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Tuesday, February 13


Tuesday, February 13

Turkey’s Afrin operation


Tillerson, McMaster expected to push Turkish leaders to cease Afrin strikes

Turkey’s Afrin operation
Photo: Umit Bektas/Reuters

Today, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Turkey to discuss US-Turkish relations with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Turkish leaders. Relations between the two countries have soured over disagreements over supporting Kurdish forces involved in fighting ISIS.

The US has provided aid to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). However, Ankara has refused to support the YPG for its alleged affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey, the US and the EU have designated a terrorist organisation. Additionally, Turkish forces have been launching air strikes against YPG forces in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin.

Expect Tillerson and McMaster to put diplomatic pressure on Turkish leaders to cease attacks on YPG forces. However, expect the current immediate need to defeat a common foe to delay fully addressing the YPG issue. US pressure might successfully win a moratorium on the airstrikes, but it will not eliminate Ankara’s push for dissolution of the YPG, especially once the last of ISIS-held territory is taken.


Global threats hearing to focus on intelligence community credibility

US National Security
Photo: Sputnik/Igor Mikhalev

The US Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its annual Worldwide Threats hearing today in Washington. Six prominent figures of the US intelligence community will testify, including CIA Director Michael Pompeo and FBI Director Christopher Wray. The hearing will include both an open and closed session.

Last year’s hearing covered a range of topics, from global threats relating to cyber security and terrorism to country trouble-spots like North Korea, Syria and South Sudan. This year’s hearing will cover similar ground, but will devote more attention to developing concerns, particularly North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program, US military strategy in Afghanistan and the US role in the Syrian peace process

However, expect senators’ question to centre on the general credibility of the intelligence community, which President Donald Trump and many Republicans have heavily criticised. Expect much of this questioning to be directed at the FBI, coming shortly after the fallout from the controversial Nunes memo.


Washington’s cold shoulder ends as huge military drills ramp up

US Thailand military relations
Photo: Cpl John C. Lamb

Today, US and Thai military personnel will jointly host the annual Cobra-Gold military exercises throughout Thailand for over 30 participating militaries. The event comes as strained US-Thai relations begin to reset.

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Photo: AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski

High level contact between the two militaries resumed only earlier this month, after the Obama administration cut off contact following Thailand’s 2014 military coup. The Trump administraton has worked towards repairing relations.

Although US participation had never been cancelled post-coup, the American commitment was downgraded. For example, the US sent only 3,000 troops to the 2017 exercises, the last organised by the previous administration. This year, however, will see 6,800 personnel sent in the largest muster since the coup.

These efforts point to Trump’s more pragmatic view towards the region. Although the Thai junta has once again delayed elections—this time to 2019—Washington will not push the issue. Expect the US to continue prioritising Thailand’s value as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence in Myanmar and Cambodia over addressing the authoritarian nature of the regime.

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