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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
At least 10 people have been killed and 16 others injured in an attack on the HALO Trust, a British-American charity in Afghanistan that is clearing land mines in the country. The victims were all Afghan citizens. The Afghanistan Interior Ministry has blamed the Taliban for the attack, however a spokesperson for the Taliban has denied any involvement, describing the attack as “horrifying” and saying that the area was not under the group’s control. Najim Rahim and Mike Ives report for the New York Times.
The U.S. military has passed the halfway point in withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. In a statement, the U.S. Central Command said that it estimates that the U.S. has “completed greater than 50% of the entire retrograde process.” The statement added that “the U.S. has officially handed over six facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. We anticipate additional transfers of bases and military assets in the future which will support the ANDSF/GIRoA [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces / The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] as they work to stabilize and defend their nation.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Israel has said that a media building in Gaza destroyed by one of its airstrikes in the recent conflict was being used by Hamas to try and jam Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Jala Tower housed the offices of Al Jazeera and Associated Press (AP); the latter has said that they had not seen evidence to support the allegations that Hamas were operating from there. Hamas has denied it had offices in the building and called its destruction “a scheming war crime.” BBC News reports.
A coalition of more than 100 peace advocates and pro-Palestinian groups are calling on President Biden to halt a $735m weapons sale to Israel. The sale of precision-guided bombs has been fast-tracked by the Biden administration, “we believe moving ahead with these sales would undermine U.S. moral values, national security interests, and support likely violations of international humanitarian law by sending a green light for Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” the groups said in an open letter to Biden. William Roberts reports for Al Jazeera.
A state news agency in Syria has reported that recent Israel air attacks targeted Damascus, causing “explosions.” A U.K.-based war monitor has said that the attacks killed at least 11 pro-government fighters. Al Jazeera reports.
Israel’s government has approved a flag march by Israeli nationalists through Jerusalem’s Old City, dependent on police approval. Palestinians see the march as a provocation and the event, which was originally due to take place this Thursday, had been cancelled by organizers “after Israeli police rejected the proposed route through the Muslim Quarter, citing security concerns,” BBC News reports.
The shadow war between the U.S. and Iran on Iraqi soil has shifted gear with an increase in attacks, following the U.S. assassination of the top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020. There are increasing drone strikes suspected of being carried out by Iran-backed militia and “for the last year and a half there have been some 300 attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq, mostly rockets, as well as improvised explosive devices targeting supply convoys,” Quentin Sommerville reports for BBC News.
The Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to combat China’s growing economic influence. The bill, called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, aims to bolster the U.S.’s competitiveness by investing more than $200 billion in technology, science and research in the United States. The bill still needs to pass the House before going to Biden’s desk, however the passage through the Senate “is a victory for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) … who co-wrote and strongly backed the measure, and for President Joe Biden, who made reaching across the aisle a central promise of his governing strategy,” Ali Zaslav, Jeremy Herb, Ted Barrett and Phil Mattingly report for CNN.
Five key components of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which aims to put the U.S. on more even footing with China on a range of emerging technology issues, are set out by Maggie Miller and Laura Kelly reporting for The Hill.
Beijing has decried the U.S. bill following its passage through the Senate, as Chinese lawmakers meet this week to discuss measures to counter U.S. sanctions. “The bill is full of Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice,” a statement by the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress said. “It slanders China’s development path and its domestic and foreign policies.” Eva Dou reports for the Washington Post.
Former President Trump has praised Nigeria’s government for banning Twitter after it deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s post for breaching its rules. Trump urged other countries to ban Twitter and Facebook for preventing free speech, saying in a statement “who are they to dictate good and evil, if they themselves are evil?” BBC News reports.
Russia’s space chief is threatening to leave the International Space Station program if U.S. sanctions against Moscow’s space entities Progress and TsNIIMash are “not lifted in the near future.” “Either we work together, in which case the sanctions are lifted immediately, or we will not work together and we will deploy our own station,” Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said during a Russian parliament hearing, according to an NBC translation. Amanda Macias reports for CNBC.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the Biden administration is pushing forward on trade and investment talks with Taiwan. The talks are “likely to draw backlash from Beijing and further roil fraught relations between the U.S. and China,” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
President Biden has quietly begun efforts to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The administration, which is trying to make progress on closing the center before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is using “an under-the-radar approach to minimize political blowback,” report Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube for NBC News. “They don’t want it to become a dominant issue that blows up,” a former senior administration official involved in the discussions said.
The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it is seeking to prevent companies associated with human smuggling from obtaining insurance for their commercial operations. The joint effort by Customs and Border Protection and the National Insurance Crime Bureau will fall under the Biden administration’s Operation Sentinel targeting transnational criminal organizations involved in smuggling migrants. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
A member of Proud Boys has been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The Justice Department said in a statement that the New Jersey man “is being charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder and obstruction of justice,” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate, Janice McGeachin, was endorsed by a right-wing militia leader, according to a video obtained by the Guardian. McGeachin attended a gathering where she was endorsed in a glowing introductory speech by Eric Parker, who was charged over his role in the standoff in 2014 at Bundy Ranch in New Mexico where he was pictured pointing an assault rifle at federal agents. During his speech Parker reminded McGeachin that she had told him at an earlier meeting that “if I get in, you’re going to have a friend in the governor’s office.” Jason Wilson reports for the Guardian.
