Fdd's overnight brief

January 29, 2021

In The News


President Biden’s national security team foresees a rocky road in pursuing one of his principal foreign policy promises: persuading Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal and then pressing for a follow-on accord that sets tougher limits. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden has named Robert Malley, a veteran Middle East expert and former Obama administration official, to be his special envoy for Iran, two senior State Department officials said Thursday night. – New York Times

Iran has exceeded 17 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium within a month’s time, state TV reported Thursday, moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels amid heightened tensions with the U.S. – Associated Press

Iran said Thursday it plans to install 1,000 new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility within three months and that its scientists had exceeded previous goals for uranium enrichment. – Times of Israel

The United States should act first by returning to world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that it ditched in 2018, the Iranian foreign minister tweeted on Thursday after Washington demanded Tehran reverse its breaches of the pact first. – Reuters

Tehran will not accept U.S. demands that it reverse an acceleration of its nuclear programme before Washington lifts sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday at a news conference in Istanbul. – Reuters

A top Iranian diplomat says the “window is closing” for the U.S. to nix sanctions against the country and rejoin the 2015 nuclear pact. – The Hill

A recent poll found former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be the preferred candidate for this June’s presidential elections. […] Ahmadinejad won’t say if he plans to run for office again right now. I ask if he, like many, thinks the next President whoever he is, will be a hardliner like himself. He leaves it to others to read the tea leaves. – Fox News

Elliott Abrams writes: Many issues relating to Iran are complicated, but one is very simple: Iran keeps taking American hostages. The Biden administration must secure their releases. And it shouldn’t stop there: It should also take action to end hostage-taking by the regime in Tehran. Not one sanction on Iran should be lifted until this has been achieved. – Washington Post

Seth Cropsey writes: The Biden administration should respond carefully. […]Mr. Biden’s response to the challenge Iran issued by arresting an American businessman two days before the new administration took office will give the world a good indication of future U.S. policy toward Iran. – Real Clear Defense


A Washington-based Syrian rights group filed a case with the International Criminal Court on Thursday, calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by Greece for its mistreatment of refugees. – Associated Press

Syrian businessman George Haswani denied any links on Wednesday to last year’s explosion that killed 200 people in Beirut, telling Reuters that he knew nothing about a company linked to the purchase of the fertiliser that exploded in the port. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: Unfortunately, as Blinken clearly recognizes, the United States cannot afford to just abandon Syria and trust Moscow and Tehran to handle it. Without a real political solution that provides millions of Syrians with some basic dignity, safety and justice, the conditions that caused the uprising 10 years ago will only get worse, not better. That means more refugees, more extremism and more instability in the region and beyond. – Washington Post


Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday “there are reasons to hope” for progress toward ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict after years of inaction. – Associated Press

Israeli leaders played down on Thursday a possible Biden administration review of U.S. arms sales to the United Arab Emirates that girded the Gulf power’s rapprochement with Israel. – Reuters

Ensuring US President Joe Biden’s administration works to fully and effectively prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is the first priority for Israel, before the oft-discussed clauses to stop Tehran’s ballistic missile program and malign actions throughout the Middle East, senior Israeli officials involved in formulating Israel’s strategy said this week. – Jerusalem Post

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), arrived in Israel on Thursday for talks with IDF top brass about Iran and other regional challenges. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed on Thursday that Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons following a recent statement from the IDF Chief of Staff that Israel has drawn up new plans for a strike on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. – Algemeiner 

The Biden administration’s decision to suspend the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates won’t affect Israel’s ties with the Gulf country. – Bloomberg

Jonathan Spyer writes: Only the very optimistic could believe in real strategic cooperation between Erdogan’s Turkey and Israel. Far more likely, the Turkish president would be happy to gain from the increased legitimacy afforded him by an improved atmosphere with the Jewish state during the difficult period of Biden’s accession. The improved atmosphere could then be ditched at a later date, when the tactical reasons for it no longer pertain. By taking Erdogan’s bait, however, Israel will damage its emergent connections with the four other countries mentioned above, for no lasting gain. – Jerusalem Post

