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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. and Iraq have agreed that U.S. combat troops should leave Iraq by the end of 2021, with the U.S. military mission in Iraq shifting to a purely advisory role, according to a U.S. official and other sources. The shift is expected to be announced on Monday after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi meets with President Biden at the White House. The plan will not constitute a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and a number of U.S. service members will remain in Iraq indefinitely. “These troops will provide logistics and advisory support, as well as air power, intelligence and surveillance capability in the fight against the Islamic State,” Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
The U.S. is seeking a “reliable, predictable and constructive” way forward with North Korea to secure progress in stalled denuclearization talks, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has said today. Sherman made the remarks following a meeting with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in Seoul, where it was “discussed how to reopen negotiations after North Korea brushed off the Biden administration’s proposals for talks, casting a cloud over prospects for dismantling its nuclear and missile programs,” Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.
A Chinese prosecutor has been indicted in a federal U.S. case charging nine people with illegally acting as foreign agents in an effort to force immigrants from China to return there to be punished. The FBI last October announced charges against eight people who were allegedly engaged in the effort and a superseding indictment filed yesterday now “also charges Chinese law enforcement official Tu Lan, accusing him of orchestrating a campaign known as ‘Fox Hunt’ and ordering a co-conspirator to destroy evidence,” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.
China has said today that the U.S. is slandering its efforts to pursue suspects overseas. The comments were made after a Chinese prosecutor was charged in an alleged plot to intimidate Chinese residents in the U.S. to return to China. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian urged the United States to correct its mistakes. Reuters reporting.
A former Air Force intelligence analyst has said his guilt over participating in lethal drone strikes in Afghanistan led him to leak government secrets about the drone program to a reporter. Daniel Hale of Nashville, Tennessee, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to violating the Espionage Act by leaking the top secret documents. “In an 11-page handwritten letter from the Alexandria jail where he’s being held, Hale outlines what led him to break the law, describing his regret and horror as he saw gruesome videos of Afghans killed in part because his work helped track them down,” Matthew Barakat reports for AP.
The House yesterday approved a bill aimed at expediting visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. military and are now facing threats to their lives from the Taliban. “The bill, dubbed the Allies Act, would add another 8,000 visas to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Afghans who helped the United States and remove several hurdles to obtaining the visas,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, as the Taliban advances, Afghan and U.S. officials have said. “The politically perilous strategy will inevitably cede territory to Taliban insurgents. But officials say it appears to be a military necessity as over-stretched Afghan troops try to prevent the loss of provincial capitals, which could deeply fracture the country,” Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali report for Reuters.
The U.S. military carried out two strikes against the Taliban in support of Afghan forces in the Kandahar province which were targeted at capturing equipment, defense officials have said. The military has retained the authority to carry out such strikes during the final stages of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but the pace of these strikes has decreased in recent weeks. “I can say that in the last several days, we have acted through airstrikes to support the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] ANDSF, but I won’t get into technical details of those strikes,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a press briefing. Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
A Taliban spokesperson has said that strikes were carried out by the U.S. on Wednesday night on the outskirts of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, killing three Taliban fighters and destroying two vehicles. “‘We confirm these air strikes and we condemn this in strongest term, it is a clear attack and violation of the Doha deal as they can’t have operations after May,’ he said, referring to an agreement between the United States and the Taliban clearing the way for the withdrawal of U.S. forces,” Reuters reports.
The U.S. military is preparing to house as many as 35,000 Afghan interpreters and family members at two U.S. bases in Kuwait and in Qatar as part of an expanding effort to aid those who now face Taliban retribution for aiding U.S. forces, U.S. officials have said. Plans are underway to build temporary housing and other facilities at the camps, as well as brining thousands of welcome packages, containing health and comfort items, as well as packaged military meals, to the bases. The interpreters and their families would be housed at the bases as they await the processing for American visas to be permanently resettled in the U.S. Gordon Lubold and Courtney McBride report for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. veterans are rushing to help their Afghan colleagues get out of Afghanistan, Jennifer Steinhauer and John Ismay report for the New York Times.
Just Security has published a piece by Camille J. Mackler, Steven M. Miska and Chris Purdy which sets out the case for why Biden needs to designate an Afghan evacuation interagency task force.
The Taliban have said they do not want to monopolize power in Afghanistan; however they insist that they will not reach a peace deal until there is a new negotiated government in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed. The Taliban’s stance on what should come next in Afghanistan was laid out by a Taliban spokesperson in an interview with the Associated Press. “I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because any governments who (sought) to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past, were not successful governments,” said the spokesperson, who was “also uncompromising on the continued rule of Ghani, calling him a war monger and accusing him of using his Tuesday speech on the Islamic holy day of Eid-al-Adha to promise an offensive against the Taliban,” Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
Tajikistan has said that it is ready to take in up to 100,000 refugees from neighboring Afghanistan. The deputy head of Tajikistan’s emergencies committee, told a briefing that Tajikistan “was already building two large warehouses to store supplies for refugees in the Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan provinces adjacent to the border,” Reuters reporting.
