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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 – EVACUATIONS AND AFGHANS AT RISK
Thousands of Afghan evacuees being brought to the U.S. will arrive without visas as “humanitarian parolees,” lacking a path to legal U.S. residency as well as the benefits and services offered to traditional refugees, according to U.S. officials and concerned aid groups working closely with the government. “Afghan parolees who have arrived at U.S. military bases will be eligible for an ad hoc State Department program that provides limited assistance for up to 90 days, including a one-time $1,250 stipend. But they will not have the full range of medical, counseling and resettlement services available to immigrants who arrive through the U.S. refugee program,” Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.
Hundreds of Americans and at-risk Afghans, including Afghan commandos, were instructed to head to the CIA’s Eagle Base to secure safe passage to the U.S., generally amid increased risks of a terrorist attack on Kabul’s main airport. Some were flown from the secret base to Kabul airport and others to Germany. The CIA was involved in the clandestine mission, and the House Intelligence Committee was briefed about the operation in August, two sources said. Several helicopter flights operated by a U.S. company flew from an area around Eagle Base to the Kabul airport beginning on Aug. 15, when the Taliban took control of the city, according to flight data obtained by POLITICO. “During a call at 4 p.m. on Aug. 25 in Washington, or 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 26 in Kabul, Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, estimated that roughly 1,000 out of 2,000 Afghan commandos slated for evacuation, along with a number of American citizens coming from Eagle Base, had been successfully routed to the airport,” Lara Seligman Andrew Desiderio and Erin Banco report for POLITICO.
31,107 evacuees have arrived in the U.S. from Aug. 17 through Aug. 31: around 7,000 are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and around 23,876 are “Afghans at risk,” including Special Immigrant Visa applicants (SIVs) and other visa holders, the State Department confirmed. David Lawler reports Axios.
As of Wednesday morning, around 14,900 evacuees from Afghanistan are currently at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany as they wait to be processed and transferred, with 12,000 having already left. The aim was to get evacuees transferred out within 48 hours, but screening and processing is taking longer than anticipated. According to the U.S. agreement with Germany, evacuees cannot stay beyond 10 days. The air base – which is where the U.S. service members killed and injured last week were first flown to before being transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) – has a sprawling tent city that stretches across its flight line. “Women and children sleep in cots inside the cavernous hangars of the airbase while the men sleep 40 to a tent. Hot meals are distributed three times a day in insulated boxes. Portable toilets and washing stations provide only the most basic sanitation,” Atika Shubhert reports for CNN.
“The majority” of Afghan SIVs were left behind, said a State Department official in a private briefing to reporters. Although no estimate for the SIVs left behind is yet available, the official said “it’s the majority of them, just based on anecdotal information about the populations we were able to support,” adding the reason why so many remain in Afghanistan was that “every credential we tried to provide electronically was immediately disseminated to the widest possible pool. And so it was no longer a viable credential to differentiate among populations, and we simply did not have the people for that time to be able to try to sift through that crowd of people demanding access.” Also, the “senior State staffer, like other Biden administration officials, asserted the U.S. never provided the Taliban a comprehensive list of names, which POLITICO did not report. But the official went further than others by saying there were times providing manifests to the Taliban failed in the moment,” Alexander Ward reports for POLITICO.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former national security advisor H.R. McMaster made a joint appeal to the Biden administration and U.N. to extract orphans from Afghanistan before they’re taken by the Taliban, calling it “not just a humanitarian issue” but a “critical issue of national security.” “They make their case in a letter, obtained by Axios, that was sent late Tuesday to first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense, congressional leaders in both parties, the executive director of UNICEF and UN Secretary-General António Guterres,” Noah Bressner and Margaret Talev report for Axios.
AFGHANISTAN – PENTAGON LEADERS CONFERENCE
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley held a joint news conference at the Pentagon yesterday.
