The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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TUESDAY, MARCH 15, 2016
PUTIN ANNOUNCES RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA

Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of the “main part” of Russia’s military presence in Syria on Monday, saying that the “principal tasks set for the armed forces of Russia in Syria have been accomplished.” Putin’s surprise move came as peace talks resumed between the Syrian opposition and government leadership in Geneva. Putin reportedly made the decision unilaterally without consulting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Some believe Russia was eager to end its costly military engagement in the war-torn country, as it is facing increasingly dire economic conditions at home. President Obama spoke on the phone with the Russian President to discuss “next steps” in upholding the fragile ceasefire in Syria. New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times

Related:
New York Times: White House: Obama and Putin Talk 'Next Steps' in Syria
Wall Street Journal: So Much for Putin’s Syria ‘Quagmire’
Vox: Putin withdrawing Russian forces from Syria: why now and why it matters
Slate: Vladimir Putin Announces Unexpected Withdrawal of Russian Troops From Syria
Bloomberg: Putin's Shock Plan to Pull Troops From Syria Puts Pressure on Assad
Forbes: Could Putin's Syria Deal Spell Sanctions Relief For Russia?
Politico: Did Putin once again outfox Obama?
AMERICAN MILITANT CAPTURED IN IRAQ
An American citizen who is suspected to have fought alongside ISIS reportedly surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq on Monday. The man was identified as 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis from Virginia. The Pentagon is still trying to determine whether Khweis had fought alongside ISIS. If confirmed, it would be the first surrender of an American ISIS supporter in the field. New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, The Hill

ISIS Genocide: On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution with a vote of 393-0 to express that ISIS’s violence against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic groups should be considered genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The resolution also calls on the UN and the international community to label the violence against the minorities as genocide. The Hill

FBI vs. Apple: Former White House official and counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke said on Monday that he believes that the NSA “would have solved this problem” of unlocking the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters if asked to do so by the FBI. In an interview with NPR, Clarke criticized the FBI’s lawsuit against Apple saying that “every expert I know believes the NSA could crack this phone,” and that the Justice Department only wants “the precedent that the government can compel a computer device manufacturer to allow [them] in.” Newsweek, NY Mag

Related:
Fortune: Why This Former U.S. Counterterrorism Chief Supports Apple

Encryption: Leading tech firms including Facebook, Google, and Snapchat plan to expand the use of encryption in their technologies, according to a report by the Guardian. All three companies are reportedly planning to take further steps to ensure the privacy of messages used on their systems, in what has been viewed as an industry response to the legal standoff between Apple and the FBI. Guardian

Related:
Vanity Fair: Facebook Could Have Its Own Battle with the F.B.I.
The Verge: WhatsApp reportedly plans to expand encryption soon


ISIS “MINISTER OF WAR” CONFIRMED DEAD
On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed the death of Omar al-Shishani, the ISIS military commander who was suspected dead after a U.S. airstrike last week. Initial reports last week stated that al-Shishani, also known as Omar the Chechen, was “likely killed” after the U.S. bombing. However, Pentagon officials confirmed yesterday that he died from injuries sustained in the strike. CNN, Guardian, BBC News

Turkey: Turkish aircraft struck Kurdish militant camps in northern Iraq on Monday, a day after 37 people were killed in an explosion in central Ankara. Turkish officials believe two fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were involved in the suspected suicide car bombing. Reuters, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

Afghanistan: The former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is reportedly in favor of resuming offensive strikes against the Taliban. Gen. John F. Campbell allegedly broke military procedure by forwarding his proposal to increase pressure on the Taliban on to the White House without the knowledge of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Campbell has denied the accusation that he broke the chain of command. Washington Post


Iran: Israel called for the UN to take action against Iran for its alleged violation of a Security Council resolution prohibiting the country from testing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on Monday. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power joined EU diplomats in criticising Iran’s missile tests as well. For its part, the Security Council did not take any action, but said the tests disrupted the “peaceful environment” between world powers since last year’s nuclear agreement. New York Times, Wall Street Journal

North Korea: North Korea claims it could use a hydrogen bomb mounted on a ballistic missile to wipe out New York City. The statement, which came from a state-run news outlet on Sunday, cited a North Korean nuclear scientist saying that if the country’s newly developed hydrogen bomb fell “on Manhattan in New York City, all the people there would be killed immediately and the city would burn down to ashes.” Most experts are skeptical of North Korea’s recent claim that it has developed a hydrogen bomb. Washington Post, The Telegraph

Related:
Reuters: North Korean leader says will soon conduct nuclear, missile tests
TOP OP-EDS
Obama Is Right: America Can’t Fix the Middle East: “The painful reality is that America is stuck in a broken and dysfunctional Middle East, trapped by its own lofty rhetoric and illusions, and tied up and befriended or opposed by tiny tribes and larger powers whose interests are not its own,” writes Aaron David Miller on Politico. “We may degrade, contain, even roll back the Islamic State’s gains in Iraq and Syria, but we won’t destroy or defeat it or the forces of global jihad without filling the vacuum they exploit with Arab polities that are cohesive, well-governed and inclusive.”

Trump's stance on torture is un-American: “I have covered American wars and written at length about the service, the sacrifice and the valor of its soldiers. And seen the torture and degradation inflicted by America's enemies,” writes Gayle Lemmon on CNN.com. “What makes America different is its values...Betraying our values does not strengthen us, it diminishes us.”

Barack Obama’s Revolution in Foreign Policy: “If you think you are smarter than every foreign-policy expert in the room, any room, then it is tempting to make up your own grand strategy,” writes Niall Ferguson on The Atlantic. “That is what Obama has done, to an extent that even his critics underestimate. There is no ‘Obama doctrine’; rather, we see here a full-blown revolution in American foreign policy. And this revolution can be summed up as follows: The foes shall become friends, and the friends foes.”
EDITOR'S PICK

SOUFAN GAROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Iran’s Missile Threat

ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Center on National Security at Fordham Law will host a full-day conference “Hindsight: Reflections on 15 years of The War On Terror” on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. To RSVP, click here.

The Center on National Security at Fordham Law is seeking an intern to start immediately and work until July 2016. To apply, click here.




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