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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. is planning a sanctions campaign against Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles, according to U.S. officials. “The U.S. has sanctioned some of Iran’s missile programs in past years, but officials said that targeting Iran’s procurement networks, such as the providers of parts used to build the drones and precision-guided missiles, could more effectively disrupt those activities,” Ian Talley and Benoit Faucon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Philippines is restoring a key military agreement with the U.S. that makes it easier for U.S. forces to move in and out of the country, signaling to China a renewed commitment to the 70-year-old U.S.-Philippine alliance. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) gives U.S. military aircraft and vessels free entry into the Philippines and relaxes visa restrictions for U.S. military personnel. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has previously vowed to terminate the agreement, but had repeatedly pushed back the expiration date, maintaining it until the end of the year. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the restoration of the VFA in a joint news conference in Manila today. Sophie Jeong and Brad Lendon report for CNN.
U.S. lawmakers have put on hold a proposal to sell almost $1 billion worth of weapons to Nigeria over concerns about possible human rights abuses by the Nigerian government, sources familiar with the matter have said. “The proposed sale of 12 AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters…and related equipment worth $875 million is being delayed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee,” Doyinsola Oladipo and Mike Stone report for Reuters.
Officials in former President Trump’s administration struggled to understand Trump’s freeze in 2019 on security assistance to Ukraine. Following the freeze, national security officials asked whether Trump was trying to “gain leverage” over Ukraine’s leaders in his dealings with the country, according to internal emails obtained by the New York Times via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
A senior U.S. diplomat has urged the U.N. Security Council yesterday to press Myanmar’s military to stop violence and restore democracy. Deputy U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis warned the U.N. Security Council that with Covid-19 surging and hunger increasing in Myanmar, “the longer we delay, the more people die.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
The Mexican government is seeking to overhaul the Merida Initiative, a $3 billion U.S. aid program that’s been the centerpiece of security cooperation between the two nations for more than a decade, frustrated by the continued raging violence in Mexico. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has described the Merida Initiative as “dead” and “Mexican officials say they have been meeting with Biden administration officials since late spring to refocus their cooperation against drug cartels and other criminal groups, amid growing concerns that such gangs are expanding their control over Mexican territory,” Mary Beth Sheridan and Kevin Sieff report for the Washington Post.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger capabilities for North Korea to cope with any foreign provocation as he met with military officers ahead of annual drills next month between South Korea and the U.S. that Pyongyang views as an invasion rehearsal. Despite the recent steps between North Korea and South Korea to reopen communications, “some experts say Pyongyang could conduct missile tests or take other tension-raising actions in response to the drills, which Seoul and Washington have altered in past years to support diplomacy,” Hyung-Jin Kim reports for AP.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
The first person found guilty under Hong Kong’s new national security law has been given a nine-year prison sentence. Tong Ying-kit who rode a motorbike into police officers while flying a flag with a protest slogan, was earlier found guilty of inciting secession and terrorism. Today’s verdict is likely to set the tone for how future cases under the national security law, under which more than 100 people have now been arrested, might be interpreted. BBC News reports.
The U.N. Security Council yesterday extended a Central African Republic (CAR) arms embargo and a targeted sanctions regime for another year, however China appealed for the measures to be removed and abstained in the vote. The Security Council imposed the arms embargo on CAR in December 2013 when mainly Muslim Selaka rebels ousted then President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias. A targeted sanctions regime was agreed in 2014. “The intention was to help CAR restore national stability and normal social order. In reality, however, the arms embargo has increasingly become an obstacle that hampers the CAR government’s efforts to strengthen security capabilities,” China’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dai Bing told the council after the vote. Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.
China’s military and state media have warned the U.K. against provocation as it sends a carrier strike group, led by a Royal Navy aircraft carrier, through the South China Sea. A spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, Wu Qian, said it respected freedom of navigation but firmly opposed any naval activities that aimed to provoke controversy. “The action should never try to destabilize regional peace, including the latest military collaboration between the U.K. and Japan,” Wu, said. “The Chinese navy will take any necessary actions to counter-measure such behavior.” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
The Chinese government has warned the U.K. Carrier Strike group not to carry out any “improper acts” in the South China Sea, with State Media saying that “the People’s Liberation Army Navy is at a high state of combat readiness.” Frank Gardner reports for BBC News.
