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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.
The U.S. drone strike that killed aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and nine of his family members, including seven children, did not violate the laws of war, a Pentagon internal review has concluded. The U.S. military initially claimed the drone had killed ISIS-K targets, however, President Biden’s administration later acknowledged that civilians were killed and senior officials apologized. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Sami Said, who acts as inspector general of the U.S. Air Force and who oversaw the Pentagon’s review, said that the civilian casualties were neither a violation of the laws of war nor due to negligence. “It was an honest mistake…But it’s not criminal conduct, random conduct, negligence,” Said said. Al Jazeera reports.
Although the investigation concluded that the strike did not violate rules of international warfare, it did expose what Said called confirmation bias among commanders and analysts who misread drone surveillance of the driver’s movements. “When you go, ‘that is a suspicious person,’ every activity they take thereafter, you start seeing it through that lens,” Said said. The investigation also “made several recommendations for refinement of processes and procedures leading up to strikes in time-constrained scenarios and urban terrain, including: implementing procedures to mitigate risks of confirmation bias, enhancing sharing of overall mission situational awareness during execution, [and] review of pre-strike procedures used to assess presence of civilians,” the Pentagon Fact Sheet states. Alex Horton, Dan Lamothe and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.
Surveillance videos showed the presence of at least one child in the area some two minutes before the military launched the drone strike, the Defense Department said. However, no one saw the child in the video in real time, the investigation concluded. Said, “said the footage showing the presence of a child would have been easy to miss in real time,” Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report for The New York Times.
Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) has said that he is unconvinced that the summary of the investigation into the drone attack “provides for real accountability” for the mistake. “From what the Intelligence Committee has learned of this strike and the events leading up to it, as well as statements made in its immediate wake, I have serious concerns that are unaddressed by what has been put forward publicly,” Schiff said in a statement, “apparently alluding to additional information on which the committee has been briefed,” Eleanor Watson reports for CBS News.
In the two months since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan — known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) — has become a growing threat, upending security and raising alarms for the international community. The attacks from ISIS-K have been aimed mostly at Taliban units and at Afghanistan’s Shiite minorities. “This has placed the Taliban in a precarious position: after spending 20 years fighting as an insurgency, the group finds itself wrestling with providing security and delivering on its hallmark commitment of law and order,” Victor J. Blue, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Christina Goldbaum report for The New York Times.
Women across Afghanistan are having to flee or marry family friends to avoid being forcibly married off as Afghan men use Taliban rule to settle scores through marriage. Since the Taliban took control of the country, “women’s rights have deteriorated sharply, women and human-rights groups say, in part because the Taliban’s central leadership exercises limited authority over individual members, who enforce their own views of what they consider proper Islamic behavior and traditional norms. Forced ‘marriages’ to Taliban members — which can often amount to kidnapping and rape, women say — have occurred frequently in recent months,” Sune Engel Rasmussen reports for the Wall Street Journal.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
China is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than expected, the Pentagon has said in a new report. The Pentagon’s report states that “Beijing likely intends to have 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, including 700 ‘deliverable’ warheads by 2027, far outpacing the Defense Department’s previous estimates. China is strengthening its ‘ability to ‘fight and win wars’ against a ‘strong enemy’ [a likely euphemism for the United States], coerce Taiwan and rival claimants in territorial disputes, counter an intervention by a third party in a conflict along the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] periphery, and project power globally,’ reads the analysis,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
The Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA), has called for the U.S. to be less ambiguous about its defense plans for Taiwan. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Schiff said that the U.S. and its international partners need “to make it abundantly clear to China what a significant cost it would pay were it to use force to try to invade and take over Taiwan.” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
The U.S. military “absolutely” could defend Taiwan from a potential Chinese attack if asked to do so, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said yesterday. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, “Milley said he did not expect China to attempt to seize the self-governing island in the next 24 months, but should it happen, U.S. forces ‘absolutely have the capability’ to defend Taipei, ‘no question about that.’ He also [accepted] that Beijing is ‘clearly and unambiguously building the capability to provide those options to the national leadership if they so choose at some point in the future,’” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Facebook has removed a post from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahemd for violating the company’s policies against inciting violence. On Sunday, Ahmed called on citizens to take up arms to block the advance of the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front. A spokesperson for Facebook told the BBC that: “we were made aware of a post by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and removed this for violating our policies against inciting and supporting violence.” BBC News reports.
