Fdd's overnight brief

March 2, 2020

In The News


The United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal Saturday that calls for the full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — a turning point in an 18-year war that has cost tens of thousands of lives. – Washington Post

Until the last moment, organizers feared the smallest misstep might quash the signing of a historic deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, with mistrust and suspicion enduring until ink was on paper. – Wall Street Journal

The Afghan government objected Sunday to parts of the historic peace deal between the United States and the Taliban, showing the difficulties that lie ahead for the country as the 18-year conflict enters a new phase. – Washington Post 

A key difference in what Mr. Khalilzad was willing to do was this: He embraced the move to talk with the Taliban directly, hear them out at length, and agreed to their divisive demand to discuss a troop withdrawal without the U.S.-allied Afghan government at the table. – New York Times  

Now, America’s de facto war of attrition against the Taliban has, at least theoretically, come to an end. The signing of a deal on Saturday in Doha, Qatar, to start withdrawing United States troops from Afghanistan may not immediately stop the fighting, but it will at least usher in a new era in the 18-year war. – New York Times  

The Trump administration’s nascent deal to end the war in Afghanistan faced its first stumbling block on Sunday, the day after it was signed, over whether the Afghan government must release Taliban prisoners as part of the continuing negotiations. – New York Times 

President Trump said he plans to meet with leaders of the Taliban in “the not too distant future.” – Washington Examiner 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected on Sunday a Taliban demand for the release of 5,000 prisoners as a condition for talks with Afghanistan’s government and civilians – included in a deal between the United States and the Islamist militants. – Reuters 

Any reservations Afghanistan has with Islamabad should be resolved bilaterally rather than involving the United States, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Sunday, in reference to part of a joint U.S.-Afghan declaration on peace efforts. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday expressed hope that negotiations would begin in the coming days between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban after the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban on a U.S. troop pullout. – Reuters

The ink was barely dry on a US-Taliban deal Saturday when President Trump’s former national security adviser blasted it as “unacceptable” and “Obama-style.” – New York Post

Editorial: But the Taliban know how much Mr. Trump wants out, and it could decide to stand down until U.S. forces leave and then resume its siege against the government. A residual U.S. force including air power and special forces would be safer, but the Taliban and Mr. Trump both want the political boast of complete American withdrawal. It’s far from clear that the Taliban negotiators can deliver on their violence reduction promises.  – Wall Street Journal

Eli Lake writes: The answer is that the U.S. is being deliberately ambiguous about whether the Taliban is actually recognizing the elected government of Afghanistan, for which the U.S. and its coalition partners have fought and died. […]In the context of Afghanistan, hesitating to acknowledge the winner of the election bolsters the Taliban narrative that the elections themselves are illegitimate. This is why Esper’s presence Saturday in Kabul was more significant than the ceremony in Doha to sign the framework for peace negotiations and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: Simply put, the Trump doctrine is betrayal.It is a lesson that Afghans and Kurds have now learned well, and one which the South Koreans, Japanese, Estonians, Ukrainians, and Israelis should take to heart. Trump has not ceased endless wars; he has just empowered America’s adversaries and betrayed its allies as he lives under the illusion America can and should go it alone. – Washington Examiner

Kevin Carroll writes: By 2020, domestic political support for our Afghan campaign is gone, more from boredom than exhaustion, as comparatively few American families sent sons or daughters to fight there. Support cannot now be rallied by Trump, even though a modest-sized U.S. force could keep the Taliban from seizing power and reempowering al Qaeda with manageable (although individually heartbreaking) casualties. We will regret this weekend’s bad agreement when, on some future, gloriously bright morning, murderous enemies once again approach an American city from out of the east. – Washington Examiner

Kathy Gilsinan writes: Over nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan, the United States government went from seeking to annihilate the Taliban, to meeting with them furtively, to negotiating with them openly, before, finally, signing a deal with them. And at each juncture, the expectations dropped.  […]Implicit in all of it is the larger recognition that, for the U.S., getting out of Afghanistan will mean lowering the bar. – The Atlantic

