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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 – TALIBAN GOVERNMENT
Foreign countries, including the U.S., greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay yesterday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to an all-male cabinet, including several with a U.S. bounty on their heads. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was assessing the Cabinet announcement, “but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women” he said during a visit to a U.S. air base in Germany that has been a transit point for evacuees from Afghanistan. Reuters reporting.
The Taliban have banned protests and slogans that do not have their approval, as the group moves to tighten its crackdown on escalating protests against its rule. Rallies in Afghanistan have already been broken up violently and now in the first decree issued by the Taliban’s new interior ministry, which is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges, the Taliban warned opponents that they must secure permission before any protests or face “severe legal consequences.” Akhtar Mohammad Makoii, Peter Beaumont and Patrick Wintour report for the Guardian.
The acting Premier Mohammad Hasan Akhund has called on former officials who fled Afghanistan to return, saying that the Taliban “will guarantee their safety and security.” “We have suffered heavy losses for this historic moment and the era of bloodshed in Afghanistan is over,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview. Akhund also said that the Taliban’s leaders faced “a great responsibility and test” towards the Afghan people. Al Jazeera reports.
The challenges facing the new Taliban government in Afghanistan were coming into sharp relief yesterday. “Tensions flared with neighboring Pakistan. Afghanistan’s longstanding humanitarian crisis deepened. And the militants’ brutal crackdown on dissent threatened to further erode public trust,” Matthieu Aikins, Salman Masood and Marc Santora report for the New York Times.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that hopes are fading for a more open Taliban government. The Taliban’s new interim Afghan government includes former leaders ousted 20 years ago by the U.S. invasion and members of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. “I think the whole international community was hopeful that they would be as inclusive as they said they would be weeks and months ago, but we’ve not seen evidence of that early on,” Austin said. Nancy A. Youssef reports for the Wall Street Journal.
E.U. foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said yesterday that the Taliban’s provisional government for Afghanistan failed to fulfill the militant group’s promise of including women and other religious groups. “It does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan we hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks,” Stano said in a statement. “Such inclusivity and representation is expected in the composition of a future transitional government, and as result of negotiations,” he added. Reuters reporting.
The Taliban is bringing back its feared Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The body, included in a list of new appointees to the interim government, has fueled fears of a return to the last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, where “morality police roamed the streets, implementing the group’s austere interpretation of Islamic law — with harsh restrictions on women, strictly enforced prayer times and even bans on kite-flying and chess,” Haq Nawaz Khan, Ellen Francis and Adam Taylor report for the Washington Post.
The Taliban will forbid Afghan women from playing cricket and other sports where their bodies might be seen, a senior Taliban official has told Australian public broadcaster SBS. “I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” said Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, according to a translation by SBS. Bill Chappell reports for NPR.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING AFGHANS AND U.S. CITIZENS
Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities are going to allow about 200 Americans and other foreign citizens to leave Afghanistan on a flight to Qatar scheduled for today, the first such departure since U.S. forces withdrew last month. A Qatar Airways plane landed in Kabul today, marking the resumption of international passenger operations at Kabul airport, and was expected to depart later in the day. “The flight will be followed by daily air links to foreign countries, a senior Qatari official said. The Qatari official said it wasn’t an evacuation flight as all of the passengers hold foreign passports and, if required, visas for their destinations, and have been ticketed by the airline,” Yaroslav Trofimov and Dion Nissenbaum report for the Wall Street Journal.
A U.S. official has however described the flight as the Taliban interim government agreeing to the evacuation of the 200 Americans and other foreigners. The Taliban were pressed to allow the departures by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. official said. Reuters reporting.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Taliban officials yesterday to allow charter flights to leave Afghanistan. The calls follow outrage from lawmakers that the Taliban was essentially holding Americans and Afghan allies hostage in the country. “We’ve heard in some of our engagements with the Taliban their concern about a so-called brain drain and people with knowledge and expertise leaving the country,” Blinken said in remarks at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “And one of the things that we shared with them was the best way to get people to stay in Afghanistan is to allow them to leave Afghanistan, as well as to uphold their basic rights…whether they will take that to heart remains to be seen.” Blinken added. Bret Samuels reports for The Hill.