Judah Ari Gross writes: The general understanding among Israeli defense officials is not that Iran would use a nuclear bomb against Israel should it someday acquire one — knowing that it would likely face a far more punishing retaliatory strike if it ever did. […]This is not, in any way, meant to diminish the threat posed by such a weapon, but rather more accurately predict how it would be used. – Times of Israel 

Assaf Orion and Mark Montgomery write: The IDF and U.S. combatant commands have long worked with each other and the Gulf states to build flexible bridges across formal boundaries, recognizing the need for partnership long before the Abraham Accords. Shifting Israel to CENTCOM recognizes the importance of these new formal partnerships. After the wedding comes marriage, of course, so these declarations are but a first step on the long formal path. If properly developed, however, this transition could further benefit each partner’s security and interests. – Washington Institute


Iraqi security forces have killed Abu Yaser al-Issawi, an Islamic State commander who had claimed to be the leader of the group in Iraq and its “deputy caliph”, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said on Thursday. – Reuters

Pope Francis is set for an historic meeting with Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a trip to Iraq planned for March, the patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Sadiq Hassaan writes: It has become clear that, ironically, the militias hiding under the umbrella of the PMF do not recognize Sistani’s fatwa and are acting in Iran’s interests. They are prepared to harm state institutions and security forces. […]Thus, the militias have lost many of the justifications for their power, and options for protecting their presence are diminishing. It is only a matter of time now for this lack of justifications to become a topic of more public discussion, especially among those who joined the PMF due to a sense of nationalism and the need for employment. – Washington Institute


Angry crowds gathered outside the Tripoli homes of some of Lebanon’s top politicians on Thursday, torching rubbish and smashing surveillance cameras as rage grows over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. – Agence France-Presse

Lebanese Cedar, the cyber unit of Hezbollah, hacked telecom companies and internet service providers using Oracle and Atlassian server’s vulnerabilities. – Arutz Sheva

Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has been charged with dereliction of duty and breach of trust, the state news agency reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, released a short film in January outlining his plans for the Line, a postmodern ecotopia to be built on the kingdom’s northwest coast. – New York Times

The US decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pending a review has led to renewed calls for the UK, Riyadh’s second largest arms supplier, to reassess its own policy. – The Guardian

Elana DeLozier writes: February 20 will mark the anniversary of the beginning of Haitham’s rule, and in that time he has put his stamp on the government by devolving power to ministers, reshuffling the cabinet and military, codifying a new succession system, and facilitating desperately needed economic reform. The sultan may be betting that he can accomplish more by delegating. This bet seems worth taking given that the country’s major economic problems are unlikely to be resolved by a handful of ministers, but will instead require efficiency throughout the bureaucracy. – Washington Institute

Steven A. Cook writes: Energy resources from the Persian Gulf are still important to the United States, but not like they once were, diminishing the urgency long attached to the Middle East and importance of close ties with countries like Saudi Arabia. The stakes may no longer be so high, giving the Biden team more room to maneuver. It just seems that up until now few inside the Beltway have worked through what accountability means in a rigorous way. That is unfortunate, because foreign policy by exhortation is likely to fail. – Foreign Policy

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The question for the Biden administration is whether it wants to use arms sales, or the appearance of slowing down such sales, as leverage. Washington has already been slow in the past to supply partners such as Saudi Arabia or the UAE with armed drones. […]In contrast to Beijing’s interest, that would be seen positively in Washington. Port operations, F-35s, peace deals and all these facets linking Israel, the UAE and the US are a multi-layered cake that can play a role in regional stability. The US administration would likely look positively on this growing relationship, with F-35s eventually in the pipeline. – Jerusalem Post


The U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for thousands of foreign fighters and mercenaries to immediately leave Libya, with Guterres demanding that they “leave the Libyans alone.” – Reuters

