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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
Police in Haiti have said that they have arrested a Florida-based doctor they believe is a key suspect in organizing the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse. The Haitian police have said that Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a 63-year-old Haitian national, flew into Haiti on a private jet in early June with “political motives.” Haiti’s police chief Léon Charles said that Sanon’s initial plan had been to arrest Moïse, but “the mission then changed.” “When we, the police, blocked the progress of these bandits after they committed their crime, the first person that one of the assailants called was Christian Emmanuel Sanon,” Charles said. “He contacted two other people that we consider to be the masterminds of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse,” Charles added without saying who the other two people were. BBC News reports.
Haiti’s interim government has asked the U.S. and the U.N. to deploy troops to protect key infrastructure as it tries to stabilize the country and prepare for elections. “Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s elections minister, defended the government’s request for military assistance, saying in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press that the local police force is weak and lacks resources,” DÁnica Coto and Joshua Goodman report for AP.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials would be dispatched to Haiti and that the U.S. would be providing financial resources to Haiti. However, numerous reports confirm that Biden’s administration will not currently be sending any military troops to Haiti. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration has “no plans to provide U.S. military assistance at this time” to Haiti, a senior U.S. administration official said on Friday. A similar request for troops to be deployed was sent to the U.N. political mission in Haiti. A spokesperson for the U.N. Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs confirmed that the letter had been received and it was being examined. Steve Holland and Andre Paultre report for Reuters.
The Pentagon yesterday confirmed that a team of U.S. security and law enforcement experts were travelling to Haiti to determine what assistance the U.S. can provide. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Fox News that “an inter-agency team largely from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are heading down to Haiti right now to see what we can to do help in the investigative process.” “That’s really where our energies are best applied right now – in helping them get their arms around investigating this incident and figuring out who’s culpable … and how best to hold them accountable,” Kirby added. Reuters reporting.
The crisis and uncertainty in Haiti is worsening, with the power vacuum left by the assassination turning into a power struggle between two prime-ministerial claimants. The powerful leader of an alliance of gangs has also urged his followers to take to the streets in protest of Moïse’s killing, risking an increase to the country’s turmoil. Ishaan Tharoor reports for the Washington Post.
The Haitian police have said that Sanon was acting as a middleman between the alleged hitman and the plot’s unnamed masterminds. The Police have also “said that among the items found by officers at Sanon’s house in Haiti were a hat emblazoned with the logo of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 20 boxes of bullets, gun parts, four vehicle license plates from the Dominican Republic, two cars and correspondence with unidentified people,” the Guardian reports.
Haitian police have said that Sanon planned to assume the presidency of Haiti and hire some of the men in the hit-squad who carried out the assassination as his security team. Widlore Merancourt and Samantha Schmidt report for the Washington Post.
The request from Haiti for the U.S. to send troops to stabilize the country “presents a difficult choice for President Biden: send forces to aid a neighbor even as he is trying to pare down America’s military footprint overseas, or refrain and risk allowing the chaos unfolding there to escalate into a refugee crisis,” Michael Crowley, Michael D. Shear and Eric Schmitt provide analysis for the New York Times.
Just Security published two pieces on the situation in Haiti on Friday. “An Appeal to President Biden: Change Course on Haiti Now” by Pierre Esperance and “To Save Haiti’s Democracy, Don’t Hold Elections” by Ambassador Peter Mulrean (ret.).
The Taliban have surrounded the city of Ghazni, a provincial capital, in central Afghanistan, taking over civilians’ homes to fight security forces, officials have said today. “The situation in Ghazni city is very critical…the Taliban use civilian houses as hideouts and fire upon the ANDSF [Afghan security forces], this makes the situation very difficult for the ANDSF to operate against the Taliban,” a member of Ghazni’s provincial council has said. Reuters reporting.
Afghan security forces with the help of air strikes have repelled yesterday an assault by Taliban fighters on the provincial capital of a key northern province bordering Tajikistan, Afghan officials have said. Reuters reporting.
The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is stepping down today, marking a symbolic end to the war in Afghanistan. “Army Gen. Austin ‘Scott’ Miller has commanded the military coalition in Afghanistan since August 2018, longer than any previous commanding general in that position. He turns over command of U.S. Forces Afghanistan to the commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie,” Courtney Kube reports for NBC News.
