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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
AFGHANISTAN – SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HEARING
Senior military officials have appeared to contradict President Biden’s account of their recommendations on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating that they had agreed with U.S. Army Gen. Austin Miller’s recommendation to leave 2,500 troops in the country. Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, made the statements while testifying publicly to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. McKenzie further stated that his view had been that withdrawing all American troops would lead to the collapse of the Afghan government. Republican Senators repeatedly questioned the generals in response to Biden’s comments in an August interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that no top military advisors had recommended maintaining a force of 2,500 in Afghanistan. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
In his testimony, Milley described the U.S. troops withdrawal from Afghanistan as a “logical success but strategic failure.” “It is obvious the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted,” Milley said, noting that “the Taliban is now in power in Kabul.” “We must remember that the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organization and they still have not broken ties with al Qaeda,” he added. “I have no illusions who we are dealing with. It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban can consolidate power, or if the country will further fracture into civil war,” he explained. Julian Borger reports for the Guardian.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden’s previous comments on recommendations received from military advisers on the Afghanistan troops withdrawal, saying that there were a “range of viewpoints” presented by Biden’s national security team. Psaki stressed that Biden told ABC News last month that his advisers were “split” on whether to leave troops in Afghanistan. “It was also clear, and clear to him, that that would not be a longstanding recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation, an increase in troop numbers,” she continued. “It would also mean war with the Taliban and it would also mean the potential loss of casualties. The president was just not willing to make that decision. He didn’t think it was in the interest of the American people or the interest of our troops,” Psaki said. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Milley however refused to fault Biden for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, adding that Biden was under no obligation to heed the advice of his generals. Karoun Demirjian, Alex Horton, John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez report for the Washington Post.
Five takeaways on Afghanistan from the Senate Armed Service Committee’s hearing yesterday, are provided by Morgan Chalfant, Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Beitsch reporting for The Hill. The takeaways include: new questions on what troop withdrawal advice Biden received, officials predicted that Afghanistan’s government would collapse but not as fast as it did, and that the U.S. might put troops back on the ground in Afghanistan again if needed to keep extremist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda at bay.
Milley made a number of other statements appearing to contradict Biden, including saying that “al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. They were there in mid-August,” and that “the war on terror is not over, and the war in Afghanistan is not over.” The statements appear to undermine Biden’s claim on Aug. 20 that the U.S. has no interests in Afghanistan now that al Qaeda was “gone,” as well as Biden’s central message in his address last week to the U.N. General Assembly. Zachary Basu reporting for Axios provides further detail on Milley’s testimony.
Military officials conducted a drill of the Afghanistan withdrawal in May, emphasizing that “speed equals safety,” according to a defense official who took part. “At every stage of the withdrawal, the White House went along with the Pentagon’s recommendations, accepting a timetable that ended up going faster than Biden laid out in the spring…None of the civilian officials who were at the May 8 meeting at the Pentagon questioned the military’s rapid drawdown plan, according to multiple officials.” Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
In his remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III defended the Biden administration’s decision to close Bagram Air Base, the military’s main hub in Afghanistan, and focus on defending Kabul’s international airport for evacuations. Bagram airbase was too far from Kabul to help with the evacuation effort and “retaining Bagram would have required putting as many as five thousand U.S. troops in harm’s way, just to operate and defend it,” Austin said. The New York Times reports.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The Taliban have said that U.S. drones must stop entering Afghanistan and that the U.S. is violating “all international rights and laws as well as its commitments made to the Taliban in Doha, Qatar,” with the drones. In the statement on Twitter, the Taliban warned of “negative consequences” if the U.S. does not stop flying drones over Afghan airspace. Reuters reporting.
The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday denied U.S. landing rights for a charter plane carrying more than 100 Americans and U.S. green card holders evacuated from Afghanistan, organizers of the flight have said. ‘”They will not allow a charter on an international flight into a U.S. port of entry,’ Bryan Stern, a founder of non-profit group Project Dynamo, said aid of the department’s Customs and Border Protection agency. Stern spoke to Reuters from aboard a plane his group chartered from Kam Air, a private Afghan airline, that he said had been sitting for 14 hours at Abu Dhabi airport after arriving from Kabul with 117 people, including 59 children,” Jonathan Landay reports for Reuters.