Russia is to help Tajikistan build a new outpost on the Tajik-Afghan border, a senior Russian diplomat said, amid worsening conflict in Afghanistan. Reuters reporting.
Despite promises from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada has yet to produce a plan to bring Afghans who helped the Canadian government to Canada. Frustrated by the lack of action from Canada to resettle Afghans who worked for the Canadian government in Afghanistan, “some Canadian military veterans are using their own money, time and connections to get them into safer parts of Afghanistan,” Ian Austen reports for the New York Times.
Recently disclosed additional details of the FBI’s review of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s background have led a group of Senate Democratic party members to question the thoroughness of the vetting and conclude that it was largely shaped by former President Trump’s White House. In a letter to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chris Coons (D-DE) an F.B.I. assistant director “said that the most ‘relevant’ of the 4,500 tips the agency received during an investigation into Mr. Kavanaugh’s past were referred to White House lawyers in the Trump administration, whose handling of them remains unclear,” Kate Kelly reports for the New York Times.
Tom Manger, a veteran police chief, has been announced by the U.S. Capitol Police Board as the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. Manger will assume command today, succeeding acting Chief of Police Yogananda Pittman, who came into the role following the resignation of previous chief Steven Sund after the Jan. 6 attack. “The challenges in protecting the Capitol campus, and everyone who works or visits there, have never been more complex. The courage and dedication of the men and women of this agency were on great display on Jan. 6th…it is now my job to ensure that they have the resources and support to continue to fulfill their mission in an ever increasingly difficult job,” Manger said in a statement. Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is to reinstate five key Pentagon advisory boards after suspending the committees earlier this year and ousting last-minute Trump-appointees. “Press secretary John Kirby said Austin plans to restore the five major boards of policy, science, business, health and innovation after he reviews recommendations made by a committee tasked with scrutinizing the Defense Department’s 42 boards and commissions,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require women to register for the draft, known as “Selective Service.” Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that they intend to keep the U.S. armed forces all-volunteer, however men ages 18 through 25 still have to register with the Selective Service System or face consequences. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
A group of Democratic lawmakers is urging Biden to be actively involved in his administration’s review of the U.S’s nuclear policy and make “bold decisions” that would reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national security strategy. In a letter to Biden written by 21 senators and House members, the lawmakers say that the Biden administration’s review “is a watershed moment where [Biden] can reject a 21st century arms race and make bold decisions to lead us towards a future where nuclear weapons no longer threaten all humanity.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) proposal to overhaul the military justice system has made it past the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the NDAA, as have two other competing proposals, from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) and committee member Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), aimed at tackling military sexual assault. “The outcome means the issue of how to reform the military justice system will still need to be sorted out as the NDAA moves through the Senate floor and negotiations with the House,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
CIA Director William Burns has said that he has redoubled the CIA’s efforts to uncover the cause of Havana syndrome. The increased effort includes the assignment of a senior officer who once led the hunt for Osama bin Laden to lead the investigation and tripling the size of a medical team involved in the probe, with Burns saying that he is “absolutely determined…to get to the bottom of the question of what and who caused this.” Becky Sullivan, Mary Louise Kelly and Greg Myre report for NPR.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is weighing adding further Republicans opposed to former President Trump to the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) as the leading contender. “We’ll see,” Pelosi told reporters when asked if she’d appoint more Republicans to serve alongside Cheney. “It’s not even bipartisan; it’s nonpartisan. It’s about seeking the truth and that’s what we owe the American people,” Pelosi said. Heather Caygle, Olivia Beavers and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
Pelosi yesterday said that the select committee into the Jan. 6 attack “will not let” Republican party “antics stand in the way” of the investigation. “It’s my responsibility as Speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this,” Pelosi said at a press conference. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
NSO GROUP – PEGASUS
Hungarian prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspected unlawful surveillance following multiple complaints in the wake of the allegations of the misuse of the Pegasus spyware sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group. The Budapest Regional Investigation Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that the investigation would examine “the so-called Pegasus case, under the suspicion of the crime of gathering unauthorized secret information.” Al Jazeera reports.
French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency cybersecurity meeting yesterday to weigh possible government action after reports that his cellphone and those of government ministers may have been targeted by the Pegasus spyware. French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said yesterday that macron changes his phones regularly and is “taking the matter very seriously.” Attal also said that investigations are under way to determine whether the spyware was actually installed on the phones or whether data was retrieved. AP reports.
