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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend and past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING AFGHANS AND U.S. CITIZENS
At least four planes chartered to evacuate several hundred people seeking to escape the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan have been unable to leave Afghanistan’s northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for days, officials said on Sunday. Conflicting accounts have emerged as to why the flights were unable to take off. The top Republican on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the group included Americans and they were sitting on the planes, but the Taliban were not letting them take off, effectively “holding them hostage.” However, an Afghan official at the airport said that many of the would-be-passengers were Afghans who did not have the correct documents. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has today denied reports that the Taliban blocked Americans attempting to fly out of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, but said the group had not allowed charter flights to depart because some people lacked valid travel documents. Speaking at a news conference in Qatar, Blinken said that Washington had identified a “relatively” small number of Americans seeking to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif. However, Blinken said that his understanding was that the issue in flights departing was due to some people on the flight lacking valid travel documents, which effectively blocked the departure of the entire group. Humeyra Pamuk reports for Reuters.
The U.S. has facilitated the departure of four U.S. citizens from Afghanistan via an overland route to a third country, a senior State Department official said yesterday. The official confirmed that these are the first four Americans that have been “facilitated in this manner” since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The specifics of the departure, including the third country, have not been released to protect the individuals “privacy and preserve the viability of [the U.S.’s] tactics,” and official said. The individuals consisted of a woman and her three children from Texas, according to Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who has been assisting an American non profit-funded group who are working to get Americans and Special Immigrant Visa holders out of Afghanistan. Alex Marquardt, Chandelis Duster and Brianna Keilar report for CNN.
Around 1,000 people, including dozens of American citizens and Afghans holding visas to the U.S. or other countries, remained stuck in Afghanistan on Sunday as they awaited clearance for the departure from the Taliban. Negotiations to allow the planes to depart from Afghanistan, including from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif as well as Kabul airport, involving officials from the Taliban, Qatar and the U.S. have been dragging on for days, leaving the evacuees in an increasingly precarious situation. Melissa Eddy and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times.
U.S. Embassy contractors, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and American University of Afghanistan students are among the Afghans left behind in Afghanistan after one of the largest airlifts in history. One person familiar with the matter said those left behind “included about 2,000 U.S. Embassy contractors and immediate family members, some of whom who had worked at the embassy for more than a decade. The State Department declined to comment on that number,” Susannah George reports for the Washington Post.
Eight U.S. military bases are working to house an expected 50,000 Afghan refugees, U.S. Northern Command head Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck said on Friday. More than 25,600 Afghans have arrived in the U.S. so far and include a mix of special immigrant visa applicants and asylum-seekers, VanHerck told reporters. The U.S.’s current ability is limited to only housing 36,000 people across installations, and the U.S. is “working to increase capacity to at least 50,000,” VanHerck said. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Qatar yesterday as Washington seeks support for the evacuation of Americans and at-risk Afghans left behind in Afghanistan and build a consensus among allies on how to respond to the Taliban. “Dubbed as a ‘thank you’ tour to Qatar and Germany, which were instrumental in helping Washington evacuate thousands of people out of Kabul, Blinken will meet with senior Qatari and German officials. In Germany he will also co-host a ministerial meeting on Afghanistan,” Humeyra Pamuk reports for Reuters.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) yesterday said that he is “furious” about President Biden’s administration’s delays in getting Americans out of Afghanistan. “I have been deeply frustrated, even furious, at our government’s delay and inaction,” Blumenthal said in a statement on Twitter. “There will be plenty of time to seek accountability for the inexcusable bureaucratic red tape that stranded so many of our Afghan allies,” Blumenthal said. “For now, my singular focus remains getting these planes in the air and safely to our airbase in Doha, where they have already been cleared to land,” he added. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
The military’s preliminary analysis of the drone strike on a sedan near Kabul’s airport on Aug. 29, said that it was “possible to probable” that explosives were in the car and that drone operators took only a cursory scan of the courtyard before launching an attack. The preliminary analysis offers much less conclusive evidence to support the prior claims from the U.S. military’s top officer Gen. Mark A. Milley that the drone strike followed conclusions that the car contained explosives and that the military planners took proper precautions to limit risks to civilians, military officials have acknowledged. Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. Government wasted at least $2.4 billion on assets in Afghanistan that were unused, destroyed or poorly maintained, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has found. According to the watchdog the “Aghan countryside is littered with abandoned and decaying power plants, prisons, schools, factories, office buildings and military bases…the legacy of the U.S.’s 20-year effort to fund the establishment of a modern Afghan state that could provide security and basic services for its citizens,” Daniel Nasaw reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 14 to testify about President Biden’s administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The hearing, which likely marks the start of what is expected to be a lengthy public grilling for administration officials by Congress, is set to be on “examining the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.” Blinken is the only witness currently listed for the hearing. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Analysis of Biden’s plan for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and how the U.S. strategy put Defense and State departments on divergent paths, with the troops leaving and the diplomats remaining in Afghanistan is provided by the Wall Street Journal. “While many factors, recent and long past, contributed to America’s drive to leave Afghanistan, among the problems, interviews with a wide range of officials suggest, was the difficulty the Biden administration had in quickly adjusting to changing circumstances as the Taliban advanced, as more-pessimistic intelligence assessments arrived and as military officials raised alarms that Washington was moving too slowly to help Afghan allies,” Michael R. Gordon, Gordon Lubold, Vivian Salama and Jessica Donati report for the Wall Street Journal.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has said he believed it was “likely” that conditions for a future civil war could develop in Afghanistan following the U.S. troop withdrawal. During an interview with Fox News, Miley said that there is “at least a very good probability of a broader civil war, and that will then in turn lead to conditions that could in fact, lead to reconstitution of al Qaeda or a growth of ISIS or other myriad of terrorist groups.” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – TALIBAN DEVELOPMENTS
The Taliban said yesterday that they had captured the last holdout of resistance in Afghanistan in the Panjshir province, north of Kabul. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said at a news conference that Panjshir had fallen. “Panjshir is under the control of the Taliban,” Mujahid said. “Now the war is ended,” he added. Yuliya Talmazan, Mushtaq Yusufzai and Abigail Williams report for NBC News.