Sunday’s strike, or strikes, reported to have killed several civilians, was described by Milley as “righteous,” saying that through a “variety of means,” military officials know that at least one Islamic State member was killed, whom they have declined to name. Defense officials say the little known and used Hellfire R9X missile was used and that there appeared to be a second explosion, indicating explosives were in the vehicle, but Milley said the military does not know if and who else was killed. “At the time – and I think this is still valid – we had very good intelligence that ISIS-K was preparing a specific type of vehicle at a specific type of location,” Milley said, adding “We monitored that through various means and all of the engagement criteria were being met. We went through the same level of rigor that we’ve done for years, and we took a strike.” Family members interviewed by the Washington Post and New York Times at the site of the strike said that several people, including children, were killed. Family members said some of the children were in the vehicle with the alleged ISIS-K member at the time of the strike, which appears to contradict the administration’s position that any civilians were likely killed by the secondary explosion. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
The Pentagon leaders expressed wariness of working with the Taliban, but said it was “possible.” “We were working with the Taliban on a very narrow set of issues,” Austin told reporters. “I would not make any leaps of logic to broader issues. It’s hard to predict where this will go in the future with respect to the Taliban.” “This is a ruthless group,” said Milley, “Whether or not they change remains to be seen. In war, you do what you must.” “It is possible” the U.S. would work with the Taliban in the future against ISIS-K, said Milley, though Austin quickly interjected, saying he would not “want to make any predictions.” Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper report for the New York Times.
Austin said that the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program “should be looked at going forward,” citing the long process typically involved in clearing them to leave their home countries. “The SIV program is obviously not designed to accommodate what we just did in evacuating over 100,000 people,” Austin said. He added: “For the type of operation that we just conducted, I think we need a different type of capability. Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – THE UNITED STATES
The head of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, John Cohen, warned during a call with local and state law enforcement officials that White supremacist and other violent extremist groups have been “framing the activities of the Taliban as a success,” according to CNN, which obtained the conversation. “Cohen also reportedly noted that the groups have held discussions on the ‘great replacement concept,’ the belief that an influx of Afghan refugees or other immigrants could threaten the standing and power of white Americans,” reports Celine Castronuovo for The Hill.
In responding to the 9/11 attack, the U.S. will have spent $5.8tn waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria by the end of next year, according to updated figures from the Costs of War Project at Brown University. “The figure – which includes interest on debt used to finance the wars – will continue to increase in the decades ahead, with healthcare for veterans projected to hit $2.2tn by 2050,” reports BBC News.
The U.S. will help build a new facility for border guards in Tajikistan along the frontier with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to better respond to security threats, the U.S. embassy in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, said in a tweet, adding the move will allow troops to deploy to the border areas “as soon as possible in response to threats.” BBC News reports
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday that “there isn’t going to be an impeachment” of President Biden over the withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan, noting that Democrats control both chambers. Alex Rogers and Ali Zaslav report for CNN.
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson reportedly recently tested positive for Covid-19, presumably before he flew out of Kabul on the U.S.’s final C-17 jet on Monday, according to three people familiar with the matter. Wilson currently only has very mild, cold-like symptoms, one of the people said. The State Department refused to comment. Daniel Lippman and Alexander Ward report for POLITICO.
Afghanistan’s economy is forecast to contract by 9.7% this financial year, according to a Fitch Solutions forecast, citing the “highly disruptive manner” of the U.S. military withdrawal as one of the contributing factors. Andrew Jeong reports for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – THE UNITED KINGDOM
The U.K. government “will not be recognizing the Taliban any time in the foreseeable future,” though acknowledges that it does “see the need for direct engagement,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday in Qatar shortly after arriving for talks with Qatari leaders. “I think there is an important scope for engagement and dialogue to test the assurances that have already been made by the Taliban,” he told the Doha news conference. BBC News reporting.
The prospect of persuading the Taliban to reopen Kabul airport will be among the key issues discussed between Raab and Qatari officials, and Raab will also be briefed on talks between U.K. officials and the Taliban. BBC News reporting.
Secretary Raab yesterday gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee about the U.K.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The central intelligence assessment in the run-up to NATO troops pulling out was that there would be a “steady deterioration” in the security situation in August, but it was “unlikely Kabul would fall this year,” Raab said. Afghan guards who were based at the British embassy in Kabul did not make it out of Afghanistan because buses transporting them “were not given permission to enter the airport,” Raab said. BBC News reports.
