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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Taliban fighters took control of the Imam Sahib district in Afghanistan, a key district in the country’s northern Kunduz province and near the border with Tajikistan. Fighting around the Imam Sahib district began late Sunday and by midday Monday the Taliban had taken over the district headquarters and the police headquarters, according to the province’s police. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
Hazara and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan are forming their own militia armies to defend themselves against the Taliban and Islamic State affiliate, as U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from the country. Regional militia leaders have spoken publicly and posted videos online about mobilizing men to fight the Taliban, as they fear “that the flagging peace talks in Doha, Qatar, will collapse after foreign troops depart and the Taliban will intensify an all-out assault to capture provincial capitals and lay siege to Kabul,” David Zucchino and Fatima Faizi report for the New York Times.
Iran has accused the U.S. of meddling for criticizing Iran’s presidential election, according to state media. The accusations come after a U.S. State Department spokesperson on Monday described the elections as “pretty manufactured” and reiterated the U.S.’s view that the election was neither free nor fair. “We consider this statement as interference in our domestic affairs, contrary to international law and reject it,” an Iranian government spokesperson was quoted by state media as saying. “The U.S. government is not in a position to have the authority to express its views on the process of elections in Iran or any other country,” the spokesperson said. Reuters reporting.
During his first news conference yesterday, Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi welcomed the negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal but said that they must guarantee national interests. Rasi also promised that he would not allow the talks in Vienna to be dragged out and urged the U.S. to immediately return to the deal and lift all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. BBC News reports.
Rasi is posed to have a pivotal role in the talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. While he is “expected to agree to reimposing constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, he is seen as a more confrontational adversary to the West than his predecessor, current President Hassan Rouhani,” Sune Engel Rasmussen and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.
There are currently no plans for President Biden to meet with Iran’s newly elected leader, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Psaki also downplayed Rasi’s influence stating that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the key decision maker in Tehran. “We don’t currently have any diplomatic relations with Iran or any plans to meet at the leader level,” Psaki told reporters, adding that “our view is that the decision maker here is the Supreme Leader.” Trevor Hunnicutt reports for Reuters.
President Biden’s administration has imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials and five entities, in coordination with Canada, the U.K. and the E.U. The sanctions respond to the crackdown on civil liberties in the country and are a direct response to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka’s directive last month to force the landing of a commercial flight carrying opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofiya Sapega. “We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” read a statement jointly released by the four parties. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
The 16 individuals sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury department include senior Lukashenko administration officials, as well as the head of the country’s National Assembly and observers who certified presidential elections last year that most Western nations have deemed fraudulent. The U.S. sanctions also “bar U.S. businesses, banks and individuals from transacting with those individuals blacklisted and freeze any assets the individuals may have within U.S. jurisdiction. The Treasury also sanctioned five government entities, including Ministry of Interior troops and other law-enforcement units the U.S. says are responsible for carrying out the repression,” Ian Talley reports for the Wall Street Journal.
In their joint statement, the U.S., E.U., U.K. and Canada called on Lukashenko to release all political prisoners and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society. Steven Erlanger reports for the New York Times.
Western sanctions against Belarus are viewed by Minsk as bordering on a “declaration of economic war,” the Belarusian foreign ministry have said in a statement. Minsk said that the new sanctions from Western powers “would negatively impact the interests of its citizens and warned that it would be forced to take reciprocal measures that could in turn adversely affect citizens and businesses of Western countries,” Alexander Marrow reports for Reuters.
Belarusian prosecutors are seeking a 15-year jail term for a former banker who was taken into custody last year after challenging Lukashenko at an election, according to reports by the TASS news agency. “Viktor Babariko, the former head of Belgazprombank, is being tried on corruption charges that his team says were fabricated to prevent him from standing as a candidate in last August’s presidential election,” Reuters reports.
The U.S. special envoy for Libya has said that the U.S. is in talks with some of the key actors in Libya to withdraw foreign forces before Libya holds elections in December. Richard Norland told reporters that the upcoming elections would be important to ensure a fully legitimate and empowered government could push foreign actors to pull out their troops. “That will be a very important development and … very impactful, but we’re not suggesting that we have to wait until next year to try to make some progress,” Norland said, referring to “negotiations underway with some of the key actors aimed at trying to remove some of the mercenaries, the foreign fighters.” The statements come ahead of the attendance of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Second Berlin Conference on Libya this week. Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Richard Pullin report for Reuters.
