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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
A bipartisan bill sponsored by 25 lawmakers, including Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) and other military veterans, would eliminate requirements said to be impeding the processing of special immigration visas (SIVs) for Afghans at risk of Taliban retribution because they worked for the U.S. government, raising from 11,000 to 19,000 the number of SIVs available for qualifying Afghans. The bill would drop the need for a “credible sworn statement” of threats facing applicants “since both public and clandestine reporting confirm” that U.S.-affiliated Afghans are under Taliban threat, Crow’s press release said. It would also eliminate a requirement that qualifying Afghans worked in “sensitive and trusted” positions for the U.S. military or the U.S.-led international coalition. Reuters reporting.
The U.S. and Turkey have made a “clear commitment” to an agreed plan for the Turks to continue providing security at the airport in Kabul, U.S. officials said, adding Turkey had asked for extensive assistance from the U.S. as part of its condition to secure the airport, including political, financial and logistical support. Turkey hasn’t confirmed this and has also proposed working jointly with forces from Hungary and Pakistan to provide security at the airport, but hasn’t specified what role if any those countries would play. “U.S. officials declined to say what the U.S. would give Turkey in return other than to say that [President] Biden had made those commitments to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a meeting in Brussels on Monday…. Asked what the U.S. would do if Turkey leaves the airport mission, [national security advisor Jake] Sullivan said the U.S. was conducting contingency planning that relied on the use of contractors with experience in Afghanistan to secure the complex,” reports Gordon Lubold for the Wall Street Journal.
Based on current conditions in Afghanistan, there is a “medium” risk of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan; it will take them possibly two years to develop that capability, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Appropriations Committee as the U.S. progresses towards its September deadline for a full withdrawal. “If certain other things happen, if there was a collapse of the government or dissolution of the Afghan security forces, that risk would obviously increase, but right now I’d say medium and about two years or so,” Milley said. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Around 4,000 Iraqis filed fraudulent applications for resettlement in the U.S. as refugees, reveals a sweeping fraud investigation by U.S authorities who are now re-examining cases involving more than 104,000 others, according to State Department reports reviewed by Reuters. “More than 500 Iraqis already admitted as refugees have been implicated in the alleged fraud and could be deported or stripped of their U.S. citizenship, according to one document sent to members of Congress. It said there was ‘no indication to date that any of these 500+ individuals have ties to terrorism,’” reports Reuters.
The House yesterday voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, in a vote of 268-161. One democrat voted against repealing; 49 republicans voted for repealing, compared to 11 when voted on last year. Rebecca Shabad reports for NBC News.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said yesterday that he did not support repealing the 2002 authorization, calling it “reckless” without broader debate, although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he will also put the authorization to a vote this year and Biden supports its repeal. The bill would need the support of at least 10 Republican senators to pass the upper chamber. Andrew Desiderio and Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to approve a resolution calling on nations to “prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar,” diplomats said. The draft resolution also urges Myanmar’s junta to restore the country’s democratic transition, condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release the deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint “and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.” “The draft resulted from negotiations by a so-called Core Group including the European Union, many Western nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar. A U.N. diplomat said there is an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus, but what will happen with ASEAN members if there is a vote remains unclear,” AP reports.
The U.N. office in Myanmar expressed concern Thursday about escalating human rights violations after reports that the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), a group opposed to the junta, may have executed 25 suspected civilians it captured as well as allegations that junta forces had burned a village to the ground. The junta blamed the KNDO for the 25 bodies found in mass graves; the KNDO appeared to accept it had killed some of the men but insisted that they were not civilians but spies for the junta, and added that shelling from government forces also killed some of the men. AP reporting.
A court in Myanmar extended the detention of American journalist Danny Fenster for a further two weeks Thursday, while the State Department urged that it be granted consular access to the managing editor of online news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar. The special court at Insein Prison in Yangon ordered Fenster’s continued detention there for a fortnight, scheduling his next hearing for July 1, where he will face charges used frequently against dissidents and journalists which criminalize “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.” AP reporting.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Two more Guantánamo Bay detainees, Yemeni citizens, have been approved for transfer to other countries, bringing the total number cleared to be transferred to 11, although the Biden administration has not yet named a main person to negotiation transfers with foreign governments.“The latest decisions were disclosed on Thursday by the interagency Periodic Review Board. Beyond the 11 detainees who have been approved for transfer, 12 have been charged with war crimes, including a prisoner who pleaded guilty as part of an agreement that will permit his transfer … Now the administration needs to find governments willing to take the detainees who have been cleared to be repatriated or sent to third countries,” reports Carol Rosenberg for the New York Times.
