The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 9, 2017
TUESDAY, MAY 9, 2017

Senior Trump administration and military officials are recommending that several thousand additional American troops be sent to Afghanistan to try to break a military deadlock in the 15-year war there. Officials believe the added troops might put pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

The new plan, which still needs the approval of President Trump, would represent a major shift in strategy in the war after former President Obama steadily drew down troop numbers. The strategy would also authorize the Pentagon, not the White House, to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and give the military far broader authority to use airstrikes to target Taliban militants. Trump is expected to make a decision before the May 25 NATO summit in Brussels. Washington Post, New York Times
In highly anticipated testimony before a Senate subcommittee on Monday, former acting attorney general Sally Yates said she warned a top White House official less than a week into Trump’s presidency that then national security adviser Mike Flynn had misled the vice president and others about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and was vulnerable to blackmail. Yates said that she expected the White House to “take action” on Flynn after she had an initial conversation with White House Counsel Donald McGahn beginning on Jan. 26. Flynn was not fired from his role for another 18 days.

After the initial meeting on Jan. 26, Yates said she met with McGahn the following day to discuss the issue further. She said McGahn asked her why the Justice Department cared if one government official lied to another. Yates said she emphasized that she was trying to warn them of a potential future vulnerability to Russian intelligence operatives. “We were really concerned about the compromise here and that is why we were encouraging them to act,’’ she said.

The president tweeted again after the hearing ended, saying Yates “said nothing but old news’’ and adding: “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
NBC News: Obama Warned Trump Against Hiring Flynn
Lawfare: Yates Changes Her Tune

Clapper: 1,934 Americans unmasked in 2016: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified alongside Sally Yates on Monday and told lawmakers that 1,934 Americans had their private communications, including names, ‘unmasked’ by NSA surveillance software in 2016. Clapper said he was not aware of a single instance of abuse of the process. RealClearPoliticsf

President Trump is “disillusioned” with national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Bloomberg News reports. White House officials say that Trump has clashed with McMaster in front of aides and is giving him less face time. In one incident, “Trump was livid after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president's threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. Officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share.” Bloomberg

Travel ban 2.0 arguments: Federal appeals court judges seemed skeptical on Monday that Trump’s revised travel ban was based on national security concerns rather than on campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Thirteen judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit are considering the case, and, during an extraordinary two-hour hearing, judge after judge asked acting solicitor general Jeffrey Wall about statements during the campaign and afterward in which Trump talked about a Muslim ban. Washington Post

Judge won’t move accused NY bomber’s trial: Ahmed Rahimi, the man accused of planting and detonating bombs in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, won’t be allowed to move his trial out of New York City, a federal judge ruled Monday. Wall Street Journal, Courthouse News Service

Gorka still at the White House: Despite reports that Sebastian Gorka, a top adviser to Trump on counterterrorism, was set to be reassigned to a new role over his controversial ideas about radical Islam, he remains on the job in the White House, possibly thanks to an intervention by Steve Bannon. The Atlantic

ISIS has released a gory video showing the beheading of a Russian intelligence officer it accused of spying on the group in Syria. The video was released to coincide with Russia’s Victory Day celebrations. Washington Post, Independent

Syria rejects ‘de-escalation zones’: The Syrian government said on Monday that the “de-escalation zones” negotiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey, which took effect this weekend, could not be monitored by others, including the United Nations. New York Times

Push into ISIS territory in Afghanistan: Seeking to capitalize on the death of a top ISIS commander in Afghanistan in late April, Afghan forces have surged through districts in eastern Afghanistan long held by the radical Islamist group and warplanes have pounded militant hideouts in the past week. Washington Post

“A secret global operation by the Pentagon late last year to sabotage ISIS’s online videos and propaganda sparked fierce debate inside the government over whether it was necessary to notify countries that are home to computer hosting services used by the extremist group, including U.S. allies in Europe,” reports the Washington Post.

Hard-line Islamists rise in Indonesia: Moderate Muslim leaders in Indonesia say a recent election win by a hard-line Islamist candidate is a wake-up call about the growing power of such factions in the country and the need to take stern action to stop them. Washington Post

Leaked documents rattle the Kremlin: “Russian domestic politics are being influenced by hacking tactics similar to ones Russia is accused of using to try to weaken its foreign opponents,” reports the Wall Street Journal, with leaked documents allegedly linked to Russian officials helping to fuel anti-corruption marches across the country. Wall Street Journal
Whatever happened to Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS? “On Jan. 28, President Trump ordered Secretary of Defense James Mattis to devise a plan, within 30 days, on how to defeat ISIS,” writes Fred Kaplan in “Mattis turned in his report on Feb. 27, and, according to senior officials, it is still sitting in the White House. In the 70 days since it landed on his desk, Trump has not responded to it, modified it, or approved it as policy.”

Trump’s Afghan surge is a terrible idea: “Someone needs to tell the president,” writes Douglas Wissing in Politico Magazine. “The war in Afghanistan cannot be won.”

ISIS can lose without us: “It would be a fool’s errand to predict when ISIS will cease to be a major player in Mideast chaos, and with about a third of Mosul and all of Raqqa still in the terrorist group’s hands, it is far too soon to declare this chapter of the war on terror complete,” writes Bonnie Kristian in The Hill. “Still, it is no exaggeration to say ISIS is losing, and, crucially, it can continue to lose without American intervention.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Russian Kompromat and U.S. National Security

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