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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
President Biden’s administration is preparing to relocate thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces to third countries in an effort to keep them safe while they apply for entry to the U.S. and wait for their visa requests to be processed. Senior administration officials have started notifying lawmakers that “that they will soon begin what could be a wholesale move of tens of thousands of Afghans,” Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
The government of Afghanistan could collapse within six months after the U.S. military withdrawal from the country is complete, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded in a new assessment. The new assessment, which differs from a previously positive analysis and follows the Taliban making gains through northern Afghanistan, aligns more closely with the analysis generated by the U.S. military. Gordon Lubold and Yaroslav Trofimov report for the Wall Street Journal.
A top U.S. military general has downplayed the Taliban’s recent gains in Afghanistan. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley stressed to the House Armed Services Committee that most of the district centers controlled by the Taliban were seized before the U.S. military began withdrawing and no provincial capitals had fallen. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The U.K. Defense Ministry has denied that warning shots were fired, or bombs dropped near the British HMS Defender, nor that the warship was in Russian waters. A statement from the ministry said it believed Russia was conducting gunnery exercises in the area. Ben Wallace, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Defense, said that the ship traveled in an internationally recognized transit corridor during a routine operation, “as is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage, and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity,” he said. In contrast, Russia handed Britain’s defense attaché in Moscow a formal protest note and Russia’s Defense Ministry called the ship’s action a “grave violation.” Robyn Dixon reports for the Washington Post.
A BBC journalist onboard the HMS Defender has said that a Russian patrol vessel tried unsuccessfully to get the ship to change course, that the ship had been shadowed by Russian military planes and that he heard shots fired. BBC News reports.
More than 20 Russian aircraft and two coast guard ships shadowed the British HMS Defender as it sailed near the Crimea, according to the BBC correspondent on the ship. BBC News reports.
The U.K.’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has said that Russia’s claims about the HMS Defender are “predictably inaccurate.” Raab claimed that no shots were fired at the warship in the Black Sea and the “the Royal Navy ship was conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters…in accordance with international law.” Joe Brock reports for Reuters.
Analysis of the potential fallout from the Black Sea incident is provided by Frank Gardner for BBC News.
The U.S., U.K. and France have accused Russian mercenaries of operating alongside Central African Republic forces and committing human rights violations against civilians and obstructing U.N. peacekeeping. The accusations, which were made at a U.N. Security Council yesterday, were immediately denied by Russia which denounced the Western nations for engaging in an “anti-Russia political hit job.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
France and Germany have suggested inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit with the E.U., as part of the E.U.’s attempt to reset relations with Russia. “Supporters of the idea argue that European leaders can deliver the same direct messages [as President Biden] about Russian behavior while keeping the door open to compromise and cooperation,” Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
“In my opinion, we as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today to the Bundestag lower house of parliament. Reuters reporting.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said that he would not take part in an E.U. meeting with Putin if it included national leaders of the E.U.’s 27 member states, though he was not against the heads of the E.U.’s joint institutions holding a summit with Putin. Gabriela Baczynska reports for Reuters.
Putin supports an idea to restore dialogue and contacts between Russia and the E.U., a Kremlin spokesperson has told reporters. “Such a dialogue is truly need both to Brussels and Moscow,” the spokesman said, “we consider such a proposal positively.” Reuters reporting.
A showdown is expected between Russia with the U.N. and the West over aid routes to Syria. Russia is resisting the renewal of the remaining mandate for aid to cross the border with Turkey and “Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia insisted that aid can and should be delivered across conflict lines in Syria, and accused the U.N. and the West of doing nothing to promote such deliveries during the past year,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
U.N. officials have appealed for an extension for the cross-border aid operations into Syria. “I strongly appeal to the members of the Council to reach consensus on allowing cross border operations as a vital channel of support for another year,” António Guterres said, speaking via video link at a U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday. “A failure to extend the Council’s authorization would have devastating consequences,” Guterres warned. UN News Centre reports.
