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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 – EVACUATING AFGHANS AND U.S. CITIZENS
An estimated 200 foreigners, including Americans, left Kabul yesterday on an international commercial flight, marking the first large-scale evacuation since U.S. and NATO forces left Afghanistan. A senior U.S. official said that the Taliban’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister helped facilitate the Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Americans, U.S. green card holders and other nationalities, including Germans, Hungarians and Canadians, were aboard, the official said. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Taliban and Qatari authorities for helping organize yesterday’s flight and called the flight a “concrete demonstration” of American commitment to help its citizens and others who helped the U.S. continue to leave Afghanistan. Other estimates of passenger numbers on the flight have been of about 113 people and Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani described yesterday’s flight as a regular one and not an evacuation, adding that there would be another flight today. The Guardian reports.
The White House has said that the Taliban was “cooperative” in facilitating the departure of the charter flight from Kabul yesterday. “They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
The passenger flight yesterday has been hailed as a positive step, however thousands continue to remain stuck in Afghanistan. “Kabul Airport is now operational,” Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, a special envoy from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news conference on the tarmac. More flights were also promised in the coming days. However an unknown number of people remain in limbo in Afghanistan, including in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans are still waiting for the Taliban to let them leave on charter flights. Victor J. Blue, Sami Sahak, Lara Jakes and Eric Nagourney report for the New York Times.
The White House has approved a plan for the State Department to take the lead in coordinating with outside groups that are working to evacuate at-risk U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan, officials have said. The moves to combine and streamline public and private efforts comes after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, met with representatives from several outside groups involved in private efforts on Tuesday afternoon. The coordination will likely involve unifying lists and criteria for evacuating people, as well as outlining next steps for Afghans who have not been able to get out of the country. Miley Zachary Cohen, Kylie Atwood and Oren Liebermann report for CNN.
AFGHANISTAN – INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY, AID AND SUPPORT
Countries have started to establish varying degrees of relations with the Taliban regime, despite there not yet having been any formal international recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The U.S. has had to work with the Taliban given the need to extricate its remaining citizens and at the same time President Biden’s administration has pledged to continue humanitarian aid that has amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few months alone. “There is no diminution in our humanitarian assistance to the people of…any country around the world where we may have differences, including profound ones,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said yesterday. “Many of Afghanistan’s closest neighbors in Central and South Asia are consulting with one another in search of a unified policy that will prevent them from being overcome with refugees and maintain security in the region. Others, including China and Russia, see the Taliban ascension as an opportunity, both to highlight U.S. failure over 20 years of warfare and nation-building, and to boost their own regional sway,” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
The U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons urged the world yesterday to unite to prevent the collapse of the Afghan economy, to address fears that the Taliban’s Islamic state may spread to its neighbors, and to fight terrorism. Lyons told the U.N. Security Council that it would have to decide how to engage with many of the 33 members of the Taliban government who are on the U.N. sanctions backlist. Lyons also warned that the Taliban have already “visibly welcomed and sheltered” al-Qaida members, and Islamic State extremists remain active “and could gain strength.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP
Lyons said that the worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan must be addressed now and warned that there is another “looming crisis” caused by the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan assets. The freeze will cause “a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger” and may spark a refugee exodus and set the country back for generations, Lyons said. “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender, and counter-terrorism perspective,” she explained. Lyons also said that safeguards should be placed around the assets, addressing worries that the Taliban would wrongly use the funds. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Lyons reiterated to the U.N. Security Council that the global community can still shape the “new reality” in Afghanistan, UN News Centre reports.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie will testify at a public hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The hearing, the first scheduled public testimony from the trio since the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, is scheduled for Sept. 28, the panel said in a news release yesterday. “I remain deeply concerned about the events that accompanied our withdrawal and the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) said in a statement yesterday. “It is the duty of Congress—and the Senate Armed Services Committee in particular—to hold hearings to learn lessons from the situation in Afghanistan and ensure accountability at the highest levels,” he added. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The Taliban’s response to peaceful protests is becoming increasingly violent, the U.N. rights office said today. The U.N. said that the Taliban have been using live ammunition, batons and whips and have caused the death of at least four protesters from gunfire. “We have seen a reaction from the Taliban which has unfortunately been severe,” Ravina Shamdasani, a U.N. rights spokesperson, told a briefing in Geneva. Though, some or all of the deaths may have resulted from efforts to disperse protesters with firing Shamdasani said. Reuters reporting.
