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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
SYRIA AND IRAQ
Rockets have been fired at a U.S. military base in eastern Syria, prompting U.S. forces to return fire yesterday. Early reports indicated that there were no injuries among U.S. troops. The rockets came a day after the U.S. launched airstrikes on Iran-backed militias along the Syria-Iraq border. A U.S. defense official said it is “likely” that the rockets were launched by Iranian-backed militias operating in the immediate area but the origin has not been confirmed. Barbara Starr and Nicole Gaouette report for CNN.
The U.S. airstrikes over the weekend have been condemned by Iraq, Syria and Iran. Syria’s foreign ministry called the attacks a “flagrant violation of the sanctity of Syrian and Iraqi lands,” Syrian state media has said, while Iran called on the U.S. to avoid “creating crisis” in the region. “Certainly what the United States is doing is disrupting security in the region, and one of the victims of this disruption will be the United States,” an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. Al Jazeera reports.
President Biden’s decision to launch the airstrikes has fueled a congressional debate over whether Congress should put curbs on the Executive Branch’s war powers around the globe. While the strikes were defended by some top Democratic party members as a justified and in response to a specific threat, some members expressed “concern that the strikes were more than just a one-off episode as militia groups continue to target U.S. personnel and facilities using unmanned aerial vehicle attacks in Iraq — meaning Congress should be authorizing the U.S. military action,” Jeremy Herb reports for CNN.
Biden has defended his authority to order airstrikes over the weekend against Iran-linked groups in Iraq and Syria. “I directed last night’s airstrikes, targeting sites used by the Iranian-backed militia group responsible for recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq, and I have that authority under Article II — and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that have acknowledged that is the case,” Biden said. The airstrikes had led to warnings from some Democratic party members, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), that Biden disregarded the constitutional requirement to consult Congress. Anne Gearan reports for the Washington Post.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has defended the Biden administration’s weekend military airstrikes along the Syria-Iraq border. “The defense of the United States and our interests is our domestic justification for these strikes,” Jen Psaki told reporters. Biden “takes legal authority and justification for military action quite seriously. And certainly we consult our legal teams to ensure we have that justification. And we certainly feel confident we do,” she added. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Former leaders of Ethiopia’s Tigray region claim to have regained “complete control” over the regional capital of Mekelle, marking a potentially significant turning point in the civil war. A statement from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front said the group anticipated retaliation from the government and called on the city’s residents to rally behind the group. Maz Bearak reports for the Washington Post.
The former rulers of Mekelle have said that they are conducting “mop-up” operations against Ethiopian government forces and that the city was “100%” back under their control. “Twenty-five minutes ago the active engagement in Mekelle was over,” a spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front told Reuters this morning. “Our forces are still in hot pursuit to the south, east,” they added. Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld report for Reuters.
Ethiopia’s government has declared an immediate unilateral cease fire in the Tigray region, after Tigray fighters occupied the regional capital of Mekelle and government soldiers retreated. It was unclear how the Tigrayan forces would respond to the cease fire, which has long been sought by humanitarian groups and Western governments, and there was also no immediate response from Eritrea, whose troops have been fighting alongside the Ethiopians. “The cease fire will facilitate a conducive environment for the agricultural activities and the ongoing humanitarian operations,” Abraham Belay, the head of the government-appointed interim administration of Tigray, told state television. Nicholas Bariyo reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukraine and the U.S. launched a military exercise involving more than 30 countries in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine yesterday, despite Russia’s calls to cancel the exercise. The Sea Breeze 2021 maneuvers “will last for two weeks [and] are set to involve about 30 warships and 40 aircraft from U.S. and its NATO allies and Ukraine. U.S. destroyer Ross has arrived in the Ukrainian port of Odessa for the drills,” Al Jazeera reports.
Russia tested its Crimean air defense systems as Ukraine, the U.S. and its NATO allies started the Sea Breeze 2021 exercise holding military drills in the Black Sea. “The Black Sea Fleet is doing a number of things to monitor the actions of ships from NATO and other countries taking part in Sea Breeze 2021,” the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian National Defense Management Centre as saying. Russia’s Black Sea fleet was also “cited by Interfax as saying it had deployed around 20 warplanes and helicopters, including Su-24M bombers, as well as S-400 and Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems in the readiness tests,” Reuters reports.
The U.S. is hoping for a more stable and profitable relationship with Russia, but if Russia continues to attack the U.S., the U.S. will respond, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said. “If Russia continues to attack us, or to act as it did with the SolarWind attacks, the intrusions into our elections and the aggression against Navalny, then we will respond,” Blinken told Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica during his visit to Rome for a meeting on international efforts to combat Islamist militia. Reuters reports.
Biden has vowed that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on his “watch” during a meeting yesterday with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Biden said his commitment to Israel is “iron-clad” and he looks forward to meeting with new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett soon. Andrea Shalal and Steve Holland report for Reuters.