The U.K. has not officially acknowledged the presence of its Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea, however the U.K.’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier has been pictured in the contested waters. A series of photos posted on the U.S. Navy’s website showing U.S. Marine Corps jets involved in operations off the U.K. carrier were posted this week with the dateline of the South China Sea. Brad Lenon reports for CNN.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has stopped processing registrations of U.S. initial public offerings and other sales of securities by Chinese companies while it designs new guidance for disclosing to investors the risk of a new regulatory crackdown by Beijing, according to people familiar with the matter. Echo Wang, Scott Murdoch and Kane Wu report for Reuters.
China’s government is planning to introduce new laws in Hong Kong and Macau that could bar foreign entities and individuals in the cities from complying with sanctions against China, according to people familiar with the matter. “The new laws are expected to mirror China’s own ‘antiforeign sanctions law,’ which Beijing rushed through in June in response to sanctions imposed on the country by the U.S. and Europe, the people said,” Elaine Yu reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The first group of Afghan interpreters and others who helped the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan landed in the U.S. earlier today. About 250 Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who worked with the U.S. military, as well as their family members arrived in Dulles International Airport outside Washington. The group will stay at a hotel on the to Fort Lee, Va., base for about a week to complete their processing before being resettled in the United States permanently, officials have said. Eric Schmitt and Jennifer Steinhauer report for the New York Times.
President Biden in a statement said that the arrivals are “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years.” “These arrivals are just the first of many,” Biden added, thanking the “brave Afghans for standing with the United States.” Courtney Kube and Dan De Luce report for NBC News.
The Taliban offensive this spring included more than two dozen insider attacks during a 90-day period ending June 30. At least 37 Afghan troops were wounded by the insider attacks, according to the report released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). American military officials also told the watchdog’s investigators that the numbers could be incomplete, citing gaps in knowledge during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
SIGAR, the independent watchdog created by Congress to scrutinize the war in Afghanistan, has heavily criticized the U.S. government’s handling of the conflict and has said such mistakes are certain to be repeated. John Sopko “said shifting goals, unrealistic timelines and an influx of untracked money led to an ineffective Afghan security force that has floundered against the Taliban as the U.S. military gets closer to leaving the country by the end of August. And he said U.S. officials are unlikely to learn from those failures…Sopko’s comments are largely reflected in SIGAR’s latest quarterly report,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Civilian casualties and Taliban attacks in Afghanistan are mounting, according to the latest report from SIGAR, which found a “dramatic increase in enemy-initiated attacks” from January through March of this year compared to the same time in previous years. There were 10,431 attacks this year, up from 7,620 last year and 6,358 in 2019. Courtney Kube reports for NBC News.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has described as “absolute nonsense” reports that Pakistani fighters crossed the border into Afghanistan to aid the Taliban in its fight against the Afghan government. Khan also said that his government would not allow the United States to set up any bases inside Pakistan to do intelligence work or carry out counterinsurgency operations. “We do not have the capacity to have any more fighting within our borders, any terrorism within our country,” Khan said. AL Jazeera reports.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has threatened to sue Texas over an order from Texas Governor Gregg Abbott which bans the transportation of migrants within the state by anyone other than law enforcement, saying the move impinges on the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration matters. Abbott issued his order after local officials in the Rio Grande Valley complained of federal officials releasing immigrants there and of migrants in the care of Catholic Charities leaving their Covid-19 quarantine to go to a hamburger restaurant. However, in a letter to Abbott, Garland called the executive order “both dangerous and unlawful” and said it would impede immigration actions currently being undertaken by the federal government or private parties working with it. Elizabeth Findell in Austin, Texas, and Sadie Gurman report for the Wall Street Journal.