Kathy Gannon writes: Washington’s deal with the Taliban opens the way for the first negotiations between the militants and the troubled Afghan government, which is dependent on U.S. and other foreign backing. The devil will be in the details as former Taliban fighters and Afghan warlords are likely to jockey for power. Afghans — especially women’s rights activists — worry about losing incremental freedoms they’ve gained since the Taliban were overthrown. – Associated Press


Iranian authorities have seized millions of medical supplies being hoarded by black-market traders, an effort to alleviate their own shortfall as they battle to contain the world’s second-deadliest national coronavirus outbreak. – Wall Street Journal

A team of Chinese experts arrived in Tehran Saturday to help combat the deadliest outbreak of the coronavirus outside China, as the number of confirmed cases in Iran jumped more than 50% overnight and Iranian authorities complained of a shortage of supplies needed to contain the rapidly spreading illness. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his Turkish counterpart on Saturday that innocent people should be protected in Syria’s northwest province, as tensions rose between Moscow and Ankara over the fighting there. – Reuters

A general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has derided the “decadence” of American culture, citing the presidential candidacy of Democrat Pete Buttigieg, who is openly homosexual. – Times of Israel

President Donald Trump is facing a bungled government response to the coronavirus threat — in Iran. And he has to decide what America should do about it. – Politico

This weekend’s agreement between the United States and Taliban insurgents has no legal standing, Iran said on Sunday, dismissing the deal as a pretext to legitimize the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. – Reuters

Robert D. Kaplan writes: Iran is a pauperized and lonely nation. Its only allies in the Greater Middle East are the murderous proxy militias it supports and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. […]The Trump administration is trying to bring Iran to its knees, but it needs to focus on what will come afterward. With a declining economy, a raging coronavirus epidemic, and an aged and ailing supreme leader, Iran in the coming years promises to be more interesting—and more dangerous—than at any time in recent memory. – Wall Street Journal

Jason Rezaian writes: The Iranian government, suffering under the weight of U.S. sanctions and faced with widespread protests (which it tried to crush with brutal force), is on the shakiest ground since the inception of the Islamic Republic. This is adding an incredible amount of pressure on the country’s already muzzled corps of domestic journalists, as the authorities try to stem the flow of bad news. […]The Iranian public’s trust in traditional news sources is quickly eroding, perhaps beyond repair. – Washington Post

Matthew Levitt writes: While the primary overt objective of Iran and its proxies post-Soleimani will likely be to push all U.S. military forces out of Iraq and the region, they will undoubtedly also want to avenge Soleimani’s death. And as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has made clear, all Iranian proxy militant groups will be expected to play their parts in this campaign. When they do, Iran and the foreign legion of Shia proxies at its disposal are likely to employ new types of operational tradecraft, including deploying cells comprised of operatives from various proxy groups and potentially even doing something authorities worry about but have never seen to date: encouraging Shia homegrown violent extremist terrorist attacks.  – Combating Terrorism Center


Turkish strikes on northwest Syria late on Friday killed nine members of Iran-backed Hezbollah and wounded 30 others, a commander in the regional alliance backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said. – Reuters 

Thousands of mourners thronged the coffins of five fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, whose funeral was held Sunday in southern Beirut after they were killed in neighboring Syria’s northwestern Idlib region. – Associated Press 

Bilal Y. Saab et al. write: The past decade and a half have been a real whirlwind for Hezbollah. […]And yet, Hezbollah seems to have weathered all of these storms, at least for now. However, it’s one thing for Hezbollah to survive and another altogether for it to thrive. – Middle East Institute


Turkey shot down two warplanes and inflicted heavy losses on ground forces in northwestern Syria on Sunday as the two countries edged closer to an all-out war. – Washington Post

Turkey’s offensive, which involved both combat aircraft and armed drones, signals a shift in the monthslong standoff pitting rebels backed by Turkey and the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Russia. – Wall Street Journal

