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MIKE EDWARDS, founder of the volunteer rescue group Project Exodus, told NatSec Daily that at least nine American citizens still in Afghanistan who’ve contacted the U.S. government seeking rescue haven’t heard back yet. SCOTT MANN, leader of Task Force Pineapple, said they have “at least five American citizens” on their manifest who haven’t been contacted by the U.S. government for evacuation.
MATT NELSON of the September Group says he knows of seven Americans who haven’t been contacted by State but are ready to go. And ZACH NUNN, chair of Task Force Argo, said he knows of “45 blue passport holders still on the ground in Afghanistan that have not been contacted in any way by the State Department or any U.S. government agency.”
“Task Force Argo handlers have provided the emails and phone contact information for these Americans and Green Card Holders in those official reports. Many of these at risk individuals meet all the State Department’s requirements for proper documentation and readiness to evacuate a dangerous and rapidly deteriorating environment. Some of those in our database are still awaiting a response and are looking forward to working with the State Department,” said Nunn and JESSE JENSEN of Task Force Argo in a statement sent to NatSec Daily. “While some of these American citizens and Green Card holders are in direct contact with State Department, they may be marked as not wanting to leave. In fact, these people do want to leave, but are not willing to leave their family parents or siblings behind. We hope to work with the State Department to expedite their departure.”
NatSec Daily couldn’t verify if there’s any overlap of American names on the groups’ respective lists, how the citizens reached out to the U.S. government or if they’re truly ready to depart.
Still, these statements contradict Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN’s assurance last week that all Americans who have the requisite documents and want to leave Afghanistan “have been offered an opportunity to do so.”
In response to the groups, a State official told NatSec Daily that “State continues to hear directly from American citizens and [long-term permanent residents] themselves in Afghanistan, or learns about them through evacuation coalition partners. When we are in touch, we work to verify their citizenship or immigration status, stay in contact when necessary or possible, and offer seats out of the country to those who have their documentation in order and are ready to go. We have reached out to coalition groups directly since your inquiry to make sure we are in contact with any American in Afghanistan who wishes to depart. While we have not received any new names yet, we remain committed to helping any American in Afghanistan who wishes to leave.”
Mann noted multiple times that his and other groups appreciate working alongside the State Department to evacuate Americans, green card holders, special immigrant visa grantees and more out of the Taliban-controlled country. Yesterday, Blinken met with representatives of #AfghanEvac, the umbrella group for the constellation of organizations seeking to rescue people from Afghanistan.
But Mann, who wasn’t in that meeting, also said State and other agencies don’t have a good grasp of the dire situation in the country. “I just don’t think they have a handle on the problem,” he said in a phone interview, noting the 5,500 and 6,000 people under his group’s care alone. “I don’t think they have a handle on the disposition of the American citizens and green card holders to the level that they claim to have.”
In a separate call, Edwards said working to put at-risk Afghans on State-sponsored flights out of the country is “almost impossible, like a ghost we can’t get a hold of,” he said.
Mann also reiterated a point volunteer organizations like his keep making: The coming winter will exacerbate a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, only made worse by the fact that these aid groups might run out of money in less than two months.
“The money is going to run out. I think it’s going to happen in winter,” he said, noting an average burn rate of $15,000 per day. “A lot of veterans who are going to be facing a mental health crisis because they’re going to be the ones that have to tell those people they can’t pay their rent anymore.”
The claims made by the veteran-led groups are already leading to some anger on Capitol Hill.
“For months now, the State Department has lied to the public about the number of Americans left behind in Afghanistan,” said Rep. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-Fla.), a former Green Beret and current member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Luckily, we have veterans groups on the ground helping evacuate our citizens where our government has failed and continue to shine a light on conditions on the ground.”
Today during a briefing for congressional staffers, State officials said that there are 224 American citizens still in Afghanistan and that about 50 are “ready to leave.”
THE BIDEN-XI SUMMIT READOUT: Our own China Watcher PHELIM KINE has the readout of President JOE BIDEN’s virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart, XI JINPING, last night.
Citing comments today by national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN at the Brookings Institution, Kine wrote the meeting demonstrated the leaders’ “resolve to minimize areas of high tension and sets the stage for a looming period of intense issue-by-issue bilateral problem-solving sessions. … The two leaders have prioritized bilateral engagement to reduce global tensions linked to Iran and North Korea as well as to establish what Sullivan described as ‘strategic stability’ on U.S.-China nuclear weapons capacity.”
