FPI Overnight Brief: July 27, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

The U.S. House passed a bill Wednesday calling for Iran to release all U.S. citizens and legal residents being held for political purposes. The White House had already started to elevate the issue. Last week, it threatened “new and serious consequences” if Iran did not release all imprisoned U.S. citizens. That prompted Iran to call for the U.S. to release Iranians it is holding, suggesting to some experts that Iran is willing to negotiate a trade. – Los Angeles Times
The Trump administration is pushing for inspections of suspicious Iranian military sites in a bid to test the strength of the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump desperately wants to cancel, senior U.S. officials said. – Associated Press
Editorial: After the tragic case of Mr. Warmbier, the Trump administration has indicated that it will make freeing American hostages a priority. Addressing Iran’s practice of de facto hostage-taking is a good place to start. – Washington Post
Matthew Kroenig writes: The JCPOA put us in a bad spot and we are left with few good options. But, fortunately, we still have alternatives to living with another North Korea, but this time in the volatile Middle East. - Tablet
Syrian fighters with the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia closely allied with Syrian Kurd fighters, have uncovered what appears to be an ISIS drone factory in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. – Military Times
Syrian government forces are nearing the last major town held by Islamic State (IS) in Homs province, part of their multi-pronged advance toward the jihadist group's strongholds in the east of the country, a military source said on Thursday. - Reuters
Russia says the United States and its Western allies rushed to judgment and blamed the Syrian government for using sarin nerve gas in an attack on an opposition-held town in Syria without ever visiting the site and ignoring two witnesses presented by Damascus. – Associated Press
The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah said on Wednesday that the group was close to defeating Nusra Front militants in the battle along the Syrian-Lebanese border. - Reuters
Marc Thiessen writes: The Trump administration needs to understand a fundamental truth: We cannot defeat the Islamic State or al-Qaeda or the global jihadist movement on our own. We cannot do it with Kurdish or Iranian proxies. We need Sunnis to do it. – Washington Post
The nine-month U.S.-backed offensive to expel Islamic State militants from Mosul was a relentless and savage fight. Now that it has been won, another daunting battle has begun: to bring Iraq’s second-largest city back from the dead. – Los Angeles Times
Since the operation to take back Mosul began last year, approximately 180 women, girls and children from the Yazidi ethnic minority who were captured in 2014 by the Islamic State, or ISIS, have been liberated, according to Iraq’s Bureau for the Rescue of Abductees. Women rescued in the first two years after ISIS overran their ancestral homeland came home with infections, broken limbs and suicidal thoughts. But now, after three years of captivity, women like Souhayla and two others seen last week by reporters, are far more damaged, displaying extraordinary signs of psychological injury. – New York Times
A U.S.-trained Iraqi army division allegedly executed several dozen men in the final throes of the battle against Islamic State militants in Mosul's Old City, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. - Reuters
U.S. officials are discussing whether to withhold a portion of U.S. assistance to Egypt to protest Egyptian passage of a law that imposes restrictions on non-governmental organizations, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Egypt established a national council for combating terrorism on Wednesday, giving it broad authority to set policies aimed at "fighting extremism," a presidential decree stated. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
The heads of three United Nation humanitarian organizations traveled to Yemen and met with warring leaders in Aden and Sanaa, issuing a plea to both them to allow humanitarian assistance into the war-torn country and find a peaceful solution to a nearly two-year civil war. – Washington Times
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is fighting insurgents in Yemen was most likely responsible for a fatal attack in March on a boat packed with migrants fleeing the war zone, a United Nations panel has concluded. – New York Times
If Qatar is withstanding a far-reaching embargo by Saudi-led Arab nations, it’s because the tiny emirate has drawn the right lessons from its previous neighborhood squabble. – Wall Street Journal (Subscription required)
Emily Landau and Shimon Stein writes: The past years have seen positive winds blowing from the Gulf states toward Israel, in particular from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These states are signaling their willingness—fueled by a common interest in confronting Iran—to step up cooperation with Israel, including elevating it to the public domain. – The National Interest
Muslim leaders announced on Thursday that the faithful could resume praying at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after Israel, seeking to reduce tensions in an explosive atmosphere, had the last traces of security infrastructure near the entrances to the holy site removed before dawn. – New York Times
