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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 – HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HEARING
The House Armed Services Committee grilled the Pentagon’s top leaders yesterday over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified during the meeting. “The questions revealed a number of surprising revelations, including news that the Taliban had offered the U.S. military the option to secure the entire city of Kabul while it was leaving; the fact that…Milley knew the conflict was a ‘stalemate’ as far back as six years ago; and that the military leaders knew a deadly drone strike in Kabul had been a mistake days after it happened,” Rebecca Beitsch, Ellen Mitchell and Morgan Chalfant report for The Hill.
The United States lost the Afghanistan war through miscalculations spanning four previous administrations, Milley told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee. “It wasn’t lost in the last 20 days or even 20 months. There’s a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back,” Milley said, citing multiple examples, including the United States’ decision to shift focus and resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, and never “effectively dealing with Pakistan,” where the Taliban found a haven. Karoun Demirjian and Alex Horton report for the Washington Post.
The Taliban offered to let the U.S. military take over security for Kabul until it officially departed the country on Aug. 31, McKenzie acknowledged yesterday during his testimony to the House panel. McKenzie said that “he met the head of the Taliban’s political wing, Abdul Ghani Baradar, on Aug. 15 in Doha ‘to pass a message to him that we were withdrawing and if they attempted to disrupt that withdrawal we would punish them severely for that.’ During the meeting, the Taliban offered to let the U.S. military secure Kabul, but McKenzie said agreeing to such an offer was not in his instructions and ‘we did not have the resources to undertake that mission.’ Asked whether the Taliban’s offer was conveyed to President Biden, McKenzie said he did not know, but added that U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was present for the conversation,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Both McKenzie and Austin said that the Doha agreement made by former President Trump with the Taliban in February 2020 hastened Afghanistan’s collapse to the Taliban. McKenzie said the deal had a “really pernicious effect” on the Afghan government and military, with Austin agreeing and saying that the agreement had helped the Taliban get “stronger.” BBC News reports.
Austin in his testimony said that he had not supported keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saying “I did not support staying in Afghanistan forever.” “The word ‘forever,’ officials said, sheds light on an apparent contradiction that has bedeviled [President] Biden[’s] administration since the president told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview in August that his military advisers were ‘split,’ despite Defense Department recommendations over the years to keep troops in Afghanistan,” Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
In the hearing, McKenzie said that the military knew civilians had been hit within four or five hours of the U.S. drone strike in Kabul, and they knew they had hit the wrong target within days. However this “testimony appears to contradict information supplied to CNN almost two weeks after the strike by a U.S. military official who said the U.S. had ‘reasonable certainty’ that at least one ISIS-K [Islamic State Khorasan Province] facilitator had been killed,” Anna Coren, Sandi Sidhu, Julia Hollingsworth and Ahmet Mengli report for CNN.
There is a “real possibility” that al Qaeda or ISIS could reconstitute in Afghanistan as soon as in 6 months, Milley said during his testimony yesterday. Milley said the terrorist threat from Afghanistan is currently less than it was on 9/11, but al Qaeda or ISIS could reconstitute “in the not too distant future.” Austin agreed with the comments, saying “there is clearly a possibility” for the groups to build back up with U.S. forces out of the country, adding that the U.S.’s “goal is to maintain a laser-like focus on this so that it doesn’t happen.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Austin blamed the State Department for the delays in the evacuation of allies from Afghanistan. “The call on how to do that and when to do it is really a State Department call,” Austin said in response to a question from Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI). “Austin said the State Department pumped the brakes on a quick exit following pushback from then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani,” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The Afghan Central Bank cash shortage began before the Taliban took control of the country, as it drained most of its U.S. dollar cash reserves. A brief written by senior international economic officials reports that the Central Bank made “decisions to auction unusually large amounts of U.S. dollars and move money from Kabul to provincial branches.” Shah Mehrabi, who was then the chair of the Central Bank’s audit committee and has remained in his post, defended the Bank, saying that it was preventing a run on Afghan currency. Afghanistan’s offshore reserves were frozen when the Taliban took over, restricting the Bank to just the cash in its vaults. John O’Donnell and Rupam Jain report for Reuters.
