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Daily Brief: Defense Officials: Obama Approves Wider Military Role in Afghanistan

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June 10, 2016

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Defense Officials: Obama Approves Wider Military Role in Afghanistan

U.S. President Barack Obama will permit U.S. troops to accompany and enable Afghan forces fighting the Taliban and authorize a wider use of U.S. airstrikes against the militants (WSJ), according to unnamed defense officials who spoke to several media outlets. A U.S. defense official said (Reuters) that the expanded powers would be used in "select instances" in which a greater U.S. role could "enable strategic effects on the battlefield." The United States declared an end of hostilities in Afghanistan in 2014, but maintains 9,800 troops in the country, a number Obama has said would be reduced to 5,500 by 2017 (Voice of America). Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, asked whether the administration was considering expanding its use of force against Taliban militants (AP), said that "the question of what's the best way to use our forces is something we're constantly looking at." 

ANALYSIS

"The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are barely holding the line; they are not going to take the offensive and drive the Taliban from the country. Nor can they outlast the Taliban in an indefinite stalemate. Afghanistan’s security forces cost far more than Kabul can afford without foreign assistance: the ANDSF’s FY 2013 operating budget of $6.5 billion was more than twice the Afghan government’s entire federal revenue. Most of this money comes from the U.S. Congress, which will not keep writing multi-billion-dollar annual checks for faraway Afghanistan indefinitely," CFR's Stephen Biddle writes for Defense One.

"President Ashraf Ghani has been trying to convey a message of victory: At a regional conference in December, he said the Afghan Security and Defense Forces 'have not only held together' but 'are learning fast.' He needs to cast Afghanistan’s recent trajectory as a story of hope over fear in order to claim success for his embattled government. So do the Western governments that have spent millions of dollars here. But 2015 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2009, the year the United Nations began systematic documentation. According to UNHCR, voluntary returns 'reached historic lows' during the first quarter of 2016, partly because of worsening security," May Jeong writes for the New York Times.

"Afghanistan is the place where Al Qaeda and affiliates first planned the 9/11 attacks and a place where they continue to operate—and is thus important in the broader effort to defeat the global extremist movement today. It is a place where Al Qaeda and ISIS still have modest footprints that could be expanded if a security vacuum developed. If Afghanistan were to revert to the chaos of the 1990s, millions of refugees would again seek shelter in neighboring countries and overseas, dramatically intensifying the severe challenges already faced in Europe and beyond," write thirteen U.S. signatories, including ambassadors to Afghanistan, military commanders, and special representatives to South and Central Asia in an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Weekly Podcast

Weekly Podcast

James M. Lindsay and Robert McMahon discuss the OAS and the Venezuela crisis, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel's visit to China, and the race for Raqqa in Syria. Listen and subscribe.

 

PACIFIC RIM

South Korea Begins Naval Patrols to Counter Illegal Chinese Fishing

South Korea and the U.S.-led UN Command began operations to counter illegal fishing by Chinese boats between North and South Korea (Korea Times). The mission is authorized to use force against Chinese boats that do not heed verbal warnings (Yonhap).

CHINA: China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection posted a review on its website of the country's propaganda efforts. Its report said the department needs to "strengthen its leadership in ideological work" and fortify "the principle of 'the party controls the media' in new media" (DW).

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Kazakh Forces Kill Five Suspected Militants After Aqtobe Attacks

Security forces killed five people in what authorities said was a counterterrorism operation in the northwestern city of Aqtobe, where gunmen opened fire on two weapons shops and a national guard post on Sunday (RFE/RL). Twenty-five people have been killed in Sunday's attacks and the ensuing manhunt.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Aid Convoy Reaches Damascus Suburb of Daraya

Food and medical aid reached the Syrian town of Daraya, which has been under siege from the central government, for the first time since 2012 (Middle East Eye). Also in Syria, a monitoring group said that U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters had cut off the main supply route between the self-proclaimed Islamic State and Turkey (Middle East Eye) in an offensive on the militant-held town of Manbij.

YEMEN: Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Saeed Al-Jaber said that Saudi Arabia has proposed a roadmap to a cease-fire (Asharq Al-Awsat). The ambassador said the roadmap was discussed (Al Arabiya) in a meeting with Yemeni government officials, Houthi militia leaders, and UN representatives.

This CFR Backgrounder examines the civil war in Yemen.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

South African Economy Shrank in First Quarter

South Africa's economy shrank 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2016 (FT), largely due to the flagging mining sector and a decrease in agricultural output following a drought.

SOUTH SUDAN: An Ebola-like disease has killed at least ten people in South Sudan (Bloomberg) since December, health officials reported. The World Health Organization referred to the illness (IRIN) as an "undiagnosed hemorrhagic fever syndrome" and said there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of the disease, which may be carried through mosquitoes or ticks. 

EUROPE

Militant Group Claims Istanbul Attack

A militant group called the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack in Istanbul that killed eleven people (Euro News). Meanwhile, Ankara announced that government forces had killed thirteen people (Hurriyet) who were purportedly militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in separate attacks.

ICELAND: Researchers said they buried carbon dioxide under volcanic rock in Iceland, turning it into stone through a natural chemical process. The scientists say the findings (Science) could be a potential breakthrough in combating climate change.

AMERICAS

WHO Suggests People in Zika-Affected Regions Avoid Pregnancy

The World Health Organization announced that people who live in regions affected by the Zika virus should consider delaying pregnancy (Guardian). The WHO rejected calls for the Olympic Games to be postponed or moved out of Rio de Janeiro, which has recorded thousands of cases of the virus. The Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects in newborns.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at the Zika outbreak and the international response.

PERU: Peru's electoral authority announced on Thursday that Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won the country's electoral contest held on Sunday (Peru Reports) with 50.1 percent of the votes, narrowly defeating his rival Keiko Fujimori.

CFR's Matthew Taylor discusses what was at stake in Peru's election in this blog post.

CAMPAIGN 2016

Obama Endorses Clinton After Meeting With Sanders

President Obama endorsed (NYT) Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee after meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) at the White House. Sanders said he will participate in the final Democratic primary in Washington, DC, Tuesday.  

Track and compare Clinton’s and Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump’s positions on foreign policy, energy and immigration issues with CFR’s interactive, The Candidates and the World.

 
 
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