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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 – KABUL AIRPORT AND SECURITY THREATS
Western nations are warning of a possible terror attack on Kabul airport, where thousands have flocked as they try to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Several countries, including the U.S., Belgium, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand have urged people to avoid the airport, with Belgium saying that there was a threat of a suicide bombing. However, with just a few days before U.S. troops withdraw, few people are heeding the calls to leave Kabul airport. Ziarmal Hashimi, Jill Lawless and Jon Gambrell report for AP.
The U.S. is concerned about a “very specific threat stream” from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) of planned attacks against crowds outside Kabul airport, a U.S. defense official has said. “The US believes ISIS-K, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, wants to create mayhem at the airport and has intelligence streams suggesting it is capable and planning to carry out multiple attacks, according to the official,” Jim Sciutto and Tim Lister report for CNN.
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has told Americans outside the gates of the Kabul airport to leave immediately, citing security threats, and have cautioned U.S. citizens against travel to the airport. “Because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” the embassy said in a security alert yesterday evening. In a statement the State Department said that that there “is a dynamic and volatile security situation on the ground.” “The Embassy in Kabul issued a security alert instructing U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate to leave immediately,” the statement said. Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.
A terror attack at Kabul airport could come within hours the U.K. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has said. Heappey told Sky News the “grim reality” is that intelligence has got “ever more certain” that an attack could take place at Kabul airport or the handling centers being used to assess refugees. Asked if an attack could happen in the next few hours, he replied: “yes.” Sophie Morris reports for Sky News.
Britain, Australia and New Zealand have cited the “high threat” of a terrorist attack at Kabul airport. Last night the U.K. Foreign Office urged people not to travel to Kabul airport. saying: “there is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack. Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai international airport. If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice.” Australia and New Zealand issued identical guidance with Wellington officials adding that “the window to evacuate people out of Afghanistan is rapidly closing, and we cannot assist all those we are seeking to evacuate.” Hellen Sullivan reports for the Guardian.
Heappey, Britain’s armed forces minister, has told reporters today that there is “very credible” U.S. intelligence behind the threat, adding that it was “imminent” and “severe,” Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
Taliban guards continue to protect civilians outside Kabul airport, an official from the group said today. “Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group,” said the official. Reuters reporting.
The Taliban have promised to provide security outside Kabul airport, but intelligence reports of an imminent threat from Islamic State militants cannot be ignored, a NATO country diplomat in the Afghan capital has said today. Reuters reporting
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING U.S. AND ALLY CITIZENS AND AFGHANS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that an estimated 1,500 U.S. civilians remain in Afghanistan, the majority of whom the U.S. is still trying to locate. “U.S. officials are trying to evacuate 500 of the Americans, and are in contact with them,” Blinken said. The status of another 1,000 civilian Americans is unclear, Blinken said, adding that U.S. officials were trying to contact them. Nancy A. Youssef, Saeed Shah and Courtney McBride report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and U.S. troops have conducted missions outside Kabul airport to extract Americans and Afghan allies. There have been reports from U.S. and other officials that the CIA has launched, sometimes clandestine, operations to rescue Americans in and outside Kabul in recent days, using U.S. military helicopters. “A congressional source knowledgeable about the evacuation effort said U.S. troops had gone into Kabul on joint missions with other foreign allies, including Britain and France, to designated locations where they had picked up citizens from all those nations, U.S. green-card holders, and Afghans who hold special visas for helping the U.S. military,” Gordon Lubold, Warren P. Strobel and Jessica Donati report for the Wall Street Journal.
At least 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. haven’t been evacuated, new estimates suggest. The “estimates are based on reports on Afghan employment published annually by the Department of Defense and analyzed by the Association of Wartime Allies, a group that advocates for Afghans affiliated with the U.S., and researchers at American University. Other estimates vary widely, from 100,000 to more than 300,000 people,” Lauren Leatherby and Larry Buchanan report for the New York Times.
With just days left for the U.S. to complete its withdrawal, U.S. officials have acknowledged the reality that tens of thousands of Afghan allies and others at high risk of Taliban reprisals would be left behind. Blinken reiterated yesterday that the U.S. would continue to work to get at-risk Afghans and U.S. allies out of Afghanistan even after the deadline, “let me be crystal clear about this: There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years, and want to leave, and have been unable to do so,” Blinken said. Lara Jakes and Michael Levenson report for the New York Times.
Blinken has said that it is incumbent on the Taliban to guarantee the safe passage of Afghans out of Afghanistan after U.S. troops withdraw. “He signaled that such an arrangement could be reached with a mix of economic and diplomatic pressure, and the lure of international aid, but he would not discuss his level of confidence in the Taliban to keep their word beyond vaguely citing what he called their public and private commitments to allow people to leave,” Lara Jakes and Michael Levenson report for the New York Times.
