The Soufan Group Morning Brief




The Defense Department says it is conducting multiple investigations into a U.S. counterterrorism raid in southern Yemen last month that resulted in the deaths of a Navy SEAL, William "Ryan" Owens, and several civilians. The probes are focused on the deaths of Owens and the Yemeni civilians, as well as on the crash landing and destruction of a U.S. aircraft. Over the weekend, Owens' father told the Miami Herald he wanted an investigation into the Trump administration's decision-making related to the ill-fated raid.

Pentagon officials say the mission produced "actionable intelligence," but sources told NBC News that nothing significant has come from it. Military officials initially described the raid as a "site exploitation mission" intended to gather intelligence, but the Pentagon later did not dispute reports that they also hoped to kill or capture suspected terrorists. The White House has repeatedly called the mission a success. (NBC, CBS, ABC)



In a primetime speech tonight, President Trump is expected to make the case to legislators for a $20 billion increase in current military spending. His plan calls for a $603 billion defense budget, which is a 2 percent boost from current levels. That would also represent a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase over budget caps put in place by Congress in 2011. Meanwhile, Trump will propose cuts to foreign aid and other discretionary programs. (WSJ, Reuters, NBC)



Washington Post: Retired Generals Oppose Foreign Aid Cuts


Partisanship tainting Russia probes: The Trump administration has reportedly enlisted the Republican chairmen of the intelligence committees to push back against news suggesting the president’s advisers were in contact with Russians. The issue is expected to surface at the Senate confirmation hearing today for Dan Coats, Trump's pick to be the next national intelligence director. (AP, Buzzfeed)


Kansas shootings: Adam Purinton, the man accused of shooting two technology workers from India and another man at a bar last week, may have thought he killed two Iranians. Purinton is charged with first-degree murder and two charges of attempted first-degree murder. The shootings may become federal hate crimes. (CNN)


Travel ban: Former CIA Director John Brennan said he does not think a travel ban imposed by the Trump administration would be effective, citing a Department of Homeland Security report that says country of origin is not a major factor in determining who might be a terrorist. President Trump is expected to issue a new executive order on immigration any day. (Daily Mail)

State Department: Former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is reportedly being considered for the number two job at State. Secretary Tillerson had supported the appointment of Elliott Abrams, a seasoned Republican foreign policy hand, but was overruled by the White House. (WSJ)

Battle for Mosul: Iraqi security forces battling to take Mosul back from ISIS are facing greater resistance as they push into residential districts, where as many as 750,000 civilians are effectively trapped. Sources say there are noticeably more foreign fighters in the western half of the city than the east, which Iraqi forces cleared one month ago. (Reuters, CNN)



Reuters: Letters From Mosul School Boys to ISIS Martyrs

Syria peace talks: At UN-backed negotiations in Geneva, Syria’s main opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, is looking to Moscow to use its influence on the government of Bashar al-Assad to help end the conflict. Following multilateral talks in Kazakhstan, the Geneva meetings are the latest initiative to bring an end to the six-year war that has killed nearly half a million people. (al-Jazeera)


Chinese state media reacted with anger after a South Korean company approved a land swap with the government that paves the way for the deployment of a U.S. ballistic missile defense system. Seoul decided last year to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in response to the North Korean missile threat. Beijing says the THAAD system is a threat to its security and will do little to ease tension with North Korea. (Reuters)


North Korea: Malaysian authorities are moving to charge two women with murder in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader. Siti Aisyah, of Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, of Vietnam, could receive the death penalty. (NYT)


Australia: A man from southeastern Australia has been charged with helping ISIS develop "high-tech" missile capabilities. The arrest comes less than two months after authorities thwarted a terrorist attack intended for Christmas Day in Melbourne. (CNN)

Iran: The International Monetary Fund says Iran’s economy has rebounded from recession after the nuclear deal with world powers. Renewed sales of Iranian oil on the international market helped grow GDP by nearly 7.5 percent. (AP)


Are Immigration Centers the Next Abu Ghraib? “I’m not suggesting that immigrants are being tortured in the horrific way that prisoners at Abu Ghraib were, but I do see parallels in the aggressive stance of Homeland Security agents and the message this carries abroad,” writes Thomas Ricks in the New York Times.


How Trump Is Fueling ISIS: “President Donald Trump, in office for less than two months, has gutted the strategy used by Republicans and Democrats alike—out of ignorance, hubris or both—sending a new message from the White House, one that reinforces the jihadi extremists’ propaganda and increases the likelihood that more Americans will die in attacks,” writes Kurt Eichenwald in Newsweek.

Eat Your Spinach: “All this makes it hard to shake the feeling that we are living through a deranged re-run of the Cold War. Of course, the idea of a reprise of the superpower stand-off that dominated the 20th century has been in the air more or less since the actual Cold War ended, the stuff of countless think-tank briefings and film plots. But it has gained particular force over the last decade or so, supplying a readymade framework for understanding the mounting tensions between Russia and the West,” writes Tony Wood in the London Review of Books.  


New York Times Magazine: Department of Justification

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: A Bold Move by North Korea

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