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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
The Taliban have captured the strategic city of Ghazni, 150km south of Kabul and the 10th provincial capital to fall within days, as they increase their gains in Afghanistan. The insurgent group had control of the entire city this morning and had broken into a prison and released about 400 inmates, a senior local official confirmed. “The assault reportedly began at around midnight, leading to heavy street-to-street clashes with security forces. By 8am the Taliban were in control of most of the city. ‘The local police commander and governor were desperate and had no other option and joined the Taliban,’ the official said,” the Guardian reports.
Fighting is continuing in Lashkar Gah, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities in the Taliban heartland of Helmand province, where government forces are surrounded after the militants’ weeklong blitz. The Lashkar Gah regional police headquarters have been taken by the armed group, with some police officers surrendering to the fighters and others retreating to the nearby governor’s office still held by government forces. Al Jazeera reports.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has replaced Afghanistan’s army chief General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, and is seeking to rally local pro-government forces. Ahmadzai had been in the post since June and his successor will have to deal with escalating violence across the country, as the Taliban continue their offensive. Ghani has also flown to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif – traditionally an anti-Taliban bastion – to try to rally pro-government forces, holding crisis talks “with ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and prominent ethnic Tajik leader Atta Mohammad Noor about defending the city,” BBC News reports.
The Afghan government has offered the Taliban a share in power over Afghanistan so long as the rising violence in the country comes to a hold, an Afghan government source has told Al Jazeera. The offer was made at Doha, the host of Afghan peace talks, according to the source. Ali M Latifi reports for Al Jazeera.
Live reporting on the situation in Afghanistan is provided by Al Jazeera.
The Taliban’s rapid victories have put enormous pressure on Afghan political leaders and the country’s security forces, stoking fears that the insurgents could encircle the country’s capital, Kabul in a complete military takeover of the country. Analysis of whether the Taliban could takeover Afghanistan and what is known so far is provided by Christina Goldbaum reporting for the New York Times.
As the Taliban seized three further Afghan provincial capitals and a local army headquarters yesterday, completing their blitz across the country’s northeast, questions have been raised of how long the Afghan government can maintain the control of the areas of the country it has left. It is possible that the Afghan government may eventually be forced to pull back to defend the capital and just a few other cities and “the success of the Taliban offensive also calls into question whether they would ever rejoin long-stalled peace talks in Qatar,” Tameem Akhgar and Jon Gambrell report for AP.
The speed of the Taliban’s advances has surprised the White House and dismayed U.S. allies, with the latest U.S. intelligence assessments saying Kabul could fall in as soon as a month. Officials have said there is now a concern that Afghan civilians, soldiers and others will flee Kabul ahead of a Taliban assault. “The rapid collapse of regular Afghan forces has dismayed allies, including those that have contributed troops to the U.S.-led coalition, and revived worries about the value of U.S. commitments overseas. India closed a consulate and sent a plane to retrieve its citizens this week. The U.S. military and State Department this week accelerated plans to evacuate the well-staffed American embassy if the situation in Kabul dictates it, U.S. officials said,” Vivian Salama, Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden’s administration is seeking to mobilize the international diplomatic effort to halt the Taliban. Officials are hoping that they will be able to convince the Taliban that if it continues its military takeover of Afghanistan the world will reject it, and that the threat of isolation will convince the militants to accept a negotiated political solution. “In the largest such gathering since U.S.-Taliban talks began nearly two years ago, representatives from Russia, China, Afghanistan’s regional neighbors, European powers, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations have converged on Doha, Qatar, for U.S.-led meetings with the militants…But the fear, even if the international community can speak with one voice, is that it is already too late,” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. State Department has acknowledged that “all indications” point to the Taliban seeking a “battlefield victory.” The acknowledgement from State department spokesperson Ned Price came as envoys from the United States, China, Russia and other countries met in Doha with Taliban and Afghan government negotiators in a bid to break a deadlock in peace talks and the State Department said that it is working to forge an international consensus behind the need for an Afghanistan peace accord. Reuters reporting.
Biden is holding firm to last spring’s decision to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and his stance on Afghanistan has shifted to one of denouncing responsibility for the country. The White House, the Pentagon and the State Department and others are all publicly stressing now that it is for the Afghan forces to defend their country, however some critics “fear a reprisal of what happened in Iraq after the U.S. withdrew troops in 2011: the rise of the Islamic State, which forced Washington to send troops back in to fend off the terrorist group,” Nahal Toosi, Paul Mcleary And Alexander Ward report for POLITICO.