Blinken said that the U.S. government, especially the State Department, would remain committed to helping vulnerable Afghan women, children and others who have worked with the U.S. government in the past. “I will use every diplomatic, economic, political and assistance tool at my disposal, working closely with allies and partners who feel very much the same way, to do everything possible to uphold their basic rights,” Blinken said, without proving concrete details on what this support would look like in practice. Tatyana Monnay reports for POLITICO.
Poland and Belgium have ended their evacuations from Afghanistan, while other E.U. nations have vowed to press on for as long as possible. With the deadline looming, Marcin Przydacz, a Polish deputy foreign minister, said Poland had evacuated its last group. “We cannot risk the lives of our diplomats and of our soldiers any longer,” Przydacz said. Hours later, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country ended its evacuation flights carrying people from Kabul to Pakistan. Monika Scislowska reports for the Washington Post.
The Netherlands has carried out its final evacuation today, leaving behind eligible Afghans. The Dutch government in a letter to the Dutch parliament described the decision to end the evacuations as “a painful moment because it means that despite all the great efforts of the past period, people who are eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands will be left behind.” Reuters reporting.
France said it will halt its evacuations on Friday, while Denmark has said that its last flight had already left Kabul’s airport. French Prime Minister Jean Castex told French radio RTL today that “from tomorrow evening onwards, we are not able to evacuate people from the Kabul airport” due to the Aug. 31 American withdrawal. Meanwhile, Danish defense minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: “it is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.” Denmark’s last flight, carrying 90 people plus soldiers and diplomats, has already left Kabul. The Guardian reports.
As Aug. 31 deadline looms, U.S. and E.U. nations are accelerating their Afghanistan evacuation effort, however the Pentagon has acknowledged that its ability to airlift evacuees could decrease in coming days as it turns to pulling out weaponry, equipment and troops ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline. Missy Ryan, Karoun Demirjian, John Hudson and Dan Lamothe report for the Washington Post.
Fleeing Afghans should try to get to Afghanistan’s land borders, the U.K. defense secretary Ben Wallace has said. In a briefing to lawmakers, Wallace “signaled there were few places left on British rescue flights, which have evacuated more than 11,000 people from Kabul since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan less than two weeks ago,” Dan Sabbagh and Aubrey Allegretti report for the Guardian.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATION NUMBERS
The White House has said that roughly 13,400 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in the 24 hours between early Wednesday morning and this morning. The latest figure raises the total number of those evacuated by the U.S. and its coalition partners to about 95,700 since Aug. 14. Reuters reports.
The “overwhelming majority” of eligible people have now been evacuated from Afghanistan, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. Speaking to broadcasters, Johnson said that around 15,000 people had already been evacuated by British troops. Yesterday, it was believed nearly 2,000 people assessed as eligible under the U.K. Afghan relocations and assistance policy remained on the ground, however U.K. armed forces minister James Heappey earlier today said the actual number was “potentially half” of that but he admitted “there will be people who are in danger who won’t be evacuated” before the Aug. 31 deadline. BBC News reporting.
AFGHANISTAN – WITHDRAWAL OF TROOPS
Top Pentagon officials yesterday morning briefed President Biden on contingency plans should he decide to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan past his Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed. Psaki reiterated that the U.S. is “on track to complete our mission by Aug. 31,” but that Biden had been briefed “on contingency plans and continues to have optionality should he decide to change plans.” Following a request from Biden earlier this week Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley joined other members of Biden’s national security team to deliver alternate plans in the event he feels troops should remain in the country longer to help with evacuations. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Both Republicans and Democrat lawmakers have urged President Biden not to leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31 if the evacuation mission is not complete. The House lawmakers emerged from a meeting with the secretaries of state and defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the director of national intelligence on Tuesday with differing opinions about the evacuation efforts, however both Republicans and Democrats agreed that if there are still American citizens trying to escape, the U.S. should not stick to the deadline – regardless of the risk involved in staying. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – TALIBAN TAKEOVER
One of the Taliban’s groups leaders yesterday offered a portrait of the group’s intentions for Afghanistan. During an interview with the New York Times Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said, that the Taliban “want to build the future, and forget what happened in the past,” and rejected widespread fears that the Taliban are already exacting vengeance on those who opposed them and want to reimpose harsh controls on women. Mujahid suggested that in the long-term women would be free to resume their daily routines. He also offered assurances to Afghans trying to leave the country, saying that those with valid travel documents would not be prevented from entering Kabul airport. Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek report for the New York Times.
