Psaki on Report US Commander Advised Against Full Withdrawal: Biden ‘Was Provided a Range of Advice’


After stepping down as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in mid-July, U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller is greeted at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. by Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. (Photo by Alex Brandon/ Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday declined to comment on the disclosure that Gen. Scott Miller, then the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, advised against a total withdrawal of troops from the country, saying only that President Biden “was provided a range of advice.”

She also doubled down on Biden’s assertion that keeping a small number of troops there was not a viable option. She said it was an either-or situation – either increase the troop level or withdraw them.

Following a classified briefing this week with Miller, who stepped down as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in mid-July, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Miller had agreed to Inhofe divulging Miller’s advice to his superiors.

Inhofe said Miller had given his advice –“that he had been opposed to the total withdrawal” — to Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie – not to Biden directly, as the president was not there at the time.

“We heard enough to know that there are inconsistencies between what the administration has said and the truth,” he told reporters. “Clearly President Biden didn’t listen to all the military advice.”

“President Biden told the American people that it ‘wasn’t true’ his top military advisers warned against withdrawal,” Inhofe tweeted later. “But yesterday, General Miller told us plainly that’s exactly what he did.”

During Thursday’s White House briefing, a reporter recalled that Biden told ABC News in August that “none of his advisers recommended leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.”

“General Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that that was exactly what he recommended,” the reporter continued. “Was the president’s answer in that interview an honest answer?”

Psaki declined to discuss “details of private advice that the president gets from his national security team or military advisers,” but said Biden “welcomed candid, non-sugar-coated advice.”

Asked again whether Biden had specifically heard “the recommendation from the commander on the ground in Afghanistan that he feared that a full withdrawal would be devastating and should not happen,” Psaki replied, “He was provided a range of advice.  I’m not going to get into more details than that.”

“But what’s important to note, at this point, is it’s crystal clear that 2,500 troops would not have been sustainable on the ground,” she said. “It would have been either increase troops on the ground or withdraw troops on the ground.”

“And the president has been clear many times, he was not going to send thousands and thousands more troops to fight a war the Afghans did not want to fight themselves.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week testified on the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee but lawmakers have yet to hear from Austin and top military brass.

Austin, Milley, and McKenzie are now scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee in an open hearing on September 28, and Inhofe said he was now “even more eager” to hear from them.

“I’ve got a lot more questions for the Biden administration – they better have a lot of answers.”

Inhofe described the hearings as “just a start of an open, exhaustive, transparent process,” and said he also hoped to have Miller back to testify again soon, this time in an open hearing.

Asked about Miller’s closed-hearing testimony about opposing a full withdrawal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that “a very normal national security decision-making process” had taken place.

“The president was given advice and counsel, not just from this building but from other agencies across the government, to help him formulate what ended up being his opinion and his decision,” he said. “A very normal process was had.”

Austin also commented briefly about the process, telling reporters at the State Department on Thursday, “we followed a rigorous process where commanders and other players in the NSC establishment were able to provide their inputs, and with those inputs the president made his decision.”

Miller, a U.S. Army four-star general, led Joint Special Operations Command before being appointed in 2018 as the last – and longest-serving – commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission.

He held that post until July 12, when command of the remaining troops was passed on to McKenzie, as the drawdown ordered by Biden neared its completion.



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EU Blindsided, Angry About Biden’s Indo-Pacific Partnership With UK, Australia


President Biden received a warm welcome from European Council President Charles Michel and E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels last June. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The newly announced Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS) security partnership is attracting predictable condemnation from China but the initiative also provoked the European Union, where faith in the Biden administration has already been shaken over the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal.

France is particularly peeved that the U.S. and Britain will now help Australia to develop a nuclear-powered submarine capability, at the cost of a now-discarded earlier agreement for France to build 12 conventionally-powered subs for Australia, a contract worth some $36 billion.

“The American decision, which leads to the exclusion of a European ally and partner like France from a crucial partnership with Australia at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, be it over our values or respect for a multilateralism based on the rule of law, signals a lack of consistency which France can only notice and regret,” the French foreign and armed forces ministers said in a joint statement.

“This unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision very much recalls what Mr. Trump would do,” Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian told France Info radio.

But the criticism was not limited to the French, with senior E.U. officials clearly blindsided by the announcement – which came just hours before the bloc was due to unveil its own new Indo-Pacific strategy.

At a pre-scheduled press briefing in Brussels to discuss that strategy, E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell acknowledged that the bloc had not been informed of the AUKUS plans in advance.

“This [AUKUS] alliance, we’ve only just been made aware of it and weren’t even consulted,” he said through an interpreter. “I certainly, as the high representative for security policy of the European Union, I was not aware.”

