Security Brief

U.S. and Turkey Avert Showdown Over Syria

The U.S. and Turkey agree to a safe zone in Syria, tensions spike between India and Pakistan, and more top news of the week.

Turkish Army tanks driving to the Syrian-Turkish border town of Jarabulus on August 25, 2016.
Turkish Army tanks driving to the Syrian-Turkish border town of Jarabulus on August 25, 2016. Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

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What’s on tap: The U.S. and Turkey agree to a safe zone in Syria to avoid a military showdown;  the India-Pakistan crisis over Kashmir heats up (again); Trump’s top diplomat for Latin America resigns; and much, much more.


Crisis Averted… For Now.

Deal reached over Syria. The United States and Turkey have reached an agreement to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria, narrowly preventing an impending Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the war-wracked country that would have potentially pitted two NATO allies’ forces against each other. 

The announcement on Wednesday came after three days of negotiations in Ankara between defense officials from both countries. The U.S. and Turkish sides agreed to take “initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns,” and “stand-up a joint operations center in Turkey as soon as possible” to create and monitor a safe zone, according to a statement from the U.S. embassy in Ankara.  

Escalating tensions. In the past week, Turkey has ramped up threats of sending troops into northeastern Syria to push back against Kurdish forces, going as far as to amass troops on its southern border. The United States has long backed Kurdish forces as a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State, putting it in a diplomatic tight spot with NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish militias as a top national security threat. Ankara has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency for decades. 

The negotiations are the latest in a long line of spats and narrowly-averted crises between the United States and Turkey. Catch up on the decades-long story of how two allies’ relationship became so fraught with this long read from Foreign Policy


Death Toll in Syria

Counting the disappeared in Syria. A top U.N. official on Wednesday put a figure on the number of people who have been abducted, tortured and executed in detention centers around Syria: over 100,000. Rosemary Di Carlo, the U.N. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday that the Syrian government is responsible for incarcerating the vast majority of Syrian detainees—though Syrian armed insurgents have also abused and executed their enemies in detention centers.


What We’re Watching 

Kashmir tensions. Tensions between two nuclear powers are again escalating, as Pakistan announced it would expel India’s ambassador. The latest row comes after India announced it would strip the contested region of Kashmir of its special status that granted some autonomy. Dig into why India made the decision, and what could come next, with this week’s debut edition of FP’s new South Asia Brief newsletter from FP editors Ravi Agrawal and Kathryn Salam. 

Back to square one. Embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s government stopped talks with the opposition after the United States issued sweeping new sanctions. The United States and over 50 other countries recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela earlier this year, leading to a protracted power struggle in a country afflicted by political strife and economic collapse.

Domestic terrorism debate continues. As President Donald Trump visited cities in Ohio and Texas stricken by mass shootings over the weekend, CNN reports that the White House for over a year stopped efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the threat of domestic terrorism. 

Bombings overshadow peace talks. The Taliban carried out a car bomb attack in Kabul on Wednesday, killing 14 and wounding nearly 150. U.S. and Taliban negotiators will meet for another round of peace talks in Qatar this week. U.S. envoy for peace talks Zalmay Khalilzad sharply condemned the attack, but signaled peace talks would continue.  

Mystery man. Russian election interference has been one of the most examined stories in Washington. But the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report on the issue left one conspicuous breadcrumb. An otherwise heavily redacted section of the report mentions a name never before mentioned publicly in connection with the investigation into Russian election interference: “It is unknown if Tarantsov attended the events.” FP’s Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer dig into who Tarantsov could be, and what it says about Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Booming business: Trump-linked lobbyists are cashing in on deals with African governments that have less-than-stellar human rights records, FP’s Robbie Gramer and Jefcoate O’Donnell report. The latest example: Cameroon’s government has inked a $55,000-a-month contract with Clout Public Affairs to polish their image in Washington, drawing swift criticism from human rights advocates. Cameroonian security forces have been accused of widespread atrocities against civilians amid internal unrest. 

Esper gets a pony. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made a rare visit to Mongolia to shore up ties with a country sandwiched between Russia and China, securing in the process his own Mongolian pony, which he named after legendary Gen. George C. Marshall.

For more news and analysis from Foreign Policy and around the world, subscribe to Morning Brief, delivered weekday mornings.


Movers & Shakers 

Top intel job up for grabs. The post for the top U.S. intelligence chief is up for grabs, and the White House is eyeing Trump loyalists for the job, after Tea Party stalwart Rep. John Ratcliffe withdrew himself from consideration. Among the names being floated are Pete Hoekstra, Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands; Fred Fleitz, an ally of National Security Adviser John Bolton; and Kevin Meiners, a senior intelligence official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Yahoo News reports.

Top U.S. diplomat on Latin America resigns: Kimberly Breier, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, has resigned, the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung reports. Breier’s departure, reportedly coming after friction with White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, leaves a key vacancy in the Trump administration amid its push to address migration challenges in Central America and tensions with Mexico. 

Trump’s envoy to Russia stepping down: Trump’s ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, will step down from his post in October after two years, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to Foreign Policy. Huntsman, former Utah governor, is mulling plans to run for the state’s highest office again, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Defense world’s revolving door keeps whirring. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will rejoin the board of directors of General Dynamics, a post he held before he joined the Trump administration in 2017. As Politico’s Jacqueline Feldscher reports, Mattis has company: former deputy defense secretary Bob Work joined Raytheon’s board of directors, and former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert joined BAE Systems’ board of directors.


Technology & Cyber 

Shady Chinese cyber spooks. Cybersecurity firm FireEye has released a new report outing a shady and prolific group of Chinese hackers–dubbed Advanced Persistent Threat Group 41, or APT41. The group appears to be unique in the cyber espionage world, carrying out state-sponsored spy work while simultaneously hacking the video game industry for personal gain. “These operations underscore a blurred line between state power and crime that lies at the heart of threat ecosystems,” the report notes.

Fighting fakeouts. DARPA, the Pentagon’s cutting-edge research agency, is trying to tackle the next big thing in disinformation: hyper-realistic deep fakes. Nextgov.com has the story

No way for Huawei. The United States is continuing its crackdown on China’s tech giant, Huawei. This week, the Trump administration issued new rules barring government agencies or private companies and contractors working with the government from using Huawei equipment or equipment from several other Chinese firms. 


Quote of the Week

“I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country, I’ve never been there.’ However, they forced me.”

Jimmy Aldaoud, a 41-year-old Detroit man deported to Iraq, where he died Tuesday, apparently homeless and unable to obtain insulin. 


FP Recommends 

The North Korean reformer that wasn’t. Sinocism has a must-read glimpse into the Kim dynasty’s surreal and brutal rule over North Korea, detailing the little-known life of current ruler Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek. This is an excerpt from Washington Post journalist Anna Fifield’s new book on Kim, The Great Successor.


That’s it for today. To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters here.

Colum Lynch, Jefcoate O’Donnell, and Amy Mackinnon contributed to this edition of Security Brief. 

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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