The U.N. is “increasingly worried” about the “the growing number of incidents of harassment and intimidation” from the Taliban against its staff in Afghanistan, the U.N. special envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the U.N. Security Council yesterday. “We will continue to do everything possible to support our staff and keep them from harm’s way,” Lyons said. “The U.N. cannot conduct its work – work that is so essential to the Afghan people – if its personnel are subjected to intimidation, fear for their lives, and cannot move freely,” Lyons added. Reuters reporting.
A number of violent attacks on Afghan journalists by the Taliban is prompting growing alarm over the freedom of Afghanistan’s media. Images and testimonies have circulated internationally of the arrest and brutal flogging of two reporters who were detained when covering a women’s rights demonstration in Kabul on Wednesday, and Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have raised concern over a recent string of attacks on journalists. “In just two days this week, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests in Kabul, with at least six of these journalists subject to violence during their arrests or detention, the CPJ reported,” Emma Graham-Harrison and Peter Beaumont report for the Guardian.
President Biden has spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping, amid a low point in U.S.-China relations. The call, which a senior administration official said lasted 90 minutes, was the first conversation between the two leaders in seven months and the second time the leaders have spoken since Biden’s inauguration. The lack of communication between the two leaders is seen as a measure of the rising tensions between the two nations as they seek to maneuver to limit each other’s global influence. On the call, Biden expressed concerns over China’s cyberactivities and argued that the two leaders should set aside their differences to work together on climate change. Zolan Kanno-Youngs and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.
A White House Statement on the call between Biden and Xi said that both leaders had “discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.” “The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge,” the statement added. Meanwhile, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the phone call was “candid [and] in-depth,” and that it had covered “extensive strategic communication and… issues of mutual concern.” BBC News reports.
Biden initiated the conversation with Xi yesterday on climate change to “test the proposition that doing so at the leader level will be more effective than what we have found below him,” a U.S. official has said. “The call follows disappointing or inconclusive trips to China by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in July, and climate envoy John F. Kerry last week, and it comes ahead of what the Biden administration hopes will be a deeper commitment to Chinese climate initiatives in November at a global climate summit backed by the United Nations,” Anne Gearan reports for the Washington Post.
Officials from the U.S., South Korea and Japan will hold a meeting on North Korea, including on its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, next week in Tokyo, South Korea’s foreign ministry has confirmed. Noh Kyu-duk, Seoul’s special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs, will travel to Japan on Sunday for a three-day visit. While there, he will meet with U.S. envoy for North Korea Sung Kim, and Takehiro Funakoshi, director-general of the Japanese foreign ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau. Josh Smith reports for Reuters.
A federal judge in Tennessee has acquitted a professor who had been accused of hiding his China ties when applying for research grants to work on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project, saying the U.S. government hadn’t proven its case. The criminal trial of Anming Hu was the first after a series of arrests in recent years of researchers accused of concealing work in China while receiving American taxpayer-funded grants. The case ended in a mistrial in June, after a jury deadlocked. Prosecutors had said they planned to retry Hu, however U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan has now acquitted Hu in a “Rule 29” motion of all the charges, saying the rules governing the research awards were confusing and prosecutors had provided no evidence that the professor intended to deceive NASA. Aruna Viswanatha reports for the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Women and non-white Air Force and Space Force members face different treatment than their white, male counterparts in receiving promotions, educational and leadership opportunities and disciplinary action, the service’s independent watchdog, the Air Force Inspector General’s (IG) Office, has found. The report stated that the IG’s review “revealed racial, ethnic, and gender disparities, particularly in accessions, retention, opportunities, and to a relatively lesser extent, in disciplinary actions. Analysis revealed these disparities impact racial-ethnic groups and female members to different degrees and in different ways,” as well as finding that one out of every three women in the services reported experiencing sexual harassment while in the military. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has defended President Biden’s administration’s decision to oust 11 Trump appointees from military academy advisory boards and has also criticized some of those stripped of their positions who “supported an insurrection.” “No one is looking to have a battle here. The president of the United States, just as every president and every administration and Cabinet members, have the right to appoint people they deem as qualified, as aligned with the administration’s … priorities, to these boards and to any position in the federal government,” Psaki said, adding that the Biden administration is confident that its steps would withstand legal challenge. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
The federal judge in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person ever put on trial in the U.S. in the 9/11 attacks, has said that the trial proved that civilian courts can successfully handle terrorism cases, despite the challenges. “U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema presided over the lengthy trial in Alexandria, Virginia… She made rare public comments about the trial during a panel discussion hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Virginia,” Pete Williams reports for NBC News.
