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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.
A New York Times investigation has revealed that the U.S. military may have significantly underreported civilian deaths in Baghuz, Syria in March 2019, one of the largest casualty incidents in the war against the Islamic State. In response to the Times investigation, U.S. Central Command publicly acknowledged for the first time that 80 people were killed in the airstrikes, and that it was unable to determine conclusively the civilian or combatant status of 60 individuals. The Times reporting indicates that the casualties were apparent immediately to military officials, and that an investigation into possible war crimes subsequently determined the strikes were legal. Officials involved in the incident have alleged that U.S. special forces systematically circumvented strict procedures for safeguarding civilians by claiming the strikes were in self-defense and falsifying log strike records to meet legal standards. The revelations come in the wake of the investigation into the botched Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul, which similarly revealed systemic problems with the U.S. drone program.
Dany Fenster, a U.S. journalist detained in Myanmar and sentenced to 11 years in prison, has been freed and will soon return home, according to the U.S. Embassy in Burma. Fenster, who was the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, had been detained in Yangon’s Insein prison since his arrest in May. His release was negotiated following a trip to Myanmar by Bill Richardson, a former U.S. diplomat. Jon Emont and Feliz Solomon report for the Wall Street Journal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Fenster was “wrongfully detained” and welcomed the news of his release, adding that the U.S. will continue to “ call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned” in Myanmar.
Russia is positioning troops 125 miles from the Ukrainian border, while “America is warning its European allies that it considers an invasion a genuine possibility.” Russia’s intentions are unknown, but the military positioning could be “intended for action in [either] Ukraine or Belarus,” although Russia’s goal for now appears to be plunging Ukraine into a deeper crisis. The Economist reports.
POLAND-BELARUS BORDER CRISIS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied stoking the migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border after accusations from Poland that the Russian leader is orchestrating the flow of migrants. Belarus has used the border crisis to up “the ante against the west, using migrants as a weapon and threatening to block the transit of natural gas supplies from Russia to the European Union.” Evgenia Pismennaya and Aliaksandr Kudrytski write in Bloomberg.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has also accused Belarus of using the migrant crisis to divert attention from its poor humanitarian record and called on Russia to pressure Belorussian president Alexander Lukashenko to cooperate with Europe. Liz Truss writes in The Telegraph.
The European Union is considering further sanctions against Belarus on Monday, said E.U. foreign policy chief Jessup Borrell. Leigh Thomas reports for Reuters.
President Biden is to meet virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping this evening, as the two leaders attempt to ease tensions and strengthen bilateral cooperation. The conversation will be the third since Biden took office. Biden is likely to raise with Xi cooperation on nuclear proliferation and the Covid-19 pandemic, while Xi is focusing on damage control and avoiding military conflict, according to the people with knowledge of Beijing’s thinking. Alex Leary, Lingling Wei and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
Xi is expected to warn Biden to “step back” on Taiwan during the leaders’ virtual meeting today, according to Chinese state media. Julian Borger and Vincent Ni report for the Guardian.
Analysis of what Biden and Xi each want from their virtual summit today, including on topics such as cybersecurity, trade and nuclear non-proliferation, is provided by BBC News.
In 2018, a Chinese state-controlled company bought an Italian manufacturer of military drones and began transferring the company’s technical expertise and equipment to China. The technology had been used by the Italian military in Afghanistan, and the Italian and E.U. authorities had no knowledge of the move. Analysts have said that the takeover fits a pattern of Chinese state firms using ostensibly private shell companies as fronts to obtain companies with specific technologies that they then shift to new facilities in China. “Italian authorities are currently investigating the takeover of Alpi Aviation Srl by a Hong Kong-registered company that they say is a front for the Chinese state and was in the process of transferring the company’s technical and intellectual property to a new production site in China,” James Marson and Giovanni Legorano report for the Wall Street Journal.
Hu Binchen, the deputy director-general in the international cooperation department of China’s ministry of public security, is seeking election to Interpol’s executive committee. Binchen’s bid has prompted concerns from human rights activists and international politicians that China could misuse Interpol’s capabilities, including its red notice system, to track down overseas dissidents. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
World leaders expressed disappointment about the outcome of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow after the delegations from India and China added language softening states’ obligations. The original text called for the “phase-out” of fossil fuels, but the last minute edit changed the language to a “phase-down.” The concluding document from COP26 ultimately falls short of the main goal of the Paris 2015 climate change accord, limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Steven Mufson and Annabelle Timsit write for the Washington Post. Read the full text of the Glasgow agreement with annotations by the Washington Post staff.
