Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.
A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
The Taliban have seized the city of Taloqan, the capital of the Takhar province in northeastern Afghanistan, marking the fifth provincial capital to fall under the Taliban’s control in just a matter of days. “The first provincial capital, Zaranj, near the Iranian border, fell to the Taliban on Friday. The next, Sherberghan, near the Turkmenistan border, fell on Saturday. The insurgents then seized Kunduz, a strategically important provincial capital in northern Afghanistan, on Sunday — making it the first major city to fall to the Taliban since it began its offensive in May. With a population of 375,000, Kunduz is a significant military prize. Also on Sunday, Taliban forces mostly overran the provincial capital city of Sar-e Pol in the country’s north,” Kareem Khadder and Jessie Yeung report for CNN.
The recent developments and gains in Afghanistan mark a sharp escalation in the pace of Taliban gains across Afghanistan, which for months had been focused on taking control of districts and increasing pressure on urban areas. “In Takhar, Afghan officials said government forces abandoned the provincial capital before Taliban fighters attacked, according to Rohullah Raufi, a provincial council member. In Sar-e Pol, a small number of Afghan security forces and government officials also fled, seeking refuge at a military base on the city’s outskirts. In Kunduz, too, Afghan government control shrank to a single military base near the airport, where most of the government officials left in the city were sheltering,” Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
The response from the U.S. military to the Taliban gains was muted, showing clearly that the U.S.’s 20-year war in Afghanistan is over and that it is for the Afghan forces to retake the cities overrun by the Taliban. What aircraft the U.S. military could muster from hundreds of miles away struck a cache of weapons far from Kunduz, Taloqan or Sar-e Pol, the cities that already had been taken by the Taliban. Defense officials have said that there are no plans to take action in response to the Taliban gains, beyond limited airstrikes, with one official acknowledging “that with only 650 American troops remaining on the ground in Afghanistan, a concerted air campaign was unlikely to undo the advances the Taliban had made,” Helene Cooper, Katie Rogers and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
As the Taliban gain ground in Afghanistan, the propaganda war has intensified with the Afghan central government acknowledging very little of the Taliban’s gains and being relatively silent on the losses suffered across the country. Instead, “the government has simply said that Afghanistan’s brave security forces were fighting in several capitals around the country, and that airstrikes have resulted in scores of dead Taliban fighters,” Adam Nossiter and Fahim Abed report for the New York Times.
The seizure of five provincial capitals has amplified fears about Afghanistan’s future after the U.S. withdrawal. The Taliban gains have shown how little control the Afghan government has over Afghanistan as the U.S. military completes its withdrawal and lay bare a difficult predicament for President Biden. The recent attacks by the Taliban have also violated the 2020 peace deal between the Taliban and the U.S., which laid the path for the U.S. withdrawal and under which the Taliban committed to not attacking provincial centers like Kunduz. Christina Goldbaum, Najim Rahim, Sharif Hassan and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
The Taliban have rejected international calls for a ceasefire in Afghanistan, as they push on to gain further territory. As well as the five regional capitals that have fallen to the Taliban since Friday, a Taliban spokesperson told the BBC they were now targeting Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, with heavy fighting has been reported in Pul-e-Khumri, as well as in Mazar-e-Sharif, a trading hub on the border with Uzbekistan. This morning a loud explosion was also heard outside the police headquarters in the southern city of Lashkar Gah in the Helmand province. BBC News reporting.
The capture of Kunduz, the capital of the Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, is a significant military and political prize for the Taliban. With a population of 374,000, it is a vital commercial city near the border with Tajikistan, and a hub for trade and road traffic. Christina Goldbaum, Najim Rahim, Sharif Hassan and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
Afghan commandoes have now launched a counter-attack today to try and beat back Taliban fighters who overran the northern city of Kunduz yesterday, Reuters reports.
The Taliban overran the provincial capital of Sar-e P0l after a week of fighting and Afghan government forces have now completely withdrawn from the province, according to the council chief of the northern Sar-e Pol province, Mohammad Noor Rahmani. “Several pro-government local militia commanders also surrendered to the Taliban without a fight, allowing the insurgents to gain control of the entire province, Rahmani added,” Rahim Faiez reports for AP.
The fall of Sar-e Pol, the capital of the prince with the same name, threatens a commercial hub in Afghanistan’s north. Although from a military standpoint the province the province of Sar-e Pol is of lesser strategic importance because of its remoteness, it offers access to untapped natural resources, including oil fields that were recently drilled near the provincial capital. Najim Rahim and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
Sheberghan, which fell to the Taliban on Sunday, is a stronghold of the former Afghan vice-president and warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose supporters have been leading the fight against the insurgents. The city, in the northern Afghan province of Jawzjan, has now fallen to the Taliban, though an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesperson also told the BBC yesterday that Afghan government forces were still in the city and would clear out the Taliban “soon.” BBC News reporting.