The U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, is set to travel to Ethiopia this week as concerns about the violence in the country’s Tigray region grow. Feltman addressed the situation in Ethiopia earlier this week in a media briefing, describing it as “dire” and “getting worse.” Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
“This is a reality check,” has said Corrine Le Quere, co-author of the 2021 Global Carbon Budget report, which found that greenhouse gas emissions have nearly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels “leaving the world with just 11 years of burning carbon at the current rate if humanity hopes to avoid catastrophic warming.” Since 2015, the report has tracked the diminishing amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted if the global community is to meet the Paris agreement’s target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) about pre-industrial levels. The report’s stark findings underline the importance of the current COP26 negotiations. Sarah Kaplan reports for the Washington Post.
Indigenous activists have criticized the COP26 summit for being “a big business, [and] a continuation of colonialism” that still excludes the voices of indigenous peoples. Although the 2015 Paris accords legally recognized the important role of indigenous knowledge and innovations for addressing the climate crisis, the activists say little has changed at the U.N. summit. “Indigenous people are more visible but we’re not taken any more seriously; we’re romanticized and tokenized,” said Eriel Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and member of the facilitated working group for North America. Nina Lakhani reports for the Guardian.
Climate negotiators at COP26 have made progress in negotiating a deal aimed at establishing the foundation of an international carbon-trading system. The deal, which has been a long time coming, would help kick-start a global carbon market. Although, the deal is not yet imminent and there are still differences to be worked out, “Brazilian officials, who have made a series of demands blocking a deal in the past, say they are now ready to make big concessions [and] Chinese officials feel they have smoothed out any formal differences with Washington over the issue, according to a person familiar with the matter,” Sarah McFarlane, Luciana Magalhaes and Sha Hua report for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden’s administration has placed the Israeli spyware company NSO Group, and another Israeli company, Candiru, on a U.S. blacklist after it determined that the companies acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the U.S.” The U.S. Department of Commerce issued a statement saying that the action is a part of the administration’s “efforts to put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy, including by working to stem the proliferation of digital tools used for repression.” Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports for the Guardian.
The Biden administration has said that NSO Group knowingly supplied spyware that has been used by foreign governments to “maliciously target” the phones of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and others. “The ban is the strongest step an American president has taken to curb abuses in the global market for spyware, which has gone largely unregulated. The move by the Commerce Department was driven by NSO’s export around the world of a sophisticated surveillance system known as Pegasus, which can be remotely implanted in smartphones,” David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, Ana Swanson and Ronen Bergman report for The New York Times.
A U.S. journalist, who has been jailed in Myanmar for the past five months, was denied bail yesterday by a Myanmar court. The court also added a new charge against Danny Fenster, who has already been charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information and with violating the Unlawful Associations Act for alleged links to illegal opposition groups, his lawyer said. AP reports.
The Marine Corps have released a new plan saying that it must overhaul how it recruits and retains Marines in a shift away from a young, “replaceable” force. “Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that he sees no alternative but to pivot away from a system that through multiple wars has prioritized massing a ‘young, physically tough, replaceable force’ that was ‘not all that highly skilled.’.. Berger said the Marine Corps is going to have to ‘treat people like human beings instead of inventory,’ making it appealing for more who already have experience to stay. There is urgency to do so, he said, because rising challenges such as China will require mature, experienced service members who possess multiple skills and can act on their own in the absence of communications with higher headquarters,” Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post.
Google is reportedly pursuing a major cloud contract with the Pentagon. The company is hoping to land the potentially lucrative Pentagon contract, known as the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability. However in 2018 an employee revolt forced Google to abandon work on a Pentagon program that used artificial intelligence, and it is possible that the latest move from Google could raise furor among Google’s workforce again. Daisuke Wakabayashi and Kate Conger report for The New York Times.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A federal judge for the first time today will hear arguments over whether the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol can be provided access to executive branch records, with the executive privilege fight over the records going to court for the first time. “The case presents unsettled legal questions regarding the scope of Congress’s investigative authority and a former president’s ability to shield information from the legislative branch. [Former President] Trump’s lawyers are asking a federal judge for a preliminary injunction that would block the National Archives and Records Administration from handing over scores of documents that the former president argues are protected by his claims of executive privilege,” Harper Neidig and Rebecca Beitsch report for The Hill.
Payments from former Trump’s campaign for “command centers” at D.C. hotels, from which efforts to deny President Biden the presidency, could undermine executive privilege claims over documents requested by the Jan. 6 investigation. Eventually more than $225,000 in campaign payments were made to firms owned by Bernard Kerik and Rudolph W. Giuliani — including more than $50,000 for rooms and suites at the posh Willard hotel in Washington. The fact that campaign funds were used to finance efforts to subvert Biden’s victory could complicate Trump’s ongoing claims of executive privilege, experts have said. “Executive privilege is typically limited to the protection of communications involving a president’s official duties — not to those relating to personal or political campaign matters,” Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor, explained to the Washington Post. Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Emma Brown and Tom Hamburger report for the Washington Post.
