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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 Pentagon is weighing seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes in Afghanistan to support Afghan security in the event that Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban, following the U.S. withdrawal of troops from the country. The authorization would “potentially introducing flexibility into President Biden’s plan to end the United States military presence in the conflict…but military officials are actively discussing how they might respond if the rapid withdrawal produces consequences with substantial national security implications,” Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
The U.N. has condemned the attack on the demining agency HALO Trust in northern Afghanistan and has called for an investigation into the attack by gunmen which killed 10 people and injured 16 others. “In strongly condemning the attack, U.N. Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the HALO Trust is a global partner in operations to clear landmines, and other explosive devices, and to better the lives of vulnerable people,” UN News Centre reports.
President Biden’s administration is urging Venezuela and Cuba to turn away two Iranian warships believed to be carrying weapons to transfer to Venezuela, following an arms deal that Iran and Venezuela made a year ago. Biden’s administration has also vowed that “that the U.S. will take ‘appropriate measures’ to deter what it sees as a ‘threat’ to America’s partners in the Western Hemisphere,” Lara Seligman, Andrew Desiderio, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Nahal Toosi report for POLITICO.
Indirect nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal are set to resume this weekend, according to Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Sherman remarked that “there’s been a lot of progress made” but that no agreement is finalized until the last detail is “nailed down.” Humeyra Pamuk reports for Reuters.
An Iranian presidential candidate has said that he is open to meeting with Biden if voted into office in Iran’s elections next week. Speaking to the AP former Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said that he would be willing to speak with Biden, but that “America needs to send better and stronger signals” to the Islamic Republic. Mehdi Fattahi reports for AP.
BIDEN’S TRIP TO EUROPE AND G7 SUMMIT
President Biden has arrived in the U.K. for a series of meetings with world leaders in his first foreign trip. Biden stressed the message “that the United States is back and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and the issues that matter most to our future,” in a speech to U.S. Air Force personnel and their families stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, U.K. Lauren Egan reports for NBC News.
Biden has warned Russia that it faces “robust and meaningful” consequences if it engages in “harmful activities.” At the end of his first foreign trip Biden is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, and the “White House has indicated that [Biden] intends to cover a ‘full range of pressing issues’ with his Russian counterpart, including arms control, climate change, Russian military involvement in Ukraine, Russia’s cyber-hacking activities and the jailing of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny,” BBC News reports.
Group of Seven (G7) leaders meeting in the U.K. today will focus on Russian efforts to undermine Western Unity, according to European Council President Charles Michel. The G7 “share similar views on Russia’s disruptive activities,” Michel said at an online news conference. Reuters reports.
Michel also said that the E.U. is ready to defend itself from “practices that pose security risks” from China and Russia, saying that Beijing was a systemic rival and also a partner. “We will continue to stand up to defend human rights and the rule of law in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and elsewhere,” Michel said. Reuters reports.
Biden told a hanger of U.S. troops in the U.K. that he was in Europe to defend the very concept of democracy and that he would be meeting Putin “to let him know what I want him to know,” Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
Biden will seek to rally European allies and other democratic nations in confronting what he views as the rising threat of authoritarian regimes, particularly in China and Russia. However, “some European and Asian allies question whether the U.S. can reliably underpin such alliances over the long term after the fraying of ties during the administration of former President Donald Trump,” Ken Thomas and Andrew Restuccia report for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden is taking a message to the U.K. that it must settle the Brexit row over Northern Ireland. U.S. envoys, backed by U.S. national security advisor Jake Sulivan, have warned the U.K.’s Brexit negotiator, David Frost that the U.K. must compromise with the E.U. on border checks. Risk to the Good Friday agreement “will not be welcomed by the U.S.,” Sullivan told a briefing on Air Force One. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
U.K. police have arrested a man for a bomb hoax near the media center set up to cover the G6 summit in southwest England. Reuters reporting.
JBS, one of the world’s largest meat producers, paid hackers the equivalent of about $11 million to resolve a ransomware attack that forced the company to shut down its beef plants. In a statement the company said that while it was able to get most of its systems running without paying the hackers, it chose to make the payment “to mitigate any unforeseen issues related to the attack and ensure no data was exfiltrated.” Kevin Collier reports for NBC News.
