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ISIS POSES ‘ACUTE’ THREAT TO U.S. Evacuation Efforts in Kabul, Sullivan Says

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A crowd waited by an entrance to the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as U.S. Marines secured the perimeter on Sunday. Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

President Biden’s national security adviser warned of mounting but unspecified terrorist risks to the U.S. mission to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan allies.

By Eric Schmitt

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s national security adviser warned on Sunday that the threat of a terrorist attack by the Islamic State posed a serious danger to the administration’s evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies from the international airport in Kabul.

“The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

His comments were the most urgent so far regarding a range of steadily increasing threats that intelligence and military officials have privately briefed Mr. Biden and his top aides on in recent days, officials said.

Neither Mr. Sullivan nor other senior American military or intelligence officials provided details about the threats or their specificity. Current and former officials say, however, that they range from a missile attack against a transport plane taking off or landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport to a bomb-laden truck or suicide bombers infiltrating the crowd outside the airport.

Mr. Biden said on Friday that U.S. military and counterterrorism officials were closely watching for threatened ISIS attacks, noting that thousands of prisoners had been released in Kabul and other locations. While the Taliban is unlikely to have consciously let out the Islamic State fighters, the chaos in Afghanistan in recent weeks allowed all manner of prisoners to be freed from custody, including the Taliban’s enemies.

“ISIS-K has been waiting for an opportunity like this, where its fighters can exploit the chaos of the situation on the ground for a chance to kill American soldiers,” said Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Group, a New York-based security consulting firm, referring to the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate in Afghanistan.

U.N. counterterrorism officials said in June that ISIS had carried out 77 attacks in Afghanistan in the first four months of this year, up from 21 in the same period in 2020. The attacks last year included a strike against Kabul University in November and a rocket barrage against the airport in Kabul a month later. Some analysts say the group also has links to the Haqqani network, another militant organization.

For the past week, U.S. officials have warned about threats against the airport and American operations to evacuate civilians from Kabul. By Friday, officials said, the threat reporting was growing more acute.

An attack on the airport, current and former officials said, would be a strategic blow against both the United States and the Taliban, who are trying to demonstrate that they can control the country.

The Taliban have fought ISIS in recent years, and leaders of the Islamic State in Afghanistan denounced the Taliban takeover of the country, criticizing their version of Islamic rule as insufficiently hard-line.

Mr. Sullivan said that American commanders on the ground were using “a wide variety of capabilities” to defend the airfield against an attack, and were working closely with spy agencies to identify and defeat any threats. He did not provide details.

“It is something that we are placing paramount priority on stopping or disrupting,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And we will do everything that we can for as long as we are on the ground to keep that from happening. But we are taking it absolutely deadly seriously.”

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, warned on Sunday of the growing threat of a terrorist attack by the Islamic State. Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Indeed, American officials said on Saturday that the U.S. military was establishing alternative routes to the Kabul airport for Americans, Afghan allies and citizens from other Western nations because of the threat ISIS posed to the airfield and its surroundings, a development previously reported by CNN.

On Thursday night, CH-47 Chinook helicopters picked up 169 Americans at a hotel meeting place and whisked them to safety, rather than having them walk 200 yards to an airport gate where a large, unruly crowd had gathered.

American and Western cargo planes taking off from the airport have dispensed flares and chaff, a common precautionary practice in conflict zones like Afghanistan and Iraq to fool heat-seeking missiles fired from the ground, military officials said.

U.S. military officials in Kabul who are communicating with senior Taliban leaders to provide safe passage to the airport for Americans and Afghan allies are also in this rare instance of cooperating to thwart a common enemy: ISIS.

A deadly attack against American and Afghan civilians would be a disaster not only for the United States, but also for the Taliban, who are moving to consolidate control over Kabul. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been enemies, fighting each other on the battlefield for control of parts of the country.

Western counterterrorism analysts say a high-profile attack by ISIS during the evacuation would most likely lift the group’s flagging fortunes, recruiting and prestige.

A United Nations report in June assessed that the Islamic State’s “territorial losses have affected the group’s ability to recruit and generate new funding.”

Although the ISIS affiliate was still believed to have 1,500 to 2,200 fighters in small areas of Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, the report said, “it has been forced to decentralize and consists primarily of cells and small groups across the country, acting in an autonomous manner while sharing the same ideology.”

While the group suffered military setbacks starting in summer 2018, the report concluded that since June 2020, under its ambitious new leader, Shahab al-Muhajir, the affiliate “remains active and dangerous,” and is seeking to swell its ranks with disaffected Taliban fighters and other militants.

