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.
“The U.S.-Afghan partnership is stronger than ever in overcoming the threat of terrorism that threatens us all,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said yesterday, welcoming the U.S. commitment to expand its role in Afghanistan, meanwhile Pakistani officials have expressed fears that the new strategy would fail and objected to Trump’s characterization of Pakistan as a haven for “agents of chaos.” Ehsanullah Amiri, Saeed Shah and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.
“We are there to facilitate and ensure that there is a pathway for reconciliation and peace talks,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday, adding that the strategy is meant to pressure the Taliban to the negotiating table. Nicole Gaouette and Laura Koran reporting at CNN.
The Pentagon maintains more than 12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to defense officials, the figure proving to be around 3,500 more than previously publicly acknowledged, the Pentagon having historically chosen only to disclose the number of troops deployed for longer periods rather than those temporarily deployed. Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.
The Trump administration set out the tactics it is prepared to take to put pressure on Pakistan as part of its new strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opening the possibility of restricting U.S. aid and military assistance to Pakistan and a senior administration official stating that the administration would consider levelling sanctions against Pakistani officials found to be aiding terrorists. Felicia Schwartz and Saeed Shah report at the Wall Street Journal.
The first deployments of new U.S. forces will arrive in Afghanistan “pretty quickly,” the top U.S. commander for the Middle East Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters yesterday, estimating that it could take days or a few weeks, the AP reports in rolling coverage.
The U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff opened the possibility of intensifying strikes in Afghanistan and expanding training of the Afghan air force as a consequence of the new strategy, Gen. David Goldfein told Reuters yesterday. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.
“This is a kind of Obama-lite policy,” Erik Prince, the founder of private military company Blackwater, told the Hill yesterday, castigating the Trump administration for committing to a strategy that has seen costs spiraling out of control and without an end in sight. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Reactions from around the world to the new strategy are provided by Al Jazeera.
Trump’s plea to India to “help us more” on Afghanistan has caused apprehension in Pakistan, having the potential to alienate Pakistan and pushing it further into the arms of China, Salman Masood explains at the New York Times.
Trump’s comments on Pakistan highlighted the nexus between Pakistan and the Afghani Taliban, Kathy Gannon explains the connections at the AP.
Tillerson played down the possibility of victory in Afghanistan, undercutting the president’s comments that the U.S. will “win” the war, stating instead his belief that “we can turn the tide” and “at least stabilize the situation,” placing Tillerson’s objectives more within the realm of reality. Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post.
What does victory look like in Afghanistan? The metric for what success looks like has changed over the years due to the Taliban’s territorial gains, their hard line against peace talks, the growth of the Islamic State group in Khorasan province, and the role of Pakistan – suggesting that a stalemate would constitute a victory, Rod Nordland writes at the New York Times.
“Does terrorist presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan increase U.S. vulnerability to terrorist attack at home?” This is the critical that must be asked and the U.S. must understand its limitations and whether it can “achieve anything meaningful in Afghanistan now.” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen writes at Just Security.
Trump’s Afghanistan strategy is the “least worst option” and recognizes what can be achieved, however some elements of the approach can be expanded to further U.S. interests. Former N.A.T.O. supreme allied commander James Stavridis suggests ways to build on the president’s ideas at Foreign Policy.
Despite President Trump’s comments that the U.S. would not engage in “nation-building” in Afghanistan, the U.S. has no alternatives: the “only conceivable path to success lies in fostering stable and effective institutions of government” and Trump should direct his government to step up their efforts. Max Boot writes at the New York Times.
President Trump deserves credit for listening to his generals and for his “thoughtful speech” to the nation on Monday, and the new strategy allows U.S. forces to achieve more than under Obama’s tenure and includes an important focus on Pakistan’s role in fostering instability in Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.
The president’s admission that he changed his position on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is to be welcomed, and Trump’s comments reflect the acknowledgement of the realities of the U.S.’ longest war, however the strategy invites concern for its lack of an exit plan. The Washington Post editorial board writes.
The U.S. Treasury targeted 10 Russian and Chinese firms and related individuals accused of aiding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program yesterday, marking an escalation in the U.S. sanctions regime in an effort to curtail Pyongyang, Aruna Viswanatha and Ian Talley report at the Wall Street Journal.
China hit back at U.S. sanctions yesterday, a Chinese embassy spokesperson calling on the U.S. to immediately “correct its mistake” and expressing opposition to sanctions outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council, Reuters reports.
Photographs released today by North Korean state news media suggest that the country is developing a more powerful solid-fuel ballistic missile, including the possibility of an “underwater strategic ballistic missile,” Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.
“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday, noting that North Korea has not conducted any missile tests since the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on August 5, and expressing optimism that North Korea may consider engaging in dialogue, Paul Sonne reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
North Korea warned yesterday that the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises had worsened the crisis, stating that the standoff could only be resolved by “absolute force,” in comments conveyed by North Korean media, the warnings coming after a week where it appeared that tensions had been somewhat eased. Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
What systems does the Pyongyang regime need to master before it has the ability to hit a major U.S. city with a nuclear weapon? William J. Broad, Mika Gröndahl, Josh Keller, Alicia Parlapiano, Anjali Singhvi and Karen Yourish provide an analysis at the New York Times.