Borrell said that an agreement of that nature would not have been put together “overnight” but would have been worked on for some time.

“Yet we weren’t involved, we weren’t part and parcel of this.”

He said the incident provided yet another opportunity for the E.U. to “reflect on the need to raise the issue of European strategic autonomy.”

A reporter invited Borrell to comment on the state of E.U.-U.S. relations in the Biden era.

“After the election of President Biden the hopes were very high in Europe, but I think the communication hasn’t been really great concerning the retreat from Afghanistan and just now about this very important strategic alliance,” she suggested.

I don’t think it is the right moment to get into an overall evaluation of the relationship between the E.U. and the U.S.,” Borrell replied bluntly. “I’m here to present a strategy with Indo-Pacific countries, and I don’t think the United States constitutes a part of the Indo-Pacific.”

(That “the United States is an Indo-Pacific nation” is a point that has been emphasized by both the Biden and Trump administrations.)

Despite Borrell’s evident irritation at the turn of events, at a later point during the briefing he played down suggestions of a severe disagreement, advising a reporter not to over “dramatize” the situation.

“We regret not having been informed, not having been part of these talks,” he said. “[But] don’t put into question our relationship with the United States, that has been improving a lot with the new administration.”

‘America is back’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed on Thursday the U.S. was committed to working with E.U. partners to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific, and said France had been notified beforehand about the AUKUS

“We’ve been in touch with French counterparts in the last 24-48 hours to discuss AUKUS, including before the announcement,” he told reporters at the State Department.

“We welcome European countries playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. “We look forward to continued close cooperation with NATO, with the European Union, and others in this endeavor.”

When running for the White House Biden touted his strong foreign policy credentials, frequently drawing attention to experience and his broad engagement with world leaders – both as vice president in the Obama administration and during his 36-year Senate career, when he served twice as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

During the campaign he also repeatedly criticized President Trump over policies that strained relationships with E.U. and NATO allies. “America is back” was the slogan accompanying his first engagements in Europe in June, when he took part in back-to-back G7, NATO and E.U. summits.

When Biden arrived in Brussels for the U.S.-E.U. summit that month, European Council president Charles Michel welcomed him effusively.

“Mr. President, dear Joe, we are so pleased to welcome you in Brussels,” he said. “You are back in Brussels, and America is back on the global scene. It’s great news. It’s great news for our alliance. It’s also great news for the world.”

“We are reasserting the fact that it’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America to have a great relationship with NATO and with the E.U.,” Biden said in response. “I have a very different view than my predecessor did.”

On Thursday, Michel’s reaction to the surprise news of the AUKUS initiative was diplomatic, but pointed to the need for the E.U. to focus on its own common security – an issue that taken on new prominence since the tumultuous end to the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan.

“The AUKUS security partnership further demonstrates the need for a common E.U. approach in a region of strategic interest,” Michel tweeted on Thursday.

He also commented on the Afghanistan situation.

“What happened in Afghanistan must be an eye-opener,” he said during a press briefing with the prime minister of Luxembourg. “It should lead us [the E.U.] to strengthen our geopolitical capacity, our geostrategic capacity, and to cooperate closer together in the field of defense.”

See also:

Jake Sullivan: Biden ‘is Striding Across the World Stage With Confidence and Purpose’ (Jun. 18, 2021)





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SW Border Apprehensions in August: More Russians, Turks, Indians, Haitians


A U.S. Border Patrol agent searches a group of migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, New Mexico in July. (Photo by Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The number of “encounters” with migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally at the southwest border and coming from countries other than Mexico and the “northern triangle” climbed to a new high of 61,484 in August – a 1,690 percent increase from the same month last year.

Although some of last year’s figures would have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the August figure for this cohort of apprehended migrants is still up 456 percent from the same month in 2019, and up 1,258 percent from the same month in 2018, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) figures released on Wednesday.

The majority of migrants apprehended along the southern border while trying to get into the U.S. illegally come from Mexico and the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

But when those numbers are excluded, the number of apprehensions of migrants originating from all other countries has reached 308,294 so far this fiscal year, which runs through the end of September.

That’s an increase of 188 percent over the number of encounters for the same 11-month period in FY 2019 (Oct. 2018 – Sept. 2019), when 107,117 were recorded.

 (Graph: CNSNews.com / Data: CBP)

(Graph: CNSNews.com / Data: CBP)

This calendar year has seen consistent month-on-month increases in the number of apprehensions of migrants from countries other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with the increases growing more steeply after February:  9,671 in January, 11,909 in February, 25,123 in March, 33,899 in April, 40,675 in May, 47,224 in June, 59,006 in July, and now 61,484 in August.

