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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 single top secret U.S. strike cell sidestepped safeguards and repeatedly killed civilians, as it launched tens of thousands of attacks against the Islamic State in Syria. People working in the strike cell, which was called Talon Anvil and worked around the clock between 2014 to 2019, have said that it circumvented rules imposed to protect noncombatants, and alarmed its partners in the military and the CIA by killing people who had no role in the conflict. CIA officers reported their concerns to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Inspector General and the DoD’s leadership, but never saw evidence that these concerns were taken seriously, a former CIA officer has said. Talon Anvil also clashed with Air Force intelligence teams, pushing Air Force analysts of drone footage to say that they saw evidence such as weapons that could legally justify a strike. Dave Philipps, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti report for the New York Times.
U.S. forces carried out a “large airborne operation” and “kidnapped a number of civilians” at dawn today, Syrian state news agency SANA has reported. The American forces landed in the town of Busayra, east of Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria, the news agency reported. There was no immediate confirmation of the report. Reuters reports.
The U.S. has imposed extensive human rights-related sanctions on dozens of people and entities tied to China, Myanmar, North Korea, and Bangladesh, and has added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime Group to an investment blacklist. Canada and the U.K. joined the U.S. in imposing sanctions related to human rights abuses in Myanmar. China’s embassy in Washington denounced the U.S. move as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs.” Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis report for Reuters.
South Korea, North Korea, China, and the U.S. have agreed “in principle” to declare a formal end to the Korean war almost 70 years after the conflict ended, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said. Moon, who was speaking in Canberra today during a four-day visit to Australia, said that talks were being held up by North Korea’s objections to present-day “U.S. hostility.” Justin McCurry reports for the Guardian.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Indonesia today, as he begins his Southeast Asia visit aimed at strengthening ties in the Indo-Pacific. Humeyra Pamuk reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
Foreign ministers for the Group of Seven (G7) countries have urged Russia to pull back from the tense border standoff with Ukraine. “Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law…Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe costs in response,” the G7 foreign ministers said in a statement which largely echoed earlier statements made by Western officials. Lara Jakes reports for the New York Times.
Ukraine’s new defense minister Oleksii Reznikov has blamed Germany for blocking the supply of weaponry to Kyiv through NATO. Reznikov has said that Berlin in the past month has vetoed Ukraine’s purchase of anti-drone rifles and anti-sniper systems via the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. Though, Germany subsequently relented on the first item, after deeming it non-lethal. “They are still building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and at the same time blocking our defensive weapons. It is very unfair,” Reznikov told the Financial Times. Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv and Ben Hall report for the Financial Times.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has warned of a possible confrontation if the U.S. and NATO fail to give Moscow security guarantees concerning NATO’s eastern expansion, according to the state-owned RIA news agency. Reuters reports.
Donors have agreed to transfer $280 million from a frozen trust fund to the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan. The World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund will this year give $180 million to WFP to scale up food security and nutrition operations and $100 million to UNICEF to provide essential health services in Afghanistan, the World Bank said in a statement. Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal report for Reuters.
The Taliban is committed in principle to education and jobs for girls and women and seeks the world’s “mercy and compassion” to help millions of Afghans in desperate need. In an interview, Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told The Associated Press that the Taliban wants good relations with all countries and has no issue with the United States, urging Washington and other nations to release upward of $10 billion in frozen funds. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
Since Kabul fell to the Taliban in August, Iran has deported hundreds of thousands of Afghans and has been unwilling to consider asylum applications. Iranian authorities are deporting between 2,500 and 4,000 Afghans every day, compounding an already-tense situation at the Afghan-Iranian border. Sune Engel Rasmussen and Aresu Eqbali report for the Wall Street Journal.