The Jan. 6 attack has prompted changes in how the government analyzes threat information, particularly online public statements, and that intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be more visibly proactive when they detect looming danger. John Cohen, who oversees intelligence analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, made the comments at a House Intelligence subcommittee hearing about domestic terrorism. “We need to think differently about intelligence. This threat requires [that] we think differently about how we look at information,” he said of homegrown extremism, noting that pre-attack indicators may be observable through individuals’ public communications. Devlin Barrett reports for the Washington Post.
At least seven people who travelled to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 to attend the pro-Trump protest were elected to public office this week. None of the individuals were charged with crimes and all have denied being part of the attack on the Capitol. Amy B Wang and Mariana Alfaro report for the Washington Post.
New Jersey Governor Phillip D. Murphy (D) has narrowly won re-election. During the campaign, the pandemic and its impact on the state — including Murphy’s aggressive public health measures — was the defining issue. Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli made Murphy’s pandemic response a focal point of his own campaign, attacking vaccine and mask mandates and claiming that the governor’s public health measures were bad for businesses. Tracey Tully, Nick Corasaniti, and Katie Glueck report for the New York Times.
Michelle Wu has been elected Mayor of Boston, becoming the first woman and first person of color to be elected to the office. Wu was considered the progressive candidate and her mayoral platform includes proposals for free public transit, rent stabilization and rent control, and abolishing the Boston Planning and Development Agency. Gloria Oladipo reports for the Guardian.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Jury selection has concluded for the trial of the three white men that chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery and 1 Black juror and 11 white jurors will decide the case. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley acknowledged that “intentional discrimination” by the lawyers for defendants Greg and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan appeared to shape jury selection. However, the judge claimed his ability to intervene was limited because the defense attorneys “have been able to explain to the court why besides race [eight Black potential jurors] were struck from the panel.” AP reports.
The trial of the three white men charged with killing Arbery is considered a “sterner litmus test for the state of racial justice in the U.S.” “‘This case is almost a straight line from Emmett Till,’ said the civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who represents the Arbery family. ‘Our legal system is statistically and continuously biased but it’s more of a test than Minneapolis and George Floyd because we are in the heart of white supremacy here in south Georgia.’” Oliver Laughland reports for the Guardian.
The Supreme Court has heard arguments on scrapping a New York state law that limits the carrying of concealed weapons. During two hours of oral arguments, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared receptive to claims from gun owners that New York abrogated the Second Amendment with its 1911 law conditioning concealed-weapons licenses on “good moral character” and “proper cause.” The case could lead to the largest expansion of Second Amendment rights in more than a decade, though it is not yet clear what limits on weapons access the court would let lawmakers impose. Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall report for the Wall Street Journal.
Iran has announced that it will resume multilateral talks in Vienna on reviving a nuclear deal on Nov. 29. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani said “we agreed to start the negotiations aiming at removal of unlawful and inhumane sanctions,” referring to the U.S. imposed sanctions following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Al Jazeera reports.
The Biden administration believes “it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on mutual return to compliance” with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said after Iran’s announcement. “But it has also been clear…as the pause has dragged on for some time, that this window of opportunity will not be open forever, especially if Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps,” Price added. Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim report for the Washington Post.
U.S. and Iranian officials have both said that Iran seized an oil tanker in the Sea of Oman last month after an encounter with the U.S. Navy, but the two sides have given “widely differing accounts of whose tanker it was and what, exactly, had happened.” Iranian officials and a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said that the United States had seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil on Oct. 24 and that an assault by Iranian commandos had taken the tanker back. “Two U.S. officials…said that Iran had seized a Vietnamese-flagged tanker, the MV Southys. A U.S. Navy destroyer, The Sullivans, arrived to monitor the seizure but took no action and was not threatened by approaching Iranian speedboats, one of the officials said. John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, denied Iran’s allegations that the United States had seized the merchant vessel, whose nationality he declined to identify,” Farnaz Fassihi and Eric Schmitt report for The New York Times.
Vietnam has been in talks with Iranian authorities over the seizure last month of a Vietnamese oil tanker off the Iranian coast, in an effort to guarantee the safety of the crew, Vietnam has said today. Talks had taken place on a diplomatic level “to verify information and settle the incident to ensure safety and humane treatment for Vietnamese citizens,” a Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesperson told a regular briefing. Reuters reports.