Migrants from Colombia accounted for one of the larger increase in the number of encounters last month, more than doubling from 751 in July to 1,563 in August.

The number of apprehensions involving Russians, Turks, and Indians also increased month-on-month, from 702 to 757 (up 7.8 percent), 150 to 251 (67.3 percent), and 126 to 374 (196.8 percent), respectively.

Among countries accounting for larger numbers of migrants being apprehended, encounters with migrants from Haiti were up 37 percent, from 5,510 in July to 7,580 in August, and from Cuba were up 26 percent, from 3,557 to 4,494.

 (Graph: CNSNews.com / Data: CBP)

(Graph: CNSNews.com / Data: CBP)

The number of encounters with migrants from Venezuela rose slightly, from 6,126 to 6,296 (2.7 percent), from Brazil the increase was from 8,643 to 9,098 (5.2 percent), while encounters with migrants from Nicaragua dropped, from 13,456 in July to 9,948 in August (a 26 percent decrease).

Overall, the CBP reported a total of 208,887 encounters on the southwest border in August, making it the second highest monthly number since fiscal year 2000.  The highest was recorded just one month earlier, at 213,534.

Since the beginning of 2021, the number of encounters along the southwest border climbed steadily each month – 78,414 in January, 101,099 in February, 173,281 in March, 178,799 in April, 180,563 in May, 189,020 in June, 213,534 in July – before dropping slightly to August’s 208,887.

The CBP said 25 percent of the August encounters involved individuals who had had at least one prior encounter during the previous 12-month period.



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US, UK to Help Australia Build Nuclear-Powered Subs to Face ‘Rapidly Evolving Threats’ in Indo-Pacific


President Biden watches as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during Wednesday’s joint announcement. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, out of frame, also participated by video link. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced a new trilateral security partnership that will see Australia develop nuclear-powered attack submarines to face what Biden called “rapidly evolving threats” in the Indo-Pacific.

At the White House, Biden joined Morrison and Johnson by videolink as the three announced the formation of “AUKUS” – the Australia, United Kingdom, and United States partnership.

None of the three mentioned the word “China” but the initiative is clearly designed to counter an increasingly assertive China, whose expanding People’s Liberation Army Navy is bolstering Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea and making probing deployments deep into the Pacific.

 

“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific,” Morrison said.  “This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures.”

Morrison described AUKUS as “a new enhanced trilateral security partnership” that “seeks to engage, not to exclude; to contribute not take; and to enable and empower, not to control or coerce.”

“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve,” Biden said. “Because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.”

“This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability, the most modern capabilities we need, to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats.”

The White House said in a statement that a 18-month effort would now begin “to seek an optimal pathway to deliver this capability.”

“We will leverage expertise from the United States and the United Kingdom, building on the two countries’ submarine programs to bring an Australian capability into service at the earliest achievable date.”

Trilateral collaboration under AUKUS will also seek to enhance joint capabilities and interoperability in other areas, initially to include “cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.”

A nuclear-powered People’s Liberation Army Navy submarine prepares to dive. (Photo by AFP/ AFP via Getty Images)

A nuclear-powered People’s Liberation Army Navy submarine prepares to dive. (Photo by AFP/ AFP via Getty Images)

The three leaders stressed that the aim is to develop nuclear-powered – not nuclear-armed – submarines.

“Conventionally-armed – I want to be exceedingly clear about this – we’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines,” Biden said. “These are conventionally-armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors. This technology is proven. It’s safe. And the United States and the U.K. have been operating nuclear-powered submarines for decades.”

Only six nations today operate nuclear-powered submarines – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and India – while Brazil has a program underway and South Korea is reportedly eyeing one.

Unlike conventionally fueled submarines, nuclear powered boats are faster, can operate underwater for far longer periods of time, not needing to surface frequently.

The  U.S. has operated nuclear powered submarines since the world’s first, USS Nautilus, got underway in 1955. Britain’s first nuclear powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought, was commissioned in 1963.

The U.S. Navy has 70 commissioned nuclear powered submarines (including both attack subs and nuclear-armed SSBNs).

According to unclassified Office of Naval Intelligence data cited in a Congressional Research Service report, China in 2020 had 11 commissioned nuclear-powered submarines (four of them nuclear armed SSBNs), and is projected to have 16 (six of them SSBNs) in 2025, 22 (including eight SSBNs) in 2030, and 26 (including 10 SSBNs) by 2040.



