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March 28, 2017

Daily News Brief

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Rights Group Warns Over Coalition Strikes in Mosul

The recent spike in civilian deaths in the Iraqi city of Mosul suggests that the U.S.-led coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State is not taking sufficient precautions (AP) to prevent civilian casualties, human rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday. In addition to a March 17 blast that locals said killed more than one hundred civilians, the organization reported a second airstrike on Saturday that is believed to have killed up to 150 people. The U.S. Army's chief of staff said it is possible that the self-proclaimed Islamic State carried out the March 17 blast in order to blame it on the coalition (Reuters), but that "it is possible that a coalition air strike did it." The report comes as the United States prepares to send an additional 240 troops to Mosul (NYT) to reinforce the more-than-five thousand U.S. military personnel already in Iraq.


"The Trump administration has taken a more hands-off approach to the war effort, deferring to the generals running the campaign. But the spike in deaths has led Amnesty International and other human rights groups to conclude the U.S. is not as committed to reducing civilian casualties. Never has the U.S. been accused of killing so many in such a short period of time. According to, there have been one thousand alleged civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria by coalition airstrikes in the month of March alone, a record high since the U.S.-led coalition's strikes began," Nancy A. Youssef writes for Buzzfeed News.

"Many Iraqi commanders welcome the more aggressive American role, saying that coalition officers were too risk averse under the Obama administration. Iraqis also say fighting for the dense, urban spaces of western Mosul requires more airpower, even if that means more civilians will die," Tim Arango writes for the New York Times.

"The long-awaited battle of Mosul rested on a broken strategic plan. It depended on the false assumption that ISIS would have been weakened after a series of defeats in Iraq and Syria over the last year and would therefore not fight for very long to hold the city. In this view, it was thought better not to isolate the city completely. Doing so would spare civilian lives and save military resources by letting ISIS fighters retreat and find their own escape routes from Mosul," Riyadh Mohammed writes for Foreign Affairs.


Thousands Flee Cyclone in Australia

Tens of thousands of people in northeastern Australia fled as a category four storm with winds up to 160 miles per hour (NYT) hit Tuesday morning. The evacuations appear to be the largest in Australia since a 1974 cyclone (Reuters).

HONG KONG: Nine leaders of 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations face criminal charges of  conspiring to commit public nuisance (SCMP) and incitement. The charges came a day after Carrie Lam, a pro-Beijing candidate (NYT), was elected to lead the semi-autonomous territory.

CFR's Elizabeth C. Economy spoke with democracy activist Joshua Wong


Pakistan, South Africa Sign Defense Agreement

The Pakistani and South African defense ministers signed on Monday a memorandum of understanding (Express Tribune) that allows for the purchase of military equipment and joint training (Dawn).

INDIA: India serviced one hundred million flight passengers in 2016 (Bloomberg), surpassing Japan as the world's third-largest aviation market. China and the United States are the two largest airline markets.


U.S. Increases Supports for Arab Coalition in Yemen

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition that is leading airstrikes in Yemen said that the United States has a "commitment" with the Arab coalition to "increase cooperation" (WSJ). Former President Barack Obama froze the sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia during his final months in office due to concern over widespread civilian casualties.

CFR's Micah Zenko calls the U.S. intervention in Yemen a "shameful war" in Foreign Policy.


South African Rand Drops in Wake of Minister's Recall

The South African rand fell 2.5 percent against the U.S. dollar (WSJ) in one day as President Jacob Zuma recalled Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from a trip to London. Zuma and Gordhan (Mail and Guardian) have clashed in recent months over the management of state-owned companies and the national tax service.

DRC: The United States may seek a cap of fifteen thousand on the number of troops in the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the body's largest and most expensive operation (Reuters) of its kind.

Jason Stearns, Koen Vlassenroot, Kasper Hoffmann, and Tatiana Carayannis argue that the DRC needs reform of state institutions to achieve stability in Foreign Affairs.


Spanish Court Orders Probe Into Syrian Officials

A high court judge ruled that Spain can investigate alleged crimes (BBC) by members of Syria's security and intelligence forces in a case regarding a Spanish woman who claims her brother was tortured and executed by Syrian officials (Guardian).

UK: Prime Minister Theresa May traveled to Scotland to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to dissuade her (EUobserver) from pursuing a Scottish independence referendum. May stated she seeks a "more united nation."

Richard G. Whitman discusses what the Brexit vote meant for Scotland in this CFR interview.


Canada Seeks Legal Marijuana by 2018

Canada's government is drafting legislation on the legalization of recreational marijuana use (Globe and Mail), which it aims to pass by mid-2018. The move would make Canada the first G7 country (Guardian) to fully legalize the drug.

HAITI: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told Chile's four hundred peacekeeping troops in Haiti (Miami Herald) that the mission would come to a close. Her visit came before a scheduled April 11 debate at the United Nations over the fate of the thirteen-year peacekeeping operation in Haiti, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres seeks to end by October.


U.S. Opposes UN Nuclear Weapons Ban

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley led a boycott of UN talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons (NYT), questioning whether North Korea would comply with a ban. Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden are leading the proposed ban (RFE/RL).

A U.S. army veteran who professed racial hatred and killed an African American on a New York City street was charged with murder as an act of terrorism (BBC). A Manhattan district attorney said the crime was intended to "launch a campaign of terrorism" against the community.