The U.K. Foreign Office warned in risk assessments in July that the Taliban could retake power and Afghan forces collapse, it emerged during Raab’s appearance before MPs. “Peace talks are stalled and the U.S.-NATO withdrawal is resulting in rapid Taliban advances,” the report warned. “This could lead to: fall of cities, collapse of security forces, Taliban return to power, mass displacement and significant humanitarian need. The embassy may need to close if security deteriorates.” Raab appeared not to recognize the report when portions were read to him during the hearing. Patrick Wintour and Heather Stewart report for the Guardian.
The U.K. has sent a “rapid deployment team” of 15 to arrive today in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to process arrivals from Afghanistan, Raab told lawmakers. CNN reports.
AFGHANISTAN – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “was not responsible and not orderly” and amounted to the “abandonment of the Afghan people,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Wednesday in an interview with Britain’s Sky News. Quereshi rejected criticism that Pakistan had helped to foster the group’s return to power, noting that before the U.S. withdrawal, the insurgents already controlled large swaths of Afghanistan and had a political base in Qatar. Instead, Qureshi said the U.S. should “engage” with the Taliban and “test” it regarding its political commitments, rather than keeping it internationally isolated. Miriam Berger reports for the Washington Post.
European Council President Charles Michel says the chaotic scenes in Afghanistan make clear the need for the E.U. to embrace “greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world.” “Speaking at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, Michel said the EU should not have to rely on other powers in the future,” reports BBC News.
“We must reflect openly and clear-eyed on a new stage in collective security and defense capabilities, especially in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis,” said Michel. Michel did not mention the U.S. by name, but echoed the sentiments of several other European officials, who have been critical of America’s decision to pull out and frustrated by the E.U.’s inability to act on its own. Reis Thebault reports for the Washington Post.
The Netherlands will move its Kabul diplomatic mission to Qatar, Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag has said. BBC News reports.
AFGHANISTAN – A NEW AFGHAN GOVERNMENT
The Taliban’s announcement of Afghanistan’s new Islamic government – including expected “Supreme Leader” Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada and appointments to the communications and interior ministries – may come as soon as today, according to a Taliban official who requested anonymity because talks were continuing. “Bloomberg News, citing Bilal Karimi, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, also reported on the plans for the new government, including Sheikh Haibatullah’s new role“ reports Matthieu Aikins for the New York Times.
Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said on social media a ceremony to unveil their new government was being prepared at the presidential palace in Kabul, though the group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters he could not give an exact date but it was a matter of a few days. Reuters reporting.
In a BBC NEWS interview, the deputy head of the Taliban political office in Qatar said women could continue in their work, including at “lower levels” of government, but in the top posts or cabinet there “may not” be a woman.
An explainer to who Taliban Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada is by Miriam Beger for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – TALIBAN TAKEOVER AND CLASHES
The Taliban held a parade of captured military kit in Afghanistan’s second biggest city, Kandahar, on Wednesday, with a Black Hawk helicopter flying the Taliban’s banner over dozens of captured American military vehicles as the militant group celebrated its victory in Afghanistan. “In one video, militants dressed in US-style uniforms and holding US-made weapons examined a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter parked inside a hangar. Taliban fighters were also seen posing for photographs while sitting in the cockpits of planes and helicopters that once belonged to the Afghan Air Force,” Jonny Hallam and Mick Krever report for CNN.
The Taliban have called on fighters in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul to lay down their weapons after talks failed between the group and leaders of the opposition, an audio message on Twitter by senior Taliban official Amir Khan Muttaqi said, urging residents to persuade the fighters to give up. BBC News reports.
The Taliban continued clashes Wednesday with opposition militia groups in northern and central Afghanistan. The group said they captured Shotul district in Panjshir province, the last province not to have been captured, and sporadic clashes also continued in the provinces of Wardak and Daikundi, home to large groups of Hazaras, a mostly Shiite minority, who have formed armed militias. Sune Engel Rasmussen and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban are already showing signs that they are unwilling to tolerate cultural or political expressions that conflict with their fundamentalist beliefs system, with the group’s fighters acting largely based on their own interpretation of what constitutes appropriate behavior. “There are signs of divisions within the Taliban, with some commanders seemingly trying to control fighters from rural areas who they say are less accustomed to life in more liberal cities that until recently were held by the U.S.-backed government,” report Sune Engel Rasmussen and Ehsanullah Amiri for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban have reportedly given permission for Afghanistan’s men’s cricket team to play their first international match since the groups takeover, chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Hamid Shinwari, told the AFP news agency. BBC NEWS reports.