Iran state TV has reported that Iranian authorities have thwarted a “sabotage attack” targeting a civilian nuclear facility. The attempted attack “left no casualties or damages and was unable to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program,” and authorities were working to identify the perpetrators, Iranian state television reported. An anonymous Iran official said that attack was “not a drone attack, but rather possible sabotage targeting security.” Nasser Karimi and Isabel Debre report for AP.
Iran will decide whether to extend its nuclear monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency after the deal’s expiry on June 24, presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi has said according to Iranian state TV’s news website. Reuters reporting.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
Thousands across Hong Kong gathered to bid farewell and obtain the final copy of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which closed its doors today. The newspaper decided to shut down after it and its reporters were accused of breaching a national security law. BBC News reports.
The closure of Apple Daily is seen as the latest erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong, Jennifer Jet reports for the New York Times.
Several Republican senators have raised concerns over the closure of the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong. The senators include Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) who Tweeted that the closure “illustrates the lengths the Chinese Communist Party will go to silence dissent, curtail freedom, and maintain their grip over the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong.” Other politicians, including U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, also vocalized their disapproval. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Taiwan has “solemnly condemned” the closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said in a statement that it felt “extreme regret” that the newspaper was unable to operate due to “political oppression” brought about by the national security law and that the incident “not only sounded the death knell for freedom of press, publication, and speech in Hong Kong, but has also allowed the international community to see for themselves the Communist Party regime’s totalitarianism and autocracy.” Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee report for Reuters.
President Biden’s administration is expected to announce a ban on some solar goods made in the Xinjiang region. The step is to counter alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, including forced labor in the solar goods production, in the Xinjiang region. Jenny Leonard, Jennifer A Dlouhy, Brian Eckhouse, and Ari Natter report for Bloomberg.
Taiwan “needs to prepare” for a possible military conflict with China, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has said in an interview with CNN. Wu’s warning is a response to China’s escalating military intimidation of the self-governed island and comes “one week after the island reported the largest daily incursion by Chinese military planes into Taiwan’s self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone,” Eric Cheung and Will Ripley report for CNN.
North Korea will not engage in talks with the U.S. that would get “nowhere” and would only take up “precious time,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon has said. The remarks were made “after the new U.S. envoy for North Korea said in Seoul on Monday that he looked forward to a ‘positive response soon’ on dialogue from Pyongyang,” Reuters reports.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has postponed a vote on the bill that would repeal the 2002 authorization of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq until at least mid-July and is scheduling a classified briefing for committee members on the proposed bill. “Under the committee’s rules, any member can ask for a piece of legislation to be held over for one business meeting. So we had a couple of members who did. I honored that,” Menendez said. John Bresnahan, Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman report for Punchbowl News AM.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed they brought down two U.S. made drones over the central Marib province, where there has been heavy fighting between the Iran-backed rebels and forces loyal to the internationally recognized government. The U.S. military has denied the claim and “said it wasn’t aware of any lost drones in the Mideast and added that it did not operate any aircraft above Marib,” Jon Gambrell reports for AP.
Former Saudi officials are to be questioned about their alleged links to the 9/11 attacks. The officials will be questioned in court depositions later this month by lawyers acting for families of the victims and who are “seeking to prove that Saudi nationals helped support two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, in southern California in the months leading up to the attacks – and that support was coordinated by a diplomat in the Saudi embassy in Washington,” Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
The U.S. no longer sees Taiwan as a problem in its relations with China, but rather “as an opportunity to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Thursday,” Ben Blanchard reports for Reuters.
Vice President Harris is expected to visit the U.S.-Mexico border tomorrow, the White House has said. Harris will travel to El Paso, Texas, and will be accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayork. “White House officials have said Ms. Harris’s role is limited to diplomacy, with departments such as Homeland Security and Health and Human Services in charge of dealing with migrants crossing into the U.S.,” Tarini Parti reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The head of the U.S. Border Control, Rodney Scott, has announced that he is resigning. Scott took his position during former President Trump’s administration in February 2020 and it was expected he would step down after President Biden was elected. “Scott said he received a notice from the federal government that he had to either relocate, resign or retire from his position. The notice is not disciplinary and no explanation was given, according to Scott,” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
TRUMP’S JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Past and current officials have said that former President Trump’s Justice Department leak probe was not aimed at lawmakers. “The Trump Justice Department obtained communications records of some Democratic lawmakers in 2018 because they had been in contact with one or more congressional staffers whom prosecutors suspected of leaking classified information to the media, not because the lawmakers themselves were targets of the investigation, people familiar with the matter said,” Aruna Viswanatha and Sadie Gurman report for the Wall Street Journal.
