the U.S. as “terrorists.” Panetta, who is also a former defense secretary, said during an interview with MSNBC on Friday: “from my point of view, they’re terrorists. When they come at us with ransomware, even though they’re a criminal operation, they’re operating out of Russia, and they are going after some very important infrastructure in this country … And yeah, they’re doing it for money. But it is weakening the United States every time this infrastructure gets impacted.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Ransomware attacks burden the Biden administration with a grave national security crisis as criminal gangs target all facets of U.S. life and infrastructure, including food, gas, water, hospitals and transport. President Biden is battling with how best to respond legislatively and policy-wise, how to confront Russia, who is believed to be behind the majority of the attacks, while the kind of retaliation the U.S. should respond with raises particular challenges as concern mounts over any escalation, Stephen Collinson writes for CNN.
Putin has signed a law that formalizes Russia’s exit from the Open Skies arms control treaty, a pact that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries. The Trump administration quit the pact last year and the Biden administration has since informed Moscow in May that it would not be re-entering the pact. The Kremlin said on Monday that the U.S. decision had “significantly upset the balance of interests” among the pact’s members and had compelled Russia to exit. Reuters reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted Russia sought to be “neutral” when it came to events in Belarus, distancing Russia from the forced diversion of the commercial flight with an opposition journalist onboard. Putin made the comments at Russia’s flagship economic conference in St. Petersburg, a day after the arrested journalist, Roman Protasevich, appeared on Belarusian state television confessing to organizing illegal rallies and with bruises on his wrists. Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko report for the New York Times.
Russian officials have reacted angrily to the new Ukrainian national football team shirt which has a map of Ukraine that includes the Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. “The Russian parliamentary deputy Dmitry Svishchev was quoted by the Russian news agency RIA as saying the shirt design was ‘a political provocation.’ He said showing a map of Ukraine ‘which includes a Russian territory is illegal,’” Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.
A Russian opposition politician who was held in police custody for two days last week has left the country for Ukraine. Dmitry Gudkov said in a Facebook post that sources in Kremlin circles had told him “that if I do not leave the country, the fake criminal case will continue until my arrest.” AP reports.
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been returned to the original prison that he had been serving his prison sentence after he recovered from a hunger strike at a hospital in a different prison, the TASS news agency reported Monday. Reuters reporting.
The leader of Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant group, has killed himself, rival Islamist militants said in an audio recording. The Islamic State West Africa Province said that Abuakar Shekau died detonating explosives on himself after a battle between the two groups. Shekau was reported dead last month, however neither Boko Haram nor the Nigerian government have confirmed his death. BBC News reports.
Over 160 peoples have been massacred by jihadists in a village in northern Burkina Faso. Armed assailants laid siege to a village overnight, torching homes and a market and shooting indiscriminately, before throwing explosives at civilians seeking refuge in gold-mining holes, according to governmental officials and NGOs based in the region. BBC News reports.
No group has said that it was behind the violence, however government officials say it was the work of Islamic State’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which has killed hundreds of civilians in recent months. Benoit Faucon and Joe Parkinson report for the Wall Street Journal.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said he was “outraged” by the incident. Guterres “strongly condemns the heinous attack and underscores the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll,” a spokesperson said in a statement. Al Jazeera reports.
88 people have been killed in an attack in the northwest Nigerian state of Kebbi, spurring the state’s governor to pledge a bigger deployment of security forces. Perpetrators swept through eight villages, killing people and sending residents fleeing, police said as details of the attacks began to emerge on Saturday. Reuters reports.
Nigeria has indefinitely suspended Twitter after the social media platform temporarily froze the account of the nation’s president. “The minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, made the surprise announcement Friday in the capital Abuja, citing vague safety concerns,” Danielle Paquette reports for the Washington Post.
At least 36 people were killed and 32 wounded in clashes in the Sudan state of South Dafur. The violence occurred between members of the Fellata and Taisha groups in the area of Um Dafuq and has been reported as being due to a land dispute. Reuters reports.
Famine is imminent in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the country’s north, the U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has said, with the region’s economy, businesses, crops and farms destroyed. “We are hearing of starvation-related deaths already,” Lowcock said in a statement. “People need to wake up,” “the international community needs to really step up, including through the provision of money,” he said. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met with Myanmar’s junta leader on Friday. An Indonesian diplomat has previously said the delegation’s purpose was to seek Myanmar’s approval of an ASEAN special envoy for the crisis, however only a broad outline of the discussions was provided by the state broadcaster. Myanmar’s opposition shadow government, the National Unity Government, said at an online news conference that ASEAN should meet with them as well, not just the military. Jerry Harmer reports for AP.
Envoys from ASEAN urged Myanmar’s junta “to free all political prisoners and discussed implementing a regional ‘consensus’ to end turmoil since the Feb. 1 coup, the regional bloc said,” Reutersreports.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said that is has seen indications in North Korea of attempts to separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel that could be used in nuclear weapons, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said. Reuters reporting.
Police in Nicaragua have detained another opposition leader and potential presidential candidate Saturday. The arrest of Arturo Cruz Sequeira, a former ambassador to the United States, under a controversial recently passed treason law, is the “latest in a series of moves by President Daniel Ortega that prevent candidates from running against him in his third consecutive re-election bid,” AP reports.
Nicaragua’s democracy is on the edge as Ortega brings his country closer to being a one-party state. The aggressive moves by Ortego, including detaining opposition candidates, banning protests and disqualifying political parties, present “an unexpected challenge to the Biden administration,” Yubelka Mendoza and Anatoly Kurmanaev report for the New York Times.
Right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori has a narrow lead over left-wing Pedro Castillo in Peru’s presidential election, according to the current partial results. The elections are the most polarizing in Peru in recent history and both candidates have called for calm during the count. BBC News reports.
Hong Kong activist Chow Hang Tung has been released after being detained on suspicion of publicizing a commemoration of China’s crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Vigils for the massacre had been banned for a second year running. Chow said that her arrest was meant to have a chilling effect on marking the anniversary, “somehow this prohibition on promoting an unlawful, prohibited assembly became a prohibition on promoting any remembrance of the June 4 massacre, in any form, in any place, in any format by anyone,” Chow told reporters. Zen Soo reports for AP.
China’s birth control policies could cut between 2.6 to 4.5 million births of Muslim Uighur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang within 20 years, according to new research by a German analyst. The report includes “a previously unreported cache of research produced by Chinese academics and officials on Beijing’s intent behind the birth control policies in Xinjiang, where official data shows birth-rates have already dropped by 48.7% between 2017 and 2019,” Cate Cadell reports for Reuters.
Belarus’s diversion of a commercial flight to arrest an opposition journalist “has to have consequences,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said. NATO has strongly condemned the incident and Stoltenberg on Friday said that he welcomed sanctions on Belarus from the United States and several other alliance countries. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.36 million and now killed close to 597,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 173.31 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.729 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The U.S. will give Taiwan 750,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine, three U.S. senators have said. The announcements come after the self-ruled island complained that China is hindering its efforts to secure vaccines as it battles an outbreak. Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) made a three-hour stop in Taiwan. Duckworth said that “their visit underscores bipartisan U.S. support for the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own renegade territory,” Taijing Wu and Zen Soo report for AP.
To Beijing the trip to Taiwan and the offer of vaccine help from the U.S. to Taiwan will be a “a major provocation that risks escalating both cross-strait and U.S.-China relations,” Nectar Gan and Ben Westcott report for CNN.
China’s foreign ministry has said that it has lodged “solemn representations” with the U.S. following the trip by the three U.S. senators to Taiwan. Reuters reports.
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.