Libya’s Farigh field, which produces gas and petroleum condensates, was brought back on stream on Thursday after a one-year halt, the north African nation’s state-oil producer said on its Facebook page. – Reuters

The United States called on Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to immediately halt their military interventions in Libya as demanded in a cease-fire agreement, and accept Libyan sovereignty as it moves to unify its government, hold elections and end years of fighting. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

Former US president Donald Trump’s mould-breaking approach has reshaped decades of Middle East diplomacy, but his legacy in the troubled region has quickly come under attack from his successor. – Agence France-Presse

Asli Aydintasbas writes: Americans have never understood how to deal with Erdogan, and the Turkish president has never tired of playing hardball. Perhaps the key to fixing this relationship this time is a little social distancing. Rather than fixating on a big reset from the top, Turkey and the United States might do better with baby steps, keeping the door open for a better future. – Washington Post

Amr Adly writes: We have already seen this in parts of Latin America since the 1980s and until the present. […]Tunisia may be on the same path. Demands for access to economic opportunities and the redistribution of income and wealth have grown louder since 2011. These will remain the basis for contestation in the foreseeable future. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korea and the United States should seek an initial denuclearisation deal that includes a halt to the North’s nuclear activity and a cut in its programme in exchange for some sanctions relief, South Korea’s prime minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Nearly four years after the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, a new documentary seeks to shed light on the brazen airport murder and the involvement of the two young women accused of carrying it out. – Reuters

Daniel Post writes: In the near term, a nonnuclear North Korea is less important than avoiding a nuclear war. The nonuse of nuclear weapons is just as critical as the nonpossession of them. Deterring their use is possible while at the same time working, in a firm but new and more conciliatory way, toward their eventual removal. – War on the Rocks


A Tibetan businessman has been released from prison in China after completing a five-year sentence for “inciting separatism” by campaigning for Tibetan language education, including in interviews with The New York Times, his lawyer said on Friday. – New York Times

China said it would no longer recognize a type of British passport that millions of Hong Kong people are eligible for, as tensions rise between the nations over the U.K.’s plan to offer a pathway to citizenship for the passport holders. – Wall Street Journal

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday he hopes there will be a “reset” in U.S.-China relations, acknowledging that while the countries had “different views” on human rights, they should work together on climate action. – Reuters

China toughened its language towards Taiwan on Thursday, warning after recent stepped up military activities near the island that “independence means war” and that its armed forces were acting in response to provocation and foreign interference. – Reuters

Common interests between China and the United States outweigh their differences, Vice President Wang Qishan told a delegation of U.S. representatives on Friday, amid heightened tensions between the two nations. – Reuters

China will prevent and resolve new risks and challenges brought about by new technologies, new businesses and new technological formats, Xiao Yaqing, minister of industry and information technology, said on Thursday. – Reuters

Experts from the World Health Organization visited a Wuhan hospital Friday as the fieldwork began in a closely watched coronavirus origins probe that will take in a food market presumed to be “ground zero” of the pandemic. – Agence France-Presse

Any attempt to contain China is “mission impossible”, the country’s defence ministry warned the US on Thursday, as the Biden administration works to shore up its Asian alliances against Beijing. – Agence France-Presse

The US Treasury has delayed the implementation of a ban on Americans investing in companies with suspected ties to the Chinese military, which had been imposed by Donald Trump after he lost the presidential election. – Financial Times

The inclusion of China’s state-owned commercial jet maker on the Trump administration’s sanctions list could disrupt Beijing’s plans to carve out a big piece of the lucrative industry for its homegrown champion, given the company’s high dependence on US suppliers. – Financial Times

Chinese military aircraft simulated missile attacks on a nearby US aircraft carrier during an incursion into Taiwan’s air defence zone three days after Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to intelligence from the US and its allies. – Financial Times

