Fdd's overnight brief

August 24, 2021

In The News


President Biden may decide as soon as Tuesday whether to push back the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to depart from Afghanistan, according to numerous reports. Thousands of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans continue to flood Kabul airport in hope of fleeing Taliban rule. – Washington Post  

The Taliban pushed into the last corner of Afghanistan remaining beyond the group’s control Monday, sending hundreds of fighters to the outskirts of the northern Panjshir Valley and vowing to quash a fledgling resistance movement in the province. – Washington Post  

The Taliban is seeking to dismiss fears that it would provide al-Qaeda with a safe haven in Afghanistan, 20 years after the United States launched a war to crush the extremist network behind the 9/11 attacks. – Washington Post 

As a desperate U.S. effort to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan gained momentum on Monday, Taliban leaders rejected a suggestion from President Biden that American forces might remain past an Aug. 31 deadline to complete the operation, injecting fresh urgency into an already frantic process. – New York Times  

President Biden says he hears no criticism from America’s allies about the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the government. But the criticism in Europe, at least, is loud and persistent. – New York Times  

The Taliban held their first meeting of religious leaders since retaking Afghanistan’s capital last week, laying out guidelines about religious instructions to hundreds of the nation’s imams and religious school instructors. – New York Times  

On the ground in Kabul, Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, a former member of the Navy SEALs who is now the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, talks daily or near daily with his Taliban counterparts regarding security measures at the airport, Pentagon officials said on Monday. – New York Times  

An aircraft dispatched from the Ukraine to evacuate Ukrainian nationals stuck in Afghanistan was hijacked Tuesday and flown to Iran, Russian media outlets have reported, citing senior Ukrainian officials. – Arutz Sheva  

The United States’ commitment to at-risk Afghans extends beyond President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from the country, a senior State Department official said, adding that the promise of safe passage did not have “an expiration date.” – Reuters 

U.S. President Joe Biden will face pressure to extend an Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate thousands seeking to flee the Taliban in Afghanistan when he meets Group of Seven (G7) leaders at a virtual meeting on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Two months ago, the leaders of the world’s seven major industrialized democracies met at the height of summer on England’s southeast coast. […]On Tuesday, those same seven leaders will meet again in virtual format confronted by a resurgence in the pandemic, more dire news on climate change and, most immediately and perhaps importantly, Afghanistan. – Associated Press 

The lightning-fast changes in Afghanistan are forcing the Biden administration to confront the prospect of a resurgent al-Qaida, the group that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, at the same time the U.S. is trying to stanch violent extremism at home and cyberattacks from Russia and China. – Associated Press 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left the door open to sanctions on the Taliban Monday, noting that the Islamist group that now controls Afghanistan remains a “terrorist entity.” – Agence France-Presse  

The exact number of U.S. citizens in Afghanistan as the Biden administration scrambles to complete evacuations out of the Kabul airport remains a mystery. – Washington Examiner 

American troops have carried out at least two missions into the beleaguered Afghan capital city of Kabul to ferry US nationals to Hamid Karzai International Airport, Pentagon officials acknowledged Monday — operations that appear to contradict repeated White House claims that Americans are having no trouble getting flights home. – New York Post 

President Joe Biden’s administration is prepared to pardon an influential Afghan tribal leader, who has been sitting in a U.S. federal prison for 16 years, in exchange for the last American hostage abducted last year in Afghanistan. – Newsweek 

The “harsh reality” of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban raises question on how closely Washington can keep an eye on Islamic extremism, David Petraeus, a former top commander in the Middle East and a former CIA director, said on Monday. – USNI News  

Editorial: It is crucial — militarily, politically and morally — that Mr. Biden not pull out U.S. troops before their job is done. There are three ways the situation might be resolved: The first would be for the evacuation to accelerate such that everyone Mr. Biden has pledged to get out is indeed airlifted by Aug. 31; this is both the ideal outcome and the least likely. […]And the third would be for the United States to keep troops in Afghanistan regardless of what the Taliban wants, until legitimate U.S. and allied objectives for the evacuation are met. That, of course, carries the greatest risk of all: reigniting the very war Mr. Biden seeks to end. – Washington Post  

