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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 overtook three further Afghan provincial capitals yesterday, effectively cutting off the main highway connecting the country’s capital with northern Afghan provinces. “The three cities — Pul-e-Khumri, roughly 150 miles north of Kabul in Baghlan Province; Farah, the capital of the western province of the same name; and Faizabad, in remote and rugged Badakhshan Province — were the seventh, eighth and ninth to be overrun by the Taliban in less than a week. There, as in other fallen cities, witnesses and defenders described twinned crises of low morale and exhaustion in the face of unrelenting pressure by the insurgents,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Najim Rahim and Taimoor Shah report for the New York Times.
President Biden has urged the Afghan government to “fight for their nation,” as the Taliban offensive continues to make rapid gains. “Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden told reporters yesterday, saying Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and must want to fight. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he added. Akhtar Mohammad Makoii and Peter Beaumont report for the Guardian.
The Biden administration is preparing for Kabul to fall within 90 days based on U.S. military assessments, far sooner than feared only weeks ago, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The revision of an already stark intelligence assessment predicting Kabul could be overrun within six to 12 months of the U.S. military departing, follows the rapid disintegration of security in Afghanistan. Dan Lamothe, John Hudson, Shane Harris and Anne Gearan report for the Washington Post.
The fall of the further three provincial capitals, as well as a local army headquarters in Afghanistan’s northeast, is increasing pressure on Afghanistan’s central government to stem the tide of the advance, with the government seeking help with local warlords. “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rushed to Balkh province, already surrounded by Taliban-held territory, to seek help pushing back the insurgents from warlords linked to allegations of atrocities and corruption,” Tameem Akhgar and Jon Gambrell report for AP.
The Taliban are now turning their attention to larger cities in Afghanistan such as Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, the main bastion of resistance in the north, with diplomats and analysts saying that the Taliban plan may be to encircle Kabul and pen Afghan forces in the capital in a bed to press Ghani’s government to surrender. Benjamin Parkin reports for the Financial Times.
The capture of the Afghan city of Pul-e-Khumri, 140 miles north of Kabul, has given the insurgents control of a strategic road junction linking Kabul to the north and west, according to insurgents and local officials. “The city’s fall to the Taliban would be a massive blow to the Afghan government, threatening the remaining cities in the north of Afghanistan not already under insurgent control including Mazar-i-Sharif and Faizabad,” Akhtar Mohammad Makoii and Peter Beaumont report for the Guardian.
Live reporting on the situation in Afghanistan is provided by Al Jazeera.
An infographic showing the nine provincial capitals now captured by the Taliban (the cities of Sar-e-Pol, Sheberghan, Aybak, Kunduz, Taluqan, Pul-e-Khumri, Farah, Zaranj and most recently Faizabad), is provided by Al Jazeera.
U.S. Central Command has released a further update on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, estimating that they have now “completed more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process.” The update also states that “the U.S. has officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.”
Biden has said that he does not regret the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters, Biden reiterated that the U.S. was keeping the commitments it had made to Afghanistan, such as providing close air support, paying military salaries and supplying Afghan forces with food and equipment. BBC News reporting.
The U.S. peace envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has travelled to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, to warn the Taliban that any government that comes to power through force in Afghanistan will not be recognized internationally. Khalilzad was to tell the Taliban “that there was no point in pursuing victory on the battlefield because a military takeover of the capital of Kabul would guarantee they would be global pariahs. He and others hope to persuade Taliban leaders to return to peace talks with the Afghan government as American and NATO forces finish their pullout from the country,” Kathy Gannon and Tameem Akhgar report for AP.
The Taliban have rebuked any pressure from Khalilzad to stop their military offensive and negotiate a political settlement. Asked about a lack of international recognition of any military takeover of Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesperson told Axios “we have never yielded to any foreign pressure tactics before and we do not plan to capitulate any time soon either.” Jonathan Swan, Zachary Basu, Glen Johnson report for Axios.
Taliban militants have taken control of Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russia’s Kommersant daily has reported, citing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. “Shoigu said the Taliban has promised not to cross the border, but that Moscow would continue holding joint drills with its allies in the region,” Reuters report.
