The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Pentagon is considering a plan that allows the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in the Philippines, according to NBC News. Philippine armed forces — and a smattering of U.S. special forces — are already battling Islamist militants in the country’s southern islands. The Defense Department is currently considering a plan that will allow the use of American airpower against any ISIS targets that pose a threat to U.S.
allies in the region.

The authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday, said the officials. The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones.

On Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte in Manila. Tillerson made no mention of American air support, but did say that the U.S. is “providing [the Philippines] some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that is not like most people have ever had to deal with.” NBC News, The Hill
North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if militarily provoked and said it would “under no circumstances” negotiate on its nuclear and missile weapons programs.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Monday delivered the strongly worded statement to reporters on the sidelines of an Asian regional security conference hours after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed to implement the stiffest sanctions yet imposed on the Pyongyang regime.

If the U.S. attacks North Korea, the country “is ready to teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force,” the statement said. Other countries were not being threatened unless they joined the U.S. in a military attack, it said. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
Washington Post: A Majority of Americans Favor Deploying U.S. Troops if North Korea Attacks South Korea
Politico: How Trump’s Iran Threats Could Backfire -- in North Korea

Trump’s political CIA chief: The New York Times reports that CIA Director Mike Pompeo is increasingly seen as “the most openly political spy chief in a generation — and one of President Trump’s favorite cabinet members.” Yet the attributes that have endeared Pompeo to the president — his hawkish politics and eagerness to speak his mind — have been met with a more mixed reception at the CIA. The agency sees its role as delivering hard truths that are unvarnished by political preferences, and there are concerns in the intelligence community that Mr. Pompeo’s partisan instincts color his views of contentious issues, such as Russia’s interference in the election or Iran’s nuclear program. New York Times

Pentagon can shoot down consumer drones: The Pentagon has given more than 130 U.S. military bases across the United States the green light to shoot down private and commercial drones that could endanger aviation safety or pose other threats. Reuters, The Verge

Remains of 9/11 victim identified: The remains of a man killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 have been identified nearly 16 years after the terror attacks. His name has been withheld at his family’s request. The announcement by the NYC Medical Examiner’s Office marked the first new identification made since March 2015 in the painstaking, ongoing effort. Guardian

The U.S. is reportedly sending dozens more Marines to Afghanistan. Officials told NBC News that dozens of Marines will be sent to Helmand Province to aid with internal force protection. The request is reportedly not part of an impending Trump administration strategy for Afghanistan. NBC News

Erik Prince, the world’s most infamous military contractor, wants to send a private military force to Afghanistan, reports the Financial Times. In a document dated August 2017, parts of which have been seen by the FT, Prince proposes a two-year plan for fewer than 5,000 global guns for hire and under 100 aircraft, bringing the total cost of the U.S. effort to turn round a failing war to less than $10 billion a year.

“We’re spending too much in Afghanistan and it’s making the insurgency worse, through corruption and leakage to the Taliban,” the former Navy Seal told the FT. On current spending, he said, the Afghan campaign would cost the US $45billion this year and $50billion next. “I then heard about a big troop surge [proposal] and I thought that was a dumb idea . . . I’m going to contract everything; I’m going to get down to some spending sanity.” Financial Times
New York Times: Seesaw Conflict with Taliban Takes Toll in Fallen Afghan District

Pakistani Taliban starts magazine for women: The Pakistani Taliban have published the first edition of a magazine aimed at convincing women to join them and practise jihad. The inaugural front cover of Sunnat-i-Khaula – which translates as “The Way of Khaula” and refers to a 7th-century female Muslim warrior – shows a woman veiled from head to toe. As well as an advice column for would-be female jihadists, the magazine contains an interview with the wife of Fazlullah Khorasani, the head of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Guardian

Pakistani militant group launches political party: A Pakistani charity that the United States accuses of being a front for an anti-India militant group that staged the 2008 Mumbai attacks has entered politics by forming a new party, charity officials said on Monday. The new Milli Muslim League party will follow the ideology of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which the U.S. says is a front for banned militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and is run by Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 attacks that killed 166 people. Reuters, Al Jazeera

At least 22 wounded in Lahore bombing: A bomb blast on Monday wounded at least 22 people in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, a government official said, with no one immediately claiming responsibility. Reuters

UK terror trial nearly derailed by crush: A trial in which four men were convicted of planning a terror attack with bombs and knives in the UK was almost halted when a female juror kept asking about an “attractive” policeman. A woman “jokingly” asked an Old Bailey usher if the officer was spoken for at least three times, after he gave evidence about alleged terrorists accused of plotting a bomb and knife rampage between 25 May and 26 August last year. The judge faced calls from the defendants to abort the trial, after barristers claimed the love-struck juror could issue a guilty verdict just to please the officer. Independent

South Korea’s spy agency admits to election meddling: South Korea's spy agency has admitted it tried to manipulate the result of the 2012 presidential election. In an attempt to keep a conservative in power, The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that the agency attempted to sway public opinion using internet experts and social media. An internal inquiry found 30 teams worked for more than two years on the effort.  Park Geun-hye did beat liberal Moon Jae-in, but she is now facing trial for corruption and abuse of power and Mr Moon has replaced her. BBC News, Foreign Policy
Will al Qaeda make a comeback? “Many predictions about whether al Qaeda will resurge or further decline are presumptuous because they fail to identify the most important factors that could impact its trajectory,” writes Seth Jones in Foreign Affairs. “Al Qaeda’s past strength has never been linear, but has waxed and waned based on such factors as the collapse of governments in countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Consequently, the initial task in analyzing al Qaeda’s future is a methodological one: to identify those factors that could affect its future path.”

A better way to protect Robert Mueller: “Senators introduced two bipartisan bills last week to block President Trump from firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russian election tampering investigation,” write Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner in the New York Times. “Both bills mean well, but both miss the mark. While they provide Mr. Mueller with a modicum of job security, they do not prevent President Trump from interfering with the investigation.”

U.S. has more to lose than Russia in spy expulsions: “Statecraft is built on expectations of proportionality, and deporting foreign spies is no exception,” writes Nicholas Schmidle in the New Yorker. “While throwing out thirty-five Russians relieved a strain on the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence agents, a proportionate response from Moscow—expelling thirty-five C.I.A. officers, for instance—would have created another, potentially more significant, problem in Russia. ‘We would be devastated there, and lose what little capability we have,’ the senior official said.”

The oncoming drone and aerial terrorism: “While guns and suicide bombers seem to be prerequisites for strikes against structures and people, one should now keep in mind that technology can be included in the repertoire of weapons,” writes Dean Klovens in Modern Diplomacy. “The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs pose a serious security threat as the ‘up and coming tool’ as extremists develop and plan future incidents. It portends to be problematic and something security and law enforcement officials need to include, if they haven’t already, in any ‘what if’ scenario in offsetting Islamic extremism.”

How to learn to live with a nuclear North Korea: “Nuclear weapons, in other words, are here to stay in North Korea, unless the United States uses military force to remove them — a dangerous and bloody undertaking,” write David Lai and Alyssa Blair in Foreign Policy. “Yet the United States still has an indirect way to deal with the North Korean provocations. It can entertain a long-overdue but usually dismissed course of action: answering North Korea’s call for normalizing relations and removing the animosity between the two nations.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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