The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2017
MATTIS STRESSES DIPLOMACY IN NORTH KOREA CRISIS

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis emphasized diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the crisis with North Korea during a  visit to the tense and heavily-fortified border between the North and South on Friday. “Our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Mattis said ahead of a scheduled visit by President Donald Trump to South Korea next week. He added that Pyongyang’s “provocations continue to threaten regional and global security” but emphasized that the U.S. is “doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically — everything we can.” NBC News, Reuters

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on ten North Korean officials and organizations,. Separately, the Pentagon said it was planning military exercises next month involving three of the Navy’s aircraft carrier strike groups in the Asia-Pacific region. Defense officials say the show of military might is intended to demonstrate American capabilities in the region. New York Times
Related:
NBC News: The U.S. is Operating Three Carriers in the Pacific for the First Time in a Decade

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SENDS CONGRESS LIST OF POSSIBLE RUSSIA SANCTIONS
Under pressure from Republicans and Democrats, the Trump administration on Thursday turned over to Congress a list of Russia-connected entities it will use to determine new sanctions meant to rebuke Russia for actions in Eastern Europe, Syria, and the 2016 United States presidential election. Administration officials said they intended to impose sanctions on individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere who did “significant” business with the Russian entities, sending an early warning that such deals must soon end.

The list appeared to be an attempt to mollify critics — including Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)— who say that the administration has not moved quickly enough to punish Russia. Legislation passed by Congress in July and signed by President Trump in August required that the administration produce the list of entities by October 1. Under the law, persons who “knowingly engage in a significant transaction” with “defense or intelligence sectors of the government of the Russian Federation” could be subjected to sanctions. New York Times

FBI IS SET TO GIVE CONGRESS  DOCUMENTS RELATED TO RUSSIAN DOSSIER
The FBI is expected to hand over documents to Congress related to a controversial and unverified dossier on President Donald Trump by next week, ending a long-running impasse between lawmakers and federal law enforcement. Speaking to reporters, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the FBI had agreed to provide documents sought by Congress in a number of investigations currently underway, including information about a 35-page research document containing unverified allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia.

The dossier was compiled by the research firm Fusion GPS with the help of ex-British spy Christopher Steele. It was revealed this week that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for some of the anti-Trump research through a law firm. And prior to that, an unknown Republican donor initially paid for some of Fusion GPS’s research on Trump. “The point of these investigations is to find the truth and to make sure if laws were violated or mistakes were made, they’re not made again. And transparency is what gets you that,” Ryan said. Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Axios
Related:
Bloomberg: Don't Be Distracted by the Trump Dossier Fuss
Chicago Tribune: The Russia Questions
Politico: GOP Winds Down Russia Probes with Trump Collusion Unanswered

As it makes more arrests, ICE looks for more detention centers: Amid the Trump administration's efforts to arrest people living in the country illegally, the Department of Homeland Security is looking at locations for five new detention centers around the country that could hold thousands of detainees. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is considering sites near four cities where it has offices: Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City and St. Paul, Minn. Last month, the agency put out a similar request to identify a possible detention site in South Texas.

Arrests by ICE have spiked since the beginning of the Trump presidency. ICE reported that it arrested 41,000 people in just the first 100 days after the president signed his executive order on border security and immigration enforcement. The ACLU announced Thursday that it was joining with legal services and immigrants' rights organizations in asking ICE not to open the new detention facilities. NPR


PENTAGON SAYS SECOND U.S. MILITARY TEAM WAS IN VICINITY OF NIGER AMBUSH
The Pentagon said Thursday that there was a second U.S. military team in the vicinity of an ambush in Niger earlier this month that killed four U.S. soldiers. The ambush, which U.S. officials believe was carried out by a local ISIS affiliate, has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Niger. “There are other teams that operate in Niger, there was one that had something to do with this operation,” said Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director. “I'm not going to be able to give you any more specific details about what happened until we complete the process of the investigation,” he added.  Reuters, The Hill, New York Times

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic senators emerged from a classified briefing about the deadly ambush with different opinions about whether the attack could have been averted. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), said Thursday that “on the initial assessment there were not significant steps that could have been taken to prevent this assault.” But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pointed to a shortfall in intelligence and overhead reconnaissance support for U.S. forces in Africa as a potential factor in an attack that caught many lawmakers off-guard. PBS Newshour

UN PANEL SAYS SYRIAN GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR SARIN ATTACK
The Syrian Air Force was responsible for a lethal sarin chemical attack on a northern rebel-held village on April 4, a UN investigative panel said Thursday. The panel’s report represented the first time a politically independent investigation concluded which side in the Syrian civil war carried out the attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun. The panel’s finding could place new pressure on Russia, the Syrian government’s most important ally, which pledged four years ago to ensure that President Bashar al-Assad purge all his chemical weapons. A second finding in the report concluded that ISIS militants had carried out an attack using sulfur mustard poison in Um-Housh, in Aleppo Province, on September 16, 2016. New York Times, CNN, Al Jazeera

