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Allied Troops Deployed to Afghanistan to Aid in Embassy Evacuations, Europol Issues Jihadi Terrorism Analysis, UN Calls for Ban on Surveillance Technology, and More

Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are deploying troops to Afghanistan to aid in securing their embassies in Kabul as the Taliban advances and takes control of more than 18 provincial capitals in the country.

The Afghan government has called for a UN Security Council meeting to address the Taliban’s advance while NATO ambassadors are meeting to coordinate measures to reduce embassy staff in Kabul, Al Jazeera reports. 

Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States made the decision to send troops back to Afghanistan on Thursday in response to the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground. The Taliban seized Pol-e Alam, a provincial capital south of Kabul, and Firoz-Koh, the provincial capital of Ghor Province, on Friday.

“Sporadic clashes happened last night, but no serious resistance was reported,” said Gul Zaman Naeb, a member of Parliament representing Ghor Province, in an interview with The New York Times. “When the people woke up this morning, they saw Taliban fighters in the streets and government offices.” 

The U.S. State Department said it will continue to operate its embassy in Kabul but will reduce the number of onsite staff. A Canadian official who spoke to the AP said that its embassy would be evacuated, and British troops will be in Afghanistan to aid nationals leaving the country. 

Western allies are also facing pressure to take Afghans with them—especially interpreters, their families, and others who aided the military effort to fight the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan.

Forty-five Afghans will be evacuated to Denmark and offered residency for aiding the Danish government; Canada also plans to resettle hundreds of Afghans, including security guards and embassy staff, and their family members.

Risk of Jihadi Terrorism Violence Remains High

The year 2020 was a critical time for the Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda as the groups adapted to a shifting reality to remain relevant, according to a new assessment by Europol. 

The annual report on Online Jihadist Propaganda found that the risk of online jihadist propaganda being translated into offline violence is still high with both IS and al Qaeda calling for lone actor attacks by individuals with no physical connections to their groups.

Other key findings from the report include that IS is focused on resurging in Iraq and expanding its international presence through empowering global affiliates—especially in Africa where local insurgencies seized and retained territory.

Europol also found that al Qaeda continues to capitalize on current events to advance its ideological leanings, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is looking to demonstrate its ability to mount external operations, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has shown its plans to follow the approach of the Taliban to engage in negotiations with local governments.

A new regulation that prohibits hosting terrorist propaganda and requires it to be removed when flagged by law enforcement or Europol comes into effect for the European Union in June 2022.

“To facilitate the implementation of the [regulation], Europol is developing an innovative technical solution called PERCI and will support law enforcement authorities with its subject-matter expertise,” wrote Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle in the report. “This report aims at providing a strategic framework for such efforts.”

UN Group Calls for Ban on Surveillance Technology Sales

Human rights experts with the United Nations urged all member states to impose a moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology until regulations are in place that ensure it is used in compliance with international human rights standards. 

“It is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a human rights-free zone,” the experts said in a press release. “We are deeply concerned that highly sophisticated intrusive tools are being used to monitor, intimidate, and silence human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents. Such practices violate the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and liberty, possibly endanger the lives of hundreds of individuals, imperil media freedom, and undermine democracy, peace, security, and international cooperation.”

The announcement comes just a month after an investigation found that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was being used to spy on the mobile devices of hundreds of political leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists. NSO Group has rejected the findings.

“In recent years we have repeatedly raised the alarm about the danger that surveillance technology poses to human rights,” the UN experts said. “Once again, we urge the international community to develop a robust regulatory framework to prevent, mitigate and redress the negative human rights impact of surveillance technology and pending that, to adopt a moratorium on its sale and transfer.”

Gunman Kills Five in Plymouth Shooting Spree

A British man shot and killed five people in a six-minute shooting spree in Plymouth in the worst mass shooting in the nation since 2010. 

Jake Davison, 22, opened fire and killed two men, two women, and a three-year-old girl before succumbing to his own injuries and dying. Police told the BBC that the shooting was likely domestically related and is not being investigated as a terrorist attack. Davison also shot another man and woman, who are in the hospital and being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Authorities are investigating Davison’s social media presence, including videos that he had posted to YouTube that referenced “incels,” struggling to meet women, and being socially isolated. YouTube has removed the videos. 

China Responds to Major Flooding in Hubei Province

Major flooding in the Chinese province of Hubei killed at least 21 people and forced thousands to be evacuated as more rain is forecast for Friday.

Some towns in the province have received more than 500 millimeters (19.7) inches of rain in 12 hours, and Chinese authorities say climate change will make more extreme weather events likely.

“The level of preparedness among local authorities to deal with extreme weather has come under scrutiny after flooding last month in the province of Henan killed more than 300,” Bloomberg reports. “China’s cabinet, the State Council, last week launched a probe into how officials in Henan handled the situation, pledging to hold responsible anyone found to have been derelict in their duties.”

The flooding in China comes during the same week that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an assessment that found it will be beyond society’s reach to limit global warming to the Paris Climate Agreement goal without immediate reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. 

UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity,” adding that “the alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds University Vaccine Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court will allow Indiana University to maintain its requirement that all students be vaccinated against COVID-19. Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejected the suit, an emergency filing by eight students claiming the university had violated their constitutional rights by requiring the vaccination.

“The case, Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University, was the first test of COVID-19 vaccine requirements to arrive at the Supreme Court,” according to SCOTUS Blog. “The rule at the center of the case, announced in May by the university, requires all faculty, students, and staff to be vaccinated unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption. Eight students went to a federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the mandate, but on July 18 a federal district judge in Indiana rejected their request to block the mandate, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit declined to put the mandate on hold while the litigation continues.” 

The Court’s decision to let the university rule remain in place comes as employers, businesses, and local governments ramp up vaccine mandates for individuals. San Francisco issued one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the United States, requiring proof of vaccination for access to indoor bars, restaurants, clubs, theaters, entertainment venues, indoor gyms, and fitness establishments.

“San Francisco’s order also creates a new proof of vaccination requirement for large events at indoor venues, requiring attendees who are age 13 or older at events with 1,000 people or more to provide proof of vaccination,” according to ABC7. “Under the new order, a negative COVID test will no longer be considered an exemption to being fully vaccinated.”