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Daily Brief: Obama Will Maintain Troops in Afghanistan Through End of Term

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July 7, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Obama Will Maintain Troops in Afghanistan Through End of Term

U.S. President Barack Obama said he will maintain about 8,400 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan through the end of his term, a break with earlier expectations that he would reduce troop levels to 5,500. Obama said that the security situation in Afghanistan remains "precarious" fifteen years after the U.S. invasion and that Afghan security forces were not as strong as they needed to be (NYT). In 2011 Obama had said that all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by his 2012 election (USA Today) and he declared an official end to the U.S. combat mission in the country in 2014. At the peak of the conflict the United States had 100,000 troops in the country.


"Now, more than 8,000 troops will remain, and it will be up to Mr. Obama’s successor to order any further reductions. The president recently loosened the rules of engagement for American troops to give them the ability to fight the Taliban directly, and more flexibility to carry out airstrikes or wage ground combat. Mr. Obama cast his decision as a vote of confidence in Afghanistan’s government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, as well as in the support of NATO members and other partners, who have contributed 6,000 troops. But it also underscores the fact that American hopes of building an Afghan force capable of securing the entire country had fallen short," Mark Landler writes for the New York Times.

"Instead of blaming Pakistan for all of the country's ills, even though Pakistan clearly continues to enable Taliban and Haqqani operations from Pakistan, Afghan politicians and power brokers need to take a hard look at their own behavior in recent years and realize they have much to do to clean their own house to avoid disastrous outcomes for Afghanistan. Not all corruption or nepotism can or will disappear. But unless outright rapacious, exclusionary, and deeply predatory governance is mitigated, the root causes of the insurgency will remain unaddressed and the state-building project will have disappeared into fiefdoms and lasting conflict," Vanda Felbab-Brown writes for Vox.

"The effectiveness of the National Unity Government continues to be undermined by poor governance and internal friction between President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, and their supporters. A significant worsening of the political and security situations in Afghanistan over the next twelve to eighteen months is therefore plausible. More specifically, there is a growing risk that the current National Unity Government in Kabul could collapse because of a defection by Abdullah, a severe economic crisis, the establishment of a parallel government, or a coup d’état. There is also a growing possibility that the Taliban could gain substantial territory in one or more cities. These contingencies would amount to a strategic reversal for the United States, since Washington was instrumental in helping create the National Unity Government in 2014," Seth G. Jones writes in this CFR Contingency Planning Memorandum.


Taiwan Cancels Flights as Typhoon Nears

Taiwan cancelled more than one hundred flights and closed schools and offices as authorities prepared for Super Typhoon Nepartak to hit its shores (Strait Times) by early Friday. The typhoon is expected to reach the Korean peninsula by the weekend (Korea Times).

NORTH KOREA: The United States imposed sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over human rights abuses for the first time (BBC). The move will freeze any property he has in the United States and prohibit citizens from doing business with him. South Korean analysts predicted the North would respond by organizing an anti-U.S. rally or by carrying out a new weapons test (Korea Times)


U.S. State Department: India's Policies Don't Match PM's Rhetoric

The U.S. State Department reported that investors are "retreating slightly" from their support of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected on pro-business campaign promises, as his government struggles to push through land-acquisition reforms and simplify the country's tax code (WSJ). The report also indicated that the country's 7.5 percent GDP growth rate might be overstated.

CFR's Alyssa Ayres examines the U.S. relationship with India in this testimony before the U.S. Senate Commission on Foreign Relations.


IEA: Middle East Oil Producers Have Largest Share of Market Since 1970s

Middle Eastern oil producers now make up 34 percent of global output, according to the International Energy Agency (FT), which says the Middle East's share of global oil markets is at its highest point since the embargos of the 1970s. Demand for crude has soared as oil prices drop and higher-cost producers, such as the United States, Canada, and Brazil, cut output.

This CFR workshop explored the effects oil price volatility has on global geopolitics.

SYRIA: U.S. officials said that U.S. air support to Syrian rebels was diverted (WaPo) to Fallujah in neighboring Iraq, where U.S. and UK planes targeted a convoy of suspected militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The Iraq operation is said to have killed hundreds of fighters; in Syria, fighters from the Pentagon-backed New Syrian Army were forced into retreat by Islamic State fighters on their front, according to U.S. officials.


Zimbabwe Close to IMF Deal to Remedy Cash Shortage

Zimbabwean officials said the government is nearing a debt arrears package that could lead to an injection of funds into its cash-starved economy (FT). The country owes the International Monetary Fund $111 million and the World Bank about $1 billion.

CFR Guest Blogger Tyler Falish writes about volatility in Zimbabwe in this post.

MALI: Armed groups, bandits, and militias that sometimes brand themselves as jihadists are on the rise in central Mali (VOA), according to a new report; violent conflict has historically been concentrated in northern Mali.


Chilcot Report: Early UK Intelligence Concerns Over Extremists in Iraq

UK intelligence services expressed concerns (Guardian) as early as 2006 about Al-Qaeda-linked terror organizations dominating the insurgency in Iraq, according to the a report released Wednesday. Critics of former Prime Minister Tony Blair say he had been warned that the invasion of Iraq could spawn sectarian tensions and terror threats to the UK.   

NATO: The largest-ever North American Treaty Alliance summit will begin Friday in Warsaw with twenty-eight delegations from EU nations and twenty-six from other countries (NYT). The summit is expected to focus on how members can show unity in the wake of the Brexit vote.  


Argentine Judge Freezes Former President's Assets

An Argentine judge ordered the assets of former President Cristina Kirchner frozen over accusations that she made fraudulent foreign currency transactions in the final period of her government (BBC).

COLOMBIA: A two hundred member guerilla unit within the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has said it would not lay down arms in accordance with the terms of a recent peace deal to end the country's five-decade-long conflict (Reuters). The government and FARC leadership announced a bilateral cease-fire in June.

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