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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
AFGHANISTAN – THE TALIBAN TAKE KABUL
Taliban fighters reached the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, early on Sunday, after having seized in recent days numerous major provinces. Afghan security and military forces showed no resistance to the insurgents’ advances on the capital, report Yaroslav Trofimov for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban are regrouping to create a governance structure, a group leader said. A Taliban leader told Reuters that fighters are regrouping from different provinces and will wait until foreign forces had left before creating a new governance structure. The leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that fighters had been “ordered to allow Afghans to resume daily activities and do nothing to scare civilians.” “Normal life will continue in a much better way, that’s all I can say for now,” he told Reuters in a message. Al Jazeera reporting.
Taliban fighters freed thousands of inmates at the city’s main prison, Pul-e-Charkhi prison, videos on social media showed. Yaroslav Trofimov reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Ashraf Ghani later fled the capital to Tashkent, the capital of neighboring Uzbekistan. “The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation,” said Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council. “God should hold him accountable.” Ghani later posted a message on Facebook saying that he had left the country to try to avoid “bloodshed.” Al Jazeera reporting.
Taliban militants took control of the presidential palace later that evening, saying that they will soon declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. “Their takeover of the palace, known as the Arg, was made peacefully. The head of the Presidential Protection Service, which has guarded it for most of the last two decades, shook hands with a Taliban commander and announced the handover,” report Carlotta Gall and Daniel Victor for the New York Times.
A Taliban spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, said in a 32-minute interview with the BBC that the militants want a “peaceful transfer of power” in Afghanistan in the next few days.
The Taliban has said from Kabul that the war in Afghanistan “is over”. Al Jazeera reporting.
All commercial flights from Kabul airport have been suspended, says a NATO official, and only military aircraft are currently allowed to operate. The airport is now the only way out of Afghanistan, and the Taliban control all land crossings. The Guardian reporting.
The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) said Monday that Kabul airspace has been released to the military, advising transit aircraft to reroute. “ACAA said any transit through Kabul airspace would be uncontrolled and it had advised the surrounding flight information regions that control airspace,” Reuters reports.
At least five people have been killed in Kabul airport today as thousands of people swarm the passenger terminal and try to forcibly enter planes leaving the Afghan capital. “It is not clear whether the victims have been killed by gunshots or in a stampede. U.S. troops, who are in charge of the airport, earlier fired in the air to scatter the crowd, an official said,” Al Jazeera reporting.
Footage appears to show Afghan civilians clinging to the side of a U.S. military aircraft as it prepares to take off from Kabul’s international airport. Jennifer Hassan report for the Washington Post.
Chair of the U.K. Defense Select Committee likened today’s scenes at Kabul airport to “Saigon 2.0” and called for a U.K. inquiry.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATION OF EMBASSIES
As of late Sunday, all U.S. embassy personnel had been relocated to Kabul airport along with acting U.S. ambassador Ross Wilson, the State Department said in a statement. Susannah George, Claire Parker, John Hudson, Karen DeYoung, Dan Lamothe and Bryan Pietsch report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. military had flown at least 500 embassy personnel out of Afghanistan on military aircraft as of Sunday evening, defense officials said. They’re working to take 5,000 per day but won’t have that capability for a couple of days, reports Peter Alexander for NBC News.
Moscow’s ambassador in Afghanistan, Dmitry Zhirnov, will hold a meeting with a senior coordinator of the Taliban on Tuesday to discuss embassy security, Russian Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said on Monday. Business Standard
Russia will evacuate some of its embassy’s roughly 100 staff, Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Al Jazeera reporting.
The Chinese embassy appears to have no plans to evacuate embassy personnel, the outpost has signaled. “China’s government has said little on the weekend’s events in Afghanistan, but an analysis by Reuters correspondent Yew Lun Tian, published today, noted China’s propaganda apparatus had already begun laying the groundwork for the country’s citizens to accept that Beijing might have to recognize the Taliban,” reports Helen Davidson for the Guardian.
A breakdown of the countries evacuating their embassies is provided by Ruby Mellen for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – RISE OF THE TALIBAN
Afghanistan’s military collapse stems from “illicit deals and mass desertions.” The military’s collapse “began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials. The deals, initially offered early last year, were often described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons, according to an Afghan officer and a U.S. official. Over the next year and a half, the meetings advanced to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces, according to interviews with more than a dozen Afghan officers, police, special operations troops and other soldiers,” reports Susannah George for the Washington Post.
The Taliban’s takeover in recent weeks and days was possible through a “combination of cash, threats and promises of leniency to persuade government forces to lay down their arms,” reports Craig Whitlock for the Washington Post.
Maps showing how the Taliban gained control in Afghanistan are provided by Scott Reinhard and David Zucchino for the New York Times.
AFGHANISTAN – THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION’S RESPONSE
The U.S. is sending another 1,000 troops directly to Kabul, bringing U.S. military numbers expected in Afghanistan up to 6,000. President Biden initially announced earlier last week that 3,000 troops were being sent, then on Saturday said an additional 2,000 were being sent – 5,000 altogether. The decision to send a further 1,000 was made yesterday. Conor Finnegan, Guy Davies, Sohel Uddin and Luis Martinez report for ABC News.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday defended the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw, insisting that the plan was to always eventually leave, although he often sidestepped questions about the chaotic nature of the rushed withdrawal itself. Blinken did acknowledge that events in recent days had happened more quickly than anticipated. The Guardian reporting.
Biden defends his decision to pull out of Afghanistan. Reuters reporting.
