The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Soufan Group Morning Brief, April 11, 2017
TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2017
TILLERSON VISITS RUSSIA AS TENSIONS OVER SYRIA FLARE

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Moscow today, where he reportedly plans to push his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to drop Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Coming days after the U.S. air strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians by the regime, the trip has taken on far-reaching strategic and diplomatic importance.

On Monday, the White House appeared to broaden the range of Syrian regime actions that could trigger another U.S. military response. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said several times Monday that another chemical attack or the use of barrel bombs could result in another U.S. strike. But the administration has also sent mixed signals, as the White House’s Syria policy appears to evolve day by day. Some officials have stressed the need to remove Assad, while others have stressed that fighting terrorism in the region is Trump’s top priority. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC News
Related:
NBC News: Tillerson’s Tough Russia Visit Is Not the Meeting Either Side Planned
CNN: U.S. Strike Took Out 20 Percent of Syria’s Air Force, Mattis Claims
 
FBI RELEASES 2011 REPORT OF INTERVIEW WITH BOSTON MARATHON BOMBER
The FBI on Monday released an interview report from 2011 that agents conducted with Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who in the interview claimed that he did not look at extremist material online and that four mysterious men claiming to be FBI agents had previously tried to contact him. The FBI has previously acknowledged that it interviewed Tsarnaev in early 2011 at the request of a foreign government, later confirmed to be Russia, “based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam.” Three people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in the 2013 marathon bombing, which Tamerlan planned with his brother Dzhokhar. Tamerlan died in a shootout with police after a manhunt; Dzhokhar was convicted and has been sentenced to death. NBC News, Boston Herald, Boston Globe


U.S. REROUTES WARSHIPS TOWARD KOREAN PENINSULA
In a show of U.S. might, the commander of American forces in the Pacific has ordered an aircraft carrier and several other warships toward the Korean Peninsula. The move comes days after North Korea tested an intermediate-range missile. National security adviser H.R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday that “North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior....The president has asked to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and to our allies and partners in the region.” New York Times

RUSSIA AND THE U.S. INCREASINGLY SPARRING OVER AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has voiced alarm at Russia’s actions in Afghanistan, where it’s been cultivating links with the Taliban amid a campaign waged by the terrorist group against Afghan and NATO forces. Reports have swirled for months about Russia’s increased involvement in Afghanistan. Russia’s return to the country may be  intended to counter the spread of ISIS-linked militants in Central Asia, experts say. But it also comes as a further challenge to the U.S. at a time when the Trump administration has failed to articulate a plan for ending the Afghan war. Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg

U.S. STRUGGLES TO DEFEND AIR STRIKES AFTER SURGE IN CIVILIAN DEATHS
The Pentagon has struggled in recent weeks to explain what lies behind a surge in reported civilian casualties in its air campaign against ISIS, fueling speculation that the new Trump administration has changed the rules of engagement. Military officials insist there has been no significant change to the rules governing its air campaign in Iraq and Syria, and ­instead attribute the string of alleged deadly incidents to a new, more intense phase of the war, reports the Washington Post.


STOCKHOLM SUSPECT ADMITS TRUCK ATTACK
A lawyer for the Uzbek suspect held for last Friday’s truck attack in central Stockholm said in court today that his client has admitted that he committed a “terrorist crime,” reports the BBC. "His position is that he admits to a terrorist crime and accepts therefore that he will be detained," said Johan Eriksson, who represents 39-year-old Rakhmat Akilov. The attack last Friday killed four people and wounded more than a dozen others. BBC News, NBC News
Related:
Washington Post: These Leaked Chats May Show an ISIS Link to the Stockholm Attack. Or They May Be Russian Fakes.

Egypt church attacks: The devastating bombings that killed dozens of Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday suggest that ISIS appears intent on waging a sectarian war in Egypt by killing Christians, reports the News York Times.
 
TOP OP-EDS
The long road to Trump’s war: “We now know how many cruise missiles it takes to turn you from pariah to respected member of the American foreign policy establishment: 59,” write Samuel Moyn and Stephen Wertheim in the New York Times. “And yet firing missiles at half-empty air bases does not make up for a lack of foreign policy acumen, let alone a strategy for dealing with a Middle East that has consumed American blood and treasure for at least 15 years.”

Trump’s humanitarian intervention is just getting started: “The dilemma with using bombs to satisfy this humanitarian impulse is that it will not be the last kinetic ‘something’ that Trump authorizes,” said Micah Zenko in Foreign Policy. “An unnamed senior defense official said late Thursday that the attack was a ‘one-off,’ but this is likely an aspirational statement rather than a policy declaration.”

Trump has discovered the awesome powers of the presidency. Be afraid. “In punishing Bashar al-Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, Trump has found what his presidency has lacked from the start: the praise that he craves from the Washington establishment, its think tankers, and prestige journalists,” said Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week. “He's also found the excitement of asking for something to be done and seeing it done immediately.”

The U.S. will need a diplomatic ‘surge’ in Iraq: “The United States has played a leading role in fighting the Islamic State, but now it must prepare for the fights that will take place at negotiating tables and reconciliation conferences,” writes Paul Salem and Randa Slim in Lawfare.
EDITOR'S PICK
 
SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief:  The Expanding U.S. Footprint in Somalia




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