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March 8, 2017

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Kabul Attack Stokes Fears of Islamic State

At least thirty people are dead and fifty injured after gunmen who were dressed as doctors attacked a military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. The self-proclaimed Islamic State (Guardian) stated it was behind the six-hour-long attack that involved at least three gunmen and a suicide bomber. The hospital is the primary treatment center for Afghan soldiers (NYT) and most of the victims are expected to be military personnel. ISIS also claimed a suicide attack at Afghanistan's Supreme Court (BBC) last month that killed twenty-two people, a November attack on a mosque that killed thirty people, and at least two attacks on Shia Muslims.

ANALYSIS

"A group affiliated with the Islamic State has been trying to gain a foothold in the east of the country. But it has been the target of repeated operations from Afghan forces and airstrikes by the United States military, which have taken out about 700 fighters, according to a United States military spokesman. Despite that, the group has said that it was responsible for an increasing number of suicide missions in Kabul, the one on the hospital being the most sophisticated of them yet," Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed write for the New York Times.

"The Afghan [ISIS] affiliate’s leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was killed in a US drone strike in August. The group’s support among local people has also been limited by its trademark brutality and imposition of a blinkered vision of Islam—including bans on smoking and poppy cultivation and the annulment of government-officiated weddings—in spite of local customs. Analysts have put the number of Isis fighters in Afghanistan at up to 2,000, though a close assessment is difficult to establish because of the uncertain toll of casualties and success of recruitment drives," Michael Safi writes for the Guardian.

"A casual observer of the war in Afghanistan can be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu while watching a U.S. military commander recommend to a new president the dispatch of thousands more troops. That is, after all, what happened in 2009, when General Stanley McChrystal warned President Barack Obama that 'mission failure' was likely unless he sent reinforcements. And now it has happened again, albeit on a smaller scale, with General John W. 'Mick' Nicholson Jr. warning President Donald J. Trump, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, that a 'few thousand' more troops are needed simply to maintain 'a stalemate'," writes CFR's Max Boot.

PACIFIC RIM

China Calls on North Korea to Halt Missile Tests

China's foreign minister called on North Korea to halt its missile tests and development of nuclear technology (BBC) and on the United States and South Korea to halt their joint military drills. The appeals came after North Korea launched four test missiles toward Japan on Monday.

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker examines the nuclear weapons crisis on the Korean peninsula.

SOUTH KOREA: The Constitutional Court will rule on Friday (SCMP) whether to uphold the December impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in a decision to be broadcast on live television. If Park is removed from office new elections will be held within sixty days.

CFR's Scott A. Snyder and Sungtae "Jacky" Park discuss the geopolitical challenges that would face South Korea's next president.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Thousands Cross Border From Pakistan to Afghanistan

Thousands of stranded citizens returned to Afghanistan (RFE/RL) after Pakistan temporarily reopened one of two border crossings that had been closed since February for what it said was a security measure. Afghanistan said twenty-five thousand of its citizens have been stranded (BBC) since the closure.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Russia, Turkey, U.S. Army Chiefs Meet

The U.S. chair of the joint chiefs of staff met with Turkish and Russian counterparts in the Turkish city of Antalya to discuss regional security and avoiding confrontation in their fights against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Al Jazeera). The meeting comes as U.S. troops remain on the ground in the northern Syrian city of Manbij (NYT), which was retaken from ISIS by U.S.-backed militias.

CFR's Steven A. Cook discusses Russia's interests in the Middle East in Salon.

SAUDI ARABIA: Police said they shot dead a suspected ISIS militant (Middle East Eye) in an apartment in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The incident comes a day after Malaysian police announced they had foiled a plan by militants to attack Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud during his visit to Southeast Asia.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

South Africa Revokes ICC Withdrawal

South Africa formally revoked its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), initiated last year, citing a court ruling (NYT) calling the move unconstitutional without parliamentary approval. South Africa announced its withdrawal after the ICC condemned the country for not arresting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (Mail and Guardian) during a visit.

SOMALIA: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Mogadishu for an emergency visit to address the country’s impending famine (Al Jazeera). The World Health Organization has warned Somalia is at risk of facing its third famine in a quarter century.

EUROPE

Belgium Blocks North Korean Banks From Swift System

Belgian regulators blocked three North Korean banks from using the international banking system, Swift, after the United Nations said the banks' use of the service was in defiance of international sanctions (FT). Several North Korean banks not under sanctions continue to use the system.

GERMANY: The German and Turkish foreign ministers met in Berlin (DW) following accusations by Turkey that Germany obstructed campaigning by the Turkish diaspora ahead of a referendum that would boost Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers as president. Some 1.4 million Turks (RFE/RL) residing in Germany are eligible to vote.

AMERICAS

Tech Companies Respond to Alleged CIA Document Leak

Tech giants Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft issued statements responding to WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of documents purporting to show hacking tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break into smartphones, computers, and TVs (NYT). Apple said it will work to "rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities" (BBC).

BRAZIL: Brazil's national statistics agency announced that gross domestic product shrank 3.6 percent in 2016 (WSJ), following a contraction of 3.8 percent the year before. The finance minister said the two-year recession is the worst since record-keeping began in 1948.