John R. Bolton writes: Many profound ramifications of America’s exodus from Afghanistan are competing for attention. Among the top challenges, Pakistan’s future stands out. For decades, Islamabad has recklessly pursued nuclear weapons and aided Islamist terrorism — threats that U.S. policymakers have consistently underestimated or mishandled. With Kabul’s fall, the time for neglect or equivocation is over. […]Biden’s assertion was wrong when made and would be dangerously wrong today; Holbrooke was correct, and eloquent in his brevity. Let’s hope Biden has changed his mind. – Washington Post  

Richard Stengel writes: What is concerning is that as effective as the Taliban’s social media strategy has been, it is still awfully clumsy. Remember, they started from zero. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they banned the use of the internet, not to mention television and music. Since then, like savvy military strategists, they adapted to a new terrain. […]Meanwhile, the Taliban will continue to target one particular audience: global elites. They attend conferences, visit capitals, publish op-eds and hold news conferences. – New York Times  

Wang Xiyue writes: The Biden administration professes to combat racism and social injustice in America. In foreign policy, the administration’s overemphasis on U.S. culpability in chaos abroad ignores other countries’ agency. At the same time, a liberal conceit leads to the administration’s patronizing international behavior and an apathy for the human consequences of U.S. actions. – Washington Examiner  

Frederick Kagan writes: The president must stop hesitating. He must order the mission extended — and order all additional resources that such an extended mission might require into the region and into Afghanistan right now. There is no other sound choice to make. – The Hill 

Kabir Taneja and Mohammed Sinan Siyech write: The end of the U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan does not mean the end of terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan. The country will continue to host numerous terrorist groups that threaten the interests of numerous states in the region and beyond. Afghanistan may not prove to be the terrorist safe haven that it was immediately before 9/11, but the United States and its allies will have fewer capabilities and resources to combat the threat that does emerge. – War on the Rocks 


Russia, Iran and China will hold joint maritime exercises in the Persian Gulf around late 2021 or early 2022, Russia’s ambassador to Tehran said, the RIA news agency reported on Monday. – Reuters  

Iran resumed fuel exports to Afghanistan a few days ago following a request from the new Afghan government, which feels empowered by the U.S. withdrawal to buy the sanctioned nation’s oil more openly, an Iranian official told Reuters. – Reuters 

The head of Iran’s prison system acknowledged Tuesday that videos purportedly obtained by a self-described hacker group that show abuses at the Islamic Republic’s notorious Evin prison are real, saying he took responsibility for the “unacceptable behaviors.” – Associated Press 

There is no value in returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in light of advances in Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett plans to tell US President Joe Biden in their meeting at the White House on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post  

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In some ways Iran’s focus on the pandemic mirrors international media. However Iran is also very interested in what is happening in other countries and which have been successful. This puts Iran’s regime in a bad light for its failures. […]That wider picture could be good for peace in the region if Iran stops meddling in foreign countries and threatening Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US. – Jerusalem Post 

Douglas London writes: This new dynamic does not come without opportunities on which the U.S. can capitalize, and the hardliners might regret getting what they wished for, at least, prematurely. Increasing Raisi’s ownership of Iran’s economic fortunes, its deteriorating health conditions, and national security challenges both near and far, also removes the protective layer of a president who could heretofore play the fall guy for government misfortunes and failure when he’s perceived to be Khamenei’s hand-picked successor. – Middle East Institute 

Thomas Juneau writes: The Houthi movement is now a regional power, demonstrating ever greater experience and skill as it pursues its interests in the region. The Houthis have emerged from Yemen’s civil war as an increasingly important element in the Iranian-led constellation of revisionist actors that surrounds Saudi Arabia and Israel. They also provide Iran with new options for targeting American forces in the Middle East. – War on the Rocks 