Intelligence agencies from across the world are concerned about continuing evidence of close ties between Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates. For instance, the Haqqani Network, which straddles both groups, is now highly influential in Kabul, and as they emptied out prisons across Afghanistan, Taliban fighters set free hundreds of al Qaeda operatives. Tim Lister reports for CNN.
In a quest for international legitimacy and to keep money flowing, the Taliban is pushing for a political deal with former Afghan officials. “Taliban leaders have shuttled between more than a dozen meetings over the past week with the few former Afghan officials who remain in Kabul, including former president Hamid Karzai; Abdullah Abdullah, former leader of national reconciliation council; and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former warlord-turned-politician… For the Taliban, a political agreement could help the group avoid again becoming an international pariah, which would push one of the world’s poorest countries even further into poverty. For the former Afghan leaders, a deal would give them a share of power in Afghanistan’s new government,” Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is presenting an economic boom for Iran, who this week restarted fuel exports to Afghanistan with the Taliban providing dollars to Iran from its narcotics operations. Iran has been cut off from the global market by U.S. sanctions “and the Taliban’s willingness to trade with their neighbor gives Iran rare access to U.S. dollars it needs to import essential goods and bolster its depreciated currency,” Benoit Faucon and Ian Talley report for the Wall Street Journal.
AFGHANISTAN – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The U.N. leadership has failed its Afghan employees, U.N. staff unions have said. Many U.N. Afghans workers and their families remain stuck in Afghanistan while the majority of the organization’s non-Afghan staff have been relocated to other countries. “Many of the Afghan employees, their foreign colleagues say, are in hiding or are reluctant to keep working, fearful of reprisals by triumphant Taliban militants who may perceive them as apostates, traitors and agents of foreign interference,” Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for talks with the Taliban to preserve progress made in Afghanistan in the last two decades. Speaking yesterday to a session of Parliament convened to discuss the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, Merkel defended Germany’s decision to join the international intervention there in 2001 and also reiterated that Germany will maintain support for Afghans who remain in their country after the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw. Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times.
Pakistan has called for the international community to continue to engage with the Taliban in order to avoid a humanitarian and refugee crisis. Pakistan’s national security advisor, Dr Moeed Yusuf, said that “there is a reality on the ground. The Taliban are in control. We must keep them honest to their promises but engage for the sake of the average Afghans. Otherwise, we will end up in the same place. It wasn’t good last time.” Yusuf also denied reports of there being any panic on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. BBC Newsv reports.
Russia is to supply further weapons to Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan. Russia has said that it has received new orders for arms and helicopters from the countries in the ex-Soviet region, where Moscow holds military basis. The Defense Post reports.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A White House summit between President Biden and tech leaders yesterday, including top tech CEOs, concluded with a array of commitments on new cybersecurity projects and spending plans from major tech groups, including from Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM. The commitments include additional public and government departments training commitments from Microsoft, IBM and Amazon, along with spending and new programs to enhance supply chain and open-source security from Google and Apple. Scott Rosenberg and Ina Fried report for Axios.
Biden described cybersecurity as a “core national security challenge” during his cybersecurity meeting with tech, education and critical infrastructure leaders yesterday. “We’ve seen time and again how the technologies we rely on, from our cell phones to pipelines, the electric grid, can become targets of hackers and criminals,” Biden said in his opening remarks at the meeting. Brian Fung reports for CNN.
A man has been sentenced to just over six years in prison for taking part in an extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, driven by anger at the governor’s state-ordered coronavirus restrictions. “Ty Garbin admitted his role in the alleged scheme weeks after his arrest last fall. He is among six men charged in federal court but the only one to plead guilty so far. It was a key victory for prosecutors as they try to prove an astonishing plot against the others,” AP reports.
A federal judge has sanctioned attorneys of former President Trump for spreading false election fraud claims. The attorneys were part of a legal team who unsuccessfully challenged Michigan’s 2020 election results and “in a blistering 110-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Michigan imposed sanctions on Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and other lawyers involved in making claims about election fraud in the state” Pete Williams and Dartunorro Clark report for NBC News.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The select committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has made a broad request for documents relating to the attack, including archived documents and communications from the White House and a wide array of federal agencies. The first round of requests to federal agencies released by the committee’s chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) seek, amongst other issues, details of communications within former President Trump’s administration and with outsiders in the days leading up to and on the day of the attack. Kristina Peterson reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege in an effort to block the Jan. 6 House select committee obtaining a massive tranche of records from several government agencies. President Biden will have the ultimate say however on whether the information can be shared with the select committee. Biden’s administration has previously declined to assert executive privilege over some testimony related to Jan. 6, but it has not yet weighed in on whether the committee should have unrestricted access to records and documents from the Trump White House. Zachary Cohen, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer and Whitney Wild report for CNN.