Blinken yesterday acknowledged “a fair amount of confusion” around charter flights from Afghanistan and said that the U.S. is “working to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground.” Blinken blamed the grounding of the flights in the north of Afghanistan on the Taliban, saying that the group was not allowing them to leave. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
AFGHANISTAN – INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY, AID AND SUPPORT
The U.S. is convening an expanded group of western nations to set a framework for cooperation with the new Taliban government, amid fears that isolating the militant group could backfire. The virtual meeting on Wednesday, chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, convening as many as 20 nations “will run through a familiar set of conditions for cooperation with the Taliban, including free movement for Afghan and foreign nationals who wish to leave, protection of rights for women and a commitment to protect aid workers. The meeting is likely to discuss the terms for giving humanitarian aid, after the U.N. warned this week that the Afghan economy was on the brink of collapse,” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has announced that China is offering at least $31m worth of emergency aid, including Covid-19 vaccines to Afghanistan. Wang made the announcement yesterday during a meeting with foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. In his remarks Wang was quoted by a state news agency as saying that Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis. “Some international forces may also use political, economic and financial means to create new troubles for Afghanistan,” the news agency said without giving details. In recent days the Taliban has also declared that China will be its “main partner” in rebuilding Afghanistan. Al Jazeera reports.
China’s government yesterday said that it would maintain communication with the new Afghan government run by the Taliban. “China’s position on the Afghan issue is consistent and clear. We always respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, adhere to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and support the Afghan people in independently choosing a development path suited to the country’s conditions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a daily media briefing yesterday. Reuters reports.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said today that the al-Qaida extremist group that used Afghanistan as a staging base to attack U.S. 20 years ago may attempt to regenerate there now the Taliban are in power. Austin made the comments when speaking to reporters in Kuwait City, adding that “the whole community is kind of watching to see what happens “and that the United States is prepared to prevent an al-Qaida comeback in Afghanistan that would threaten the United States. Robert Burns reports for AP.
Protesters against the Taliban rule have continued to take to the street in several parts of Afghanistan, defying Taliban intimidation and pressure to stay at home. “Dozens of demonstrators gathered near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and Taliban gunmen opened fire to disperse them, protesters said. More demonstrations were reported in Parwan and Nimruz provinces. Photos have also emerged showing injuries inflicted on two journalists who covered protests on Wednesday,” BBC News reports.
Analysis of claims that Pakistani drones have been helping the Taliban consolidate their control over Afghanistan, and in particular the Panjshir Valley, is provided by BBC News.
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has apologized to the people of Afghanistan after fleeing to take refuge in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban advanced on Kabul last month. “Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life,” he said, adding that he was sorry he “could not make it end differently.” BBC News reports.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden’s administration has told 11 officials appointed to military service academy advisory boards by former President Trump to resign or be dismissed. “The officials asked to resign include prominent former Trump officials like former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, former senior counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster. They were appointed to the advisory boards of the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and West Point respectively,” Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck report for CNN.
Conway and Spice have fired back at the Biden administration following its request that they resign from military academy boards. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the requests and reiterated that the resignation requests where down to qualifications, “the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you are qualified to serve and whether you’re aligned with the values of this administration,” Psaki said. In response to the requests, Spicer said “I will not be submitting my resignation, and I will be joining a lawsuit to fight this.” Likewise, Conway, a former White House counselor who was appointed to the board of the Air Force Academy, said in a letter shared to Twitter that the move by Biden was “petty and political, if not personal.” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Trump’s former budget chief is refusing to step down from the Naval Academy’s Board of Visitors after he was asked to resign yesterday, along with a number of other Trump appointees. Russel Vought, the former Office of Management and Budget director, posted to Twitter a letter sent from the White House stating that if his resignation was not received his “position would be terminated effective 6:00pm yesterday evening. Vought replied to the letter: “No. It’s a three year term.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The FBI have released a new video of a person believed to have placed pipe bombs near the Republican and Democratic National Committee headquarters in D.C. the night before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The FBI stated that investigators think the suspect is “not from the area,” as officials made another call for the public’s help to solve the case. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND UPCOMING SEPT. 18 RALLY
Law enforcement officials are bracing for potential clashes and unrest during an upcoming right-wing rally in Washington D.C. According to an internal Capitol Police memo, violent rhetoric surrounding the upcoming event scheduled for Sept. 18, which aims to support those charged in connect with the Jan. 6 attack, has increased online and counterprotests are being planned for the same day. Melanie Zanona and Whitney Wild report for CNN.