“Given that ISIS-K and the Taliban are enemies, it will be a challenge for ISIS-K,” Mr. Clarke said. “Nevertheless, the Taliban now has its hands full with governing, which will consume considerable bandwidth within the organization.”

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator in the Trump administration, said on Sunday that if the ISIS affiliate was capable of attacking the airport in Kabul, “that suggests Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal will be a permissive environment for all sorts of terrorist groups, even those hostiles to the Taliban.”

Defense Department officials have been tight-lipped about the threats and what they are doing to defeat them, citing operational security.

John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, declined on Saturday to comment on any specific threat information, but he acknowledged that the security situation at the airport was extremely volatile.

“I’m not going to get into specific threat assessments,” Mr. Kirby said. “The situation in Kabul, in the whole city, is fluid and dynamic. And it changes. It changes almost by the hour, and it changes in locations around the airport. It’s very, very fluid and dynamic.”

Julian Barnes contributed reporting.

The New York Times

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UKRAINE FORCES BREAK THROUGH RUSSIAN DEFENCES IN SOUTH, ADVANCE IN EAST

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Ukrainian forces have broken through Russian defences in the south of the country while expanding their rapid offensive in the east, seizing back more territory in areas annexed by Russia and threatening its troops’ supply lines.

Making their biggest breakthrough in the south since the war began, Ukrainian forces recaptured several villages in an advance along the strategic Dnipro River on Monday, Ukrainian officials and a Russian-installed leader in the area said.

Ukrainian forces in the south destroyed 31 Russian tanks and one multiple rocket launcher, the military’s southern operational command said in a nightly update, without providing details of where the fighting occurred.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.

The southern breakthrough mirrors recent Ukrainian advances in the east even as Russia has tried to raise the stakes by annexing land, ordering mobilisation, and threatening nuclear retaliation.

Ukraine has made significant advances in two of the four Russian-occupied regions Moscow last week annexed after what it called referendums – votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.

In a sign Ukraine is building momentum on the eastern front, Reuters saw columns of Ukrainian military vehicles heading on Monday to reinforce the rail hub of Lyman, retaken at the weekend, and a staging post to press into the Donbas region.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine’s army had seized back towns in a number of areas, without giving details.

“New population centres have been liberated in several regions.

“Heavy fighting is going on in several sectors of the front,” Zelensky said in a video address.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk – one of two regions that make up the Donbas – said Russian forces had taken over a psychiatric hospital in the town of Svatovo, a target en route to recapturing the major cities of Lysychansk and Sivierodonetsk.

“There is quite a network of underground rooms in the building and they have taken up defensive positions,” he told Ukrainian television.

In the south, Ukrainian troops recaptured the town of Dudchany along the west bank of the Dnipro River, which bisects the country, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader in occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson province, told Russian state television.

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Foreign

50 MILLION PEOPLE WORLDWIDE IN MODERN SLAVERY —ILO

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Latest estimates show that forced labour and forced marriage have increased significantly in the last five years, according to the International Labour Organisation, Walk Free and the International Organisation for Migration.

Fifty million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, according to the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. Of these people, 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriage.

The number of people in modern slavery has risen significantly in the last five years. Ten million more people were in modern slavery in 2021 compared to 2016 global estimates. Women and children remain disproportionately vulnerable.

Modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world, and cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious lines. More than half (52 per cent) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages can be found in upper-middle income or high-income countries.

Most cases of forced labour (86 per cent) are found in the private sector. Forced labour in sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 63 per cent of all forced labour, while forced commercial sexual exploitation represents 23 per cent of all forced labour. Almost four out of five of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.

State-imposed forced labour accounts for 14 per cent of people in forced labour. Almost one in eight of all those in forced labour are children (3.3 million). More than half of these are in commercial sexual exploitation.

An estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriage on any given day in 2021. This indicates an increase of 6.6 million since the 2016 global estimates.

The true incidence of forced marriage, particularly involving children aged 16 and younger, is likely far greater than current estimates can capture. These are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages. Child marriages are considered to be forced because a child cannot legally give consent to marry.

Forced marriage is closely linked to long-established patriarchal attitudes and practices and is highly context specific. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (more than 85 per cent) was driven by family pressure. Although two-thirds (65 per cent) of forced marriages are found in Asia and the Pacific, when regional population size is considered, the prevalence is highest in the Arab States, with 4.8 people out of every 1,000 in the region in forced marriage.

