The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

The allied military headquarters in Baghdad that is leading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria said Sunday that it had started recruiting and retraining members of a Syrian Kurdish and Arab militia to protect the borders of territory captured by the group. The militia, the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces or S.D.F., currently controls a large swath of northeastern Syria. Over several years, the new border force could grow to 30,000 members, the headquarters said in an email.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control.

But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the U.S. in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?” Reuters, New York Times, Al Jazeera, CNN, Washington Post
Changes afoot at Pentagon intel agency: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is in the midst of a concentrated push—what some have called a reorganization—emphasizing the use of advanced technology to do analysis typically done by humans. That shift is worrying some veteran imagery analysts who fear that their jobs might drastically change, and that the technology being pushed isn’t mature enough to replace human skill and analytic capability. Foreign Policy

U.S. intel agencies warned Kushner about Wendi Deng Murdoch: U.S. counterintelligence officials in early 2017 warned Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, that Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent Chinese-American businesswoman, could be using her close friendship with Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to further the interests of the Chinese government, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Deng Murdoch’s ex-husband, Rupert Murdoch. Wall Street Journal

Twin suicide bombings rocked Baghdad on Monday, killing 38 people in the deadliest attack since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State last month, and raising fears ahead of national elections planned for May. Associated Press

A group in northwestern Africa that is loyal to the Islamic State issued a statement on Friday claiming responsibility for the October attack in Niger that killed four American soldiers who were on patrol with Nigerien forces. The statement offered no explanation for the delay in claiming responsibility for the Oct. 4 attack, which American officials had said was probably carried out by the group.

The statement was attributed to Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, who was a member of Al Qaeda’s regional branch before pledging allegiance to the Islamic State nearly two years ago. New York Times

Senior Afghan officials said on Sunday that meetings were underway in Turkey between their government and representatives of the Taliban, although the insurgents denied that any talks were taking place. Video footage of the meeting was posted online on Sunday by Tolo Television, one of Afghanistan’s leading private networks. New York Times

Somali al Shabaab militants  said a former leader who defected to the government side was an apostate who could be killed. Al Shabaab fell out with its former spokesman and deputy leader, Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, in 2013. He defected to the U.N.-backed government in August last year. Reuters

Video of girls abducted by Boko Haram: A video released in Nigeria on Monday by Boko Haram purports to show girls among those abducted in 2014 from a school in the town of Chibok vowing to stay with their captors and never go home. New York Times

U.S., allies meet on North Korea: The United States and Canada will co-host an international summit on the North Korean nuclear threat in Vancouver on Tuesday, as tensions on the Korean Peninsula settle into a steady simmer. CNN

Palestinian leaders on Monday voted to suspend recognition of Israel until it reciprocates by recognizing a Palestinian state and to cease security cooperation, as the political fallout from the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital escalated. Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday thanked the ruler of Qatar for “action to counter terrorism and extremism in all forms,” the White House said in a statement. The move suggested warmer ties between the two countries, after Trump last summer called on Qatar to stop funding groups that commit terrorism, saying the Gulf nation had historically done so “at a very high level.” Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who along with Qatar are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, cut off diplomatic, travel and trade ties with Qatar last year. Reuters, Al Jazeera

Pakistani clerics issue fatwa against suicide bombings: More than 1,800 Pakistani Muslim clerics have issued an Islamic directive, or fatwa, forbidding suicide bombings, according to a book due to be unveiled by the government today. Reuters

France prison attack: Three French unions called for a “total blockage” of the country’s prisons on Monday after three guards were assaulted last week in northern France by an Islamist terrorist inmate. German Islamist convict Christian Ganczarski lightly injured three guards with a pair of scissors and a razor blade at the Vendin-le-Vieil prison, about 20 miles south of Lille. Ganczarski is serving an 18-year sentence in connection with the attack on a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba that killed 21 people in April 2002. In the wake of the assault, more than a third of French correctional facilities were already subject to work stoppages on Friday. France24
A new American leader rises in ISIS: “A two-year investigation identifies one of the very few Americans in the Islamic State’s upper ranks,” writes Seamus Hughes Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Bennett Clifford in The Atlantic, “and sheds light on the dynamics of radicalization.”

The terrifying lessons of Hawaii’s botched missile alert: “As a former secretary of defense, my advice is we treat the Hawaii incident not as a false alarm but a real one,” writes William Perry in Politico. “It highlighted an emphatically genuine risk that human error or technological failure—or some fatal combination of the two—could result in a horrific nuclear catastrophe.”

The CIA’s maddening relationship with Pakistan: “American officials have never been blind to the ISI’s duplicity,” said Nicholas Schmidle in the New Yorker. “in general, Pakistani coöperation with America’s counterterrorism campaign has been strong: their government permitted the C.I.A. to fly armed drones over Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, where many militants hid. But that close collaboration has eroded over the years, and Trump administration officials have endorsed a harder line against Pakistan as part of a plan to reinvigorate the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

The lingering dream of an Islamic State: “Almost none of the discussion about the defeat of ISIS has considered the impact of the Islamic State on the dream of some form of Islamic homeland, which predated the militants’ caliphate,” writes Azadeh Moaveni in the New York Times. “If anything, it has been revitalized by this failed experiment in Islamic governance, among everyone from young, disenfranchised professionals and activists in the Arab world to at least two generations of European Muslims, middle-class and marginalized alike, who feel increasingly alienated by societies in which they were born.”

5 myths about Boko Haram: “Recent years have brought a spate of publications about the Nigerian-born jihadist movement Boko Haram,” writes Alex Thurston in Lawfare. “Many of these publications are works of serious scholarship and journalism. Nevertheless, key misconceptions about Boko Haram persist, particularly in non-scholarly publications, journalistic treatments of the group, and policymaking.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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