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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
The Taliban have captured a district in western Afghanistan with a key border crossing with Iran, Afghan security officials have said. The Islam Qala border crossing with Iran, located in Herat province, is one of the biggest trade gateways into Iran. Officials said that the gateway had fallen to the Taliban and that Afghan security and customs officials had fled across the border. “All Afghan security forces including the border units are present in the area, and efforts are under way to recapture the site,” Afghan interior ministry spokesperson Tareq Arian has said. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said the crossing was “under our full control.” BBC News reports.
President Biden has forcefully defended the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite recent Taliban gains. In his first speech on the issue since announcing the decision to withdraw troops in April, Biden said that hurdles were to be expected but that did not undermine the case for withdrawal. Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Dan Lamothe and John Wagner report for the Washington Post.
In his speech Biden rejected the idea that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is “inevitable,” saying that it was “highly unlikely.” “Biden said that the objectives of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan were achieved — namely, that terrorism was not emanating from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden was killed — but rejected the notion that his speech represented a ‘mission accomplished’ moment,” Rebecca Kheel and Morgan Chalfant report for The Hill.
Biden said in his speech that the U.S. will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by August 31. “Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31,” Biden said, pledging that he would not send “another generation of Americans” to war in Afghanistan. Joan E Greve and Joanna Walters report for the Guardian.
Biden in his defense of the U.S. withdrawal has explained that the U.S. “did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.” Biden insisted that “no amount of sustained American presence there could resolve the country’s own intractable problems,” Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
Biden is putting his faith in Afghan troops, expressing his confidence in the Afghan leaders. “The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place,” Biden said. “The question is, will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it?” “It’s not a question of whether they have the capacity,” he continued, “they have the capacity. They have the forces. They have the equipment. The question is, will they do it?” Quint Forgey and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.
Biden pledged to move thousands of potentially endangered Afghan interpreters out of Afghanistan next month as they await U.S. visas, if they wish. However, “President Biden’s announcement, to evacuate interpreters from Afghanistan into third countries, does not reassure us unless they provide specifics of how they will do it, and the data backs up their claims,” said James Miervaldis, board chairman of No One Left Behind, which works on behalf of Afghan and Iraqi interpreters. Andrew Restuccia and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. is to prop up the Afghan air force after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. “Afghanistan will get an injection of contractor support and planes for its beleaguered Air Force,” Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.
“Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Russia have moved to fill the military and diplomatic vacuum opening up in Afghanistan as a result of the departure of U.S. forces and military advances by the Taliban,” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
A delegation of the Taliban visited Moscow yesterday to offer assurances that their gains in Afghanistan do not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia. “The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Kremlin envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, met with the Taliban delegation to express concern about the escalation and tensions in northern Afghanistan. The ministry said Kabulov urged the Taliban ‘to prevent them from spreading beyond the country’s borders,’” Vladimir Isachenkov reports for AP.
Torghundi, a northern town on the Afghan border with Turkmenistan, has been captured by the Taliban overnight, Afghan and Taliban officials have said. “Taliban insurgents were now in complete control of the police headquarters, intelligence services, customs operations and the municipal center, they said. Hundreds of Afghan security personnel and refugees continued to flee across the border into neighboring Iran and Tajikistan, causing concern in Moscow and other foreign capitals that radical Islamists could infiltrate Central Asia,” Reuters report.
As the Taliban seize more territory, its officials have said that the group has taken control of 85% of territory in Afghanistan and its fighters are tightening their grip on strategic areas. The claims, which were made by a Taliban delegation visiting Moscow as part of a propaganda campaign, have been rejected by Aghan government officials and anti-Taliban militia commanders who are rushing to aid Afghan forces against Taliban. Reuters reports.
The U.K. has withdrawn nearly all its troops from Afghanistan, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the U.K. parliament yesterday. “For obvious reasons, I will not disclose the timetable of our departure, though I can tell the house (parliament) that most of our personnel have already left,” Johnson said, adding that he did not underestimate the challenges facing Afghanistan and that the U.K. government would continue to provide development assistance. Andrew Macaskill and William James report for Reuters.
China is evacuating its nationals from Afghanistan amid the U.S. troops’ withdrawal and recent Taliban gains, state media reported. AP reports.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about the worsening access to provide life-saving medicines and supplies and attacks on health care facilities in Afghanistan, a WHO official has said. “It is a terribly concerning situation and it’s very fluid right now,” the official said. Reuters reporting.