“What President Xi and President Biden really reinforced to one another at multiple points last night was that this relationship needs to be guided by consistent and regular leader-to-leader interaction,” Sullivan said at Brookings. “When they finally get to actually be physically in the same place, that rapport and dynamic will allow for even fuller interchange.”
So the result of the meeting was: Things could be much worse, and more to come.
IRAN BUILDING ADVANCED PARTS FOR CENTRIFUGES: Iran has continued production of equipment for advanced centrifuges in places the International Atomic Energy Agency hasn’t recently observed. Some fear these parts secretly could help Iran make enough fissile material for a bomb, if Iran ever decides to make one.
“Iran resumed work on a limited scale in late August at an assembly plant in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, and has since accelerated its production, allowing it to manufacture an unknown number of rotors and bellows for more advanced centrifuges, diplomats said. Iran had stopped work at Karaj in June after a sabotage attack that Tehran blamed on Israel, which hasn’t acknowledged responsibility,” reported the Wall Street Journal’s LAURENCE NORMAN, who broke the news.
Per diplomats he spoke to for the story, “Iran has now produced significant amounts of centrifuge parts since late August, with one of the diplomats saying it has produced parts for at least 170 advanced centrifuges.”
This adds even more tension and urgency ahead of Iran nuclear deal talks on Nov. 29 in Vienna. While the Biden administration has said it wants to put the U.S. back into the accord, the new Iranian leadership has shown no signs of wanting to strike a bargain. Instead, all Tehran says it wants to discuss right now is sanctions relief.
STATE DEPT TO AMERICANS IN ETHIOPIA: ‘LEAVE NOW’: The State Department has a clear message to Americans still in Ethiopia: Get out now before it’s too late.
“Leave now,” a senior State Department official told reporters on a call today. U.S. citizens should get out of the country while flights are still available and the security situation in the capital, Addis Ababa, remains somewhat stable. The official added that there are no plans to send the U.S. military into Ethiopia to rescue Americans still there while the war rages.
“Plan for a departure that does not rely on U.S. government assistance,” the official said, also noting the administration “doesn’t have an authoritative number” of citizens in Ethiopia.
Anti-government rebels in Ethiopia have captured towns on the road to the capital, and it’s possible they plan an advance in the coming days and weeks. The regime in Addis Ababa is already preparing for a fight for the capital.
A second State official noted that the U.S. government hasn’t yet placed more sanctions on elements of the government and rebel groups in hopes of brokering a peace deal. If a deal doesn’t materialize, however, it’s possible the administration will levy more sanctions.
NATSEC DAILY EXPERT ROUNDTABLE: RUSSIAN ASAT EDITION: NatSec Daily asked a slew of experts their views on Russia’s provocative anti-satellite test yesterday — you know, the one that sent 1,500 pieces of debris flying around space, endangering the lives of U.S. and Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station. We found their written answers compelling and so we’re passing along some their wisdom to you:
— BLEDDYN BOWEN, University of Leiscester: “I’m not surprised that Russia has decided to conduct a kinetic ASAT test after many flight tests in previous years. However what is surprising is the proximity of the test and the resulting debris cloud to the ISS. Unlike the US, India’s, and China’s post-2007 ASAT test, this Russian one is far more dangerous to those specific parts of [low Earth orbit] that are very popular. … Militarily, this isn’t a big deal, it’s just another incremental step on the ASAT testing and development programme that Russia has conducted since around 2010, and is one of several ASAT or counterspace weapons they have fielded or developed.”
— VICTORIA SAMSON, Secure World Foundation: “It will take days, if not weeks, to get a sense of the full debris picture. But the satellite was at a little under 500 km and at that altitude, we can expect a lot of the debris to be around for about a decade or so. The thing is that almost certainly some debris would have been kicked off into a higher altitude by the sheer force of impact — we saw that with the U.S. 2008 test and the Indian 2019 test. Which means that those pieces could be up there for much longer.”
