Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.
A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
AFGHANISTAN – INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENTS AND TERROR THREATS
Military intelligence officials overestimated the capability and will of the Afghan security forces to meet the Taliban head on, according to defense officials, and they “overstated” intelligence to lawmakers during a briefing that the combination of Afghan special commandos, air force and local militias could hold off the Taliban long enough for a political settlement, according to senior Democratic aide with knowledge of the briefings. “The Taliban not only was planning this offensive, but was working the tribal/ethnic divisions to be able to secure control quickly for a long time,” the aide said. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
U.S. and Western intelligence officials admit, on the condition of anonymity, that there was in fact intelligence indicating a Taliban takeover could happen as quickly as it did. A Western intelligence official said: “there absolutely was intelligence reporting that it could happen this fast. This was not a surprise.” A U.S. official said: “we knew the Taliban would take over … We knew most Afghans wouldn’t fight. It was faster than expected, but not that much.” Courtney Kube, Ken Dilanian, Chantal Da Silva and Yuliya Talmazan report for NBC News.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said yesterday that he will work with other congressional committees to probe the Taliban’s rapid takeover, including the U.S.’s underestimations. Warner said he hoped to “ask tough but necessary questions about why we weren’t better prepared for a worst-case scenario involving such a swift and total collapse of the Afghan government and security forces.” No congressional committees have announced formal investigations or hearings into the collapse in Afghanistan. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers that he intends to “reassess” the potential for terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS to reconstitution inside Afghanistan in light of recent events, spokesperson John Kirby told POLITICO yesterday, saying that it was currently too early for the Defense Department “to make a firm judgment either way” about what such a terrorist threat would look like in the coming weeks and months. Concern about a reemergence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan comes as a report by the U.N. in June said that al Qaeda is presently in at least 15 Afghan provinces, primarily in the east, southern and southeastern regions. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
Foreign intelligence officials say that there are signs the Taliban’s victory has energized global jihadists, including terrorist factions in Afghanistan, likely to be exacerbated by the recent Taliban release of al Qaeda operatives from prison. An intelligence official from an Arab nation said assessments had seen an increase in communication about Afghanistan’s recent situation, which the official said “is encouraging many jihadists to think about traveling to Afghanistan now instead of Syria or Iraq.” “The counterterrorism posture went from problematic with the U.S. withdrawal to extraordinarily bad with the Taliban in full control,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a veteran intelligence officer who served as a CIA base chief in Afghanistan, adding, “suddenly one wonders if we will go entirely dark. It’s like a bad dream.” Another concern, “one former senior Defense official said, is the likelihood that U.S. training in electronic espionage and other spycraft will be used by the Taliban, possibly to hunt down local adversaries or those who worked with foreign troops throughout the war,” report Missy Ryan and Souad Mekhennet for the Washington Post.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to host a virtual meeting of G-7 leaders in the coming days to discuss how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a new breeding ground for terrorist groups. Reuters reports.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING U.S. AND ALLY CITIZENS AND AFGHANS
Military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan resumed Tuesday morning after the Defense Department temporarily froze military and civilian flights in an attempt to clear the airport’s tarmac amid the chaos. “By [Tuesday] afternoon, at least 12 military flights had taken off, a diplomat at the airport said. Planes were due to arrive from countries including Australia and Poland to pick up their nationals and Afghan colleagues” Reuters reports.