The Capitol Police Board will likely meet this week to consider the security posture for the Sept. 18 rally, amid increasing concerns of violence, a source familiar with the matter has said. Chris Marquette reports for Roll Call.
Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger will brief top congressional leaders next Monday about security preparations for the Sept. 18 rally. The briefing will take place in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’s office, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were all invited by Pelosi to attend. Pelosi said earlier yesterday at a press conference that there will be briefings with the House Administration Committee as well as with other lawmakers ahead of the Sept. 18 rally. Christina Marcos reports for The Hill.
Police are expected to reinstall fencing around the Capitol building ahead of the Sept. 18 rally amid fears of renewed violence, according to a source familiar with the request. The Capitol building and the Supreme Court’s immediate streets are expected to be fenced off ahead of the rally, however nearby congressional buildings, are not expected to get fencing along their perimeters, though plans still have to be finalized. Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo and Lisa Mascaro report for AP.
A second federal judge in Washington has questioned whether the lead felony charge leveled by the government against Capitol attack defendants is unconstitutionally vague. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta asked how federal prosecutors distinguish felony conduct qualifying as “obstructing an official proceeding” of Congress — punishable by up to 20 years in prison — from misdemeanor offenses the government has charged others with, such as shouting to interrupt a congressional hearing. 18 Oath Keepers accused in a conspiracy case urged the court yesterday to toss out the count. Spense S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
Khalifa Haftar, a Russian-backed warlord vying for power in Libya, has hired Lanny Davis, an ex-senior aide to former President Clinton, and former Republican lawmaker Robert Livingston to lead a $1 million effort to lobby President Biden’s administration for support, documents show. Jared Malsin and Vivian Salama report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. and Germany have increased the pressure on Iran to return to talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, after the last round of talks ended in June this year with no date set for resumption. Following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that delay of two or three months suggested by Tehran is too long and called for a quicker return. Christoph Noelting and Geir Moulson report for AP.
The U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet has said that it will launch a new task force that incorporates airborne, sailing and underwater drones after years of maritime attacks linked to ongoing tensions with Iran. “Navy officials declined to identify which systems they would introduce from their headquarters on the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. However, they promised the coming months would see the drones stretch their capabilities across a region of chokepoints crucial to both global energy supplies and worldwide shipping, “Jon Gambrell reports for AP.
Former President Trump’s White House asked the Pentagon to play down and delay reports of brain injuries suffered by U.S. troops from an Iranian missile attack on Iraq last year, according to Alyssa Farah , a former defense spokesperson. More than 100 U.S. troops were ultimately diagnosed as having suffered traumatic brain injuries in the missile attack on two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops on Jan. 8, 2020, launched by Tehran in retaliation for the U.S. drone killing of Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Suleimani five days earlier. Farah said she fended off the pressure from the White House, which came after Trump had first claimed there had been no casualties and then dismissed the injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious.” Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
The trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the Nov. 2015 attacks in Paris that left over 100 dead began yesterday. Salah Abdeslam, who prosecutors say is the sole surviving attacker, stated that he “abandoned all professions to become a fighter for the Islamic State,” when asked about his job. “All the other men on trial are accused of being accomplices, and will, along with Abdeslam, be tried by a panel of judges in a courtroom designed specifically for the monumental proceedings, with space for 550 people. Over 300 lawyers and nearly 1,800 plaintiffs will take part, and it is expected to last a record nine months,” Aurelien Breeden reports for the New York Times.
Just Security have published a piece by Jeanne Sulzer and Clémence Witt on the trial of the 2015 Paris attackers and the unique challenges it raises, including the need to manage victims’ expectations.