Both the House and the Senate have passed a bill addressing Capitol security concerns following the Jan. 6 attack. The bill “plugs security shortfalls around the Capitol complex, fully reimburses the National Guard and Capitol Police for increased staffing needs, provides $1.125 billion in relief for Afghan nationals who assisted the U.S. war effort, and increases the number of visas set aside for the Afghans by 8,000,” Nicholas Wu reports for POLITICO.
The Navy has charged a soldier with starting a fire last year that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard ship docked off San Diego. “The sailor was a member of the crew at the time, Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesperson, said in a statement. The sailor was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel, Robertson said. No name was released,” AP reports.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has become the third member of Congress to be arrested during nonviolent protests aimed at rallying support for federal voting legislation which push back against new restrictive state laws. “We pass the Voting Rights Act because my people in Texas are suffering, my people in Mississippi are suffering, my people in Georgia are suffering,” Jackson Lee said shortly before Capitol Police officers prepared to arrest her and six others who blocked the entrance to the Hart Senate Office Building. Vanessa Williams reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
D.C. jail officials from the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) have turned away Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Majorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) when they tried to visit individuals accused in the Jan. 6 attack. A video shows officers, who said the group was trespassing and “obstructing entrance into this facility,” denying the group entry. A spokesperson for the DOC told The Hill that the trio showed up “unannounced with an unauthorized camera crew requesting a facility tour.” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will huddle behind closed doors today to discuss their next steps, following the hearing this week featuring emotional testimony from four police officers who defended the Capitol complex on Jan. 6. One of the issues expected to be discussed is whether the select committee should hold a public hearing during the August congressional recess to build momentum for the panel’s investigation. Scott Wong reports for The Hill.
Harry Dunn, a U.S. Capitol Police officer who was the target of racist slurs during the Jan. 6 attack, has rebuked questions about his credibility from conservative critics stating that “I can’t put a Band-Aid on my emotions.” Dunn was one of four officers who testified on Tuesday before the select committee investigating the attack. Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.
Fighting has escalated in Ethiopia with intense fighting being reported in Ethiopia’s Amhara state, the latest sign that the war that erupted in the Tigray region is spreading. “Federal forces as well as Amhara regional troops were involved in fighting Tigray rebels on three fronts, an Amhara official told the BBC. This is despite the government saying a unilateral ceasefire declared last month had not been suspended. All sides have accused each other of escalating the conflict,” BBC News reports.
The U.S. aid chief, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, is going to Ethiopia next week in a fresh diplomatic push by President Biden’s administration for negotiations between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces to resolve the conflict in the Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be experiencing famine. “Power is due to meet Ethiopia’s national security adviser and hopes to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a senior USAID official said. Washington hopes she will secure unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray,” Daphne Psaledakis reports for Reuters.
Power is hoping to press the Ethiopian government to lift what the U.S. calls a blockade on humanitarian aid to the conflict-hit Tigray region. The Ethiopian government’s assertion that Tigray forces are to blame for the aid blockade is “100% not the case,” a senior USAID official told the Associated Press, adding that “our primary obstacle is the government.” Cara Anna reports for AP.
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad government has attacked a former opposition stronghold with missiles and artillery shelling in an attempt to crush a simmering insurrection in the area. “Deraa al-Balad and its surrounds, a district of Deraa city in the southern province of the same name, was targeted with heavy weaponry in tandem with a ground push on three axes from two Syrian army divisions and allied Iran-backed militias early on Thursday morning, in a large offensive which continued throughout the day,” Bethan McKernan and Hussein Akoush report for the Guardian.
Following the shelling from Assad’s forces, Syrian rebels attacked Syrian army checkpoints in the southern province of Deraa in the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago, rebels, residents and the army have said. Suleiman Al-khalidi reports for Reuters.