At least 27 children have been killed and 136 injured across three provinces in Afghanistan over the past three days, the U.N.’s children’s agency, UNICEF, has said today. Reuters reporting.
Afghanistan could once again become a base for international terrorism, a former senior U.K. military commander Gen Sir Richard Barrons has warned. Barrons described the withdrawal of western troops as a “strategic mistake” and warned that terrorist attacks in Europe could be the outcome of groups re-establishing themselves in the country. Ben Quinn reports for the Guardian.
The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, warned on Friday that Afghanistan risks “descending into a situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels this century” as U.S. forces complete their withdrawal. “This is now a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria recently or Sarajevo in the not-so-distant past,” Lyons told the U.N. Security Council. Lyons said that the conflict has “entered a new, deadlier, and more destructive phase” as the Taliban transition from a campaign to seize rural communities to an all-out assault on major cities, adding that the Taliban’s military tactics may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report for Foreign Policy.
Suspected Taliban fighters killed an Afghan radio station manager in Kabul and kidnapped a journalist in southern Helmand province, local government officials have said. The reported attacks are the latest in a long line of attacks targeting media workers in Afghanistan. Reuters reporting.
An Afghan Air Force pilot was killed by a bomb in Kabul yesterday, officials have said, with responsibility for the deadly attack having been claimed by the Taliban. “The pilot, Hamidullah Azimi, died when a sticky bomb attached to his vehicle detonated, officials said, adding that five civilians were wounded in the explosion,” Reuters reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers of Group of Seven (G7) nations and the E.U. on Friday issued a joint statement condemning Iran for carrying out a “deliberate and targeted attack” in the Arabian sea on an Israeli-owned shipping vessel last week that killed two of its international crew. The statement also said the attack was a “clear violation of international law” and that “all available evidence clearly points to Iran.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Iran on Saturday denounced accusations by the G7 nations that Tehran was behind last week’s deadly attack on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea, the official IRNA news agency reported. The report quoted Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying that Iran “strongly condemns” the G7 countries’ statement. Khatibzadeh said that the statement made baseless accusations against Iran, calling the accusation a “scenario” created by Israel and said Israel has had a long history designing similar “plots.” AP reports.
The U.S. military on Friday said that drone fragments recovered from the Israeli-linked merchant vessel attacked in the Arabian Sea last week prove Iran was behind the incident. The U.S. Central Command released photographs of the drone parts and in a statement said that “the debris, the proximity of the strikes to Iran, and the sophistication of the attack point to Iran’s culpability,” Nancy A. Youssef and Courtney McBride report for the Wall Street Journal.
Israeli military said on Friday that it struck targets in southern Lebanon after rockets were fired across the border by the Iran-allied militant and political group Hezbollah, marking an escalation of tensions between the two neighbors. Israel’s military “said its artillery targeted the sites from which the rockets were launched. Hezbollah fired 19 rockets at Israel, three of which fell within Lebanon and 10 were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome interception system, according to the military. The rest fell in open areas in the north of the country, it added,” Dov Lieber and Nazih Osseiran report for the Wall Street Journal.
The leader of the militant Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Saturday that his group will retaliate against any future Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon. The comments came a day after his supporters fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel, calling it retaliation for Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon a day earlier. Bassem Mroue reports for AP.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that he holds the Lebanese government responsible for the rockets launched from Lebanon, whether or not the Hezbollah militant group launched the weapons. “The country of Lebanon and the army of Lebanon have to take responsibility (for) what happens in its backyard,” Bennett told his Cabinet. Laurie Kellman reports for AP.
Israeli warplanes struck two targets in the Gaza Strip early Saturday in response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza into Israel, the Israeli military have said. The military struck what it said was a Hamas military compound and a rocket launching site, setting fire to land and damaging agriculture. There were no reports of casualties in Israel or Gaza. AP reporting.
The Department of Homeland Security has warned of an “increasing but modest level of activity online” by people who are calling for violence in response to claims of 2020 election fraud and are associated to calls for former President Trump to be reinstated. According to a DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis bulletin there has been increasing public visibility of the conspiracy theories. “As public visibility of the narratives increases, we are concerned about more calls to violence. Reporting indicates that the timing for these activities may occur during August 2021, although we lack information on specific plots or planned actions,” the bulletin sent to state and local partners said. Luke Barr reports for ABC News.