A senior E.U. official has warned that the Taliban now controls 65% of Afghanistan and is threatening to take 11 provincial capitals. The official warned that the Taliban is seeking to cut off Kabul from forces to the north that could support it. Reuters reporting.
Discussions are ongoing among State Department officials about a further drawdown of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, according to sources familiar with the matter. “Right now, the State Department is working to identify essential personnel in the embassy and it is likely that some kind of partial drawdown of personnel occurs in the coming days or weeks, the sources said,” Kylie Atwood reports for CNN.
The U.S. is evaluating the threat environment around its embassy in Kabul on a daily basis, State Department spokesperson Ned Price has said. Price’s comments were made following questions about a potential further drawdown from the embassy amid a Taliban takeover of regional capitals in Afghanistan. “Obviously it is a challenging security environment. … We are evaluating the threat environment on a daily basis,” Price told reporters in a briefing. “But for right now, we’ve been able to continue those core activities that are important for us to conduct on the ground,” Price added. Reuters reporting.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned abuses in Afghanistan as Taliban advance continues. In a statement Michelle Bachelet condemned the reports of Taliban violence against communities now under their control and said that there was “fear and dread” across Afghanistan, which had driven people to flee their homes. Bachelet also said that the reported violations “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” UN News Centre reports.
Afghanistan has called for further sanctions against the Taliban as the group captures further territory in Afghanistan. “The offensive violates the commitments that the Taliban gave to the U.S. under the February 2020 Doha agreements that precipitated the U.S. military withdrawal, and warrants a stern international response, Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar said in an interview. He urged the U.S. and other countries to respond by reinstating United Nations sanctions that had banned Taliban leaders from travel, and by using military force against the group,” Yaroslav Trofimov and Saeed Shah report for the Wall Street Journal.
Afghanistan’s acting finance minister Khalid Payenda has resigned and left the country, after the Taliban captured key customs posts bleeding the administration of revenue and took more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals since Friday. “Payenda has ‘resigned and left the country because Afghanistan is grappling with declining revenues after the takeover of the custom posts,’ Finance Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Rafi Tabe said in a phone interview Wednesday. ‘the deteriorating security situation’ and traveling to be with his ailing wife abroad, were the other reasons Tabe gave,” Eltaf Najafizada reports for Bloomberg.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns has held talks in Israel today with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. An Israeli statement said that during the meeting Burns and Bennett “discussed the situation in the Middle East, with emphasis on Iran, and possibilities for expanding and deepening regional cooperation.” Jeffrey Heller reports for Reuters.
North Korea today has said that South Korea and the U.S. missed a chance to improve relations and are risking a “serious security crisis” by choosing to escalate tensions as they conduct joint military drills. “Kim Yong Chol, a general and politician who played a leading role during historic summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former U.S. President Trump, criticized South Korea and the U.S. for responding to Pyongyang’s goodwill with ‘hostile acts,’” Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith report for Reuters.
Top officials from the Department of Defense and State Department have voiced support for continuing the U.S. and Egyptian security relationship, as Congress debates restricting funds over concerns about human rights abuses and the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society. “The bottom line for President Biden is that he values the relationship with Egypt, he believes they are an important security partner,” said Dana Stroul, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, during a hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Biden is to host world leaders from “a diverse group” democratic nations in December in a summit on democracy, the White House has said. The summit will be part of a sustained effort from the Biden administration to shore up the foundations for democratic governments. It “will galvanize commitments and initiatives across three principal themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rig,” a White House statement said. Reuters reporting.
The Biden administration has decided that the danger of cyberattacks from Russia, China and other nations is so serious that it is mobilizing all parts of the government to combat it, in what has become an undeclared war in cyberspace. David Ignatius provides analysis for the Washington Post.
The U.S.-led annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) military exercises have started in Singapore and online. The annual drills involve the navies of 21 countries and began yesterday. The U.S. Navy 7th fleet in a statement said that the exercises are designed to encourage countries to use their maritime forces to enhance understanding of the “operational environment, build capacity for humanitarian support missions, and uphold international laws and norms.” Al Jazeera reports.