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Afghanistan’s Representation Uncertain as UN General Assembly Session Begins


It remains to be seen who will represent Afghanistan at the U.N. now that the Taliban has ousted the elected government by force. (Photo: UN Photo/Manuel Elías)

(CNSNews.com) – As the U.N. General Assembly formally opened its new annual session in New York on Tuesday, the question of how the world body deals with the Taliban regime that seized power in Afghanistan remains unresolved.

According to the latest update of the list of speakers for the high-level segment which begins next Tuesday, the delegation from Afghanistan is scheduled to speak on September 27.

But the current U.N. protocol list of heads of state, dated Tuesday, still names Ashraf Ghani – who fled the country ahead of the Taliban advance on Kabul last month – as president. Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai, appointed by the Ghani government last summer, remains in place.

The incoming president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, has appointed a “credentials committee,” in line with U.N. procedures, to examine questions relating to member states’ credentials.  Afghanistan, Burma and Guinea have all undergone unconstitutional seizures of power this year.

Shahid during a press briefing on Tuesday declined to comment on the credential committee’s procedures or expected challenges to be raised.

“They will meet soon,” he confirmed. “Of course the purpose of the committee is to try and resolve any issues that may come up and I will not prejudge the work that the committee will do.”

After Ghani fled, his vice president Amrullah Saleh declared himself caretaker president, in line with the national constitution. He is associated with the Ahmad Massoud-led National Resistance Front (NRF), which is urging the international community not to recognize the Taliban regime.

“This is a decision that the international community has to make,” NRF head of foreign relations Ali Maisam Nazary said during a Heritage Foundation event late last week.

“They’re either going to recognize a terrorist organization, a drug cartel, as Afghanistan’s government, or they’re going to support the will of the people of Afghanistan, which is the continuation of the democratic government, inclusive government, made up of different ethnic and sectarian groups, representing Afghanistan.”

Sanctions blacklist

After the Taliban’s previous violent takeover of most of Afghanistan in 1996, U.N. credentials committees repeatedly deferred a decision on the country’s representation, rather than side with either the Taliban or the government it ousted, led by President Berhanuddin Rabbani.

The deferrals had the effect of maintaining the status quo, so the Afghanistan seat continued to be occupied by the representative of the ousted Rabbani government, which as the Northern Alliance controlled only a small portion of the country.

Until toppled by U.S.-led forces after 9/11, the previous iteration of the Taliban regime was recognized as the legitimate government by only three countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

This time no government has rushed to recognize the “interim” regime announced last week, although many are engaging with it at various levels.

Adding to the complications facing the U.N. this time is the fact that of 33 members of the regime named last week, at least 17 are on the U.N. Security Council consolidated list of sanctioned terrorists, and under the relevant resolution are subject to an assets freeze and travel ban.

They include all of the top positions – prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior, finance, and energy, among others.

One of them, Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, during a press conference on Tuesday called on the U.N. to remove the ministers from its sanctions list, saying that it had “no logic.”

The Taliban has accused the U.S. of breaching the February 2020 Doha agreement with the Taliban by not facilitating the lifting of the sanctions.

But while the U.S. in the accord did commit to taking that step, it was linked to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, which under the agreement were meant to deliver “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” and “agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan” – conditions plainly violated by the Taliban.

The Taliban itself is a terrorist organization’

Senior U.N. officials are engaging with sanctioned Taliban officials as they seek to deal with the humanitarian fallout of the crisis.

In Kabul on Tuesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met with Taliban minister for refugees Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani, who in addition to being on the U.N. sanctions list is a U.S. government-designated global terrorist, with a reward of $5 million offered for information helping to bring him to justice.

(Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani is a senior figure in the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate that is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. He is the uncle of Taliban interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, an FBI-wanted terrorist with a $10 million reward offered for information helping to bring him to justice.)

In its bid to win international support, the Taliban is claiming that it will meet its Doha obligations to combat terror.

“We will not allow anyone or any groups to use our soil against any other countries,” Muttaqi was quoted as saying in his press conference Tuesday.

In the Doha agreement the Taliban said it would “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

It pledged not to cooperate with such groups or individuals, not to “host” them; to deny them asylum or residence in Afghanistan; to prevent them “from recruiting, training, and fundraising”; and not to issue them with visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents.

Nazary of the NRF scoffed at the notion that the Taliban regime would meet such commitments.

“The Taliban are never going to combat terrorism,” he said. “The Taliban itself is a terrorist organization.”

See also:
On Eve of 9/11 Anniversary, Afghan Ambassador Urges UNSC Not to Recognize Taliban or Ease Sanctions (Sept. 10, 2021)





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China Deploys Advanced Warships in International Waters Off Alaska


A photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows three Chinese warships encountered in international waters, but within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, on August 30. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Ensign Bridget Boyle.)

