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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 U.S. has completed “more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process” of troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. Central Command has said in a press release published yesterday.
Taliban fighters have said today that they have taken control of an important Afghan border crossing with Pakistan, the latest trading town that the Taliban have seized. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry have denied the report and have insisted that they have repelled the Taliban’s attack and are still in control. However, Pakistani authorities have told Al Jazeera that they have sealed their side of the country’s border crossing with Afghanistan at the Chaman-Spin Boldak frontier, and a local administration official said that “the Taliban presence can be seen at Afghan border along with Pakistan in Chaman and no Afghan [government] forces are there at the Afghan border side.” Al Jazeera reports.
An Afghan delegation and representatives from the Taliban are to meet in Doha, Qatar, to restart long-stalled peace talks, an Afghan official has said. The meeting could happen this Friday and the Taliban is expected to bring their senior leaders to the table, while the Afghan government delegation will include the head of the country’s reconciliation council, the official said. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
Russia has strongly warned the U.S. against deploying troops in Central Asia after U.S. troops complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said. Ryabkov said in remarks published yesterday that the warning had been issued by Russia last month during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s summit with President Biden. “I would emphasize that the redeployment of the American permanent military presence to the countries neighboring Afghanistan is unacceptable,” Ryabkov said. Vladimir Isachenkov reports for AP.
U.S. and Turkish officials have made progress in talks on a plan for Turkish troops to run Kabul’s international airport, Turkey’s defense minister Hulusi Akar has said. The intention is that the Turkish troops’ protection of the airport would enable foreign embassies to remain open in Afghanistan after the U.S. military’s withdrawal. “A framework was drawn and work continues in specified fields,” Akar said in remarks reported by Turkey’s official news agency. “We made quite constructive, quite positive talks. There are other countries that want to help Afghanistan, we are talking to them as well. It is a versatile process.” Jared Malsin and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia has told the Afghan government to negotiate with the Taliban, accusing the Afghan government of being “hypocritical.” The Kremlin’s most senior Afghanistan official said that the Afghan government needed to start proper negotiations with the Taliban about the country’s future before it was too late. Reuters report.
France has urged all its citizens in Afghanistan to leave immediately amid growing security risks as U.S. troops withdraw and the Taliban make gains. “The French Embassy in Kabul published a message urging ‘the entire French community’ in Afghanistan to leave, citing ‘the evolution of the security situation in the country’ and the ‘short-term prospects’ for Afghanistan,” AP reports.
The U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace has said that the U.K. will work with the Taliban should they come to power. Wallace made the comments in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “Whatever the government of the day is, provided it adheres to certain international norms, the U.K. government will engage with it,” Wallace is quoted as saying. Reuters reports.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries has called for an end to the violence against civilians and the authorities in Afghanistan. The foreign ministries of the SCO have also urged the Afghan government to strengthen its position for the sake of stability. Reuters reporting.
Just Security is publishing a special series by a group of interdisciplinary scholars reflecting on Afghanistan on the eve of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The next piece in the series by Manizha Wafeq, the president and co-founder of the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, considers how women’s entrepreneurship continues to press ahead in Afghanistan.
Federal prosecutors have charged four Iranian intelligence operatives with plotting to kidnap a U.S. based author and human rights activist who has been critical of the Iranian regime. A fifth individual is accused of providing financial support to the plot. The author was not named in the indictment but Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American author and activist based in New York, told reporters that she was the subject of the plot. A law enforcement official familiar with the case also identified the author as Alinejad. Pete Williams and Jonathan Dienst report for NBC News.
The conspirators also allegedly plotted to lure a person based in the U.K. and three others in Canada to Iran. The conspirators all live in Iran and remain at large. BBC News reports.
U.S. officials also allege that before the kidnapping plot, Tehran attempted to financially induce Alinejad’s relatives, who reside in Iran, to lure her to travel to a third country where it might be easier to abduct her. Her relatives did not accept the offer. The indictment states that the plotters used private investigators to surveil Alinejad’s home in Brooklyn and other members of her household. Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
Iran has said that it could enrich uranium up to 90% purity, which is weapons grade, if its nuclear reactors needed it. Iranian President Hassan Rouhan made the comments to a cabinet meeting, where he also added that Iran was still seeking the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal that would limit its atomic activities in return for a lifting of sanctions. Parisa Hafezi reports for Reuters.