At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in northwestern Syria on Thursday, Turkish officials said, plunging Turkey deeper into the war there, as a Russian-backed Syrian military offensive sought to reclaim the last rebel stronghold. – Wall Street Journal

As revolution swept Syria in 2011, protest signs from Kafranbel, a town in Idlib province, began to go viral. Anti-government demonstrators shared messages — some combative, others sarcastic, and many of them heartbreaking — that they hoped would elicit international interest in their cause. […]On Tuesday, Kafranbel fell back into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are waging war across Idlib to regain the last main rebel-held part of Syria. – Washington Post

With mounting losses in Syria and no sign that Turkey’s Western allies are willing to provide significant military support, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is confronting the limits of his strategy of working with the Syrian government’s main backer, Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish drone strikes in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province killed 19 government soldiers on Sunday, a war monitor reported, as tensions soared between Damascus and Ankara. – Agence France-Presse 

Western powers denounced Russia’s military support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad following an attack that killed more than 30 Turkish troops, a surge in violence that has European officials fearing a broader conflict. – Washington Examiner

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday that Moscow could not guarantee the safety of Turkish planes flying in Syria after Damascus said it was closing the air space over the Idlib region, the TASS news agency reported. – Reuters

The Syrian army has so far downed three Turkish drones that Ankara had been using extensively to hit Syrian army locations and air bases, Syrian state media said on Sunday. – Reuters

Syria’s army has declared the airspace over northwest Syria closed to planes and drones, pledging to down any aircraft that violates it, state media said on Sunday. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Russian and Turkish counterparts on Saturday to halt hostilities in Syria and agree to a lasting ceasefire, his office said. – Reuters 

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again called for an immediate cease-fire in northwestern Syria Friday “before the situation gets entirely out of control,” and 13 of the 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council supported his appeal at an emergency meeting — but not Syria’s closest ally Russia and China. – Associated Press

Syria’s army will not allow Western states and their proxies to prolong “terrorist” control in Syria, a foreign ministry source cited by state news agency SANA said on Friday. – Reuters

David Von Drehle writes: This region is where fairy-tale illusions go to die. But as Trump is now pulled back into the complex ugliness of the Syrian crisis, the lesson should be that the United States cannot escape the Middle East. It is the crossroads of planet Earth and the brain stem of human culture. Its problems will always press on the world’s agenda, and for the foreseeable future, those problems will be managed, at best — never solved. The disappointment of the Arab Spring naturally makes us want to leave it all behind. But the very failure of the revolution shows why the Middle East is inescapable. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: With already offered support from the United States and NATO, Turkey can strengthen its protective umbrella against new attacks. Assad’s economy is also ripe for new economic pressure of a degree that Russian support could not hope to alleviate. But equally important will be Erdogan’s near-term refusal to sit down with the Russian leader. Instead, Turkey should make any cease-fire discussions contingent on Putin’s suspension of the axis offensive in Idlib. – Washington Examiner

Noah Rothman writes:  This is what American disengagement looks like. The United States beat a hasty retreat from Northern Syria last year—a political, not strategic, decision that seemed justified only by the president’s frustration with America’s modest footprint in that lawless part of the world. In its wake, America left behind a fiction of a “ceasefire” arrangement, the fragility of which was apparent to most observers even as the administration was celebrating its achievement. – Commentary Magazine


Hundreds of people tried to cross Turkey’s border with Greece on Friday, after Turkey briefly opened its European borders to the four million refugees living on its soil. – Wall Street Journal

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara wants the United States to send Patriot missiles to Turkey for back-up in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib. – Reuters

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin should not underestimate Turkey’s military, a Turkish envoy warned after the United States endorsed the NATO ally’s right to self-defense. – Washington Examiner 

Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news agency says four of its journalists in Turkey have been released after questioning in connection with attacks on some of the journalists’ residences. – Associated Press 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Chavushoglu agreed on the need to create a “favorable atmosphere” to improve working relations between their countries, the Russian foreign ministry said on Sunday. – Reuters

The Kremlin hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan will hold talks in Moscow on March 5 or March 6, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday, Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