COP26 president Alok Sharma also expressed frustration with India and China for their lack of cooperation on coal issues. Sharma stated that India and China “will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did,” referring to the watered down language in the final COP26 agreement. Sharma said, however, that having India and China sign off on the agreement and make commitments, even nominally, is an important step that sends a strong message to the world. Fiona Harvey and Rowena Mason write in the Guardian.
An explosion yesterday morning outside Liverpool Women’s hospital in the northwest of the U.K. has been declared a terrorist incident by U.K. police. A taxi exploded in flames outside the hospital and the male passenger was declared dead at the scene. The taxi driver managed to escape and is in hospital in a stable condition. Four men have been arrested in connection with the incident and will be interviewed later today by counter-terrorism detectives. Jamie Grierson, Maya Wolfe-Robinson Vikram Dodd and Helen Pidd report for the Guardian.
The U.K. police have said they believe the passenger entered the taxi with an improvised explosive device that suddenly went off. Police said the motivation for the incident was unclear, and have not confirmed yet that the hospital was the target. Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson of Counter Terrorism North West said the police were “aware” of a nearby Remembrance Sunday event commemorating Britain’s war dead. Rob Picheta reports for CNN.
Live reporting on the incident in Liverpool, U.K. is provided by the Guardian.
The Taliban have held a military parade with U.S.-made weapons in Kabul in a show of strength. Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam writes for Reuters.
The Pakistani Taliban has been emboldened by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen a recent uptick in violence following the U.S. withdrawal. John Ruwitch reports for NPR.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday accused each other of opening fire near the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Agence France Press reports.
Police in India’s western state of Maharashtra have killed at least 26 Maoist militants, including a top leader, in an ambush. “The Maoists, also known as Naxals, have waged an armed struggle against government forces for decades. Militants of the extreme left-wing insurgent movement say they are fighting for the poor who have been left behind in India’s economic boom,” Reuters reports.
Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, son of former Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has announced that he will run for president in Libya’s coming election. Vivian Lee reports for the New York Times.
Cuban state security agents are cracking down on dissent ahead of pro-democracy protest rallies planned for today. State security agents surrounded the home of leading activists yesterday, including the organiser of the rallies Yunior García. “The ruling Communist party has banned the protests, which it says are a US-backed attempt at overthrowing the government,” BBC News reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Cuba to “reject violence, and instead, embrace this historic opportunity to listen to the voices of their people” ahead of today’s planned protests. The statement commended the “bravery and unwavering pursuit of democracy, prosperity, and fundamental rights and freedoms,” of the Cuban people, adding that the U.S. would “pursue measures” to support Cubans and advocate for accountability on human rights violations. Monique Belas reports for The Hill.
Five Ugandan soldiers serving with African Union troops in Somalia have been found guilty of killing seven civilians in August. Two of the soldiers have been sentenced to death and three others must serve 39-year prison sentences. The African Union has said that the civilians were unlawfully killed during a gun battle in Golweyn between its troops and al-Shabab militants. BBC News reports.
Iran and Turkey will continue high-level diplomatic talks to draft a “long-term cooperation road map” to boost ties, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has announced, following a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “This was the first high-level visit to Iran by a Turkish official since Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi began his first term in office about three months ago…The Iranian foreign minister said he and Cavusoglu discussed bilateral ties, the region – especially Afghanistan – and international relations,” Mazia Motamedi reports for Al Jazeera.
The implementation of a 2018 deal for Russia to supply India with S-400 air defense missile systems has begun, with Russia starting to deliver the first S-400s to India, Russian news agencies have reported. The $5.5bn deal was for five long-range surface-to-air missile systems, which India says it needs to counter a threat from China. However, India could face financial sanctions from the U.S. for the deal under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, and Washington has said it has yet to make a determination of whether it will give India a waiver for the S-400s. Al Jazeera reports.
The FBI’s external email system was compromised yesterday by hackers who sent spam emails to potentially thousands of people and companies with fake warnings of a cyberattack. The emails did not include any malicious attachments. “The FBI said in a statement that the fake emails were sent from the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal system used to communicate with state and local officials, not part of the FBI’s larger corporate email service. ‘No actor was able to access or compromise any data or (personally identifiable information) on the FBI’s network,’ the bureau said. ‘Once we learned of the incident we quickly remediated the software vulnerability, warned partners to disregard the fake emails, and confirmed the integrity of our networks,’” Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
The U.S. Treasury Department has announced that it will work with the Israeli Ministry of Finance to address ransomware and cybersecurity issues. The task force aims “to protect critical financial infrastructure and emerging technologies” while also expanding “international cooperation to counter the threat” of ransomware globally, according to the Treasury Department’s statement. The countries will develop a memorandum of understanding to support information sharing efforts, in addition to staff training and other activities. Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
Suspected foreign government-backed hackers infected websites belonging to a Hong Kong-based media outlet and a pro-democracy group to install malware on visitors’ Apple devices and spy on them, Google researchers have said. “Google’s Threat Analysis Group discovered the watering hole attack in August, which relied on a previously unreported backdoor, or zero-day flaw.‘Based on our findings, we believe this threat actor to be a well-resourced group, likely state backed, with access to their own software engineering team based on the quality of the payload code,’ Google’s Eyre Hernandez wrote in a blog post on Thursday,” Tim Starks reports for Cyber Scoop.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Adam Schiff, member of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said the committee will “move quickly” to refer Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to then-President Trump, for criminal contempt charges. Meadows has refused to appear before or provide any documents to the committee. Schiff’s statement comes shortly after the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Steve Bannon on two charges for his refusal to appear before the committee and failure to produce documents. Daniella Diaz writes for CNN.
