The Soufan Group Morning Brief

email : Webview : Morning Brief: Incoming Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Plans To Reconsider Troop Levels
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Lt. Gen. John Nicholson, the administration’s nominee to become the next commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said Thursday that he intended to “re-look” at President Obama’s October 2015 plan to halve the number of American troops in the country by the start of next year. “These are changes in conditions that I’ll need to evaluate, if we have the right amount of [counterterrorism] capability,” the incoming commander stated. In his testimony, he agreed with Sen. John McCain’s assessment that the situation in Afghanistan was “deteriorating” and cited gaps in Afghan capabilities that could take “years to develop.” While he did not provide a specific number of U.S. soldiers to remain in Afghanistan, Nicholson said that he expects to make a recommendation on troop levels after 90 days in his new role. There are currently 9,800 American military personnel in the country. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Guardian, The Hill

Washington Post: Meet the Next Commander in Afghanistan
Foreign Policy: The Long War in Afghanistan Grows Longer
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and other Senate Republicans indicated Thursday that the chamber is not likely to go ahead with a vote on a bill to authorize the ongoing military action against ISIS. While much was made of the recent decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to add an Authorization for the Use of Military Force to the Senate calendar, Corker said that the procedural move was merely a favor to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the sponsor of the AUMF. Graham’s legislation would give the President broad authorities, as it allows for strikes on ISIS and its associated forces without a time horizon or constraints on troop deployments. President Obama has been asking Congress to sign off on an ISIS-specific AUMF for over a year. Politico

New York Times: More Is Needed to Beat ISIS, U.S. Military Concludes
Just Security: It’s All About the Associated Forces
The Daily Beast: Obama Takes the Gloves Off Against ISIS at Last
Foreign Policy: SOCOM Head Warns Loose Lips Could Risk American Lives

Oregon: Four armed militia members remained at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon on Thursday a day after Ammon Bundy called for his followers to go home and spend time with their families. The remaining holdouts indicated they would peacefully leave the refuge if given assurances that they would not be arrested. In other Malheur-related news, the FBI released a video Thursday that showed the shooting of LaVoy Finicum, the fatality in Tuesday’s confrontation between law enforcement officers and armed militiamen. The video showed Finicum speeding in a white truck while evading law enforcement, before nearly striking an officer with his vehicle and crashing into a snowbank. As he exited the truck, Finicum reached into his jacket pocket before officers opened fire. New York Times, Associated Press, Guardian

Guardian: After the Oregon Standoff: Can Lost Goodwill Be Recaptured?
Washington Post: Oregon Standoff Has Left Town Residents Deeply Divided
The Atlantic: Are the Oregon Occupiers Ready to Give Up Yet?

Gitmo: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) threatened Wednesday to maintain his block on the nomination of Eric Fanning as Secretary of the Army unless the Obama Administration guarantees that it will not transfer Guantanamo detainees to a military prison at Fort Leavenworth. “I need some assurance from this administration they’re not going to put any detainees in Gitmo on the mainland and especially Fort Leavenworth,” Roberts told reporters. On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) accused Republicans of undermining American security, as GOP leaders continue to hold-up several Obama administration appointees, including Fanning. If confirmed, Fanning would be the first openly gay Army Secretary. The Hill, Defense News

Lawfare: Will GTMO Detainees ‘Vanish?’ Ghanan Opposition Leaders Threatens New Transfers

Navy Corruption: Michael Misiewicz became the fifth naval officer to plead guilty to bribery in a massive corruption case involving an Asian defense contractor based in Singapore. Misiewicz was arrested in 2013 for providing classified information to a contractor, Glenn Defense Marine (Asia), including Navy vessel docking schedules in return for cash, gifts, and prostitutes. The bribery scheme cost the Navy an estimated $20 million. The 48-year-old Misiewicz faces up to 20 years in prison. There are more than 100 people still under investigation in the case. Washington Post, Reuters, Bloomberg
In the final Republican debate before next week’s Iowa caucuses, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the other Republican contenders took advantage of Donald Trump’s absence from the Des Moines debate stage Thursday night to criticize President Obama’s approach to national security. Cruz reiterated his proposal to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State, contrasting the high pace of airstrikes in the First Gulf War to the relatively lower rate of airstrikes—about 30 per day, according to the Senator from Texas—in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), meanwhile, made clear his preference for maintaining Guantanamo to detain ISIS-affiliated terror suspects. “We will go after them wherever they are,” Rubio pledged. “And if we capture them, they are going to Guantanamo.” New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reuters, The Hill