A rocket hit an armored vehicle carrying Turkish customs personnel in an attack near the border with Iran on Friday, killing one person and injuring others, Turkish officials said, adding that clashes were under way in the area. – Reuters 

Zvi Bar’el writes: But Russia is not going anywhere and Erdogan can’t allow himself to clash head-on with the Kremlin, not only because of Syria, but also because of Turkey’s economic dependence on Moscow. The question is how to reconcile Erdogan’s military and political aspirations in Syria and the staunch Russian opposition to his policies. Erdogan has shown some impressive back-bending in the past. It seems that he will need to exhibit that flexibility again. – Haaretz 

Bulent Aliriza writes: It remains to be seen if Erdogan will now choose to risk a confrontation with Russia, which has been actively supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime’s military campaign, in the pursuit of objectives that are difficult to attain or preserve the close personal relationship he has developed with Putin during the past three years, at considerable cost to Turkey’s links with the United States and NATO. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Iraq’s four-month-old uprising against the government has devastated the lives of thousands of families as sons and daughters have been killed or maimed by security forces. But hiding in the shadows is a more-private pain: the grief of women and girls from conservative families whose relationships with protesters had been hidden from the world, and whose mourning must be, too. – Washington Post

Iraq’s prime minister-designate withdrew his candidacy for the position on Sunday, saying he faced obstruction from some political factions over reforms, deepening political turmoil in the country as it faces a growing coronavirus challenge. – Wall Street Journal

Two Katyusha rockets fell early on Monday morning inside the heavily fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, but caused no casualties, security sources told Reuters. – Reuters

Iraqi security forces killed one person and wound 24 at an anti-government protest in Baghdad on Sunday, a police source said. – Reuters

Bernard-Henri Lévy writes: Across the Tigris in Iraq, we stand on the ridge of the Qara Chokh range, 25 miles north of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This has been the Peshmerga’s highest position since October 2017, when, in the wake of the Kurds’ referendum on self-determination, Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s militias pushed the Kurds out of the “disputed” territories. The caliphate has been destroyed, but below us, a mere half-mile away, a few hundred ISIS fighters have regrouped. – Wall Street Journal

Amin Farhad writes: Solving the Iranian issue in Iraq cannot be achieved through sectarian fighting in Iraq’s streets and parliament. Rather, sovereignty movements, which reflect the sentiment of Iraq’s protesters, can unite and defend the country on the basis of an anti-sectarian and nationalist message. For Iraq’s Sunnis to truly escape this cycle of persecution and marginalization, the Iraqi nation needs to become a sovereign state, free from Tehran’s divisive meddling. – Jerusalem Post


Exhausted Israelis returned to the ballot box yet again Monday, hoping against the evidence of mostly frozen polls that their third election since April will finally break the country’s unprecedented political gridlock. – Washington Post

Israel has set a goal to remove Iranian forces from Syria within the next 12 months, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has told The Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post

Canada asked the International Criminal Court not hold hearings regarding Israeli war crimes lawsuits, its Foreign Ministry said on Friday. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday denied having any contacts with the US administration regarding US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post

District governor Abdallah Kmeil of Salfit, a settlement in the West Bank, has instructed Palestinian Authority security forces to “take the firmest steps” against anyone who is found selling or transferring land to Jews. – Jerusalem Post

A mortar shell was fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Sunday evening, but fell within Gaza, according to an IDF spokesperson. The attack comes just ten hours before polls open for the 23rd Knesset elections. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group announced on Sunday that it had accepted an invitation from the Russian Foreign Ministry for its chief, Ziad al-Nakhaleh, to visit Moscow. – Times of Israel

On the eve of Israel’s third election in a year, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz told thousands of American Jews that he would not allow Israel to become a partisan issue in the United States if he is elected prime minister. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday announced that it would close all crossings into Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Palestinians at midnight, ahead of Monday’s national elections. – Times of Israel

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett revealed in a television interview broadcast Saturday for the first time that Israel was behind an airstrike in Syria in November that killed the son of a senior commander of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. – Times of Israel