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, said Thursday that the U.S. wants Syria to remain a unified country and that peace talks must lead to the departure of President Bashar al-Assad. “It’s our view that we do not believe there is a future for the Assad regime, the Assad family,” Tillerson told reporters after meeting with the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Syrian peace talks are set to resume in Geneva on November 28. Tillerson’s remarks came as Syrian government troops and their Iranian-backed militia allies, with what Tillerson said was crucial support from Russian warplanes, continued to push ISIS militants from their final strongholds in southeastern Syria. Reuters, Washington Post

IRAQ, SYRIA CONVERGE ON ISIS’ LAST STRONGHOLDS
Iraqi forces launched an attack to drive ISIS from the last territory it holds in Iraq on Thursday and the Syrian army and its allies said they planned to march on the jihadist’s last Syrian stronghold in Deir Ezzor province. The separate assaults across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier aim to deal a final blow to the group, whose “caliphate” has crumbled this year in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Islamic State fighters would have “to choose between death and surrender” as he announced the offensive on the region of Rawa and al-Qaim, located at the Syrian border. Reuters

Syrian and Iraqi forces, aided by the air power of a U.S.-led coalition, have evicted ISIS from more than 95 percent of the territory it held in the two countries in combat that killed thousands of their fighters, according to U.S. Central Command. Bloomberg
Related:
New York Times: As ISIS Is Driven From Iraq, Sunnis Remain Alienated
New York Times: Red Cross Warns of ‘Dehumanizing’ Rhetoric in ISIS Fight
TIME: Raqqa Is in Ruins, and ISIS in Retreat

Officials say Somalia preparing for large-scale offensive against Al-Shabaab: Somali government troops and their African Union allies are preparing a large-scale offensive against al-Shabaab militants. Somali leaders have threatened to retaliate for the truck bombing of a busy Mogadishu intersection on October 14 that killed more than 300 people. Al-Shabaab did not claim responsibility for the attack, but officials have blamed the group. “I can confirm that there will be a massive attack on al-Shabaab controlled areas and strongholds involving AMISOM and other international partners,” an official said. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed visited Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti this week in search of support for the offensive. Voice of America

U.S. and Pakistan spar over fight against terrorism: The U.S. will address terrorist threats in Pakistan on its own if the country doesn’t cooperate with American requests to do so, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated on Thursday after meetings with officials in Islamabad. “We have some very legitimate asks and some very legitimate concerns that we need their help addressing,” Tillerson said, referring to terrorist attacks by the Taliban and its allied Haqqani network in Pakistan. President Trump has criticized Pakistan for providing a haven for terrorists. Pakistani officials have rejected that accusation and said the country it is being blamed unfairly for U.S. and Afghan shortcomings in Afghanistan. Wall Street Journal


Britain believes North Korea was behind ‘WannaCry’ NHS cyber attack: Britain said on Friday it believed North Korea was behind the “WannaCry” cyber attack in May that disrupted businesses and government services worldwide, including the National Health Service in England. Security Minister Ben Wallace said Britain believed “quite strongly” that the ransomware attack came from a foreign state. “North Korea was the state that we believe was involved in this worldwide attack on our systems,” he said. A report by the National Audit Office said Thursday that the scale of the cyber attack on the National Health Service was far larger than previously appreciated. Reuters, Financial Times

Putin takes part in Russian military drills, fires missiles: Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw the launch of four nuclear-capable ballistic missiles on Thursday as part of a test for Moscow's strategic nuclear forces. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the drills Thursday involved all elements of the military's nuclear triad — nuclear submarines, strategic bombers and a land-based launcher. He added that the exercises were routine and not directly linked to any international developments. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with top officials on Friday that the military will continue to strengthen its forces in western Russia in response to a NATO buildup in Poland and the Baltics. Associated Press, CNBC
TOP OP-EDS
Keeping out of Syria: “The United States has no good options in Syria, but some are worse than others,” Robert S. Ford writes in Foreign Affairs. “There is, however, one way in which the United States can still do good: easing the suffering of the millions of Syrian refugees outside the country. By focusing on their plight, Washington would help some of the most vulnerable Syrians, reduce the burden on the countries that host them, and curb opportunities for jihadist recruitment in refugee communities.”

Why is the United States in Niger, anyway? “The fact remains that armed conflict in West Africa represents a threat to the United States and its allies,” David Litt writes in Foreign Policy. “The tragic deaths of American and Nigerien forces earlier this month remind us that operating in the Sahel region of Africa remains dangerous. But the reason U.S. forces are there at all should be assessed in light of American strategic goals with respect to violent extremism, and the history of U.S. support for an African nation like Niger.”

Why Westerners who joined Islamic State don’t deserve an automatic death sentence: “It is obvious that no Western countries want any of their citizens associated with ISIS (as well as their spouses or children) to return home,” Nasser Weddady writes in the Washington Post. “This has yet to be confirmed by any of the nations concerned. But if true, this shows a rather peculiar situation: nations such as Britain and France, who have abolished the death penalty, are outsourcing the execution of their own citizens to countries that have no such scruples.”

Responding to Russia’s resurgence: “The operation in Crimea also demonstrated a whole new form of Russian military prowess,” Ivo H. Daalder writes in Foreign Affairs. “This, in short, was no traditional military invasion; it was hybrid warfare in which goals were accomplished even before the adversary understood what was going on. It represented an entirely new threat for which neither Ukraine nor NATO was prepared.”
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