The largest biotech firm in the world wasted no time in offering to build and run COVID testing labs in Washington, contacting its governor right after the first major COVID outbreak in the U.S. occurred there. The Chinese company, the BGI Group, made the same offer to at least five other states, including New York and California, 60 Minutes has learned. – CBS News

Sen. Marco Rubio writes: The United States cannot afford to keep supporting the CCP and its state-led economic model, whether inadvertently or deliberately, through misguided economic and financial policies. It is high time that we realigned our economic activities with our national interests and political values. Biden will have to make many tough choices. But when it comes to China’s exploitation of U.S. capital markets, the choice facing him is simple: support American workers and our national security, or side with Wall Street and the CCP. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: It’s doubtful that Blinken sees this the same way. While he agrees that China’s campaign in Xinjiang Province was genocide, he does not appear to share Pompeo’s broader view that China should be treated with the kind of scorn reserved for the worst villains of modern times. On Wednesday, Blinken described the U.S.-China relationship as one that “has some adversarial aspects to it” but also “has cooperative ones,” such as working together to combat climate change. That’s a fine way to approach a great power rival. But it’s an inadequate response to a state that the U.S. government says has committed genocide. – Bloomberg


For many Afghans, the sneakers evoke only one emotion: fear.That’s because they’re beloved by Taliban fighters as a status symbol even as they have become a gruesome marker of an unending war, the sneakers’ white silhouette often cutting across Afghanistan’s battlefields of dirt, sand and blood. – New York Times

The Biden administration believes it is hard to see a way forward for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban unless the militant group meets its commitments under a 2020 deal, although Washington remains committed to the effort, the Pentagon said on Thursday. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said he has asked Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to stay on as the U.S. special representative to the Afghanistan peace process. – Reuters

A week after U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said it would review Washington’s peace deal with the Afghan Taliban, the fate of the nearly year-old agreement is in the balance. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

South Asia

The White House expressed outrage on Thursday that Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of an Islamist convicted of beheading American journalist Daniel Pearl. – Reuters

The U.S. is prepared to prosecute in the United States the man acquitted by Pakistan’s top court of the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday. – Reuters

India has strengthened military forces along its disputed Himalayan border with China, President Ram Nath Kovind told a joint session of parliament on Friday. – Reuters

Pakistan’s government on Friday petitioned the Supreme Court to review its decision to free an Islamist and his co-accused convicted of kidnapping and beheading U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, the Pearl family’s lawyer said. – Reuters

China opposes any discriminatory and restrictive measures against its firms, a commerce ministry spokesman said on Thursday, in response to queries about India’s continued ban on 59 Chinese apps. – Reuters

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday he was following with “great concern” developments in Myanmar, where military threats and coup fears have overshadowed the planned opening of parliament. – Reuters 

Myanmar’s army chief has raised the prospect of scrapping the country’s constitution as fears swirl about a possible coup by the military over electoral fraud concerns. – Agence France-Presse

Husain Haqqani writes: After years of denying what was known to much of the world, Pakistan’s leaders now acknowledge that their country’s relationship to terrorism has been somewhat complicated. […]Even ardent Western skeptics of Pakistan’s army and intelligence services would applaud if Gen. Bajwa succeeded in turning away from his predecessors’ policies. But the Supreme Court’s decision in Mr. Sheikh’s case suggests that Pakistan has a long way to go to overcome jihadism. – Wall Street Journal

Aparna Pande writes: India knows that it might not be able to reduce China’s deep economic and security ties with Pakistan. But its efforts to win back Sri Lanka, and maintain Indian influence in the Maldives, Nepal, and Bangladesh continue. ‘Vaccine diplomacy’ is India’s latest move on the region’s political chessboard. – The Hill


The Pentagon reaffirmed its longstanding support to Taiwan’s self-defense on Thursday and said there was no reason that tensions between China and Taiwan “need to lead to anything like confrontation.” – Reuters

The Philippines may benefit if there is a renewed emphasis on Asia by the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, which could help act as a counterbalance to China in the region, the country’s defence minister said on Friday. – Reuters