Representatives of the opposition forces in the Panjshir Valley have maintained that they will continue to fight on against the Taliban from the mountains, despite the Taliban now claiming that they have captured the valley. The opposition group, the National Resistance Front, (NRF), disputed the accounts from the Taliban, saying that its forces were still positioned across the Panjshir Valley. “We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails,” it said on Twitter. Sami Sahak, Wali Arian and Jim Huylebroek report for the New York Times.
The leader of the Afghan opposition group resisting Taliban forces in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul said on Sunday that he welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement to end the fighting. Ahmad Massoud, head of the NRF said in a Facebook post that “the NRF in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations.” “To reach a lasting peace, the NRF is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab,” he added. Reuters reporting.
Taliban gunmen have fired into the air to disperse protesters in the center of Kabul today, witnesses have said. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Reuters reporting.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Kabul today to demand women’s rights and denounce Taliban rule, with video footage from the scenes in Kabul showing people running to safety, while heavy gunfire can be heard in the background. Protesters also chanted anti-Pakistan slogans, as many believe neighboring Pakistan supports the Taliban, which Pakistan denies. Women have been protesting for the past week; however the protests today have been reported to have had the largest contingent of men also calling for equality and safety for women. BBC News reporting
The Taliban have been accused of murdering a pregnant Afghan policewoman on Saturday night, according to her family. The Taliban have denied the accusation and have said they have launched an investigation into the woman’s death. However, her death, in the central Afghanistan province of Ghor, adds to mounting concerns about the repression of women under the Taliban’s rule. Jaide Garcia and Jonny Hallam report for CNN.
Kabul airport has reopened with domestic flights taking off, after a team from Qatar repaired parts of the air traffic control system last week, the Taliban commander in charge of airport security has said. However, the airport “was operating without radar or navigation systems, making it difficult to resume international civilian flights, a key step to enabling refugees to leave. The Qatari Foreign Ministry said technical officials had prepared the airport for international humanitarian flights,” Susannah George, Robyn Dixon, Rick Noack, Ezzatullah Mehrdad, Haq Nawaz Khan, Shaiq Hussain and Sammy Westfall report for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY, AID AND SUPPORT
The U.N.’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths promised continued aid to Afghanistan during a meeting held in Kabul with senior Taliban officials, a Taliban spokesperson said on Sunday. “The U.N. delegation promised continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, saying he would call for further assistance to Afghanistan during the coming meeting of donor countries,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen tweeted. Reuters reporting.
The U.N. is preparing to head back to Afghanistan to avert a major humanitarian crisis, while a month ago it was pulling its staff out of the country. The U.N.’s decision to stay in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan has raised alarm among some U.N. international – and particularly Afghan – staff who fear for their lives in Afghanistan. However, “the move comes as the United Nations faces increasing pressure from key powers…to resume humanitarian operations in Afghanistan… It also comes as the United Nations’ humanitarian branch is laying the groundwork for a possible high-level mission to Afghanistan,” Colum Lynch, Robbie Gramer, and Anna Weber report for Foreign Policy.
China is embracing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the U.S. departure but is doing so carefully with concerns that Afghanistan under Taliban rule will again become fertile ground for extremist groups. Analysis of China’s approach to the Taliban is provided by Janis Mackey Frayer for NBC News.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said yesterday evening that law enforcement needs to take the upcoming right-wing rally in Washington in support of jailed Jan. 6 attackers “very seriously.” “In fact, they should take it more seriously than they took the same sort of intelligence that they likely saw on January 5,” McCabe told CNN. “The event, organized by a former President Trump campaign staffer, has prompted security concerns on Capitol Hill, and some precautionary measures will be in place. However, it’s unclear how many protesters plan to attend. The rally is also taking place on a Saturday, when the House will be on recess, so far fewer lawmakers or staff will be around,” Paul Le Blanc reports for CNN.