Jeffrey A. Rosen, who was acting attorney general during Trump’s administration, has told the Justice Department watchdog and congressional investigators that one of his deputies, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division Jeffrey Clark, tried to help Trump subvert the results of the 2020 election, according to a person familiar with the interviews. The investigations follow revelations that Clark sought to push top leaders to falsely and publicly assert that continuing election fraud investigations cast doubt on the Electoral College results. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.
Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general from Dec. 2020 to Jan. 2021, also provided a closed-door interview to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, and a “stark portrayal of Clark is emerging from former Trump-appointed officials who were alarmed by his backchannel efforts to the White House and to Trump allies, and who now are now providing testimony to congressional committees,” Katelyn Polantz, Zachary Cohen and Evan Perez report for CNN.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin said Sunday that Rosen revealed in testimony this weekend “frightening” information about what had occurred at the Justice Department during the waning days of the Trump administration. “He told us a lot, seven hours of testimony,” Durbin said, adding that “to think that (former Attorney General) Bill Barr left, resigned after he announced he didn’t see irregularities in the election, and then his replacement was under extraordinary pressure — the President of the United States, even to the point where they were talking about replacing him, that pressure was on.” Devan Cole reports for CNN.
Families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, along with survivors and first responders, have released a statement telling Biden not to attend any further memorial events unless his administration declassifies documents regarding Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks. The statement points to remarks Biden made as a then-presidential candidate in October, saying his administration would aim to be more transparent regarding the 9/11 attacks. The group are specifically interested in documentation regarding whether any of the individuals associated with al Qaeda who carried out the attacks received help or financing from Saudi Arabia. “Twenty years later, there is simply no reason — unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise — to keep this information secret,” the statement says. Courtney Kube reports for NBC News.
The Senate has confirmed Biden’s pick for Navy secretary, Carlos Del Toro, making him the second Hispanic secretary in the Navy’s history. “A Cuban-born Naval Academy graduate, Del Toro has commanded the USS Bulkeley destroyer and deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is weighing whether to pursue call logs and other relevant documents from former President Trump’s White House on the day of the attack. A source familiar with ongoing engagement between the committee and President Biden’s administration has suggested that the panel is still deciding if it wants to subpoena the records from the former administration, which could present “a potentially thorny dilemma for President Biden who would ultimately have to determine whether the records should be covered by executive privilege or qualify as essential evidence for the ongoing probe,” Zachary Cohen reports for CNN.
The Jan. 6 select committee has hired former Virginia congressman Denver Riggleman as a senior staff member, adding another Republican to its ranks. In a video posted to Twitter, Riggleman said that “we can’t worry about the color of the jerseys anymore or whether we have an R or a D next to our name. It’s time for us to look in a fact-based way at what happened on January 6 and to see if we can prevent this from ever happening again in the future.” Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has admitted that the U.S. government has few answers surrounding the so-called Havana syndrome, the unexplained health incidents that have impacted diplomats at home and abroad. Blinken sent an email to State Department staff on Thursday, seeking to reassure staff concerned that diplomats and their families heading abroad might be at risk of the mysterious incidents that have reportedly impacted nearly 200 staff across multiple federal agencies. Blinken said that the U.S. is doing all it can to investigate unexplained health incidents, but conceded that the government still doesn’t know what’s happening or how to stop it. Josh Lederman reports for NBC News.
President Biden’s top aides were told on Friday that experts studying Havana syndrome cases were still struggling to find evidence to back up the leading theory that microwave attacks are being launched by Russian agents. “The report came in an unusual, classified meeting called by the director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines, according to several senior administration officials,” David E. Sanger reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. has placed visa restrictions on 50 immediate family members of Nicaraguan officials who have been involved in or benefited from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s growing repression of opposition, the State Department has said. The officials impacted by the visa restrictions include lawmakers, prosecutors and judges. “Ortega and (Vice President and first lady Rosario) Murillo once again demonstrated that they are afraid of running against anyone who they feel might win the support of the Nicaraguan people,” the State Department said in a statement. AP reports.
A Moscow court on Friday sentenced one of the most prominent U.S. investors based in Russia to a five-year, six-month suspended term after an embezzlement conviction. The conviction means that Michael Calvey, the 53-year-old founder of Russia-focused private-equity group Baring Vostok, will avoid additional jail time, despite embezzlement being punishable by up to 10 years in prison according to Russia’s criminal code. Calvey and other executives at Baring Vostok were arrested in February 2019 on accusations of defrauding Vostochny Bank out of about $32 million, charges he and the other defendants denied. Isabelle Khurshudyan and Mary Ilyushina report for the Washington Post.
Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia, has been released from solitary confinement and was able to speak with his parents, his brother David Whelan has told CNN. David Whelan said his brother had not been able to speak to his family, his lawyer Olga Karlova for a month, or the U.S. Embassy. On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said the “Russian government has not responded to our repeated requests for updates about” Paul Whelan. A State Department spokesperson told CNN that they “are aware of reports that authorities have released Paul from isolated detention,” and that they “remain focused on securing the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed,” who is another American detained in Russia. Jennifer Hansler and Olga Pavlova report for CNN.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. panel, has released its much-anticipated report on climate change today, issuing a stark warning that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, with some trends now irreversible. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.” UN News Centre reports.
The report highlights the human responsibility for the extreme weather events seen around the world in recent years. “It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the panel and the senior adviser for climate at the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’ve known for decades that the world is warming, but this report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years,” Barrett said. The report is drawn from a three-year analysis of 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies and is the first major international assessment of climate-change research since 2013. Robert Lee Hotz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Five key takeaways from the report, including that humans are unequivocally warming the planet, some changes are irreversible, and that the only way to stop the warming is to end greenhouse gas emissions, are provided by Brandon Miller reporting for CNN.
The report says that the global temperatures are expected to reach a significant warming milestone in the next 20 years, with the planet expected to reach average temperatures that are 1.5 degrees warmer than a pre-industrial baseline. Rahcel Frazin reports for The Hill.
To stop the effects of climate change, carbon dioxide emissions have to be stopped and methane emissions need to be cut, the IPCC report says. Countries must make “strong, rapid and sustained reductions” in methane emissions in addition to slashing carbon dioxide emissions the scientists warn. Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters.
Live reporting of the damning scientific report is provided by BBC News.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is stepping up a “vicious operation to eviscerate critical voices” and civil society, rights groups have warned. “Since July, there has been a state-sponsored obliteration of civil society and media organizations across Belarus, activists have said,” Sarah Johnson reports for the Guardian.
A year since the disputed Belarusian election, Lukashenko has consolidated his control of Belarus, withstanding pressure at home and abroad. Anne M. Simmons provides analysis for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.K. has placed further economic sanctions on Belarus, targeting Belarus’s potash and petroleum product exports to increase pressure on Lukashenko by trying to reduce state revenues and target those close to him. “These sanctions demonstrate that the U.K. will not accept Lukashenko’s actions since the fraudulent election,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “The Lukashenko regime continues to crush democracy and violate human rights in Belarus,” he added. Reuters reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The chief negotiator for Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement said on Sunday it would be futile to hold talks with the U.N.’s new special envoy for Yemen without movement on the group’s key conditions under stalled peace efforts. The Houthi group are insisting on an end to the sea and air restrictions on Yemen first before any ceasefire is agreed. Reuters reporting.
Two men have been arrested and charged in New York with conspiring to injure or kill Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N., who had denounced the military coup carried out in Myanmar in February this year and expressed support for a pro-democracy movement. The two Myanmar citizens were charged with conspiracy to assault and make a violent attack upon a foreign official, a charge that carries up to five years in prison. “Their alleged scheme involved tampering with the foreign diplomat’s car tires so the vehicle would crash and was allegedly an effort to force the ambassador to resign or be killed, according to an account from an alleged participant cited in court papers filed in federal court in White Plains,” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.
Ethiopia has suspended the work of two international aid organizations for three months, including in the conflict-hit Tigray region, accusing the organizations of “spreading misinformation.” “Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check, a government-run website focused on Tigray, accused Médecins Sans Frontières and the Norwegian Refugee Council of violating several rules. Both organizations confirmed the ban and said they were in talks with the government about resuming their work,” Kaamil Ahmed reports for the Guardian.
Sudan said yesterday that it has ordered its envoy to Ethiopia home for consultations after an Ethiopian government spokesperson rejected a Sudanese initiative to mediate a cease-fire in the Tigray war and accused it of occupying Ethiopian territory. The move is the latest sign of deteriorating ties between the African neighbors. Samy Magdy reports for AP.
Russia is expanding its military construction plans on the Kuril islands, planning to build 51 more pieces of military infrastructure, the state TASS news agency has quoted Russia’s defense ministry as saying today. Part of the islands are claimed by Japan in a territorial dispute dating back to the end of World War Two. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 35.75 million and has now killed over 616,800 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 202.70 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 4.30 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.