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri came to Washington with a message: In taking in 1.5 million refugees from Syria, Lebanon is performing “a public service for the international community,” one for which the community should thank it with sustained support. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Israel's parliament on Wednesday passed the first of three votes needed to enact legislation that would set an extra-high threshold for any future vote on ceding parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. - Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he would work to close the Jerusalem offices of Qatar-based al-Jazeera, accusing the television news network of inciting recent violence in the city. - Reuters
After spending more than seven months in prison on terrorism charges that could keep him there for years to come, Ahmet Sik, a Turkish journalist, appeared in an Istanbul court Wednesday with a fleeting opportunity to publicly rebut his powerful accusers…In the packed courtroom on Wednesday, Sik appeared determined not to waste the moment.  What was supposed to be a defense statement was instead a searing attack on the government and a spirited argument for the relevance of his beleaguered profession. – Washington Post
The U.S. should move its nuclear weapons from Incirlik Air Base and start looking for alternatives to the longtime military hub in Turkey, a country that can no longer be fully relied on, analysts and former military officials said. – Stars and Stripes
Turkey's main opposition staged a sit-in on Thursday to protest against proposed changes to parliamentary procedure that it says will restrict lawmakers' ability to challenge President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party in the assembly. - Reuters


In a bloody overnight attack in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Taliban routed an Afghan Army outpost, killing dozens of soldiers and raising fears of a concerted insurgent offensive in the province, a former seat of Taliban power that took years of effort by coalition and Afghan forces to secure. – New York Times
Afghan security forces on Wednesday recovered two Pakistani diplomatic officials who were kidnapped in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangahar, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said. - Reuters
Javid Ahmad writes: The U.S. has spent far too much money in Afghanistan, but not all of it was wasted. A settlement or grand bargain with the Taliban under current conditions would mean throwing away hard-fought gains. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
South Asia
Dr. Ranjha is one of dozens of people arrested and investigated since January for their social media use, under the sweeping cybercrimes law passed by Parliament last year. The law, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, was widely promoted as a tool to punish internet activity by banned militant groups and curb online sexual harassment. But in recent months it has increasingly been used to crack down on those who have gone online with criticism of the government and, particularly, the military. – New York Times
On a remote pass through Himalayan peaks, China and India, two nuclear-armed nations, have come near the brink of conflict over an unpaved road. It is one of the worst border disputes between the regional rivals in more than 30 years. – New York Times
Narendra Modi further consolidated his political hold over India on Thursday, as a leading opposition figure unexpectedly jettisoned his old partners to forge a new political alliance with the prime minister’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party. – Financial Times
Sri Lanka is poised to sell a majority stake in its remote Hambantota port to a Chinese state company after revising the deal to assuage Indian concerns that the port would be used as a military base. – Financial Times
Pakistani police have arrested 25 members of an informal village council accused of ordering the rape of a 16-year-old girl as revenge for her brother's alleged sexual assault of another girl. - Reuters
China has launched a military agency to develop state of the art weapons, the latest step in the country’s ambitions to transform its army into a modern fighting force. – Financial Times
Bill Gertz reports: A senior CIA analyst said China is continuing to conduct aggressive cyberespionage operations against the U.S., contrary to claims by security experts who say Beijing curbed cyberattacks in the past few years. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Korean Peninsula
North Korea’s cyberarmy has splintered into multiple groups and is unleashing orchestrated attacks increasingly focused on funneling stolen funds to the secretive nation, according to a government-backed South Korean report released Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Korea's recent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile has increased the danger the country's leader Kim Jong Un will be able to strike the United States sooner than expected, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea said on Wednesday. – Washington Free Beacon