Reports have said that at least three civilians were killed, as well as eight government troops and five rebel fighters, in the recent clashes between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters in the country’s southern province of Daraa. “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground, said the escalation began with raids by Syrian government troops on opposition-held areas earlier this week. Opposition fighters fought back and routed government forces from some military posts,” Sarah El Deeb reports for AP.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he has urged Tunisian President Kais Saied to take action that would return Tunisia “to the democratic path” after his seizure of governing powers on Sunday. Blinken spoke to Saied on Monday and in an interview given to Al Jazeera on Thursday, according to a transcript provided by the State Department, he said he was concerned that the steps taken by Saied “run counter to the constitution.” Tarek Amara reports for Reuters.
In the interview with Al Jazeera, Blinken said that Saied gave a “lengthy explanation” of why he took the unprecedented step and the Tunisian president promised to Blinken that he was committed to democracy. “The intentions he expressed to me were to return Tunisia to that democratic path and to act in a way that was consistent with the constitution,” Blinken told Al Jazeera during a visit to Kuwait. Al Jazeera reports.
Saied has appointed a former national security adviser to the presidency to run the interior ministry and has pledged to protect rights and freedoms in Tunisia. “The presidency announced Ridha Garsalaoui’s nomination on Thursday just as Saied, who has spoken of ‘imminent dangers’ to the North African country, came under increasing international and domestic pressure to form a new government,” Al Jazeera reports.
President Biden will meet with Cuban American leaders today to discuss the recent protests in Cuba, the possibility of new sanctions on the Cuban government and options for providing internet access to Cuba’s population. Officials have said that among the people Biden will meet is Yotuel Romero, one of the authors of the song “Patria y vida!” which has become a kind of anthem for the protests. The officials said that new sanctions on the Cuban government will be discussed as well as ways to establish internet access for the Cuban people. E. Eduardo Castillo reports for AP.
The Biden administration’s moves on Cuba have been slow to win support among key U.S. allies, with the statement in support of the Cuban people released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week along with 20 other countries not including U.S. allies, such as Canada, the E.U., or major European allies. Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
NSO GROUP – PEGASUS
The White House has raised concern about the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group in meetings with senior Israeli officials, following the Pegasus Project revelations, according to officials familiar with the matter. “An Israeli official told The Post on Thursday that Brett McGurk, President Biden’s Middle East adviser, discussed the Pegasus reporting during a recent meeting at the White House with Zohar Palti, a senior official with Israel’s Ministry of Defense. A senior Biden administration official declined to offer further detail about the discussions but confirmed that U.S. officials had voiced their concerns over the matter,” Drew Harwell and Shane Harris report for the Washington Post.
The phone of France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire is currently being investigated to determine whether it has been infected by the Pegasus spyware sold by NSO Group. “We are in an investigation phase, and that includes my own device,” Bruno Le Maire told France Inter radio on Friday, without elaborating further on the investigation. Reuters reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Libya’s warring sides have announced that they have reopened the main coast road across the frontline, a key element of a ceasefire they agreed last year that has involved months of negotiations. “It was not open to military traffic, the committee said, and the agreement also included some preparatory steps for the withdrawal of foreign fighters, another part of last year’s ceasefire that has still to be implemented,” Reuters reports.
Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the second son of Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, has met with a foreign journalist for the first time in a decade, describing his years in captivity and hinting at a bid for Libya’s presidency. Robert F. Worth reports for the New York Times.
Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets in protest on Thursday to demand the resignation of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei after the firing of a well-known anti-corruption prosecutor by Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras last week. Juan Francisco Sandoval, who was the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, fled Guatemala last weekend, and “said he was fired after the attorney general prevented him from trying to investigate corruption cases with links to Giammattei. The president has denied being involved in corruption,” Sofia Menchu reports for Reuters.
The U.N. Security Council yesterday again demanded that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots immediately reverse all actions to reopen the abandoned resort of Varosha and backed further talks “in the near future” on reunifying Cyprus. “In a resolution adopted unanimously extending the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cyprus for six months, the council stressed ‘the need to avoid any unilateral action that could trigger tensions on the island and undermine the prospects for a peaceful settlement,’” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
A petroleum products tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime came under attack yesterday in the Arabian Sea, off the Omani coast. The company has described the incident as suspected piracy. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 34.75 million and has now killed over 612,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 196.60 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 4.20 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.