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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
SYRIA AND IRAQ
The U.S. conducted airstrikes on Sunday in three locations along the Syria-Iraq border against the Kataib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia groups that have recently conducted armed drone strikes against locations where the U.S. military is, striking operational and weapons storage facilities. The U.S. “took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation—but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement, marking the Biden administration’s second use of force in the region. Michael R. Gordon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran have named in a statement four members of the Kataib Sayyed al-Shuhada faction they said were killed in the U.S. airstrike attacks on the Syria-Iraq border, vowing to retaliate. Reuters reports.
The Iraqi military have issued a rare condemnation of the U.S. airstrikes on the Syria-Iraq border. Iraq’s military spokesperson condemned the airstrikes as a “breach of sovereignty,” publishing the remarks on his Twitter account. Reuters reports.
Geir Pedersen, U.N. special envoy for Syria, before the U.N. Security Council on Friday called for the international community to renew talks on ending the Syrian conflict, including prisoner exchanges and a nationwide cease-fire that the government and opposition. AP
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that it is “untenable” for 10,000 Islamic State fighters to continue to be held in detention camps run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria. “Speaking at the opening of a meeting in Rome to renew international efforts to combat the Islamist militia, Blinken said Washington continued to urge countries, including the 78 member countries of the coalition against Islamic State, to take back their citizens who had joined the group,” Humeyra Pamuk reports for Reuters.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Asian Affairs Joey Hood says he is optimistic that President Biden’s administration can work with Russia to keep open the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria which facilitates around 1,000 trucks each month containing humanitarian assistance to approximately 1.4 million Syrians in the northwest of the country. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Iran’s parliament speaker, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, said Sunday that Tehran would never share with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recorded footage of activity at some of its nuclear sites, further complicating indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran in Vienna on compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. “The comments … came days after the expiration of a separate agreement between Tehran and the … IAEA, that allows the U.N. agency to temporarily monitor Iran’s nuclear activity. The deal was struck in February and renewed for a month in May,” report Kareem Fahim and Karen DeYoung for the Washington Post.
The IAEA on Friday demanded an immediate reply from Iran as to whether it would extend the nuclear monitoring agreement. An Iranian envoy responded that Tehran was under no obligation to answer. A U.S. official said that “Iran should engage the IAEA without further delay” and Washington has warned that Tehran’s failure to renew the deal could complicate talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Francois Murphy, John Irish and Humeyra Pamuk report for Reuters.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said today that “no decision has been made yet, either negative or positive” on extending the IAEA monitoring deal. Parisa Hafezi reports for Reuters.
Iran said on Saturday that it believes that the reinstatement of the 2015 nuclear deal is possible but warned that Tehran “will not negotiate forever.” Reuters reporting.
The hardening stances by Iran and U.S. will complicate negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, Kareem Fahim and Karen DeYoung report for the Washington Post.
Iran has drones with a range of 7,000 kilometers the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander has been cited by Iran state media as saying. The statement may be seen by Washington as a threat to the stability in the region, and Iran and regional forces it backs have increasingly relied on drones in Yemen, Syria and Iraq in recent years, though western military analysts also say that Iran sometimes exaggerates its military capabilities. Parisa Hafezi reports for Reuters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a private discussion with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Laid for an hour on Sunday in Rome after first holding a briefing with reporters; the pair are in Italy for multilateral conferences on Syria, the Islamic State, and to attend a gathering of Group of 20 foreign ministers. Talks involved the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and the need to increase the humanitarian efforts in Gaza. Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
Lapid has told Blinken that Israel has “some serious reservations” about the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Lapid also pledged to fix “the mistakes made” in U.S.-Israeli relations in recent years. Humeyra Pamuk reports for Reuters.
President Biden will meet Israel’s outgoing president, Reuven Rivlin, at the White House today for a discussion about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Israel’s recent 11-day war with Gaza and Israel’s new government. The meeting comes amid concerns in Israel and other Arab capitals about the possible U.S. re-entry into the 2015 nuclear deal. “A source familiar with the Biden-Rivlin meeting said Biden is expected to tell Rivlin that the United States and Israel share the same objective, that Iran not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, and that Biden would stress U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” Steve Holland reports for Reuters.
