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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 – U.S. STRIKES AND CONTINUING TERROR THREATS
President Biden has told his top military generals that they should “stop at nothing” to make ISIS-K pay for Thursday’s attack near Kabul airport which left 13 U.S. service members dead, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday. “I can tell you that the president has made clear to his commanders that they should stop at nothing to make ISIS pay for the deaths of those American service members at the Kabul airport,” Psaki said when asked if Biden personally gave the Pentagon permission for a Sunday drone strike on an explosives-laden vehicle. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The Pentagon has said it cannot yet dispute claims that a U.S. drone strike on Sunday Afghanistan killed a number of civilians, but insisted that the drone was targeting a vehicle carrying at least one person associated with ISIS-K. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, responding to repeated questions about civilian casualties from Sunday’s drone strike, said: “We are not in a position to dispute it right now, and … we’re assessing, and we’re investigating.” “The Pentagon insists that the target was an Islamic State car bomb heading for the airport, but reports from Kabul say there were many civilian casualties, including at least six children,” reports the Guardian.
IS members are “melting” into the Taliban, making securing the capital more difficult, according to a Taliban source, write CNN’s Clarissa Ward in a post on Twitter.
AFGHANISTAN – KABUL BOMB ATTACK
U.S. commanders had planned to close gates at Kabul airport on Thursday, fearing an attack, but chose to keep them open to allow the British to continue to evacuate; within hours, a suicide bomber detonated outside the Abbey Gate, killing 13 U.S. service members and many more Afghan civilians. In the 24 hours leading up to Thursday’s suicide bomber attack, Pentagon officials warned of an imminent “mass casualty event” in Kabul, and commanders detailed a plan to close Abbey Gate by the afternoon, saying it was at the “highest risk” of an attack, but the U.S. “decided to keep the gate open longer than they wanted in order to allow their British allies, who had accelerated their withdrawal timeline, to continue evacuating their personnel, based at the nearby Baron Hotel,” Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab today refuted POLITICO’s claim that Abbey Gate was kept open to allow Britain to evacuate its remaining citizens, saying the “story was simply not true.” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
AFGHANISTAN – TALIBAN TAKEOVER
Taliban forces clashed with anti-Taliban militia fighters in the Panjshir on Monday night, with eight Taliban fighters killed. Fahim Dashti, a spokesperson for the National Resistance Forces (NRF), a group loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said the fighting occurred on the western entrance to the valley where he Taliban attacked NRF positions, reports Haq Nawaz Khan for the Washington Post.
The Taliban have called on all employees of private and state universities in Afghanistan to resume their work starting Tuesday. AP reports.
AFGHANISTAN – U.S. AND QATARI DIPLOMACY
Diplomatic operations have been transferred to Doha, Qatar, which will soon be formally notified to Congress, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during yesterday’s press briefing, saying it was the “prudent” step to take. The operation will be headed by Ian McCary, the deputy chief of the U.S. mission to Afghanistan. “A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun, led by diplomacy,” Blinken pledged. “The military mission is over; a new diplomatic mission has begun,” said Blinken. Reuters reporting.
Qatar has played an important role in the U.S.’s evacuation mission and will continue its important part to play in the future international diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. Qatari officials will meet Monday with Blinken, along with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO. “Qatar has also reportedly been asked by the Taliban to provide civilian technical assistance at Kabul’s international airport once the US military withdrawal is complete on Tuesday. Authorities in Qatar have not commented on the reports,” Al Jazeera reports.
Uzbekistan is warning the United States that U.S.-trained Afghan pilots who fled to the Central Asian country may face expulsion and is urging the U.S. to extract those Afghan pilots to a different country to avoid clashes between Uzbekistan and the Taliban, officials said. The trained Afghan pilots, among some of the Taliban’s most hated enemies, fled to Uzbekistan two weeks ago with hundreds of family members and colleagues aboard 46 Afghan Air Force helicopters and planes. The Taliban also have called on Uzbekistan to return the aircraft to Afghanistan. Siobhan Hughes and Jessica Donati report for the Wall Street Journal.
