The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2016
SYRIA CEASEFIRE IN DOUBT AS AIRSTRIKES RESUME

Airstrikes resumed against rebel-held areas on Sunday, casting doubts on the U.S.-Russian negotiated partial ceasefire in Syria. The Syrian government and opposition accused each other of violating the ceasefire that began at midnight on Friday. The partial truce began with an encouraging start during its first day on Saturday, as violence significantly decreased in much of northern and western Syria. Sunday’s airstrikes targeted rebel-held areas and reportedly killed at least 10 civilians, including a pregnant woman. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters

Related:
Economist: On its second day Syria’s new ceasefire is looking wobbly
BBC News: Syrian war: UN to expand aid amid partial truce
Lawfare: Is Syria Obama’s Fault?
Guardian: The Guardian view on the US and Russia in Syria: rivals who need each other
Haaretz: Netanyahu Welcomes Syria Cease-fire but Says Peace Deal Must Address Israeli Interests
BOSTON MARATHON BOMBER PASSED U.S. CITIZENSHIP TEST
The Department of Homeland Security released heavily redacted U.S. citizenship paperwork of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his friend Ibragim Todashev. According to documents released to The Boston Globe, Tsarnaev passed the U.S. citizenship test, swore his allegiance to the United States, and denied any connection to terrorism only three months before the bombings. Boston Globe, The Hill

Gitmo: The Periodic Review Board approved the release of Afghan detainee Haj Hamdullah, also known as Ahmid al Razak, to a Muslim country other than Afghanistan or Pakistan, according to a document obtained by the Miami Herald. Haj Hamdullah was suspected of fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and “probably collaborated with the Taliban and possibly with al-Qaida.” The PRB wrote in its February 11 decision that Haj Hamdullah “does not support a jihadist ideology, has been highly compliant and has sought to moderate the behavior of others.” He has been held at Guantanamo Bay since November 2003 and has not been charged with a crime. Miami Herald

Related:
Vice News: US-UK Row Reopens Over 'Dangerous' Ex-Guantanamo Detainee Shaker Aamer
The Hill: Dem candidates buck Obama on Gitmo
Reuters: Yemeni suspect in 9/11 attacks asks court to halt harassment

Apple vs. FBI: More than 25 major tech companies, media organizations, and civil liberties groups will reportedly file legal briefs this week in support of Apple’s refusal to comply with a government request to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, and Verizon, reportedly plan to file friend-of-the-court briefs. Wall Street Journal

Related:
The Hill: Key Republican backs Apple in FBI fight
Wall Street Journal: Congress Warily Eyes Apple-FBI Standoff
International Business Times: Apple Asks: Why Hasn’t The FBI Asked NSA To Break iPhone Encryption?
Wall Street Journal: Apple Fight Could Hinge on First Amendment Protections of Computer Programs
Just Security: Apple’s motion to vacate the All Writs Act assistance order: Has Apple chosen the best “test case”?

American Prisoners in UAE: The trial of two American citizens held in the United Arab Emirates on charges of supporting terrorist groups in Libya is set to begin today. Kamal Eldarat and his son Mohamed, dual American and Libyan nationals, were arrested 17 months ago and claim they were tortured by UAE interrogators. The UAE government contends that the two men supported militia groups linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. However, the Libyan militias in question, Libya Dawn and the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, are not designated as terrorist organizations by the United States nor the United Nations. Washington Post, Guardian

ISIS in New York: The trial of Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran accused of leaving the United States to fight alongside ISIS, is set to begin today in a Brooklyn federal court. Pugh has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State and to obstruction of justice. If convicted, Pugh faces up to 35 years in prison. Wall Street Journal

FORMER CIA DIRECTOR SAYS MILITARY MAY REFUSE TRUMP’S ORDERS
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told HBO’s Bill Maher on Friday that the U.S. military would possibly refuse to follow orders given by a potential President Donald Trump if he followed through with his campaign rhetoric of torture. Hayden said that “American armed forces would refuse to act” if given orders that violated “international laws of armed conflict.” Politico, Washington Post, The Hill

South Carolina Primary: On Saturday, Hillary Clinton won the South Carolina Democratic primary by more than 45 percent, defeating Bernie Sanders 73.5 percent to 26 percent. Clinton drew overwhelming support from African-American voters in the state and raised doubts over whether Sanders can compete with Clinton in other southern states. New York Times, Washington Post


AFGHANISTAN BOMBINGS KILL DOZENS BEFORE TALIBAN TALKS RESUME
Two suicide bombings in Afghanistan on Saturday killed 26 people and injured nearly 50 others just days before talks are expected to begin between the government and the Taliban. The Taliban claimed responsibility for one of the attacks, which targeted the Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Kabul. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters

Related:
Vox: America's utter failure in Afghanistan, in one depressing statistic

Nigeria: The United States has offered to send special operations forces to Nigeria to help in the fight against Boko Haram. United States Africa Command said Friday that it had “conducted a preliminary assessment” regarding a limited advise-and-assist mission in the country. Reuters

Related:
Reuters: Cameroon says its army kills 92 militants in operation with Nigeria

Iraq: On Sunday, a twin suicide bombing claimed by ISIS killed 70 people in a Shiite district in Baghdad. The attack, which targeted a crowded mobile phone market in the Sadr City neighborhood, is the deadliest attack in Baghdad this year. Reuters

Related:
Associated Press: Pentagon starts aggressive cyberwar against IS
Voice of America: Obama Orders National Security Team to Ramp Up Fight Against IS

Libya: A car bomb claimed by ISIS killed five members of security forces backed by the recognized Libyan government in Benghazi on Friday. The attack occurred in the Hawari district of Benghazi and reportedly targeted forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, the government’s chief of staff. Yahoo News

Related:
New York Times: The Libya Gamble
Reuters: Air strike targets suspected Islamic State convoy in Libya: town official
 

Iran: Friday’s election resulted in big victories for reformist and moderate candidates in major Iranian cities backed by president Hassan Rouhani, clearing the way for potential economic reforms that will improve trade and business relations with the West. However, other reports claimed victory for hard-liners, as they found success in more rural areas that control a greater number of parliamentary seats. New York Times, Reuters

Related:
Reuters: Iran signals lawyer yet to be appointed for detained Iranian-American

Germany: German federal prosecutors are reportedly pushing for harder punishments for returned fighters from Syria and Iraq, in a bid to deter Germans from traveling to fight alongside militant groups. Citing reports that groups such as ISIS and the Nusra Front have committed crimes against humanity, the prosecutors are pursuing murder charges greater than “supporting a terrorist group.” Deutsche Welle
TOP OP-EDS
Conflating Terrorism and Insurgency: “The vast majority of what is now commonly being tallied as terrorism occurs in war zones like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan,” write John Mueller and Mark Stewart on Lawfare. “Terrorism differs from war, and particularly from insurgency, not in its essential method or goal or in the targets of violence, but in the frequency with which violence is committed.”

A Truce in Syria: “In circumstances as dire as those in Syria...any agreement, however limited, that offers relief to the suffering ought to be celebrated,” writes Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker. “Still, it’s difficult to view the partial truce as much more than a ratification of the status quo that began when Putin ordered the Russian military intervention, last September.”

How We Can Still Fix Libya: “Most pundits treat the U.S. intervention in that country synonymously with failure,” writes Ben Fishman in Politico Magazine. “Libya is not yet lost; the Libyans are even now striving to form a new unity government, and calibrated U.S. and international assistance can still help to stabilize the country and reduce the Islamic State’s presence.”
EDITOR'S PICK

SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: A Consequential Vote in Iran




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