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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.
Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida leader and a key plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, President Biden announced yesterday. The president said in an evening address from the White House that U.S. intelligence officials tracked al-Zawahri to a home in downtown Kabul where he was hiding out with his family. The president approved the operation last week and it was carried out Sunday. In his remarks on the operation Biden said, “we make it clear again tonight: That no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.” He also praised the U.S. intelligence community noting that “thanks to their extraordinary persistence and skill” the operation was a success. Matthew Lee, Nomaan Merchant and Aamer Madhani report for AP.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has backed a proposal from the E.U. aimed at salvaging the Iran nuclear deal. During a press conference at the U.N. yesterday, Blinken noted that “the E.U. has put forward a best proposal based on many, many months of discussions, negotiations, conversations.” However, he also expressed concerns that Iran may still be unwilling to move forward with the deal. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
U.S. RELATIONS – TAIWAN
The U.S. warned China yesterday not to respond to an expected trip to Taiwan by Speaker Nancy Pelosi with military provocations. With tensions rising on the eve of Pelosi’s anticipated arrival in Taipei, the White House said it was concerned that China might fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait, send warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone or stage large-scale naval or air activities that cross traditional lines. U.S. officials also sought to reassure Beijing, with John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesperson, telling reports “our actions are not threatening and they break no new ground. Nothing about this potential visit — potential visit, which oh, by the way, has precedent — would change the status quo.” Peter Baker reports for the New York Times.
Several Chinese fighter jets flew close to the median line that divides the Taiwan Strait this morning, ahead of Pelosi’s visit to the island nation. Military units across the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command, which is in charge of the South China Sea and some Taiwan-related missions, have entered a status of high alert, according to military officials in two neighboring countries. The moves came as Taiwan and the U.S. braced themselves for a potentially violent reaction to Pelosi’s visit from Beijing. Kathrin Hille, Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell report for the Financial Times.
Four U.S. warships, including an aircraft carrier, have been positioned in waters east of Taiwan. However, while the warships are “able to respond to any eventuality, these are normal, routine deployments,” a U.S. Navy official told Reuters. Greg Torode and Yimou Lee report for Reuters.
Russia has warned the U.S. that an expected visit to Taiwan by Pelosi would put it on a collision course with China and provoke tensions in the region. “We cannot say for sure right now whether she will or will not get there, but everything about this tour and the possible visit to Taiwan is purely provocative,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Reuters reports.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – U.S. RESPONSE
The U.S. will send another $550 million in arms to Ukraine to help its war efforts against Russia, increasing its total investment in the conflict to more than $8 billion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that he was authorizing a drawdown of arms and equipment from the Department of Defense inventories for Ukraine’s self-defense. The arms transfer will include ammunition for the HIMARS rocket launchers that have been used to destroy Russian command posts and ammunition depots as well as for 155-millimeter howitzers already in use by Ukrainian troops. Peter Baker reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. has assessed that Ukraine did not attack the detention center in Russian-occupied Olenivka with American-made rocket launchers, according to two U.S. officials. This directly contradicts Russia’s claim that Ukraine’s military used the U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and precision-guided rockets to strike the site themselves to deter defectors. “We know Ukraine didn’t attack the site with HIMARS because the site doesn’t have the indications it would have if it was hit with HIMARS,” one of the officials said. While one of the officials stopped short of saying Ukraine was not responsible for the strike, the other official said the evidence showed the attack was not conducted by Kyiv. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
The first grain shipment to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion began, is expected to reach a Turkish port later today. A second ship, the Riva Wing, which has been laden with 50,000 tons of feed grain, is also preparing to leave the port in Odesa under an international agreement to allow the safe passage of such cargo. Matina Stevis-Gridneff reports for the New York Times.
Authorities in Bulgaria are investigating an explosion at an ammunition depot owned by an arms dealer who is reportedly a middleman for exports of munitions to Ukraine. The complex is owned by Emilian Gebrev, who survived a near-fatal 2015 poisoning, for which Bulgarian prosecutors have later charged three Russian citizens. The blast, which took place at a facility near the city of Karnobat, is the latest in a series of mysterious explosions at weapons and armaments facilities in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic over the past decade. Authorities in both countries have linked the explosions to Russia and have expelled Russian diplomats over the cases. Moscow has consistently denied involvement. Georgi Kantchev and Joe Parkinson report for the Wall Street Journal.
