NATIONAL SECURITY FOREIGN AFFAIRS UPDATE
NOVEMBER 21, 2017 (REPORT #71)
• Rogue North Korea back on state sponsors of terrorism list. The Washington Post reports President Trump on Monday re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, a move the Post states is aimed at increasing pressure on Pyongyang after former President Bush removed the regime from the list. Trump explained the relisting as "a very critical step" that "should've happened a long time ago." He cited assassinations by the regime carried out on foreign soil and the terribly treatment of an American college student. The president vowed that Pyongyang will face further sanctions in the near future that will amount to the "highest level of sanctions by the time it's finished."
• Congress likely to continue handicapping the Pentagon. The Washington Examiner reports the Pentagon is likely to be dealt another budget heartbreak next month. Military leaders have explained they expect Congress to lift a Budget Control Act spending cap for defense and pass a 2018 budget that allows the services to start new programs, buy spare parts and contract for fighter jets. "We at every opportunity try to convince people that BCA and [continuing resolutions] are not the way to go here," Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, said. In spite of Pentagon warnings, Congress is poised to pass yet another stopgap continuing resolution on December 8 that would keep the lights on at the Pentagon but also keep the military's financial plans in limbo for perhaps months. Note: Mismanagement is seriously hurting military readiness and long-term investment at a time of war and as our enemies heavily invest in new technologies that could soon seriously disadvantage our forces.
• Russian and Syrian leaders meet prior to trilateral discussions with Iran and Turkey about finding political solution to six-year civil war. Radio Free Europe reports there were surprise talks on Monday in Sochi, Russia between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the need to move from military operations in Syria to find a political solution to the civil war. That meeting between the two allies comes just prior to an expected meeting tomorrow among the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran at the Russian Black Sea resort. Meanwhile, UN-hosted negotiations looking to establish a political solution to the Syrian war are due to resume in Geneva on November 28. To date, Russia and Iran have been military backers of the Assad regime while Turkey supports rebels who want to oust Assad. It is noteworthy that Russian television reported that Putin said "the military operation [in Syria] is really coming to an end." Putin said he told Assad "I think now the main thing is to move to political processes, and I am pleased to see your readiness to work with everyone willing to establish peace and find solutions." Note: Assad's crackdown on protesters has resulted in the deaths of at least 330,000 of his citizens and created 6.1 million refugees.
• SOCOM's good news on Islamic terrorism. The Washington Free Beacon reports most of the 16 regional branches or affiliates of ISIS and al Qaeda are suppressed, contained, or placed under pressure from global attacks, states the U.S. Special Operations Command. "There's been a lot of losses," said a SOCOM command official regarding the two Salafist-jihadist groups. The official said ISIS in Iraq and Syria has begun transitioning from a pseudo-state entity back to an Islamist insurgency.
• ISIS jihadi not heading for Libya. The Military Times reports the U.S. Africa Command sees no evidence of mass movements of ISIS jihadi to Libya. Although the group's caliphate lies in shambles, an AFRICOM spokesman said there are "no indications of mass movement of fighters or leadership from the Levant into Libya…." Of course, ISIS jihadi in Libya are still reeling from their defeat in Sirte, last December.
• ICC investigates U.S. military, CIA for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday formally requested authority to investigate the U.S. military and the CIA for war crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian jurist and ICC's chief prosecutor, confirmed the U.S. is implicated in the probe. She said that alleged "war crimes by members of the United States armed forces" and "secret detention facilities in Afghanistan" used by the CIA justified the court's investigation. Although the U.S. is not a member state, the UN Security Council can authorize extensions of those probes into non-member states.
• Trouble in Pyongyang's "paradise." Yonhap News Agency reports North Korea inspected a key military organ do to its "impure attitude" and punished the top officials. South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) said Pyongyang inspected its military's General Political Bureau for the first time in two decades, which resulted in unspecified punishment for the top officials. "We have been watching the situation as we have gathered such intelligence (on the punishment)," the NIS as quoted by a member of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party. Note: It is possible the pressure on the rogue regime is beginning to fuel internal dissent.