— CHRISTOPHER NEWMAN, Northumbria University: “It has been only two weeks since the UN First Committee looked at setting up an open-ended working group on responsible behaviour in space. Tensions in space always reflect tensions on Earth and this is just another indication of the increasing unpredictability of the geopolitical situation. There will be calls for a ban on anti-satellite testing but actions like this show just how far the world is away from such a treaty. There has already been condemnation from the US but it will be instructive to see what the rest of the international community does in response.”
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DOUBLE BOMBING IN UGANDA: The Ugandan capital of Kampala suffered two suicide bombings today, and authorities are already pointing the finger at the local ISIS franchise.
“At least three people were killed and 33 were injured in the twin attacks, which took place within about 550 yards and three minutes of each other in Kampala’s heavily guarded business district, police spokesman FRED ENANGA said. Three suspected suicide bombers also died in the blasts,” the Wall Street Journal’s NICHOLAS BARIYO and BENOIT FAUCON reported.
“The first attacker detonated a backpack at a checkpoint near Kampala’s central police station, said Mr. Enanga. The second attack was carried out by two people riding motorcycles near the main entrance of Uganda’s Parliament,” the reporters continued. “Police also shot and injured a fourth would-be suicide bomber in Nansana, a suburb north of Kampala, said Mr. Enanga. During a search at the alleged attacker’s residence police recovered a suicide vest and other bomb-making equipment, he said.”
Enanga said the Allied Democratic Forces, an Ugandan Islamic group which has pledged allegiance to ISIS, was behind the attack. “We believe there are still very many suicide attackers out there. The threat is being directed at all Ugandans,” Enanga said.
CUBA CRACKDOWN ON PROTESTS: The Cuban government has unleashed a large security force to quash pro-democracy protests on the island.
“Police officers flooded streets in Havana and other cities early Monday, preventing protesters from marching,” the Wall Street Journal’s JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA and SANTIAGO PÉREZ report. “The government stationed secret police and civilian militants at the homes of protest organizers to keep them from meeting with other dissidents, according to residents in several Cuban cities.”
Leaders of the pro-democracy movement requested the regime’s permission to hold their nationwide rally. But Cuban officials denied the ask, per Córdoba and Pérez, who wrote the officials believe the planned protests “were a U.S.-backed effort to destabilize the country. Cuban officials said those who try to protest would be arrested.”
Biden’s team, though, is on the demonstrators’ side. “The United States is committed to supporting the agency of the Cuban people as they seek to promote democratic change as an inclusive and broad-based social movement,” national security adviser Sullivan said in a statement yesterday. “We urge the Cuban regime to refrain from violence against peaceful protestors and to immediately release all those unjustly detained, and we call on the international community to voice their support for the Cuban people.”
PAKISTANIS USED FACEBOOK TO TARGET AFGHANS DURING COLLAPSE: Pakistani hackers targeted Afghans close to the Ghani administration via Facebook, the social media company told Reuters’ ELIZABETH CULLIFORD.
The hacking group, known as SideCopy, “shared links to websites hosting malware which could surveil people’s devices. Targets included people connected to the government, military and law enforcement in Kabul,” Culliford reported.
“[T]he group created fictitious personas of young women as ‘romantic lures’ to build trust and trick targets into clicking phishing links or downloading malicious chat apps. It also compromised legitimate websites to manipulate people into giving up their Facebook credentials,” Culliford continued.
As of now, Facebook is unaware of the extent of the hack or what was compromised, but the company did remove SideCopy from the platform in August.
BELARUS WANTS ISKANDER MISSILES: Belarus has re-upped its request to acquire a Russian-made Iskander missile, Defense News’ JAROSLAW ADAMOWSKI reported.
“I’m currently bothering your president, I need to have here missile launchers with [a range of] 500 kilometers,” Belarusian President ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO told a Russian magazine. “I need several divisions in the west, in the south, let them stand there. This is [to gain a range of] 500 kilometers, because our Polonez [missile launcher] is [enabled with a range of] up to 300 kilometers.”
“The authoritarian leader’s request comes as ties between Poland and Belarus have become increasingly strained over the past weeks,” Adamowski wrote, noting the border skirmish between the two countries over migrants. “With tempers flaring and temperatures falling, the result has been a sporadically violent standoff on top of a humanitarian crisis brewing on Europe’s eastern doorstep.”