AFGHANISTAN – U.S. INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENTS
U.S. officials told ABC news that military intelligence assessments had consistently warned policymakers that the Taliban could overwhelm Afghanistan and take the capital within weeks – but “no one listened.” “Among the intelligence that sources said was shared with the administration were claims that some members of Pakistan’s intelligence services, who helped create and organize the Taliban 25 years ago, were supporting the Taliban over the summer. ABC News has seen evidence of Pakistani government ID cards found among deceased fighters, but could not verify their authenticity,” reports James Gordon Meek for ABC News.
During initial deliberations between President Biden, Pentagon and State Department officials on whether the U.S. would fully withdraw from Afghanistan, “no senior U.S. leader predicted that a collapse of the Afghan state could come in August. Generals did warn, however, that they were concerned that a collapse could occur before the end of the year, two officials said,” reports Missy Ryan, Karen DeYoung, Dan Lamothe and Anne Gearan for the Washington Post.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told senators during a call yesterday that an assessment in June stating that there was a “medium” risk of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan within two years would need to be revised in light of recent events. The call took place between Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senators from both parties. “Milley said that he would have to assume that timeline would get moved up and that he would be happy to brief senators in a classified setting,” Jonathan Swan reports for Axios.
The U.S. overestimated the impact its $83 billion in training and equipment would have on helping Afghan forces secure the country, and underestimated “the brutal, wily strategy of the Taliban,” write David E. Sanger and Helene Cooper in an analysis for the New York Times. “The Pentagon had issued dire warnings to Mr. Biden even before he took office about the potential for the Taliban to overrun the Afghan army, but intelligence estimates, now shown to have badly missed the mark, assessed it might happen in 18 months, not weeks,” the authors add.
AFGHANISTAN – RECOGNIZING THE TALIBAN
Moscow will decide on recognizing the new Taliban government based “on the conduct of the new authorities,” Russian Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said. “We will carefully see how responsibly they govern the country in the near future. And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kabulov added. The Guardian reports.
China will respect the “wishes and choices” of the Afghan people and is ready to deepen “friendly and cooperative” relations with Afghanistan, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told AFP after the Taliban seized control of the country, but added that China will “continue to monitor the situation,” BBCreporting.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that nations should not recognize the Taliban without international agreement, warning against bilateral recognition. Reuters reporting.
AFGHANISTAN – INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
Over 60 countries issued a joint statement calling for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan to be allowed to depart and added that airports and border crossings must remain open, the U.S. State Department said late on Sunday. The U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar and others said in a joint statement that “those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.” Russia and China did not sign the statement. Reuters reporting.
As world leaders come together for the emergency Security Council meeting, the same world leaders risk de facto acceding to the Taliban, a U.N. designated terrorist group, writes Fionnuala Ní Aoláin for Just Security, stressing that, “world leaders should have no illusions about what the abandonment of the Afghan people involves: a terrorist organization is in the process of taking over a democratic state.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson implied that the takeover had been all but inevitable, and pointed to NATO and the U.N. as the best way forward for diplomacy. The Speaker of the House of Commons has granted a request by Johnson to recall parliament, which is currently in recess, on Wednesday to discuss the “situation in Afghanistan,” said a Commons spokesperson. Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, described the U.K.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as the “biggest single disaster of foreign policy since Suez.” He also said it appeared the U.K.’s “foreign policy is now entirely decided by Washington.” Rowena Mason reports for the Guardian.
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace conceded today that some Afghan allies will be left behind as Britain tries to evacuate them from Kabul, along with its own citizens, with British forces aiming to repatriate over 1,000 people per day. Wallace said it was a “really deep part of regret for me” that it would not be possible to extract all Afghans eligible to come to the U.K., with many inevitably having to make asylum applications after the evacuation, possibly from third countries. Rowena Mason reports for the Guardian.
The Taliban are in control of the country, but British forces are not going back, Wallace told Sky News. “I mean, you don’t have to be a political scientist to spot that’s where we’re at,” Wallace said, referring to the Taliban’s clear siege of the country. Asked if Britain and NATO would return to Afghanistan, Wallace says: “That’s not on the cards … we’re not going to go back.” Al Jazeera reporting.
Johnson has promised that the U.K. government will try to help 35 Afghan students get visas to travel to the U.K., after they were blocked by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office from taking up their restigious Chevening Scholarships which supports foreign nationals to study in the United Kingdom. “Amid fears among the students that their scholarships could make them targets of the Taliban, the prime minister intervened to say efforts would be made to accelerate their visas, hours after the Foreign Office defended its decision to prevent them taking up places this September,” reports Rowena Mason and Ben Doherty for the Guardian.
European countries’ contentious deportations of Afghans grind to a halt amid Taliban takeover.Loveday Morris and Denise Hruby report for the Washington Post.
Canada promises to resettle over 20,000 Afghan citizens likely to be targets of the Taliban, including leading women, rights workers and LGBTQ+ people, reports Elian Peltier for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Department of Homeland Security is considering hiring private companies to analyze public social media for warning signs of extremist violence. The effort is still under discussion and approval or funding have not been given. “John Cohen, a top DHS official, is spearheading the project, which he describes as part of an upgrade to the department’s capabilities in social-media analysis. Marshaling the expertise of outside companies is central to that effort, he said,” Rachael Levy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A mysterious hacker group opposed to the Iranian government is most likely behind last month’s cyberattack on Iran’s railroad system, concludes a new investigation by an Israeli-American cybersecurity company, Check Point Software Technologies. “The company’s report, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said the attack was a cautionary tale: An opposition group without the budget, personnel or abilities of a government could still inflict a good deal of damage,” reports Ronen Bergman for the New York Times.
Haitian Judge Mathieu Chanlatte, assigned to oversee the investigation into the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, has withdrawn from the case citing personal reasons, a decision which might delay the much-anticipated inquiry. AP reporting.
The coronavirus has infected close to 36.68 million and has now killed over 621,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 207.27 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.364 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.