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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.
SYRIA AND IRAQ
Update: “A U.S. official said al-Qurayshi died … by exploding a bomb that killed himself and members of his family, including women and children, as U.S. forces approached.” Ghaith Alsayed, Lolita C. Baldor, Bassem Mroue and Zeke Miller report for the Associated Press.
U.S. special operations forces carried out a combat operation to kill or capture a high-level terrorist in northwest Syria along the Turkish border earlier today. The mission included Apache gunships, airstrikes, and drones, with Pentagon press secretary John Kirby saying in a statement that “the mission was successful. There were no U.S. casualties.” Gordon Lubold, Nancy A. Youssef and Warren P. Strobel report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. commando assault resulted in at least 13 people being killed, including six children and four women, rescue workers have said. “American helicopters ferried the commandos into position soon after midnight, surrounding a house in Atmeh…A long, tense standoff ensued, with helicopter loudspeakers blaring warnings in Arabic for women and children inside the house to evacuate, according to social media and witness accounts. After about two hours, a major battle erupted, with rocket-propelled grenades and other fire hurtling from the house and surrounding buildings toward the Americans,” Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.
President Biden has released a statement saying that the U.S. “have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi—the leader of ISIS.” Biden is expected to deliver remarks later today.
Dozens of Turkish warplanes and drones attacked Kurdish militant training camps, shelters, and ammunition storage areas in northern areas of Iraq and Syria, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said yesterday. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the operation had been successful and that “many terrorists” were killed. “The air strikes are part of a continuing Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, both of which Turkey regards as a terrorist group,” Daren Butler reports for Reuters.
The Turkish strikes killed at least four people, including civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said. The strikes drew condemnation from U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. The YPG, one of the two groups the Turkish strikes targeted, is also a close U.S. ally against the Islamic State but is labeled a terrorist group by Ankara because of its ties to the PKK. Suzan Fraser reports for ABC News.
Following reports of civilian casualties resulting from Turkish airstrikes in the Iraqi city of Ninewa, the U.N. Assistance Mission reiterated that Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity “must be respected at all times.” UN News Centre reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND BELARUS
President Biden has approved the deployment of about 3,000 additional U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, administration officials have said. The troops’ “purpose will be to reassure NATO allies that while the United States has no intention of sending troops into Ukraine…Biden would protect America’s NATO allies from any Russian aggression,” Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.
Some 2,000 U.S. troops will be sent from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Poland and Germany, and a further 1,000 troops already in Germany will go to Romania, the Pentagon has said. Moscow has responded to the announcement, calling the U.S. deployment “destructive.” BBC News reports.
Live reporting on the developments in the Russia, Ukraine crisis are provided by the New York Times.
Russia is expected to have 30,000 troops in Belarus for joint military exercises starting on Feb. 20, NATO has said. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus.” “This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War, with an expected 30,000 combat troops” as well as Spetsnaz special operations forces, SU-35 fighter jets, S-400 air defense systems and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, Stoltenberg added. Pavel Polityuk and Sabine Siebold report for Reuters.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus today to inspect Russian and Belarusian troops’ preparations for joint drills this month, Belarus’s Defense Ministry has said. Reuters reports.
New satellite images have revealed a further expansion of Russia’s military presence at multiple locations in Belarus, Crimea, and western Russia. Maxar, who collected and analyzed the imagery, said the deployments of Russian troops “reflect an increased level of activity and readiness.” Gianluca Mezzofiore and Tim Lister report for CNN.
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has said that Ukraine’s government endorses Washington’s proposal to help defuse the crisis by promising not to deploy American missiles or troops in Ukraine. In a letter from the U.S. to Moscow delivered last week, the U.S. proposed reciprocal commitments by both Russia and the U.S. to refrain from deploying offensive military capabilities in Ukraine. “I would like to note that while the United States has neither missiles nor combat units in Ukraine, Russia has both,” Kuleba has said. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
U.S. and NATO proposals delivered to Russia last week, which were obtained and published by the Spanish newspaper El País yesterday, have been confirmed as accurate by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby and a senior European official. The disclosure of the documents provides a deeper level of detail than previously known from public statements. “I note that in the past few hours a proposal made by the United States leaked to a European news outlet,” Kirby said. “We did not make this document public, but now that it is, it confirms to the entire world what we’ve been saying.” Steven Erlanger and Andrew E. Kramer report for the New York Times.
Further reporting on the disclosed proposals from the U.S. and NATO is provided by Anne M. Simmons reports for the Wall Street Journal.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that Putin will make a “tragic miscalculation” if he invades Ukraine. During the call, Putin complained to Johnson that Russia’s demands for security guarantees had not been met, and also told Johnson that Kyiv was involved in “the chronic sabotage” of the Minsk agreements. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said the Biden administration will no longer describe a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine as “imminent” because it implies that Putin has made a decision on whether to invade. Psaki noted that the “vast majority” of times that she had talked about an invasion she said Putin “could invade at any time,” which was still true. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Psaki has accused Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and other Republican party members of “parroting Russian talking points.” Psaki was responding to Hawley’s call for the Biden administration to abandon support for Ukraine’s eventual admission to NATO. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The FBI has acknowledged that it tested the Pegasus spyware made by the Israeli NSO Group, but claimed it never used the software “in support of any investigation.” The FBI tested the software for possible use in criminal investigations, even as the FBI and Justice Department were investigating whether the NSO software had been used to illegally hack phones in the United States, sources have said. Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres refused a request from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Thomas-Greenfield privately discouraged Guterres from attending the Games, but when he made it clear he intended to go, she asked him to at least raise concerns about China’s human rights record, according to U.N.-based diplomatic sources. Colum Lynch reports for Foreign Policy.