The House is investigating whether the Trump Justice Department ran a possible unlawful shadow operation to target political enemies of Trump to hunt down leaks. According to a source familiar with the matter, with the former Trump attorney generals Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions denying any knowledge of the subpoenas to secretly seize data, Democratic party members are considering whether rogue officials targeted Trump’s perceived political opponents. Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
A member of the Oath Keepers has pled guilty in a conspiracy case relating to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the first guilty plea obtained by Federal Prosecutors in the case involving the group. The individual pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, as well as agreeing to cooperate with investigators. Ryan Lucas reports for NPR.
A linguist for a U.S. Special Operations task force in Iraq has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for exposing U.S. sources in Iraq and turning over other classified data to Hezbollah. In the rare terrorism espionage case Mariam Taha Thompson pleaded guilty to to turning the national defense information to a Lebanese man with ties to the militant group Hezbollah. Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has urged companies to stop paying ransoms to hackers, saying that this will only embolden cyber criminals to ramp up future attacks. Reuters reports
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
An airstrike has hit a busy market in the Tigray village of Togogo in Ethiopia, killing at least 51 people. Health workers have said that soldiers blocked medical teams from traveling to the scene and an anonymous official with Tigray’s health bureau “told The Associated Press that more than 100 other people were wounded, more than 50 seriously, and at least 33 people were still missing,” AP reports.
The Ethiopian military have said that only combatants, who were dressed in civilian clothes, were hit in an airstrike on the village of Togogo this week in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. “The military spokesman said the combatants were not inside the market, but had gathered in the town to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of another town in Tigray, Hawzen, in 1988,” Ayenat Mersie reports for Reuters.
Libya’s government is hopeful that foreign mercenaries will withdraw from the country “within days,” Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush told reporters following the U.N. sponsored conference on Libya. Others were more hesitant following the talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying “he believed there was an understanding between Turkey and Russia, which back rival sides in the conflict, that any withdrawal would be step-by-step to maintain balance and would not happen overnight,” Al Jazeera reporting.
Indigenous leaders and human rights groups have said that Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro should be tried for crimes against humanity. The groups are arguing that Bolsonaro’s policies threaten tribal communities and constitutes what should be a new crime of ecocide. Katie Surma reports for NBC News.
Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has shrugged of international pressure to end a crackdown on political opposition ahead of a November election. Ortego said that sanctions would not deter his government and vowed not to free detained political foes accused of crimes. Reuters reports.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi is to meet top Kashmir politicians for the first time today in two years after he revoked the region’s political autonomy. Discussions are expected to focus on restoring democracy to the Muslim-majority region. Amy Kazmin reports for the Financial Times.
An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has died during his arrest by PA forces early today, officials have said. Nizar Banat had called on Western nations to cut off aid to the PA because of its growing authoritarianism and human rights violations and had intended to run in the parliamentary elections before they were cancelled earlier this year. Joseph Krauss reports for AP.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.55 million and now killed over 602,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 179.60 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 3.90 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Almost 900 Secret Service members have tested positive for Covid-19 since March 2020, according to a report by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Many of those infected had protection assignments that included the safety of the President and Vice President. “While the data does not give a breakdown of coronavirus infections between the two administrations during this period, the watchdog placed much of the blame on former president Donald Trump and former vice president Mike Pence for holding ‘large-scale rallies against public health guidelines,’” Timothy Bella reports for the Washington Post.
A Chinese researcher directed the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to delete gene sequences of early Covid-19 cases from a key scientific database. The researcher had previously submitted the deleted gene sequences, however the requests raises “concerns that scientists studying the origin of the pandemic may lack access to key pieces of information,” Amy Dockser Marcus, Betsy McKay and Drew Hinshaw report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. will be sending 3 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Brazil, the New York Times 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.