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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
KABUL AIRPORT EXPLOSIONS – GENERAL COVERAGE
As of Friday morning in Afghanistan, there were an estimated 112 people dead, including 13 U.S. service members, and another 111 injured following Thursday’s attacks where two suicide bombers and a gunman struck one of the main entrances to Kabul’s international airport as well a nearby hotel, just hours after Western intelligence agencies had warned of an imminent threat of an attack. A suicide bomb attack at the airport’s Abbey Gate was followed by an assault by gunmen, officials said. Another bomb attack took place at the nearby Baron Hotel. Susannah George, Ezzatullah Mehrdad and Sudarsan Raghavan report for the Washington Post.
The Baron Hotel was being used as a center for processing Afghans set to be evacuated, and was mainly used by British officials. The hotel’s website says the accommodation is “one of the most prestigious secured lodging projects in Kabul” as its security is provided by a private U.S. company, is surrounded by a four-meter-high perimeter wall, and has five guard towers. The hotel is also close to Camp Sullivan, a self-contained facility for the local guard force that provides protection to all official U.S. facilities in Kabul. Lamiat Sabin reports for the Independent.
ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the attacks, with the ISIS official Amaq news agency saying on its Telegram channel that a member called Abdul Rahman al-Logari carried out “the martyrdom operation near Kabul Airport.” The attacker’s name suggests he was Afghan. Jason Burke reports for the Guardian.
The Taliban condemned the attacks and promised justice. “We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told PBS’s News Hour. Yamiche Alcindor reports for PBS.
U.S. flags are being flown at half-staff at the Capitol, the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations and on all naval vessels of the federal government and the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its territories. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
World Leaders have condemned the attacks, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European state leaders and foreign ministries. Claire Parker reports for the Washington Post.
KABUL AIRPORT EXPLOSIONS – PRESIDENT BIDEN’S RESPONSE
President Biden said yesterday that despite Thursday’s attack he stood by his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, adding that that American troops would continue to get evacuate people, and that after the Aug. 31 exit deadline, there would be “numerous” opportunities to help those who want to leave Afghanistan, including through cooperation with the Taliban. Amy B Wang and Paula Villegas report for the Washington Post.
Biden said that he told his commanders he would grant additional forces if needed to respond to the latest attacks and acknowledged that there might be more attacks to come. “I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities,” the president said. “We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing. Here’s what you need to know. These ISIS terrorists will not win.” Myah Ward reports for POLITICO.
Biden promised retribution against those responsible, saying that he had ordered his commanders to develop operational plans to strike key assets, leadership and facilities. “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said during an evening news conference. “I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.” Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s, originally scheduled for Thursday morning, was postponed until today due to the attacks at Kabul airport. Annie Karni report for the New York Times.
AFGHANISTAN – SECURING KABUL, AND TERROR THREATS
U.S. forces in Kabul are bracing for more Islamic State attacks while carrying out the final stages of their evacuation mission, U.S. officials said. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command, told a news briefing, “we believe it is their desire to continue these attacks and we expect those attacks to continue – and we’re doing everything we can to be prepared.” “McKenzie added that future potential attacks could include rockets being fired at the airport or car bombs attempting to get in. McKenzie said he saw nothing that would convince him that Taliban forces had let the attack take place,” Reuters reports.