A delegation of West African leaders is to go to Guinea today to meet with the military that toppled President Alpha Conde in a coup earlier this week. “Top officials of West Africa’s influential economic bloc, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], are expected to meet in Conakry, the capital, with the military officers now ruling the country and press them to immediately return the country to constitutional rule,” Francis Kokutse reports for AP.
ECOWAS, West Africa’s main political and economic bloc, have suspended Guinea’s membership following the military coup in the country earlier this week. Saliou Samb reports for Reuters.
Shelling from rebel held areas in the east of Ukraine has wounded at least six troops and disrupted railway services, while the Russian-backed separatists said two civilians had been wounded in shelling from the Ukrainian side. The reports are the second reported flareup in the conflict that has continued in Ukraine despite an official ceasefire in 2015. Reuters reporting.
Ethiopia has said today that rebels from the Tigray region in Ethiopia have been defeated in the adjacent Afar region and have withdrawn, while the Tigrayan forces said they had merely shifted troops to neighboring Amhara for an offensive there. “According to a military information, [the Tigrayan forces] were defeated and they left,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti told reporters. However, Tigrayan spokesperson Getachew Reda, speaking to Reuters, said that the Ethiopian authorities had only now realized Tigrayan forces had withdrawn and that they “were not defeated.” Reuters reporting.
Pressure is building around Israel’s prison system after fires broke out at several facilities and the government searched for six Palestinian escapees who tunneled out of a high-security facility two days earlier. “Fires were reported at several prisons amid efforts to try to move inmates as a precautionary measure. An umbrella group representing prisoners from all Palestinian factions called on inmates to resist being relocated and to start fires in their cells if guards try to move them by force. The prisoners group also threatened a widespread hunger strike,” Laurie Kellman and Jack Jeffery report for AP.
At least 100 Palestinians have been injured after tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition were fired by Israeli soldiers at protests in the occupied West Bank, the Palestine Red Crescent has said. The protesters were taking part in rallies yesterday evening in solidarity with six Palestinian men who escaped a high-security Israeli prison earlier this week. Al Jazeera reports.
A U.N. panel has said that at least 18,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed or wounded by airstrikes since the country’s war escalated in 2015. “In a report presented to the Human Rights Council, a group of experts named by the U.N. said that Yemen’s people have been subjected to some 10 airstrikes a day, a total of more than 23,000 since March 2015. The report, which cited the Yemen Data Project for the airstrike figures, found both sides in the war to have violated international law. The project, a local data gathering operation, attributes all of the airstrikes to the Saudi-led coalition,” AP reports.
Hong Kong national-security police have arrested four members of the group that for decades organized an annual vigil commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which was banned by authorities in 2020 citing pandemic restrictions on gatherings. “Police accused the group, the Hong Kong Alliance, of failing to comply with an order to hand over information as part of an investigation into allegations that the group was acting as a foreign agent,” Elaine Yu reports for the Wall Street Journal.
North Korea has foregone its usual muscle flexing in its latest military parade, celebrating the 73rd anniversary of North Korea’s founding, which did not feature major military hardware or a speech from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The parade occurred in the middle of the night, according to a state media report, and featured marchers wearing orange hazmat suits and gas masks, representing protection of the country and people from the Covid-19 pandemic, state media said. Timothy W. Martin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Brazilian Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Luiz Fux has issued a sharp rebuttal to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, following Bolsonaro’s escalation of his feud with the court by vowing to no longer abide by one of its justice’s rulings. “Encouraging non-compliance with court decisions is undemocratic, illicit and intolerable,” Fux said in a nationally televised message. DÉbora Álvares and Diane Jeantet report for AP.
The coronavirus has infected over 40.40 million and has now killed over 652,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 222.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.59 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The Covid-19 pandemic has cost the Pentagon at least $13.6 billion over the past year and more costs are expected as the military increases its testing of civilian personnel, according to U.S. defense officials. “The current total includes an estimated $7.1 billion to reimburse defense companies for pandemic-related expenses and $6.5 billion for ‘other Covid-related costs,’ said Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell,” Marcus Weisgerber reports for Defense One.
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.