Canada has doubled its Afghan refugee resettlement target to 40,000 people. The announcement was made by Canada’s foreign minister on Monday evening when speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, and was welcomed by humanitarian groups in Canada who have been pressing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more to help refugees from Afghanistan. Rick Gladstone and Ian Austen report for the New York Times.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley yesterday defended his contacts with his Chinese counterpart in the final weeks of former President Trump’s administration, as well as his decision to call a meeting of senior military officials to review the procedures for launching deadly weapons. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, Milley said the calls were due to “concerning intelligence” that caused American officials to believe that the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the U.S., “I am certain that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese and it is my directed responsibility — and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary — to convey that intent to the Chinese,” Milley said. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Milley also said that numerous senior Trump officials were aware of his Jan. 8 call with his Chinese counterpart. “I personally informed both Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff [Mark] Meadows about the call, among other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting [Defense] Secretary [Chris] Miller, where I briefed him on the call,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Zachary Cohen, Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman report for CNN.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in Neom, Saudi Arabia on Monday. A senior U.S. official said that the discussion included efforts to end the ongoing war in Yemen, regional tensions in the Middle East with Iran, and Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights. Sullivan, making his first trip to Saudi Arabia as National Security Advisor, is the most senior member of the Biden administration to visit thus far. Sullivan is in the midst of a Middle East trip in which, in addition to Saudi officials, he met with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and will meet with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi today, before meeting with Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata in Washington. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.
The United States has deported a convicted Russian hacker to Russia in a rare extradition. “Aleksei Burkov was serving a nine-year sentence in U.S. federal prison for a range of cybercrimes, including identity theft and money laundering…But his return to Russia is the latest twist in a criminal saga that has spanned multiple countries since Israeli authorities first arrested Burkov in 2015. Russia later charged him in absentia with a number of financial and hacking crimes and sought his arrest through Interpol.” The United States and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, and the United States rarely extradites convicted felons without assurances from the receiving country that they will serve full sentences. Miriam Berger reports for the Washington Post.
The CIA evacuated an intelligence officer serving in Serbia in recent weeks, who suffered serious symptoms consistent with the Havana Syndrome attacks, according to current and former U.S. officials. The incident “is the latest in what the officials describe as a steady expansion of attacks on American spies and diplomats posted overseas by unknown assailants using what government officials and scientists suspect is some sort of directed-energy source,” Warren P. Strobel reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Aukus defense pact is no threat to Indo-Pacific stability, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Sung Kim, has told a virtual forum. Indonesia is worried that the Aukus pact, under which Australia will obtain nuclear submarine technology from the United States, would worsen an “arms race and power projection,” which Kim said he was not worried about, calling the pact a “forward looking, positive” initiative that would work in Indonesia’s favor. Stanley Widianto reports for Reuters.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne raised the case of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during Payne’s visit to Washington D.C. this month. According to the spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Payne conveyed to her U.S. and U.K. counterparts Australia’s “expectations that Assange is entitled to due process, humane and fair treatment, access to proper medical and other care, and access to his legal team,” though it is unclear if Payne secured any assurances during her conversation. “The case is back in the spotlight after Yahoo News published a detailed account of how the CIA had allegedly discussed kidnapping Assange in 2017,” Daniel Hurst reports for the Guardian.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the Pentagon that “there are no major incidents of illegal activity at this time” over 30 minutes after Capitol barricades were first breached on Jan. 6. The DHS information was cited in an internal army email sent at 1:40 pm that day. The situation in Washington was the second item in the email, the first discussing National Guard preparations for the anticipated prosecutorial decision in Wisconsin in the case of Jacob Blake, a black man shot by a white police officer seven times in the back. Protestors had breached the Capitol’s outer perimeter before 1:00 pm. Betsy Woodruff Swan and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.
Two days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Gen. Mark Milley spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was growing increasingly concerned that former President Trump would use military forces, according to the recently released book “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. According to the book, Pelosi described Trump as “crazy” and Milley sought to reassure Pelosi that “whether it’s nuclear or a strike in a foreign country of any kind, we’re not going to do anything illegal or crazy.” Michael S. Schmidt reports for the New York Times.
In his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Milley addressed the phone call with Pelosi, saying “I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president.” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sent a letter to President Biden on Monday urging him to change the U.S. policy on use of lethal force. The Senators “are urging the administration to put an end to the policy of conducting war-based strikes outside areas where the United States is engaged in armed conflict.”
Two top police organizations have pushed back at Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-SC) attack on how negotiations over a policing overhaul broke down last week. Scott said that he was “not going to be part of defunding the police” and that the disagreement was over tying grant money to cooperating with the reform efforts. However, “[d]espite some media reports, at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police,’” a joint statement from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police states. “In fact, the legislation specifically provided additional funding to assist law enforcement agencies in training, agency accreditation, and data collection initiatives,” the statement adds. Peter Nickeas and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.