73% of voters support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a poll conducted by Hill/HarrisX poll has found. 31% of voters said they strongly support the move, while 42% said they somewhat support the decision. In contrast, 7% said they strongly oppose the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and 20% somewhat oppose. The Hill reports.
McKenzie, the general who overseas the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, has warned that intelligence gathering in Afghanistan is suffering as U.S. troops withdraw. “My knowledge of what’s going on in Afghanistan is not nearly what it was 180 days ago,” McKenzie said while traveling to Kabul on Sunday. Courtney Kube reports for NBC News.
The Taliban has said that it is targeting Afghan pilots for assassination. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that the Taliban’s campaign was meant to make sure that Afghan Air Force pilots are “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people.” Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Hamid Shalizi report for Reuters.
The Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) has that he believes Kabul “will hold” against the Taliban’s advances. Reed, who was speaking on NBC News, said that “the question is, can it hold long enough to create a political solution between the sides? What is — what you’ve seen is the encroachment of the Taliban, most of that has been without military action, most of that has been essentially going in and persuading or paying off the local leadership and, and they’ve been preparing for that for many, many months.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.iHill.
Reed also defended President Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan saying that Biden “made a difficult, but the best of many poor choices,” in Afghanistan. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
The Pentagon’s top spokesperson John Kirby has acknowledged a “deteriorating security situation on the ground” in Afghanistan. In an interview with CNN, Kirby stated that “the Taliban continues to take district centers,” adding that “we are seeing them continue to advance on district centers around the country, and it is concerning.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
China has said that its military today “drove away” a U.S. warship that it says illegally entered Chinese waters near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Today is the anniversary of the international court ruling that held Beijing had no claim over the South China Sea. “The USS Benfold entered the waters without China’s approval, seriously violating its sovereignty and undermining the stability of the South China Sea, the southern theater command of the People’s Liberation Army said. ‘We urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions,’ it said in a statement,” Reuters reporting.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to defending the Philippines’ armed forces from attack in the South China Sea. “Underscoring the U.S. stance, the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold performed a freedom on navigation operation (FONOP) near the Paracel Islands in the northwestern part of the South China Sea on Monday, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a statement,” Jennifer Hansler and Brad Lendon report for CNN.
China has vowed that it will take “necessary measures” in response to the U.S. Commerce Department’s announcement on Friday that it would add further Chinese companies to an economic blacklist over their alleged roles in human rights abuses and supporting military modernization. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement yesterday that it “resolutely opposes” the addition of the Chinese entities to the backlist, which is a “serious breach of international economic and trade rules” and an “unreasonable suppression” of Chinese companies. Reuters reporting.
The leaders of North Korea and China have vowed to strengthen ties between the two countries. Messages of support were exchanged between the two leaders yesterday as they marked the 60th anniversary of their countries’ defense treaty. “In a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said it is ‘the fixed stand’ of his government to ‘ceaselessly develop the friendly and cooperative relations’ between the countries, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Xi said in his message that China and North Korea have ‘unswervingly supported each other,’ according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency,” Hyung-Jin Kim reports for AP.
The U.S. and 20 other nations have condemned Beijing over its closer of the pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily. The statement issued by the 21 governments expresses “strong concerns about the forced closure of the Apple Daily newspaper, and the arrest of its staff by the Hong Kong authorities.” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
President Biden has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to “take action to disrupt criminal hackers based in Russia and has said that the U.S. reserves the right to respond to hackers who launch ransomware attacks from insider Russia. A White House statement on a telephone call between the two leaders states that “Biden underscored the need for Russia to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating in Russia and emphasized that he is committed to continued engagement on the broader threat posed by ransomware.” “President Biden reiterated that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure in the face of this continuing challenge,” the statement added. Michael D. Shear reports for the New York Times.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has said that Russian-linked hackers attacked its navy’s website and published a series of fake reports about the ongoing Sea Breeze military drills taking place in the Black Sea. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the “entire Kremlin propaganda machine” was involved in the alleged hacking and that the “threats have been eliminated.” Russia’s foreign ministry has not publicly commented on the incident. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration has pulled back from a claim made under former President Trump that detainees in Guantánamo Bay have no due process rights under the Constitution. In a brief before the full Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Justice Department took no position on the question, which followed an internal debate among Biden’s legal team. According to people familiar with internal deliberations some officials at the Justice Department resisted changing the Trump-era position because that could make it harder to win such cases. However, “other officials contend that it would clash with the Biden administration’s values not to clearly say that detainees have due process rights. Lawyers for the Pentagon and the State Department are said to have pressed to declare that the clause protects detainees in the context of habeas corpus proceedings — while also saying that the standard had been met. And lawyers for intelligence agencies are said to have taken the less forceful position that they would not object to a brief narrowly saying detainees have due process rights in that context, while leaving other contexts — like military commissions and medical issues — unaddressed,” Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
A new report on the U.S. Navy has depicted a culture of bureaucracy and risk-aversion that is corroding readiness. The report by Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle and Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, both retired, for members of Congress “concludes that the surface Navy is not focused on preparing for war and is weathering a crisis in leadership and culture,” Kate Bachelder Odell reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The remaining high-security fencing around the U.S. Capitol has been removed six months after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Linda So reporting for Reuters.