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Saturday claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Jordanian King Abdullah II that he would not go through with a campaign pledge to annex the Jordan Valley. – Times of Israel

European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday criticized Israel’s plan to build new settlement homes in a contentious area of the West Bank, saying it will cut territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has discussed the prospect of deporting Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel with the country’s new leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, he said Sunday. – Haaretz 

David Makovsky writes: On March 2, Israelis head to the polls for the third time since April 2019. To assess the state of this very close race and the implications of various outcomes, it is important to understand what has changed since the previous rounds. Three major developments stand out. – Washington Institute

Arabian Peninsula

British foreign minister Dominic Raab will on Monday begin his first official visit to the Gulf for talks with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Oman, expected to cover trade, human rights issues and climate change. – Reuters

The tiny nation of Qatar expressed disappointment Sunday that nearly all of its Gulf neighbors snubbed invitations to attend the weekend peace signing ceremony between the U.S. and the Taliban. – Associated Press

Qatar’s role in clinching a historic U.S.-Taliban accord over the weekend could further strengthen its relationship with key ally Washington despite efforts by fellow Gulf Arab states locked in a dispute with Doha to sideline it on the world stage. – Reuters

Yemeni gunmen entered on Saturday a port in the southern city of Aden and prevented a tanker from offloading a diesel cargo because the importing company is affiliated with the government, a Reuters cameraman reported. – Reuters


Bombardment of the Libyan capital Tripoli intensified on Friday, residents said, as the United Nations envoy called for a return to a ceasefire agreed last month and eastern forces said they shot down several drones. – Reuters

The U.N. envoy for Libya on Friday denounced the near breakdown of a fragile truce between the country’s warring sides, citing a “serious violation” over the last 24 hours — attacks on the capital including an early morning shelling of Tripoli’s airport. – Associated Press

Syria’s foreign minister hosted officials from Libya’s east-based government on Sunday, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired two apparent missiles off its east coast Monday in its first weapons launch of the year, ending months of inactivity amid a diplomatic stall with the U.S. and a national lockdown over coronavirus fears. – Wall Street Journal

China on Monday reiterated a call for dialogue in response to North Korea’s latest missile launch and said all sides involved in efforts to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons should reconcile conflicts through discussion. – Reuters

The projectiles North Korea fired on Monday flew 240 km (150 miles) and reached 35 km in altitude, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw military drills on Friday, state media KCNA said, a rare public outing amid efforts to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus in the isolated country. – Reuters

U.S. officials are engaged in an intense behind-the-scenes campaign with foreign allies to cripple North Korea’s cyberhacking and fundraising capabilities, as consensus grows in the Trump administration that nuclear talks with Pyongyang will remain stalled for the coming year. – Washington Times


Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for a government grant program for high-tech startups to examine its practices after a Harvard University professor connected to one recipient was charged with lying about receiving millions of dollars in Chinese funding. – Wall Street Journal 

The Chinese government has “weaponised” visas as part of a stepped-up campaign of pressure on foreign journalists operating in the country, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said in a report on Monday. – Reuters 

Tokyo and Beijing are leaning towards delaying Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan, originally planned for early April, as the neighbors battle a coronavirus outbreak, the Sankei newspaper said on Sunday. – Reuters

Taiwan’s foreign minister on Saturday accused giant neighbor China of waging cyber “war” on the island to disrupt its fight against the coronavirus by using fake news, as the island Beijing claims as its own reported a jump in new cases – Reuters 

Japan and China agreed to work together on Friday to battle the coronavirus outbreak in bilateral cooperation helping offset historic frictions over a maritime territorial dispute. – Reuters 

The Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban opens the door for an initial American troop withdrawal that Defense Secretary Mark Esper sees as a step toward the broader goal of preparing for potential future war with China. – Associated Press 

China on Monday pledged its support for the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement in Afghanistan and called for the “orderly and responsible” withdrawal of foreign troops to avoid a power vacuum and possible terrorist resurgence. – Associated Press 