A woman who said she wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the “brain” has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.
Trump has lost his arbitration case meant to silence former presidential aide Omarosa Manigault Newman. A New York arbitrator rejected Trump’s claim that Newman breached a nondisclosure agreement by writing a tell-all book about Trump, and declared the agreement to be invalid because it was too vague to be enforced. David A. Fahrenthold reports for the Washington Post.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
The U.S. has reached out to China diplomatically about reducing its purchases of Iranian crude oil, U.S. and European officials have said. Purchases of Iranian crude oil by Chinese companies are thought to have helped keep Iran’s economy afloat despite U.S. sanctions that are designed to put pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program. “We have used our sanctions authorities to respond to Iranian sanctions evasion, including those doing business with China, and will continue to do so if necessary,” a senior U.S. official said. “However, we have been approaching this diplomatically with the Chinese as part of our dialogue on Iran policy,” he added. “Separately, a European official said this was one of the issues raised by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman when she visited China in late July,” Reuters reports.
China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, has said that he hopes President Biden will translate his statement that the U.S. has no intention of starting a “new Cold War” with China into actions. Speaking at a virtual press conference following the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting, Zhang said that Biden should avoid “a confrontational approach” and “provocative attacks against China.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP
China is currently building a new 315m aircraft carrier, which will be the same size as the latest U.S. Ford class with a matching electromagnetic catapult for launching jets. Analysts have said that the newest aircraft carrier, which forms part of Beijing’s attempts to push back the U.S. navy in the western Pacific, demonstrates why the Aukus defense and security pact between Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. is required. Dan Sabbagh reports for the Guardian.
The U.K. government and the French energy group, EDF, are planning to force the sale of a Chinese owned company’s stake in a new £20 billion nuclear power station on the U.K.’s east coast. The U.K. government is closing in on a deal that would make China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) give up a 20% stake in the proposed Sizewell C plant. EDF own the remaining 80% stake in the project. “CGN’s involvement in Britain’s civil nuclear program has come under intense scrutiny since the government banned Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei from its 5G mobile phone network last year,” Jim Pickard and Nathalie Thomas report for the Financial Times.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia on Wednesday. The two are expected to discuss a range of issues including Syria, Ukraine, Libya, military technology, and natural gas. The meeting comes days after Erdogan criticized the United States and NATO, calling on the United States to leave Syria while suggesting that Turkey may buy more S-400 anti-missile systems from Russia. While relations between Erdogan and Putin had been strong in 2020, they have cooled considerably since a Russian air strike in February 2021 hit Turkish positions, killing 37 Turkish soldiers and a large number of Syrian rebels allied with Turkey. Amberin Zaman reports for Al-Monitor.
The Investigative Committee of Russia has announced a criminal probe into Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his allies over allegedly promoting extremism in the country. Authorities claim Navalny’s groups used local offices and social media for “discrediting state authorities and their policies, destabilizing the situation in the regions, creating a protest mood among the population and shaping public opinion about the need for a violent change of power, organizing and holding protest actions that escalate into riots.” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
Former President Trump played tough with Putin when the cameras were around, however a new book by former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham details Trump’s insecurities on Russia. Grisham in her new book titled “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” details a number of interactions between Trump and Putin, as well as alleging a litany of misdeeds by Trump during his term as president. Jada Yuan and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Doctors and other staff members working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Ebola outbreak sexually abused or exploited women and girls there, according to a commission appointed by the head of the health agency. A commission has found that women and girls had been promised jobs in exchange for relationships or had been sexually exploited in order to keep jobs. “The commission’s investigators were able to identify 83 people believed to have been involved in the abuse, including both Congolese nationals and foreigners, the report said. In 21 cases, the investigators were able to establish with certainty that those suspected of abuse were WHO employees,” Vimal Patel reports for the New York Times.
The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described the abuse by WHO staff in Congo as “a sickening betrayal of the people we serve.” The commission interviewed dozens of women who were offered work in exchange for sex as well as nine cases of rape identified, with some women being forced to have an abortion. The identified perpetrators were both Congolese nationals and foreigners. Tedros said there would be “severe consequences” for perpetrators and all leaders would be held “accountable for inaction.” UN News Centre reports.
Ukraine and Hungary each summoned the other’s ambassador after Hungary finalized a deal to purchase gas from Russia through pipelines which will bypass Ukraine. Hungary had previously received gas from Russia through a pipeline in Ukraine that collects transit fees which will now be cut off. After Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement decrying the deal, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on Facebook that he was “deeply outraged” and had summoned Ukraine’s ambassador over the “attempt to violate our sovereignty.” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned Hungary’s ambassador in response. Justin Spike and Daria Litvinova report for the Associated Press.