Migrant workers are more than three times likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers. While labour migration has a largely positive effect on individuals, households, communities and societies, this finding demonstrates how migrants are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and trafficking, whether because of irregular or poorly governed migration, or unfair and unethical recruitment practices.

“It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

“We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done. Effective national policies and regulation are fundamental. But governments cannot do this alone. International standards provide a sound basis, and an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed. Trade unions, employers’ organisations, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play.”

António Vitorino, IOM Director-General, said, “This report underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly, and regular. Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and trafficking in persons depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants – and potential migrants – at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status. The whole of society must work together to reverse these shocking trends, including through implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.”

Grace Forrest, Founding Director of Walk Free, said, “Modern slavery is the antithesis of sustainable development. Yet, in 2022, it continues to underpin our global economy. It is a man-made problem, connected to both historical slavery and persisting structural inequality. In a time of compounding crises, genuine political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses.”

The report proposes a number of recommended actions which, taken together and swiftly, would mark significant progress towards ending modern slavery. They include: improving and enforcing laws and labour inspections; ending state-imposed forced labour; stronger measures to combat forced labour and trafficking in business and supply chains; extending social protection, and strengthening legal protections, including raising the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception. Other measures include addressing the increased risk of trafficking and forced labour for migrant workers, promoting fair and ethical recruitment, and greater support for women, girls and vulnerable individuals.

Modern slavery, as defined for the report, is comprised of two principal components – forced labour and forced marriage. Both refer to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power.

Forced labour, as defined in the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29), refers to “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which they said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” The ‘private economy’ includes all forms of forced labour other than state-imposed forced labour.

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NORTH KOREA FIRES MISSILE OVER JAPAN

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North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, prompting Tokyo to activate the country’s missile alert system and order people to take shelter.

The last time North Korea fired a missile over Japan was in 2017, at the height of a period of “fire and fury” when Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un traded insults with then-US president Donald Trump.

South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch of an IRBM, which flew around 4,500 km (2800 miles) at an altitude of about 970 km and speeds of around Mach 17.

“Specific details are under close analysis by South Korean and US intelligence,” the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff added in a statement.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol called the launch a “provocation” that violated UN regulations

Yoon “ordered a stern response and to take corresponding measures in cooperation with the United States and the international community”, his office said in a statement.

Tokyo also confirmed the launch of an IRBM, activating the country’s missile alert warning system and urging people to take shelter.

“North Korea appears to have launched a missile. Please evacuate into buildings or underground,” the government said in an alert issued at 7:29 am (2229 GMT Monday).

National broadcaster NHK said the alert was in effect for two northern regions of the country.

“A ballistic missile is believed to have passed over our country and fallen in the Pacific Ocean. This is an act of violence following recent repeated launches of ballistic missiles. We strongly condemn this,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said that North Korea “has in the past launched Hwasong 12-type missiles four times, so this could be the same type”.

If so, the flight distance, which Tokyo estimated at 4,600 km, was thought to be a new record for that particular missile.

The last two times North Korea fired Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan, in September and August 2017, they travelled 3,700 km and 2,700 km respectively, Chad O’Carroll of Seoul-based specialist site NK News wrote on Twitter.

“This is the 8th test of the Hwasong-12 and the 3rd time it has overflown Japan,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies wrote on Twitter.

– Military drills –

With talks long-stalled, nuclear-armed North Korea has doubled down on Kim’s military modernisation plans this year, testing a string of banned weaponry, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.

Last week, Pyongyang fired short-range ballistic missiles on four occasions, including just hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris flew out of Seoul.

The latest bout of intense weapons testing by Pyongyang comes as Seoul, Tokyo and Washington ramp up joint military drills to counter growing threats from the North.

South Korea, Japan and the United States staged anti-submarine drills Friday — the first in five years — just days after Washington and Seoul’s navies conducted large-scale exercises in waters off the peninsula, involving a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier.

Such drills infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.

Harris toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula while on a trip that aimed to underscore her country’s “ironclad” commitment to South Korea’s defence against the North.

Washington has stationed about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the North.

– Significant escalation –

“If Pyongyang has fired a missile over Japan, that would represent a significant escalation over its recent provocations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle,” he added.

“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outrun South Korea in an arms race and drive wedges among US allies.”

South Korean and US officials have also been warning for months that Kim was preparing to conduct another nuclear test.

The officials said they believed this could happen soon after China’s upcoming party congress on October 16.

North Korea, which is under multiple UN sanctions for its weapons programmes, typically seeks to maximise the geopolitical impact of its tests with careful timing.

The isolated country has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017.

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