Analysis of whether it might be possible to prevent a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the U.S.’s current approach is provided by the Economist.
The rapid advance of the Taliban could bring political peril for Biden. “The threat of a Taliban conquest and new risks to U.S. personnel and allies in the country could cause Americans who had been paying little attention to Afghanistan for the past several years to reconsider their views, particularly if Republicans amplify a message of American failure and capitulation,” Michael Crowley reports for the New York Times.
Hundreds of Afghan forces surrendered to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan yesterday, the Afghan military’s most significant single collapse since the withdrawal of U.S. forces. After holding out for days at a military base on the edge of Kunduz, an entire Afghan army corps surrendered to Taliban fighters, handing over valuable equipment — much of it American — according to two Afghan officers. “The move essentially ceded the last island of government control in the provincial capital to the Taliban,” Susannah George and Ezzatullah Mehrdad report for the Washington Post.
Some Afghans are blaming neighboring Pakistan for the Taliban’s recent successes, pointing to the Taliban’s use of Pakistani territory, including for training fighters and receiving treatment in Pakistani hospitals. Pressure is also mounting on Islamabad, which initially brought the Taliban to the negotiating table, to get the Taliban to stop the onslaught in Afghanistan and go back to peace talks. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
Talks on how Turkey could run Kabul’s international airport after the U.S. troops complete their withdrawal are continuing and Turkey believes it would be beneficial for Kabul airport to remain open and the issue will “take shape” in the coming days, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said today. Reuters reporting.
Russia will give Tajikistan $1.1 million to build a new outpost on the Tajik-Afghan border, a senior Russian diplomat has been quoted as saying today, amid growing instability in Afghanistan. “The planned outpost will be located in Tajikistan’s Khatlon province adjacent to Afghanistan’s Kunduz province whose capital city Taliban insurgents took over this week as part of a broader offensive,” Reuters reporting.
Germany and the Netherlands have halted deportations to Afghanistan, amid the deteriorating security situation in the country. Agence France-Presse reports.
Belarus has revoked its consent for the appoint of Julie Fisher as U.S. ambassador to Belarus and has demanded a reduction in staff at the U.S. embassy in Minsk, in a row over sanctions. The announcement comes two days after President Biden’s administration, in a coordinated move with the U.K. and Canada, announced fresh sanctions against several Belarusian individuals and entities aimed at increasing pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. In comments posted on the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s website, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatol Glaz described Minsk’s announcement as “our reaction to their unfriendly and even aggressive actions.” Chantal Da Silva and Abigail Williams report for NBC News.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson denounced the U.S.’s recent sanctions as “blatant and openly hostile,” in rescinding its permission for Fisher’s appointment and telling the U.S. to cut its embassy staff in Minsk to five diplomats until Sept. 1. “In view of Washington’s actions to halt cooperation in all spheres and strangle our country economically we see no reason in the presence of a significant number of diplomats at the U.S. diplomatic mission,” the spokesperson said in a statement. Yuras Karmanau reports for AP.
North Korea intends to strengthen cooperation with Russia to counter the U.S., and peace with South Korea will not be possible until American troops are withdrawn, Pyongyang’s ambassador to Russia has told the TASS news agency. Ambassador Sin Hong-chol, followed senior North Korean officials, in describing the annual joint military drills that the U.S. and South Korea have started as a “rehearsal for war” and saying that they prove that the United States is responsible for destabilizing the situation. Reuters reporting.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, met yesterday in Cairo with Khalifa Hifte, commander of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Force, amid international efforts to salvage a U.N.-brokered roadmap for Libyan parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December. Norland “continues to focus on the urgency of supporting the difficult compromises necessary to establish the constitutional basis and legal framework needed now in order for the elections to take place on Dec. 24,” the U.S. Embassy wrote on Twitter. Samy Magdy reports for AP.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday joined an international outcry condemning the Chinese government for the continued detention of two Canadian citizens and called for their immediate and unconditional release. Blinken’s statement follows the sentencing by a Chinese court of Canadian businessmen Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage, 2 and a half years after he was first charged. Canadian President Justin Trudeau has condemned the “lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.” Cameron Jenkins reports for The Hill.
