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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 reached a ceasefire deal in western Afghanistan, the provincial governor for the Badghis province has said. Fighters from the Taliban have recently secured complete control over all the districts in Badghis province. “Ten tribal elders had taken the responsibility of ceasefire, so they first talked to the Taliban, and then talked to the local government and both sides reached a ceasefire,” the provincial governor, Husamuddin Shams, told Reuters. Abdul Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi report for Reuters.
Pakistan has rejected all allegations of providing “close air support” to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The allegations were made by First Vice President Amrullah Saleh yesterday evening who alleged “that Pakistani forces were supporting the Afghan Taliban after they took control of the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan in Kandahar province earlier this week,” Al Jazeera reporting.
Afghans who helped U.S. troops are to be airlifted out of the country. The flights for those already in a U.S. visa application process will begin in the last week of this month. “The U.S. Embassy will coordinate with the State Department to support Operation Allies Refuge,” said Ambassador Ross Wilson, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Kabul. Al Jazeera reports.
The Taliban have offered a three-month ceasefire in exchange for the release of seven thousand fighters held in prisons and the removal of their leaders from the U.N. blacklist, an Afghan government negotiator said yesterday. The spokesperson for the Afghan government’s negotiating team in the Qatari capital, Doha, said it was a “big demand.” Al Jazeera report.
Afghanistan’s neighbors are scrambling to address the Taliban’s recent surge which has put the insurgent group in control of key border posts in Afghanistan, also opening new sources of revenue for the group. In the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, a two-day regional meeting that was originally supposed to deal with “connectivity” in South and Central Asia, “has morphed into a high-level gathering of senior U.S., Russian and EU officials that most certainly will be consumed with Afghanistan and the impact of the rapidly advancing Taliban,” Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
BIDEN – MERKEL MEETING
President Biden has met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his first session with an E.U. leader at the White House and Merkel’s likely last White House visit before the end of her 16-year tenure. The meeting involved a wide-ranging agenda and centered on joint priorities such as “climate change, the pandemic, Russian cyberattacks and China’s economic rise. The two leaders discussed the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reviewed their efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran,” Matt Viser reports for the Washington Post.
Biden and Merkel stressed their shared values yesterday, while also acknowledging their disagreements, signaling that the U.S.-E.U. alliance remains strong after the tensions of former President Trump’s era. There were no apparent breakthroughs from the meeting, with Biden and Merkel both acknowledging their differences on a major Russian pipeline and how best to approach China, however the visit was a way for the leaders to show a unified front. Katie Rogers reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. and Germany will stand together against Russian aggression and are opposed to anti-democratic actions by China Biden has said. “Biden said he had voiced concern to Merkel over a Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, but they agreed Moscow cannot be allowed to use energy as a weapon,” BBC News reports.
President Biden’s administration has issued a business advisory warning U.S. businesses about risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong. “The advisory from the departments of State, Treasury Commerce and Homeland Security warns businesses in Hong Kong that they are subject to the territory’s laws, including the national security law, under which foreign nationals, including one U.S. citizen, have been arrested…[and]… says businesses should consider the potential reputational, economic, and legal risks of maintaining a presence or staff in Hong Kong, and should carry out due diligence,” Reuters reporting.
The U.S. is preparing to impose sanctions today on several Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, sources have said. “The sources said the financial sanctions would target seven officials from China’s Hong Kong liaison office, the official platform which projects Beijing’s influence into the Chinese territory,” Humeyra Pamuk and David Shepardson report for Reuters.
China has responded to the reports of further U.S. sanctions by saying that the U.S. should stop interfering in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong is China’s, and the United States should stop interfering in any form, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing in Beijing,” Reuters reports.
The U.S. Air Force is sending more than two dozen F-22 fighter jets (Raptors) to a military exercise in the western Pacific this month amid tensions with China. “We have never had this many Raptors deployed together in the Pacific Air Forces area of operations,” Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander, said. The move is “an unusually large deployment of the powerful jets that analysts say sends a strong message to a possible adversary in China,” Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
Pakistan has said that the bus crash on Wednesday that killed at least 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, may have been a terror attack. Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that an initial investigation into the crash in Pakistan’s northwest found “traces of explosives” at the site and that “terrorism cannot be ruled out.” AP reports.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has urged Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold accountable the culprits in what he described as a “terrorist attack” on the bus ferrying Chinese workers. Li spoke with Khan on the phone today and has urged Pakistan to “use all necessary measures” to investigate the incident and hold the culprits accountable, a Chinese state news agency reported. Yew Lun Tian reports for Reuters.