• Crown jewel of EU countries threatened with instability. "Germany's role as the beacon of political stability and predictability in Europe is now in doubt. Negotiations to form a government collapsed Nov. 19 after the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) left coalition talks, opening a period of prolonged political uncertainty. For weeks, the FDP, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the environmentalist Green party have negotiated over controversial issues such as migration, the environment, and taxes to avoid this scenario. Now, German parties and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier must decide what to do next. The rest of Europe will be watching as well, waiting for a new government to be appointed in Berlin before it can resume talks about the future of the European Union." Note: I will be in Germany next week to see first-hand just how vulnerable that country is and whether this bodes poorly for the future of the EU.
• What will Trump do now that it is clear Pakistan continues to harbor jihadi? "The ravages of a seemingly endless war have kept the United States mired in South Asia for over 16 years. In August, U.S. President Donald Trump proposed a new solution to the intractable conflict in Afghanistan. The new strategy would focus not on meeting a specific deadline but rather on achieving the conditions necessary to bring peace to the war-torn country. To that end, Trump urged India to play a greater role in Afghanistan's economic development. He also had a few choice words for Pakistan. The president took the large nuclear power, home to more than 200 million people, to task for continuing to harbor militant groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network. To compel a change in Islamabad's behavior, the Trump administration has threatened to revoke Pakistan's non-NATO major ally status and withhold more of the $1 billion in aid that the United States has given the country each year since 2002. But the threats aren't working. On Nov. 9, NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson said Pakistan is still offering haven to militants. And even if Washington takes harsher punitive action toward Islamabad, it won't achieve the results it's hoping for. Militancy isn't the only enemy in Afghanistan; the United States is also fighting against the basic forces of geopolitics."
• Coalition strikes Taliban drug production. The Washington Free Beacon reports U.S. and Afghan forces recently conducted dozens of airstrikes against Taliban opium production facilities. Army Gen. John Nicholson said the assaults against Taliban drug labs in southern Helmand province will continue, the source of at least $200 million a year through opium production. Nicholson said those strikes were "essentially" the first conducted under the new authorities issued by the trump administration in August.
• Saudis call on Arab League to condemn Iran. "Upon Saudi Arabia's request, the Arab League convened in Egypt to discuss Iran's violations in the region, France24 reported Nov. 20. The aim of the meeting is to prepare a draft resolution condemning Iran and its affiliates. Member states will also discuss the intercepted Houthi missile aimed for Riyadh on Nov. 4 and the suspected Iranian-backed Nov. 10 oil pipeline fire in Bahrain. The meeting takes place amid a growing Sunni-Shiite rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran."
• Saudis increase non-oil revenues. "Figures released Nov. 19 show Saudi Arabia had an 80 percent increase in non-oil revenues in the third-quarter of 2017, Arab News reported. The Saudi Ministry of Finance said the figures demonstrate the feasibility of economic reform under the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the economy and balance the budget." Note: Developing a non-oil revenue stream is critical to the "kingdom's" survival and one of the crown prince's objectives.
• Iranian terror proxy denies spots. "Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rejected the Arab League's statement that the group is funding extremist organizations in the region, Al Jazeera reported Nov. 20. The Arab League issued a statement Nov. 20 accusing the Iran-backed militia of supporting terrorism and of assisting groups, including Yemen's Houthi rebels, with advanced weapons and ballistic missiles. Nasrallah said that the Arab League has no evidence to support these claims and that Hezbollah sent weapons only to Palestine and Syria, but not Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait or Iraq."
• IRGC sanctioned for counterfeit operation. "The U.S. Department of Treasury imposed new sanctions on two individuals and four entities part of a counterfeiting network producing Yemeni bank notes for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), according to a Nov. 20 press release by Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. The counterfeit production is possibly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with Specially Designated Nationals and their assets are blocked by the U.S. government."
• Kurds call for international pressure against Baghdad. "The Kurdistan Regional Government issued a statement requesting that the international community urge the Iraqi government to lift the flight ban and other measures taken against the region, BBC Monitoring reported Nov. 20. The statement said the federal government is implementing collective punishment against the Kurdish Region, including reducing its share of the 2018 draft budget and the international flight embargo. Iraq's Supreme Federal Court ruled that the Sept. 25 Kurdish independence referendum was unconstitutional and the results are void. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani accepted the annulment of the referendum."