Tobin Harshaw writes: Clearly, no matter how many legal victories its neighbors win, China will simply shrug them off and push toward the nine-dash line (and probably some other lines beyond it). Just as clearly, it isn’t a practical goal for the U.S. and its democratic allies to build a seawall against Chinese influence – military, economic or diplomatic. The smaller nations of Asia will have to make accommodations with the new hegemon, and Washington will have to allow them some leeway. But Duterte is setting a dreadful example by rolling over so completely for China’s maritime expansion. And it’s his own citizens on Thitu who may pay the price next.  – Bloomberg


Malaysia’s palace named former home affairs minister Muhyiddin Yassin as the next prime minister after a week of political chaos that began with the country’s 94-year-old leader Mahathir Mohamad’s abrupt resignation on Monday. – Wall Street Journal

The United States has postponed a meeting of leaders of southeast Asian nations that was set for Las Vegas in mid-March due to the spread of the coronavirus, a senior Trump administration official and the Philippine ambassador said. – Associated Press

A former Philippine foreign secretary warned Friday that the president’s decision to end a key U.S. security pact will undermine the ability of American forces to help the country deal with major disasters and deter aggression in the disputed South China Sea. – Associated Press

Editorial: No doubt the arrest of Mr. Lai is designed to intimidate him and others into silence. It also seems to be part of a larger determination by Beijing that it’s time to show Hong Kong who’s boss.  […]What Beijing may believe is a show of strength has all the makings of another miscalculation. The mass protests in Hong Kong have largely stopped, and the best chance for a way forward is to let tensions subside in hopes of creating the conditions for a return to normalcy. Instead, China is apparently determined to re-incite the resistance. – Wall Street Journal

Daniel Moss writes: It’s time to stop seeing the rising geographic, cultural and economic divisions within democracies as a uniquely American or Western European phenomenon. Malaysia is giving them a run for their money. […]An urban-rural divide, the politics of faith, perceptions of identity and degrees of comfort with the globalized economy don’t explain just Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016 and the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union. The same forces bedevil this strategically important Asian nation, making it hard to govern no matter how long the new prime minister remains in power. – Bloomberg

Husain Haqqani writes: This time around, Pakistan has gone further than ever before to comply with FATF-related demands, possibly because India, France, and the US have held out the threat of putting the country on the black list. Pakistan has convicted Hafiz Saeed of some terror-financing offences, though not for the 26/11 Mumbai carnage or any of the other major attacks he initiated. The conviction could easily be overturned once the fear of FATF blacklisting is over and Pakistan is again off the grey list. – The Print


Thousands of people attended a rally in the Russian capital to commemorate a slain opposition leader in a rebuke to what they see as Vladimir Putin’s plans to stay in power once his final term as president expires. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia does not plan to go to war with anyone, but wants to dissuade other countries from engaging in conflict with Moscow, the TASS news agency reported on Monday. – Reuters 

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia has developed unique offense weapons without the intention of starting a war with anyone but to maintain “strategic balance” and “strategic stability” in the world. – Associated Press 

Ukraine said on Sunday it had held talks with the Kremlin on swapping all remaining prisoners from the conflict in east Ukraine, and the next exchange might take place later this month. – Reuters

Anna Nemtsova writes: Earlier this month President Putin sacked his 55-year-old aide in a terse two-sentence decree. There was no official elaboration, but Surkov let it be known the reason was a divergence of views on Ukraine as Putin charts a new course there. […]But it appears that, despite his many responsibilities, and despite his closeness to Putin in the early years, Surkov’s access and influence waned considerably over the last decade. – The Daily Beast


That infatuation is waning, however, as Europe confronts China’s rise as a superpower and attempts to navigate a new international order that is shaped more and more by the rivalry between Washington and Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

British and European Union officials will start hashing out a future trade deal on Monday amid fears that talks could break down within weeks. – Bloomberg 