The Iranian navy ships thought to be originally headed toward Venezuela, which U.S. officials believe may have been preparing to conduct an arms transfer, appeared to change course early this week and are now likely headed either into the Mediterranean or north toward Russia, according to a defense official. “U.S. officials believe the course change indicates that a diplomatic campaign to urge governments in the Western Hemisphere to turn away the ships was successful, the official said. The Iranian frigate Sahand and afloat staging base Makran charted a new course after Biden administration officials publicly and privately urged the governments of Venezuela, Cuba and other countries in the region not to allow them to dock,” report Lara Seligman and Nahal Toosi for POLITICO.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country should prepare for both dialogue and confrontation with the U.S., particularly confrontation, state media KCNA reported Friday. This was his first direct comment on the Biden administration and came during Thursday’s plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee. Kim had made a detailed analysis of the policy of the administration of … Biden towards Pyongyang and laid out “appropriate strategic and tactical counteraction” with the U.S., KCNA said. Reutersreporting.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday, her spokesperson said. Reuters reporting.
DEFENSE SECRETARY AUSTIN AND GEN. MARK MILLEY TESTIFY
If the National Guard is not reimbursed — before Congress’s August recess — for their unprecedented deployment in Washington D.C. following Jan. 6 attack, “it will impact their ability in the near term to be able to train and adequately prepare the guard for its future, for its current responsibilities,” and “significant negative impact on their ability to maintain their readiness,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Appropriations Committee. The comments come as the senate continues to draft its version of the Capitol security bill, which includes provisions for reimbursements. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
On China’s military capability to seize the island of Taiwan, Milley said it has “a way to go,” there’s little immediate intent to do it, at least not militarily, while Austin appeared a little less clear on the immediacy, saying, “a number of intelligence estimates that address that issue … it is very likely that they’ll want to do that … In terms of when they’ll have the capability to do that, that’s left to be seen.”“There’s no reason to do it militarily, and they know that. So, I think the probability is probably low, in the immediate, near-term future,” Milley said, while accepting that “it is a core, C-O-R-E, national interest of China to unite Taiwa … and the internal politics of China are up to China, as long as whatever’s done is done peacefully and doesn’t destabilize the region or the world.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Military service reports indicate that the number of lost or stolen military firearms is “significantly less” than the 1,900 reported Tuesday in an AP story, Milley said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A newly released video from Jan. 6 shows Marine veteran and retired New York Police Department officer Thomas Webster striking a police officer with a flagpole before taking him to the ground outside the Capitol. Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.
Prosecutors have brought charges against a Three Percenters-linked defendant under a controversial federal rioting law that makes it a crime to transport a firearm or explosive for unlawful use in a riot.“The rioting statute has provoked debate among defense lawyers, civil liberties advocates and prosecutors. After decades of virtual disuse, the Justice Department turned broadly to the civil disorder law in 2020 to prosecute protest-related unrest after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody … Defendants say the law is vague and overbroad, defining civil disorder as any violent, public disturbance involving more than two people. They also say it infringes on constitutional rights to free speech, association and bear arms, while holding individuals criminally liable for “having reason to know” a firearm might be used unlawfully … In 2015, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the law, saying the statute does not criminalize speech or any protected rights,” Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
The Supreme Court yesterday sided with food giants Nestlé USA and Cargill in a lawsuit brought by six citizens of Mali who claimed the companies knowingly bought cocoa beans from farms in the Ivory Coast that used child slave labor and hence “aided and abetted” their enslavement. The justices’ rulingrejected the case 8-1. The case is Nestle USA v. Doe I, 19-416, and Cargill Inc. v. Doe I, 19-453. Adam Liptak reports for the New York Times.
Chris Inglis was on Wednesday confirmed by the Senate to serve as head of the new Office of the National Cyber Director inside the White House, but Congress did not define Inglis’ exact portfolio or authorities, and it remains unclear how he will work with Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger. The new office was one of several policy reforms recommended by the congressional chartered Cyberspace Solarium Commission and incorporated into the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill. Eric Geller reports for POLITICO.
New York City’s Law Department was infiltrated by a hacker earlier this month and all it took was one worker’s stolen email password to get access to th department’s records, according to a city official briefed on the breach, interrupting city lawyers, disrupting court proceedings and thrusting some of the department’s legal affairs into disarray. “Officials have not said how the intruder obtained the worker’s credentials, nor have they determined the scope of the attack. But the hack was enabled by the Law Department’s failure to implement a basic safeguard, known as multifactor authentication, more than two years after the city began requiring it, according to four people with knowledge of legal agency’s system and the incident,” report Ashley Southall, Benjamin Weiser and Dana Rubinstein for the New York Times.