Analysis: Just as with Iran, when Russia maintained ties amid U.S. and European Union pressure on Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, Putin's unwilling to isolate North Korea completely. He opposes tougher sanctions because he believes they won't affect the North Korean leadership, said two senior Kremlin officials, who asked not to be identified discussing internal policy. - Bloomberg
Interview: Angelo State University Professor Bruce Bechtol joined Brian Kilmeade to get to the bottom of how the US can thwart the current efforts of North Korea. – Fox News
Japan’s defense minister and one of its top military officers are said to be preparing to resign over allegations that they misled Parliament and the public over dangers faced by Japanese soldiers on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, dealing another blow to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. – New York Times
The first female leader of Japan's opposition Democratic Party, Renho, said on Thursday she was resigning after her party failed to capitalize on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's sinking support rates and suffered a heavy defeat in a Tokyo election. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ousted in a 2014 coup, called on her supporters for help as the military government "temporarily froze" 37 of her properties and 16 bank accounts. - Reuters


The U.S. House on Wednesday took up a defense appropriations bill that proposes tens of billion of dollars in new spending for the Pentagon. The problem is it breaks budget caps set in law. – Defense News
The House approved legislation Wednesday that explicitly bars any moves by the Pentagon to close its excess military bases in 2018, echoing a move earlier this month by the chamber. – Washington Examiner
Defense companies enjoying high earnings and rising stock prices are looking with anxiety at the legislative fight over spending for the Pentagon. – The Hill
Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten today confirmed, more than two months after news first broke of a shift, that he’s ordered a series of sweeping changes at STRATCOM. – Breaking Defense
The concept called Multi-Domain Battle – a single seamless offensive across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace – may seem futuristic, but the Army wants to start implementing at least parts of it right now. – Breaking Defense
Getting reliability, maintenance and a backbone built on open architecture right first is how the Pentagon is approaching its future vertical lift programs, defense officials said on Tuesday. – USNI News
As a program designed to develop a family of aircraft to replace workhorse helicopters for the Army and other services moves forward, an official who oversees the program is urging caution and deliberate action to ensure the Pentagon ends up with a winner. – Military.com
The U.S. Air Force’s top general wants to network all of its assets together in a massive battlefield picture that will allow operators to make informed decisions as quickly as possible. But to get there, he is going to need different ways of contracting with industry, he said on Wednesday. – Defense News
It’s a big day for the 2,500-pound Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, LRASM. This morning, contractor Lockheed Martin announced an $86.5 million contract to build the first 23 production missiles – as opposed to test weapons – for use by Navy Super Hornet fighters and Air Force B-1B bombers. – Breaking Defense
James Price writes: Some say the US can’t afford to upgrade the force with new bombers, but with advances in technology, the proliferation of modern A2/AD defenses and a series of wide ranging and dangerous adversaries, the US can’t afford not to modernize its bomber force….Today’s modern stealth bombers with the addition of the next generation B-21s (in sufficient numbers) will demonstrate that the US serious about deterrence and is ready, survivable and willing to go to war. – The National Interest
The War
Adam Klein writes: Congress is right to examine the privacy implications of Section 702; powerful tools require powerful constraints. But members concerned about 702 should focus on bolstering the program’s oversight and transparency—by strengthening judicial review and requiring more transparency about how prosecutors use 702 information—rather than creating barriers to information-sharing within the intelligence community. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s Rose Revolution leader and former reformer president, has been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, according to reports. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and Ukrainian governor who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship on July 26, may be forced to seek asylum in the United States, a Ukrainian legislator said. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Vitalii Rybak writes: It seems that the country’s industrial core might be finally shifting away from the eastern and southern regions. The war in the Donbas is certainly taking its toll in humanitarian and political terms, but it might also be changing the economy of Ukraine as we know it. – Atlantic Council
Congress’s push to enact far-reaching sanctions against Russia appeared to overcome a final obstacle on Wednesday after a key Senate Republican backed off concerns about a House bill — passed overwhelmingly one day earlier — that would also punish North Korea. – New York Times
