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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 – ISIS LEADER
President Biden has said that the leader of ISIS died by a suicide bomb in a “desperate act of cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others,” during a U.S. assault on the leader’s home. “Last night’s operation took a major terrorist threat off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you,” Biden said in remarks yesterday. Shannon Pettypiece reports for NBC News.
U.S. officials have insisted that the only civilian casualties resulting from the assault were caused by the ISIS leader himself when he blew apart his residence with his family inside. The U.S. has described a successful operation that took out a critical terrorist leader while avoiding any U.S. casualties. Gordon Lubold, Nancy A. Youssef, Warren P. Strobel and Nazih Osseiran report for the Wall Street Journal.
Aides have said that Biden approved the raid on Tuesday morning after months of military planning, including dozens of rehearsals and an exercise involving a tabletop model of the building. Pentagon officials have said that 10 civilians, including eight children, had been safely evacuated, and that commanders would review whether the mission had harmed civilians. Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard report for the New York Times.
Analysis of Biden’s decision to target ISIS’s leader is provided by Matt Viser reporting for the Washington Post.
The deputy U.N. Spokesperson yesterday expressed concern over reported civilian casualties in the U.S. assault, but welcomed any move contributing to the defeat of ISIS. UN News Centre reports.
Tess Bridgeman and Ryan Goodman have written a piece for Just Security on ‘The Al-Qurayshi Operation and Minimization of Civilian Casualties’.
Biden watched in real time on Wednesday as U.S. commandos landed in Syria to raid the house where Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi lived with his family, Senior administration officials have said. “From the head of the Situation Room table, Biden watched anxiously as an American helicopter suffered mechanical problems on the ground. There was relief in the room when children emerged from the first floor of the building, running to safety,” Kevin Liptak and Nikki Carvajal report for CNN.
Qurayshi’s replacement likely has been selected already, experts have said. “So far we don’t know the name of who is waiting in the wings to replace him, but you can be sure that ISIS has already designated somebody,” James Franklin Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and former special envoy on Syria, told NBC News. Corky Siemaszko reports for NBC News.
In his 26 months as head of ISIS, Qurayshi kept a low profile, never issuing proclamations or video clips. He previously had spent roughly four years in a U.S. prison in Iraq. He became the Islamic State’s leader after his predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest rather than be captured by U.S. forces in October 2019. Warren P. Strobel, Benoit Faucon, and David S. Cloud report for the Wall Street Journal.
In recent months, Qurayshi had been plotting a comeback, U.S. officials and terrorism experts have said, including a second act for the violent self-declared Islamist caliphate. Joby Warrick and Souad Mekhennet report for the Washington Post.
Witnesses have described the thunder of helicopters and a terrible clatter of gunfire “from the sky,” as U.S. forces conducted their mission. Witnesses’ accounts of the assault are provided by Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch reporting for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – VIDEO ALLEGATIONS
The U.S. has accused Moscow of preparing “a very graphic propaganda video” depicting a fake Ukrainian attack against Russia so as to “fabricate a pretext for an invasion” of Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. believes the Russian government “is planning to stage a fake attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces against Russian sovereign territory or against Russian-speaking people” in order to justify an invasion. “The U.S.’s disclosure of the alleged plot is the latest in a series of revelations designed to blunt the impact of any pretext Russia may use to invade Ukraine,” Natasha Bertrand and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.
Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer described Russia’s plan as “extremely elaborate.” Actors would be “playing mourners for people who are killed in an event,” Finer said, adding that it would involve “the deployment of corpses of bodies purportedly killed in an incident.” Rebecca Shabad and Ken Dilanian report for NBC News.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has dismissed the U.S. allegations concerning the fake video as “nonsense,” Russia’s RIA news agency has reported. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – CHINA
Chinese leader Xi Jinping held his first face-to-face meeting with another world leader in nearly two years today, as he hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. In a joint statement, Moscow and Beijing espoused shared views on a range of geopolitical issues, but avoided mentioning Ukraine, instead referencing opposition to “color revolutions” and “some forces representing a minority on the world stage” who “continue to advocate unilateral approaches to solving international problems.” Andrew Jeong and Emily Rauhala report for the Washington Post.
Before the meeting between Putin and Xi, the U.S. warned Chinese firms against seeking to evade any export controls imposed on Moscow in the event Russia invaded Ukraine. “We have an array of tools that we can deploy if we see foreign companies, including those in China, doing their best to backfill U.S. export control actions, to evade them, to get around them,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters. Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom report for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
Lawmakers left classified briefings on Russia-Ukraine tensions yesterday warning of the potential for an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both the House and Senate were given classified briefings led by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “This is the most significant threat in Europe since 1945. It’s just that simple,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters after exiting the briefing, calling a Russian invasion a “near certainty.” Jordan Williams, Rebecca Beitsch and Mike Lillis report for The Hill.