“Indirect but active” talks are being held between the U.S. and Iran on U.S. detainees, the State Department has confirmed. The State Department spokesperson Ned Price added that Washington was treating the talks independently from the nuclear talks to revive the 2015 Nuclear Deal. Reuters reports.
The U.S. is slowing its anti-terrorist campaign in Somalia as it weighs national security policies and grapples with former President Trump’s last-minute decision to withdraw roughly 650 U.S. special-operations and other troops from Somalia, where they had been training an elite local commando unit to fight al-Shabaab. “We’re committed to Somalia,” a senior U.S. official has said, however, “what exactly that will look like is still under discussion,” he added. Michael M. Phillips reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Strategic stability talks between the U.S. and Russia are expected to take place next week, the RIA news agency has reported, citing sources in a Russian delegation at talks in Tajikistan. “Russia wants to discuss all types of weapons, including nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons, that can affect strategic stability and global security, RIA reported,” Reuters reports.
A House panel has voted to repeal the 2001 and 2002 Iraq war authorizations, the latest in a broader push in Congress for presidential war powers to be reined in. “The House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote both amendments from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to sunset the 2001 authorization for the use of military force after eight months and to immediately repeal the 2002 [authorization],” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The U.S. and U.K. have condemned the detention of Venezuelan opposition politician Freddy Guevara. Guevara faces charges of terrorism and treason following his arrest on a Caracas highway on Monday. “The United States strongly condemns the unjust detention of 2015 National Assembly representative Freddy Guevara and harassment of interim President Juan Guaido in Venezuela,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters. Reuters reports.
Biden’s administration is taking a softer stance towards the Saudi Arabia leader Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the administration rolls out the red carpet for Prince bin Salman’s younger brother, the Deputy Defense Minister, Prince Khalid bin Salma. The softer stance is in contrast to Biden’s stance on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Biden’s authorization of the release in February of a damning U.S. intelligence report that pointed the finger of suspicion for the murder at the Saudi Crown Prince. Frank Gardner provides analysis for BBC News.
President Biden’s nominee to be Navy Secretary, Carlos Del Toro, has pledged to be “exclusively focused on the China threat,” if he is confirmed. Del Toro also told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing that the U.S. needed to provide support to Taiwan, saying that “it’s incredibly important to defend Taiwan in every way possible,” “it takes a holistic view of our national commitment to Taiwan. We should be focused on providing Taiwan with as much self-defensive measures as humanly possible,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
President Biden will nominate Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, to serve as ambassador to Turkey, the White House has announced. Flake was one of the most vocal Republican critics of Trump and his expected nomination will place “a prominent, moderate Republican in line to assume a high-profile diplomatic role,” Zach Montague reports for the New York Times.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
The U.S. has warned businesses with supply chains and investments in the Chinese region of Xinjiang run a “high risk” of violating U.S. laws on forced labor. The updated advisory, which has been issued by the State Department and five other federal agencies, calls upon businesses to engage in “heightened due diligence” with respect to dealings in Xinjiang. Zachary Basu reports for Axios.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said in a press statement that the updated advisory notes that the Chinese “government is perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” BBC News reports.
Blinken has said that the U.S. rejects China’s “unlawful” maritime claims in the South China Sea and stands with Southeast Asian nations faced with Beijing’s “coercion.” During a video conference with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), the first since President Biden’s administration took office, Blinken also said the United States has “deep concerns” about the situation in Myanmar and urged the ASEAN group to take action to end violence and restore democracy in the country. James Pearson reports for Reuters.
The State Department has said that the U.S. will continue to hold Hong Kong authorities accountable for the erosion of rule of law in the territory. “State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a regular news briefing that risks to the rule of law that were formerly limited to mainland China are now increasingly a concern for Hong Kong,” Reuters reports.
