Security Brief

Taliban Peace Talks Scrapped

Afghans brace for more violence after Trump calls off negotiations with the insurgent group.

U.S. President Donald Trump announces the $1.8 billion State Opioid Response Grants in the Roosevelt Room at the White House September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump announces the $1.8 billion State Opioid Response Grants in the Roosevelt Room at the White House September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What’s on tap today: Trump calls off a meeting with the Taliban and Afghan government officials at Camp David, why the Air Force put up its airmen at a Trump resort in Scotland, and a seized and released Iranian tanker spotted off Syria’s coast.


What’s Next for Afghanistan?

Camp David meeting cancelled. President Donald Trump on Saturday night revealed he had scrapped a secret meeting at Camp David with the Taliban and Afghan leaders, scuttling hopes to secure a deal to end the 18-year war.

The deal reportedly came together and fell apart over the course of about a week, but the final straw was a deadly attack in Kabul on Thursday that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.

Khalilzad recalled. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to the airwaves on Sunday, defending the planned meeting on all five morning shows. But he acknowledged that the talks are dead “for the time being,” noting that Trump had recalled Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation.

Internal divisions. The decision to host Taliban leaders at the presidential retreat in Maryland exposed the deep divisions among Trump’s advisers, the Washington Post reports. Trump himself appears to have been the driving force behind the deal, with National Security Adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence opposed.

Afghans brace for violence. The U.S. administration and the Taliban left the door open for a resumption of talks, but the scrapped meeting raises serious questions about the prospects for a peace agreement. In the meantime, Afghans are bracing for a bloody prelude to national elections slated for Sept. 28. The Taliban said the cancelled meeting would lead to more American deaths in Afghanistan, and iIf there was a sense that the Taliban were holding back, now they have more of an incentive to incite violence, writes the New York Times.


North Korea Talks Stalled 

Waiting game. The American special envoy to North Korea, Steve Biegun, offered a candid assessment Friday that the diplomatic opening toward Pyongyang has stalled and the North isn’t returning Washington’s phone calls: “We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from them.”

The United States and North Korea have pledged to restart working-level talks, but those talks have not materialized. That has led American diplomats to consider steps to isolate North Korea at the upcoming opening of the U.N. General Assembly, the Washington Post reports.

World leaders convene in New York for the U.N. General Assembly later this month, and from Sept. 23 to 27, Foreign Policy will publish a one-week-only newsletter devoted to on-the-ground coverage and in-depth analysis of the goings-on at the 74th U.N. General Assembly. Sign up here for the U.N. Brief, written by FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer.


What We’re Watching

Tanker wars. The British government is trying to determine whether an Iranian tanker that it seized and subsequently released for attempting to deliver oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions delivered its oil to the country anyway, after the ship was spotted off the Syrian coast.

Iran enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran had installed advanced centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium, a further breach of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Tehran has been gradually violating provisions of the agreement as it seeks to put pressure on European states to keep the deal alive.

Memoir wars, cont’d. A former CIA officer who has written a highly revealing memoir of her time in the agency may have published the book without first submitting it to the required pre-publication review by her former employer, NBC reports. Former CIA officers are now questioning the book’s veracity, increasing scrutiny of the book.

Helping out the boss. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the Air Force put up its airmen at one of President Donald Trump’s Scottish resorts in a bid to financially support the struggling resort, Politico reports.

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Technology & Cyber

Burned. U.S. Cyber Command uploaded a collection of malware linked to North Korea to an online repository Sunday in an apparent attempt to expose the country’s hacking tools, CyberScoop reports.

Social media wars. Following a June massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Sudan, an Egyptian company with links to that country’s military launched an online campaign to praise the military leadership of Sudan, the New York Times reports. The campaign is the latest effort by an authoritarian state to use the tools of the internet to suppress democracy movements.

Apple-Google spat. Apple described a severe security vulnerability affecting the iPhone and exposed by Google as a minor issue, but security researchers argue the company is deaf to concerns the vulnerability was used by the Chinese government to spy on China’s Uighur minority, Ars Technica reports.


Movers & Shakers

Esper moves to fill senior DOD ranks. After more than seven months without a confirmed defense secretary, and with the Pentagon’s civilian leadership team hollow and disheartened, new Defense Secretary Mark Esper is making a push to fill the gaps, Lara Seligman reports.

In coming weeks, the nominees for Air Force secretary, Army secretary, and the chief management officer are expected to have their confirmation hearings. DOD also intends to name Elaine McCusker as comptroller and John Whitley as director of cost assessment and program evaluation.

‘Tequila-drinking Navy SEAL.’ The leading contender to take over the top Pentagon job overseeing American special forces is a former Navy SEAL who has bragged about his drinking habits, and Defense Department officials fear he lacks the necessary independence to clean up rampant misconduct among the special operations community, Politico reports.

New White House liaison. As Esper cements his senior leadership team, the Pentagon welcomed a new White House liaison, Ben Schramm. Schramm, who started the new job in August, replaces James O’Beirne, who held the position for two years.


FP Recommends

Election hacking. Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos imagines a worst-case scenario for the 2020 presidential election, one in which foreign hacking groups cripple the American voting infrastructure, hack and leak damaging information about the candidates, and cast the election’s outcome into doubt. And it’s all rather plausible.


Quote of the Week 

“People will walk past his desk and he constantly has the Drudge Report and Twitter up. No one thinks of him as a policy person.” — A Trump administration official describes Avi Berkowitz, Jared Kushner’s “mini-me,” who has been tapped to take over for Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt. 

That’s it for today. To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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