Former President Trump has lashed out at Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that he is “not into coups.” Trump’s comments follow the publication of several new books which recount how the top-ranking U.S. military official worried that Trump would try to stage a coup during his final days in the White House. Lauren Fedor reports for the Financial Times.
16 members of a Florida-based white supremacist gang have been charged in a 12-count indictment accusing them of engaging in acts of murder, kidnapping and other offenses. The indictment also alleges that “the members of the group called the Unforgiven used ‘corrupt law enforcement officers and state employees’ to gather information about the investigation and to smuggle contraband to incarcerated inmates,” Tom Winter reports for NBC News.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has said that she expects the Senate to vote on the military justice bill in fall. The legislation would overhaul how the military prosecutes serious crimes. Gillibrand told reports that she has received assurances from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that the bill will get a standalone floor vote. “He supports the measure. He has voted for it in the past… and he has told me that he will give me a vote,” Gillibrand said. Connor O’Brien reports for POLITICO.
Gillibrand has said to reporters that President Biden is “110 percent” behind the legislative push to overhaul the military justice system in relation to sexual assault and other major crimes. Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have supported taking decisions about prosecuting sexual assault away from military commanders and giving them to independent prosecutors, but they have “stopped short of publicly backing Gillibrand’s bill, which would take other serious crimes like murder out of the chain of command as well. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment,” Phil Stewart reports for Reuters.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) was arrested yesterday along with several activists as she protested for voting rights. Beatty, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and leaders of several groups “demonstrated and chanted in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building before they were arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police,” Vanessa Williams reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
U.S. Secret Service intel briefings ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol concluded that there was no indication that civil disobedience would occur, according to newly released documents obtained by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Whitney Wild reports for CNN.
U.S. prosecutors are seeking an 18-month prison term for the first felony defendant to be sentenced in relation to the Jan. 6 attack, citing the need to deter domestic terrorism. “‘The need to deter others is especially strong in cases involving domestic terrorism, which the breach of the Capitol certainly was,’ Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky said in a government sentencing request for Tampa crane operator Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, who carried a Trump flag into the well of the Senate,” Spencer S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
Facebook announced yesterday that it had taken steps to disrupt a group of Iranian hackers that were using the social media platform to target U.S. military personnel and the defense industry in the U.K. and European countries. “According to Facebook, a cyber criminal group known as ‘Tortoiseshell’ took steps including creating fake accounts posing as employees of defense and aerospace companies, pushing out malware tools, and using fake websites to steal login credentials of the work and personal accounts of victims,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
President Biden’s administration is stepping up efforts to respond to ransomware attacks, announcing new cross-agency measures to address the recent major ransomware attacks on companies. “A senior administration official told The Hill that an interagency task force…has made progress in identifying and coordinating action on a range of fronts regarding ransomware concerns,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Bipartisan bills aimed at strengthening U.S. cybersecurity are making headway in both the House and Senate, gaining a new urgency following the recent wave of cyberattacks. “Unlike some of the other things I’m working on, huge, huge progress,” has been made Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said of a cybersecurity proposal he is spearheading. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
A new online hub has been launched by the government to help ransomware victims. The government has said that the hub will make it easier for companies and municipalities to find resources and get assistance if they are targeted by cyber hackers. Sarah N. Lynch reports for Reuters.
Some of the former Colombian soldiers arrested in connection with the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse had previously received U.S. military training, the Pentagon has said. “A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past U.S. military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military Forces,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement to the Washington Post. Alex Horton reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden has said that there are currently no plans to send U.S. troops to Haiti. “We’re only sending American Marines to our embassy to make sure that they are secure and nothing is out of whack at all. But the idea of sending American forces into Haiti is not on the agenda at this moment,” Biden said at a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
Haiti’s police have rejected reports that current Haiti government officials are implicated in the assassination of Moïse, calling the reports a “lie.” “Léon Charles, head of Haiti’s National Police, denied a report from Caracol news, a Colombian-based private TV station, that claimed interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph was the mastermind of the July 7 killing,” DÁnica Coto, Aamer Madhani and Evens Sanon report for AP.
More than 30 suspects, in Haiti, Colombia and the U.S., have been implicated in the assassination of Moïse, including two former Colombian soldiers who met in recent months in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Haitian and Colombian officials have said. The two men, along with a third former Colombian soldier, were killed in a gunfight with Haitian police following the president’s assassination. “The role of former soldiers Germán Alejandro Rivera and Duberney Capador emerged after Colombian intelligence officials sent to Haiti to help with the investigation met with 18 former soldiers who had been arrested following the killing, Gen. Jorge Vargas, commander of Colombia’s National Police, said in a press briefing,” Juan Forero and Arian Campo-Flores report for the Wall Street Journal.
