October 7th, 2016

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Afghanistan

  • Former CIA director and retired US General David Petraeus announced Monday morning that US Special Forces are on the ground working alongside Afghan commandos in Kunduz, where the Taliban have launched an offensive to take the city.  The same day, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan tweeted “Our #AFG partners are responding to increased Taliban activity in #Kunduz & US forces have multiple assets & enablers within area to support.”
  • The Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, hosted by the European Union on Tuesday and Wednesday, brought together more than 70 countries to pledge $15.2 billion in aid to help Afghanistan until 2020US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the opening session, saying “the United States joins with other donors today to work closely with the Afghan Government to improve the efficiency with which they deliver our aid.”

Iraq

  • On Friday morning, the US State Department approved a proposed $65 million sale of Cessna AC-208 aircraft to the Iraqi government, as well as related equipment, training, and support. The two AC-208 aircrafts feature dual rail LAU-131 Hellfire launcher capability on each wing and will be used to support Iraqi military operations against ISIS.
  • Reuters published an article Tuesday detailing an August oil deal, brokered by Brett McGurk (Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS), between Iraq and the Kurdish region. The oil revenue-sharing deal has proven crucial in getting the central and regional governments to coordinate for a push on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul as soon as this month.

Iran

  • Seven Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, sent a letter on Wednesday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking him to “prioritize” a clean extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) during the Senate’s end-of-year session.  Without congressional action, ISA will expire at the end of the year.  Though there is sweeping support for extending ISA, legislators remain intensely divided over what would be included in the extension.
  • On Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting more information on the Department of Justice’s role in $1.3 billion in payments to Iran.  The previous day, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked the State Department and the Department of Treasury to provide all documents related to the Obama administration’s January decision to support lifting sanctions on two Iranian banks, Bank Sepah and subsidiary Bank Sepah International.

Israel & Palestine

  • The Obama administration on Wednesday denounced Israel’s proposal to build 98 housing units east of Shilo designed to accommodate evacuees from nearby Amona. In a blistering statement, the State Department said the plan was “deeply troubling” and would “create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the plan a setback to peace in the region and suggested that the Israeli government was going back on its word.

Syria

  • According to a report by The Washington Post, Obama administration officials met this week to consider new alternatives to end the five-year civil war in Syria, with military strikes against the Assad regime among the options explored.  A meeting of the Principals Committee, which includes Cabinet-level officials, was scheduled for Wednesday and a National Security Council meeting that may include President Obama could be held this weekend.
  • Monday’s US-Russian ceasefire fallout prompted Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to withdraw from a watershed arms control agreementTwo days later, Ben Cardin – the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – blasted Russia, saying the country must face “consequences” for its actions in Syria and elsewhere, and that the US should “revisit its overall approach” to the nuclear-armed Russia.
  • Official US admonishment of Russia continued on Tuesday at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, where Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia for blatantly ignoring the Syrian government’s use of chlorine gas and barrel bombs against civilians.
  • France seeks to fill the vacuum created by failed US-Russian talks, saying it will launch a new push for UN backing for a ceasefire in Syria that would allow aid into the city of Aleppo.  French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reportedly travelled to Russia and the US on Thursday and Friday to try to persuade both sides to adopt a Security Council resolution imposing a new truce.

Turkey

  • US-Turkey military ties became increasingly tense this week as the White House is expected to approve a Pentagon request to provide more weapons to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a mainly Kurdish force designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, in the fight against ISIS.  This comes as the US continues to reject Turkey’s request for armed drones.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed dismay over the Obama Administration’s decision, saying “You ask the United States for an unmanned aerial vehicle…the answer you get is that the Congress didn’t approve this. This is the situation that we are constantly faced with.”
  • US military spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian, said in a press conference in Baghdad on Thursday that Turkey is “not part of the international coalition” fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq, adding that the coalition believes every force “should be here with the coordination or with the permission of the government of Iraq.”