AFGHANISTAN – FREE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE
A U.N. Security Council resolution which was initially drafted to call for a U.N. “free zone” in Kabul fell short of expectation, with the watered-down resolution instead saying that it “expects” the Taliban to honor a commitment to allow Afghans to leave the country and “requests” that Kabul airport be securely reopened, and failing to set out consequences if the Taliban ignore it. The resolution called for the Taliban to allow safe passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan but did not mention the creation of a safe zone in Kabul, as suggested by the French president on Sunday. The resolution, which had 13 votes in favor and abstentions by Russia and China, also stressed the importance of maintaining humanitarian access, upholding human rights, reaching an inclusive political settlement and combating terrorism. The resolution states: “statement of 27 August, 2021, in which the Taliban committed that Afghans will be able to travel abroad,” and “expects that the Taliban will adhere to these and all other commitments”. It also “calls on the relevant parties to work with international partners to take steps to strengthen security and to prevent further casualties, and requests that every effort be made to allow for the rapid and secure reopening of Kabul airport and its surrounding area”. “The text in effect leaves the security of the airport to the Taliban. The political imperative to keep the security council united means no specific consequence is spelt out if the Taliban does not heed the calls in the resolution. The outcome is a setback for France, which at the weekend led calls for a UN safe zone. The UK largely regarded the proposal as unenforceable without UN or other troops,” reports Patrick Wintour for the Guardian.
It is unclear if another resolution proposing a “safe zone” will be circulated at a later date. “Experts said the text was watered down to ensure China and Russia would not use their vetoes to block it, including softening some of the language related to the Taliban,” reports Al Jazeera.
Blinken said during his press briefing yesterday that the U.S. will “hold the Taliban to its pledge” to help people leave the country if they have the correct documents, but appeared to overstate the impact the Security Council resolution can have, saying it “enshrined” a responsibility on the Taliban, “laying the groundwork for holding the Taliban accountable.” The mechanisms for holding the group to account were not explained.
AFGHANISTAN – AFGHAN REFUGEES
An Afghan refugee backlash is looming in the U.S., particularly among Republicans who intend to discredit the Biden administration’s withdrawal and make it an issue in the 2022 midterm elections.“Administration officials say they have been working behind the scenes to brief local and state leaders on how extensively refugees are vetted before they step foot on American soil. Refugee organizations, which are working with the administration, are doing the same in communities. And both are conducting media outreach to try and dispel myths on the resettlement process,” reports Anita Kumar for POLITICO.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees warned yesterday that “a far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning” in Afghanistan and pleaded with the international community to remain focused on the plight of Afghan civilians. Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday in a statement that it was closing its land crossings “indefinitely,” cutting off one escape route for Afghan refugees, to “ensure security.” Also, Pakistan’s interior minister said Monday that it had not granted refugee status to any Afghans who had fled across its border since the Taliban’s takeover. Miriam Berger reports for the Washington Post.
Uzbekistan will help Afghans transit on to Germany but such help will only be limited to those flying in for a short time, the government said on Tuesday. The Guardian reports.
Afghans turned away by Europe will be allowed to return to Afghanistan and a court will decide how to proceed with them, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Kronen Zeitung in an interview published Monday, without elaborating further. Ellen Francis reports for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – ROCKET ATTACKS AT KABUL AIRPORT
ISIS militants launched five rockets at the airport in Kabul on Monday morning local time, and a U.S. defense system destroyed one, defense officials said Monday in a news briefing on the matter. “Three of the rockets landed outside the perimeter of the airfield, and one landed inside but did not cause any injuries, said Army Maj. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor. Alex Horton and Dan Lamothe report for Washington Post
Afghan media said Monday’s rocket attacks had been launched from the back of a vehicle which was subsequently hit by a US drone strike, though reports of American strikes have not been independently verified. Jon Henley reports for the Guardian.
AFGHANISTAN – U.S. COMPLETES WITHDRAWAL
America’s last military planes, carrying its remaining military service members and diplomatic staff, took off from the Kabul airport shortly before midnight local time on Monday, U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon. The last C-17 left the airport at 3:29 p.m. ET and cleared Afghanistan’s airspace, McKenzie said, although he could not say how many people were aboard the aircraft or where it was headed, as it was then still in flight, Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul, Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson, were the last two U.S. officials to step off of Afghanistan soil and onto the final C-17 military aircraft out of Kabul, McKenzie said. Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman report for CNN.