Russia has been reallocating a significant number of troops to southern Ukraine and is likely adjusting its Donbas offensive after failing to make progress in the northern Donbas. It has likely identified its Zaporizhzhia front as a vulnerable area in need of reinforcement, according to a U.K. Ministry of Defense intelligence update.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning yesterday that humanity was “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.” Speaking at the opening session of a conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Guterres cited the war in Ukraine among the conflicts driving the risk to a level not seen since the height of the Cold War. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also made remarks to the session, mentioning Russia, Iran and North Korea as examples of nuclear-related concern. Farnaz Fassihi and Michael Levenson report for the New York Times.
The pace of executions for drug trafficking in Singapore is sparking a new domestic debate about capital punishment. The city-state has executed eight people for drug trafficking since March, drawing criticism from both international human-rights groups and home-grown anti-death penalty movements. “Young Singaporeans tend to have more liberal attitudes toward drug use, it doesn’t induce the same level of moral panic as it does among older generations,” said Kirsten Han, a Singaporean journalist and an activist with the anti-death-penalty nonprofit Transformative Justice Collective. “We’ve also seen a lot more willingness to question the death penalty and how it’s linked to other social justice issues like inequality, race and poverty.” Feliz Solomon provides analysis for the Wall Street Journal.
Millions of Afghans are expected to experience “extreme levels of hunger” in the coming months, according to a report released Monday night by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The watchdog agency said that emergency aid to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis is likely to fall sharply, reaching only 8 percent of the population, because insufficient foreign funds have been donated to relief agencies. The report, which comes nearly a year after U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan, also warned that the plight of Afghan women is continuing to worsen since Taliban extremists returned to power. Pamela Constable reports for the Washington Post.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – JAN. 6 ATTACK
Two influential House Democrats called yesterday for officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) independent watchdog to testify to Congress about the agency’s handling of missing Secret Service text messages from the day of the Jan. 6 attack. In a letter sent to Joseph Cuffari, the agency’s inspector general, the heads of two congressional committees said they had developed “grave new concerns over your lack of transparency and independence, which appear to be jeopardizing the integrity of a crucial investigation run by your office.” The letter from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, (D-NY), chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, also renewed a demand the pair made last week that Cuffari step aside from the investigation. Luke Broadwater reports for the New York Times.
In an email to his workforce yesterday, Cuffari decried the intensifying scrutiny over his office’s inquiry into text messages sent at the time of the Jan. 6 attack. In a note that cited “a tremendous amount of public speculation” regarding the office’s work related to Jan. 6, the DHS inspector general used language that suggests he’s prepared to push back on growing concerns from Congress on the matter. “Because of the U.S. Attorney General guidelines and quality standards, we cannot always publicly respond to untruths and false information about our work,” Cuffari wrote “I am so proud of the resilience I have witnessed in the face of this onslaught of meritless criticism.” Betsy Woodruff Swan reports for POLITICO.
A federal judge has sentenced Guy Wesley Reffitt, the first defendant to go on trial for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, to more than seven years in prison. After a six-hour hearing, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich handed down a sentence at the low end of the guideline range. She noted that this was still significantly longer than any given so far to any of the more than 800 people arrested in connection with the riot, many of whom have struck plea bargains. In an important test case for the Justice Department, a jury found Reffitt guilty of five felony charges in March, including obstructing Congress’s certification of the 2020 presidential election. Zach Montague reports for the New York Times.
Retired Washington DC police officer, Mark Robinson, who was part of Donald Trump’s motorcade on Jan. 6, 2021, has told CNN that the then-President was adamant about going to the Capitol as the attack unfolded. The comments by Robinson, who has testified to the Jan. 6 committee, further corroborate key details first revealed by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who spoke to the committee at length about Trump’s behavior. Hutchinson said that she was told that Trump became “irate” when informed by security that he would not be going to the Capitol on Jan. 6, because the situation was not secure. Shawna Mizelle reports for CNN.
COVID-19 has infected over 91.47 million people and has now killed over 1.03 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 578.325 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.40 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout 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.