The Soufan Group Morning Brief



The Trump administration’s plans to deport undocumented immigrants to Mexico has irked the United States’ southern neighbor, and the topic has become the focus of tense bilateral discussions in Mexico City. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly traveled south to meet last night and today with President Peña Nieto and his top ministers. Among other things, they were expected to discuss border security, law-enforcement cooperation, and trade.


Mexico’s foreign minister said his government would not accept any policy changes unilaterally imposed by the Trump administration, including a new DHS guideline ordering the deportation to Mexico of immigrants from third countries who entered illegally through the southern border. Meanwhile, Mexico has warned that a breakdown in relations could affect its extensive cooperation with the U.S. on counternarcotics and on stemming the flow of undocumented Central American migrants.


The summit follows a increasingly tense period in U.S.-Mexico relations. Peña Nieto canceled a trip to the U.S. last month after Trump increased pressure on his government to pay for a border wall. The pair also had a testy phone call last month, during which Trump reportedly told Peña Nieto that his country wasn't doing enough to fight cartels. (WSJ, Reuters, NYT, AP)


Wall Street Journal: Trump’s Hard Line Collides With U.S. Demographics

Wall Street Journal: Border Wall Resisted by Texas Republicans

Washington Post: Refugees Fleeing to Canada Could Become Deluge



New FBI documents obtained by the New York Times shed light on the role Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric, played in al-Qaeda’s war on the United States. Notably, they show how he personally influenced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young Nigerian, to attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet in 2009. The Obama administration, which had alleged that Awlaki was behind the so-called underwear bomb plot, killed him with a drone strike in 2011. He was the first U.S. citizen deliberately killed on the president’s order, without criminal charges or trial, since the Civil War, analysts say. (NYT)


CIA docs: A New York federal judge ordered the government to hand over to journalists redacted memoranda on overseas CIA interrogations, including information that could unveil the names of two detainees who died while in custody. (Law360)


ISIS supporter: A 25-year-old Missouri man, Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr. was charged in federal court with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. Hester, who served in the U.S. Army for less than a year, allegedly attempted to help plot a terrorist bombing and gun attack in Kansas City. (CNN)


State Department sidelined: In its first few weeks, the Trump administration has largely kept the State Department from its historical role as the leading voice of U.S. foreign policy, analysts say. Decisions on hiring, policy, and scheduling are being driven by the White House. The most visible change at the State Department is the month-long lack of daily press briefings, a fixture since the 1950s. (WaPo)


McMaster may reorganize: The new national security advisor is reportedly considering another reshuffle of the White House foreign policy team that would give him control of homeland security and full access to the military and intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, McMaster is reportedly worrying some influential figures in the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon. (NYT, Politico)


Michigan mosque: A Muslim group, the American Islamic Community Center, has won a fight to build a mosque in the suburbs of Detroit, after the city settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan that accused city officials of religious discrimination. (NYT)

Stop and Frisk: The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against the Milwaukee police department over its stop-and-frisk program, saying it violates the Constitution and unfairly targets racial minorities. The civil rights group has successfully challenged the controversial practice in other cities, including Chicago in 2015. (WSJ)



U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have launched a major offensive against ISIS, taking the city's airport and fighting their way to a nearby military base. The battle is part of a major assault that started recently to drive ISIS from the western half of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraqi authorities declared the eastern half of Mosul “fully liberated” from ISIS last month. (WSJ, Reuters)



New York Times: Tour a City Torn in Half by ISIS

Washington Post: New Anti-ISIS Plan Could Change U.S. Strategy in Syria


Lebanon: Experts say that no country is more important for Iran’s influence in the Middle East than Lebanon, where the Shiite militia Hezbollah plays a major role. Many Lebanese fear the Trump administration’s plan to counter Iran in the region will have dire consequences for their country. (WSJ)

Pakistan: An explosion in an upscale shopping center in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least eight people and wounded many more. The bombing was the second terrorist attack in Lahore in two weeks. On February 13, a Taliban suicide-bomb attack in the city killed 13. (Reuters, RFE/RL)

Japan: The Japanese government has protested to Moscow over its plans to boost troop strength on disputed islands in the Western Pacific, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia. The diplomatic spat is the latest in a decades-old territorial row. (Reuters)


Turkey: Authorities in Ankara have allowed women in the Turkish military to wear Islamic headscarves. Analysts say the decisions represents a significant cultural shift within an institution seen historically as the guardian of the country’s secular identity. (NYT)

North Korea: The mysterious murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged elder brother of North Korea’s leader, is yet another episode in the annals of bizarre North Korean behavior--a whodunit with geopolitical implications. (NYT)


I Am a Member of the Muslim Brotherhood: “The Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasizes the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law. Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has lived in two modes: surviving in hostile political environments or uplifting society’s most marginalized. As such, we have been written about, spoken of, but rarely heard from. It is in that spirit that I hope these words find light,” writes Gehad al-Haddad in the New York Times.


A Free Mind in Trump’s White House: “Very few of McMaster’s predecessors are remembered for their success, because it’s a nearly impossible position. The national-security adviser has to master three fundamental things. He has to stay on top of fast-moving events around the world while helping to develop long-term American strategy across regions and issues. He has to allow the views of the key national-security officials in Washington to reach the President in an honest and independent way. And he has to win the trust of the President himself, with whom—if the White House is working as it should—he will spend hundreds of hours,” writes George Packer in the New Yorker.

Tillerson Is Already Underwater: “The secretary of state has options to play a more influential role under these unhappy circumstances, but, frankly, none of them are all that good. Unless his boss empowers him, Tillerson won’t have the street cred he needs at home and abroad to emerge as a truly consequential secretary of state. And Trump and the nation will be the big losers,” write Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in Politico.


The Countering Terrorism Center: The Sentinel

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Terror Attacks Against Religion

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