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.
An increase in U.S. military personnel and air power is already underway in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said at a news conference in Kabul yesterday, adding that the U.S. military would be expanding air support, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.
The Taliban “will see that their best option is to pursue peace,” Gen. Nicholson said at the news conference yesterday jointly held with senior U.S. Embassy official Hugo Llorens, Llorens adding that the strategy would “integrate all the instruments of American power” including diplomatic and economic support. Pamela Constable reports at the Washington Post.
“Along with our Afghan partners, we will relentlessly pursue I.S.I.S.-K and annihilate them,” Gen. Nicholson also said yesterday, using the acronym for the Islamic State in Afghanistan’s Khorasan province, vowing to “crush remnants of al Qaeda” and “increase pressure on all terrorist groups,” Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
“We are not looking for any material or financial assistance … but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions,” Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa said Wednesday during a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, according to a military press release, hitting back at President Trump for singling out Pakistan for harboring “criminals and terrorists,” Asad Hashim reporting at Al Jazeera.
The success of Trump’s Afghanistan strategy rests on Gen. Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and N.A.T.O. in Afghanistan, and he faces a tough task of ensuring the strategy’s success and appeasing the president who, according to leaks, had talked of firing the general a few weeks ago. Mujib Mashal writes at the New York Times.
The Afghani Taliban is useful to Pakistan in countering India, this dynamic has fueled the war in Afghanistan and is based on Islamabad’s fear that Afghanistan remains a route for India to destabilize Pakistan and pursuit territorial claims against it, meaning that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is likely to be strained in the coming months as Trump singled out Pakistan for its role in Afghanistan and called on India to help with implementing the new strategy. Yaroslav Trofimov explains at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s strategy is a continuation of Obama’s approach and locks the U.S. into its “forever war” in Afghanistan that “does not even pretend to contain a strategy to win,” Fareed Zakaria writes at the Washington Post.
“On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a press conference in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev yesterday, signaling that the Trump administration is considering providing defensive weapons to Ukrainians fighting Russian-backed rebels, Mattis adding that he would take his recommendations back to the White House after has visit. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you’re an aggressor,” Mattis also said, refuting the idea that Russia should view such a move as a provocation. Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo’s relationship with the agency and the president has caused concerns about interference and politicization, Pompeo having required a counterintelligence center investigating possible Trump-Russia connections to report directly to him, while trying to maintain a relationship with Trump, for whom he has been willing to engage in political skirmishes. Greg Miller reveals the apprehension among U.S. officials at the Washington Post.
Some lawmakers did not “appreciate the importance and gravity” of the Russian interference in the 2016 election, former C.I.A. Director John Brennan wrote in a memo in December last year, which was revealed by BuzzFeed News yesterday. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
The restoration of diplomatic ties between Qatar and Iran yesterday risks further inflaming tensions with Saudi Arabia and the three other Arab nations who isolated Qatar in June over Doha’s alleged support for terrorism and its close relationship with Tehran, complicating efforts to resolve the crisis. Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.
Qatar’s decision to reinstate its ambassador to Tehran is a “logical and positive move,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi told the official I.R.N.A. news agency, Sudarsan Raghavan and Erin Cunningham report at the Washington Post.
President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner discussed the “close relationship” between U.S. and Qatar during a visit to Doha on Monday, the State Department said today, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.
Japan will freeze the assets of six organizations and two individuals linked to North Korea, due to Pyongyang’s repeated missile launches and an unresolved abduction issue, a top Japanese spokesperson said today. Reuters reports.
The U.K. faces “a miserable end” if it takes part in annual joint military exercises with South Korea and the U.S., North Korea’s official K.C.N.A. new agency said in a statement issued Wednesday, Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.
The Ukrainian security services revealed surveillance footage of two North Korean spies caught stealing what they believed to be top-secret missile designs in 2011. Details of the sting operation are provided by Nick Paton Walsh, Victoria Butenko and Barbara Arvanitidis at CNN.
The U.S. could target Chinese banks with “secondary sanctions” to crack down on funding for North Korea, however there are concerns that such a measure would potentially undermine the U.S.-China economic relationship and lead to uncertainty. Yeganeh Torbati and David Brunnstrom write at Reuters.