The State Department and Department of Defense have begun reviews into the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. “The State Department’s 90-day review into the withdrawal will ‘seek to assess the lessons learned from our engagement in Afghanistan and provide recommendations going forward,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a memo to employees obtained by The Hill. The review will cover the period between January 2020 and August 2021…Separately, the Pentagon’s after-action review of the withdrawal will cover the period between February 2020 and the end of August, Pentagon spokesperson Army Maj. Robert Lodewick told The Hill in a statement,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has become the first Israeli leader to make an official visit to the United Arab Emirates, after flying to Abu Dhabi to meet the de facto Emirati leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. “Prince Mohammed’s invitation to Bennett underscored the shifting priorities of Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates, where the threat of a nuclear Iran is now viewed of far greater concern than an immediate resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Clashes between Yemeni government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacking the key Yemeni city of Marib have killed a senior military commander. “Maj. Gen. Nasser al-Zubiani, who headed military operations of the government’s armed forces, was killed on the front line in the Balaq mountain range, south of the city of Marib, said two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity,” Samy Magdy reports for AP.
Libya’s election committee has delayed publishing a list of presidential candidates for the country’s upcoming Dec. 24 elections, due to needing to settle outstanding legal issues. “Given the sensitivities of this stage and the political and security circumstances surrounding it, the commission is keen to exhaust all means of litigation to ensure its decisions comply with issued judgements,” the commission said in a statement on Saturday. Al Jazeera reports.
Iran appears to be preparing for a space launch, while negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal continue in Vienna, according to an expert and satellite images. Jon Gambrell reports for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Before he was killed Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had been working on a list of powerful politicians and business people involved in Haiti’s drug trade, and intended to hand the list over to the U.S. government, senior Haitian advisers and officials have said. Moïse’s wife has previously described how after killing Moïse the assassins stayed in Moïse’s home and searched through his files. Maria Abi-Habib reports for the New York Times.
Australia has signed a contract worth about $717 million to buy self-propelled howitzers from South Korea. The contract marks the latest step in Australia’s effort to overhaul its military and broaden its military cooperation, as it seeks to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. David Winning reports for the Wall Street Journal.
West African leaders have threatened further sanctions against Mali by the new year, unless Mali’s junta makes “concrete progress” toward holding democratic elections in February as previously promised. The latest threat follows a summit of the Economic Community of West African States, amid mounting concern that Mali’s coup leader is failing to make sufficient election preparations. Chinedu Asadu reports for AP.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a virtual summit this week to discuss bilateral relations and international issues. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that “the two heads of state will give full review of China-Russia relations and cooperation in various fields this year,” but mentioned no specific topics for the upcoming meeting. AP reports.
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and seven other pro-democracy activists have been sentenced to up to 14 months in prison. The individuals were charged with organizing, taking part in, and inciting participation in a banned vigil last year for victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Reuters reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has released a resolution detailing its recommendation to hold former President Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress, ahead of a House vote on the issue planned for this week. “In a 51-page document released Sunday, the committee lays out its efforts to obtain documents and testimony from Meadows, and notes repeated warnings from its chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), of the consequences if he refused to cooperate,” Olafimihan Oshin reports for The Hill.
The Jan. 6 select committee is scrutinizing a 38-page PowerPoint document which sets out plans to overturn the 2020 election result and which Meadows has turned over to the committee. Meadows’ lawyer has said that the document was submitted to the committee because it was not privileged, and that Meadows received it by email in his inbox but did not do anything with it. Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel, has said that he had circulated the document among Trump’s allies and on Capitol Hill before the Jan. 6 attack. Waldron said that he did not personally send the document to Meadows, but that it was possible someone on his team had done so. “The document recommended that Trump declare a national emergency to delay the certification of the election results and included a claim that China and Venezuela had obtained control over the voting infrastructure in a majority of states,” Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
It is not clear who prepared the PowerPoint, but a similar 36-page version of the document marked for dissemination has Jan. 5 metadata and is available online. The two documents have some differences but the titles and the recommendations are the same. The documents appear to be based on the theories of Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a Texas entrepreneur and self-described inventor who has appeared on podcasts with Waldron discussing election fraud. Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
Waldron has said that he visited the White House multiple times after the 2020 election, spoke with Meadows “maybe eight to 10 times,” and briefed Republican members of Congress on Jan. 5. Waldron, who was working with Trump’s lawyers (Rudolph Giuliani and John Eastman) at the Willard Hotel to gather purported evidence of election fraud, has also said that he once briefed Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) at the White House in Meadow’s office with Giuliani present. Emma Brown, Jon Swaine, Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, and Tom Hamburger report for the Washington Post.
