The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Saudi-Led Forces Begin Attack on Yemen Port City

A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began an assault early Wednesday on the Yemeni city of Hudaydah, seeking to oust Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control the strategic port, the Yemeni government said. The attack came despite efforts by the United Nations to broker a deal to avert a battle it said could trigger a massive humanitarian crisis.

Its forces have “started a military operation to liberate the city of Hudaydah,” Yemen’s government media office said in a statement.

The ground attack on Hudaydah and its surrounding areas was being supported by intensifying strikes from the air and sea by coalition forces. Hudaydah, a city of 600,000 people, is the gateway for most humanitarian aid to the country. United Nations officials and others said they feared an assault on the city would worsen what is already the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

American military officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, are wary of the assault and have warned their Arab allies that their plans could result in a quagmire and further civilian suffering.
More than 75 percent of Yemen’s population is dependent on food aid, and millions are on the brink of starvation.

Yemeni troops, trained and funded by the United Arab Emirates, led Wednesday’s ground offensive, which began around daybreak. Aid workers who have remained in Hudaydah said the center of the city remained mostly quiet, and fighting appeared to be concentrated along the city’s southern edge.

The attack began while Washington’s attention was still focused on the summit meeting between President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. It was not immediately clear what role, if any, American military advisers would play in the campaign. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Guardian
New York Times editorial: Horror Multiplies in Yemen
The Atlantic: Yemen Is Not a Sideshow


Trump and Kim walk us back from the brink of war: “Despite the many warts in President Trump’s unconventional diplomacy toward North Korea, we have to give him credit,” said Victor Cha in the New York Times. “Only five months ago, based on my conversations with this administration, I thought we were headed down an inexorable path toward a devastating war.”

The biggest winner of the Trump-Kim summit? China: “In Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wildest dreams, he could not have envisioned a better outcome of President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – at least as it concerns Beijing’s interests,” said Josh Rogin in the Washington Post.

Kim Jong Un pulls off a magic trick: “Credit President Trump for seizing the diplomatic moment at the Singapore summit. But the person who most shaped this extraordinary encounter was North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who is indeed, as Trump said Tuesday, a ‘very talented’ young man who has achieved something that ‘one out of 10,000 probably couldn’t do,’” said David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

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President Trump’s pledge on Tuesday to cancel military exercises on the Korean Peninsula surprised not only allies in South Korea but also the Pentagon. Hours after Trump’s announcement in Singapore, American troops in Seoul said they are still moving ahead with a military exercise this fall — Ulchi Freedom Guardian — until they receive guidance otherwise from the chain of command.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Lovett, a United States military spokeswoman in South Korea, said in an email that the American command there “has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises — to include this fall’s scheduled Ulchi Freedom Guardian.”

In Washington, officials at the Pentagon, State Department and White House were scrambling to figure out exactly the impact of Mr. Trump’s comments. “The Department of Defense continues to work with the White House, the interagency, and our allies and partners on the way forward,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email. “We will provide additional information as it becomes available.”

In Seoul, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea hailed Trump’s summit meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Moon called the joint statement that was released after the meeting “a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth.” But Trump’s promise to end joint military exercises with Seoul left many South Koreans stunned. The annual exercises have been an integral part of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, forming the bulwark of South Korea’s defense against North Korea and Seoul’s sense of security among bigger powers in the region. New York Times, CNN
New York Times: What Happened in the Trump-Kim Meeting
Business Insider: Transcript Reveals White House Is Unsure If Anyone Took Notes During Trump-Kim Meeting
Guardian: ‘Harebrained’: National Security Council Owns Up to Widely Derided Trump Video

Lawmakers from both parties greeted a joint agreement between the United States and North Korea coolly on Tuesday, with top Republicans warning President Trump that any final accord on Kim Jong-un’s nuclear program should be submitted to the Senate for ratification.

The president’s allies on Capitol Hill said the talks represented a potential breakthrough that could lead to lasting peace with one of the United States’ most dangerous enemies. But even they agreed with more skeptical lawmakers that there was much work to be done.

Others, including leading Republican foreign policymakers, said it was unclear what, if anything, had been gained by the United States in exchange for the benefits accrued to Kim.

“While I am glad the president and Kim Jong-un were able to meet, it is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Former National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden said the U.S. had made a “pretty significant concession” in agreeing to halt joint military exercises with South Korea. He said at this stage in the game, a proverbial stopped clock would show “the North Koreans would be way ahead on points” for having been treated as equals in negotiations. New York Times, Wall Street Journal

Trump to be briefed on DOJ inspector general report: Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is expected to brief President Trump on Thursday about the inspector general report on law enforcement’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe before it is released to the public. The president “is really anxious to see the report,” said a person familiar with the planned Thursday briefing for Trump. Washington Post

Andrew McCabe sues government over documents: The Justice Department has repeatedly refused to provide former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe with documents related to his firing, according to a lawsuit filed on his behalf Tuesday. The complaint says the Justice Department has publicly defended the firing yet failed to identify for McCabe the policies and procedures it followed before dismissing him. The department has withheld the information, McCabe's lawyers allege, for fear that the materials could be used against them in any additional lawsuits. Associated Press, NPR, CBS News

Man gets 15 years for trying to join ISIS: A 47-year-old New York man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for trying to join the Islamic State group, despite telling the judge he only wanted to provide humanitarian aid to Syrians. The U.S. District Court judge told Arafat Nagi on Monday he found his humanitarian claims hard to believe in light of graphic social media posts of Islamic State violence and a photo of Nagi posing with an assault rifle. Associated Press

Mueller asks to secure docs in ‘Russian chef’ case, citing ongoing Russian operations: Federal prosecutors working with special counsel Robert Mueller said in a court filing Tuesday they believe operations to interfere in U.S. elections are ongoing and want a court to tightly control how evidence gathered by the special counsel about Internet trolling in 2016 is shared with a Russian company accused of helping to mislead American voters. Washington Post, Bloomberg

Five Russians, 3 Syrians charged with violating sanctions: Eight people, including five Russian businessmen from a company with ties to the nation’s military, were indicted in Washington Tuesday on charges they helped ship jet fuel to Syria, in violation of U.S. sanctions. Wall Street Journal


Taliban fighters have killed a district governor in northern Afghanistan while clashes are ongoing elsewhere, despite the start of a government ceasefire, officials said. The governor of Kohistan district in Faryab was killed along with eight others in an ambush overnight. Intense fighting was also reported between Afghan security forces and the Taliban in the northern provinces of Faryab and Sari Pul, with officials reporting an unspecified number of casualties on both sides. Al Jazeera

Iraq’s Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has announced a surprise alliance with a pro-Iranian political bloc led by Hadi al-Amiri in a bid to form a government after last month’s elections resulted in a hung parliament. At a joint press conference with Amiri in the Shia holy city of Najaf on Tuesday, Sadr hailed the formation of “a true alliance to accelerate the formation of a national government away from any dogmatism.”

The move by Sadr, who is opposed to Iranian involvement in the country, is the first serious step towards forming a new government after weeks of negotiations between parties. Al Jazeera


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Donald Trump offered to lift sanctions against his regime when they met Tuesday in Singapore, state media reported, a claim that contrasts with the U.S. president’s rhetoric that the economic penalties would remain.

The report from the Korean Central News Agency, which was published after Kim returned home from his meeting, noted Trump’s vow to suspend U.S. military drills in South Korea. It also said Trump committed to unspecified “security guarantees” for Pyongyang, and to “lift sanctions against it.”

State media also framed the agreements reached at the Singapore summit as a “step-by-step” process intended to bring U.S. rewards in exchange for gradual moves by Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program. Bloomberg, CNN, Washington Post


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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