Serious cyberattacks against critical targets in Europe doubled in the past year, according to new figures from the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA). As the Covid-19 pandemic pushed lives online, ENISA have reported 304 significant malicious attacks against “critical sectors” in 2020 and a 47% rise in attacks on hospitals and health care networks. Nick Paton Walsh reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has directed the Pentagon to start several new initiatives to counter China. Details were limited on what the efforts would be, though senior defense officials said that the internal directive will “address challenges from China,” mainly through better cooperation with United States allies and partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Austin said that the directive would “improve the department’s ability to revitalize our network of allies and partners, bolster deterrence, and accelerate the development of new operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future force posture, and a modernized civilian and military workforce.” Agence France-Presse reports.
Multiple rockets were fired on Wednesday targeting Iraqi military bases housing U.S.-led coalition troops and foreign contractors, according to Iraqi security officials and the military. The first rocket hit Balad airbase, north of Baghdad, without causing any casualties or damage, and hours later there was an explosion close to a military base next to Baghdad airport. It is unclear whether the latter explosion was caused by a rocket or drone strike. Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP.
The Biden administration plans to impose additional sanctions on Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime, Julie Fisher, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Belarus, told Congress yesterday. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.
The Treasury Department has sanctioned four Nicaraguans officials, including a daughter of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, over human rights abuses and efforts to undermine democracy. “It’s clear the Ortega regime intends to continue its suppression of the Nicaraguan people. The United States will continue to expose those officials who continue to ignore the will of its citizens,” the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki said in a statement. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
U.S. forces have conducted a joint aviation integration exercise with the United Arab Emirates Coast Guard and Joint Aviation Command and Saudi Arabia’s Royal Saudi Naval Forces in the Arabian Gulf. “The multi-positional exercises demonstrated NAVCENT’s [U.S. Naval Forces Central Command] ability to conduct separate joint air and surface operations with partners in different locations, simultaneously,” U.S. Central Command said in a news statement.
U.S. Park Police officers who cleared protesters from Lafayette Square last year were acting on a prior plan unrelated to the former President Trump’s photo op there, according to an Interior Department inspector general report. The report found that the officers were implementing a plan agreed upon days earlier to install fencing and protect officers, however the inspector general also found that “contrary to instructions from Park Police commanders, Metropolitan Police officers also fired tear gas at protesters as they moved away from the park and Bureau of Prison officials fired pepper spray,” Rachael Levy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Capital Police union is calling on acting Chief Yogananda Pittman to “stand aside” following the recent Senate report on the Jan. 6 attack which found that a failure of the Capitol Police to relay intelligence contributed to the attack. “The time has come for those in senior leadership who failed us, to stand aside. It is not enough to scapegoat others,” Capitol Police union chair Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement to news outlets. Rebecca Falconer reports for Axios.
CNN fought an attempt by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seize the email records of a CNN reporter, with the DOJ insisting the battle all take place under an extraordinary order of secrecy. “The pursuit — which started in July 2020 under then-Attorney General William Barr with a demand for two months’ of CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr’s 2017 email logs — continued even after a federal judge told the Justice Department its argument for access to Starr’s internal emails was ‘speculative’ and ‘unanchored in any facts,’” Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez report for CNN.
President Biden has revoked a ban from former President Trump’s era on Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat, substituting it with an executive order mandating a broad review of apps controlled by foreign adversaries to determine whether they pose a security threat to the U.S. “The new order doesn’t target any companies specifically, but creates the potential for an even broader crackdown on Chinese-owned apps than the Trump administration orders it replaces by mandating a review of all software applications with potential ties to countries such as China,” John D. McKinnon and Alex Leary report for the Wall Street Journal.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has defended the DOJ endorsing controversial legal positions previously held by Trump and the previous administration. While testifying before several Senate subcommittees, Garland was asked about the department’s support for arguments related to an assault allegation against Trump and the release of a memo of regarding handling the Mueller investigation. “The job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present. Our job is to represent the American people,” Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee. Zachary Cohen and Christina Carrega report for CNN.