The Sudanese government will hand former President Omar al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court along with other officials wanted over the Darfur conflict, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi has been quoted as saying in state media. “Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades before being deposed amid popular protests in 2019, faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur,” Agence France-Presse reports.
“South Sudan President Salva Kiir has called for a halt to fighting between forces loyal to Vice President Riek Machar and a splinter group that threatens the country’s fragile peace process,” Reuters reports.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has proposed a series of benchmarks for Sudan’s transitional government to meet that could lead the U.N. Security Council to lift the arms embargo and other sanctions it imposed after the conflict in Darfur began in 2003. “In a 16-page report to the Council, Guterres cited improvements in Darfur largely brought on by the democratic revolution of December 2018 that led the military to overthrow autocratic President Omar al-Bashir four months later after nearly three decades of rule. But he also cited the slow implementation of October’s peace agreement and insecurity in parts of Darfur,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The first of three reports from the Government watchdog on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has found that DHS failed to consider designating lawmakers’ certification of the 2020 election as a special security event. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in its report that such a designation, that DHS has said would be an unusual approach to standard congressional business, would “likely have assured additional security to help respond to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.” “This non-permitted incident was not designated, even though there were other indications, such as social media posts, that additional security may have been needed at the Capitol Complex on January 6,” the report states. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Analysis of the GAO’s recent report and its finding that the DHS erroneously considered activities at the Capitol as “routine congressional business,” is provided by Justin Hendrix and Ryan Goodman in a piece for Just Security.
Next January will be the earliest possible start of any trial for members and associates of the Oath Keepers militia movement facing charges relating to the Jan. 6 attack. The timeframe will give prosecutors and defense lawyers time to examine evidence and prepare, attorneys told a court hearing on Tuesday. Mark Hosenball reports for Reuters.
The Cowboys for Trump founder, Couy Griffin, has been offered a plea deal from federal prosecutors for charges related to the Jan. 6 attack, according to discussions at a court hearing on Monday in Washington. The plea deal would resolve misdemeanor criminal charges against Griffen, which Griffen, a county commissioner from New Mexico, still denies. AP reports.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that state Democratic party members, who abandoned the state Capitol and fled the state to Washington, D.C., in an attempt to block proposed voting restriction, can be arrested and brought to state Capitol’s House Chambers. The state Supreme Court’s decision undid an earlier lower court ruling that said lawmakers couldn’t be arrested. Jaclyn Diaz reports for NPR.
Dade Phelan (R-TX), speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, has signed off on dozens of civil arrest warrants for Democrats, after a majority of the remaining representatives in the chamber voted to authorize the step. Phelan said that Democrats who left Texas to stop new voting restrictions, some of whom are now holding out from their homes, could be compelled to return under “warrant of arrest if necessary,” although the stalemate remains a civil and not criminal matter. “People aren’t going to jail, but they got to come back to work,” Republican state Rep. Mayes Middleton said. AP reports.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said yesterday that he will resign, a week after the release of a report by the state attorney general that found he had sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo’s announcement follows significant pressure and means he will avoid a potential impeachment by New York’s Democratic-led legislature. “Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in remarks from New York City. Gregory Krieg reports for CNN.
New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will become the next governor of New York after Cuomo announced his resignation in two weeks. Hochul will be the state’s first female governor. “I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers,” Hochul tweeted Tuesday afternoon shortly after Cuomo’s announcement. Chandelis Duster and Veronica Stracqualursi report for CNN.
President Biden has said that he respects Cuomo’s decision to resign. Biden called on Cuomo to step down last week following an official report that said Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women. Jasmine Wright reports for CNN.
The Senate Judiciary chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), wants to interview the former chief of staff of former President Trump, Mark Meadows, to determine the extent of the pressure the Justice Department faced to try to overturn President Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections. Durbin has indicated that he wants to investigate allegations that Meadows and other White House officials may have aided Trump’s pressure campaign. “Durbin told CNN the committee is also interested in understanding whether there were others in the White House pushing back against Trump’s efforts behind the scenes,” Manu Raju, Zachary Cohen and Katelyn Polantz report for CNN.