A top North Korean official has warned the U.S. not to misinterpret comments by her leader, Kim Jong Un, saying that they would end in disappointment as a U.S. envoy aiming to get talks with North Korea back on track met South Korea’s president. The statement was made by Kim Yo Jung, a senior official and the sister of North Korea’s leader, in response to U.S. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan saying that he saw an “interesting signal” in a recent speech by Kim Jong Un on preparing for both confrontation and diplomacy with the United States. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
Migrant children sent to emergency shelters in the U.S. have described crowded living conditions, spoiled food, lack of clean clothes, trouble sleeping under bright lights, infrequent phone calls to family members and struggles with depression, according to 17 testimonials filed in a court case. “The testimonials offer a detailed look into the conditions within a network of emergency shelters hastily erected by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to deal with a sharp rise in the number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke report for Reuters.
A Senate panel has postponed considering a bill which would repeal war authorizations relating to the Iraq war. The postponement for at least a couple of days comes after a group of Republicans pushed the committee for a delay. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, has announced he will leave Washington after eight years. Cui said that that U.S.- China relations are at a “crossroads” as the U.S. recalibrates its engagement policies and called on Chinese people in the U.S. to defend their right to be there and to “shoulder a great responsibility and mission” in furthering the bilateral relationship in a farewell statement. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The criminal trial of a relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, and a former chief of the royal court, Bassem Awadallah, began yesterday at the state security court, where both pled not guilty to charges of sedition and incitement to oppose the political system. According to Awadallah’s lawyer the trial was then adjourned until today and would likely take more than two months. Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Suha Ma’ayeh in report for the Wall Street Journal.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said she hopes to agree on terms for a visit this year to China, including to its Xinjiang region. Bachelet hopes to look into reports of serious violations against Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the region. Stephanie Nebehay reports for Reuters.
More than 40 countries have urged China to allow Bachelet immediate access to the Xinjiang region to look into reports that more than a million people have been unlawfully detained there, some subjected to torture or forced labor. “The joint statement on China was read out by Canadian Ambassador Leslie Norton on behalf of countries including Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the United States to the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Stephanie Nebehay reports for Reuters.
Bachelet has warned of the worst “cascade of human rights setbacks in our lifetimes” and calls for a concerted global effort to address abuses, citing China, Russia and Ethiopia as examples. Bachelet’s comments were made at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 47th session. The Guardian reports.
The U.K. has tightened sanctions against Myanmar’s military by adding three Myanmar entities to its sanctions list. The three additional entities are state-owned pearl and timber firms, and the State Administration Council which runs the functions of the state. Reuters reports.
The E.U. has imposed a third round of sanctions on Myanmar officials and state companies, in relation to the Feb. 1 military coup. “The E.U. imposed an asset freeze and a travel ban on eight Myanmar officials, among them the home affairs minister responsible for the police force, and slapped sanctions on three companies that are state-owned or controlled by the military. A fourth entity, the War Veterans Organization, was also hit by the measures,” Sabine Siebold and Matthew Lewis report for Reuters.
The arrests of opposition candidates in Nicaragua have led Argentina and Mexico to recall their ambassadors to the country. The joint statement from Argentina and Mexico said the envoys would return to their capitals for talks about the Nicaraguan government’s “worrying” recent actions. The announcement comes as the fifth presidential hopeful, journalist Miguel Mora, was arrested and held under Nicaragua’s controversial “treason” law. BBC News reports.
Ethiopia voted yesterday in an election expected to mandate Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership of the country. Once seen as a unifier and a peacemaker Ahmed, has since presided over a new era of division in Ethiopia, including the civil war in the northern region of Tigray. Around a fifth of the polling stations were closed “due to violence and misprinted ballots, and top opposition leaders are either in jail or have boycotted the vote,” the Washington Post reports.
Ahmed, a recipient of the 2019 Nobel Peace Price, now presides over a government that has been accused of war crimes, Ishaan Tharoor provides analysis for the Washington Post.
Spain’s socialist-led government will today approve the controversial pardons of nine Catalan independence leaders over their roles in the failed attempt to secede from the rest of the country in October 2017. Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez has insisted that, despite the controversy, the act of clemency is the best way to bring the country back together and to help find a political solution to the enduring territorial crisis. Sam Jones reports for the Guardian.