REvil, the Russian cyber gang blamed for global ransomware attacks, including on global meat supplier JBS and IT software company Kaseya, has gone offline and disappeared from the web. As of yesterday, “the group’s public website, the dark-web portal that facilitated its ransom negotiations with victims and the site that victims used to pay those ransoms were offline. In addition to REvil’s websites, ‘all of their infrastructure’ used to control their hacking operations is also dark, said Allan Liska, an intelligence analyst who tracks ransomware for the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. REvil’s public spokesperson, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Unknown,’ ‘hasn’t been active on message boards since last Thursday,’ Liska said,” Eric Geller reports for POLITICO.
The timing of REVil’s disappearance is noteworthy as President Biden has repeatedly insisted that he plans to take action against ransomware hackers, many of whom are believed to reside in Russia. “On Friday, Biden told reporters the U.S. may attack the ‘servers’ used to carry out attacks, but he didn’t give specifics,” Kevin Collier reports for NBC News.
U.S. personnel have been sent to protect the U.S. embassy in Haiti amid turmoil following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, officials have said. “The officials said fewer than a dozen people were deployed in the days after Moïse was killed last Wednesday. It wasn’t immediately clear how many have since returned to the U.S,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Haiti is seeking five fugitives suspected in the assassination of Moïse. The suspects include a former Haitian senator who is a well-known opponent to the Tet Kale party that Moïse belonged to, a fired government official and an informant for the U.S. government. Haiti’s police have said that the five fugitives are armed and dangerous. DÁnica Coto reports for AP.
Haitians are apprehensive of foreign troops being sent to Haiti as the Haitian government seeks help from U.S. and U.N. troops. The request for assistance from foreign troops by Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has been met with resistance from civil society groups, as well as retired soldiers in Haiti and ordinary citizens. David Alire Garcia and Andre Paultre report for Reuters.
U.S. intervention in Haiti would be a “disaster,” Jonathan M. Katz provides analysis for Foreign Policy.
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, the arrested American citizen who has been accused by Haitian authorities of orchestrating to the assassination of Haiti’s President to realize his own political ambitions, has continued to insist on his innocence, according to a source close to the investigation. Inside a complex linked to Sanon the Haiti police found implicating evidence, including ammunition, 24 unused shooting targets and a cap labeled “DEA.” However, “Sanon told police that he had no knowledge of the attack on the President and that he hadn’t known the weaponry and other seized materials were in the building, according to the source. He also told police that he was a Christian pastor, and emphasized that the building was neither his home nor his property, the source said,” Caitlin Hu, Etant Dupain and David Shortell report for CNN.
One man died during the recent anti-government protests on the outskirts of Havana, the Cuban Interior Ministry has said. “The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that it ‘mourns the death’ of a 36-year-old man named as Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, who the state news agency said had taken part in the ‘disturbances,’” Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S. State Department yesterday called for calm in Cuba, and said it was concerned by images of violence it had seen over the past few days. “We call for calm and we condemn any violence against those protesting peacefully, and we equally call on the Cuban government to release anyone detained for peaceful protest,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a regular news briefing. Reuters reporting.
Cuban dissidents continue to feel emboldened from the recent protests, despite the Cuban government’s crackdown on protesters, Ernesto Londoño and Frances Robles report for the New York Times.
Demonstrators have blocked a major highway and staged protests in the Miami area in support of the protesters in Cuba. The protesters in the Miami area, which is home to the largest Cuban exile community, sought to replicate the protests of thousands of Cubans on Sunday, “if Cuba is in the street, Miami is too,” many chanted. Reuters reporting.
Cuba has restricted access to social media and messaging platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram, to curb the protests, the global internet monitoring firm NetBlocks has said. NetBlocks, based in London, said on its website on Tuesday that the platforms in Cuba were partially disrupted on Monday and Tuesday. “The pattern of restrictions observed in Cuba indicate an ongoing crackdown on messaging platforms used to organize and share news of protests in real-time,” NetBlocks director Alp Toker said. “At the same time, some connectivity is preserved to maintain a semblance of normality,” he added. Al Jazeera reports.