Pretrial hearings in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been accused of being the lead plotter behind the Sep. 11 attacks, and four other detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are set to resume today. If convicted, all five detainees could receive the death penalty. The pre-trial hearings had been paused for a year and a half due to the Covid-19 pandemic and personnel changes. “This week’s hearings will be the first before the latest judge assigned to the case, Col. Matthew N. McCall, who is an Air Force judge. Since the five detainees were arraigned at Guantanamo Bay in 2012, four judges have presided over hearings in the case,” Ellie Kaufman report for CNN.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Top members of the select committee investigation the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol have refuted recent claims by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that former President Trump has been cleared by the Justice Department of any role in the attack. The statement by the Committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said that following questions to the “Executive Branch agencies and congressional committees involved in the investigation,” it has “been made clear…that reports of such a conclusion are baseless.” Ryan Nobles and Daniella Diaz report for CNN.
The public spotlight around the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack has shifted onto McCarthy. The focus on McCarthy’s role, and any involvement from other Republicans, in the attack has “only intensified over the past week, when McCarthy took the remarkable step of threatening the nation’s tech and telecom giants with unnamed repercussions if they comply with the investigators’ request to retain the phone and social media records of GOP lawmakers who actively supported the effort to block President Biden’s electoral victory,” Mike Illis and Scott Wong report for The Hill.
A public interest group is calling for an ethics investigation into McCarthy after he told communication companies that the Republican party “will not forget” if they turn phone and email records over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. “The complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington argues that both McCarthy and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) violated House rules by threatening to retaliate against companies that comply with legal requests,” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
Israeli security forces launched a manhunt yesterday for six Palestinian prisons who escaped overnight from one of the highest security prisons in Israel through a hole in their bathroom. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described the escape as a “grave incident,” and “Israeli police responded in large numbers, erecting roadblocks after the rare jailbreak from the Gilboa prison in northern Israel. Security forces patrolled streets in the north of the country and the occupied West Bank, as helicopters flew above,” Ellen Francis reports for the Washington Post.
Israel’s military has said that it has launched airstrikes earlier today on what it said was a Hamas military site in the Gaza Strip, after incendiary balloons were sent into Israeli territory. Fighter jets struck a Hamas rocket manufacturing workshop as well as a Hamas military compound in Khan Yunis, a city in southern Gaza, according to the army statement. Laurie Kellman reports for AP.
The Palestinian Authority has indicted fourteen members of its security services with beating to death an outspoken activist known for his fierce online criticism. The indictments follow international pressure, including from the European Union, on senior Palestinian leaders. However, family members of the victim, Nizar Banat, have expressed outrage that military prosecutors failed to indict more senior officials. Adam Rasgon reports for the New York Times.
Myanmar’s shadow government has declared war on the ruling military junta in the country and has called for an armed revolt, sparking an escalation of fighting in parts of Myanmar. “Today … we launched a people’s defensive war against the military junta,” said Duwa Lashi La, acting president of the National Unity Government, in a video address posted to Facebook. He called on citizens to revolt against military rule “in every corner of the country.” Shibani Mahtani reports for the Washington Post.
A court in Myanmar has extended for two weeks the pre-trial detention of Danny Fenster, a U.S. journalist in Myanmar who was arrested in May as he was about to board a flight to go to the U.S. Fenster is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online magazine based in Yangon. His next trial date is set for Sep. 20 according to his lawyer who added that according to the court clerk Fenster is healthy. AP reports.
Myanmar’s military junta has released the controversial Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, known for his nationalist and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The monk, who is known for his pro-military views, had previously been charged for sedition against the civilian government, which has since been deposed in the February military coup. BBC News reporting.
A faction of Guinea’s military claimed to have taken charge of the nation on Sunday. Officers from an elite special forces unit declared that they had suspended the constitution and detained President Alpha Condé following hours of clashes in the West African nation’s capital. A military officer draped in the country’s red, green and yellow flag announced on state television that Guinea’s government had been dissolved and its borders closed. However, a power struggle seemed to be underway on Sunday night with the Defense Ministry saying that the coup had been foiled. Nicholas Bariyo and Benoit Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal.
The leaders of a military coup in Guinea promised yesterday to set up a transitional government of national unity after ousting the country’s president and dissolving his cabinet. Saliou Samb reports for Reuters.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hold an extraordinary summit on the situation in Guinea on Thursday, according to a staff memo. An ECOWAS spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment late on Monday. Reuters reporting.
NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA
The U.S., South Korea and Japan are preparing for a possible meeting of officials handling North Korea next week in Tokyo, Kyodo news agency reported today. The officials would discuss the feasibility of attempts by President Biden’s administration to open dialogue with North Korea in pursuit of denuclearization, the news agency said. Reuters reporting.
China’s foreign minister will visit South Korea next week amid stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea, Seoul’s foreign ministry has said today. “The two ministers plan to exchange in-depth opinions about the situation of the Korean peninsula and regional and global issues,” the ministry said in a statement. Hyonhee Shin reports for Reuters.
South Korea’s military has said that it and the U.S. are keeping a close watch on North Korea amid signs the country is preparing to stage another new military parade to showcase its growing nuclear and missile capabilities. “There’s speculation its next military parade could come as early as Thursday when it celebrates the 73rd anniversary of the country’s founding. Another big date is Oct. 10, the 76th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party,” Kim Tong-Hyung reports for AP
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Islamic State gunmen have opened fire at a federal police checkpoint in rural northern Iraq, sparking clashes that killed 13 police offices and wounded five, a security official said on Sunday. The Islamic State group did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack. Qassim Abul-Zahra reports for AP.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday that Iran was ready to resume nuclear talks but added that it would like to do so without “pressure” from Western countries. Rasi also added that Tehran was seeking negotiations leading to a lifting of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Reuters reporting.
Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who refused an effort last year by security agents to forcibly deport her, was found guilty yesterday of conspiracy to overthrow the Minsk government and sentenced to 11 years in prison after a closed trial. Her opposition colleague, Maxim Znak, was sentenced to 10 years. The two were also convicted of inciting action aimed at harming national security and the creation of an extremist group. Robyn Dixon reports for the Washington Post.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is pressing China to join international talks on limiting nuclear arms. Stoltenberg said yesterday during NATO’s annual arms control conference, that more countries must be included in future missile restriction talks, not just Russia. “As a global power, China has global responsibilities in arms control. And Beijing, too, would benefit from mutual limits on numbers, increased transparency, and more predictability,” Stoltenberg said. Stoltenberg also warned that Beijing’s nuclear arsenal is rapidly expanding, saying that “China is building a large number of missile silos, which can significantly increase its nuclear capability. All of this is happening without any limitation or constraint. And with a complete lack of transparency.” AP reports.
Russia’s FSB security service has accused Ukrainian military intelligence of organizing an attack on a gas pipeline on Russian-annexed Crimea after Moscow arrested a Crimean Tatar leader over the incident, Reuters reports.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies could be preparing to mount a military coup in Brazil, according to an open letter from an influential group of former presidents, prime ministers and leading public figures on the left. The open letter claims rallies that Bolsonaro followers, including white supremacist groups, military police, and public officials at every level of government, are staging today represent a danger to democracy and amount to an insurrection modelled on former U.S. President Trump supporters’ Jan. 6 attack. They assert that the nationwide marches against the supreme court and Congress are “stoking fears of a coup in the world’s third largest democracy.” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
Thousands of supports of Bolsonaro have converged on Brazil’s political and economic capitals, amid mounting fears over the future of Brazilian democracy and of possible skirmishes with the government’s opponents. “Bolsonaro supporters broke through police roadblocks on Monday night that had sought to prevent access to the capital’s central mall. The Federal District’s security secretariat said in a statement that officers had been deployed in an effort to control the situation,” Tom Phillips reports for the Guardian.
The ambassadors of the Group of Seven nations have urged Tunisia’s president to appoint a new head of government as a matter of urgency and return to a constitutional order in which an elected parliament plays a significant role. “The statement, put out by the British Embassy on social media, is the most significant public expression of unease by major democracies since President Kais Saied seized governing powers in July in moves his opponents called a coup,” Reuters reports.
Libyan officials have said that they have released one of Muammar Gadhafi’s sons after more than seven years of detention in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Libyan Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said in a tweet early Monday that al-Saadi Gadhafi had been released in compliance with a previous court order. “Local media reported al-Saadi Gadhafi was released after he was acquitted on charges dating back to the uprising against his father’s rule,” Samy Magdy reports for AP.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi yesterday welcomed the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as it makes its first Japanese port call. Kishi said that the involvement of European nations in the Indo-Pacific region is key to peace and stability as China’s military strength and influence grow. Mari Yamaguchi reports for AP.
China’s military sent 19 aircrafts into Taiwan’s “air defense identification zone” on Sunday, including several nuclear-capable bombers, on the eve of Taipei’s annual war games exercises. The area is not Taiwan’s territorial airspace, but the sorties from China provoke Taiwan’s air force to scramble jets in response, and on Sunday missile monitoring systems were also deployed. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
The coronavirus has infected over 40.0 million and has now killed over 649,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 221.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.57 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.