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to fly to Washington on Tuesday afternoon, but he is already planning a trip to the United Nations next month, his spokesman confirmed. – Jerusalem Post  

 It’s time for the European Union to revive the EU-Israel Association Council that has been dormant for the last nine years, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told his Slovenian counterpart Anze Logar on Monday. – Jerusalem Post  

 The Israel Defense Forces carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip late Monday night in response to the launching of arson balloons from the coastal enclave that set off at least nine fires in Israeli border communities earlier in the day, the army said. – Times of Israel 

 The Israeli security establishment reportedly believes Israel and Hamas are again on a collision course in Gaza, as the terror group encourages further violent protests along the border. – Times of Israel  

 The Israel Defense Forces said that it will conduct an artillery drill in the contentious Har Dov region on Tuesday. – Times of Israel  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will present to US President Joe Biden on Thursday a strategy for confronting both Iran’s nuclear program and its regional activities without returning to the 2015 nuclear agreement, according to a senior diplomatic source. – Times of Israel  

Editorial: Unfortunately, despite the 16 years since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, Israel still does not have a clear strategy on what it wants to do there. The government does not know what it wants to achieve, or what it wants as a proper solution. Instead, it lets other entities, such as Qatar, get a foothold in the Strip. […]It is time for Israel’s leaders to rethink the way the country deals with Gaza, and to look for a stabler solution. – Jerusalem Post  

Josh Hasten writes: Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005 respectively – with both pullouts serving as an inspiration to launch terror wars against the Jewish State. […]Israel should learn from Biden’s mistakes, along with our own past errors in judgment, and apply policies of resolute strength as a result of our regional reality. – Jerusalem Post  

John Hannah and Michael Makovsky write: Our colleague and recent Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, correctly predicted that Israel would become America’s most important ally in the 21st century. As the dangers of retrenchment play out in Afghanistan, it’s time for both countries to reimagine and reshape the security element of that relationship accordingly, to the immense benefit of both countries. – The Hill 

Middle East & North Africa

Russia and Turkey are close to signing a new contract to supply Ankara with additional S-400 air defence units in the near future, the Interfax news agency cited the head of Russia’s Rosoboronexport arms exporter as saying on Monday. – Reuters 

Syrian army units aided by pro-Iranian militias have staged a major assault on an opposition enclave in the southern border city of Deraa in a bid to retake the last opposition stronghold in southern Syria, residents, army and opposition sources said. – Reuters 

Lebanon’s government agreed Monday to pay tens of thousands of poor families cash assistance in U.S. dollars from a World Bank loan as the country’s economic crisis deepens. – Associated Press 

Lebanese lawyers have sued a UK-registered chemical company at the High Court in London over its alleged role in the massive explosion last year at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people. – Financial Times  

King Abdullah II of Jordan met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. They discussed the situation in Syria and Afghanistan, according to Russian media reports. – Jerusalem Post 

Tunisian President Kais Saied has extended his suspension of parliament “until further notice”, a month after sacking his prime minister and granting himself greater powers in a shock intervention that opponents decried as a coup. – Agence France-Presse  

Munqith Dagher writes: Given this pattern of withdrawals, the words of the Iranian diplomat whom I recently met in Baghdad have stuck with me. He bragged about the great difference between America’s allies and Iran’s allies in the region, telling me: look at Syria, which allied itself with Iran and was defended and supported until it defeated ISIS, and look at America’s allies in Afghanistan who abandoned them and let them fall from its planes. This is likely a message that will increasingly resonate with others in the region as well. – Washington Institute 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The latest incident may raise tensions with Iran. Drones are increasingly common in Syria and Iraq. Turkey has been using drones to target Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, claiming they are carrying out airstrikes on “terrorists.” Iranian drones also targeted the Mercer Street tanker at the end of July in the Gulf of Oman raising tensions with the US, UK and Israel. – Jerusalem Post  