Washington Post: The Seven Big Issues in the Seventh Republican Presidential Debate
Wall Street Journal: Sen. Rubio: American Terrorists Will Be Sent to Guantanamo Bay
The Atlantic: The Republican Race That Might Have Been
Newsweek: Trump-less Republican Debate Has More Scripted Feel
The High Negotiations Committee, a Riyadh-based council of Syrian opposition groups, announced Thursday that they would not attend UN-sponsored peace talks with the Assad regime that had been scheduled to start in Geneva today. The rebels had petitioned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week to provide assurances that the Syrian military would cease its sieges and aerial bombardments of civilian areas, preconditions that were consistent with a resolution passed by the Security Council last month. There are no indications that the Assad regime intends to comply with the resolution. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, Yahoo News, Deutsche Welle

New York Times: Deprivation in Syria Deepens as UN Talks Loom
Wall Street Journal: Iran’s President Dismisses Calls for Syria’s Assad to Go
Reuters: Iran’s Rouhani Says Main Problem in Syria Is Terrorism
BBC News: Syria War: What Hope for Geneva Peace Talks?
Foreign Policy: Syrian Opposition Vows to Back Out of Peace Talks—For Now
The Economist: United Only by Hatred

Yemen: The Islamic State claimed responsibility Thursday for a vehicle-borne suicide attack on a security checkpoint near the presidential palace in Aden, resulting in at least eight deaths. While details of the attack remain underreported, there were some indications that the suicide bomber may have been a Dutch national. President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi leads Yemen’s government-in-exile from the southern port city, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS have carried out a series of high-profile attacks in recent months. New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters
Iran: The Washington Post held a ceremony Thursday for Jason Rezaian, the newspaper’s former Tehran bureau chief who was released in the recent prisoner exchange between the United States and Iran after an 18-month imprisonment. In an emotional appearance, Rezaian recounted how his Iranian captors sought to undermine his will to endure his captivity. “For much of the 18 months I was in prison, my Iranian interrogators told me the Washington Post did not exist, that no one knew of my plight, and that the United States government would not lift a finger for my release,” he said. Rezaian also praised the tireless diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in attendance, and Brett McGurk, the administration’s ISIS envoy who led the prisoner negotiations with Tehran to secure his release. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters

New York Times: How Iran Rejoined the World’s Economy in Just 10 Days
Guardian: Iran President Says Tehran Ready to ‘Turn the Page’ as He Renews French Relations
Reuters: Protesters March, France Eyes Business Deals as Iran’s Rouhani Visits
Associated Press: Carter “Very, Very Angry” at Iranian Video of U.S. Sailors

Paris: Security officers arrested a 28-year-old man who attempted to enter Disneyland Paris on Thursday with two semiautomatic handguns and a Quran. A woman who had accompanied him to the theme park reportedly tried to flee the scene upon his arrest. French authorities are investigating the incident, but do not appear to be treating it as a terrorism case. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters

Foreign Policy: Armed Man Arrested at Disneyland Paris

Canada: The Communications Security Establishment, a Canadian intelligence agency, revealed in a report to Parliament on Thursday that it had inadvertently collected Canadians’ metadata and shared it with its foreign-intelligence partners, including the United States and the United Kingdom, in violation of the country’s laws. The Canadian government attributed the metadata sharing to a software glitch. While it does not believe the sharing resulted in any civil-liberties abuses, the government has suspended the exchange of metadata with the so-called Five Eyes as a precautionary measure. Guardian, Reuters, CBC

Vice News: Canadian Spies Get Spanked Again for Sharing Citizens’ Data with the NSA
Ammon Bundy Stands Down: “The occupiers began marching around public property with pistols and rifles less than a week after the police officer who shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice for brandishing a toy gun escaped indictment by a grand jury,” writes Jedediah Purdy in The New Yorker. “The contrast highlighted the link between race and violence, legal and nonlegal. Some nominally legal acts are dangerous for the wrong people (witness Tamir Rice), and some ‘illegal’ acts are open to the right people. There is a real and volatile American political idiom in which vigilantes get to speak for ‘the people’ and claim the mantle of law.”

America’s Muddled Approach to Fighting ISIS: “Our self-imposed counterterrorism schizophrenia comes at a high cost for all of us, just as our anti-communist hysteria led us into the quagmire that was the Vietnam War,” writes Patrick Eddington on Just Security. “While the military wants to sabotage the group’s cyber propaganda and recruitment capabilities, FBI and intelligence officials argue doing so would close a critical window into its operations and ability to detect domestic terrorist plots.”

How to Rescue Egypt: “A return to supporting Arab autocrats may produce some short-term gains, but at the price of long-term disaster,” writes Amr Hamzawy and Michael McFaul in the Washington Post. “The Egyptian regime and its external backers must pursue a new strategy for generating regime legitimacy: power-sharing. Full-blown democracy is not realistic right now.”
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