Senate republicans indicate there is little chance they will be supporting the Democratic-backed voting bill being brought before the floor on Tuesday, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejecting Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.)’s compromise offer that adopted some GOP ideas in a bid to break partisan gridlock on the issue. Parts of the bill, called the For the People Act, “are meant to overrule provisions contained in a host of GOP-passed state laws that have placed restrictions on early voting, mail voting, ballot drop boxes and other policies that make it easier to cast a ballot, in response to former president Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 presidential election.” Mike DeBonis and Vanessa Williams reports for the Washington Post.
About 50 police officers who had served voluntarily on a specialized crowd control unit in Portland, OR, stepped down from the squad just hours after a member of the unit, Officer Corey Budworth, was indicted on a misdemeanor assault charge that he physically injured an independent photojournalist during a protest in August, the city’s Police Department said yesterday. “On Wednesday night, just hours after the Multnomah County district attorney announced the indictment, the roughly 50 colleagues who had served with Officer Budworth on the unit voted to leave the squad, known as the Rapid Response Team, Deputy Chief Chris Davis said on Thursday. He said the officers would remain on regular patrol and could still be deployed to respond to protests,” Michael Levenson reports for the New York Times.
On Thursday night the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a series of airstrikes on military compounds and a rocket launching site near Gaza City and Khan Younis, the second lot of strikes within 48hours in response to the launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza. There are no reports that Hamas responded with rocket fire, although the IDF Chief of Staff conducted a situation assessment, including the possibility of a resumption of fighting between his forces and Hamas. “While militants have been sending balloons into Israel for years, the Israeli military’s response of airstrikes in Gaza is a new escalation. Israeli officials said it was part of a message to Hamas that any provocation will be met with force,” report Oren Liebermann and Amir Tal for CNN.
A Hamas-linked media outlet in Gaza reported strikes on sites near Gaza City, Khan Younis, and Jabalia, a town in the north of the strip. In the early hours of Friday, sirens sounded in areas of southern Israel close to Gaza, a warning that IDF said was prompted by gunfire, not rocket, from militants in Gaza. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
IRAN’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Many are expected to shun the results of Iran’s presidential election, criticized as a one-party system, after the Guardian Council — the body of top clerics responsible for vetting contenders — disqualified nearly all other viable options, with Ebrahim Raisi, the ultraconservative judiciary chief, the obvious front-runner. Vivian Yee and Farnaz Fassihi report for the New York Times.
“By mid-day, turnout appeared far lower than Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. State television offered tight shots of polling places, several of which seemed to have only a handful of voters in the election’s early hours,” reports AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A public inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena suicide bombing attack finds that there were “serious shortcomings” and a number of missed opportunities by those in charge of security. Chair on the inquiry Sir John Saunders said in the first volume of his findings that he considered it likely that the terrorist, Salman Abedi, would still have detonated his device if confronted, “but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less” than the 22 that dies and the hundreds more injured. Nazia Parveen reports for the Guardian.
On Thursday Hong Kong police raided the offices of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, arresting and charging the chief editor and chief executive with collusion with a foreign country. Reuters reporting.
The raid on Apple Daily “sends a further chilling message for media freedom,” said Rupert Colville, the chief U.N. human rights spokesperson. Reuters reporting.
Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, ousted during the 2011 civil war and acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court, flew home from Brussels yesterday after a decade in exile as thousands took to the streets to welcom him. Reuters reporting.
Jorge Salas, president of Peru’s National Elections Jury, said in a message on Twitter that the organization’s full team would be working through the weekend to ensure the checking of contested votes from the June 6 presidential election was “expedited,” to be able to “promptly” declare the final results and end swirling tension and uncertainty. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected close to 33.5 million and now over 600,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 177.48 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.843 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul went into lockdown on Thursday amid a surge in coronavirus cases swamping medical facilities that remain accessible to American diplomats as the U.S. withdraws from the country. “The notice said that one person associated with the embassy had died, several had been medically evacuated and 114 people were infected and in isolation. The document said that 95 percent of the current cases were in people who were ‘unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated,’ even though vaccines were available at the embassy. It noted that 90 percent of the Afghans and people from other countries on the embassy staff had been vaccinated,” report Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Fatima Faizi and Lara Jakes for the New York Times.
The E.U. recommended Friday that its 27 Member States lift bans on nonessential travel from the U.S., but each national will ultimately make its own decision. “The recommendation is nonbinding, and each member state can decide what regulations, including quarantines, to impose on visitors,” Monika Pronczuk reports for the New York Times.
Israel said Friday that it will transfer approximately 1 million doses of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses Palestine is expected to receive later this year. AP reporting.
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.