The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, APRIL 27, 2017
WHITE HOUSE GIVES PENTAGON MORE POWER TO SET TROOP LEVELS

The White House has given the military greater flexibility to set troop limits in Iraq and Syria, after years of defense officials chafing under a system that critics said allowed the White House to micro-manage battlefield decisions and ultimately obscured the real number of U.S. forces.

Under the Obama White House, military leaders often complained about micromanagement that forced commanders to get approvals for routine tactical decisions and personnel moves, and provide justification for any troops sent into war zones. Commanders have argued that they should be able to determine troop deployments based on the military capabilities they believe are needed at any given time. The new authority will provide greater transparency about the actual number of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria after several years of public confusion about the accurate totals. Reuters, The New York Times
SENATORS SAY THEY LEARNED LITTLE DURING ALL-HANDS NORTH KOREA MEETING
The entire Senate was summoned to the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a rare all-hands briefing on North Korea, though afterwards few said any new information emerged about the increasingly tense U.S. standoff with Pyongyang. “We learned nothing you couldn’t read in the newspaper,” said Sen Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). CNN, Washington Post

Among the options the administration is reportedly considering are additional economic sanctions on Pyongyang  and attempts to further isolate the Kim Jong Un regime in the international community. Earlier in the day, Admiral Harry Harris, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, told Congress that the U.S. needs to take threats from North Korea very seriously, and should strengthen missile defenses in key areas like Hawaii. Reuters
Related:
New York Times: The Drumbeats Don’t Add Up to Imminent War with North Korea
Washington Post: North Korea Puts Out New Video of Showing White House in Crosshairs and Carriers Exploding

U.S. LAUNCHES NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTIGATION OF ALUMINUM DUMPING
The Trump administration has launched an investigation into whether to restrict imports of aluminum from China, Russia and other suppliers — including NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico — on the grounds that they threaten U.S. national security. Officials said the increase in aluminum imports could result in the U.S. not producing enough domestic aluminum to maintain key military hardware. Last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross launched a similar investigation into whether steel imports from countries like China threaten national security. The Hill, Politico

GITMO DETAINEE: IF I’M FOUND INNOCENT, CAN I LEAVE?
Defense lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Abd al Hadi al Iraqi asked a Marine judge Tuesday to order the prosecution to find out whether al Iraqi, who is accused of running the al Qaeda army in Afghanistan, will get out of Guantanamo if he’s acquitted or completes a war crimes sentence. “That’s an impossible request,” prosecutor Navy Lt. Cmdr. B. Vaughn Spencer replied, “even if the government had a crystal ball and could foresee the future.” Miami Herald

Ivanka’s comments on Syria: Ivanka Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. might need to admit more refugees from Syria. The statement is a notable departure from her father’s immigration position, and set off a minor White House scramble. New York Times

State Department understaffing: The lack of nominees for key leadership posts at the State Department is likely to linger into 2018, because Secretary Rex Tillerson has done almost nothing to select leaders for the White House’s consideration, reports the New York Times.


AMERICAN DETAINED IN TURKEY COULD FACE CHARGES FOR FIGHTING FOR ISIS
An American and his family who were living in territory held by ISIS in Syria have been detained in Turkey after reportedly surrendering to Turkish border guards. Kary Paul Kleman, a former Florida resident, moved his family to Syria from Dubai in 2015, but not long after arriving there, the 46-year-old Kleman, a convert to Islam, told his family back home that he had learned the information that led him there “was all a scam.” The family denies that Kleman ever fought for ISIS. Guardian, CNN
Related:
Guardian: ISIS Faces Exodus of Foreign Fighters as ‘Caliphate’ Crumbles

EXPLOSION ROCKS DAMASCUS AIRPORT
A large explosion rocked the area near Damascus International Airport early Thursday, in what official Syrian state media said was an Israeli missile strike. Israel neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the attack. Wall Street Journal

Afghan president’s challenges: Allies of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani say he faces a number of critical challenges in the coming months, as Taliban and ISIS militants appear likely to test his security forces and political upheaval threatens to alienate his allies around the country. New York Times


CHINA BANS MUSLIM NAMES IN XINJIANG
In an effort to “curb religious fervor” in the western region of Xinjiang, home to more than 10 million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group, Chinese authorities have prohibited parents from choosing names like “Muhammad,” “Arafat” and “Jihad” for their children. If residents do not comply, they risk forfeiting critical benefits for their children, including education and health care. New York Times

United Kingdom: Prosecutors in London have accused a university student who allegedly had an interest in weapons and extremism of planting a homemade bomb on a London subway train with the intention of causing carnage. Associated Press
 
 
TOP OP-EDS
Kim Jong Un is a survivor, not a madman: “Everyone loves thinking of North Korea as crazy,” writes Andrei Lankov in Foreign Policy. “As a guide for understanding North Korea, this analysis is just plain wrong. As a guide for crafting policy toward Pyongyang, it may be catastrophic. North Korea’s system might look bizarre to us from the outside, but the Kims are the ultimate political survivors, hard-edged rationalists whose actions have always had a clear purpose: keeping the family in power. Seeing them as madmen is not only wrong, but also dangerous.”

The axis of evil is back: “Under Donald Trump's administration, the ‘axis of evil’ is back, though in somewhat altered form,” writes Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in CNN.com. “Recently Iran, North Korea and Syria (replacing Iraq) have joined ISIS as the administration's key bogeymen.”

How to stabilize Afghanistan: “Russian and Iranian support could enable the Taliban to win the long-term occupation of a provincial capital this summer, which would further erode Afghan government legitimacy,” writes Scott Worden in Foreign Affairs. “To head off such an outcome, the new Trump administration must consider an approach that brought some success in the aftermath of the 2001 U.S. invasion: rebuilding a regional consensus with Russia and Iran—as well as China, India, Pakistan, and the Gulf states—to stop funding proxies and support stability in Afghanistan.”
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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Outlook for U.S.-Russia Relations




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