A flight carrying more than 100 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, who had been evacuated from Afghanistan on a private charter flight, has now departed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) bound for the U.S., the UAE foreign ministry has said. The flight has been temporarily held up in Abu Dhabi for vetting by the U.S. State Department. Reuters reporting.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced that the Group of 20 countries (G20) will have an extraordinary meeting on Oct. 12 to discuss Afghanistan. Italy currently holds the rotating G20 Presidency. Draghi said that the meeting will also invite Qatar, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations. The summit comes as world leaders worry about terrorist threats growing in Afghanistan, increased migration flows out of the country, and violations of women’s and human rights by the Taliban. The meeting will take place several weeks before the G20 leaders convene in Rome on Oct. 30-31. Angelo Amante reports for Reuters.
Relatives of the family killed in the U.S. missile strike in Kabul in the final days of the U.S. troops withdrawal are seeking resettlement in America. One month on from the strike the family say they are yet to receive any word from the U.S. military, let alone any compensation. The strike has left the family particularly vulnerable in Taliban-led Afghanistan; “the family’s U.S. connections through Zamarai Ahmadi’s work are now widely known, and his death has left his wife and daughter without a husband and father in a country where women can’t leave the house without male companions,” Anna Coren, Sandi Sidhu, Julia Hollingsworth and Ahmet Mengli report for CNN.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has urged “friendly” states not to isolate Afghanistan. The foreign minister was speaking at a news conference in Doha with E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell. Reuters reporting.
A New York Uber driver is on trial for attempting to travel to Afghanistan in July 2019 to join the Taliban and kill U.S. citizens. Delowar Mohammed Hossain, 36, was headed to Afghanistan with a goal of becoming a member of the Taliban, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Schrier said at the outset of Hossain’s trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. “Hossain was expecting to fly to Thailand, his first stop on a journey to a conflict zone where he hoped he could help the Taliban murder many Americans, Schrier said,” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden reportedly rejected a request from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, according to American and Palestinian sources. Abbas and his aides reached out to the Biden administration weeks ago and were told that “Biden wouldn’t be doing any bilateral meetings in New York and his schedule wouldn’t allow for a meeting in Washington.” Biden visited New York only briefly, conducting three bilateral meetings, while Abbas chose to send a videotaped message. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.
The U.S. is intensifying talks to use Russian bases in neighboring countries to Afghanistan for “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, following their public testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, briefed lawmakers behind closed doors about the discussions, which are taking place with the governments of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and others, senators who attended the classified meeting have said. Andrew Desiderio and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to restore communication lines with South Korea in early October to “promote peace,” while criticizing the U.S. for its “hostile policy” towards North Korea. Speaking in North Korea’s parliament yesterday, Jong-un condemned a U.S. offer of dialogue as “nothing more than a facade to mask their deception and hostile acts and an extension of hostile policy from past administrations,” state media reported. Jong-un said that the U.S. military “have not changed at all but have become more cunning” under Biden. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that Washington bears “no hostile intent” towards North Korea and remains open to the idea of negotiations. Justin McCurry reports for the Guardian.
The U.S. government has pulled its defense attaché out of Nicaragua following comments complimentary of Nicaragua’s military that drew the ire of the political opposition. Last week, the Nicaraguan government published comments from Lt. Col. Roger Antonio Carvajal Santamaria saying that Nicaragua’s military is a “large part of the growth and stability of this country.” The U.S. government has been highly critical of President Daniel Ortega’s government, which is supported by Nicaragua’s military. A U.S. State Department official said that Carvajal’s comments “did not accurately reflect” U.S. government policy, adding that Carvajal had concluded his mission and departed Nicaragua. Christopher Sherman reports for AP.