No analyst we’ve spoken to believes the dispute will escalate into a military conflict. But the piece did note that the capitals of Minsk and Warsaw are only 340 miles apart — right at the top range of the Iskander.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — PERSONAL OFFICE SENATE STAFFERS TO GET TS/SCI CLEARANCES: Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER told Democrats at a caucus lunch today that each senator may make one aide in their personal office eligible to receive a TS/SCI clearance, people familiar told NatSec Daily.
For roughly 35 years, the only staffers that are able to get such a high clearance work on select committees or in leadership’s offices. That meant about two-thirds of senators didn’t have an aide with access to some of the nation’s most sensitive information, which matters ahead of votes on war and peace, arms sales and more.
Those days will soon be over, thanks to a bipartisan effort to push Schumer to change the rules. “This is a small but important change to the Senate Rules that will significantly improve the Senate’s performance of its constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch and legislate on national security matters,” Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), one of the lawmakers who led the charge for the shift, told NatSec Daily.
TUBERVILLE BACKS CAATSA WAIVER FOR INDIA: Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-Ala.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters yesterday that he favors granting India a sanctions waiver for its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile-defense system.
“I think it should be” waived, he told reporters on a Zoom call in response to a question from NatSec Daily. “We would have loved [for them] to have an Aegis system or a Patriot system … but they decided to go another direction. So we’ll see what Congress and President Biden say about this.”
Asked if he worried the waiver might encourage other nations to get the S-400, the former college football coach brushed off any concerns. “We can’t play on anything [that] would happen in the future,” he said. “We got to worry about the Indo-Pacific and South Asia as we speak.”
Tuberville’s view is well in line with many of his Republican colleagues.
The lawmaker was briefing us on his recent codel to the Indo-Pacific, which included stops in India, the Philippines and Taiwan. He called the trip a “listening tour” and a “fact-finding mission,” in which he and other Republican lawmakers would relay what they heard from regional leaders back to their Senate colleagues. “We let them know that we’re here for them,” the senator said.
GROUPS DEMAND SANDERS AMENDMENT ON GAZA PASS IN NDAA: Over 70 humanitarian and activist groups sent a letter to senators yesterday demanding they pass Sen. BERNIE SANDERS’ (I-Vt.) amendment to the NDAA requiring reports on the Gaza blockade.
“After roughly 14 years, the severe restrictions on Gaza have left nearly 2 million people with severely limited access to clean water, electricity, and food; prevents critical supplies from reaching Gaza which is necessary for maintaining and rebuilding water treatment and sanitation infrastructure; roughly 97 percent of Gaza’s tap water is contaminated, depriving civilians of regular access to drinkable water,” wrote the groups, including Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam America, J Street and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). “The restrictions have also left Gaza’s electrical grid in ruins, forcing many Palestinians to live without electricity for nearly half the day. More than 80 percent of Gaza’s population relies on humanitarian aid.”
“We urge the Senate to adopt this important amendment and support a new international agreement on movement and access for Gaza that lifts the siege, ends the humanitarian crisis, sustains a durable ceasefire, and helps bring about long-term peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” FCNL’s HASSAN EL-TAYYAB told NatSec Daily.
KHALILZAD BATTLES CRITICS: ZALMAY KHALILZAD, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan peace talks during both the Trump and Biden administrations, is on a whirlwind world tour to defend his reputation against critics blaming him for the country’s collapse and failed diplomatic effort.
“I respect those who say, ‘This was a defining war for the future of the Islamic world, and no matter what we must prevail,’” he told the New York Times’ MICHAEL CROWLEY in an interview published today. “Well, yeah. Sure, there’s a lot of things I wish for — but it wasn’t realistic, because they couldn’t convince the presidents, Congress and others.”
“I tried to say, ‘OK, America wants to leave militarily. But let’s do also the right thing for Afghanistan. Because given my Afghan-ness, I was very much in touch with the feelings of the Afghan people. I took the job in part to see if I could end the war also for Afghanistan, for the people,” he continued.
Despite his defenses, Khalilzad continues to draw heat from American and Afghan figures.
“He did a lot to create a modern, post-Taliban independent state,” ERIC EDELMAN, a former national security official in the Reagan and Bush II administrations, told Crowley. “And then to be in part the handmaiden of its demise — I don’t know how you can see that as other than tragic.”
Others are less generous. The former envoy “was the architect of the grand deception scheme,” AMRULLAH SALEH, Afghanistan’s first vice president in the last government, tweeted last month.