Alphabet Inc’s Google has vowed to withdraw its main search engine from Australia, while Facebook Inc says it will block news sharing if the government proceeds with a law to make them pay domestic media outlets for content they feature. – Reuters

United States President Joe Biden’s new administration may hold meetings with Chinese counterparts at a World Economic Forum’s summit in Singapore in May, the organisation’s president said on Friday. – Reuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday hailed a new visa scheme that offers qualifying Hong Kong citizens a route to British citizenship – a programme launched in response to China’s new security laws in the former colony. – Reuters

Britain’s government on Friday vowed to stand by the people of its former colony Hong Kong against a Chinese crackdown as it prepared to launch a new visa scheme potentially benefiting millions. – Agence France-Presse

A gay couple were flogged in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province Thursday, justice officials said, in a public spectacle lambasted by human rights groups. – Agence France-Presse

The Philippines said U.S. President Joe Biden’s government vowed that America would help the Southeast Asian nation if there was an armed attack in the South China Sea, repeating an earlier pledge made by former President Donald Trump’s administration. – Bloomberg

U.S. President Joe Biden and his team staked out early opposition to Chinese territorial claims in a series of calls to Asian allies, as Beijing warned that trying to contain the country was “mission impossible.” – Bloomberg

National security adviser Jake Sullivan has restructured the National Security staff in the Middle East and Asia directorates — downsizing the team devoted to the Middle East and bulking up the unit that coordinates U.S. policy toward the vast region of the world stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. – Politico

Kyrgyzstan’s new president has vowed to end two decades of political instability in the Central Asian nation with a constitutional overhaul that will drastically strengthen the powers of his office, even as he rebuffed critics’ claims that his reforms will push the country towards one-man rule. – Financial Times

Armenian police have arrested at least 21 people during protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over his handling of a six-week war with Azerbaijan. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Tajik opposition politician Mahmurod Odinaev has been sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of hooliganism and “calling for extremism.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Two Singapore mosques that authorities said were the targets of a planned terrorist attack by a 16-year-old student stayed open Thursday as police stepped up patrols in the area. – Associated Press


A Moscow judge denied Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s appeal for release from detention Thursday, after the opposition leader slammed the court process and thanked protesters for showing that his supporters “cannot be intimidated.” – Washington Post

The president, Anders Besseberg, had led biathlon’s governing body for more than two decades by then, and he was accustomed to receiving gifts from his Russian hosts. Cash-filled briefcases. Luxury vacations. – New York Times

Tens of thousands heeded Navalny’s call to stage nationwide protests following his arrest upon return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve toxin. – Agence France-Presse

After Donald Trump’s four-year flirtation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden is setting a new, colder tone — unhesitant criticism, despite openness on arms control. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. President Joe Biden “did not hold back” in his phone call this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday. – Reuters

John Thornhill writes: While he may exercise extraordinary sway over the younger, online generation, Mr Navalny will struggle to shift older, offline Russians who still wield brute power. As shown in neighbouring Belarus, a political strongman can defy mass protests for months — so long as his inner circle does not split. – Financial Times

Rose Gottemoeller writes: New talks and the new agreements that emerge from them will be Joe Biden’s own. I have no doubt, given my experience working with him on the ratification of New START, that he will have the savvy to make a bipartisan case for them. He understands that any agreement to control or limit nuclear arms must serve U.S. national security interests. He will make sure that they do. – The Hill

George Barros writes: The Zapad 2021 exercises will likely support Putin’s efforts to establish a continuous Russian military presence in Belarus. Zapad 2021 will emphasize the logistical activities necessary to establish supply lines that could support a sustained Russian presence in Belarus. Kremlin-linked newspaper Izvestia reported that Zapad 2021 participants—likely Russian WMD logistics units—will establish a special logistics base to supply troops participating in Zapad 2021 with fuel, lubricants, food, and other materials. This revelation is the latest in a series of indicators of Russia setting conditions to create supply lines to Belarus to support a permanent or near-permanent deployment. – Institute for the Study of War