Federal prosecutors came to suspect that Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg lied during their investigation of former Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen three years ago, and considered charging Weisselberg with perjury, sources familiar with the matter have said. However, federal prosecutors did not pursue perjury charges against Weisselberg and “ultimately decided against either stripping Weisselberg of his immunity or prosecuting him.” Erica Orden and Kara Scannell report for CNN.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has called for a mass mobilization in the civil war against rebel Tigrayan forces. Ahmed urged “all capable Ethiopians” to join the army, special forces and regional militias to support the fight against rebel Tigrayan forces. The statement from Ahmed’s office appears to be the latest evidence that the six-week unilateral cease-fire called by Ahmed’s government in the restive northern province of Tigray is crumbling. The Tigrayans have recently begun to advance south into neighboring provinces, where the cease-fire doesn’t apply. “Now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the Defense Forces, Special Forces and militias to show your patriotism,” the statement said. Nicholas Bariyo reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A recent report from the human rights group Amnesty International has outlined the “severity and scale” of sexual crimes Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have committed in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which amount “to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.” The troops have raped hundreds of women and girls during the Tigray war, subjecting some to sexual slavery and mutilation, the 36-page report, which draws from interviews with 63 survivors, has said. “It’s clear that rape and sexual violence have been used as a weapon of war to inflict lasting physical and psychological damage on women and girls in Tigray,” said Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard. Al Jazeera reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A BBC investigation has revealed the scale of operations by a Russian mercenary group in Libya’s civil war, which includes links to war crimes and the Russian military. “A Samsung tablet left by a fighter for the Wagner group exposes its key role – as well as traceable fighter codenames. And the BBC has a ‘shopping list’ for state-of-the-art military equipment which expert witnesses say could only have come from Russian army supplies. Russia denies any links to Wagner,” Ilya Barabanov and Nader Ibrahim report for BBC News.
A British man has been arrested in Germany on suspicion of spying for Russia. German federal prosecutors have said that the man worked at the British embassy in Berlin. “He allegedly passed documents to Russian intelligence ‘at least once’ in exchange for an ‘unknown amount’ of money,” BBC News reports.
British police have confirmed that the British national who was arrested by German authorities is being held on suspicion of committing offences relating to being engaged in “intelligence agent activity.” Reuters reporting
Myanmar’s military leaders now appear to be moving to consolidate their rule, six months after seizing power in a military coup, the U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar has said in a briefing to journalists. Christine Schraner Burgener said that in her view “the Commander-in-Chief appears determined to solidify his grip on power with the latest caretaker government announcement; also, with the formal annulment of the election result from last year and declaration of the Commander-in-Chief to be Prime Minister of the country.” UN News Centre reports.
China has sentenced Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor for 11 years on charges of spying. The verdict delivered this morning, comes as Beijing steps up pressure ahead of a Canadian court ruling on whether to hand over Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to face U.S. criminal charges. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the ruling as “absolutely unacceptable and unjust.” Helen Davidson and Leyland Cecco report for the Guardian.
Israel’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, is visiting Morocco for the first time since the two countries improved their ties under a U.S.-brokered deal. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 36.0 million and has now killed over 618,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 204.0 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.31 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Health officials and activists are increasing the pressure on President Biden to deliver on promises of global vaccine equity. “More than 175 public health experts, scientists and activists on Tuesday demanded that Biden take urgent steps to confront the global spread of the coronavirus, warning that without immediate action to inoculate the rest of the world, newer variants are likely to emerge — including ones that may evade vaccines’ protection,” Dan Diamond and Yasmeen Abutaleb report for the Washington Post.
Facebook has banned a Russian disinformation network that pushed fake claims about the Covid-19 vaccines. Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts it said were part of the disinformation campaign, that also used social media influencers to peddle false claims about Covid-19 vaccines, including that some shots could turn people into chimpanzees. Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. is donating $50 million in humanitarian aid to Myanmar to help with the spread of Covid-19. “This funding comes at a critical point of rising humanitarian needs and will help mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 on the lives of the people of both Thailand and Burma,” Ned Price, the spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement, noting the military coup in Myanmar that occurred earlier this year. Lexi Lonas 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.