Senators have said they are close to reaching a deal on Russian sanctions legislation. “The progress comes after the talks appeared to hit a snag earlier this week, as the group struggled to resolve two of their biggest sticking points: If some sanctions should be implemented immediately and how to handle the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will carry gas from Russia to Germany,” Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Senators from both parties have raised concerns that Russia will attack Ukraine before a sanctions bill is agreed upon and finalized. “I’m concerned that Mr. Putin’s timetable is different than ours. And he may well move before we can get this done,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has said. Reporting on the ongoing negotiations amongst Senators on the sanctions legislation is provided by Andrew Desiderio for POLITICO.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The Kremlin has criticized the U.S. for deploying troops to NATO’s eastern flank. “The Kremlin said yesterday that Russia would be ‘absolutely justified’ if it chooses to respond to the Pentagon’s deployment, announced this week, of an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Poland, Romania and Germany. ‘We keep asking our U.S. counterparts to stop escalating tensions on the European continent,’ Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. ‘Regretfully, the Americans are continuing to do so,’” Paul Sonne, Steve Hendrix and Rachel Pannett report for the Washington Post.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has agreed to expand supplies of a long-range, Turkish-made armed drone to the Ukrainian army. “Erdoğan’s decision to provide weapons and diplomatically back Ukraine was a public rebuke to Moscow and another complicating factor in the mix of cooperation and conflict between Turkey and Russia,” Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
Russia has denied leaking U.S.and NATO responses to Russia’s security demands to the Spanish newspaper El País. U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland had blamed Moscow for the leak. Reuters reports.
Live updates on the Ukraine-Russia crisis are provided by the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
A woman from Kansas will remain in custody before facing terrorism charges for allegedly leading a female Islamic State fighting squadron. “Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, is accused of training children as young as six to use machine guns and planning to commit ‘violent jihad,’” Tara McKelvey & Boer Deng report for BBC News.
The U.S. has announced visa restrictions on several Belarusians, citing the repression of athletes abroad, including the attempted forced repatriation of a sprinter at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Reuters reports.
President Biden’s administration sees Iran’s nuclear program as being too advanced now to restore the key goal of the 2015 nuclear deal to prevent Iran from amassing enough nuclear fuel for a bomb in less than a year. Administration officials concluded late last year that Iran’s nuclear program had advanced too far to re-create the roughly 12-month “breakout period” associated with the 2015 deal, U.S. officials have said. The U.S. is still pushing ahead with talks. How limited the breakout period will be in any new deal “depends on the precise steps Iran agrees to take to dismantle, ship abroad, destroy or place under seal its stockpile of enriched uranium, machines for producing nuclear fuel and centrifuge manufacturing capacity,” Laurence Norman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A Danish district court has found three members of an Iranian Arab opposition group guilty of espionage, as well as financing and supporting terrorist activity in Iran. The three members of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) were arrested two years ago. “The defendants face prison sentences of up to 12 years for numerous offenses, including providing information about Danish and foreign organizations and individuals to a Saudi Arabian intelligence service,” Reuters reports.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Top aides to former Vice President Pence refused to discuss direct conversations with former President Trump during their interviews with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, sources have said. “The aides, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, drew that line on what they’d be willing to discuss because Trump’s legal team had instructed them not to reveal presidential conversations that the former President’s lawyers believe should be covered under executive privilege, the sources said,” Katelyn Polantz, Ryan Nobles, Gloria Borger and Jamie Gangel report for CNN.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden’s administration has decided, following the latest internal review, to maintain the pandemic Title 42 border policy that authorizes the expulsion of migrants without affording them the opportunity to request U.S. asylum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said. “The current reassessment examined the present impact of the pandemic throughout the United States and at the U.S. borders, taking special note of the surge in cases and hospitalizations since December due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” a CDC spokesperson said. Camilo Montoya-Galvez reports for CBS News.
The Biden administration has formed a new Cyber Safety Review Board, a panel of senior administration officials and private-sector experts, which is tasked with investigating major national cybersecurity failures that affect government, business, and critical infrastructure. The board’s first case will be to probe the recently discovered Log4j internet bug, officials have said. Dustin Volz reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The National Butterfly Center in South Texas will be closed “for the immediate future” due to attacks from QAnon supporters. “The nonprofit center in Mission has endured a firestorm in recent years amid an ongoing lawsuit against the former Trump administration, which sought to build part of a border wall on its property, and the fundraising organization We Build the Wall. Right-wing groups have falsely claimed the butterfly center illegally smuggles people into the United States and facilitates sex trafficking,” Marisa Iati reports for the Washington Post.
The Minneapolis Police Department has released body camera footage of officers fatally shooting a man who was lying on a couch under a blanket when officers entered an apartment to carry out a warrant before 7 am. “The man, Amir Locke, 22, had a gun in his hand, the video shows, but it is unclear whether he was aware that police officers had entered the apartment,” Jesus Jiménez reports for the New York Times.
COVID-19 has infected close to 76.00 million people and has now killed over 897,300 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 388.20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.71 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.