An estimated 10,000 American citizens remain trapped in and around Kabul with no ability to safely get to the airport, and although congressional offices in Washington are scrambling to help, the Biden administration is dropping the ball. Some are residents, journalists or aid workers who in fact may not want to leave the country, and others include dual nationals and children of Americans who may not have the proper passport or visa documentation. “Several congressional staffers told me that American citizens in Kabul have been flooding their office’s phone lines, complaining that after being told on Sunday by the State Department to shelter in place and not to come to the embassy or the airport, they have not received any further information and are scared for their lives.” A State Department spokesperson has been pointing people to a website where U.S. citizens in Kabul can fill out a “Repatriation Assistance Request,” but many are still very confused about what to do. Josh Rogin writes in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
Afghans who helped the U.S. and its allies remain in limbo as evacuation plans are upended amid nations’ shock at the Taliban’s unprecedented gains. The Pentagon said Monday that it had prepared to bring 22,000 special immigrant visa (SIV) recipients to the U.S., despite an estimated 80,000 SIV applicants waiting. U.S. officials said yesterday that they had evacuated 1,600 U.S. personnel, Afghans and foreign nationals in the previous 48 hours, with Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby saying that the military hopes to have the capacity to evacuate as many as 5,000 people per day. Around 300 British citizens departed Afghanistan on Sunday, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC on Monday, adding that the embassy expects to help around another 1,500 people leave in the coming days. According German press, Chancellor Angela Merkel told her party leadership on Monday that up to 10,000 people may be evacuated, including 2,500 Afghans who had worked with Germany and an additional 2,000, including human rights activists and others at risk. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that diplomats had helped to evacuate over 807 Afghans, including 500 people who have already arrived in the country. The country had previously said it would resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, including women leaders and LGBT people and activists. Adam Taylor and John Hudson report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. military will provide two additional facilities in the United States to house Afghan SIV applicants, their families and other individuals at risk, following approval by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to a request made by the State Department, which will also see the Defense Department provide transport support also, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday. “Garry Reid, who’s heading Pentagon support to the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa efforts, later confirmed the two sites are Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Federal employees from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will volunteer for assignments to support the relocation of Afghans, according to a notification sent to part of the workforce Monday and viewed by CNN, reports Geneva Sandss for CNN.
Democratic congressional staffers on a call yesterday with the White House shortly after President Biden’s speech on Afghanistan said they were disappointed by the administration few new details on its plans for evacuating Afghans. “The only concrete plan for providing relief to evacuees was to establish a phone line with the State Department where members of Congress could inquire about the status of various interpreters and their families seeking to come to the U.S. Another source, who agreed the phone line was not a solution, said the approach was likely designed to be responsive to members of Congress overwhelmed by calls to their own offices,” Rebecca Beitsch report for The Hill.
A comprehensive explainer to what happens next with the U.S. helping Afghans escape the country is provided by Miriam Jordan for the New York Times, including who qualifies for SIVs, how many are waiting to come to the U.S., and how the Biden administration is going about resolving the growing issue.
The U.K. will launch a new resettlement scheme for the most vulnerable Afghans, especially women and girls, separate from its asylum system, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce. Reuters reports.
AFGHANISTAN – BIDEN AND HIS ADMINISTRATION
President Biden yesterday made clear that he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, although conceded that the Taliban takeover unfolded quicker than had been anticipated and that the U.S. exit has been “far from perfect.” Biden focused his blame for the shockingly quick takeover on the Afghan’s U.S.-trained military and its failure to fight back. “If anything, the developments in the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he said. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war, and dying in a war, that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.” Siobhan Hughes and Catherine Lucey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan similarly suggested that Afghan forces were to blame for the Taliban’s gains. “We could not give them the will, and they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country,” he said Monday on NBC’s “TODAY” show.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers on Monday; the calls come as Beijing and Moscow have signaled an openness to recognizing and cooperating with the Taliban. Blinken spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the security situation and both countries’ respective efforts to bring their citizens to safety. Meanwhile, in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Blinken discussed U.S. efforts to bring citizens and vulnerable Afghans to safety. The Wall Street Journal reported that a Russian foreign ministry statement said that the diplomats agreed to continue consultations, which would include China and Pakistan, on how to encourage “an inclusive inter-Afghan dialogue in the new conditions.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Blinken also made a number of calls to his counterparts in the U.K., Pakistan and Turkey, as well as officials of the European Union and NATO. Talks with Pakistan come after its prime minister, Imran Khan, a critic of the American presence in Afghanistan, appeared to welcome the Taliban takeover: “they have broken the shackles of slavery in Afghanistan,” Khan said Monday. Michael R. Gordon and James Marson report for the Wall Street Journal.