U.S. NAVY DESTROYER COLLISION
The commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet that has suffered four recent collisions in Asia has been removed from his post today following a “loss of confidence” in Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin’s “ability to command,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement, Gordon Lubold reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
It would be a “very foolhardy thing to do” for adversaries to test the U.S. on its perceived operational weakness following the collision of the U.S.S. John S. McCain and three other naval ships in the past year, the head of U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris said yesterday, adding that the did not believe the McCain incident would affect the military’s ability to defend the Korean peninsula and other U.S. interests in the region. Joshua Berlinger and Carolyn Sung report at CNN.
Images of the U.S.S. John S. McCain collision have damaged the U.S.’ reputation in the Asia-Pacific, particularly as the incident came two months after a U.S. guided-missile destroyer collided with a freighter off Japan, raising questions about the U.S. Navy’s capabilities, provoking reaction from China, and causing concern among U.S. allies in the region. Hannah Beech explains at the New York Times.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
President Trump’s campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona threatened to shut down the government over border wall funding, floated the idea of terminating N.A.F.T.A., suggested pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted for criminal contempt for his actions against undocumented immigrants, and railed against the media for their coverage of his comments on the violence in Charlottesville last week. John Wagner, Jenna Johnson and Danielle Paquette report at the Washington Post.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper questioned President Trump’s fitness for office today, following the president’s divisive comments at a rally in Phoenix last night which showed the “real Trump” after a more measured speech on Monday unveiling the new Afghanistan strategy, CNN reports.
Military leaders within the Trump administration are rapidly consolidating power in the West Wing, who have often been a voice for moderation and moral authority during a time of turbulence, but causing concern from some quarters. Robert Costa and Philip Rucker explain at the Washington Post.
It would be unwise to trust the military leaders within the Trump administration to rein in the president and the appointment of military leaders to advisory roles poses a risk to democracy and American values, Joe McLean writes at the Guardian.
Iraqi counterterrorism units entered the outskirts of the city of Tal Afar yesterday, making the advance on one of the last remaining Islamic State strongholds as part of an offensive launched on Sunday, the BBC reports.
The Islamic State is “on the run,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Baghdad yesterday, expressing confidence in the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces efforts to combat the militants in their last remaining strongholds, also stating that the U.S.-led coalition has taken allegations of civilian casualties seriously and that there was “no military in the world’s history that has paid more attention to limiting civilian casualties.” Hilary Clarke, Artemis Moshtaghian and Euan McKirdy report at CNN.
Mattis urged the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani to postpone the Kurdish independence referendum yesterday during a visit to Iraq, stating that the focus should be on the defeat of the Islamic State group and “to let nothing distract us,” Barzani reiterating last night that “we intend to proceed with the referendum on Sept. 25.” Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
The Kurdish independence vote should be postponed – not for the reasons set out by Mattis, but because the foundations for a successful democratic, independent state are currently lacking, and the external opposition to the referendum has the potential to undermine the Kurdish people. Muhammed Ahmed Abdullah and Bahra Saleh write at The Daily Beast.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss “Iran’s accelerated effort to entrench militarily in Syria” with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet in Russia today, Netanyahu said in a statement yesterday, Dan Williams reporting at Reuters.
At least 725 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes since the offensive to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State began June 6, according to U.K.-based monitoring organization Airwars, the top U.S. commander in Syria Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend acknowledged the reports but asked for “hard information that says that civilian casualties have increased in Raqqa to some significant degree.” Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.
The U.N. expressed concern over the reports of civilian deaths in Raqqa yesterday, condemning attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure, the U.N. News Centre reports.
Western politicians misread the situation in Syria, believing that the conflict would be resolved if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were removed from power, underestimating the resilience of the Assad regime, failing to consider what they would want in place of Assad, neglecting to provide real support for the Syrian opposition, and ignoring the growth of Islamist groups. Nikolaos Van Dam sets out the false expectations and what the West needs to learn at Foreign Policy.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 22 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 21. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
At least five have been killed and 42 wounded in a suicide bomb in Afghanistan’s Helmand province today, according to officials. Reuters reports.
Air strikes near a Houthi-run checkpoint in Yemen killed at least 35 people today, Reuters reports.
A deal reopening a border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is being finalized by Egypt and Hamas, the details of which have been revealed through statements by Palestinian politicians, reflecting Egypt’s changing relationship with Gaza amid a realignment of regional relationships as a consequence of the isolation of Qatar, who is the biggest donor to projects and Gaza and supports Hamas. John Reed and Heba Saleh report at the Financial Times.
The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France have expressed support for attempting a lasting cease-fire for eastern Ukraine, according to a statement by the Kremlin, the AP reports.
President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is in the Middle East this week to discuss Israel-Palestine peace negotiations, Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
The co-founder of the firm which compiled a controversial dossier on President Trump was questioned yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.