(CNSNews.com) – Some of China’s most advanced warships appear to be among four People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels that sailed within the exclusive economic zone of the United States, off Alaska, at the end of August.

A photo taken by the U.S. Coast Guard at the time but posted on the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website only this week, shows three Chinese vessels photographed from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.

A second photo shows the cutter’s captain communicating with one of the Chinese vessels.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf established radio contact with the Chinese warships on August 30, according to the USCG. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Ensign Bridget Boyle.)

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf established radio contact with the Chinese warships on August 30, according to the USCG. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Ensign Bridget Boyle.)

A statement from the U.S. Coast Guard said Bertholf and a second Coast Guard cutter, Kimball, “observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast.”

“While the ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters,” it said.

The Coast Guard said the four ships were “a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel.”

It did not identify the ships further, but three weeks ago the Chinese Communist Party paper Global Times report mentioned a PLAN taskforce of four ships transiting the Soya strait, north of Japan, before entering the Pacific Ocean. A Chinese journalist also tweeted about the taskforce.

The ships were identified as the Type 055 destroyer Nanchang, the Type 052D destroyer Guiyang, an electronic surveillance ship, and a supply vessel.

The PLAN guided-missile destroyer Nanchang. (Photo: chinamil.com.cn / Zou Xiangmin)

The PLAN guided-missile destroyer Nanchang. (Photo: chinamil.com.cn / Zou Xiangmin)

Nanchang, the Type 055 guided missile destroyer (or “guided missile cruiser” in NATO classification), is a new class of 10,000-ton ship which, according to the Pentagon, boasts “a large load out of weapons including ASCMs [anti-ship cruise missiles], surface-to-air missiles, and anti-submarine weapons along with likely LACMs [land-attack cruise missiles] and anti-ship ballistic missiles.”

One of China’s newest warships, the Nanchang (hull number 101) was first seen publicly during an April 2019 naval parade off Shandong province commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of PLAN.

Meanwhile the Type 052D destroyer carries “advanced anti-ship and anti-air weapons and sensors, boosting the PLAN’s area air defense and anti-surface warfare capabilities,” according to a June 2021 Congressional Research Service report.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the PLAN ships came within 46 miles of the Aleutian Islands, which would be in international waters, but well within the 200 nautical mile-wide U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as defined under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Under the convention, territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles (14 miles) from a country’s coastline low-water mark.

The PLAN task force deployment comes at a time of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China over rights of passage in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, rejecting the territorial and maritime claims of at least six other countries in the region.

The U.S. Navy regularly carries out “freedom of navigation” patrols in the area, a crucial waterway for around two-thirds of the world’s shipborne trade.

One week ago the U.S. Navy reported that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its carrier strike group had entered the South China Sea as “part of the U.S. Navy’s routine presence in the Indo-Pacific.”

The release referred to “upholding a rules-based international order” and support for “a free and open Indo-Pacific region” – terms regularly used in connection with the disputes over China’s claims in the South China Sea.

After the U.S. Navy Chief of Information, Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, posted on Twitter about the Vinson carrier strike group deployment, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, Hu Xijin, tweeted in response, “Hopefully when Chinese warships pass through the Caribbean Sea or show up near Hawaii and Guam one day, the U.S. will uphold the same standard of freedom of navigation. That day will come soon.”

“The U.S. Navy has upheld the standards of freedom of navigation longer than the PLA navy has existed,” Brown responded.





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Blinken Calls Taliban’s Ousting of an Elected Gov’t ‘One Side Getting the Upper Hand in a Civil War’


A large Taliban flag, bearing in Arabic the words ‘There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger,’ has been painted on a wall outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul. (Photo by Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday described the Taliban regime in Kabul as “the de facto government of Afghanistan” and characterized the terrorist group’s violent seizure of power from an elected, U.S.-allied government as “one side getting the upper hand in a civil war.”

The remarks came during a five-hour House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, as Blinken became the first senior administration official to be grilled by lawmakers over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) observed that the administration had appeared to shift from a position of building the broadest possible coalition to oppose recognition of a Taliban regime to a stance of saying that it could earn legitimacy through its actions.

“Is the Taliban the legitimate government of Afghanistan, and if not, would you consider what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan to be a coup d’etat?” he asked Blinken.

“With regard to the Taliban and your question, it is the de facto government of Afghanistan,” Blinken replied. “Those are – those are just the facts.”

Kinzinger asked whether there has been any discussion of dealing with a government-in-exile, possibly led by the vice president.

“Is there any discussion of that? Because this to me appears to be an armed military coup against the legitimate elected government of Afghanistan.”