The widespread record requests from the Jan. 6 House select committee could be followed by subpoenas if not complied with. The demands, which renewed and expanded demands issued by other committees this year, provided the agencies two weeks to comply with the requests to turn over document, Thompson said. The committee also encouraged the chief U.S. archivist, David Ferriero, to use his authority to expedite the requests. Claudia Grisales reports for NPR.
Just a day before the Jan. 6 attack, the Secret Service warned the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) that their officers could face violence at the hands of Trump supporters, according to new documents. Emails from the Secret Service obtained by POLITICO shed further light on the intelligence lapses by the USCP. On Jan. 5 the Secret Service sent a warning to USCP about possible violence. That same day, a separate email circulated within the Secret Service detailing more threats to the officers in D.C. on Jan. 6, according to the documents. Betsy Woodruff Swan and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
USCP’s response to officers’ calls for help during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was inadequate the agency’s Office of the Inspector General has found. USCP was not able to assist officers who made frantic calls for help in part because its emergency system did not simulcast on police radio when individual officers pressed emergency activation buttons on their handsets, according to a report from the watchdog obtained by Associated Press. Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo report for AP.
President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are to meet at the White House today. The two leaders are expected to “seek to reset the tone of U.S.-Israeli relations in their first White House meeting and find common ground on Iran despite differences on how to deal with its nuclear program,” Matt Spetalnick reports for Reuters.
Biden is expected to tell Bennett that the U.S. is looking to roll back Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy but also has “other avenues to pursue,” a senior U.S. official has said. “Since the last administration left the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s nuclear program has just dramatically broken out of the box, and it’s accelerating from week to week,” the official said. “This is a very serious problem, and the two leaders, I think, will have the opportunity to sit together and discuss what to do about it,” the official added. Al Jazeera reports.
A delay to the Vice President Harris’s scheduled trip to Vietnam has given Beijing an opportunity to undercut a subsequent U.S. announcement on coronavirus aid. “Harris was en route Wednesday to announce, among other things, a donation of 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the pandemic-hit country. But a three-hour delay in her schedule handed China a window of opportunity. Beijing quickly sent its envoy in Hanoi to meet with Vietnam’s prime minister and pledged a donation of 2 million vaccine doses, undercutting the subsequent U.S. announcement,” Shibani Mahtani reports for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated yesterday near the Israeli border in the southern Gaza Strip, calling on Israel to ease the crippling blockade on Gaza. The demonstration yesterday ended without a repeat of a similar gathering on Saturday which in deadly clashes with the Israeli army, after Hamas kept the crowds from approaching the separation wall. “The Israeli military, which had beefed up its forces ahead of the demonstration, said it used tear gas and limited live fire to disperse the crowd. Palestinian medics reported at least 14 people were wounded, including five people who suffered gunshots. None of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening,” Wafa Shurafa reports for AP.
Israel’s defense minister yesterday accused Iran of launching a deadly drone strike on the Mercer Street oil tanker last month from Iran’s territory and reiterated that Israel would act alone if needed to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Ilan Ben Zion reports for AP.
Prosecutors are pursuing murder charges against Colombia’s former army chief in “false positives” killings of civilians. At least 6,402 Colombians were falsely labeled as enemy combatants and killed between 2002 and 2008, according to a peace court trying former Gen. Mario Montoya, who has denied wrongdoing. Samantha Schmidt reports for the Washington Post.
China has halted trade with Lithuania after the Baltic nation agreed to exchange diplomatic offices with Taiwan. China has suspended rail freight to Lithuania, according to Taiwan’s foreign affairs ministry, and reportedly halted export permits for the country’s producers. However, “Beijing’s unofficial halt to its already limited trade with Lithuania is more about sending a warning to the rest of Europe, analysts have said,” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
Tanzania’s president has said that five people are dead, including three police officers, after a gun battle with an armed man near the French Embassy in Dar es Salaam. It was not immediately clear wither the firefight was a terror attack. “Inspector general of police Simon Sirro told reporters the armed man was a foreigner and police believe he was from Somalia. Sirro also warned the attack could be linked to the jihadist insurgency in neighboring Mozambique, where a growing number of African nations are jointly pursuing the fighters,” AP reports.
Hong Kong’s national security police are investigating the group behind the city’s annual June 4 vigil, which commemorates pro-democracy protesters who died in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. According to a letter to organizers seen by CNN, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China must submit personal details of all its directors and members, all meeting records with political groups in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas, and its source of income. “The police letter said the request was made because it was ‘reasonable to believe’ it would help investigate possible crimes against national security,” Hong Kong Police investigate organizers of Tiananmen Square vigil Jessie Yeung and Eric Cheung report for CNN.
The coronavirus has infected over 38.2 million and has now killed over 632,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 213.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and cover 4.46 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.