A Geneva court found a British lawyer guilty of defamation and attempted extortion for writing letters to Western intelligence services accusing his former client, a Russian-led oil trader, of financing terrorism. – Reuters

The participation of Iceland’s Hatari in the 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv is remembered for their anti-Israel claims and showing of the Palestinian flag, for which they have been fined by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). And it seems that Iceland will be repeating the same course this year. – Jerusalem Post

Poland should rebuild ties with the European Union, do more to fight climate change and spend millions of dollars on healthcare, the main opposition challenger in May’s presidential elections told hundreds of supporters on Saturday. – Reuters

The International Monetary Fund said on Saturday it had made good progress in talks with the Ukrainian authorities and that the discussions would continue in the coming days. – Reuters

Montenegro’s president accused Serbia and Russia on Friday of using the Serbian Orthodox Church to undermine his country’s pro-Western government as it seeks European Union membership. – Reuters

Elizabeth Truss writes: Working together, the U.S. and U.K. can set the global standard for trade in emerging areas like data and digital. […]For the U.K. this is a crucial step in the development of our new independent trade policy and in strengthening our relationships beyond Europe. For both of our countries, it’s an opportunity to enhance our economic and national-security ties and create a better future for all our citizens. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Mctague writes: The problem, though, is not that a compromise has become impossible or even unlikely—few believe either is yet the case. The problem is the apparent hands-over-the-eyes failure of either side to accept that the world has changed since Britain left the EU on January 31. London appears to be denying the reality of the price it has already paid to extricate itself from the EU’s legal order: de facto border controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (both sovereign parts of the United Kingdom). Brussels, in return, appears to be denying the reality of Brexit altogether—that Britain has decided to leave the EU’s legal order, regardless of the economic costs. – The Atlantic


Somali troops clashed with a regional militia on Friday in one of the most serious outbreaks of fighting yet over political rivalries that Washington says are slowing the war against al Qaeda-linked insurgents. – Reuters

Guinea-Bissau interim President Cipriano Cassama stepped down on security concerns, two days after he was sworn into the post. – Bloomberg

Sudan has fired scores of diplomats for alleged links to the administration of toppled President Omar al-Bashir, a legal committee said on Saturday. – Reuters

British troops will return to the front line of the war on terror with a 250-strong unit despatched to “spearhead” the UN’s fight against the world’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgency. The light-cavalry unit will be flown into Gao in the north of Mali by the middle of this year and will mount 30-day land operations deep into jihadist territory. – Telegraph 

The Trump administration shook hands with the Taliban on Saturday to end a near two decades-long war in Afghanistan. But just as one front in the battle on terror is closing a new one is opening up. On the southern fringe of the Sahara, along a vast and underpopulated stretch of arid semi-desert known as the Sahel that stretches across Africa, the armies of militant Islam have massed anew and the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is flying again. – Telegraph 

The leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo said Sunday he would appoint an ambassador to Israel after a two-decade gap, inviting the Jewish state to build a close relationship. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: As a result, a U.S. drawdown could leave West African countries without effective international support against the terrorists. Five countries — Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania — are working to build a counterterrorism force of 5,000 troops, with U.S. aid. But they are not yet able to contain al-Qaeda and the Islamic State on their own. – Washington Post

The Americas

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a ­Vancouver-based mining firm can be sued in a Canadian court for alleged complicity in human rights abuses overseas — a decision that could alter the way businesses here assess the risks of operating abroad. […]The Eritreans claim that Nevsun breached international laws against forced labor, slavery and crimes against humanity at its Bisha mine in the East African country. – Washington Post

A federal appeals court in California halted the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” asylum policy on Friday, removing one of the key tools the president has used to curb mass migration across the southern U.S. border. – Washington Post

Venezuela has named new vice presidents for four units of state oil company PDVSA, as well as a new president for the unit that handles joint ventures with private oil companies, PDVSA said on Saturday. […]PDVSA’S crude output has been hovering near its lowest levels in decades, and intensifying U.S. sanctions on the company, which are intended to force Maduro out of office, threaten to cut Venezuela off from its main oil export markets. – Reuters

Spain’s High Court on Friday denied a U.S. extradition request for former Venezuelan minister Javier Alvarado Ochoa in connection with an investigation into money-laundering. – Reuters


The government’s dispute with Huawei over the Chinese company’s 5G network capabilities has largely been limited to closed-door meetings in boardrooms and governmental agencies, but the confrontation is becoming more visible. – Washington Times

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and lecturer at Harvard, said that while Huawei is a national security issue, the Trump administration has approached it as a trade issue. Throughout many of the last few years, Huawei has been a bargaining chip in trade negotiations between the United States and China. – C4ISRNET  

The Department of Defense official leading the overhaul of cybersecurity requirements for the Department of Defense contractors sees the model as being in a “constant state of evolution” over the next few years. – Fifth Domain  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this past month disclosed a disruptive cyberattack on a U.S. energy facility, raising new concerns about protections for energy providers. – The Hill  

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said the United States government has not done enough to defend the 2020 election from Russian interference. – Fifth Domain  

Jim Harper writes: Since at least 2009, equipment complying with CALEA and similar mandates internationally has given Chinese manufacturer Huawei access to mobile phone networks worldwide. […]The security benefits available from requiring backdoors in US information technologies are probably lower than they were when CALEA became the law governing telecommunications networks. Bad actors can now communicate across internet platforms of their choosing, using any number of technologies. Mandating weakened encryption systems would immediately move some bad actors off US-regulated systems. – American Enterprise Institute


A pending force structure analysis calls for bigger and more spread out Navy than previously thought, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly on said Friday. – USNI News

The Navy is exercising a contested cross-Atlantic convoy operation for the first time since the end of the Cold War, using a carrier strike group to pave the way for sealift ships with a cruiser escort to bring the Army ground equipment for the Defender-Europe 20 exercise. – USNI News 

The future of the Air Force’s bomber fleet will be the B-21 Raider, now under development, and a heavily modified version of the Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress, Lt. Gen. David Nahom, deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told lawmakers on Thursday. – Air Force Times 

With bills piling up for the U.S. Navy, between manning and training a growing fleet and recapitalizing ballistic missile submarines, an influential Republican lawmaker is wondering if it is time for the nation’s ground force to chip in for its own transportation. – Defense News 

A day after a heated meeting between House lawmakers and the Pentagon’s top leadership on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper sent a letter offering an olive branch of sorts, calling the Armed Services Committee “a critical partner” in building the budget and providing details on how the Navy will modernize.  – Breaking Defense 

With adversaries amassing long-range precision weapons, the Army is asking Congress for more than $1 billion in 2021 to develop hypersonic missiles for offense and missile-killing lasers for defense. Hypersonics funding is up 86 percent from last year and high energy lasers soared a stunning 209 percent. – Breaking Defense 

The Corps will shell out $64 million to the Michigan-based Trijicon company to supply Marines with the latest rifle scope. – Marine Corps Times 

Since its surprise deployment last week, the USS Eisenhower has been clearing a path for cargo ships full of Army equipment bound for major ground exercise in Europe, the first drill simulating a contested crossing of the Atlantic since 1986, Navy officials say. – Breaking Defense  

China’s economy is going to eventually reach “at least twice” the size of the America economy, says SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, so the only way for the United States to remain the dominant military power is for the US to rapidly innovate. – Breaking Defense 

The Air Force is poised to begin reorganization of how it will transform space acquisition at the end of March and that will require legal changes only Congress can make, says Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson. – Breaking Defense 

Trump Administration

President Trump said he intends to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe as his director of national intelligence, reviving a selection that foundered last year over concerns about his qualifications and fears he would politicize the nation’s spy apparatus. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump is willing to hold a summit with the leaders of Russia, China, Britain and France – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – to discuss arms control, a senior administration official said on Friday. – Reuters

After a three-month delay, President Trump on Friday formally nominated U.S. Ambassador to Norway Kenneth J. Braithwaite to serve as the next secretary of the Navy. – Washington Times