Israel has summoned Poland’s ambassador to express its “deep disappointment” over a Police bill that critics say will make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Nazis and then kept by post-war communist rulers. The draft billed passed by Poland’s lower house of parliament introduces a statute of limitations on claims for the restitution of property, which the Israeli foreign ministry has said could affect up to 90% of property restitution requests from Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Maayan Lubell reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
A U.N. report has accused Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic of killing civilians, looting homes and fatally shooting worshippers in mosques earlier this year during military operations in the country. The operatives had been billed as unarmed military advisers but have in fact been leading the fighting, including leading government forces into battle during an offensive to oust rebels from several towns in January and February, says the investigative report for the U.N. Security Council that was obtained by The New York Times. “Violations by the Russians and allied government troops ‘included cases of excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and looting on a large scale, including of humanitarian organizations,’ said the investigative report, which was based on photographic evidence and confidential accounts by witnesses and local officials,” Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times.
Ukraine and the U.S. will start a military exercise involving more than 30 countries in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine today. Russia’s embassy in Washington called last week for the drills, named “Sea Breeze 2021,” to be cancelled and said it would react appropriately to protect its national security. Pavel Polityuk reports for Reuters.
The Russian military conducted drills in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday which involved going after targets from a Russian base in Syria, including two MiG-31 fighter capable of carrying Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, two submarines, long-range Tu-22M3 bombers and multiple warships, amid tensions with the United Kingdom. The drills reportedly began while there was a British carrier strike group in the area. AP reports.
Biden has called on Afghans to “decide their future” as the U.S. military withdrawal nears its end. The calls were made during a meeting on Friday at the White House with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Afghan politician Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation. Jonathan Landay Steve Holland and Phil Stewart report for Reuters.
About 5,000 families have fled their homes in the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz after days of fighting between the Taliban and government forces, Ghulam Sakhi Rasouli, director of the Kunduz Refugees and Repatriation Department said. The Taliban has captured districts surrounding Kunduz city and a nearby border crossing with Tajikistan. Al Jazeera reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
A U.S. journalist who was detained for three months in Myanmar following the military coup has said he was tortured and feared he would die in an interrogation cell. Nathan Maung said that he endured two weeks in a secretive military-run interrogation center, where he was handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten, and denied water for two days and food for three. “They started with a blindfold and handcuffs and then started questioning. They kicked our face, hands and shoulder, all the time. For every answer, they beat us. Whatever we answered — whether correctly or incorrectly — they beat us. For three days, non-stop,” Maung told CNN. Helen Regan, Anna Coren, Sandi Sidhu and Salai TZ report for CNN.
The concept of a new Cold War between U.S.-China is developing in Washington, Stephen Collinson provides analysis for CNN.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)‘s highly anticipated report on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) was released Friday and has bolstered calls for increased research into UFOs and possible signs of extraterrestrial life, saying the U.S. government has encountered 144 UFOs — or unidentified aerial phenomena, as the government describes them — since 2004. “The report offered several options for what the 143 other objects could be and said there probably isn’t one explanation for all of them. Some of the possibilities the report raised include airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, top secret U.S. government programs and foreign adversary systems. But it also left open the door to ‘other’ explanations — a category that could include aliens.” Rebecca Kheel report for The Hill.
Five takeaways from the ODNI report by Celine Castronuovo for The Hill.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has backed the idea of legislation to end subpoenas for reporters’ phone or email records in federal investigations. During a press conference Garland stated that he is planning an informal directive and new regulations to implement the policy change, however he stopped short of announcing an official endorsement on behalf of the Biden administration. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
Justice Department officials announced a federal lawsuit Friday against the state of Georgia for its new voting restrictions under the Election Integrity Act – which includes new limits on the use of absentee ballots, makes it a crime for outside groups to provide food and water to voters waiting at polling stations, and hands greater control over election administration to the legislature – that federal authorities say purposefully discriminate against Black Americans. Katie Benner, Nick Corasaniti and Nicholas Fandos report for the New York Times.
Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday introduced a bill aimed at tackling parts of the government’s cyber workforce shortage. “The Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Expansion Act would establish a cybersecurity apprenticeship program at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with create a program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide veterans with cybersecurity training,” reports Maggie Miller for The Hill.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) have given former President Trump’s attorneys until this afternoon to make any final arguments as to why the Trump Organization should not face criminal charges over its financial dealings, according to two people familiar with the matter. Shayna Jacobs, Josh Dawsey and David A. Fahrenthold report for the Washington Post.
Trump has lambasted his former Attorney General William Barr, calling him “a disappointment in every sense of the word.” “Instead of doing his job, he did the opposite and told people within the Justice Department not to investigate the election,” Trump said, in the latest episode in the months-long falling out between the Trump and Barr. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
Barr has spoken to The Atlantic about the events surrounding his break with Trump. The interview with The Atlantic includes details of how Barr stepped forward to say there was no evidence of widespread election fraud in 2020. “My attitude was: It was put-up or shut-up time,” Barr told The Atlantic. “If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit,” he added. Jonathan D. Karl provides a report for The Atlantic.
Two former employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were kept on the payroll by political appointees of Trump, even after they had been fired. The payments were directed by former chief of staff Ryan Jackson and carried out by former White House liaison Charles Munoz, the agency’s inspector general (IG) found, saying the improper payments totaled over £38,000. Also, Munoz received an improper raise and submitted “fraudulent timesheets” totally almost $96,000, the IG calculated. Alex Guillén reports for POLITICO.
Sudan has said it will surrender former officials who are wanted for alleged war crimes in the country’s Darfur region to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sudan has not yet named the individuals being handed over and the decision “comes weeks after the ICC’s outgoing chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, visited the country and urged its leaders to surrender all those wanted,” BBC News reports.
A group of Boko Haram fighters have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), worrying observers. The video, which comes weeks after Boko Haram’s former group leader died, has fueled some fears that ISWAP is consolidating control of the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. Reuters report.
Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland has executed 21 men who had been convicted of being members of the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. Somalia state radio said that 18 of the men had carried out assassinations and bombings over more than a decade. BBC News reports.
At least 30 people were killed during an attack on Sunday by the al-Shabab group in a town in Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Galmudug. The insurgents used car bombs in the assault on a military base leading to a fight with government troops and armed locals, a military officer said. Reuters reporting.
Lebanese troops were deployed on Sunday to Tripoli following protests over the country’s worsening economic conditions which left 10 soldiers and several protesters injured the night before. AP reports.
Six Mali soldiers were killed in an attack in the center of Mali and thirteen U.N. peacekeepers were wounded by separate car bomb in the north of the country on Friday, Mali’s army and the U.N. Mission and have said. Reuters reports.
The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned the murder of three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) humanitarians in the Tigray region of Ethiopia as an “appalling violation” of international law. The U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement, she was outraged at the brutal murders. “According to news reports, MSF lost contact with a vehicle that had been carrying workers from the Spanish branch of the agency, on Thursday afternoon, and their bodies were discovered on Friday morning, close to the empty vehicle,” UN News Centre reports.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has imposed a curfew in the city of Beni following bombs in the east of the country over the weekend. “On Sunday morning, a makeshift bomb went off in a Catholic church in the city, injuring two women, followed just hours later by a suicide bombing outside a bar. A day earlier, a bomb exploded next to a petrol station on the outskirts of Beni without causing any damage,” Al Jazeera reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Classified U.K. Ministry of Defense documents containing details about HMS Defender and the British military’s plans in Afghanistan after the U.S.-NATO led operation in the country ends have been found at a bus stop. The documents discuss the likely Russian reaction to the HMS Defender warship’s passage through Ukrainian waters of the Crimean. The U.K. government has launched an investigation. BBC News reporting.