China’s anticorruption watchdog is investigating top government officials in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Ant Group Co. are based, raising questions about close ties between local top-level Communist Party officials and the private sector. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva said on Tuesday that the U.S. army and the militaries of other coalition partners should be held accountable for alleged rights violations they committed in Afghanistan. – Reuters  

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday accused Beijing of coercion and intimidation to back unlawful claims in the South China Sea, her most pointed comments on China during a visit to Southeast Asia, which she said was critical to U.S. security. – Reuters 

The Chinese military has improved the accuracy and range of its ballistic missile force, the world’s largest, according to a new U.S. Army report. – Bloomberg 


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to be the ruling political party’s vice presidential candidate in next year’s elections, the PDP-Laban party said on Tuesday, laying the groundwork for the leader to stay in power beyond his term. – Reuters 

President Tsai Ing-wen got vaccinated with Taiwan’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, giving her personal stamp of approval as the island begins rolling out the shot whose approval critics say has been rushed. – Reuters 

The United States discussed “at a very basic level” using its bases in South Korea to temporarily house refugees from Afghanistan, but talks on the issue have not progressed, South Korea’s foreign minister said on Monday. – Reuters 

U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea said Monday he’s ready to meet his North Korean counterparts “anywhere and at any time” as he held discussions with South Korean officials over stalled nuclear talks with the North. – Associated Press 

Vice President Kamala Harris vowed “enduring engagement” in Asia on Monday, offering reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region even as the United States completes its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover. – Agence France-Presse  

Singapore’s prime minister warned Vice President Kamala Harris Monday that the rest of the world will be watching closely to see what the US does next on the world stage following its chaotic retreat from Afghanistan. – New York Post 

Zolan Kanno-Youngs writes: The U.S. administration has attempted to strike a balance in the region by countering China’s investment while not forcing the nations to take sides between the two powers. In a nod to Singapore’s efforts to say neutral in the rising tension between Beijing and Washington, Ms. Harris stressed on Tuesday the United States was not trying to “make anyone choose between countries.” The South China Sea is a major flash point between Beijing and several Southeast Asian countries. – New York Times  

David McCabe and Yu Young Jin write: For months, Apple and Google have been fighting a bill in the South Korean legislature that they say could imperil their lucrative app store businesses. […]Washington has a longstanding practice of opposing foreign laws that discriminate against American firms, sometimes even when doing so conflicts with domestic policy debates. – New York Times  


Russia is ready to supply weapons and military hardware to its allies in the CSTO security bloc that border Afghanistan at special low prices, Russia’s deputy prime minister was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency on Monday. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday launched the construction of new nuclear submarines and other warships, part of a sweeping military modernization effort amid tensions with the West. – Times of Israel 

Russia has slowed the delivery of piped natural gas to Europe in recent weeks, according to analysis from ICIS, a commodity intelligence service, raising questions about the potential causes behind the drop and its implications for global gas markets. – CNBC 

Sergey Radchenko writes: Fifty years after Henry Kissinger’s game-changing secret visit to China — which led to the Sino-American rapprochement and became a key turning point of the Cold War — there is no shortage of new would-be Kissingers. Important voices have called for a readjustment of America’s confrontational approach to Russia in a bid to play Moscow as a card against Beijing. […] Apart from overstating U.S. capabilities, the card-player’s approach misses out on a broader issue. U.S. relations with Russia are important on their terms, regardless of what happens or fails to happen between Moscow and Beijing. – War on the Rocks  


Lithuania said on Monday it would complete a 508-km (315-mile) fence along its border with Belarus by September next year to stop migrants it says are crossing in record numbers orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. – Reuters 

Poland will build a fence along its border with Belarus and double the number of troops there, the defence minister said on Monday, to halt a flow of migrants the European Union says is being driven by Minsk in retaliation for EU sanctions. – Reuters 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed on Monday to work together to ensure all those eligible to leave Afghanistan were able to, including after the initial evacuation phase ended, Johnson’s office said. – Reuters 