U.S. negotiators should reflect on previous experience when approaching North Korea for talks, and there are three critical lessons that apply to the current state of uncertainty. Former senior Defense Department negotiator Alan Liotta writes at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and other U.S. officials met with Israeli and Palestinian leader yesterday as part of a tour of the Middle East, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling their discussions “constructive and substantive” while Palestinian authority leader Mahmoud Abbas stated that “nothing is impossible in the face of good efforts,” Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Any optimism that Kushner and the Trump administration could make progress on peace between Israel and Palestine has faded. Adam Taylor sets out five reasons why the “ultimate deal” seems increasingly elusive at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration’s strategy may yet yield some results due to the Trump administration’s “outside-in” strategy that focuses on reunifying Gaza with the Palestinian authority, and may open opportunities for increased trade, investment and security cooperation between Israel and Arab nations due to new and dynamic leadership in the region. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.
Islamic State fighters within the city of Tal Afar have been “completely surrounded,” according to Iraqi and U.S. officials, making the gains as part of an offensive launched on the city on Sunday, Al Jazeera reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 24. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
There is no “worse place on earth now” than the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria, U.N. Special Adviser Jan Egeland said yesterday, urging members of the international community to consider “possibilities, pauses or otherwise” to facilitate the escape of civilians, the UN News Centre reports.
The U.N. pleas come as the number of civilian casualties in Raqqa caused by U.S.-led coalition air strikes seems to have risen, and up to 25,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the city. The BBC reports.
CUBA EMBASSY “INCIDENTS”
“We can confirm that at least 16 U.S. government employees, members of our embassy community, have experienced some kind of symptoms,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, with senior State Department officials stating that they believe sonic weapons were deployed from November until this spring either outside or inside the residences of U.S. diplomats stationed in the Cuban capital of Havana. Nicole Gaouette, Michelle Kosinski and Lauran Koran provide an analysis at CNN.
The Trump administration must not give Cuba the benefit of the doubt on sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats, especially considering the fact that Cuba has increased state repression and abuse since the restoration of relations with the U.S., the Washington Post editorial board writes.
Japan’s plan to deploy the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense system would be “disproportionate to real missile threats in the region,” a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday, warning that “pumping the region with weapons” risks escalating tensions. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
The deaths of seven high-ranking Russian diplomats in nine months has given rise to a proliferation of theories, the announcement of the death of Russia’s ambassador to Sudan on Wednesday provoking questions about coincidence and conspiracy, Max Bearak explains at the Washington Post.
President Trump’s new Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is attempting to bring order to the West Wing, installing processes to inform the president’s decision-making, according to two memos sent to staff on Monday, Maggie Haberman reports at the New York Times.
President Trump “expressed his keenness on continuing to develop the relationship” with Egypt, a statement from the office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s office said yesterday, referring to a phone call between Trump and Sisi held last night. John Bowden reports at the Hill.
A suicide bomber attacked the gate of a Shi’ite mosque in Kabul today, no one has immediately claim responsibility, Reuters reports.
An air strike on the Yemeni capital of Sanaa killed 12 people today, according to residents at the site, Reuters reports
“No matter what obstructions are encountered, the Chinese air force will carry on as before,” the Chinese defense ministry said yesterday, after Japan expressed concern about bombers flying close to its territory. Reuters reports.
“We are going to be watching very closely the course of these exercises,” N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today, referring to Russia’s military exercise scheduled to take place between September 14-20, Reuters reports.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed support for the U.N.-led efforts to end Libya’s conflict, during a meeting with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar yesterday in Benghazi, also urging Haftar to respect the ceasefire announced in Paris last month. Aidan Lewis reports at Reuters.
Is Russia willing to align itself with Saudi Arabia at the risk of alienating Iran? Leonid Issaev and Nikolay Kozhanov provide an analysis at Al Jazeera.
The rise of Islamist parties in the Middle East warrants a nuanced approach, many falsely lumping Islamist groups in the region under the same ideological framework, failing to grasp the various approaches to democracy and mistakenly believing that absolute monarchs and presidents-for-life can act as a bulwark against extremism. The Economist writes.