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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Rebel fighters in Tigray are continuing to gain more ground after capturing the region’s capital Mekelle from government forces. According to U.N. officials the rebels have gained control of other towns in the region, including the town of Shire, which Eritrean troops backing the Ethiopian army had abandoned earlier. BBC News reports.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has denied claims that the Ethiopian military were defeated in the northern Tigray region. Ahmed said that his army units had been ambushed and “massacred” while passing through villages and expressed resentment that his efforts to “rehabilitate” Tigray had not been recognized, blaming the international community for the impending famine in the region. Simon Marks reports for the New York Times.
Ethiopia’s government has said that its military could re-enter Mekelle, calling into question the unilateral cease fire the government has called. Ethiopia also asserted that Eritrean soldiers, who had been collaborating with Ethiopian forces, had withdrawn from Tigray. The U.N. has described the situation in Tigray as “extremely fluid” and that it had not yet seen a statement from Eritrea saying it was committed to the cease fire. Cara Anna reports for AP.
Analysis of how the recent gains by Tigrayan rebels in the region may reshape Ethiopia is provided by The Economist.
People are starving to death and “falling like leaves” in one of the most inaccessible areas of the Tigray region, a local official has said. A letter dated June 16, obtained by the Associated Press, states that at least 125 people have already starved to death and provides an insight into the fate of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans who have been cut off from the world. Cara Anna reports for AP.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has challenged U.S. leadership in world affairs, depicting the U.S. as a waning power. The comments were made during an annual phone-in event at which Putin answers questions from members of the Russian public. Georgi Kantchev and Thomas Grove report for the Wall Street Journal.
During the phone-in Putin claimed that a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was present along with the British Navy warship that was involved in an incident in the Black Sea last week when Russia said it fired warning shots at the ship. Putin described the incident as a “provocation” by the U.S. and U.K. to test Moscow and that a U.S. aircraft was present to monitor Russia’s response. Ladimir Isachenkov and Daria Litvinova report for AP.
Putin also said that he believed the incident in the Black Sea was part of an attempt by the U.S. and U.K. to set up military bases in or near Ukraine. Putin also remarked that even if the British warship had been sunk by Russia it would not have risked provoking World War Three. Reiterating the U.K. Navy’s previous explanation of the events, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said yesterday that the warship “was conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.” BBC News reports.
Key remarks from Putin’s annual phone in are reported by Reuters.
Russian warships have carried out a live fire training exercise in the Black Sea, Russia’s Black Sea fleet has said, as Ukraine and NATO allies carried out military drills under the Sea Breeze exercise in the same wider area. The statement from Russia’s Black Sea fleet said that the crews of two large landing ships had fired at sea and air targets in the Black Sea. Reuters reports.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has called on Russia to stop violence by “mercenaries working as an arm of Russia’s Ministry of Defense” in the Central African Republic (CAR) and hold accountable those responsible. The calls follow a report to the U.N. Security Council by U.N. sanctions monitors that states that Russian military instructors and CAR troops targeted civilians with excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and large-scale looting — accusations the Kremlin described as a “lie.” Reuters reports.
The Russian ambassador to the U.N. has described as a “non-starter” a proposal to reopen a border crossing from Iraq to Syria’s northeast for delivery of humanitarian aid. Russia’s ambassador also refused to comment on what would happen to the crossing into the country from Turkey, currently the only crossing in operation. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Russia has signed in a law to force foreign social media giants to open offices in Russia, as Moscow moves to exert greater control on big tech. “A foreign entity, carrying out activities on the internet in Russia, is obliged to create a branch, open an office or establish a Russian legal entity,” the new law says. The law applies to internet companies with a daily audience in Russia of at least 500,000 people. Reuters reports.
JAN 6. ATTACK
The House voted yesterday to create a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The vote mostly fell along party lines with just two Republicans – Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger of (R-IL) – joining with the Democratic party members in supporting the select committee’s creation. “Ahead of the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the floor that she was ‘heartbroken’ Congress could not establish a bipartisan commission. Even though the speaker said she was still ‘hopeful’ that a bipartisan commission could happen in the future, Congress had to move forward with the select committee,” Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju, Ryan Nobles and Annie Grayer report for CNN.
House Minority Leader Keven McCarthy (R-CA) has threatened members of his Republican caucus not to accept an appointment from Pelosi to the Jan. 6 select committee, according to reports by those present. It appears likely that McCarthy is referring to the one slot on the panel Pelosi could set aside to appoint a Republican, and not the five slots on the panel that first need to go through consultation with him. Punchbowl News AM reporting.
Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. Defense Secretary who had a pivotal role in orchestrating the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, has died this week at the age of 88. Foreign Policy provides an obituary.
A third member of the Oath Keepers group has pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “Mark Grods of Alabama pleaded guilty in a D.C. federal court to conspiracy to stop or delay the certification of the Electoral College results, as well as obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
A grand jury has indicted the Trump Organization, Trump’s family business, and Allen H. Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer, in connection with tax-related crimes, according to sources familiar with the matter. The exact nature of the criminal charges, which are related to a tax investigation into fringe benefits handed out at the Trump Organization, is unclear and it is expected that the indictment will be unsealed today after Weisselberg and lawyers for the Trump Organization make their first appearance in court. Corinne Ramey and Deanna Paul report for the Wall Street Journal.
Lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, along with media and technology companies, have slammed the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its increasing use of gag orders. The DOJ’s gag orders block communications companies from notifying those whose records have been secretly seized by the government. At a House Judiciary Committee “lawmakers and advocates found consensus for placing limits on DOJ’s ability to access such records without notification and pushed stricter standards for the judges that ultimately grant them,” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
More than 100 organizations have urged President Biden to end U.S. drone strikes outside of traditional combat zones. In a letter organized by the Human Rights and Security Coalition, the 113 organizations demand “an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones,” which the organizations say is “imperative” to meet Biden’s aims of “ending ‘forever wars,’ promoting racial justice, and centering human rights in U.S. foreign policy.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Bipartisan lawmakers have warned of the growing threats to U.S. satellite systems and the need to safeguard them from adversaries. Speaking at an event organized by The Hill, Representatives, including Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Mike Turner (R-OH) described the risks; “increasingly, rival nations are looking at ways of taking out our satellites,” Cooper said and Turner explained that the U.S. is “working diligently to both strengthen our space assets and to respond to what our adversaries are doing.” Jackson Walker reports for The Hill.
A bill that would take steps to potentially allow private sector companies to strike back at hackers launching attacks against their operations has been introduced by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Steve Daines (R-MT). “The bipartisan bill would direct the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a study on what the potential benefits and risks may be of allowing companies to ‘hack back’ in the event of an attack, actions that private sector groups are currently banned from undertaking,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration’s strategy for Afghanistan after the U.S. military completes its withdrawal is centered around economic support for the Afghan government, according to an internal State Department document submitted to Congress and obtained by Foreign Policy. The document also provides an assessment of how the U.S. views Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and how the “the Afghan public is increasingly skeptical of the government’s commitment to the rule of law, to address corruption, and to appoint senior-level officials based on merit rather than personal allegiance.” Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer report for Foreign Policy.
Two Pakistani troops have been killed in an attack by militants in Afghanistan at a Pakistani army post across the border. In a statement the Pakistani military “condemned the continued ‘use of Afghan soil for terrorist activities against’ Pakistani troops, saying Pakistan had consistently asked Kabul to ensure effective border control on its side,” AP reports.
Just Security is publishing a special series by a group of interdisciplinary scholars reflecting on Afghanistan on the eve of the withdrawal of US troops. The first piece in the series is an essay from Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, about the accountability of international military forces to the Afghan public.
China has marked the 100-year anniversary of the Communist Party today with “a day of pageantry meant to bolster the people’s confidence in the ruling party,” Washington Post reports.
China’s president Xi Jinping has said that China will not allow “sanctimonious preaching” or bullying from foreign forces, and anyone who tries “will find themselves on a collision course with a steel wall forged by 1.4 billion people.” The statements, made during a speech to a crowd of 70,000 in Tiananmen Square Beijing commemorating the anniversary of the Communist Party, were “met with rapturous applause,” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
The Chinese leader also warned foreign forces that they would “crack their heads and spill blood” if they tried to prevent Beijing’s rise, Sinéad Baker and Cheryl Teh report for Business Insider.
Jinping pledged in his speech to complete the “reunification” with self-governed Taiwan and has vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal independence. Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council rebuked the statements, saying that “while the Communist Party had achieved ‘certain economic development,’ it remained a dictatorship that trampled on people’s freedoms, and should embrace democracy instead,” Yew Lun Tian and Yimou Lee report for Reuters.
Live updates on the anniversary commemoration event in China are provided by the New York Times.