North Korea has claimed that it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile called Hwasong-8 yesterday. North Korean state media described the missile as a “strategic weapon,” which usually means it has nuclear capabilities, and said that the new missile was one of the “five most important” new weapons systems laid out in its five-year military development plan. “The launch also saw North Korea introduce missile fuel ampoule for the first time…This is a technology that allows missiles to be pre-fueled and then sent to the field in canisters. This means it could potentially stay launch-ready for years,” BBC News reports.
Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister who has called for Japan’s missile defenses to be increased, was elected the leader of Japan’s ruling party, assuring him of becoming Japan’s next prime minister. “Kishida, 64 years old, is an establishment choice who, like his predecessors, supports a strong U.S.-Japan alliance and is concerned about China’s military expansion. He also favors aggressive government spending worth hundreds of billions of dollars to lift Japan’s economy out of the doldrums caused by measures to limit the spread of Covid-19,” Peter Landers reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Haitian prime Minister Ariel Henry has said that he plans to hold a referendum to modify Haiti’s constitution by February next year, and he hopes to organize presidential and legislative elections early next year. Henry made the comments during an interview with The Associated Press and “dismissed opponents who accuse him of wanting to stay in power and said that mistrust is one of the biggest challenges he faces,” DÁnica Coto, Joshua Goodman and Pierre-Richard Luxama report for AP.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria has said that invitations have been issued for a sixth meeting of the committee charged with producing a new constitution for Syria in October. “After the failure of the five previous meetings of Syrian government, opposition and civil society representatives, Geir Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council: ‘we should all now expect the constitutional committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting — not just preparing — a constitutional reform,’” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Pakistan’s military has said that Pakistani security forces have killed 10 militants, including four insurgent commanders, in a shootout in Pakistan’s northwest. The military’s statement did not identify the militant group to which the fighters belonged. Associated Press reports.
Sudanese authorities have said that five Sudanese intelligence officers have been killed in a raid on a hideout for suspected Islamic State group militants in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Sudan’s General Intelligence Agency said that “forces arrested 11 suspected militants and were chasing four others who managed to flee during the shootout. The statement said the suspects were foreigners but did not reveal their nationalities or further details,” Associated Press reports.
Two days of fierce clashes between Yemeni government forces and Houthi rebels over Marib, an energy-rich central city in Yemen, have killed more than 130 fighters, mostly rebels, officials said yesterday. Ahmed Al-Haj reports for AP.
France is set to sell 52 Caesar artillery guns to the Czech Republic in a deal worth $301 million, an Armed Forces Ministry official said today. The deal comes as Paris pushes for greater European defense autonomy, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying yesterday “that Europe needed to stop being naive when it comes to defending its interests and must build its own military capacity after sealing a 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) frigate deal with Greece and penning a cooperation agreement,” Reuters reports.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has today named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known university engineer with World Bank experience, as Tunisia’s prime minister, nearly two months after he assumed wide executive powers, dismissed the previous prime minister and suspended parliament. Saied “has named Romdhane under the provisions he announced last week and has asked her to quickly form a new government, the presidency said on social media,” Al Jazeera reports.
Australia scrapped the $90bn submarine deal with France “for convenience,” the submarine building contractor Naval Group has said. In its statement Naval Group said that Australian authorities in terminating the contract for convenience also acknowledged that Naval Group “did not fail in its commitment” to the project. Tory Shepherd reports for the Guardian.
The coronavirus has infected over 43.23 million and has now killed over 693,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 232.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.76 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they had submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which shows that their Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5-11. Pfizer’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, declined to discuss a timeline for when FDA approval might occur, but said that around Halloween was “one of the options.” Sharon LaFraniere, Shashank Bengali and Noah Weiland report for the New York Times.
New U.S. travel rules allowing vaccinated travelers to enter the country will not recognize those who have received the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as immunized. “The new U.S. plan requires that most noncitizens seeking entry to the United States are vaccinated with shots approved for emergency use either by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. That includes vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, as well as shots developed by Chinese firms such as Sinopharm and Sinovac. But Sputnik V, an adenovirus vaccine developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, has yet to be approved by the WHO [World Health Organization].” The Sputnik V vaccine’s status is a blow to Russia’s ability to use the vaccine as a diplomatic tool, and may decrease foreign demand. Adam Taylor reports for the Washington Post.
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.