The last U.S. soldiers will be leaving Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in a matter of days. The airfield has been the center of U.S. military power in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
A Russian appeals court has upheld a nine-year prison sentence for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine. Reed was convicted last year in Russia of endangering the lives of two police officers, charges he denies. U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan described the ruling on Twitter as “another absurd miscarriage of justice in Russia as the world watches.” Al Jazeera reports.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) yesterday introduced the legislative text needed to establish a select committee with subpoena power to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The legislation gives Pelosi the ability to appoint a chair and 13 members; five of them needing to be appointed only “after consultation with the minority leader,” currently Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). A vote in the House on the legislative text is expected tomorrow. Linday Wise reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has indicated that he is not currently planning to charge the Trump Organization with crimes related to allegations of “hush money” payments and real estate value manipulations, according to Ronald Fischetti, a personal lawyer for former President Trump. Fischetti told POLITICO that during a meeting last week, Vance’s team only said that “they were considering bringing charges against the Trump Organization and its individual employees related to alleged failures to pay taxes on corporate benefits and perks,” Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
The New York prosecutors investigating the business practices of the Trump Organization are likely to issue one or more criminal indictments this week but charges will not be against Trump himself, according to individuals involved in the case. Fischetti has said that based on discussions with prosecutors he expects “no charges” will be brought against Trump in the initial round of indictments, but “others familiar with the case said prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Allen Weisselberg, longtime chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, and also are considering criminal charges against the company,” Peter Eisler and Joseph Tanfani report for Reuters.
A D.C. federal court has dismissed antitrust lawsuits against Facebook filed by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys. The lawsuits sought to break up Facebook’s social networking monopoly, however U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said that prosecutors had not managed to demonstrate that Facebook had such a monopoly, including in failing to sufficiently define what social networking is or explain their calculation that Facebook controls more than 60% of that market. Leah Nylen reports for POLITICO.
The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from CACI International Inc (CACI), putting the company a step closer to facing a trial in a lawsuit filed by three Iraqi former detainees. The former detainees have accused employees of the defense contractor of directing their torture at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. CACI’s appeal was of a lower court’s decision to refuse to let CACI immediately appeal a federal judge’s earlier ruling that CACI was immune from being sued because it was working as a government contractor. CACI has argued that it should be protected under the different and stronger legal doctrine of derivative sovereign immunity that can be invoked to shield government contractors from liability under certain circumstances. “The issue before the justices was on the narrow question of whether the company could immediately appeal the lower court decision and not on the merits of whether the lawsuit should be tossed out,” AL Jazeera reports.
The leaders of Russia and China have hailed the increasingly close ties between their countries and announced the extension of a 20-year-old friendship treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that the coordination of foreign policy efforts by Russia and China has played a “stabilizing role in global affairs” and Chinese President Xi Jinping “in his opening remarks emphasized the importance of a ‘strategic cooperation’ between Moscow and Beijing in defending their common interests on the global stage,” Vladimir Isachenkov reports for AP.
Japan’s State Minister of Defense yesterday warned of a growing threat posed by Chinese and Russian collaboration and said it was necessary to “wake up” to Beijing’s pressure on Taiwan. Yasuhide Nakayama said Taiwan needed to be protected “as a democratic country” and questioned whether “the decision of many countries, including Japan and United States, to follow a ‘one-China’ policy that has recognized Beijing over Taipei since the 1970s would stand the test of time,” David Brunnstrom reports for Reuters.
China responded to the characterization of Taiwan as a “country” by the senior Japanese official as erroneous and a serious violation. Reuters reporting.
U.N. peacekeeping missions, most of which are in Africa and the Middle East, are preparing for a possible shutdown on Thursday if the U.N. General Assembly is unable to agree a new $6 billion budget for the year to June 30, 2022, officials and diplomats have said. Catherine Pollard, the U.N. head of management strategy, policy and compliance, said the peacekeeping missions had been advised to start putting contingency plans in place, but that they “remain hopeful and confident that member states will conclude their negotiations.” “Some diplomats blamed changes to negotiating procedures, issues with logistics and tough talks pitting China against Western countries for the delay in reaching an agreement,” Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
Foreign ministers from the Group of 20 countries met face-to-face for the first time in two years today. The one day gathering in Italy “will include debate on how to improve cooperation on an array of issues including global health, the climate emergency and international trade,” Crispian Balmer reports for Reuters.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today, in a landmark visit which signals deepening ties between the two countries. Lapid is “the first Israeli minister to pay an official visit to the UAE since Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed a historic deal to normalize ties nine months ago,” Sameer Hashmi reports for BBC News.
Denmark’s central bank was compromised in last year’s global SolarWinds cyber hacking operation, leaving a “back door” to its network open for seven months. The backdoor was discovered by U.S. security firm Fire Eye, IT media Version2 have reported, citing various documents it obtained under a freedom of information request, such as SolarWinds emails. Denmark’s central bank said in a comment to Reuters that there were “no signs that the attack had any real consequences.” Stine Jacobsen reports for Reuters.
A South African court has sentenced former President Jacob Zuma to 15-months in jail for contempt of court after he failed to appear at a corruption inquiry in February. Zuma must appear before the police within five days the court stated. Zuma has so far not cooperated with the inquiry into corruption during his period in power from 2009 to 2018 and has denied all wrongdoing. Reuters report.
The U.K. government will propose legislation next week that would permit the U.K. to send asylum seekers oversees as they await the outcome of their application for protection. U.K. Home Office sources however sought to downplay reports that the U.K. was in talks with Denmark, whose Parliament voted on June 3 in favor of processing asylum seekers outside of Europe, over sharing an offshore center in Africa. Jamie Grierson and Jon Henley report for the Guardian.
German prosecutors have said that a knife attack last Friday in the German town of Würzburg that killed three people and seriously injured seven others may have had an Islamist motive. “An Islamist background for the crimes is likely,” Munich Prosecutor’s Office said in a joint statement with the Bavarian State Criminal Police. Riham Alkousaa reports for Reuters.
Anti-monarchy protests in the African kingdom of eSwatini turned violent overnight with some demonstrators burning cars and shops, as demonstrators took to the streets to demand reforms to its system of absolute monarchy, local media have reported. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.64 million and now killed over 604,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 181.45 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.93 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
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.