Former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn confirmed before a congressional panel that Trump urged him to oust special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a transcript of McGhan’s testimony released yesterday. McGahn said he considered Trump’s request “a point of no return” and how Trump had repeated conversations with him about Mueller, who he believed might have conflicts of interest and should be fired. Alex Rogers, Katelyn Polantz and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
Drafts of bills about tech competition and antitrust are circulating among policy circles and are likely to be introduced by leaders of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee soon. The legislation is designed to curb the market power of large online platforms and “address interoperability, self-preferencing a company’s own services and features, an update to merger fees and more money for the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, limiting Big Tech acquisitions and separating platforms from sellers,” Ashley Gold and Margaret Harding McGill report for Axios.
Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with corruption by the country’s military junta. The new charge adds to the list of legal cases against Suu Kyi and follows an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission which found her “guilty of committing corruption using her rank,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said. If found guilty of the charge, Suu Kyi could face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Helen Regan and Sophie Jeong report for CNN.
A Russian court has classified political organizations linked to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as “extremist,” banning Navalny’s regional network offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation with immediate effect. The “extremist” label could have serious consequences for Navalny and his political movement, with activists potentially being threatened with jail if they continue their work. “It was found that these organizations not only disseminated information that incited hatred and enmity against government officials, but also committed extremist actions,” the prosecutors’ spokesperson said outside the court. Steve Rosenberg reports for BBC News.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi group in Yemen has said that it wants to prepare the political ground for a peaceful settlement and has stopped carrying out attacks near any Yemeni city. The statement followed media reports of an attack on an armored division belonging to the Iran-aligned Houthis near the Yemeni capital, which the statement denied. Reuters reports.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce a reduction in French troops battling Islamist militants in the Sahel region of West Africa, according to sources familiar to the matter. Reuters reports.
Arrests targeting Palestinians in East Jerusalem and across Israel have continued in the wake of recent conflict and protests. Israeli police have arrested more than 2,100 people and issued 380 indictments against 184 people since May, with more than 91 percent of those arrested being Arab, according to the Haaretz newspaper. Miriam Berger reports for the Washington Post.
China has passed a law to counter foreign sanctions according to state television. Local experts have said that the new law is intended to give Chinese retaliatory measures to foreign sanctions more legitimacy and predictability, however the details of the law’s contents have not yet been released. Yew Lun Tian reports for Reuters.
Authorities in the Central African Republic have charged a French national with espionage, conspiracy and harming domestic state security, among other charges. “Juan Remy Quignolot was detained on May 10 after police said it had found weapons, military fatigues and foreign banknotes at his residence in the capital, Bangui. Authorities accused him of having aided and trained rebel fighters in the conflict-wracked country since 2013,” Al Jazeera reports.
The outgoing prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has urged the U.N. Security Council to maintain the focus on bringing justice to Darfur in Sudan. The ICC investigations relate to allegations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed during fighting between government forces, backed by allied militia known as janjaweed, and Darfur rebel movements. “In her final briefing to ambassadors, Fatou Bensouda underlined that the Court is the only institution that promised hope to victims of the brutal conflict in the Sudanese province,” UN News Centre reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.41 million and now killed approximately 598,760 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 174.43 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.758 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
President Biden is expected to announce that his administration will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donate them among about 100 countries over the next year. The United States will pay for the doses, which will be distributed through the international vaccine-sharing initiative Covax, at a “not for profit” price. Sharon LaFraniere, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Noah Weiland report for the New York Times.
Shannon Kellman recently wrote for Just Security about the need for U.S. health leadership in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and its longer term impacts across the world.
The G7 leaders will call for new, transparent investigation by the World Health Organization into the origins of Covid-19, according to a leaked draft communique for the upcoming meeting. The call was initiated by Biden’s administration following Biden’s decision to expand the United States investigation into whether the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan. Philip Inman reports for the Guardian.
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.