JAN. 6 ATTACK AND UPCOMING SEPT. 18 RALLY
Just two days before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, about 300 law enforcement officials attended a conference call to talk about the possibility that former President Trump’s supporters would turn violent on Jan. 6. The officials specifically discussed the possibility that the day’s gatherings would turn into a mass-casualty event and made plans to communication with each other if that happened. Further, the officials created a hashtag to share information on the FBI’s private communication service: #CERTUNREST2021. The previously unreported details of the call come from a person familiar with the call and an email summarizing it obtained by the transparency group Property of the People. Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten and shocked with a stun gun while defending the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, returned to his work this week on “limited duty,” the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has confirmed. Fanone “was among the officers who testified in July, recounting his experience of having his badge ripped off of him by rioters, being beaten and shocked by his own stun gun. The 20-year veteran of the force has said that he suffered a traumatic brain injury, a heart attack and concussion during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Since the attack he has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Jospeh Choi reports for The Hill.
The U.S. Capitol Police have recommended reinstalling fencing around the U.S. Capitol ahead of a rally scheduled for Sept. 18 in support of the people arrested in the Jan. 6 attack, according to sources familiar with the mater. The fencing request “would need to be approved by the Capitol Police Board, which is composed of the Capitol Police chief, the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol. A Capitol Police spokesperson declined to comment on plans for a fence, saying: ‘We cannot discuss specifics about potential security plans,’” Meagan Flynn and Ellie Silverman report for the Washington Post.
An audio of a conservation obtained by Reuters shows the chair of the Proud Boys telling members of the group in a private audio message that they should avoid turning on one another. In the audio from July, Enrique Tarrio, discusses four Proud Boys leaders who have been jailed over their actions related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Tarrio said that it was not true that a member of the group being prosecuted had cooperated with authorities, saying he spoke to the member’s wife to be sure, and that he wanted to avoid a situation in which people started turning on one another. Ayram Roston reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA AND BELARUS
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko have agreed to deepen the economic ties between their countries. The two leaders met to discuss a long-delayed integration plan between their two countries and the two leaders announced the contours of such a plan yesterday evening. However, they left the more difficult political question aside. “We must first create an economic base, an economic foundation, in order to move forward, including on the political track,” Putin said. Anton Troianovski reports for the New York Times.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said yesterday that all-out war with Russia was a worst-case possibility, and that he wanted to have a substantive meeting with Putin. Speaking at the Yalta European Strategy summit, Zelenskiy also said relations with the United States were better than before, but Ukraine had not received a clear position on whether it could join the NATO military alliance. Pavel Polityuk reports for Reuters.
Russia and Belarus have launched the active phase of a vast military exercise involving 200,000 personnel, which is taking place on Russia’s and Belarus’s western flanks and is due to run until next Thursday. The maneuvers are held every four years and have alarmed Ukraine and some NATO nations. “At talks with his Belarusian counterpart on Thursday, Putin denied the exercises were directed against any foreign power, but said they were entirely logical given what he said was increasing NATO activity near Russia’s borders and those of its allies,” Reuters reports.