Russian legislators called on Wednesday for “painful” measures against the United States in response to plans for new American sanctions, while the Kremlin focused more on the damage to relations between Washington and Moscow. – New York Times
Russia risks being saddled with U.S. sanctions for decades, curbing economic growth and preventing it from regaining its status as a leading economic power, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin said in an interview. - Reuters
Two days after Poland’s president vetoed legislation that would have put the courts under the governing party’s control, the European Union filed a complaint against the government over the proposed changes. – New York Times
The European Court of Justice on Wednesday dealt a blow to the EU’s policy of sharing information about airline travellers, saying that a long-standing arrangement with Canada ran roughshod over people’s privacy. - Politico
Mateusz Morawiecki, the deputy prime minister of Poland, has hit back at criticism of the government’s attempts to pass a series of contested judicial reforms, insisting that they were necessary because of the public’s “very low confidence” in the system. – Financial Times
Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron's election campaign earlier this year by creating phony Facebook personas, according to a U.S. congressman and two other people briefed on the effort. - Reuters
German consumer morale hit a 16-year high, data showed on Thursday, the latest piece of positive economic news to boost prospects for Chancellor Angela Merkel as she prepares to seek re-election in September elections. - Reuters
United Kingdom
The Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and other key departments are taking part in a British government review of national security capabilities, which is expected to report toward the end of the year. – Defense News
Britain is planning to sail its two new aircraft carriers on “freedom of navigation” operations through contested waters in Asia, amid increasing tensions between China and Britain’s ally the US. – Financial Times
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain rose to an all-time high in the first half of the year, according to a charity which aims to protect British Jews. - Reuters
Editorial: No one should doubt the political value of the trade lifeline Mr. Trump threw to Britain this week, which includes an implied warning to Brussels that the EU could be left behind if it botches Brexit talks by taking a punitive approach to Britain. But Brexiters should not assume that a bilateral deal will be easy. Both sides need to get busy on domestic reforms to give the talks the best chance of success. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Former attorney general Michael Mukasey criticized Congress for failing to pass a new law sanctioning the nation's ever-changing war against Islamist terrorist organizations. – Washington Free Beacon
Three top U.S. auditors briefed a House Armed Services panel Tuesday on discomfiting reports of uncontrolled spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports had all been posted online earlier this year. But the effect of presenting them in a single hearing was striking. – Roll Call
As the Coast Guard continues to push for funding to modernize an aging fleet and handle a lack of personnel, a government watchdog agency is calling attention to the service’s serious need for strategic planning. – Defense News
Josh Rogin reports: The head of the State Department’s diplomatic security bureau has resigned and will leave his post on Thursday, leaving the two top positions vacant for the foreseeable future in the bureau in charge of embassy security around the world. – Washington Post
Military Issues
President Trump announced on Wednesday that the United States will no longer “accept or allow” transgender people in the United States military, saying American forces “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory” and could not afford to accommodate them. – New York Times
Trump’s sudden decision was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat, numerous congressional and White House sources said. - Politico
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that transgender people would be barred from serving in the U.S. military “in any capacity,” catching the Pentagon off guard and provoking outrage among rights advocates. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
As fast as President Donald Trump upended the U.S. military on Wednesday morning by tweeting his intent to ban transgender Americans from the armed forces, he faced intense blowback from members of Congress, advocacy groups, and national security leaders calling the move discriminatory, unnecessary, and alarmingly out of touch with the military’s trend toward opening all jobs to Americans who qualify to serve. – Defense One
The House will sidestep a floor fight over whether the Defense Department should pay for service members’ gender reassignment surgeries after President Trump announced Wednesday that transgender people cannot serve in the military. – The Hill
Russian Election Interference