Ukraine’s president on Monday vowed to do all he can to bring back the peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Russia seven years ago, and urged international allies to support the effort. – Associated Press 

The European Union’s eastern members called on their counterparts for an immediate diplomatic, financial and technical support in response to what they called “a hybrid attack” by Belarus. – Bloomberg 

A range of western countries tightened economic sanctions against Belarus this month, one year after mass protests first roiled the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. – Financial Times  

Michael Rubin writes:  Simply put, while European leaders relished the reputation of taking human rights seriously, they dispensed with any pretense of caring about human rights when Iranian officials dangled contracts. Back to Afghanistan: The Taliban are odious, but there are potentially billions of dollars in profits for those seeking to tap Afghanistan’s natural resources or build pipelines across its territory. All they need to do is turn a blind eye to Taliban abuses. Don’t be surprised if European states are the first in line. – Washington Examiner 

Dan McCormick writes: It may not be possible to thwart all potential Russian military objectives, but Black Sea states can show that in any scenario, Russia’s officers will need to adapt to challenges unseen in the last two decades and face fighting lasting long enough for outside forces to arrive in-theater. – Middle East Institute 


The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on an Eritrean official it accused of being engaged in serious human rights abuse in the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as Washington warned it would continue to target those involved in prolonging the conflict. – Reuters  

Kidnappers collected more than $18 million in ransom from June 2011 to March 2020 in Nigeria, according to an estimate by Lagos-based analysts SBM Intelligence. – Reuters 

Ethiopia has begun developing its own social media platform to rival Facebook (FB.O), Twitter (TWTR.N) and WhatsApp, though it does not plan to block the global services, the state communications security agency said on Monday. – Reuters   

The Americas

The governor of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state on Monday fired a senior military police commander who publicly supported a march in favor of President Jair Bolsonaro and attacked rival politicians. – Reuters 

Former Mexican drug cartel leader Eduardo Arellano Felix was handed over by the United States to Mexico on Monday to face criminal charges, including organized crime, after serving time in a U.S. federal prison in Allentown, Pennsylvania. – Reuters 

Michael Rubin writes: Like Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken prefers to sign strongly worded statements. Increasingly, adversaries and allies alike ignore him. If America projected strength, perhaps Biden’s and Blinken’s words would matter. But when America projects weakness, dictators like Erdogan and Abiy simply run roughshod over U.S. interests and the foundations of the post-World War II liberal order. – Washington Examiner  

Bryan Harris writes: The weakness of Brazil’s institutions may mean he has more success than his American mentor. While the judiciary has attempted with limited success to tamp down Bolsonaro’s excesses, Congress has shown itself willing to bend to the will of the former paratrooper. […]His allies in Congress have until now staved off multiple requests for impeachment, but as the pandemic subsides and protesters again take to the streets, their mettle is likely to be soon tested by the implacable force of Brazilian public opinion. – Financial Times 


US Army forces completed a firing test of the first Iron Dome missile defense battery purchased by the United States, the Defense Ministry announced on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

In previous conflicts, authoritarian regimes have attempted to exploit their American prisoners of war for propaganda gain. These efforts often took the form of video and audio recordings as well as pictures of the POWs, despite such activities being in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. The prospect of advanced digital capabilities such as deepfakes presents a significant new tool for potential adversaries in future conflicts. The American military must prepare for the prospect of these new technologies being used against their POWs in future conflicts. – C4ISRNET 

Following the U.S. Army’s decision to cancel fiscal 2022 procurement for its aerial electronic jamming pod, the program’s executive officer said the service is now in a “prove it” phase for the system. – C4ISRNET 

Albatros-S (Swarm) is the latest addition to Aselsan’s growing USV portfolio and is a privately funded development aimed at meeting a domestic research and development (R&D) programme, aimed at investigating unmanned swarming capabilities. – Janes  

After three bulkhead-rattling explosions off the coast of Florida, carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and its crew began the ship’s last repair period before a long-delayed deployment. – USNI News