The Senate has confirmed Biden’s pick for the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the first ambassador confirmed amid an unorthodox stranglehold on dozens of State Department nominees by Republican lawmakers. Former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) was confirmed in a voice vote by the Senate early yesterday morning. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
The White House is pressing the Senate to move more quickly to confirm Biden’s nominees for political ambassadors. “We are frustrated over the slow pace of confirmations, particularly for noncontroversial nominees,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “A number of these nominees who are sitting and waiting are highly qualified. A number of them have a lot of Republican support. So what is the holdup?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has also repeatedly held up a number of confirmations of Biden nominees in opposition to a controversial natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Felicia Sonmez reports for the Washington Post.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) has raised concerns over a U.S. policy, under a Covid-19 expulsion order known as Title 42, to expel some asylum-seekers and migrants by flying them to southern Mexico. The UNHCR said that the policy “increases the risk of chain refoulement” and also opens the door for other countries to push back, further endangering vulnerable people, in contravention of international law and the humanitarian principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention. “Calling on the Biden Administration to end the practice, UNHCR said the Government was putting families and individuals who may have urgent protection needs, at risk, by returning them to their country of origin, before needs have been assessed or addressed,” UN News Centre reports.
The migrants and asylum-seekers being flown to southern Mexico by the U.S. are then being deported to their homelands by Mexican authorities, raising serious concerns about the treatment of vulnerable migrants needing humanitarian protection. Along with the recent condemnation of the policy from the UNHCR, further details of the bilateral U.S.-Mexico effort have begun to emerge with “a Guatemalan official saying that Mexico is busing Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans to remote border crossings with Guatemala after they arrive on U.S. government flights. Mexican immigration agency buses are unloading migrants from those flights at international crossings in El Carmen and El Ceibo. The latter is a particularly remote outpost where there is a small shelter, but little else,” Sonia PÉrez D reports for AP.
Parents of 337 migrant children separated at border under former President Trump’s policies have still not been found, according to a federal court filing. “The filing from the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union is part of an ongoing effort to identify and reunite families three years after the so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policy was created. Since June, the parents of 31 of those children whose whereabouts had been previously unknown have been found,” Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.
A federal judge has ruled that former President Donald Trump’s accountants must turn Trump’s tax and financial records covering 2017 and 2018 to a House committee investigating whether Trump and his businesses profited from his service in the White House. The judge however ruled against the disclosure of other tax and financial records from the years before Trump took office. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, has told congressional investigators that his abrupt resignation in January this year was a result of warnings from Department of Justice (DOJ) officials that Trump wanting to fire him for not backing election fraud claims in Georgia. Pak did not discuss Trump’s role in his decision to resign at the time, however he has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump had been dismayed that Pak had investigated allegations of voter fraud in Fulton County, Ga., and had not found evidence to support them, according to a person familiar with the statements. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.
During Trump’s final weeks in office, top DOJ officials wrangled over how the FBI should handle a voter fraud allegation in Georgia promoted by Trump and his allies, according to previously unreleased emails obtained by POLITICO. “Trump’s appointees at DOJ ultimately prevailed, and their investigation — a probe into a viral video from Georgia that didn’t actually find any evidence of fraud — ended up playing a role in torpedoing the president’s narrative,” Betsy Woodruff Swan and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
A second staff member on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has been accused of retaliation against a whistle-blower. Mark S. Zaid, the lawyer for a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence chief, Brian Murphy, accused the committee’s newest senior aide, Joseph Maher, of being involved in an effort to retaliate against Murphy once he became a whistle-blower at the DHS. Zaid said that Maher was involved in Trump-era efforts to limit investigations into right-wing domestic extremism — allegations that Maher refuted with the select committee immediately defending Maher. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
Officers of the Texas House of Representatives delivered yesterday civil arrest warrants for more than 50 absent Democratic party members, as Republicans seek to end the standoff over a sweeping elections bill. However, there are few signs that the stalemate that began when Democratic lawmakers fled to Washington, D.C., in July in order to grind the statehouse to a halt was any closer to a resolution, with Democrats who have been served with the warrant continuing to refuse to return to the State Capitol. AP reports.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has quietly awarded a cloud contract worth up to $10 billion to Amazon Web Services, setting off another high stakes fight between Amazon and Microsoft over NSA contracts. The contract award comes after the JEDI contract, which was originally given to Microsoft, got caught up in lawsuits and was ultimately scrapped. The NSA has offered few details about the purpose of the newest contract, with a spokesperson simply stating that the contract is for “cloud computing services.” In July Microsoft “filed a formal bid protest with the Government Accountability Office, an independent federal agency that handles contract disputes, after Microsoft applied for the opportunity and was rejected. A decision is expected by Oct. 29,” Aaron Gregg reports for the Washington Post.