“Congressman, I will certainly look at what the lawyers say. From where I sit, this is the product, alas, of one side getting the upper hand in a civil war.”

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) reacted to Blinken’s comments by tweeting, “That’s just wrong and is rewarding a terrorist insurgency.”

In contrast to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Vice President Saleh did not flee Afghanistan as the Taliban moved on Kabul in mid-August, but claimed to be interim president under the country’s constitution due to Ghani’s flight.

Saleh joined up in Panjshir province with resistance commander Ahmad Massoud and anti-Taliban forces under his command. The Taliban subsequently claimed to have captured the holdout province, although the Massoud-led movement calling itself the National Resistance Front says its campaign is continuing.

‘The American people don’t like to lose, especially not to terrorists’

Questions surrounding the composition of the cabinet announced by the Taliban last week came up a number of times during the hearing, with Blinken repeating his earlier line that it includes some individuals with “very challenging track records.”

Kinzinger argued that it was essentially the same regime as the one that refused to surrender Osama bin Laden to face justice after al-Qaeda’s 9/11 terror attacks, noting that key figures including the prime minister, deputy prime minister, foreign minister, all held leadership posts at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

“So if you look at that list and you see those individuals who not only defended al-Qaeda but committed crimes against women and vulnerable populations, and I think anybody would look at that and say, this is the same regime that failed to hand over Osama bin Laden 20 years ago.”

“Shockingly, the White House has described this Taliban regime as ‘business-like and professional,’” the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said during his remarks. (The words appeared in a National Security Council statement relating to the first charter flight allowed to leave Kabul following the end of the U.S. evacuation mission.)

“So let’s meet a few of these professionals – the so-called ‘new and improved’ Taliban,” McCaul said, noting that the prime minister “sheltered Osama bin Laden for years,” and that the man appointed interior minister – and as such “responsible for overseeing policing and counterterrorism” – was Sirajuddin Haqqani, a U.S.-wanted and sanctioned terrorist, and “head of the brutal Haqqani Network with close ties to al Qaeda.”

“Mr. Secretary, the American people don’t like to lose; especially not to terrorists. But that is exactly what has happened,” McCaul said.

“This has emboldened Taliban and our adversaries. The Taliban – a designated terrorist group – is now equipped with more American weapons than most countries in the world.”

Under questioning from Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), Blinken confirmed that the Taliban was a designated terrorist organization.

“If they’re a terrorist organization, if they have people in their leadership who are on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist,” Green asked, “what makes it right to even negotiate with these people?”

“Anything we do, congressman, will be for the purposes of advancing the interest and national security of the United States,” Blinken replied, adding that any engagement with the Taliban would be done “in a way that’s fully consistent with our laws.”

The Taliban is a specially designated terrorist organization (SDGT) under executive order 13224, a post-9/11 tool designed to disrupt funding to terrorists. Americans are prohibited from doing business with SDGTs, and any assets they may have in the U.S. are frozen.

The Taliban has not, however, been designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), although its Haqqani Network is a designated FTO.  It is a crime for Americans to knowingly provide “material support or resources” to or receive military-type training from or on behalf of, a designated FTO.

See also:

Taliban Cabinet: Sanctioned Terrorists, Accused Mass Killers of Ethnic Minorities; No Women (Sept. 8, 2021)

Blinken Suggests Pathway to ‘International Legitimacy’ For Taliban Regime (Aug. 31, 2021)

 





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Blinken: $64 Million in Humanitarian Aid for Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan Won’t Go to the Taliban


A billboard in Kabul features large pictures of the late Taliban founder Mohammed Omar and the late Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani. (Photo by Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – On the day that the Biden administration pledged $64 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, skeptical Republican lawmakers asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken if the money could end up in the hands of Taliban terrorists.

“Is it the policy of the United States of America to take hard-earned tax dollars and pay terrorist organizations?” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) asked Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

“It is not,” replied Blinken.

“It is not,” repeated Perry. “So your testimony earlier was – is that we’re sending taxpayer dollars right now to Afghanistan for humanitarian relief. Who are we sending that to?”

Blinken said the funds would go to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and United N Nations agencies working on the ground – “not to the Afghan government.”

Asked how the administration would ensure that the money did not reach the Taliban regime, Blinken said, “As we do around the world in places of conflict, where we provide humanitarian assistance working through U.N., working through NGOs, with long-tested methods to make sure that the assistance goes to the people who need it.”

“You’ve announced today with great fanfare and great pride that you are providing $64 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan,” noted Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.).

“You can’t even get our people out of the country,” he told Blinken. “But we and the American people are to believe that $64 million of or tax dollars, to be sent to Afghanistan, won’t fall into the hands of the Taliban or other terrorist organizations.”