Colombia’s President Iván Duque has said that some of the Colombian suspects in the assassination plot had “detailed knowledge” of the plan. Duque said that most of the Colombians in the group of mercenaries accused of killing Moïse had been duped as they were told they would work as bodyguards in Haiti. However, “there was a smaller group among them with detailed knowledge of the operation, he told Colombia’s FM radio,” BBC News reports.
President Biden has said that the U.S. is considering taking steps to restore internet access in Cuba, which was cut off in the wake of protests in Cuba against the government. Both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have made separate requests to Biden to provide federal assistance to provide internet access to people in Cuba. “They have cut off access to the internet. We are considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access,” Biden told reporters at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Biden said yesterday that Cuba is a “failed state” and called communism “a universally failed system.” During a news conference Biden said that “there are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government… for example, the ability to send remittances back to Cuba. We would not do that now because the fact is it’s highly likely the regime would confiscate those remittances or big chunks of it.” Biden also said that he was ready to send Covid-19 vaccines to Cuba, but the nation has not joined the international vaccine coalition, COVAX, and Biden needed assurance that “an international organization would administer those vaccines and would do it in a way that average citizens would have access to those vaccines.” Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is urging the release of all those detained in Cuba’s anti-government protests and has called on the Cuban government to address the protesters’ grievances. Bachelet also called for an investigation into the death of a protester in Havana, a 36-year-old who died Monday during clashes between demonstrators and police. AP reports.
25,000 troops have been taking up position to quell the riots in South Africa, with at least 117 people having been confirmed as killed in the violence. “The government said 10,000 soldiers were on the streets by Thursday morning patrolling alongside police, and the South African National Defense Force had also called up all of its reserve force of 12,000 troops,” Andrew Meldrum and Mogomotsi Magome report for AP.
The scale and impact of the worst violence and unrest in South Africa in decades, and the lives and livelihoods lost in the mass unrest is reported on by John Eligon for the New York Times.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said today that his government would not allow “anarchy and mayhem” to prevail in South Africa. Ramaphosa has hinted that the violence in South Africa was deliberately provoked, and he has said that the government was doing everything it could to deal with unrest. Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo reports for Reuters.
Ramaphosa has said that security agencies have identified several people suspected of instigating the violence this week in South Africa. During a visit to Ethekwini Municipality, which includes the port city of Durban, one of the worst-hit areas in a week of looting, Ramaphosa said that “it’s quite clear that all these incidents of unrest and looting were instigated.” Reuters reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Three regions in Ethiopia previously untouched by the war in Tigray are deploying forces to back government military operations in Tigray, signaling a potential widening of the conflict. “The reinforcements are coming from Oromia – Ethiopia’s largest region – as well as the Sidama region and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), according to official statements and state media reports,” Al Jazeera reports.
Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian aid groups working in the Tigray region of Ethiopia of “arming” Tigray fighters and threatened to halt some groups’ operations in Tigray. A spokesperson for the Tigray emergency task force has alleged that aid groups are “playing a destructive role” in the eight-month conflict. “Instead of coordinating aid, (they) are widely engaged in coordinating, from a distance, campaigns of propaganda to harass and defame the Ethiopian government,” he said, in the latest frictions between Ethiopia’s government and aid groups, who have been seeking unrestricted access to the Tigray region. AP reports.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hairi has stepped down over what he called “key differences” with Lebanon’s president, deepening the political crisis in Lebanon during the unprecedent economic meltdown in the country. Sarah El Deeb reports for AP.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who was taken into hospital urgently earlier this week has said that his condition has improved, and he could leave hospital today without undergoing surgery. Eduardo Simões and Lisandra Paraguassu report for Reuters.
Russia has banned an investigative news outlet on national security grounds. “Russia declared investigative news outlet ‘Proekt’ on Thursday an ‘undesirable’ organization on national security grounds and banned its activities, in the latest blow against media which look into areas the authorities say are off-limits,” Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth report for Reuters.
Proekt has said today that it is closing down a U.S.-registered legal entity but would find a way to continue its investigations into Russia’s elite. “We as journalists continue to believe that our work is important and needed by our motherland. We’ll announce separately in what form our journalistic collective will continue its work,” Proekt said in a statement. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.95 million and has now killed close to 608,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been close to 189.00 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.06 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The head of the World Health organization has said that the push to discount the China lab leak theory for Covid-19 was “premature.” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said that getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that travelled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of Covid-19 and that he was asking China to be more transparent. AP reports.
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.