Meadows indicated in an email on Jan. 5 that the National Guard was on standby “to protect pro Trump people,” according to documents obtained by the Jan. 6 committee that were described in a public filing yesterday night. The context for the message is unclear, as is who Meadows relayed the information to or whether it was the result of insight provided by the Defense Department. Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
The Jan. 6 select committee has announced that it has issued six new subpoenas. Among the latest people to be issued a subpoena is Max Miller, who worked as a senior adviser to Trump and is now running as a candidate for a House seat. “The panel also issued a subpoena to Robert ‘Bobby’ Peede Jr., who allegedly also met with Trump in the private dining room off the Oval Office on Jan. 4 along with Miller to discuss the rally and lineup of speakers. Other individuals issued subpoenas on Friday are Brian Jack, Trump’s former director of political affairs who allegedly reached out to numerous members of Congress to ask them to speak at the Jan. 6 rally; Bryan Lewis, who the committee says obtained a permit for a rally outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 to urge lawmakers against certifying the election results; Ed Martin, a ‘Stop the Steal’ organizer; and Kimberly Fletcher, an activist with the organization Moms for America who was involved in pro-Trump rallies on Jan. 5 and 6,” Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill.
A federal judge has upheld the Justice Department’s decision to use a felony obstruction law against Capitol attack defendants. In a major victory for prosecutors, Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich denied a request by two rioters to throw out the charge “obstruction of an official proceeding,” which has been used in the Jan. 6 cases to cover obstruction of Congress’ Electoral College tabulation session on Jan. 6. Marshall Cohen and Hannah Rabinowitz report for CNN.
Jan. 6 organizer and “Stop the Steal” leader Ali Alexander was served with a lawsuit as he left his eight-hour deposition with the Jan. 6 committee last Thursday. The legal documents which Alexander was served with pertain to the Smith v Trump lawsuit, which was initially filed by seven Capitol police officers in August and alleges that the defendants, including Alexander and Trump, violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act which protects against violent acts interfering with congressional duties. Zachary Petrizzo reports for The Daily Beast.
OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
An anti-terrorism unit within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) federal agency investigated as many as 20 U.S.-based journalists using government databases which contained personal information and were intended to track terrorists, according to documents, including an inspector general report of more than 500 pages, obtained by Yahoo News. Jana Winter reports for Yahoo News.
A study, published by U.K. government scientists, has indicated that a third vaccine dose provides considerable defense against the Omicron Covid-19 variant, but otherwise there is a significant drop in protection against symptomatic cases. U.K. government scientists have also offered “the most complete look yet at how quickly Omicron was spreading in England’s highly vaccinated population, warning that the variant could overtake Delta by mid-December and, without any precautionary measures, cause Covid-19 cases to soar,” Benjamin Mueller reports for the New York Times.
China has donated one million Covid-19 vaccines to Nicaragua, days after Nicaragua cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of Beijing. BBC News reports.
The head of the Oklahoma National Guard has acknowledged that the current law provides little cover for service members who refuse the Pentagon’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate and there is a risk that vaccine refusal could end military careers. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Pentagon leaders are holding “active discussions” on whether to mandate a Covid-19 vaccine booster, Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby has said. “There have been no final decisions made,” John Kirby added. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 49.92 million people and has now killed over 797,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 270.22 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.30 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.