Afghan Peace Deal Stumbles
Officials in Washington and Kabul have concerns about the tentative agreement.
\What’s on tap: A tentative agreement between the Taliban and the United States faces new roadblocks as new violence rocks Kabul, a weakened Islamic States is using cows as suicide bombers, Erdogan issues migrant threat to spur progress on Syria safe zone.
Afghan Peace Talks Falter
Pompeo won’t sign. Efforts to broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the U.S. government is running into headwinds in both Kabul and Washington, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly refusing to sign an agreement brokered by the U.S. special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
According to a report in Time, Pompeo has refused to put his signature on the “agreement in principle” hammered by out in nine rounds of talks between Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators. The deal would take the first tentative steps toward peace in the war-torn nation, but it doesn’t ensure several crucial things: the continued presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces; the survival of the pro-U.S. Afghan government; or a permanent ceasefire.
Does it matter? It’s not clear that Pompeo’s refusal to sign the agreement is a dealbreaker. Khalilzad himself may sign it, or the United States and the Taliban may simply issue a joint statement, according to Time.
But this “diplomatic sleight of hand” does not address the core concerns current and former officials have raised: that once a withdrawal is underway, it will be irreversible, risking the hard-won progress toward building a stable Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in Kabul… Khalilzad’s efforts are also running into trouble in Kabul, where the government raised questions on Wednesday about the deal. Writing on Twitter, a government spokesperson said provisions of the deal require “serious debate and revision.”
Violence rolls on. With the fate of Khalilzad’s peace efforts in question, violence in Afghanistan shows no sign of abating. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing on Thursday, that killed 10 people and wounded another 42 in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter. It was the second car bombing in the capital this week.
Opposing Views on a Syria Safe Zone
Erdogan threatens to ‘open the gates.’ A frustrated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Thursday to “open the gates” to allow more than 3 million Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Western countries unless progress is made to establish a “safe zone” inside Syria.
Washington and Ankara have been engaged for months in talks to establish the safe zone in northeast Syria, where the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, are still fighting the remnants of the Islamic State. Officials recently set up a joint operations center there to coordinate the efforts.
Washington and Ankara still at odds. But Erdogan said differences still remain on what exactly the safe zone will look like. He did not elaborate, but Ankara likely wants the Kurds out of the area.
What We’re Watching
Sitting ducks. As China develops ever more sophisticated long-range missiles, urgent changes are needed to American basing in Japan, Tanner Greer writes for Foreign Policy. If a conflict with Beijing broke out tomorrow, there is a very real chance that America’s frontline forces in Japan, currently cordoned off into a number of easily attacked bases, would be crippled in the first moments.
Enrichment. Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium and is progressively breaching the limits of the 2015 nuclear agreement, according to an IAEA report obtained by Reuters. On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani went further, ordering that limits on Iranian nuclear research and development be ended.
Cash for ships. The U.S. State Department has offered the captains of vessels carrying Iranian goods large sums of cash in order to pilot their ships to countries where they will be seized, in what amounts to the latest attempt by Washington to pressure Iran, the Financial Times reports.
Memoir wars. The Pentagon is attempting to quash the publication of a memoir authored by a speech writer for former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The Pentagon has threatened Retired Navy Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass with a range of consequences if he is deemed to have violated Mattis’s trust, the Washington Post reports.
Wargames for a new era. A series of war games this fall led by the Joint Staff will evaluate new battle plans for fighting China and Russia, in the latest sign that the Pentagon is shifting from two decades of fighting in the Middle East to prepare itself for a future that could include a sophisticated, high-tempo war with a peer adversary.
China weighs in on North Korea. With both Beijing and Pyongyang attempting to revive stalled diplomatic initiatives with the United States, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a visit to North Korea that he would like to see “closer communication and cooperation on the international stage” between his country and the North, the South China Morning Post reports.
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ISIS Finds New Bombers
Unconventional methods. Increasingly weakened by four years of fighting against U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and reluctant to use humans to carry bombs, the Islamic State has resorted to a new tactic: Cows.
Two cows strapped with explosives were killed Saturday when the bombs detonated remotely on the outskirts of Al Islah, Iraq, according to the New York Times. The explosion damaged nearby houses but did not harm any people.
The use of animals as “booby traps” is not new in the region, the Times writes. During the civil war in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, Al Qaeda in Iraq placed bombs inside and under dead livestock. And in Afghanistan, donkeys have been used to carry bombs targeting NATO forces.
Still, the Times writes “using cows to deliver bombs is an odd strategy in Iraq, where the animals are prized both for meat and milk.”
Technology & Cyber
Preparing for 2020. Intelligence and law enforcement officials huddled with American tech companies for a day-long meeting on Wednesday to discuss election security ahead of the 2020 election. The meeting comes as both Washington and Silicon Valley attempt to prevent another effort by Russia or another foreign power to meddle in American politics.
WikiLeaks. The imprisoned hacktivist Jeremy Hammond was called to testify before a Virginia grand jury that is believed to be investigating WikiLeaks hacker Julian Assange. Hammond was an early WikiLeaks source, and the request for his testimony raises questions about the scope of the U.S. government’s case against Assange, Gizmodo reports.
AI radar. The American military is using radar data in the Pacific to build an artificial intelligence model of air traffic in the region and to detect a possible sneak attack, Defense One reports.
Spy satellites. After President Donald Trump tweeted an astoundingly high-resolution image of a scorched Iranian launchpad following a failed rocket launch, amateur astronomers quickly identified the source of the image as a highly classified U.S. spy satellite, NPR reports.
Mystery explosion. Examinations of isotopes sprayed into the atmosphere following a mysterious explosion in Russia indicate that they likely originated from a nuclear reactor, but the application of that system remains unknown, Nature reports.
Quote of the Week
“This guy scares the living shit out of me.” — President George W. Bush’s 2008 description of then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as quoted in a New York Times Magazine account of how close Israel and the United States came to going to war with Iran.
Stuxnet mystery. For years, students of the Stuxnet virus, which infected Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz some time in 2007, have wondered how American intelligence managed to infect the plant’s computer systems. Now, journalists Kim Zetter and Huib Modderkolk reveal in Yahoo News that the virus was delivered by an Iranian mole recruited by Dutch intelligence.
Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll