Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Trump will meet with NATO heads of state for the first time in May, Belgium’s prime minister announced yesterday. [AP]
President Trump “provided a letter” to China’s President Xi Jinping – with whom he has yet to speak – promising a “constructive relationship” between the two nations and wishing China a “prosperous year of the Rooster” – 11 days after China’s Lunar New Year’s festival, Simon Denyer reports at the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Mexico, the State Department said, after Tillerson agreed to the trip during a meeting with Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs yesterday. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Rex Tillerson’s most visible role so far has been reassuring US allies unnerved by President Trump and some of his top advisers, observes Missy Ryan writing at the Washington Post.
An order designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization “may fuel extremism” and damage America’s relationships with its allies, CIA analysts have warned. Blake Hounshell and Nahal Toosi write at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Going through with the order could endanger US troops in Iraq and the fight against the Islamic State, senior defense and intelligence officials have warned, Karen DeYoung reporting at the Washington Post.
Trump could end up making an enemy of the entire Muslim world if he follows up on his travel ban and an order designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, warns the New York Times editorial board.
Trump was noncommittal about whether to arm Kurds fighting in Syria in his conversation with Turkey’s President Erdoğan Tuesday, according to American and Turkish officials. Kareem Fahim and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.
Russian President Putin is likely to welcome Trump’s professed strategy of splitting Russia and Iran apart, and even subtly encourage it, but because he is interested in buying time, extracting concessions and undermining American interests, not because he wants to swap allies in his war on terror, Michael Weiss writes at The Daily Beast.
The MUSLIM BAN
A list of 24 terror suspects who came to the US from the seven countries targeted by the travel ban was circulated by the White House yesterday, Fox News reports.
Courts are “so political” and it would be “great for our justice system if they could read the statement and do what’s right,” President Trump told law enforcement officials yesterday after a panel of federal judges considered whether a court order blocking his travel ban should be lifted, the Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports.
Trump’s increasing attacks on the federal judiciary are “disheartening” and “demoralizing,” Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said yesterday, Abby Phillip, Robert Barnes and Ed O’Keefe reporting at the Washington Post.
Yemen pushed for increased counterterror cooperation with the US after the American commando raid last month which resulted in civilian casualties, Yemen’s ambassador to Washington said yesterday, Saleh Al-Batati and Asa Fitch reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Anyone who criticizes last month’s military raid in Yemen does a disservice to the Navy SEAL who was killed in the operation and Sen. John McCain should apologize for calling it a “failure,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, referring to the operation as a “huge success.” The Hill’s Ben Kamisar reports.
His comments were not a criticism of the SEALS who took part, McCain said yesterday, recounting an experience from his time as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, Tracy Connor and Frank Thorp V report at NBC News.
US airstrikes killed almost a dozen al-Qaeda militants in Syria including a top-ranking operative last week, the Pentagon said yesterday. Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Turkey-backed rebel forces took the outskirts of the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab in northern Syria, the Turkish government and rebel sources said yesterday, Humeyra Pamuk and Tom Perry reporting at Reuters.
Assad regime jets bombed a rebel-held district of Homs in western Syria, killing at least eight people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al Jazeera]
A mortar attack on the government-held city of Aleppo killed two Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers and two other civilians yesterday, the AP reports.
“The CIA’s man in Syria.” Erika Solomon writing at the Financial Times describes the rise and fall of “Abu Ahmad,” once a “fixer” for anti-Assad forces, now coming to terms with failed US policy.
Islamic State fighters are trapped in western Mosul by advancing Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon said yesterday.
A cashe of documents uncovered by researchers from a former Islamic State-run facility in Mosul shows how the militants buy, build and deploy drones, Don Rassler, Muhammad al-’Ubaydi and Vera Mirnova write at The Daily Beast.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 31 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 7. Separately, partner forces conducted 12 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Iran fired a defensive surface-to-air missile yesterday, a US official told CNN’s Ryan Browne and Ben Westcott.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Two Palestinians were killed in an airstrike that hit a tunnel in Gaza close to the Egyptian border today, Al Jazeera reporting that it was unclear who launched the attack.
Several rockets fired from Egypt toward the southern Israeli city of Eilat were intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, Israel’s military said last night. [AP]
RUSSIA and UKRAINE
It is not likely that the situation in eastern Ukraine would be part of a deal with President Trump, the Kremlin said today, on being asked how preparations for a meeting between Trump and President Putin were progressing. [Reuters]
Who is responsible for the half a dozen assassinations of commanders in the Russian-backed separatist army in eastern Ukraine? Considers Andrew E. Kramer at the New York Times.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is stopping work in Afghanistan after six of its staff were killed in an ambush by suspected militants yesterday, the BBC reports. Two other volunteers are missing.
Afghan forces are preparing for a spring campaign against the Taliban. [Central Command]
An agreement to keep American troops on its soil rushed through by Lithuania at the urging of US diplomats days before President Trump’s inauguration was the first step toward locking the new US president into a NATO strategy to deter Russia in the Baltics and Poland, Robin Emmott and Andrius Sytas report at Reuters.
European Union diplomats are making a last-ditch attempt to dissuade Russia from backing military strongman Khalifa Haftar in his attempts to seize overall military power in Libya, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
Two known radical Islamists were detained by police in Germany as part of an investigation of possible plans for a terrorist attack, the AP reports.
An order that would direct the Pentagon to place future Islamic State detainees at Guantánamo Bay is nearing completion at the White House despite warnings that doing so would risk damaging efforts to combat the militant group, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports.
Language in earlier drafts that considered reopening CIA “black sites” has been dropped from the latest version, according to a copy of the order published by Charlie Savage at the New York Times.
America brought the 9/11 attacks on itself, alleged mastermind of the attacks Khalid Sheik Mohammed wrote in a long-suppressed letter to President Obama dated Jan. 2015, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The FBI’s general counsel James Baker is unaware of any planned changes to encryption policy under the Trump administration, he said after discussions between the White House and the FBI yesterday. The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports.
Former NSA contractor Hal Martin was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday accused of accumulating massive amounts of classified information at his home over several years, Cory Bennett reports at POLITICO.
NATO released new guidance on nation-led cyber operations in the first major revision of the Tallinn Manual yesterday, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.
Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem of Arizona was sentenced to 30 years in prison yesterday for helping the Islamic State by assisting two if its followers who attacked an anti-Islam event in Texas, the Justice Department said. Kareem is the second person in the US to be convicted on charges of supporting the Islamic State, the AP reports.
Indonesia’s military accepted an apology from Australia’s army chief for an apparent insult to Indonesia’s state ideology which prompted it to partially suspend cooperation with Australia’s military in January, Niniek Karmini reports at the AP.
There are “very strong” links between militants in the Philippines and the Islamic State, the Philippine defense minister said today. [Reuters]