Mathieu Boulègue and Alina Polyakova write: Chaos strategy through hybrid, multi-vector warfare is here to stay. The consequences of this are many and unwanted, and notably include the potential for miscalculation with the West. To avoid such a situation, U.S. experts and leaders can learn much from the knowledge and experiences of allies and partner states in Europe — countries and institutions which have long been contending with the most aggressive forms of Russia’s hybrid warfare. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Kalev Stoicescu writes: Western countries have to help their citizens become more aware of Russia’s aims and hybrid tools, including its subversive propaganda and disinformation. Finally, Russia’s money laundering and export of corruption undermine Western countries and societies. It makes little sense or impact to counter only Russia’s efforts in cyberspace and the media, or to try to limit European dependence on Russian energy without rooting out Russian money laundering and corruption. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Governments have poured billions of dollars into helping drug companies develop vaccines and are spending billions more to buy doses. But the details of those deals largely remain secret, with governments and public health organizations acquiescing to drug company demands for secrecy. – New York Times

A court in Frankfurt on Thursday convicted a German neo-Nazi of murdering a local politician, and sentenced him to life in prison for what the prosecutor called the country’s first political assassination by far-right extremists since the end of World War II. – New York Times

Germany is “highly valued” as a station for American soldiers, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in his first conversation with her since taking up his new post, the German Defense Ministry said Thursday. – Associated Press

Ukraine has launched a criminal investigation into attempts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said in a statement on the presidential website on Thursday. – Reuters

A top European Union official cancelled a meeting set for Thursday with the UK’s new envoy to Brussels amid a spat over Britain’s refusal to grant the EU’s envoys full diplomatic status in London following Brexit, an EU official said. – Reuters

The U.S. Navy has sent a third warship into the Black Sea as it steps up its presence in the strategic region. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Philip Stephens writes: Brexit demands a fundamental reappraisal of UK security and defence interests — and of the spread of alliances and capabilities it needs to safeguard them. Close collaboration with European allies, if not the EU, will inevitably be part of this, as will the relationship with Washington. A clear-sighted assessment, however, would also ask if the UK could not deploy its diplomatic, intelligence and military strengths to make a more distinctive contribution to international security. – Financial Times

Precious Chatterje-Doody writes: There has been a political reticence to investigate interference in the EU referendum, or to impose stricter regulation of political donations and interests. While cyber safeguards are moving in a promising direction despite constant technological developments, media safeguards are still being worked out through the U.K.’s legislative processes: foreign agent registration, amendments to the Official Secrets Act, and an Online Safety Bill remain pending. Russia’s “influence attempts” will continue to take advantage of such opportunities. – Center for European Policy Analysis


From the start of the pandemic, the Tanzanian government has been widely criticized for its approach to the virus, and Mr. Magufuli’s personal denial of the severity of the public health concerns has grown increasingly problematic in recent months.  – New York Times

The United States says it has directly “pressed senior levels” of Eritrea’s government to immediately withdraw its troops from neighboring Ethiopia, where witnesses have described them looting and hunting down civilians in the embattled Tigray region. – Associated Press

Pirates who kidnapped 15 Turkish crew members of a cargo ship off the West African coast, have made contact with the shipping company, Turkish media reports said Thursday. – Associated Press

The apparent secret recruitment of young Somali men for a fighting force in Eritrea is stirring public anger in Somalia, a poor country where opportunities to work abroad are eagerly sought. – Reuters

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s sudden replacement of his top military commanders may be a welcome change in a country frustrated over a decade-long insurgency, but on the ground, soldiers face a complex mix of conflicts. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

So, with President Biden now in the White House, migrants who had wept with joy and relief at his election hoped he would transform immigration policy and improve their chances of getting into the United States. – New York Times