The announcement of the new aid came in a statement from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, delivered remotely to a high-level ministerial convened by U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres in Geneva on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.

“Even before the recent transition, over 18 million people – almost half the population of Afghanistan – were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” she said. “Now, at this moment where assistance is even harder to come by, and women and girls are under particular threat, the need is even greater still.”

“This funding will help provide lifesaving food assistance. It will meet critical health and nutrition needs,” she said. “It will address the protection concerns of women, children, and people who belong to ethnic, minority and other religious groups. And it will help more children – including girls – go back to school.”

Thomas-Greenfield also voiced concerns about the Taliban’s conduct relating to aid deliveries.

“We have all heard the reports that the Taliban are obstructing and interfering in aid delivery and protection efforts, prohibiting female staff from saving lives, and even exacting retribution against people benefiting from aid or providing it,” she said.

“That is frightening and unacceptable, and, frankly, destabilizing to Afghanistan and to the region. It cannot continue.”

Ninety-six U.N. member states took part – mostly remotely – in the meeting in Geneva, and U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said at the end that more than $1.2 billion in aid has been promised in total.

Guterres told reporters afterwards that the Taliban has provided written assurances that it would respect the humanitarian operation and guarantee access – and even provide security escorts “when there are situations of insecurity that would justify it.”

He took this to mean not only “acceptance” on the Taliban’s part, but also “an attitude of support.”

Guterres defended the decision to engage with the terrorist group that seized power by force.

“It is impossible to provide humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan without engaging with the de facto authorities of the country,” he said.

“And I do believe that it is very important to engage with the Taliban at the present moment for all aspects that concern the international community, be it about terrorism, be it about human rights, be it about drugs, be it about the nature of the government,” Guterres said. “Our attitude is to engage.”



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Sunni Group Claiming to Represent Hundreds of Millions of Muslims Endorses Taliban Regime


Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader who founded the International Union of Muslim Scholars. (Photo bny Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – On the day America marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, an international group of Islamist scholars founded by a Muslim Brotherhood theologian endorsed the Taliban regime that seized power last month, urging all Afghans to support it.

The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) congratulated Muhammad Hassan Akhund, “prime minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” on the trust which it said the Taliban “and other Afghan parties” had assigned to him to head the new government.

“The Union asked Allah almighty to guide him in leading the brotherly Afghan people to achieve all their aspirations and wishes for security, stability, unity and prosperity,” it said, adding its hopes “that the new government would present an Islamic model of good governance.”

The Arabic statement ended with an appeal to all Afghans to support, advise, and cooperate with the regime, and by affirming its own “keenness to cooperate fully and to provide everything that can be presented to the new government.”

With its headquarters in Qatar, the IUMS claims to represent “90,000 scholars and hundreds of millions of Muslims.” Its Arabic Twitter feed has almost half a million followers.

The IUMS was founded 2004 by the Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader who has stoked controversy with support for Palestinian suicide bombings, and who was listed as a terrorist supporter by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain in 2017.

Qaradawi chaired IUMS until stepping down, aged about 93, in 2018, succeeded by Islamist Moroccan cleric Ahmed al-Raissouni. Qaradawi contracted COVID-19 last spring but the IUMS denied rumors that he had died, and he appears to continue to play a prominent role, with his messages continue to appear in its social media feeds, as recently as Saturday.

The IUMS’ endorsement of the Taliban regime was touted on Twitter by Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem, who noted that, “in addition to congratulations, the message called on all the people of Afghanistan to stand by and support the new government.”

Taliban members pray in Kandahar at a gathering celebrating the U.S. troop withdrawal.  Photo by Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images)

Taliban members pray in Kandahar at a gathering celebrating the U.S. troop withdrawal. Photo by Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images)

The IUMS statement of support comes at a time when no government has yet to formally recognize the regime in Kabul, although Pakistani and Chinese government officials have hinted that eventual recognition could be on the cards, and Uzbekistan last week welcomed the formation of the new government.

Qatar sent its foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to Kabul on Sunday for talks with Akhund and key members of his cabinet, including interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, a U.S.-wanted terrorist.

“The Foreign Minister of Qatar congratulated the IEA [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] leadership and all Afghan people on the Victory and emphasized on boosting bilateral relations and attracting more international humanitarian assistance,” said Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.

Qatar, whose sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have caused serious rifts with its Gulf neighbors, has long played an outsized role in Afghan affairs.

It has hosted a Taliban political office in Doha since 2013 and facilitated talks between the fundamentalist group and U.S. officials that led to the Feb. 2020 Doha agreement, as well as “intra-Afghan” talks that failed to prevent the Taliban’s violent takeover of the country.

