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On Monday, Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, reported on his weekend tour of the Kurdish-controlled border town of Kobani, where the Islamic State was turned back by U.S.-backed Kurdish militia forces in fierce fighting last year. In comments to reporters in Rome yesterday, McGurk described a “very diverse array of committed fighters in the anti-ISIL campaign.” He also noted that the trip had been planned for a long time and was not connected to the floundering peace talks between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime in Geneva. Comprised of American, British, and French officials, the delegation also visited sites in Iraq in addition to Kobani, which has become a symbol of resistance for the anti-ISIS opposition. McGurk’s foray into Syria marked the first time since the departure of Amb. Robert Ford in 2012 that an American diplomat had been in the country. The trip is likely to draw a rebuke from the Assad regime, which considers such visits to be violations of its sovereignty. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, Voice of America, Yahoo News

Business Insider: A Top U.S. Official Made a Rare Trip to Syria, and He Tweeted All About It
Washington Post: Top U.S. General in Iraq: ‘End of the Beginning’ in Islamic State Fight
The FBI and other intelligence community officials have exaggerated the threat of “going dark,” according to a study published on Monday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The report argued that the proliferation of web-connected technologies and hardware—including cars, televisions, thermostats, and toys—will help “fill in some of the [intelligence] gaps” caused by encryption and “ensure that the government will gain new opportunities to gather critical information from surveillance.” The study also noted the government’s ability to exploit unencrypted metadata, which includes device location data, telephone calling records, and email header information. Matthew Olsen, the former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and NSA counsel, was one of the report’s primary authors. New York Times, The Hill

Lawfare: The Good News and the Troubling News: We’re Not Going Dark
The Intercept: Is Law Enforcement “Going Dark” Because of Encryption?
The Verge: Criminals Aren’t Going Dark, Says Harvard Study

Gitmo: Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), James Lankford (R-OK), and Steve Daines (R-MT) have threatened to cut foreign aid to Ghana if either of the two Guantanamo detainees transferred to the country last month escape from prison. The Republican Senators, all of whom are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, proposed to reduce aid in the 2017 State Department funding bill by $10 million per prisoner in the event of an escape. The two Yemeni detainees, Mahmoud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef and Khalid Mohammed Salih al-Dhuby, had been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison since 2002. They were transferred from Ghana last month as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to close the prison and are supposed to be held by the Ghanaian government for two years. The Hill

Huffington Post: It’s Not Congress’ Fault That Guantanamo Remains Open
Lawfare: Marco Rubio’s Guantanamo Fantasy

ISIS in North Carolina: On Monday, a grand jury indicted Justin Nojan Sullivan, a 19-year-old from North Carolina, for the 2014 murder of John Bailey Clark, his 74-year-old neighbor. Federal authorities arrested Sullivan last June for allegedly conspiring to provide material support to ISIS and planning terrorist attacks in the United States. The FBI began tracking him in 2014 after his parents reported to police that he supported the Islamic State. Sullivan’s trial is expected to begin later this month. He faces the death penalty for Clark’s murder and maximum sentences of 20 and eight years, respectively, for attempting to aid a terrorist organization and lying to federal investigators. Reuters, Voice of America, Charlotte Observer

Daily Beast: Alleged ISIS Fanboy Justin Nojan Sullivan Charged with Killing Neighbor

Countering Violent Extremism: Building Community Resilience, a federally-funded program aimed at curbing violent extremism, is making progress in Minnesota, as applications for grants come to a close, the Associated Press reported last week. The program is focused on engaging community groups in Minnesota’s large Somali population, which has been a target of terrorism recruitment. Since 2007, over 22 people from Minnesota have left to join al-Shabaab, with around a dozen more leaving to fight alongside ISIS and other militant groups in Syria. The initiative began last year and is part of a three-city pilot program that includes Boston and Los Angeles. It is administered entirely by Youthprise, a local non-profit group. Grants for the program will be announced on March 9. Associated Press
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) emerged victorious at the Iowa Caucus on Monday, securing 28 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Donald Trump came in second with 24 percent of the vote while Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) earned a third-place finish with 23 percent. Cruz was helped by a wave of support from religious and social conservatives in the state. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and for courageous conservatives across this great nation,” Cruz told his Iowa supporters during his victory speech. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Politico, The Hill

In the Democratic caucus, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) remain locked in a dead heat. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Clinton had 49.8 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 49.6, a virtual tie that means each candidate will receive the votes of roughly half of the state’s delegations to the Democratic convention this summer. The first primary will take place in New Hampshire next Tuesday. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

Washington Post: From Iraq, General Rebukes Ted Cruz’s Plan to ‘Carpet-Bomb’ the Islamic State
The Atlantic: How Many Muslims Will Vote for Donald Trump?
The Hill: GOP Leader Suggests Panel Overstepped with Clinton Email Probe