The secretive Washington firm that commissioned the sensational anti-Trump campaign research dossier also advised corrupt Venezuelan officials accused of conducting a lucrative money laundering scheme, a respected international human rights group told lawmakers probing the Russian election-meddling scandal. – Washington Times
Samantha Power, President Barack Obama's ambassador to the United Nations, has a Friday interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee as it continues its investigation into the extent of Russia's attempts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections. – Washington Examiner
Latin America
The Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on a host of current and former senior Venezuelan officials on Wednesday and threatened to take more stringent action if President Nicolás Maduro proceeds with plans for a constituent assembly on Sunday that critics consider a danger to democracy. – New York Times
Christy Thornton writes: For all of its promises to lead Mexico to a bright new future, the PRI is likely to be swallowed up into a sinkhole of its own making. And while the billboards may have been removed, everyone knows they have the president to thank. – Washington Post


Nigeria's military has rescued all members of an oil survey team kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram militants, it said in a statement on Wednesday, after they were taken in the country's conflict-ridden northeast. - Reuters
The U.S. military says a mission in Somalia has detained a suspected associate of the al-Shabab extremist group who once lived in the United States. – Associated Press
Other Burundian exiles are trying to build opposition to Nkurunziza, highlighting crimes they say are committed by the security forces and armed groups loyal to the government. In the rebel-backed radio known as MbohozaGihugu, which means “liberate the country,” some exiles say they have found a voice. – Associated Press
Matthew Page writes: As U.S. policymakers digest these latest allegations, they need to step back and reflect on the extent to which Washington really does need to “do more” to help Cameroon and its neighbors defeat Boko Haram. Partnering with unprofessional militarizes may yield short-term counterterrorism gains, but at what cost? – Washington Post

Trump Administration

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flashed a grin Wednesday and insisted that he is “not going anywhere,” comments that came amid tussles with the White House over policy and staffing as well as questions about his future as the nation’s chief diplomat. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson moves to restructure the State Department, he wants to slash dozens of positions known collectively as special envoys — ambassadors-at-large, coordinators and others who deal with specific issues such as food security, labor and LGBT rights. That ambition, however, is running into a fact of Washington life: the power of interest groups and members of Congress willing to fight any threat to their favored causes. - Politico
President Donald Trump has formally nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to serve as the State Department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom. - Politico
President Trump publicly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a third consecutive day on Wednesday, questioning why Mr. Sessions has not fired the acting director of the F.B.I. over his wife’s political ties to Hillary Clinton. – New York Times
By Wednesday afternoon, just hours after the president’s latest broadside against the attorney general, several officials said they thought the storm had passed: Mr. Trump would let Mr. Sessions stay in office, at least for now. If he was going to fire the attorney general, they said, he would have already done so. But his anger was deep, they added, and nothing was certain when it came to the volatile president. – New York Times
President Trump has discussed with confidants and advisers in recent days the possibility of installing a new attorney general through a recess appointment if Jeff Sessions leaves the job, but he has been warned not to move to push him out because of the political and legal ramifications, according to people briefed on the conversations. – Washington Post
Editorial: Mr. Trump will only compound the problem now if he fires Mr. Sessions and appoints a replacement who fires Mr. Mueller. He will cause multiple resignations and bipartisan talk of impeachment. Mr. Sessions acted honorably in recusing himself, and the President should let him do his job without harassment. – Wall Street Journal (Subscription required)
Kenneth Starr writes: Mr. President, for the sake of the country, and for your own legacy, please listen to the growing chorus of voices who want you to succeed — by being faithful to the oath of office you took on Jan. 20 and by upholding the traditions of a nation of laws, not of men. – Washington Post


Klára Votavová and Jakub Janda write: The regulation of online platforms is an extremely complex issue. Nevertheless, given the challenges journalism is facing, it is impossible for Western societies to avoid this discussion. Below are the principles that governments, platforms, private companies, and civil society should follow when trying to mandate online platforms’ responsible behavior in providing news. – Atlantic Council

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