Over 85% of the 700 female journalists in Kabul are no longer working since the Taliban took over this month, findings released yesterday by Reporters Without Borders said, adding nearly all private news outlets went off the air in three provinces, where most female journalists had to stop working. “The illusion of normality lasted only a few days,” it wrote. Ellen Francis reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
Far-right extremist groups, including members of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, are planning to attend a rally at the Capitol on Sep. 18 to demand “justice” for the hundreds of people charged, and sometimes detained, for their involvement in Jan. 6, according to three people familiar with intelligence gathered by federal officials. U.S. Capitol Police have been discussing in recent weeks whether a perimeter fence will again be erected, as well as considering another undisclosed plan not involving fencing. The Metropolitan Police Department will activate its entire force for that day and has put specialized riot officers on standby, law enforcement officials said. AP reporting.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has warned tech and social media companies that his party will retaliate against any company that cooperates with requests from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to preserve the phone and social media records of G.O.P. lawmakers. “Mr. McCarthy asserted, without citing any law, that it would be illegal for the technology companies to cooperate with the inquiry, even though congressional investigations have obtained phone records before. He said that if his party won control of the House, it would use its power to punish any that did,” Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
Rioters involved in attack committed over 1,000 assaults on federal officers, read a court filing late Wednesday by Emily Miller, the federal prosecutor leading evidence-collection efforts for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.
HOUSE DEFENSE POLICY BILL
The House Armed Services Committee late Wednesday voted 57-2 to advance its $778 billion version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). “While the end result was a bipartisan vote, the approval came after a marathon markup that included partisan debates on everything from the withdrawal from Afghanistan to critical race theory to the overall size of the defense budget,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The committee also voted 35-24 to adopt an amendment from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) to expand registration for the Selective Service System to include women, during late night deliberations on the committee’s annual defense policy bill. The House vote follows a similar vote in the Senate, and several Republican broke ranks to help Democrats to adopt the amendment in the chamber yesterday. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The panel introduced an amendment to the NDAA that would prohibit National Guard deployments between states from being financed by private or nongovernmental grant donations unless it was used for emergency or disaster relief. The amendment comes just months after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) accepted private donations from a Tennessee billionaire to subsidize the deployment of National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexico border. Paul McLeary and Connor O’Brien report for POLITICO.
Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who led the Russia investigation, scrutinized “a member of the news media suspected of participating in the conspiracy” to hack Democrats and make their email records public, the Justice Department revealed yesterday. The journalist was not named in the disclosure, nor did it say why the person was suspected of participating in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election, or whether that person ever testified before a grand jury. Nor did it define “member of the news media” to clarify whether that meant a traditional journalist or could broadly extend to variety of commentators on current events. “The disclosure of the scrutiny of a member of the news media was contained in a revision to a report issued by the Trump administration about investigative activities that affected or involved the news media in 2018. The Trump-era version of that report had omitted the episode,” Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman report for the New York Times.
Alexanda Kotey, a British ISIS militant who was part of a Syrian faction dubbed the “Beatles” and accused of beheading American hostage, was due to plead guilty on criminal charged today before the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, according to a federal court record. “Court records show Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, a Sudanese-born British resident extradited to the United States with Kotey, face charges that include hostage-taking resulting in death and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists,” reports Reuters.
Around a third of calls made to released migrant kids from U.S. custody or their sponsors between January and May went unanswered, according to data obtained by Axios through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which said of the estimated 14,600 calls made, no one could be reached in 4,890 of them. The percentage of unsuccessful calls grew, from 26% in January to 37% in May. The data also indicates calls aren’t happening with the frequency they should. Between Jan. 20 and the end of May, the Department of Health and Human Services discharged 32,000 children and teens, yet the government made fewer than 15,000 follow-up calls, according to the data. In both March and April, the number of children discharged was twice as high as the number of check-in calls the following month, indicating that half of those release might not have received a 30-day call, according to public agency data. Stef W. Kight reports for Axios.