The FBI’s cyber division has warned that cyber actors could “disrupt” the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, in addition to next month’s Paralympics, using a “broad range of cyber activities.” A privacy industry notification dated Monday noted that some of those activities could include ransomware, phishing campaigns, malware, and distributed denial of service attacks, among other actions, and warned against installing apps made by “untrusted vendors.” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
An intelligence panel has said that some of the episodes of mysterious symptoms known as “Havana syndrome” reported by U.S. officials across the globe could “plausibly” have been caused by “pulsed electromagnetic energy” emitted by an external source. “But the panel stopped short of making a definitive determination, saying only that both electromagnetic energy and, in limited circumstances, ultrasound could explain the key symptoms,” Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN.
Washington will continue to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military and those who have helped the junta, U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet has said. The U.S., along with the U.K. and Canada, earlier this week imposed the latest round of sanctions on people and organizations connected with Myanmar, targeting judicial officials involved in prosecutions against Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Simon Lewis reports for Reuters.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Insurgents in the Pakistani province of Balochistan attacked two military bases overnight, killing seven soldiers while losing 13 of their own men, Pakistan’s army has said. “The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) group claimed responsibility in a statement sent to a Reuters reporter, saying its suicide bombers had detonated explosive-laden vehicles at the entrance of the bases killing more than 50 soldiers,” Gul Yousafzai and Asif Shahzad report for Reuters.
At least 60 people, including 15 children, were killed during an attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo yesterday. The attack is the latest in a series of violent assaults on civilians in the area. Armed men reportedly attacked the Plaine Savo camp in Ituri province, in the east of the Congo. Local sources have blamed the militia group Cooperative for the Development of Congo, or Codeco. Kaamil Ahmed reports for the Guardian.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said it intercepted three drones that entered its airspace over unpopulated areas yesterday. Yesterday’s drone attack “was claimed by little-known ‘True Promise Brigades,’ citing UAE interference in Yemen and Iraq as justification, according to U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which follows militant websites,” Reuters reports.
Workers at Dubai’s Expo 2020 in the UAE are allegedly working in highly abusive conditions that may amount to forced labor, according to a report by human rights group Equidem. Migrant workers employed at the international fair currently taking place in the UAE allege they have been forced to pay illegal recruitment fees, suffered racial discrimination, and had wages withheld and passports confiscated, according to the report. Pete Pattisson reports for the Guardian.
The U.K. Royal Air Force scrambled fighter jets in response to four Russian military aircraft approaching the United Kingdom yesterday. The Air Force said that four Russian strategic bombers were “intercepted and escorted,” adding that they did not enter U.K. airspace at any point. AP reports.
The U.K. launched fighter jets again today against unidentified aircrafts. “Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighters from RAF Lossiemouth, supported by a Voyager Tanker from RAF Brize Norton, have been launched against aircraft approaching the U.K. area of interest,” A Royal Air Force spokesperson said. Reuters reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Former Department of Justice (DOJ) official Jeffrey Clark has met with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Clark was a central figure in former President Trump’s pressure campaign at the DOJ. Clark previously said he would plead the Fifth Amendment before the committee, which formally voted to censure Clark in December after he and his attorney walked out of a November meeting with the panel. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
A federal judge has ruled that Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers group charged with seditious conspiracy over the Jan. 6, 2021 attack, must be transferred to a Washington, D.C. jail while awaiting trial. The judge denied a motion from Rhodes that he be allowed to remain incarcerated in Texas so that he could be closer to his attorneys, saying that “the court will not involve itself in decisions about location of detention better left to the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons.” Harper Neidig reports for The Hill.
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), a member of the Jan. 6 select committee, has said that Trump “absolutely” was tampering with the panel’s witnesses by discussing potential pardons for defendants charged in relation to the attack. “And I think the question is more from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, you know where — where are they? Do they support this? When is enough enough?” Aguilar added during an interview with CNN. Chandelis Duster reports for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
A memo, dated Dec. 18, 2020, circulated amongst allies of former President Trump, proposed that Trump should invoke the extraordinary powers of the National Security Agency and Defense Department to sift through raw electronic communications in an attempt to show that foreign powers had intervened in the 2020 election to help President Biden win. Proof of foreign interference would “support next steps to defend the Constitution in a manner superior to current civilian-only judicial remedies,” the memo argued. Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman, Emma Brown, Jon Swaine and Jacqueline Alemany report for the Washington Post.
Alexander Vindman, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former White House national security aide, is suing several allies of Trump. Vindman is alleging that Trump’s allies intimidated and retaliated against him while he was a key witness during Trump’s first impeachment. Amy B Wang reports for the Washington Post.
The FBI has identified six juveniles as persons of interest in threats to historically Black colleges and universities that appear to be racially motivated. More than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats on Tuesday, the first day of Black History Month. The FBI said the identified juveniles appear to be “tech savvy,” More than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats on Tuesday, the first day of Black History Month. Antonio Planas and Ron Allen report for NBC News.
The Army has said that it will “immediately begin separating Soldiers from the service” who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or who do not have an approved or pending request for exemption. Soldiers who are discharged for refusing to be vaccinated “will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay” and may have to return any unearned special or incentive pay, the Army said. Avie Schneider reports for NPR.
COVID-19 has infected over 75.68 million people and has now killed over 894,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 385.42 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.70 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.