The U.S. has no plans to “normalize or upgrade” diplomatic relations with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and also does not “encourage others to do so, given the atrocities inflicted by the Assad regime on the Syrian people,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson has said. “The comments came in response to questions from the Reuters news agency on whether Washington was encouraging and supporting a rapprochement between Jordan and Syria after Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday,” Al Jazeera reports.
A man shot dead by Belarusian security forces in a raid on an apartment block was an employee of EPAM Systems, a U.S.-based software firm, the company has said. “Belarusian authorities reported that KGB officers shot dead a 31-year-old man and arrested his wife on Tuesday after he resisted law enforcement officers…The IT industry was a driving force behind protests after a disputed election last year. EPAM’s Belarusian founder was a signatory to an open letter calling for the release of prisoners following a crackdown on protesters and for new elections….‘we can confirm that the individual reported in the media was an EPAM employee,’ EPAM said in a statement to Reuters …‘the company has no information that the individual ever held any other citizenship or residential status outside of Belarus,’” Pavel Polityuk reports for Reuters.
China has opposed a Philippines-led push for a review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the U.S., Manila’s Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said. The Philippines is keen to amend the MDT to make clear the extent to which the U.S. would protect and defend its ally should it come under attack. The U.S. “welcomes the idea of revisiting the MDT,” Lorenzana said but added that in 2018 the former Chinese ambassador to the Philippines had told him to leave the MDT “as it is,” as “any attempt to revise the MDT would be construed by the Chinese government as act to contain the rise of China.” Karen Lema reports for Reuters.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has issued its second round of subpoenas targeting allies of former President Trump who were involved in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack. 11 subpoenas were issued to organizers of the events on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, including Katrina Pierson, a veteran Trump campaign operative, as well as organizers affiliated with a group called Women for America First, which helped lead the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse. The subpoenas demand documents from the organizers by Oct. 13 and depositions between Oct. 21 and Nov. 3. Betsy Woodruff Swan, Kyle Cheney, and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
Trump is intending to sue, on the basis of executive privilege, to block the release of White House records from his administration to the Jan. 6 select committee, according to a source. “The former president also expects top aides – former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, strategist Steve Bannon and defense department aide Kash Patel – to defy select committee subpoenas for records and testimony,” Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
Just Security published today, “Modern History of Disclosure of Presidential Records: On the Boundaries of ‘Executive Privilege,’” a compendium of past practices and precedents on executive privilege.
Two Ohio men are the first misdemeanor defendants to be sentenced to jail time for their actions at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “U.S. prosecutors for the first time requested incarceration at sentencing hearings for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. The punishment comes after federal judges for months have questioned whether no-prison plea deals offered by the government to low-level Jan. 6 defendants are too lenient to deter future attackers from terrorizing members of Congress,” Spenser S. Hsu reports for the Washington Post.
U.S. Olympic gold medalist Klete Keller pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony charge of obstructing the Electoral College proceedings on Jan. 6 and has agreed to a deal to cooperate with the Justice Department and potentially testify against other alleged attackers.“The deal with Keller suggests prosecutors might try to use him as a star witness at upcoming trials, banking on his notoriety as a decorated athlete who won gold medals in swimming at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics…Keller was arrested in January and charged with seven crimes. The other charges will be dropped as part of the plea deal,” Hannah Rabinowitz and Marshall Cohen report for CNN.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will create a new council “to promote best practices” in law enforcement. DHS announced that the Law Enforcement Coordination Council, chaired by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, would be its “first unified law enforcement coordination body” and will conduct comprehensive reviews to ensure “fair, equitable, and impartial policing.” Monique Belas reports for The Hill.
Today, the full Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hold an oral argument about the application of the due process clause to Guantánamo. For earlier coverage of the case of Al-Hela v. Joseph Biden, see here.
The leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have demanded a briefing from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on its decision to withhold for three weeks the decryption key from companies impacted by the ransomware attack by Revil on IT company Kaseya. “Although the… FBI reportedly obtained a digital decryptor key that could have unlocked affected systems, it withheld this tool for nearly three weeks as it worked to disrupt the attack, potentially costing the ransomware victims—including schools and hospitals—millions of dollars,” Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and ranking member Rep. James Comer (R-KY) wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We request information to understand the rationale behind the FBI’s decision…and the agency’s approach to responding to ransomware attacks,” the lawmakers wrote. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The House has passed bipartisan legislation aimed at strengthening the federal cybersecurity workforce. “The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act, sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Nancy Mace (R-SC), would establish a program to allow cybersecurity professionals to rotate through multiple federal agencies and enhance their expertise,” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
CNN announced that it will stop publishing content on Facebook in Australia. “The decision comes after the country’s highest court ruled that media companies are liable for comments people post under articles on the platform…CNN asked Facebook to offer a Page-wide setting to turn off comments in Australia, according to a CNN source. Instead, Facebook provided instructions for how the media organization could disable comments post by post.” Jill Disis reports for CNN Business.
YouTube will block all anti-vaccine content from its platform. The company announced the new policy in a blog post yesterday. The prohibited content includes false information about not only the Covid-19 vaccine, but others such as flu shots and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. The company is also banning the channels of prominent anti-vaccine activists, and removed Russian state-sponsored broadcaster RT’s German-language channels for violating YouTube’s Covid-19 misinformation policy. Russia threatened to block YouTube in retaliation. Susan Heavy and Sheila Dang report for Reuters.
RUSSIA AND TURKEY
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised ties with Russia during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday. Putin and Erdogan discussed weapon deals, trade, and a nuclear reactor Russia is building in Turkey during their meeting, as Erdogan made clear that he had access to Russia as an alternative partner to the U.S. for trade and military deals. Andrew E. Kramer and Carlotta Gall report for the New York Times.
Turkey and Russia are to continue working to find a solution in Syria’s Idlib region, where violence has recently escalated, Erdogan has been quoted as saying. Speaking to reporters, Erdogan said he had discussed with Putin finding a “lasting, final and sustainable” solution to the situation in Syria. “Broadcaster NTV quoted him as saying Turkey was open to ‘any realistic and fair step’ regarding the issue,” Reuters reports.
Erdogan has said that following the meeting with Putin, Turkey is considering further joint defense industry steps with Russia in areas such as plane engines, fighter jets, and submarines, broadcaster NTV reported today. Reuters reports.
Five Turkish generals working on Syria-related operations are seeking to resign. There were reports last week that “five generals serving on Syria-related missions were seeking to resign, including the head of a command center in charge of all Turkish operations in Syria and two others at the helm of commando forces that are deployed in Syria on a rotational basis… abrupt retirement requests by meritorious generals with ample operational experience and bright careers ahead of them are highly unusual in the deep-rooted traditions of the Turkish military, especially in the middle of critical missions. Early retirement requests by such figures can be read as a gesture of disagreement with their superiors or disapproval of government policies.” The resignations come as the Turkish military adjusts its assignment and promotion system, leading some to question whether Erdogan is attempting to politicize the military. Metin Gurcan reports for Al-Monitor.
Two human rights groups, one media outlet, and 22 individuals, have been labeled as “foreign agents” by Moscow’s Justice Ministry, as Russia advances its crackdown on domestic opposition. “The designation implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that may discredit the recipient,” Daria Litvinova reports for the Associated Press.
A prominent Russian cybersecurity executive has been arrested in Russia on suspicion of treason. Moscow’s Lefortovo district court said yesterday that Ilya Sachkov, chief executive of Group-IB, which investigates and prevents cybercrime, would be held in detention for two months. A spokesperson for the court said that she was not permitted to provide details about the charges and circumstances of the case. Ann M. Simmons reports for the Wall Street Journal.