Hundreds of Columbians have gone missing at anti-government protests over the past two months. While many of the demonstrations have been peaceful, security forces have responded to some with force with reports 548 human rights violations since June 7 and 20 deaths, according to the government ombudsman. Now protestors and human rights advocates say that they are seeing disappearances associated with the demonstrations. Ana Vanessa Herrero reports for the Washington Post.
A suicide bomber in a car has attacked a French reconnaissance mission in central Mali, wounding six French soldiers and four residents, the French army has said. No group claimed responsibility for the attack however Islamist militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate in the area. Reuters reporting.
The U.N.’s Children and Armed Conflict report, released yesterday, says that grave violations against children affected by conflict remain “alarmingly high,” with the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating their vulnerability to abduction, recruitment and sexual violence. Al Jazeera reporting.
In 2020, more than 8,500 children were used as soldiers in the various global conflicts, nearly 2,700 others were killed and over 5,700 injured, the report found. “19,379 children in 21 conflicts. The most violations in 2020 were committed in Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen,” reports Reuters.
A federal judge has dismissed the bulk of a set of lawsuits over the clearing of protesters in Lafayette Square before a photo op for former President Trump. “District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that former Attorney General William Barr and other current and former officials named in the suits are entitled to qualified immunity over their actions during the June 1, 2020, protests” and that the “the protesters’ allegations were not sufficient to overcome the significant legal protections afforded to federal officials,” Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
Eight Democrats are vying to take over as Manhattan district attorney, running the country’s largest local prosecutor’s office, and will inherit the ongoing inquiry into former President Trump and his family business. “The contenders — five of whom have been prosecutors before and three of whom have not — mostly agree on a basic tenet: The office needs to change. But they are divided over just how far they would push reform efforts. Polling in the race has been sparse, but a recent survey found that the fund-raising leaders, Tali Farhadian Weinstein and Alvin Bragg, are tied with the most support. Because the district attorney is a state election rather than a municipal one, voting will not be ranked choice, as it is in the citywide elections, and voters will select only one candidate,” reports Jonah E. Bromwich for the New York Times.
Trump’s fundraising arm is advertising on Facebook again, as Facebook continues to ban Trump from using the site. “Groups affiliated with the former president are not barred from posting on Facebook so long as they are not posting in his voice,” a spokesperson for Facebook said. “Starting late last week, Save America Joint Fundraising Committee, a joint venture between Trump’s Save America leadership PAC and his Make America Great Again PAC, has spent $3,506 on Facebook ads promoting Trump’s upcoming rally outside Cleveland, Ohio and calling for donations to his fund,” Medith McGraw reports for POLITICO.
Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to pursue claims of election fraud caused John Demers, head of the department’s national security division, to consider resigning. In a recent interview Demers explained that he considered resigning as Trump was threatening to fire the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen, over the sought-after election investigation. Demers ultimately did not resign over the election issue after Rosen resisted the White House pressure. “I was relieved, pleased, glad that it didn’t happen,” Demers said. Aruna Viswanatha reports for the Wall Street Journal.
New York prosecutors are investigating whether a top Trump Organization executive, Matthew Calamari, who was once Trump’s bodyguard, received tax-free fringe benefits as part of his work with the Trump Organization. The interest suggests that prosecutors’ “probe into the Trump Organization’s alleged practice of providing some employees with cars and apartments extends beyond Allen Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer, and his family. Neither Messrs. Calamari and Weisselberg, nor anyone else connected to the company, has been accused of wrongdoing,” Rebecca Ballhaus and Corinne Ramey report for the Wall Street Journal.
The SolarWinds hack may have been deterred or minimized if basic security measures had been put in place, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency acting Director Brandon Wales acknowledged earlier this month. In a June 3 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), provided to The Hill yesterday, Wales “agreed with Wyden’s question over whether firewalls placed in victim agency systems could have helped block the malware virus used in the SolarWinds attack,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.55 million and now killed over 602,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 178.70 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.87 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to jail citizens who refuse to get vaccinated, even though the official policy of the country is that inoculations are voluntary. Reuters reporting.
Former President Trump wanted to send those infected with Covid-19 to a detainment camp in Guantánamo Bay, according book a book entitled “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History,” written by Washington Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta. Al Jazeera 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.