Former President Trump’s Justice Department sought the email records of three Washington Post reporters in the final days of William P. Barr’s tenure as attorney general. The request for the email records were aimed at identifying the sources for articles from 2017 about conversations between Trump campaign officials and the Russian ambassador, newly unsealed court documents show. The papers also reveal that Proofpoint Corporation, a firm that supplies data security services, was the recipient of the secret court order. “In addition, the documents indicate the extent to which federal investigators strongly suspected the disclosures of classified information were coming from Congress,” Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has set a new deadline of the end of this month for the bipartisan police reform legislation to pass through Congress. Scott told reporters that “I don’t think we can do this, after this month, if we’re not finished.” “Asked if the Senate needs to have the bipartisan bill pass by the end of the month, Scott said: ‘that’s what I would hope,’” Alayna Treene reports for Axios.
A banker has been convicted of bribery for a plot to obtain a job in the Trump administration. Stephen Calk was convicted yesterday for a scheme to arrange $16 million in loans to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in exchange for a high-level position in the Trump administration. Chalk used the federally insured bank he ran “as his personal piggybank to try and buy himself prestige and power,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. Tom Winter reports for NBC News.
An appeals court has ruled that a 21-year minimum age for handgun purchases is unconstitutional as it violates the Second Amendment. Judge Julius Richardson, who was appointed by Trump, wrote the majority opinion in the ruling, which contended that the protections provided by the Second Amendment should apply “whatever the age,” and that 18 to 20 year olds have Second Amendment rights. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Trump’s final days in office are documented in three books on Trump’s last year in office: Michael Bender’s “Frankly We Did Win This Election,” and Michael Wolff’s “Landslide,” both went on sale yesterday, with a third book “I Alone Can Fix It” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker is scheduled to be released next week. The books show that Trump’s final days in office where “even worse than we thought,” Chris Cillizza provides analysis for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The U.N. is to form a panel to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent. “A panel of three experts in law enforcement and human rights will have a three-year mandate to investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing, including the legacies of slavery and colonialism, and to make recommendations for change,” Nick Cumming-Bruce reports for the New York Times.
The head of M15, the U.K. security service, is to say in a speech today that the U.K. public is at risk from threats from “hostile states,” which are a form of terrorism. Ken McCallum is to warn the U.K. public that the threats, often linked to Russia and China and which include disruptive cyber-attacks, misinformation, espionage and interference in politics, are “less visible” but “have the potential to affect us all.” It is expected that McCallum will seek to challenge the idea that the activity only affects governments or certain institution, but rather that the threats are affecting U.K. jobs and public services and could even lead to a loss of life. Gordon Corera reports for BBC News.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday hosted a meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. The meeting comes amid sanctions imposed on Belarus by the U.S. and other nations over the country’s diversion of a flight to arrest an opposition journalist. “We will deal with terrorism and all that, but the economy is the most important thing,” Lukashenko said, voicing hope that Belarus “will resist that economic blow together with Russia” and adding that the West will not succeed in trying to “monopolize the
The death toll has risen to 72 in South Africa as violence triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma continues to escalate. Crowds looting and setting alight to shopping centers have clashed with police and the military has been deployed to assist the police. “South African police said in a statement they had identified 12 people suspected of provoking the riots, and that a total of 1,234 people had been arrested,” BBC News reports.
The unrest in South Africa is also disrupting hospitals struggling to cope with a third wave of Covid-19 and has forced the closure of a refinery, as shopping malls and warehouses have also been ransacked or set ablaze in several cities. Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Tanisha Heiberg report for Reuters.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.90 million and has now killed over 607,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 187.80 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 4.05 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A Covid-19 outbreak has been confirmed on the U.K. navy’s flagship warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth. There have been around 100 cases on the aircraft carrier, which is part way through a world tour. The ship has now entered the Indian Ocean and is due to continue on its voyage to Japan. U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said that “all crew on the deployment had received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and the outbreak was being managed,” Jonathan Beale & Hazel Shearing report for BBC News.
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.