Canada designated the U.S.-based right-wing militia group the Three Percenters as a terrorist group on Friday. “The group was added to the list of terrorist entities under the nation’s Criminal Code, the government said in a statement,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
A U.N. report on racial injustice has called on U.N. member states to end the “impunity” enjoyed by police officers who violate the human rights of Black people. “The UN human rights office analysis of 190 deaths across the world led to the report’s damning conclusion that law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for killing Black people due in part to deficient investigations and an unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of structural racism,” Aamna Mohdin reports for the Guardian.
Relatives of people killed in drone strikes in Yemen have written to the U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace asking about U.K. involvement in the killings and request that he meet them. “The family members said they have suffered “immense loss” of loved ones – including children – at the hands of U.S. targeted drone strikes and are demanding to know what part the U.K. has played,” Haroon Siffique reports for the Guardian.
Fighting between Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen’s Marib region intensified over the weekend, sources have said, as the U.N. and U.S. push for a peace deal. “Battles had abated as diplomatic efforts ramped up in recent weeks, but three pro-government Yemeni sources said tens of fighters from both sides were killed in fighting after a fresh Houthi assault that was met with intense coalition air strikes,” Reuters reports.
Exit polls are showing that the French far right party, led by Marine Le Pen, failed to win a single region in France’s regional elections on Sunday. Le Pen criticized the French government for poorly organizing the vote after roughly two in every three voters abstained from voting. President Emmanuel Macron’s party also failed to win a single region in the elections. Michel Rose and John Irish report for Reuters.
Alphabet’s Google Inc. will start warning users about potentially unreliable information for search results during “breaking news or emerging topics,” the company said on Friday in a blog post. “…Sometimes the reliable information you’re searching for just isn’t online yet. This can be particularly true for breaking news or emerging topics, when the information that’s published first may not be the most reliable. To help with this, we’ve trained our systems to detect when a topic is rapidly evolving and a range of sources hasn’t yet weighed in. We’ll now show a notice indicating that it may be best to check back later when more information from a wider range of sources might be available,” the post read. Rebecca Klar reports for The Hill.
South Korea is to develop an artillery interception system similar to Israel’s “Iron Dome” to protect itself against North Korea’s arsenal of long-range guns and rockets. The project, expected to be completed around 2035 at a cost of 2.89 trillion won ($2.6 billion), was approved today by a defense committee, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said in a statement. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
Hong Kong police have arrested a former senior journalist at the now-closed Apple Daily newspaper. The journalist was arrested at Hong Kong airport on a suspected national security offence as he tried to leave the city. Hong Kong police said in a statement that a 57-year-old man had been arrested for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” Reuters reporting.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have started joint military drills in Azerbaijan, deploying tanks, helicopters and drones, Russia’s RIA news agency has reported, citing Azerbaijan’s defense ministry. Reuters reporting.
Egypt, Jordan and Iraq leaders have met in Baghdad during the first visit by an Egyptian head of state to Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. “The three leaders discussed several areas of regional interest, including the recent development on the Palestinian issue, combating terrorism and economic cooperation, an Egyptian presidency statement said,” Al Jazeera reports.
Indian police have said that they suspect explosive-laden drones were used to attack an air force base in the city of Jammu in Kashmir. Dilbagh Singh, the police director-general in the region of Jammu and Kashmir, called the attack an act of “terrorism” and that “drones with payload were used in [two] blasts,” speaking to a private news channel. Al Jazeera reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.60 million and now killed over 603,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 181.10 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.92 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
President Biden’s administration has warned that a 90-day review into the origins of Covid-19 may not produce a definitive explanation. Biden “is mindful of the fact that after 90 days we may not have an absolutely definitive answer, but he wanted a focused, intense, time-bound effort,” a senior administration official said. Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel report for the Wall Street Journal.
Covid-19 outbreaks linked to the contagious Delta variant have emerged across Australia. “The escalation in Covid infections has prompted lockdowns in the cities of Sydney and Darwin, as well as restrictions across four states,” BBC News 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.