The Soufan Group Morning Brief




President Trump’s first budget proposal is expected to seek a sizable increase in defense spending offset by billions of dollars in cuts to other federal agencies, including the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, according to senior administration officials. The president will reportedly keep his pledge not to alter Social Security and Medicare, entitlements that analysts say are the largest drivers of future federal spending. The news comes a day before Trump delivers a primetime address to a joint session of Congress. His budget outline, expected to be issued in mid-March, begins the months-long process to set funding levels for the following year.


During his campaign for president, Trump said he would increase the number of active Army from 490,000 to 540,000 and the number of Marine Corps battalions from twenty-three to thirty-six. Meanwhile, he pledged to increase the Navy’s fleet from roughly 270 ships to 350, and expand the number of Air Force fighter aircraft from roughly 1,100 to 1,200. (NYT, WSJ)


Wall Street Journal: Trump’s Pick for Navy Secretary Withdraws

New York Times: U.S. May Resume Military Exercise With Egypt



The new national security advisor reportedly has told his staff at the White House that, in contrast to the president, he does not want to use the term to describe the terrorist threat faced by the United States. HR McMaster is said to have struck notes more consistent with traditional counterterrorism and foreign policy analysts during a meeting he held with his new team last week. Some question whether his outlook portends friction with his new boss. (Guardian)



New York Times: Will Trump Listen to McMaster?


Trump may support inquiry into SEAL’s death: A senior White House spokeswoman said yesterday that she thinks the president would support an investigation requested by the father of William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL, into his death during a raid on al-Qaeda last month in Yemen. The father, also a military veteran, declined to see Trump on the day his son’s body was flown home. (WaPo, Miami Herald, NYT)


Issa supports special counsel for Russia inquiry: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called for a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Trump associates' contacts with Russia. GOP leaders have said for months that the Senate Intelligence Committee and its House counterpart are equipped for the job. (Politico, WSJ)


ISIS supporter: Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, a 26-year-old Virginia man, was sentenced in an Alexandria federal court to 11 years in prison and 10 years supervised release for attempting to support ISIS. Elhassan, who is originally from Sudan, pleaded guilty in October last year. (WaPo)

‘Sanctuary Cities:’ President Trump’s attempts to crack down on state and local jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration agencies are increasing the legal and political pressures on local law enforcement officials. (NYT)



American firepower is said to be playing a pivotal role in softening up ISIS opposition forces in the embattled Iraqi city. U.S. artillery, assault helicopters, warplanes, and drones are striking targets in support of Iraqi security forces. However, analysts say the toughest part of the battle for Mosul--the house-to-house combat--still lies ahead. (NYT)



Washington Post: It’s ISIS, not ISIL, Pentagon Says

Wall Street Journal: ISIS Drones Terrorize Iraqi Forces


Senior al-Qaeda leader killed: A U.S. drone has killed Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and a senior leader in the terrorist group. The Defense Department confirmed it had carried out a strike in northwest Syria, but did not say whom the attack had targeted. (Guardian)


Anti-ISIS strategy: An emerging Trump administration strategy to combat ISIS is said to also include plans to counter al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations in the Middle East and elsewhere (AP)

Afghanistan: Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, a senior Taliban leader, has been killed in an airstrike in northern Afghanistan, officials of the militant group said. The U.S. military confirmed a drone strike but not its results. (Reuters)

Tunisia: The country that has had more of its people join the ranks of ISIS than any other is struggling with what to do with them if and when they return home. Some 5,500 Tunisians have gone to fight abroad, according to UN estimates. (NYT)


North Korea talks: The Trump administration has cancelled back-channel talks in New York with North Korea’s representatives. The two sides were scheduled to meet in early March. The decision was likely a response to the recent assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half brother, sources say. (NYT)


Philippines: ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf militants have reportedly beheaded a German captive, Jurgen Kantner, and posted a video of it online. A presidential adviser on the Philippine peace process said officials had exhausted all efforts to save Kantner, who was held on the tiny southern island of Jolo. (Reuters)

Indonesia: Authorities killed a man after he detonated a small bomb in the city of Bandung. Police said they were investigating whether he had links to an Islamist group. (Reuters)


Trump Is Losing Long-Term Iraq Fight: “The biggest challenge looms beyond the immediate battle: whether Mosul and other Sunni-populated areas of Iraq can be stabilized once the jihadists are driven out. Unfortunately, in his first weeks in office President Trump has significantly worsened the chances for success,” write editors of the Washington Post.


The Islamophobic Huckster in the White House: “Declaring a religious war now would only validate the jihadist narrative and force fence-sitters to procure AK-47s. Having elevated a huckster weak on jihadist history and doctrine and unaware of what his own government has learned over decades, the Trump administration now risks exacerbating the very security challenges it hopes to surmount,” write Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin in the New York Times.

An Alternative to NATO Expansion: “It is time that Western nations seek to negotiate a new security architecture for neutral countries in Eastern Europe today. The core concept would be permanent neutrality, at least in terms of formal membership in treaty-based mutual-defense organizations,” writes Michael O’Hanlon in the Wall Street Journal.

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: A Major Blow for al-Qaeda

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