Russia is going to equip its military base in Tajikistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, with 30 new tanks by the end of the year, the Interfax news agency has reported. Reuters reporting.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The head of the U.K.’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, Ken McCallum, has warned that Afghanistan is likely to have “emboldened” terrorists and extremists. The U.K. has to be “vigilant” for a rise in “inspired terrorism,” McCallum said. Lauren Turner reports for BBC News.
McCallum also reported that a total of 31 late-stage attack plots have been foiled in the U.K. by police and intelligence services in the past four years. While they were largely Islamic extremist plots, there were also a “growing number” of attacks planned by extreme right-wing terrorists, McCallum said. Reuters reporting.
Guinea’s military junta, which seized power in the country earlier this week, has said that it has ordered the central bank and other banks to freeze all government accounts. The banking freeze was aimed at “securing state assets,” a spokesperson announced. “This includes public administrative and commercial establishments in all ministries and the presidency, presidential programs and projects, members of the outgoing government as well as senior officials and administrators of state financial institutions,” the spokesperson said. Saliou Samb reports for Reuters.
European powers and the U.S. are expected to decide today whether to censure Iran in response to a damning report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showing that the government in Tehran had made it impossible for inspectors to oversee the country’s nuclear program. The U.S. special envoy on Iran, Rob Malley, will meet diplomats from France, Germany and the U.K. in Paris ahead of a board meeting of the IAEA on Monday. “The Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, has warned any censure motion, or a reference to the U.N. security council, could delay or prevent Iran returning to the talks in Vienna on how the U.S. and Iran could come back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal,” Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
Analysis of Iran’s new cabinet and the challenges the Iranian President Ebrahim Rasi faces, including the rising Covid-19 cases, is provided by the Economist.
The Nigerian army has said that its troops have arrested a high-profile member of the Boko Haram extremist group in the northern Borno State. “Army spokesperson Onyema Nwachukwu said Yawi Modu was detained along the Damboa-Wajiroko road, a notorious route where both the extremists and Nigerian troops have recorded casualties over the years,” Chinedu Asadu reports for AP.
A Jordanian court has upheld the convictions of two former senior officials on sedition and other charges connected to an alleged plot against the kingdom involving the half-brother of King Abdullah II. “Bassem Awadallah, who has U.S. citizenship and once served as a top aide to the king, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were sentenced to 15 years in prison in July by a state security court. They were accused of conspiring with Hamzah, a former crown prince, and of seeking foreign assistance…Awadallah’s U.S.-based lawyer, Michael Sullivan, had slammed the initial verdict, saying there had been a ‘complete lack of due process’ and that his client had suffered ‘inhumane treatment, including beatings and psychological torture.’ Jordanian prosecutors denied those allegations. In a statement Thursday, Sullivan called the decision ‘a dark day for justice.’” AP reports.
The U.N. has confirmed that unidentified hackers breached its computer systems in April and that the U.N. has had off fend off related hacks in months since. “The statement came after multiple private cybersecurity experts warned that cybercriminal forums had in recent months been selling access to login credentials for software that the U.N. uses to manage internal projects. The software could provide valuable access to intruders looking to extort the U.N. or steal data,” Sean Lyngaas and Richard Roth report for CNN.
The Spanish police said yesterday that it had arrested the former head of Venezuela’s military intelligence unit, Hugo Carvajal, who had been in hiding since a Spanish court approved his extradition to the U.S. almost two years ago. Raphael Minder reports for the New York Times.
Tunisian President Kais Saied plans to suspend the constitution and may amend the political system via a referendum, one of his advisers has said. The comments are one of the first clear indication of Saied’s plans after he dismissed the Prime Minister and dissolved the Tunisian Parliament last month. The official said that the president’s plan was in its final stages and would be presented soon. Tarek Amara and Angus Mcdowall report for Reuters.
A Hong Kong court has rejected bail for the vice-chair of a pro-democracy group that organizes the annual June 4 rally to commemorate those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. “Chow Hang Tung, 36, and other members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, were arrested this week under national security legislation after the group refused to provide information about its membership, finance and activities to police,” Reuters reports..
The coronavirus has infected over 40.60 million and has now killed close to 654,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 223.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.60 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.