A special tribunal system set up in Colombia to process war atrocities has accused eight former rebel commanders of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the guerrillas’ practice of kidnapping people during the country’s decadeslong civil conflict. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration will review U.S. policy on Cuba, the White House said on Thursday, after former President Donald Trump rolled back a historic Obama-era detente with Havana. – Reuters

The Biden administration on Wednesday paused or put under review a wide swath of Trump-era foreign policies as America’s new top diplomat took the helm of the State Department. – Associated Press

Mary Vought writes: Foreign policy will present additional challenges. Encouragingly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the Xinjiang genocide declaration, “that would be my judgment as well.” It appears Mr. Biden agrees. […]Mr. Biden has spoken about national unity, pitching himself as the man to help the U.S. heal. That’s harder than it sounds. He shouldn’t make it even more difficult by undoing the policies that respect and promote religious freedom at home and abroad. – Wall Street Journal

Sharon Burke writes: The United States needs to be tough in the Arctic, to be sure, but it also needs to be smart. There is an icebreaker gap the U.S. government needs to take seriously, but as Paul Avey has written, even that is overhyped, relative to other strategic investments the United States should be making. The Arctic has the potential to be a gigantic money pit, and if American policymakers do not take climate change into account, they may find they have spent money on the wrong things at a time when the opportunity costs are brutally high. – War on the Rocks


Facebook Inc.’s independent content-oversight board issued its first five rulings Thursday, overturning four instances where it found the company unfairly infringed upon users’ speech on the platform or misapplied vague rules on content that could cause imminent harm. – Wall Street Journal

A group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate on Thursday introduced legislation intended to increase the privacy and security of personal health data collected in connection to the COVID-19 pandemic. – The Hill

Shortly after US President Joe Biden took office on January 20, 2021, an image surfaced online that purported to show a tweet from him thanking Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and referring to him as a “world leader”. The claim is false; the tweet was published on an imposter account that has since been suspended. – Agence France-Presse

Facebook’s independent oversight board will start accepting public comments on its decision on whether to permanently ban former President Trump starting Friday, the group said. – The Hill

ent from discredited websites that masquerade as journalism proliferated on Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. in 2020 despite the companies’ efforts to stem disinformation, according to research from the German Marshall Fund. – Bloomberg

Just weeks after a pro-Trump mob organized the Capitol siege on social media, Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is taking steps to “turn down the temperature” and downplay divisive and inflammatory political discussions on its platforms. – USA Today

The Army team in charge of providing a training platform for Department of Defense cyber warriors is readying the third version to release in the first half of the year. – C4ISRNET

Nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers are calling on President Joe Biden to engage with allies on emerging technologies like 5G networking and artificial intelligence in the face of China’s advancements. – Defense News

Cameron F. Kerry writes: Baseline privacy legislation won’t stop the pandemic, put people back to work, or detoxify social media. But what it can do is empower individuals in dealing with technology and build trust as we expand digital access, promote contact tracing apps, or adjust to new norms of online daily life. And privacy legislation would protect a basic right for every single person in America. It is overdue. – The Hill


For decades the Defense Department has relied on covert and classified special operations troops to kick in doors and raid high-value targets around the world. The department’s Inspector General’s Office now may be taking its first broad look at whether those shadowy strike forces committed war crimes along the way. – New York Times

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has suspended the onboarding process for several last-minute Trump administration nominees to Pentagon advisory boards, defense officials said, effectively preventing them from being seated. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Army’s experimental labs will serve as the central laboratory for integrating the military services’ disparate joint war-fighting systems as the services seek to connect sensors and shooters for future wars. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army will head out west to conduct an intricate, aviation-focused exercise called Edge 21 ahead of the service’s second Project Convergence event, Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, who is in charge of Army aviation modernization, told Defense News in a recent interview. – Defense News

The Navy’s surface fleet has a new set of orders that updates a sleep policy to give sailors on watch rotations a bit more sleep and create a culture supporting a more ready, rested and focused seagoing force. – USNI News