U.S. troops in eastern Syria came under indirect fire attack on Saturday, though initial reports have not indicated any injuries or casualties. A U.S. defense official told Reuters that the attack, the latest in a series of attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria in recent days, occurred in Conoco, Syria. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Reuters reports.
A North Korean researcher has dismissed U.S. humanitarian aid as a “sinister political scheme” to put pressure on other countries. The comments follow “suggestions from U.S. allies such as South Korea that coronavirus vaccines or other help could promote cooperation,” Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Thousands of Cubans have joined the biggest protest in the country for decades against Cuba’s government. The protests were in response to the collapse of the country’s economy, food and medicine shortages, the Cuban government’s restrictions on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, including demands from protestors for a faster Covid-19 vaccination program. The protesters have marched through cities shouting for the end of the Communist government in the country. BBC News reports.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel has blamed the U.S. for agitating the population and has called on Cuba’s “revolutionary” citizens to take to the streets. “We are prepared to do anything,” he said in a national address, “we will be battling in the streets.” Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted: “we are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.” Anthony Faiola reports for the Washington Post.
Demonstrations have broken out in Miami Florida in solidarity with the Cuban protests. “Thousands of people in the Little Havana neighborhood on Sunday to demonstrate in solidarity with the Cubans,” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Abiy Ahmed has won a landslide victory in the Ethiopian election, despite drawing international criticism for his handling of the crisis in the Tigray region in Ethiopia. “The National Election Board of Ethiopia announced on Saturday night that the ruling party won 410 seats out of 436 in the federal parliament, which will see some seats remain vacant because no vote was held as a result of unrest or logistical reasons,” AP reports.
Violent protests and looting have erupted in two South African provinces following the imprisonment of former South African President Jacob Zuma. Supporters of Zuma have blocked roads and looted shops. “The rioting by Zuma’s supporters began in his home region of KwaZulu-Natal province last week and spread during the weekend to Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city,” Al Jazeera reports.
The South African National Defense Force (SANDF) has said that it will deploy soldiers in the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces to help law enforcement agencies quell the unrest. “The SANDF said in a statement that the duration of the deployment and number of soldiers would depend on the situation on the ground,” Reuters reports.
A Jordanian court has found a royal court chief and a relative of King Abdullah II guilty of sedition and incitement against the monarchy. “Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, who denied the charges, were both sentenced to 15 years in prison,” BBC News reporting.
Awadallah, a U.S. citizen and former top aide to Jordan’s King Abdullah II, has alleged that he was tortured in Jordanian detention and fears for his life, his U.S.-based lawyer said on the eve of the court’s verdict. Along with the mistreatment allegations, the closed-door trial before Jordan’s state security court “has been completely unfair,” his lawyer Michael Sullivan told The Associated Press. Karin Laub and Omar Akour report for AP.
The E.U. has agreed to set up a military training mission in Mozambique to help the government tackle a growing Islamist insurgency and to protect civilians. The formal decision was taken at a meeting in Brussels today, however it is not currently clear which countries will provide the necessary troops. “The mandate of the mission will initially last two years,” the European Council said in a statement. Sabine Siebold and Robin Emmott report for Reuters.
Israel’s Security Cabinet has frozen nearly $200 million in tax transfers to the Palestinians on the basis that the Palestinian Authority transferred the same amount to the families of alleged attackers last year. AP reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.85 million and now killed over 607,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 186.80 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.03 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.