Key industry groups yesterday pushed to give organizations at least 72 hours to report cybersecurity incidents to the U.S. federal government, effectively opposing legislation brought forward by the Senate that would give them 24 hours to report breaches. The request was made during a House Homeland Security cybersecurity subcommittee hearing on a new draft bill put forward by subcommittee chair Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and ranking member of the full committee Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.). Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks writes about the need to address racial disparities in the military justice system in an op-ed for The Hill.
President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reaffirmed the strategic understandings between the U.S. and Israel regarding Israel’s alleged undeclared military nuclear program during Bennett’s White House visit last Friday, a ritual that every president since Nixon in 1969 has done, a senior Israeli official briefed on the meeting said. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.
Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday said Biden’s plan to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem is a “bad idea,” arguing that such a move could destabilize Israel’s new government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Reuters reporting.
Biden on Wednesday assured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that the U.S. remained opposed to “Russian aggression” in the region. Zelensky “thanked the United States for a new $60 million defense aid package and said he wanted to focus on security issues, including the Russian occupation of Crimea,” Annie Karni reports for the New York Times.
China’s recently appointed ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, delivered his first major speech at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, pointing ominously to China’s nuclear weapons capability, warning of “disastrous consequences” if the U.S. attempts to suppress China using a “Cold War playbook.” Phelim Kine reports for POLITICO.
The Biden administration is extending a Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea for one year, the State Department announced in an unpublished federal register notice, saying that the ban would be extended to Aug. 31, 2022, unless otherwise revoked earlier. Under the ban, unless “specifically validated for such authority under the Secretary of State,” all U.S. passports are invalid for traveling to North Korea. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
A delegation of four U.S. senators – including Sens. Chris Murphy (D-C.T.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-C.T.) – warned against Iranian fuel shipments to Lebanon, during a press conference at the military airbase in Beirut airport Wednesday. “During a visit that included meetings with Lebanon’s president, parliament speaker and prime minister-designate, the American lawmakers said they received promises that a new government will be formed before the end of the week,” AP reporting.
A Russian-brokered cease-fire took effect Wednesday in a volatile southern city in Syria, according to the Syrian opposition and state media. “As part of the deal, Russian military police are deploying in Daraa al-Balad, the rebel-held old quarter of Daraa city in southern Syria. The deal also involves the disarming or expulsion of a dozen rebel fighters from the area who were considered by the Syrian government to be a threat to the cease-fire agreement, The Britain-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported,” AP reports.
The Romanian government – a coalition of center-right parties in power since December – is on the brink of collapse, with one party drafting on Thursday a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Florin Cîțu. “Tensions boiled over on Wednesday after Cîțu, of the National Liberal Party (PNL), tried to force through a controversial local spending program and sacked Justice Minister Stelian Ion, a member of the Union to Save Romania PLUS grouping (USR PLUS), the second-largest coalition member. Cîțu’s move took USR PLUS by surprise, a party insider told POLITICO,” reports Matei Rosca for POLITICO EU.
U.K. defense company Babcock has sold its Avinicis helicopter operations once labelled a “nightmare” by its former boss to U.S.-based CHC Helicopter for £10m despite paying £1.6bn for it seven years ago. Alan Tovey reports for the Telegraph.
The coronavirus has infected over 39.39 million and has now killed over 642,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 218.51 million confirmed coronavirus cases and cover 4.54 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn yesterday called for sanctions against nations that hide information about possible future virus outbreaks, citing the World Trade Organization (WHO)’s power to sanction countries for noncompliance. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to consider sanctions as part of the new treaty being drafted, a legally binding tool to better prevent, detect and respond to future pandemics. The treaty should “have all the incentives, or the carrots” to encourage transparency, Tedros said during a press conference with Spahn in Berlin. “But maybe exploring the sanctions may be important,” he added. Sarah Wheaton and Carlo Martuscelli report or POLITICO EU.
France yesterday become the first big E.U. nation to start administering booster shots of Covid-19 vaccine to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions as the delta variant spreads in the country, with several other European countries are expected to follow suit. AP 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.