Republicans have warned that the Democrats’ efforts to force Stephen Bannon to comply with the subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee paves the way for them to do the same if they take back the House in 2022. Republic leaders, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), have argued that the Democratic party is “weaponizing” the DOJ and have warned that Republicans will go after Biden’s aides for unspecified reasons if the party takes back the House in next year’s midterm elections. Amy B. Wang reports for the Washington Post.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the Jan. 6 attack was an attack on NATO’s “core values.” “I regard [the Jan. 6 attack] as an attack on the core democratic institutions of the United States and therefore also on core values of NATO,” Stoltenberg said in a recent interview with Axios. During the interview, Stoltenberg also touched on Russia, Turkey, Afghanistan, and China, although he avoided speculating about what NATO would do if China invaded Taiwan. Jonathan Swan reports for Axios.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Miami-based investors have reached a deal to buy the lease for former President Trump’s International Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. for $375 million. The buyers, CGI Merchant Group, will reportedly remove the Trump name from the building. The House Oversight Committee has been investigating potential conflicts of interest between the hotel’s operation and the General Services Administration (GSA), which had previously managed the hotel’s lease. Craig Karmin reports for the Wall Street Journal. The hotel will reportedly be renamed Waldorf Astoria.
President Biden intends to run for reelection in 2024, while discussions emerge about Vice President Harris’ viability as a potential candidate if Biden chooses not to run. Democratic officials say that “Harris is currently not scaring any prospective opponents.” Eugene Daniels and Alex Thompson report in POLITICO.
Closing arguments begin on Monday for the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The judge overseeing the trial instructed the jury to consider whether Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, provoked the first fatal incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The jury will also consider lesser charges than first degree murder, but the judge did not indicate which. Consideration of lesser charges may give the jury “more paths to convict,” Kim Bellware writes in the Washington Post.
A new Washington Post/ABC poll finds President Biden’s approval rating hits a new low of 41%. 70% of respondents also rated the economy in poor condition, with half of Americans blaming Biden for the fast inflation. Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin write for the Washington Post.
Michael Flynn, former President Trump’s first National Security Advisor, has been widely condemned after calling for the establishment of “one religion” in the United States. At a rally staged in San Antonio on Saturday by the Christian “nonprofit news media network” American Faith, Flynn said: “if we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.” The comments have been widely condemned as contrary to the protection of religious freedoms enshrined in the first amendment of the U.S. constitution, with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tweeting: “these people hate the U.S. constitution.” Martin Pengelly reports for the Guardian.
The Pentagon has said it will respond to Oklahoma’s governor after the Oklahoma National Guard’s recently installed adjutant general said the organization would not enforce the Department of Defense vaccine mandate for its troops. “We are aware of the memo issued by the Oklahoma Adjutant General regarding COVID vaccination for Guardsmen and the governor’s letter requesting exemption. We will respond to the governor appropriately,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “That said, Secretary Austin believes that a vaccinated force is a more ready force. That is why he has ordered mandatory vaccines for the total force, and that includes our National Guard.” Jamie Crawford writes in CNN.
The Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, stated on Sunday that if courts continue to block President Biden’s vaccine mandate, the result will be “a setback for public health.” The statement comes after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals halted enforcement of the Department of Labor vaccine rule, which requires companies with 100 or more employees to set vaccine mandates or testing regimes by early January. Jan Hoffman reports for the New York Times.
New upticks in Covid-19 cases in the Upper Midwest, Southwest, and Northeast halts the Delta variant’s decline. Jon Camp and Kris Maher write for the Wall Street Journal.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law a bill that bars businesses from requiring proof of a Covid-19 vaccine. The bill creates conflicts between the state and federal vaccine policy, setting up probable legal battles. Yelena Dzhanova writes for Business Insider.
The coronavirus has infected over 47.07 million people and has now killed over 763,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 253.43 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.10 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.