The Defense Department tweeted a picture of Donahue boarding the C-17.
Some military equipment systems were in operation through the final moments of the mission,McKenzie said, adding that, those systems were “demilitarized,” including up to 70 MRAPs, 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft. Myah Ward and Alexander Ward report for POLITICO.
McKenzie said the Taliban were “significantly helpful” in enabling the airlift of Afghans, Americans and others. AP reports.
The Taliban were “very pragmatic and very business-like” during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Gen. McKenzie said, adding that Donahue spoke to the Taliban commander before leaving Afghanistan. “The U.S. did coordinate with the Taliban commander on when the U.S. was leaving, “but there was no discussion of turning anything over of that at all,’ McKenzie said,” report Michael Conte and Ellie Kaufman for CNN.
The Taliban celebrated in the early hours of Tuesday morning, firing guns into the air across Kabul.Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid declared: “At 12 o’clock tonight, the last American troops left Kabul airport, on which account Afghanistan was completely liberated and independent.” The Guardian reporting.
Kabul airport is now without air traffic control services now that the U.S. military has withdrawn and U.S. civil aircraft are barred from operating over the country unless given prior authorization, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said. Reuters reporting.
AFGHANISTAN – AMERICANS LEFT IN AFGHANISTAN
Less than 200, closer to 100, Americans who want to leave remain in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. This goes against previous reassurances by President Biden that the U.S. will maintain a military presence in Kabul until the last remaining American who wants to leave Afghanistan has been evacuated. Reutersreporting.
No American citizens were on the last five C-17 planes out of Kabul, despite having the capacity to evacuate more, as “none of them made it to the airport,” Gen. McKenzie said. Myah Ward and Alexander Ward report for POLITICO.
The U.S. will “continue to work across many different levers” to ensure any Americans left in Afghanistan could be safely evacuated, but a military role in that effort is not anticipated, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – PRESIDENT BIDEN
President Joe Biden released a statement confirming the end of America’s 20-year military presence in Afghanistan. “Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” he said. “The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. Ending the mission as planned was “the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground”, he said
Biden is expected to speak later on today about the withdrawal and why it was agreed that Aug. 31 must remain the deadline. Brett Samuels reports for POLITICO.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has repeatedly pushed back on rank-and-file Republicans who want a high-stakes call arranged for impeaching Biden over his handling of Afghanistan. “But multiple House Republican sources said that even before Tuesday’s fraught end to the U.S. military mission, their offices were being bombarded with calls from base voters for a future Biden impeachment or another more forceful response against the administration,” reports Olivia Beavers for POLITICO.
According to a Morning Consult’s survey, 49% now say they disapprove of Biden following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent fall of the Afghan government. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Translation and interpretation problems yesterday delayed by one day U.S. military efforts to charge three Southeast Asian men – held by the United States for 18 years at Guantánamo bay – with murder, terrorism and conspiracy in the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, which killed 202 people, and the 2003 Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta, which killed at least 11 people and wounded at least 80. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack yesterday asked a broad group of telecommunication companies to preserve records related to the insurrection – a request that could include communications from some lawmakers. “Apple, AT&T, Verizon and 32 other companies received requests from the Jan. 6 committee for records from April 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021. Select panel chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked the companies for specific individuals’ records, and while the names of those people were redacted from the publicly released orders, Thompson indicated last week that the request for communications of relevant individuals could touch on fellow lawmakers,” reports Nicholas Wu for POLITICO.
Former President Trump is planning to hold rallies in Iowa and Georgia in an effort to exert his influence over the GOP and toy with the 2024 presidential bid. “Details are still being arranged for the two events, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill the two states will host Trump for rallies,” reports Tal Axelrod for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 39.05 million and has now killed over 638,800 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 217.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and cover 4.51 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The European Union proposed new travel restrictions for unvaccinated visitors from the United States, removing the country from its “safe list.” “The suggested restrictions are not mandatory, [only apply to unvaccinated persons,] and it remains up to each European Union member state to follow the guidelines. So it was not immediately clear which countries, if any, would reintroduce restrictions or when they might begin,” reports Elian Peltier for the New York Times.
The World Health Organization has warned that another 236,000 people could die from Covid-19 in Europe by December 1. Al Jazeera reporting.
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.