— BEN MILAKOFSKY is now chief of staff and strategic adviser at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, working as a member of the leadership team and as a partner for the university’s new Climate School. He most recently was chief of staff at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
— CHRISTIAN KREZNAR is taking on an editing role at the Council on Foreign Relations. He most recently was an assistant editor at Forbes.
—MAX FISHER, The New York Times: “U.S. Allies Drive Much of World’s Democratic Decline, Data Shows”
— YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, The Wall Street Journal: “Afghanistan’s Shiite Minority Cautiously Embraces Taliban Rule, Seeking Protection”
— NAHAL TOOSI, Politico: “Biden tried to push Putin aside. The Russian isn’t having it.”
— The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 9 a.m.: “A Green and Political Europe — with ERIKA MANOUSELIS, VIVIEN SCHMIDT, NATHALIE TOCCI and ALEXANDROS YANNIS”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 a.m.: “Philippine Elections and the U.S. Alliance: What Lies Ahead? — with ARIES ARUGAY, CAMILLE ELEMIA and GREGORY B. POLING”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: The FY22 Budget: State Department Counterterrorism Bureau — with CHRIS LANDBERG”
— House Homeland Security Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: A Whole-of-Government Approach to Combatting Ransomware: Examining DHS’s Role — with JEREMY SHERIDAN, ROBERT SILVERS and BRANDON WALES”
— House Oversight and Reform Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Invisible Wounds: Preventing Suicide in Our Nation’s Military and Veteran Communities — with JACK HAMMOND, ALYSSA HUNDRUP, JOHNNY JONES and CARLA STUMPF-PATTON”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Afghanistan 2001-2021: U.S. Policy Lessons Learned — with RYAN CROCKER and LAUREL E. MILLER”
— The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10:30 a.m.: “Nuclear Peace in South Asia? — with TOBY DALTON, DEBAK DAS, MICHAEL KREPON and BEENISH PERVAIZ”
— U.S.-China Commission, 10:30 a.m.: “Annual Report Public Release Event”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11 a.m.: “Rethinking Security on the Road to the 2022 Summit of the Americas — with NURIA ESPARCH, ALEJANDRO HOPE, GLADYS MCCORMICK and ALEXANDRA WINKLER”
— The Stimson Center, 11 a.m.: “Hashing the Atom: Exploring Blockchain Solutions for Global Security — with SANTIAGO BADRAN, ANTHONY BLISS, DAVID CENTOFANTE, RICHARD CUPITT, SARAH FRAZAR, PABLO GARBAN, JON GEATER, TAPANI HONKAMAA, SARA HSU, MICHELE LUNNEY, EDWARD OBBARD, ALLAN SIMPSON, LOVELY UMAYAM, VERONICA VENTURINI, CINDY VESTERGAARD and ANDREA VISKI”
— The Wilson Center, 11 a.m.: “Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture 2021: How Journalists Survived Backsliding and State Capture — with BEATA BALOGOVÁ, KEN BOMBARA, RADOVAN JAVORČÍK, HYNEK KMONÍČEK, ROGER KODAT and ALISON SMALE”
— Chatham House, 12 p.m.: “The Fake News Pandemic in Latin America — with JUAN PABLO CARDENAL, ORYSIA LUTSEVYCH, GUY MENTEL, MARIANA PALAU and CHRISTOPHER SABATINI”
— The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 12:15 p.m.: “Haiti on the Global Stage — with LAURENT DUBOIS, ZOE MARKS and PATRICK SYLVAIN”
— The Brookings Institution, 2 p.m.: “Russia, China, and the Future of Strategic Stability — with PATRICIA M. KIM, MICHAEL E. O’HANLON, MELANIE W. SISSON, CAITLIN TALMADGE and THOMAS WRIGHT”
— Senate Intelligence Committee, 2 p.m.: “Closed Briefing: Intelligence Matters”
— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Federal Government Perspective: Improving Security, Trade, and Travel Flows at the Southwest Border Ports of Entry — with STUART BURNS, JOE JERONIMO and DIANE SABATINO”
— Washington Post Live, 4:30 p.m.: “Free to State with KATIE HARBATH and Rep. ADAM SCHIFF — with JAMEEL JAFFER and JOHN SANDS”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who we will designate as the TS/SCI clearance holder on our team.