Two U.S.-Haitians are among those arrested in connection with the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse. Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections, identified the Haitian American suspects as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55. No details have been released of the basis for their arrests. Solages is believed to be a former bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port au Prince and describes himself as a “certified diplomatic agent,” an advocate for children and budding politician on a website for a charity he established in 2019. “The pursuit of the mercenaries continues,” said Léon Charles, director of Haiti’s National Police, in announcing the arrest of suspects, adding that “their fate is fixed: they will fall in the fighting or will be arrested.” AP reports.
Haitian authorities have said that 26 Columbians took part in Moïse’s assassination. 15 Columbians have been arrested as well as U.S.-Haitians Solages and Vincent, with all 17 men paraded in front of journalists at a news conference late yesterday. “Foreigners came to our country to kill the president,” Léon Charles said, “there were 26 Colombians, identified by their passports, and two Haitian Americans as well.” Tom Phillips, Peter Beaumont and Jean Daniel Delone report for the Guardian.
Colombia’s government confirmed late yesterday that six of the suspects it had been asked about were retired members of the Columbian military. The identities of the suspects, including two who had been killed in a shootout with police, were not released. Columbia’s government confirmed that they would send information to aid in Haiti’s investigation. Evens Sanon, Dánica Coto and Joshua Goodman report for AP.
Haitian authorities have sought international assistance in their hunt for the masterminds behind the assassination of Moïse, Rachel Pannett, Anthony Faiola, Shawn Boburg and Widlore Merancourt report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. is responding to requests for assistance in investigating Moïse’s assassination from the Haitian National Police. “We are aware of the Haitian national police’s request for investigative assistance and the United States is responding,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “The situation on the ground is evolving rapidly. We’ve remained in regular contact with Haitian officials including the investigative authorities to discuss how the United States can assist going forward,” he added. It is not currently clear which agency will help the Haitian police with the investigation, but it is likely to go through law enforcement channels, including the FBI. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Civilians are protesting the assassination of Moïse, with increasing anger at the foreign hit squad that Haiti’s police have said are responsible for the assassination. Angry civilians had joined the police’s search for the gunmen, and helped the police track down some who were hiding in bushes. “The crowd later set fire to three of the suspects’ cars and destroyed evidence. The police chief called for calm, saying the public should not take the law into their own hands,” BBC News reports.
The political crisis in Haiti has deepened as rival prime ministers struggle for power. Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph is saying that he has taken command of the police and the army, declaring a “state of siege” that essentially puts the country under martial law. However, two days before his death, Moïse had appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was supposed to take up the role this week. Constant Méheut, Michael Crowley, Natalie Kitroeff, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Catherine Porter report for the New York Times.
The U.N. Special Representative for Haiti has acknowledged the legitimacy of Joseph to lead Haiti and has welcomed his government’s commitment to hold national elections later this year. “Speaking via video link to reporters in New York, Ms. La Lime said that ‘all efforts must be made’ to bring those responsible for the assassination of the president to justice, and that a national investigation led by Haitian police, was now underway, following a number of arrests,” UN News Centre reports.
The White House has offered assistance to Haiti and has renewed U.S. support for legislative and presidential elections in Haiti that had been scheduled for this September. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, did not say if the U.S. recognized Joseph, Haiti’s interim prime minister, as the leader of the country. Chris Cameron reports for The New York Times.
IRAQ, SYRIA AND IRAN
The Pentagon is “deeply concerned” by the recent attacks on personnel in Iraq and Syria. U.S. diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks yesterday. “They are using lethal weaponry. I don’t know how you can say anything other than it is a serious threat,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. Reuters report.
The increasing drone attacks against the U.S. in military basis in Iraq and Syria by Iraqi militias are suggestive of Iran’s waning hold over the group. The attacks are in contrast to the message from Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force commander to Iraqi militia faction leaders long beholden to Tehran, when he gathered with them in Baghdad last month: to maintain calm, until after the conclusion of the indirect nuclear talks between Iran and the United States. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Samya Kulla report for AP.
The U.N. Security Council is to vote today on aid access to Syria. “Russia has proposed that the U.N. Security Council extend aid access into Syria from Turkey for six months in response to a rival bid by Western council members to renew the long-running U.N. cross-border aid operation for 12 months, diplomats said,” Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
Iran’s increasing nuclear activity is concerning, a Saudi foreign ministry official has said. After Tehran announced that it had started the process of producing enriched uranium metal, the Saudi official, in response to a Reuters request for comment, said that Riyadh “is greatly concerned about the increased pace of Iran’s nuclear activities and development of capabilities … that are not consistent with peaceful purposes.” Ghaida Ghantous reports for Reuters.
The U.S. is set to blacklist more Chinese companies over alleged human rights abuses and high-tech surveillance in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, sources have said. Five further companies will be added to the blacklist by the U.S. Commerce Department. Humeyra Pamuk and David Shepardson report for Reuters.