Qatar is viewed by the Biden administration as a key partner in efforts to manage the crisis moving forward, including in efforts to bring out U.S. citizens and allies left behind when the Kabul evacuation mission ended.

Qatar is home to the Al-Udeid Air Base, a key hub for U.S. Central Command, and is also now housing the U.S. diplomatic effort focused on Afghanistan, led by Ian McCary, who was the deputy chief of mission in Kabul before the evacuation.





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Former Acting CIA Director: Terrorists Are Going to Flock to ‘Jihadist Central’ in Afghanistan


Taliban gunmen flank a mullah preaching in Kabul’s biggest mosque during Friday prayers. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Taliban is claiming to have defeated not only the United States but NATO – “the world’s greatest military power ever” – and inspired jihadists will flock to Afghanistan to become “part of jihadist central,” former acting CIA director Michael Morell said on Sunday.

“I think that the Taliban winning the war in Afghanistan and then the way our exit happened has absolutely inspired jihadists all over the world,” Morell told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“The Taliban is saying, ‘We just didn’t defeat the United States; we defeated NATO. We defeated the world’s greatest military power ever.’ So there’s a celebration going on.”

“‘We defeated the Soviet Union, then it fell. Now we’ve defeated NATO, right? Maybe they could fall, too,’” Morell said the Taliban were saying.

(The Islamic mujahideen – out of which the Taliban grew – fought against the Soviet occupation through the 1980s until the foreign troops left in 1989, amid the disintegration of the Soviet Union.)

“I think not only will jihadists be inspired, but a lot of them are going to come to Afghanistan to be part of the celebration, to be harp – to be part of jihadist central,” Morell said.

“So after 9/11, they all scattered from Afghanistan. I think we’re going to see a flow back in, and that’s one of the things that makes Afghanistan more dangerous than other spots on the planet.”

Morell also commented on the reported presence in Afghanistan of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, after host Margaret Brennan noted that the terrorist group had released a video featuring Zawahiri on Saturday, and that a U.N. Security Council report in July said he was believed to be in Afghanistan.

Asked whether he was indeed living in Afghanistan, Morell replied, “We think so, which means that the Taliban is harboring Zawahiri today. The Taliban is harboring al-Qaeda today. And I think that’s a very important point.”

A key element in the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in Doha was a commitment by the Taliban to “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

Specifically, it undertook not to cooperate with such groups or individuals, not to “host” them; to deny them asylum or residence in Afghanistan; to prevent them “from recruiting, training, and fundraising”; and not to issue them with visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents.

In defense of his total troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden has argued several times that the terrorist threat has changed since 2001, pointing to the existence of al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in places other than Afghanistan.

Morell said Biden wasn’t wrong about the fact “there’s terrorists in a lot of different places in the world,” but that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan offered a degree of “safe haven” not available in other locations.

“Right now,” said Morell, “the places I’m most worried about are ISIS in Africa and [al-Qaeda-affiliate] al-Shabaab in Somalia.  But longer term, I worry most about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Why? Because at the end of the day, the most important thing that– that a terrorist group can have, the most important determinant of their success is safe haven, right?”

“And you have safe haven in Afghanistan that you really can’t have anywhere else because you’re being harbored now by the Taliban. And Afghanistan is a big place – it’s tough to get to, it’s tough to find partners,” he said.

“So that’s why I worry more about Afghanistan.”

Asked by Brennan whether Americans were more at risk without a military presence in Afghanistan, Morell replied, “we are more at risk, without a doubt.”

He cited difficulties in collecting intelligence on whether al-Qaeda was again rebuilding its capabilities and planning to attack America again as it did 20 years ago, and then difficulties in collecting “the kind of intelligence that gives you the precision you need to conduct strikes.”

“The intelligence community’s got to figure that out,” Morrell said.

“Then the Department of Defense has to figure out this ‘over the horizon capability,’ right? So when the intelligence community says, ‘Mr. President they’re rebuilding again, they’re getting to the point where they can attack the homeland again.’ And the president says, ‘take action.’

“The military has to be able to reach in and degrade al Qaeda, right? We haven’t figured those two things out yet.”

Morell served as deputy and – twice – acting director of the CIA during the Obama administration. After retiring in 2013 he took up a senior role in a geopolitical consulting firm in Washington and became a CBS News on-air contributor. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, writing in a New York Times op-ed, “Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.”

Floated as a possible pick for CIA director in a Biden administration, Morell’s potential nomination ran into criticism from Democratic lawmakers unhappy with positions he had taken about the effectiveness of controversial CIA interrogation techniques. The post went to Bill Burns.



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