President Biden’s administration has sanctioned a key Cuban official, Alvaro Lopez Miera, the head of the armed forces in Cuba, and a government special forces unit known as the Boinas Negras for human rights abuses in the wake of the protests in Cuba. In a statement Biden said that the recent sanctions were “just the beginning — the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.” Kylie Atwood, Patrick Oppmann and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.
Biden’s response to Cuba and specifically his plan to extend the targeted sanctions of the Magnitsky Act to officials in Cuba have encouraged activists who want more pressure on Cuba, while also bucking the progressive voices in the Democratic party who have called for an end to the embargo on Cuba. Marc Caputo and Dabrina Rodriguez report for POLITICO.
A number of Florida politicians, including Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), are pointing to the possibility of sending high-tech balloons that operate as makeshift cell towers, to allow internet access to continue in Cuba even if Cuba’s government shuts it down as it did following protests last week. Kim Bellware reports for the Washington Post.
The Pentagon has confirmed that 7 Colombians arrested in relation to the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse had received U.S. military training. “Thus far, we’ve identified seven individuals who were former members of the Colombian military that had received some sort of … U.S. funded and provided education and training,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Protests and fires have swept through the streets of the northern city of Cap-Haïtien in Haiti hours before mourners were due to pay tribute to Moïse. “Large crowds of demonstrators ran through the narrow colonial streets, chanting, ‘they killed Jovenel, and the police were there.’ Distrustful of the elite coming from the capital, angry men tried to block the arrival of mourners from outside the city,” Catherine Porter reports for the New York Times.
The State department has announced the appointment of U.S. Ambassador Daniel Foote as the Special Envoy for Haiti. “The Special Envoy will engage with Haitian and international partners to facilitate long-term peace and stability and support efforts to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections,” the State Department said in a press release. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
The U.N. Human Rights Council has announced that former U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay will chair a three-person commission investigating “alleged violations and abuses” in Israel and Israeli-occupied territory. The decision to set up the commission followed the latest 11-day Israel-Hamas conflict. “Pillay, who was a former judge on the South African High Court, was the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014,” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
An explosion in a house in a popular market in Gaza City has killed one person, and injured 10 others, the Palestinian territory’s interior ministry said. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion and the Israeli army signaled it wasn’t involved, calling the explosion an “internal” matter in Gaza. AP reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A U.N. monitoring team in a report to the U.N. Security Council has warned that the threat from terror groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda is not only resilient, but in many places expanding. In the report the monitoring team warns that the groups pose a growing threat in much of Africa and are entrenched in Afghanistan, and suggests a consistent pattern that “wherever pressure on jihadi terror groups is absent or negligible, they thrive,” Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister and Nic Robertson report for CNN.
Russia is going ahead with plans to supply the military in Myanmar with Su-30 fighter jets and Yak-130 training aircraft, the Interfax news agency has reported, citing Dmitry Shugayev, the head of Russia’s military cooperation agency. Reuters reporting.
A French citizen is among six people who have been arrested for their involvement in a plot to kill Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina, the country’s public security minister has said. Madagascar’s attorney general said yesterday that police had arrested the six people following what officials said was a months-long investigation. An adviser to Rajoelina has also said that two of those arrested had previously worked in the French military. Lovasoa Rabary reports for Reuters.
Two Iranian ships that the Pentagon have been monitoring, and which once appeared to be headed towards Venezuela, are now in the Baltic Sea, according to MarineTraffic, a website that tracks ships. It is expected, based on the position of the ships, that they are likely headed to St Petersburg to participate in Russia’s Navy Day events. Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman report for CNN.
The Danish military yesterday said that it had spotted an Iranian destroyer and a large support vessel sailing through the Baltic Sea, likely heading towards Russia. The Danish Defense Ministry posted photographs online of the ships. “It is expected that they are on their way to the annual naval parade in St. Petersburg,” the Danish military wrote on Twitter. AP reporting.
The U.N. Security Council yesterday rejected a resolution put forward by Russia and China to remove the high representative to Bosnia. The resolution, which failed to get the minimum nine votes for adoption with only Russia and China voting in favor and the 13 other council members abstaining, “would have would have immediately stripped the powers of the international high representative overseeing implementation of the 1995 peace agreement that ended the devastating war in Bosnia, and eliminated the position entirely in one year,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
South Africa’s state-owned firm Transnet has said that it has identified and isolated the source of the disruption to its IT systems, which impacted its container terminals. “The freight logistics firm was hit by a suspected cyber attack, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters yesterday,” Reuters reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 34.20 million and has now killed over 610,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 192.50 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.10 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The White House has blasted China’s “irresponsible” and “dangerous” rejection of a second phase of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigation into the origins of Covid-19. “We are deeply disappointed,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “Alongside other member states around the world, we continue to call for China to provide the needed access to data and samples and this is critical so we can understand, to prevent the next pandemic. This is about saving lives in the future, and it’s not a time to be stonewalling,” she added. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
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.