China has said that it will take necessary steps to protect its firms after reports that further companies will be added to the U.S. blacklist. “The Chinese side will take all necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and rejects U.S. attempts to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. Reuters reports.
China’s presence around the Philippines is growing, five years after a landmark international arbitration court ruling repudiated China’s claims to the South China Sea waters around the Philippines, Karen Lema reports for Reuters.
The E.U. parliament has passed a resolution calling for diplomatic officials to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in China in response to human rights abuses by the Chinese government. The non-binding resolution also calls for E.U. governments to impose further sanctions on China as tensions rise. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
President Biden’s legal team is divided on whether to say that Guantánamo Bay detainees have due process rights under the U.S. constitution, sources familiar with the internal deliberations have said. “The Justice Department is set to file a brief by Friday night that is supposed to take a position on that question for a case involving a 53-year-old Yemeni man, Abdulsalam al-Hela, who has been held without charge or trial at the wartime prison since 2004. During the Trump administration, the department had argued to an appeals court panel that he had no due process rights,” Charlie Savage and Carol Rosenberg report for the New York Times.
The U.S. and French ambassadors to Beirut have held talks with Saudi Arabia officials in Riyadh. The rare joint visit was aimed at finding a unified strategy to help Lebanon out of its unprecedented economic and political crises. The embassies tweeted that the “important trilateral consultations” aimed to find ways how they can together “support the Lebanese people and stabilize the economy.” Sarah El Deeb reports for AP.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is testing President Biden’s resolve on tackling cybercrime. Less than a month after the Geneva summit where Biden warned Putin that there would be “consequences” for future cyberattacks, Biden does not seem to know how to respond to the fresh series of attacks on U.S. entities, reportedly emanating from Russia. Michael Hirsh provides analysis for Foreign Policy.
The top lawyer for the U.S. Cyber Command has called for the U.S. to respond to transnational criminal hackers with military cyber operations. “Marine Lt. Col. Kurt Sanger, general counsel at the command, wrote in a recent article published to Lawfare.com that ransomware attacks and other threats such as SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline hacks highlight ‘the broad and severe impacts criminals can inflict through cyberspace,’” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
New York City has opened a real-time operation center to protect against cybersecurity threats, regional officials have said. “The center is staffed by a coalition of government agencies and private businesses, with 282 partners overall sharing intelligence on potential cyber threats,” Deanna Paul reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Five people from Florida have been indicted on charges of assaulting law enforcement during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. According to court documents unsealed this week, “federal prosecutors charged Jonathan Pollock, Joseph Hutchinson III, Joshua Doolin, Michael Perkins and Olivia Pollock with assaulting law enforcement officers, stealing government property, entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct,” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The jihadi threat in the Sahel region of Africa is growing as France plans to reduce its forces in the region, Sam Mednick reports for AP.
A Biafra separatist leader and U.K. national was arrested by Nigerian authorities in Kenya and taken to Nigeria in an act of extraordinary rendition, his family and lawyers have claimed. Nigerian authorities have declined to say where Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian citizen, was taken from. “Kanu fled Nigeria in 2017 while on bail facing charges of terrorism and incitement. He was arrested last week and brought to Nigeria’s capital, Abujam,” Emmanuel Akinwotu reports for the Guardian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has lifted a ban on charter flights to Egypt, six years after suspending them for national security concerns. The flights were stopped following a plane crash over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, which killed 224 people and which Russia concluded was caused by a bomb. A group affiliated with Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the crash. Reuters reporting.
Lithuania has started building a barrier along its border with Belarus to stop migrants illegally entering the country. Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of flying in migrants from abroad to send illegally into the European Union. “Belarus in May decided to allow migrants to enter EU member Lithuania in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the bloc after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil and arrested a dissident blogger who was on board,” Andrius Sytas reports for Reuters.
A Palestinian man held in Israel is to be released following a hunger strike for more than two months, his supported have said. A spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Club, “said Ghadanfar Abu Atwan, 28, will be released from an Israeli hospital in the ‘coming hours’ and transferred to a hospital in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered,” Laurie Kellman and Ami Bentov report for AP.
Israeli and Jordanian leaders secretly met last week in a push to improve ties between the two countries. The two countries have announced new agreements on water and trade, which were concluded during the meeting. Omar Akour reports for AP.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma could be freed from prison in four months, South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has said. The statement comes a day after Zuma handed himself into the police to commence a 15-month sentence for contempt of court. Wendell Roelf, Tim Cocks report for Reuters.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.75 million and now killed close to 606,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 185.50 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.00 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.