AFGHANISTAN – RECOGNIZING A NEW GOVERNMENT
The State Department insists a commitment to human rights, including women’s rights, is a prerequisite to the U.S. recognizing any new administration in Afghanistan. “A future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people, that doesn’t harbor terrorists, and that protects the basic rights of its people, including the basic, fundamental rights of half of its population – its women and girls – that is a government that we would be able to work with,” Department spokesperson Ned said during a news briefing, adding, “the converse is also true – that we are not going to support a government that does not do that.” Price referred to the United Nations Security Council’s statement on Monday which called for “parties to adhere to international norms and standards on human rights and put an end to all abuses and violations in this regard,” an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process of national reconciliation” and said an end to the uncertainty “can only be achieved through an inclusive, just, durable and realistic political settlement that upholds human rights, including for women, children and minorities.” Al Jazeerareporting.
The State Department yesterday declined to say if the U.S. still recognized Ashraf Ghani as the Afghan president after he left the country on Sunday. In a briefing, Price declined to say whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had a phone call with Ghani on Saturday, knew at the time where the president was or was informed by Ghani of his imminent departure. “The political situation was evolving very quickly. We’ll leave it to President Ghani to characterize what he may have told the secretary,” Price said, adding, “there has not been a formal transfer of power.” Reuters reports.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER U.S.-RELATED DEVELOPMENTS
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson, as well as his French counterpart, have publicly refuted reports their quit their posts during yesterday’s chaos to evacuate diplomats and staffers out of their respective embassies and out of Kabul. Rachel Pannett, Jennifer Hassan and Katerina Ang reort for the Washington Post.
Support for the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan dropped 20 percentage points between April and August as the Taliban takeover sped up, according to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll. “The poll, conducted from Aug. 13-16 among a sample of 1,999 registered voters, indicated that just 25 percent of American voters think the withdrawal from Afghanistan is going well. Just 49 percent of voters continued to support the withdrawal, down from 69 percent in April … Support for withdrawal remained at a partisan divide in the poll, with 69 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Republicans supporting it. Still, just 38 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans reported that the withdrawal is going well,” reports Maeve Sheehey for POLITICO.
Some Taliban fighters are swapping their signature Russian Kalashnikov AK-47s for captured U.S. guns. “Video and pictures published by the Taliban on Twitter and elsewhere show fighters carrying M4 carbines and M16 rifles discarded by Afghan army units. Other images show Taliban forces capturing abandoned government vehicles,” Reuters reports.
A Taliban official said yesterday in a news conference at the Afghan presidential palace that he had been held for eight years by America at the Guantanamo Bay detention center before he was released under former President George W. Bush in December 2007. AP reporting.
Pakistan’s ambassador at the U.N. says President Biden’s endorsement of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan was “a logical conclusion to this conflict.” APreporting.
AFGHANISTAN – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The United Nations Security Council yesterday called for an end to hostilities in Afghanistan and the establishment of an “inclusive” government. “The members of the Security Council called for an immediate cessation of all hostilities and the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women,” the Security Council said in a statement Monday. AP reporting.
The statement follows calls by U.N. chief Antonio Guterres for the Security Council to “use all tools at its disposal to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan” and guarantee respect for human rights. Guterres told the Security Council that he had received “chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country. I am particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan.” Al Jazeera reporting.
Germany has stopped development aid for Afghanistan for now, the minister responsible said on Tuesday. The Guardian reports.
Britain will increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by around 10%, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said. The Guardian reports.
The U.N. Refugee Agency has called in a position paper for the suspension of forced returns of Afghans, including those whose claims for asylum have been rejected, until the political situation in the country stabilizes. The International Organization for Migration similarly said that states should halt forces returns of undocumented migrnats to Afganistan.