A study of weapons and ammunition used in the war in Ukraine has shown a panoply of Russian-supplied arms that has helped fuel the war. A new report, one of the most comprehensive to date on the issue, funded by the E.U. and the German government has offered a fine-grained view of illicit weapons transfers in Ukraine. Earlier analyses have also concluded that Russia is sending arms to the war in Ukraine, however the new report is the first to focus on actual armaments which had been taken from captured or killed separatist fighters or positions they had occupied. Andrew E. Kramer reports for The New York Times.
White House National Cyber Director Chris Inglis testified yesterday that there has been a “decrease” in the number of cyberattacks originating from Russia against U.S. companies, however the reason for the decrease is not clear. “We have seen a discernible decrease. It’s too soon to tell whether that is because of the material efforts undertaken by the Russians or the Russian leadership,” Inglis said during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing. “It may well be that the transgressors in this space have simply lain low in understanding that this is for the moment a very hot time for them, and we need to ensure that that continues to be the case.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Putin has said that deliveries of Zircon hypersonic missiles to the country’s navy will begin in 2022. Putin’s televised remarks come a month after Russia’s defense ministry said it successfully tested a hypersonic missile for the first time. “Now it is especially important to develop and implement the technologies necessary to create new hypersonic weapons systems, high-powered lasers and robotic systems that will be able to effectively counter potential military threats, which means they will further strengthen the security of our country,” Putin said. Reuters reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Russia to join NATO but did not want Russia to have to go through the usual application process and stand in line “with a lot of countries that don’t matter,” according to George Robertson, who led NATO between 199 and 2003. Robertson has said that Putin made it clear at their first meeting that he wanted Russia to be part of western Europe, recalling an early meeting where “Putin said: ‘When are you going to invite us to join Nato?’ And [Robertson] said: ‘Well, we don’t invite people to join Nato, they apply to join Nato.’ And he said: ‘Well, we’re not standing in line with a lot of countries that don’t matter.’” Jennifer Rankin reports for the Guardian.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into whether crimes against humanity were committed in Venezuela during the state’s repression of anti-government protests in 2017. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said “we respect [ICC prosecutor Karim Khan’s] decision as a state, though we have made clear we do not share it.” Al Jazeera reports.
The ICC’s formal probe will be investigating claims that Maduro’s security forces participated in the torture and extrajudicial killings of political opponents. The ICC began a preliminary investigation into Venezuela in February 2018 focused on allegations of abuse during a brutal 2017 government crackdown on dissidents participating in street uprisings against the president. In a televised news conference, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan warned against attempts to interfere with his investigation and, standing next to Khan, Maduro called recent meetings a “step forward” in relations between the government and the ICC. Rachel Pannett and Ana Herrero report for the Washington Post.
North Korea has the capacity to make more base ingredients for nuclear bombs than previously believed, new research from Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation has found. The research found that North Korea’s output of uranium is just a fraction of what could be produced, suggesting Kim Jong Un’s regime possesses the potential to accelerate the earliest stages of production. “The assertion is based on satellite-imagery analysis of the equipment and facility size of the Kim regime’s only confirmed operational uranium mining complex in Pyongsan county, about 30 miles north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. That milling capacity assessment was contrasted with North Korea’s estimated production, based on the levels of waste deposited near the mill,” Timothy W. Martin reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Singapore is preparing to execute an intellectually disabled man who trafficked a small amount of heroin into the country more than a decade ago. Rights advocates have argued that the sentence is out of step with human rights norms and that Nagaenthran Dharmalingam has an IQ of 69, a level recognized as an intellectual disability. “In an emailed statement, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said Nagaenthran Dharmalingam had been accorded ‘full due process under the law,’ and noted the courts had struck down his attempts to overturn the sentence,” Shibani Mahtani reports for the Washington Post.
The coronavirus has infected over 46.25 million people and has now killed over 750,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 248.15 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.02 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Over 750,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, while 78.3% of Americans age 12 and older have now received at least one vaccine shot. The country recorded 8,585 deaths in the last week alone. Some states, like Mississippi and Alabama, have low levels of vaccine uptake (61.7% and 64.1%, respectively, of people over age 12 have received at least one vaccine shot) and have higher than average death rates. Joe Walsh reports for Forbes.
Nearly 97% of Air Force service members were vaccinated against Covid-19 by the service’s deadline of Tuesday this week. “Of the nearly 8,500 airmen who have not yet been vaccinated, some 5,000 have applied for religious exemptions. Those requests are now in progress and will be evaluated over the next 30 days on a case-by-case basis, the Air Force said in a statement accompanying the data. No religious exemptions have been granted to date,” Oren Liebermann reports 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.