Colonial Pipeline President and CEO Joseph Blount has been grilled by lawmakers on his decision to pay a ransom to attacks following the cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline. “Blount indicated that the company did not consult with the FBI and other agencies before it paid the equivalent of $4.4 million in bitcoin to regain control of its systems…[he] apologized for the impact of the attack but stressed that he had no regrets,” Maggie Miller and Rachel Frazin report for The Hill.
El Chapo’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, is set to plead guilty in a Washington court tomorrow to helping run her husband’s multibillion-dollar drug empire and helping him escape from a high-security Mexican prison. Coronel was taken into custody in February after a nearly two-year investigation by U.S. law enforcement officials into her role as an accomplice to her husband, who is currently serving a life sentence in a secure federal prison in California. Alan Feuer reports for the New York Times.
Democratic members on the House Judiciary Committee have called on the Justice Department to stop defending former President Trump against a defamation suit stemming from a rape allegation from writer E. Jean Carroll. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the members described the Department’s decision to continue defending Trump as “profoundly misguided.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Critics have expressed dismay at the Justice Department’s decision. Many had been outraged when the previous administration intervened in the first place on Trump’s behalf in the defamation suit and Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Hill that he had hoped “there would be a reckoning with the ways in which the Justice Department was used and abused for the benefit of the president of the time.” Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
Vice President Harris is wrapping up her trip to Latin America visiting Guatemala and Mexico, where she spoke of the bonds between the U.S. and the two nations and gave a stern warning towards potential migrants to the United States. “The strong words were a nod to the shifting political ground facing the Biden administration as Harris concluded a trip aimed at tackling the root causes of migration,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports for the Washington Post.
Harris is facing criticism on both sides for her sharp words to migrants, being “blasted by progressives in her party and at the same time was targeted by Republicans for not doing enough to help the ongoing problem at the border,” Amie Parnes and Rafael Bernal report for The Hill.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) described Harris’s comments to migrants as “disappointing” and reiterated on Twitter that “seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.” Gloria Oladipo reports for the Guardian.
Harris is also under increasing pressure to visit the U.S.-Mexico border as part of her agenda on tackling migration from Latin America. In an interview with NBC News she brushed off questions about why she had not gone to the border. BBC News reports.
The U.N. International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals has upheld Ratko Mladić’s 2017 convictions and life sentence for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. Mladić’s appeal against the decision of a lower tribunal was rejected on all grounds. Mladić “commanded violent ethnic cleansing campaigns across Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995, including the July 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica,” UN News Centre reports.
President Biden and the U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, along with other world leaders, praised the decision of the U.N. court. “This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable,” Biden said in a statement. Germany’s foreign minister described the court’s decision as a “triumph.” Al Jazeera reports.
Iraq has released an Iran-aligned militia commander arrested in May on terrorism-related charges. Authorities were unable to find sufficient evidence against Qasim Muslih, an Iran-aligned paramilitary leader and the release is “the latest blow to government attempts to rein in armed groups,” Reuters reports.
The Nicaraguan government has arrested two further presidential candidates for the upcoming November elections. Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, an economist, were both arrested on Tuesday, after two other presidential hopefuls, Arturo Cruz and Cristiana Chamorro, were detained over the past two weeks. The arrests are “a sharp escalation of political repression in Nicaragua” and “represented a clear challenge to the Biden administration, occurring as Vice President Harris was visiting the region to promote good governance and find solutions to unauthorized migration,” Ismael López Ocampo and Mary Beth Sheridan report for the Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are engaging with Iran to contain tensions as Iran and the U.S. negotiate indirectly to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S.’s Gulf allies have always opposed the deal, saying that it was inadequate since it ignored other issues, such as Iran’s missile exports and support for regional proxy fighters, however Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made clear that the priority is to get the nuclear deal “back in the box” and then address other questions. Reuters reports.
A U.N. rights expert has warned of “mass deaths from starvation, disease and exposure” in Myanmar after “brutal, indiscriminate attacks” by the military forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Kayah State in eastern Myanmar. Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar, called for urgent international action and that the lives of “many thousands” were threatened by the attacks by the military. Al Jazeera reports.
A Russian court is considering a request to declare organizations linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as “extremist.” If successful, the move would ban Navalny’s allies from running in a parliamentary election later this year. Reuters reports.
Japan and Australia have voiced “serious concerns” over reports of human rights abuses in Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. “We call on China to grant urgent, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent international observers, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Japan and Australia said in a joint statement. Beijing dismissed the remarks as a malicious smear and that it strongly objected to the two nations playing up the “China threat.” Reuters reports.
The head of the Philippine military has visited an island his country occupies in the South China Sea, a move which could further increase heightened tensions between the Philippines and China over the disputed waters. Reuters reports.
The U.N. Security Council has recommended António Guterres as its nominee to serve a second five-year term in as the U.N. chief. UN News Centre reports.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the deaths of four members of a Muslim family from a premediated truck attack an “act of terrorism.” “Islamophobia is real. Hatred has consequences and it must stop,” he added. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.39 million and now killed close to 598,320 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 174.01 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.747 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Biden’s global vaccine strategy is drawing scrutiny ahead of the Group 7 pandemic talks. The strategy has “been panned by congressional Democrats and some health advocates as too timid, drawn flak from European allies as too bold and led to frustration within his administration,” Den Diamond and Emily Rauhala report for the Washington Post.
Chinese state media have decried a visit by three U.S. senators to Taiwan to announce a U.S. pledge of vaccine doses to Taiwan as a “treacherous move” that is provocative and challenges Beijing’s control of the region. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
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.