Turkey is in dialogue with all sides in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, says Turkish foreign minister, reports the Anadolu Agency in a post on Twitter.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Taliban official Enamullah Samangani on Tuesday announced a general “amnesty” for all in Afghanistan and urged women to join the government. Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said: “The Islamic Emirate don’t want women to be victims,” but did not provide any details on what an amnesty would entail, likely because the Taliban are still negotiating with political leaders of the country’s fallen government and no formal handover deal has been announced. Zeerak Khurram reports for NBC News.
Discussions in Kabul between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s remaining political leadership continue, with “some good news” expected within a day or two on bringing other non-Taliban leaders into the government, an “inclusive Afghan government”. Continuing talks come after Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi held several rounds of talks with Kabul’s political leadership, including Abdullah Abdullah, the former head of the country’s negotiating council, and the former president Hamid Karzai. AP reporting.
Kabul’s airport yesterday saw “gut-wrenching” scenes as thousands of Afghans swarmed both the passenger and military sides of Kabul’s airport in desperate attempts to board flights and flee the country. Footage showed swarms attempting to climb onto U.S. C-17 cargo jets as they attempted to take off, with reports that two people fell hundreds of feet from underneath the inclining jet, falling to their death. Human remains were said to have been discovered in the wheel well of one of the military planes after it landed in a third country, according to several people familiar with the situation. Oriana Pawlyk and Lara Seligmann report for POLITICO.
Reports indicate that a total of seven people died yesterday at the airport, including two armed men shot by U.S. troops, three Afghans run over by a moving military jet, and two that fell hundreds of feet from a jet after having climbed on it during take-off. Further details are provided by Olafimihan Oshin for The Hill and Gordon Lubold, Saeed Shah and Yaroslav Trofimov for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban’s rapid gains pose new challenges for social media and tech giants being able to handle content created by a group considered terrorists by some governments and groups. Al Jazeera reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A member of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty yesterday to making social media threats connected to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including one against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Eduardo Medina reports for the New York Times.
On 14 August 2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency “verified … that Iran had used 257 g of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235 in the form of UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) to produce 200 g of uranium metal enriched up to 20% U-235,” saying that this was step three in a four-step plan by Iran. The fourth includes producing a reactor fuel plate. Reuters reporting.
A rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on Monday. “There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket fire. It came hours after Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen during a late-night arrest raid in the occupied West Bank, killing four Palestinians in one of the deadliest battles in the area in years … The Israeli military said in a statement that it identified one rocket launch that was intercepted by aerial defense batteries. Amateur video footage appeared to show the rocket being intercepted over the southern town of Sderot,” AP reporting.
The former head of state of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime argued before an appeals court Tuesday that his genocide conviction should be overturned, calling into question evidence presented at his original trial before an international tribunal. Seth Mydans reports for the New York Times.
Chinese fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and combat ships conducted assault drills near Taiwan on Tuesday, with the People’s Liberation Army saying the exercise was necessary to safeguard the country’s sovereignty. AP reports.
A Chinese woman says China has a secret detention camp in Dubai which gold Uyghurs. AP reports.
Two senior commanders of the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) have admitted that security forces under their control detained and then killed 25 men in June in its territory near Myanmar’s border with Thailand, human rights group Fortify Rights confirms. Al Jazeera reporting.
The coronavirus has infected close to 36.89 million and has now killed over 622,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 207.94 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.373 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Top Biden administration health officials are reportedly nearing an agreement that Americans who have been vaccinated will need to get Covid booster shots to combat waning immunity and delta variant, according to four people familiar with the decision. “The plan, which is still being developed, would involve administering third shots beginning in mid- to late September, one source added, pending authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday that the companies have submitted initial data to the FDA to support the use of booster doses for their Covid-19 vaccines,” Kaitlan collins reports 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.