The NSA’s internal watchdog has said that it would investigate allegations that the NSA “improperly targeted the communications of a member of the U.S. news media,” following Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s claims that the NSA tried to shut down his show. The review will examine NSA’s “compliance with applicable legal authorities,” the agency’s own policies on collecting and sharing information it collects and whether any of the NSA’s actions were based on “improper considerations.” AP reports.
Poly Network, a decentralized cryptocurrency platform, has lost about $600m in digital tokens in a hacking attack believed to be one the largest ever thefts in the cryptocurrency market. Poly Network have called on users to blacklist tokens coming from digital wallets they believe the money was transferred to and called on the hackers to return the stolen funds. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
The hackers behind the cryptocurrency heist from Poly Network have returned $260m of the stolen assets. Poly Network, “a blockchain platform which lets users swap different types of digital tokens, posted on Twitter that it had been sent back three cryptocurrencies, including $3.3m worth of Ethereum, $256m worth of Binance Smart Chain (BSC) and $1m worth of Polygon. A total of $269m in Ethereum tokens and $84m in Polygon tokens has yet to be recovered,” Mary-Ann Russon reports for BBC News.
The global consulting firm Accenture has been hit by a cyberattack from the LockBit ransomware gang, according to the cybercriminal group’s website. Accenture’s encrypted files will be published by the group on the dark web unless the company pays the ransom, LockBit claimed. An Accenture spokesperson confirmed that a cybersecurity incident had occurred but did not explicitly acknowledge the ransomware attack. Brian Fung reports for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Zambians have started voting in tense presidential and legislative elections that President Edgar Lungu and his main rival Hakainde Hichilema have said are a test of the country’s reputation as a stable democracy. Polling began this morning at more than 12,000 polling stations, with Lungu urging people “to come and vote and go back home and stay and wait patiently and peacefully for the outcome.” Farai Mutsaka reports for AP.
Hichilema, Zambia’s main opposition leader, has warned the military deployed on the streets ahead of crucial elections today against “aiding a particular party” and has raised concern that Zambia could fall into chaos if the polls are “mismanaged.” Hichilema spoke of rising tensions including reports of violence between supporters of the major political parties. Lungu, Zambia’s president, has said that “he sent the army into the streets last week to curb growing violence, although the opposition claims the move is meant to intimidate its supporters,” Farai Mutsaka reports for AP.
A militant leader in Ethiopia has said that his group has struck a military alliance with the Tigrayan rebel forces and is pressing towards the country’s capital, as the conflict in the Tigray region spreads into other parts of Ethiopia. “The only solution now is overthrowing this government militarily, speaking the language they want to be spoken to,” Oromo Liberation Army leader Kumsa Diriba, also known as Jaal Marroo, has told the Associated Press in an interview. Cara Anna reports for AP.
The African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia has said that it has started investigating reports that civilians were killed during a gunfight between its troops and al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab fighters on Tuesday. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), said that the incident occurred following an ambush while its soldiers were on patrol and that there was a heavy exchange of gunfire before the AMISOM patrol team seized firearms, rounds of ammunition and mobile phones. Seven civilians were killed in the incident, a farmer in Golweyn village has told Reuters. Reuters reporting.
Russian authorities have announced a new criminal charge against Kremlin-critic Alexei Navalny, which would keep the opposition leader in prison for an additional three years – until well after Russia’s presidential election in 2024. Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny was charged with creating an organization that “infringes on the personal integrity and rights of citizens,” a crime punishable by as much as three years in prison. Anton Troianovski reports for the New York Times.
Nigeria plans to soon lift its ban on Twitter, Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed has told journalists, two months after Nigerian authorities blocked the social network when a tweet by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was deleted. Mohammed said that an “amicable resolution is very much in sight,” but did not specify how soon the ban could be lifted. Chinedu Asadu reports for AP.
The coronavirus has infected close to 36.2 million and has now killed close to 618,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 204.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.32 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.