Trump: In his final speech before the Iowa Caucus on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that “if a bomb goes off our wounded warriors—instead of losing their legs, their arms, worse, they’re okay. They go for a little ride upward and they come down.” Trump was speaking about U.S. military humvees confiscated in Iraq by ISIS after overrunning the city of Mosul in 2014. Trump’s comments came shortly before his loss to Ted Cruz in Monday’s Iowa Caucus, casting doubts over his status as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. According to the Washington Post, approximately 2,500 U.S. troops have been killed by IEDs since 2001. Washington Post

Foreign Policy: Trump Says IED Blasts Send Troops in Armored Vehicles ‘For a Little Ride’
In Geneva, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura declared the formal start of peace talks between the Syrian government and the High Negotiations Committee, the Syrian opposition delegation. He encouraged the two sides to begin a “serious discussion about a ceasefire,” despite Syrian government troops, backed by Russian airstrikes, capturing a key opposition supply route near Aleppo on Monday. The two sides have yet to meet face-to-face, as de Mistura continues to play a mediator role in an effort to avoid the failed results of the last peace talks in 2014. De Mistura plans to meet separately with both sides again today. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Associated Press

New York Times: John Kerry Urges Syrian Factions Not to Squander UN Talks
Politico: Obama Losing Credibility with Syrian Opposition Leaders
Washington Post: These Are the Countries Letting Down Syrian Refugees
Foreign Policy: The United States Botched the Syria Talks Before They Even Began
Guardian: Putin Is Strengthening ISIS in Syria, Says UK Foreign Secretary
Reuters: Nations Gather in Rome to Discuss Anti-Islamic State Push, Libya

Afghanistan: The Taliban claimed responsibility Monday for a suicide bombing of a police complex in Kabul that killed at least 20 Afghan officers and wounded 29 people, primarily civilians. The American military acknowledged, meanwhile, that Afghan security forces had suffered 28 percent more casualties in 2015 as compared to the previous year. Representatives from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the United States are set to meet in Islamabad this weekend to continue a diplomatic process meant to convince the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul. New York Times, Washington Post, BBC

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Military Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Questioned
Buzzfeed: At Least 20 Killed, 29 Injured After a Suicide Bomb Attack in Afghanistan
Vice News: How the United States Lost Afghanistan
Iran: Tehran announced Monday that it had gained access to more than $100 billion in previously frozen financial assets for its compliance with the nuclear accord and rejoined SWIFT, an international banking network that will facilitate foreign investment in the country after years of crippling sanctions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani secured more than $30 billion in potential business deals with Airbus, Peugeot, and other European firms in a visit to the continent last week. Washington Post

New York Times: In Iran, New Battle Brews Over Contracts with Foreign Oil Giants
Reuters: ‘State-of-the-Art’ Subterfuge: How Iran Kept Flying Under Sanctions
Washington Post: Iran’s Ayatollah Pins ‘Medal of Conquest’ on Commanders Who Detained U.S. Sailors
Newsweek: American Judge Challenges Iran Prisoner Deal

Europe: At a meeting in Brussels on Monday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pledged to enhance security and intelligence cooperation as part of a broader European effort to mitigate ISIS-related threats. In addition to bolstering information-sharing among law enforcement and judicial authorities, the two countries are expected to advocate for the continent-wide adoption of a Passenger Name Record system to identify and track suspicious airline travelers. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Belgium carried out a series of raids to disrupt terrorist cells, resulting in 10 detentions on terrorism charges. Reuters, Deutsche Welle, Yahoo News

Argentina: In a bid to solve at long last the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, newly inaugurated Argentine President Mauricio Macri has reorganized the department responsible for investigating the incident, which resulted in 85 deaths. Mario Cimadevilla, the unit’s chief, reportedly intends to submit to the country’s legislature a bill that will allow the judicial system to try the suspects in the case in absentia. Legal experts have expressed doubts, however, as to whether such legislation would violate constitutional protections of due process. Before his suspicious death last year, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused the Iranian government of sponsoring the 1994 terrorist attack. New York Times
America’s Misplaced Faith in Bombing Campaigns: “Many think bombing is a cheap and effective alternative to spilling American blood, but there’s a counter-history of bombing that suggests it isn’t,” writes Scott Beauchamp in The Atlantic. “But the costs are all too real—in civilian deaths, operational costs, and energy sunk into a strategy that hasn’t accomplished much.”

Welcome to the Age of the Commando: “The secrecy surrounding Special Ops keeps the heavy human costs of war off the front pages,” writes Matt Gallagher in the New York Times. “But in doing so, it also keeps the nonmilitary public wholly disconnected from the armed violence carried out in our name. It enables our state of perpetual warfare, and ensures that as little as we care and understand today, we’ll care and understand even less tomorrow.”

There Is No Plan B If the Syria Peace Talks Fail: “If it’s true that the rebels are not an impediment to the war against the Islamic State, but rather a powerful potential ally, we have to treat them that way,” writes James Traub in Foreign Policy. “In the face of the impending talks, they have proved far more organized and coherent than they have been in the past, banding together behind a former Syrian military leader to form the High Negotiations Committee.”
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