U.N. diplomats have said that Russia is holding up the appointment of independent experts to monitor implementation of sanctions on four African countries. Russia has been refusing to sign off on the members of the new expert panels proposed by the U.N. Secretary General on the basis that the panels are not geographically balanced and some members are not impartial. “The Russian refusal to sign off on members of new expert panels is already delaying investigations of sanctions violations in South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic, said the diplomats…the mandate for the panel of experts on Mali expires Thursday,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is facing growing challenges in target countries, as policy-makers cancel projects, according to a study by AidData. “A growing number of policymakers in low- and middle-income countries are mothballing high profile BRI projects because of overpricing, corruption and debt sustainability concerns,” said Brad Parks, one of the study’s authors. The United States proposed a rival project in June, known as Build Back Better World, which will compete with China’s BRI. David Stanway reports for Reuters.
A Hong Kong public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), has reportedly been told by the government that it must support Hong Kong and Chinese interests, including the national security law that has been used to silence pro-democracy voices. RTHK was issued a document yesterday detailing new policies, procedures and editorial standards it must abide by, including that RTHK programs must not provoke or deepen hatred, discrimination or hostility towards the Beijing or Hong Kong governments. Greg Torode reports for The Hill.
Myanmar’s currency has lost more than 60% of its value since the beginning of September. Many currency exchanges and gold shops in the country closed amid a shortage of dollars on Wednesday. The exchange rate with the dollar had worsened from 1,395 on February 1st, when the coup to overthrow Aung San Suu Kyi occurred, to 1,695 on September 1st. Money exchangers still open on Wednesday quoted 2,700 Kyat to the dollar. Rice prices have risen since the coup by 40% and gasoline prices have doubled. ‘This will rattle the generals as they are quite obsessed with the kyat rate as a broader barometer of the economy, and therefore a reflection on them,’ Richard Horsey, a Myanmar expert at the International Crisis Group, said,” Reuters reports.
Myanmar’s military government is taking full responsibility for the economic crisis in the country, the military council’s spokesperson has said. The ongoing economic problems were caused by “outside factors” and two waves of Covid-19 infections, however “the government is working its best to solve this situation as best as possible,” the spokesperson told a regular news conference. Reuters reporting.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is urging unified regional and international action to prevent the crisis in Myanmar from becoming a large-scale conflict and multi-faceted “catastrophe.” “Guterres warned in a report to the U.N. General Assembly circulated Wednesday that the opportunity to prevent the army from entrenching its rule could be narrowing and said it is urgent that regional and international countries help put Myanmar back on the path to democratic reform,” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Prison riots in one of Ecuador’s largest prisons have led to the deaths of 116 individuals, including at least six who had been beheaded, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso has said. “Another 80 inmates were injured during the Tuesday night clashes at the Penitenciaria del Litoral in Guayas province, which has been the scene of bloody fights between gangs for control of the prison in recent months….Police commander Fabian Bustos said a police and military operation had regained control of the prison after five hours on Tuesday. He said several weapons had been seized. The violence involved gunfire, knives and explosions and was caused by a dispute between the Los Lobos and Los Choneros prison gangs, officials said,” Associated Press reports.
Lasso has declared a state of emergency in the prison system yesterday. The state of emergency will give the government powers that include deploying police and soldiers inside prisons. Gabriela Molina reports for AP.
The E.U.’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said, speaking at a news conference in Qatar, that he believes nuclear talks with Iran will resume within an acceptable period of time. Reuters reports.
A prominent Rohingya Muslim leader who had previously visited the White House has been shot and killed by unidentified gunmen at a refugee camp in Bangladesh, police officials and rights groups have said. Mohib Ullah, 46, was a renowned advocate for Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority and in 2019, he briefly met with President Trump at the White House as part of a delegation of victims of religious conflict around the world. Erin Cunningham reports for the Washington Post.
France has accused Australia of lying shortly before it cancelled a major submarine contract, with the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declaring that “someone lied.” Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing that Australia had never expressed doubts about the submarine contract or the strategic Indo-Pacific pact before breaking the contract. Le Drian said that this suggested “someone lied,” adding “something doesn’t add up and we don’t know what.” Kim Willsher and Daniel Hurst report for the Guardian.
The coronavirus has infected over 43.34 million and has now killed over 695,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 233.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.77 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.