The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, MARCH 27, 2017
MOSUL STRIKES RAISE QUESTIONS OVER U.S. RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

U.S. strikes on Mosul this month are being investigated by the Pentagon after reports by locals that as many as 200 civilians were killed. Mosul is at the the center of an offensive of a coalition effort to drive out ISIS militants, and local residents say strikes on March 17 in west Mosul’s Jadidah neighborhood leveled apartment buildings, killing as many as 200 people. But on Sunday the Iraqi military claimed that the blast was triggered not by coalition airstrikes, but by an ISIS booby trap.

Still, it is the second time in a week that the U.S. military has opened an investigation into civilian deaths reported to have been caused by American airstrikes. Last week, Central Command said it was investigating a U.S. airstrike in Syria on March 16 that officials said killed dozens of Qaeda operatives, but that local residents and activists say struck a religious complex, killing dozens of civilians.

The investigations have raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties have been relaxed under the Trump administration. Two senior Iraqi officers from two separate branches of the security forces told the Wall Street Journal that their American advisers have loosened the rules of engagement on airstrikes since President Trump took office. “The coalition has been merciless,” said one of the officers, a senior commander in the Federal Police, praising the change. “The coordination with this American administration has been better,” another officer said. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Middle East Eye
Related:
Time: Civilian Casualties from American Airstrikes in the War on ISIS Are at an All-Time High
‘60 MINUTES’ INVESTIGATES WHAT THE FBI KNEW ABOUT THE FIRST ISIS-CLAIMED ATTACK IN U.S.
In a report on Sunday, ‘60 Minutes’ looked at the attempted terror attack in Garland, Texas, two years ago, which was the first claimed by ISIS on U.S. soil. Two men allegedly inspired by ISIS propaganda went to a Texas-based contest to draw the Muslim prophet Muhammad with the intent to kill. They were shot and killed by local cops before they managed to kill anyone. Not only had the FBI been monitoring one of the men for years, according to the report, there was an undercover agent right behind him on the scene when the first shots were fired. 60 Minutes

WOOLSEY: FLYNN, TURKISH OFFICIALS DISCUSSED REMOVAL OF GULEN FROM U.S.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal that he attended a Sept. 19 meeting of Trump transition officials and Turkish government ministers in the U.S. in which Michael Flynn and others discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, has been accused by Turkey of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, and discussions at the meeting reportedly focused on how to remove Gulen, who has a green card, from the U.S. without going through the formal extradition process. Woolsey told the WSJ that he came into the meeting in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions discussed possibly illegal. Wall Street Journal

NY/NJ bomb suspect: A lawyer for the man accused of setting off bombs last year in New Jersey and New York, injuring dozens, is seeking a change of venue for his trial. Ahmad Rahimi can't get a fair trial in Union County, his attorney said, because of the excessive media coverage he and the bombings have received. Associated Press


PENTAGON WEIGHS DEEPER INVOLVEMENT IN YEMEN WAR
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has reportedly asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, reports the Washington Post.

U.S. STRIKE KILLS AL QAEDA LEADER IN AFGHANISTAN
The Pentagon announced Saturday that it had killed a Pakistani terrorist leader with ties to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. The March 19 strike in Paktika province killed Qari Yasin, who was believed to be responsible for a 2008 bombing on a hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of people including two American service members. He was also accused of involvement in a deadly attack on a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in 2009. Reuters, NPR

PAKISTAN STARTS BUILDING FENCE ALONG BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN
Pakistan has begun building a fence on its disputed 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan to prevent incursions by militants, Pakistan's army chief said this weekend. Initial fencing will focus on “high threat zones” of Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The construction is likely to further strain relations between the two countries. Reuters, Wall Street Journal

Syria: Panic swept ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria on Sunday, reports the Wall Street Journal, after extremists warned a nearby dam would collapse from U.S.-led airstrikes, prompting hundreds of fearful residents to try to escape the tightly-guarded city of Raqqa. Wall Street Journal
Related:
BBC News: Syria Forces ‘Take Control’ of ISIS-Held Airbase Near Raqqa

Somalia: The Kenyan army says 31 al Shabab militants were killed Monday in a raid on two militant bases in southern Somalia. Bloomberg


Birmingham and extremism: After reports that the man behind the London terror attack last week lived in Birmingham, many residents of the UK city winced over the city’s reputation as a hotbed of extremism -- and asked why it has gotten this dubious distinction. New York Times

Iran reciprocal sanctions: Iran has imposed sanctions on 15 U.S. companies for alleged human rights violations and cooperating with Israel. Reuters


PROTESTS FLARE IN RUSSIA AS A TOP PUTIN CRITIC IS ARRESTED
In a show of national defiance not seen in years, a wave of unsanctioned rallies swept across Russia on Sunday to protest government corruption. In central Moscow, thousands of protesters chanted “Shame!” and “Russia without Putin!” in the streets as riot police set up barricades and arrested hundreds. One of the first detained in Moscow was the chief architect of the rallies, Alexei Navalny, who called on people to protest in the wake of his allegations that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed vineyards, yachts, and mansions worth more than $1 billion. Images on Russian social media showed crowds of hundreds or thousands in cities across the country.  Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
We are the war on terror and the war on terror is us: “More than 15 years later—nearly a generation—we have not changed back,” writes Thanassis Cambanis in the Boston Globe. “Shocking policies abroad, like torture at Abu Ghraib and extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo Bay, today are reflected in policies at home, like for-profit prisons, roundups of immigrant children, and SWAT teams that rove through communities with Humvees and body armor. The global war on terror created an obsession with threats and fear—an obsession that has become so routine and institutionalized that it is the new normal.”

How to defeat ISIS: “The Obama administration failed in its efforts to defeat ISIS mainly because it never took on the Shiite expansionism—emanating from Tehran and spreading through the central government in Baghdad to Damascus and Beirut—that has fueled Sunni extremism,” writes Lee Smith in the Weekly Standard. “Worryingly, the Trump administration's ISIS policy appears at this early stage to be stuck in some of the ruts left by its predecessor.”

The real threat to national security: deadly disease: “While the Trump administration is proposing significantly increased military spending to enhance our national security, it seems to have lost sight of the greatest national security threat of all: our fight against infectious disease,” write Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker in the New York Times.

Congress’s duty in the war against ISIS: “As the American military is doing its job, Congress is refusing to do its duty,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Nearly three years into the war against ISIS, lawmakers have ducked their constitutional responsibility for making war by not passing legislation authorizing the anti-ISIS fight.”
EDITOR'S PICK
 
SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Mounting Toll on Civilians in Mosul and Raqqa




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