The U.S. are now relying on the Taliban to screen Afghans as they approach the airport, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said during a news conference after Thursday’s attack. “We use the Taliban as a tool to protect us as much as possible,” he said Alan Cullison for the Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration’s decision to work closely with the Taliban in securing Kabul airport and ensuring a safe evacuation operation has received pointed criticism. In written and verbal communications, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, head of U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan, have referred to the Taliban as “our Afghan partners,” according to two defense officials. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) appeared to criticize Biden administration’s strategy of coordinating with the Taliban, writing in a statement: “As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security.” Lara Seligman, Alexander Ward and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker warned that “the war is yet to come. This whole withdrawal announcement and process has been an enormous morale boost for Islamic radicals everywhere. Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Pakistani Taliban, you name it. They are on a roll, and they know it,” during an interview on CNN’s “The Lead.” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
The recent attacks could “draw the CIA back into a complex counterterrorism mission for years to come,” in spite of recent strategic changes shifting the agency’s focus from counterterrorism to rising global threats like Russia and China. “The C.I.A.’s new mission will be narrower, a senior intelligence official said. It no will longer have to help protect thousands of troops and diplomats and will focus instead on hunting terrorist groups that can attack beyond Afghanistan’s borders. But the rapid American exit devastated the agency’s networks, and spies will most likely have to rebuild them and manage sources from abroad, according to current and former officials,” report Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman for the New York Times, offering analysis on how the CIA will continue its operations.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING AMERICANS, ALLIES AND AFGHANS
U.S. officials in Kabul gave the Taliban a list of names of U.S. citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies that should be granted entry into Kabul airport, a decision that the White House contends helped save lives, while critics argue it has put Afghan allies in harm’s way. President Biden, during Thursday’s news conference, said he wasn’t aware of such lists but also didn’t deny that the U.S. does sometimes hand over names to the group. Following the State Department’s recent decision to instruct thousands of visa applicants not to come to the airport, the list fed to the Taliban no longer included those Afghan names. As of Aug. 25, only U.S. passport and green card holders were being accepted as eligible for evacuation, the defense official said. Lara Seligman, Alexander Ward and Andrew Desiderio report for POLITICO.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) yesterday called for lawmakers to return to the currently recessed chamber so that they can vote on legislation to stop the U.S. from fully withdrawing until all Americans are evacuated. “McCarthy pressed for the House to take legislative action in the form of Rep. Mike Gallagher’s (R-Wis.) bill, which would require the Pentagon to submit daily status reports to Congress on the evacuation of U.S. citizens and permanent residents from Afghanistan and prohibit reducing troop numbers there until the rescue efforts are complete,” Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill.
Some Afghans are arriving in the U.S. without the necessary paperwork, leading to additional security checks and delays. Before being flown to the U.S., every person is first screened outside of Afghanistan, like Qatar or Germany, then subject to further checks upon arrival in the U.S., according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson. The Pentagon said Wednesday that of the approximately 7,000 evacuees from Afghanistan who were first processed in Europe, 52 had been flagged for further security screening but all have subsequently been cleared. DHS did not respond to requests for comment on the number of people arriving without documents or whether security concerns had been raised about an Afghan after they landed in the U.S. The approach from the Biden administration has been “get as many people on the plane as you can, and we’ll sort out the (immigration visa) stuff later,” source told CNN. Geneva Sands and Evan Perez report for CNN.
The evacuation effort is causing a new bottleneck at Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, VA, with planes carrying Afghans piling up on the tarmac as processing times take in excess of 10 hours. On Thursday morning, a queue of seven aircraft was waiting, with an industry official saying more were expected. A DHS official confirmed the delays were due to a backup in vetting Afghans, many of them holding Special Immigration Visas (SIVs), before they are allowed to enter America. Alison Sider, Michelle Hackman and Alexa Corse report for the Wall Street Journal.
South Korea has designated Afghans who supported its operations in Afghanistan as “persons of special merit” instead of refugees in an apparent effort to defuse anti-migrant sentiment. Such persons arriving in South Korea during evacuation operations were given short-stay visas, and should they wish to stay, they will be given the option to switch to long-term F2 residence visas, which allow employment, through a legal revision to grant F2 visas to persons of special merit. Raphael Rashid reports for the Guardian.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATION NUMBERS
Around 12,500 people were evacuated from Afghanistan by U.S. forces on Thursday, a total of around 105,000 evacuees since the Taliban took power on Aug. 14, the White House said today. About 5,000 of those were evacuated on Thursday evening. Reuters reports.