China’s solar association has said that claims the Chinese solar firms are benefitting from forced labor in Xinjiang are unfounded and unfairly stigmatize firms with operations there. The statements come after the United States last week banned imports from five Chinese solar companies accused of using forced labor in Xinjiang. Reuters reports.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has urged the U.S. to lift or waive all sanctions on Iran as agreed in the 2015 nuclear deal. “In a report to the U.N. Security Council, Guterres also urged the United States to ‘extend the waivers with regard to the trade in oil with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and fully renew waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects,’” Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
During a U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday, the U.N., E.U. and many U.N. Security Council members urged the U.S. and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. However, diplomats from both Iran and the United States took tough stands and showed no sign of movement towards an agreement. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Iran’s Supreme Leader has appointed hardline cleric Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as the new head of the judiciary, state media has reported. The judiciary in Iran is the “body that enforces Islamic laws and is accused by rights groups of cracking down harshly on dissent,” Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A former chief of Serbia’s state security service and his deputy have been jailed for war crimes during the 1990s Balkans war. Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were both given 12 years for training Serbian forces that carried out murder and ethnic cleaning during the war. The court “was convinced that ‘a joint criminal enterprise’ had existed from August 1991 to remove most non-Serbs from many areas and that plan was shared by senior political, military and police leaders in Belgrade. However, it did not find enough evidence to confirm that the two men on trial were behind atrocities across Bosnia and Croatia,” BBC News reports.
Myanmar has begun releasing 2,300 activists and journalists from prison, most of whom had been detained for protesting against or reporting on the military’s seizure of power in February. “According to official announcements on state media, most if not all of the freed detainees faced charges related to the protests, including Section 505(A) of Myanmar’s penal code, which makes it a crime to spread comments that create public unrest or fear or spread false news, and carries a penalty of up to three years in prison. It appeared, however, that an unknown number of people held on that charge might still be detained. Complete information was not available and the releases are expected to take place over several days,” Grant Peck reports for AP.
Myanmar’s military authorities have threatened to take legal action against foreign news organizations that describe them as a junta and their seizure of power in February as a coup d’état. The warning was published by the military-controlled Ministry of Information in its Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper. Reuters reports.
Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid was aiming to rebuild ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during his first official visit by an Israeli minister to the UAE since the two counties agreed to establish full ties nine months ago. “Nobody is denying the fact that tensions in Jerusalem endanger the entire area,” Lapid told reporters. Lapid met with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, however he did not have an audience the UAE’s de-facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Aya Batrawy reports for AP.
Lapid inaugurated Israel’s embassy in the UAE and expressed hope for a new era of close ties between the two nations. “Israel wants peace with its neighbors. With all its neighbors,” Lapid said. Rory Jones and Dov Lieber report for the Wall Street Journal.
A raid on the city of Beni in eastern Congo overnight has killed at least 10 people, witness have said. Residents said attackers set several houses on fire in the city’s Beu district, firing upon people as they exited the buildings and attacking some with machetes. Hundreds of people took to the streets of Beni this morning to protest against the government’s failure to protect the city. “Gloire Kivetya, president of a body representing civil society groups in Beni’s Beu district, blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist militant group that claims links to Islamic State,” Erikas Mwisi Kambale reports for Reuters.
A bomb has exploded in a busy Baghdad market wounding at least 15 people, Iraq military have said. In a statement the military said that security forces have launched an investigation to determine the perpetrators and there was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Islamic State group has previously claimed similar attacks in the area. Samya Kullab reports for AP.
Hundreds of children, mostly boys and some as young as 12, are incarcerated in adult prisons in northeastern Syria, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. “The children, mostly boys, have been removed to prisons from al-Hol, a desert camp run by Syrian Kurdish forces for 60,000 people from more than 60 countries, the aid agency said,” Stephanie Nebehay reports for Reuters.
Jordan’s Prince Hamzah may be called to testify in the sedition trial against two former Jordanian officials who are accused of conspiring with Hamzah, a half-brother of King Abdullah II, and soliciting foreign help in the alleged plot. The list of witnesses requested by defense attorneys includes Hamzah, two other half-brothers to the king, Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh and Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. However, “the court, which typically deals with drug offenders or suspected militants, is unlikely to require senior members of the royal family to testify about the rare public rift within their ranks,” AP reports.
A U.N. report has called for urgent action to end the “inhumane conditions,” which include extreme overcrowding and lack of access to food, water and health, facing prisoners in Haiti. UN News Centre reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.65 million and now killed over 604,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 180.20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.94 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned of a “great crisis” in North Korea over its response to Covid-19. Jong Un did not specific what had gone wrong and North Korea has reported no Covid-19 cases according to World Health Organization figures. However, Jong Un said that the “Covid-19 situation has become grave and admonished senior officials for lapses in the fight against the disease,” Timothy W. Martin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
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.