As many as 1,500 American civilians could still be in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, adding that a total of 88,000, 45% being women and children, had been flown out since the Taliban took control. “On Thursday morning the White House reported that in the 24 hours from Wednesday to Thursday, 17 US military flights left the airport in Kabul and 74 international “coalition aircraft”, evacuating a total of 13,400 people. It was fewer than the span of 24 hours from Tuesday to Wednesday, a total of 19,000 people were flown out of the airport on 90 planes, at a rate of one aircraft every 39 minutes,” report Julian Borger and Peter Beaumont report for the Guardian.
Around 13,708 people have been evacuated by British forces since Aug. 13, including 7,975 under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance scheme for those who worked with the UK during the war, the Ministry of Defense has said. The Guardian reports.
More on the current evacuation numbers is provided by Laura Kelly for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – COUNTRIES END THEIR EVACUATION MISSIONS
The UK has now entered the final stages of its evacuation operation and no further people will be called forward to the airport to leave, the Ministry of Defense has said, adding that the effort would now focus on evacuating U.K. nationals and others who have already been cleared to leave and are already at the airport. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stressed that Thursday’s attack had not sped up Britain’s timetable for ending the evacuation operation. The Guardian reporting.
New Zealand announced Friday that it had ended its evacuation flights, with group of almost 40 interpreters and others who worked with the country still trapped in Afghanistan. New Zealand joins Ajustralia in ending its evacation mission. Tess McClure reports for the Guardian.
Italy’s evacuation mission in Afghanistan is set to end on Friday. “The last Italian 3-130 transport plane, carrying some 50 Afghans, is set to depart from the airport in Kabul this afternoon and will arrive in Rome on Saturday morning, news agency ANSA has reported,” reports Lorena Tondo for the Guardian.
Canada ended its evacuation mission out of Afghanistan on Thursday, hours ahead of the attacks, leaving some Canadians and Afghan allies stranded, military officials said. “Our engagement with Afghanistan is not done,” and Canada will work with allies in the coming months to try and find safe exits for those still in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, calling the situation “heartbreaking.” BBC News reporting.
Sweden has also ended its evacuation mission in Kabul, the foreign minister Ann Linde has said. The Guardian reports.
AFGHANISTAN – CHALLENGES AHEAD FOR THE TALIBAN
The Taliban’s most radical and violent branch, the Haqqani network, which has links to al-Qaeda, has risen in power since the Taliban’s siege of the country. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the normally elusive Haqqani network – which, unlike the broader Taliban, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 2012 – has assumed a public role in Kabul. Khalil Haqqani, brother of the group’s founder, Jalaluddin, spoke publicly in Kabul’s Pol-e Khishti Mosque last week, despite a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. “Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, and al Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” a May 2020 United Nations Security Council report said. The U.N. says between 400 and 600 al Qaeda fighters are active in 12 provinces, and the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still based in Afghanistan. Sune Engel Rasmussen and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban have long been fighting a war against ISIS-K, assisted at times by Afghan forces, U.S. coalition forces and other countries, defense officials say. Details on how the group waged war on ISIS-K and received support from others are offered by Alan Cullison for the Wall Street Journal.
Terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIS-K, have hailed the Taliban’s takeover and are exploiting it as a means to wage terror. Despite the U.S. withdrawal being based on the conclusion that terrorist groups would no longer be able to use the country to stage attacks on the United States and the Taliban pledging to ensure Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorist organizations, yesterday’s attacks signal the challenges ahead for the Taliban. More what the Taliban takeover means for al-Qaeda and ISIS-K by Claire Parker for the Washington Post.
Representatives of both the Taliban and the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, the resistance front against the Taliban, held their first meeting on Wednesday afternoon in the center of Parwan province and agreed to no fighting until the next round of talks. A member of the Taliban delegation, meanwhile, said that the group wanted to discuss the issue of Panjshir, the last remaining area not under Taliban control, but supporters of Ahmad Massoud, the resistance group’s leader, wanted to discuss the structure of the future government instead. Thus, the negotiations had no tangible outcome, the delegation member said. “The Panjshir delegation was more focused on the overall structure of the governance system. Since there were big differences between the two sides’ demands, both sides decided to take the messages to their leaders,” said Anamullah Samangani, a member of the cultural commission of the Taliban. TOLO News reports.
BBC news interviews former vice-president and now self-declared acting president of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, who is now one of the leaders of the anti-Taliban resistance movement.
AFGHANISTAN – CRITICISM OF PRESIDENT BIDEN
Following the attacks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) slammed Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. “Americans’ hearts are breaking for our servicemembers and diplomats. They are doing heroic work to rescue American citizens and Afghan partners in the predictably chaotic wake of the President’s decision to withdraw,” McConnell said in a statement. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
GOP Sens. Josh Hawley (MO) and Marsha Blackburn (TN) yesterday joined the growing calls by other Republicans for Biden to resign. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) yesterday vowed that Biden will face a “reckoning” for his handling of the U.S. withdrawal, but did not go as far as to call for his resignation or impeachment, according to a source on a call between the leader and House GOP members. Melanie Zanona, Jeremy Herb and Alex Rogers report for CNN.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
As the Early Edition was going to press, there were unconfirmed reports of gunfire at the eastern gate of the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, KAN News and Al Jazeera announced on Twitter on Friday afternoon. The Jerusalem Post reports.
Vice President Harris yesterday pledged that the United States would work with its allies to protect women and children in Afghanistan, reports Zolan Kanno-Youngs for the New York Times.
The U.K.’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee will conduct an inquiry after Foreign Office staff left documents with the contact details of Afghans working for them as well as the CVs of locals applying for jobs scattered on the ground at the British embassy compound in Kabul that has been seized by the Taliban, said Chair of the Committee, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat. The Guardian reporting.
Pakistan’s national security adviser has urged the West to engage with Taliban to ensure an inclusive government is formed and international security maintained. “Moeed Yusuf said that if the West repeated the major mistake of the 1990s and abandoned the country, it would set up a security vacuum that would lead to a revival of militancy first in Pakistan and then in the west,” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
U.S. Capitol Police officers who were attacked and beaten during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol yesterday filed a lawsuit against former President Trump, his allies and members of far-right extremist groups, accusing them of intentionally sending violent mobs to disrupt the congressional certification of the election. “The suit, which implicated members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers militia and Trump associates like Roger J. Stone Jr., was arguably the most expansive civil effort to date seeking to hold Mr. Trump and his allies legally accountable for the storming of the Capitol. While three other similar lawsuits were filed in recent months, the suit on Thursday was the first to allege that Mr. Trump worked in concert with both far-right extremists and political organizers promoting his baseless lies that the presidential election was marred by fraud,” reports Alan Feuer for the New York Times.
The officer who shot and killed Jan. 6 rioter Ashli Babbitt has finally broke his silence, saying “I saved countless lives.” Rich Schapiro, Anna Schecter and Chelsea Damberg report for NBC News.
Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates are urging President Biden to end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program – following the Supreme Court’s order on Tuesday that Biden must comply with a Texas-based federal judge’s ruling to revive the program, although federal officials retain some discretion on how to do that. Mexico is not bound by the court’s decision and will exercise sovereignty over its migration policies, the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement. The Guardian reporting.
Texas Federal District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone sided with the Biden administration Wednesday, blocking an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that restricted nongovernmental organizations from transporting migrants from the southern border. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has asked Biden to pardon former Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale who pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria to violating the Espionage Act and was sentenced in July to 45 months in prison for leaking classified documents about drone warfare in Afghanistan to the Intercept. Rachel Weiner reports for the Washington Post.
Facebook is weighing forming an election commission to advise it on global election-related matters, having already approached academics and policy experts for advice, said five people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would allow the social media giant to shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory body. “The proposed commission could decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, though the effort is preliminary and could still fall apart,” report Mike Isaac and Nick Corasaniti for the New York Times.
The coronavirus has infected close to 37.38 million and has now killed over 633,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 214.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.476 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.