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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Iraq

  • PM Mahdi resigned Friday, following protests in southern and central Iraq that led to 400+ deaths—and after Iraq’s top Shia leader called for a change in government.
  • Iraq’s parliament approved PM Mahdi’s resignation, but it’s not clear what will happen next. The constitution seems to assign the government a caretaking role for 30 days, or until the largest bloc in parliament agrees on who will replace him—which they must do within 15 days.
  • The catch, though, is that there’s no single bloc officially designated as the largest one—so it’s not clear who, exactly, is being tasked with choosing the next PM.
  • Iraqi Kurds are disappointed about Mahdi’s departure: he was the only PM of the last three that seemed willing to negotiate on issues like Kurdish oil sales, and any potential successor will probably be less pragmatic.

Afghanistan

  • The Aussie professor who the Taliban just freed in a prisoner swap spoke to the media for the first time since his release.
    • He had no hard feelings towards his captors—and characterized most of them as very hospitable soldiers who were just following orders—but he believes that U.S. Navy SEALs tried to rescue him and fellow American captive Kevin King six times.
    • He didn’t elaborate much on those rescue attempts, except to say that his Taliban captors once told him IS was attacking, and moved him underground (he believes the invaders he heard then were SEALs; not IS).
    • The Pentagon hasn’t commented on any rescue attempts that may or may not have happened—and it probably wouldn’t comment on something like that, anyway.
  • The ANSF and the Taliban clashed in Jowzjan, and the ANSF boasted that it had killed a high-ranking Taliban official (without elaborating on his role), and received 25 Taliban defectors. That’s the kind of news that often comes out when the Afghan government is trying to bury an unfavorable story, but I’m not sure what that ugly story is yet.
  • ToloNews says the Afghan IEC is holding discussions to “prepare the announcement of the election’s preliminary results.” My gut instinct is that they’re consulting the candidates who said they would revolt if they lost, and trying to massage election results into something mutually agreeable before they announce them.
  • Pres. Ghani terminated two mining contracts—one for the Balkhab copper deposit in Sar-i-Pul, and one for a gold site in Badakshan—because the companies operating them (Afghan and Turkish-Afghan, respectively) “could not fulfill the commitments they made during the bidding process.”
  • The Pentagon said it’s aware of allegations of civilian casualties in a U.S. airstrike on Khost on Thursday, and is investigating them. The strike targeted three Taliban fighters, but local media reports say it killed eight civilians (including a newborn), and some prominent Afghan figures—like ex-Pres. Karzai and a current senior advisor to Pres. Ghani—are repeating the civilian casualties version.

Hong Kong

  • Protesters turned out again in Hong Kong today—as did police who lobbed tear gas at them. The protesters technically had approval to demonstrate, and the protests didn’t derail as much as they have in the past, but police still accused them of straying from the approved route and attacking officers.

Mexico

  • Mexican police engaged suspected drug traffickers in a firefight around 40 miles south of the U.S. border in Villa Union, Coahuila state. The shootout killed four police, seven suspected cartelsters, and three people whose bodies were found nearby and haven’t been identified yet.
  • Defense One had a nice counterpoint against labeling Mexican cartels terrorist organizations: it blurs the lines between terrorism and criminality, it doesn’t give the U.S. any significant benefits, it could distract enforcement away from the big fish, etc. Article pasted below.

DRC

  • DRC’s army said it drove Hutu CNRD rebels out of their bases in South Kivu over the weekend, and recaptured all the areas that were previously under CNRD control. (CNRD is an offshoot of the FDLR).

U.S.

  • A Pilatus PC-12 crashed in bad weather near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, killing nine of the 12 people aboard.

Commodities

  • Turkey and Azerbaijan formally opened the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which offers European markets an alternative to Russian gas. TANAP could transport up to 16 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year—of which, Europe would get up to 10 bcm, and Turkey would get up to six bcm.

Declaring Mexican Drug Cartels ‘Terrorists’ Is a Bad Old Idea (Defense One)

Trump and Obama policymakers rejected it because it brings no new tools to bear — and quite a few drawbacks.

In a recent interview, President Trump announced his intention to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorists. This is neither a unique nor fashionable idea; the proposal has been discussed and discarded by both the Trump and Obama administrations. I know because I was there during those deliberations, which never lasted long because it became quickly apparent that the move would provide no meaningful benefit, and could do much harm.

To the layperson, it may seem obvious that drug cartels meet the State Department’s broad criteria for inclusion on its Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, list: 1) they are foreign-based; 2) they carry out terrorist activity; and 3) the terrorist activity is a threat to U.S. national security interests. So why not add the cartels to the list?

First, doing so would accrue no significant benefits to the U.S. government. Ideally, adding an organization to the list — a discretionary decision reserved for the Secretary of State — should hand our government some new leverage in the fight. But all of the key Mexican drug cartels are already sanctioned under the 1999 Kingpin Act, which imposes severe criminal economic penalties on those who support or are part of these criminal networks. An FTO listing would provide no new tools to the departments of Justice, Treasury, or State.

Second, doing so could produce quite negative third-order effects. People who help an FTO-listed organization may be prosecuted for providing material support to terrorists, a charge that often brings 15- to 20-year prison sentences. In the past, material-support prosecutions have generally been reserved for U.S.-based terrorist financiers or would-be foreign terrorist fighters who have helped groups like ISIS. But if Mexican drug cartels are placed on the FTO list, it may become possible to prosecute low-level street dealers peddling their product as material supporters. The number of individuals who could get caught in this web could be significant and the impact of it could drain important investigative resources. For instance, the FBI might have to reassign resources to investigate dealers with tenuous links to the cartels, instead of using assets to unravel the next al-Qaeda plot.

Third, adding the cartels to the FTO list would blur the lines of terrorism and criminality. The list has historically been used against violent groups with political aims. The Mexican cartels are driven by financial interests; they have little interest in, say, deposing the Obrador government and politically ruling Mexico. If criminally motivated groups were added to the terrorist list, where would the State Department draw the line? Would State have to add Brazilian gangs, Chinese groups, and Russian criminal organizations? The office that maintains the list for State’s Counterterrorism Bureau has fewer than 15 people, who are already overworked and underfinanced for their task. Their job becomes much more difficult if they are expected to add criminal groups to the FTO list.

Fourth, the Mexican government has long opposed the addition of the cartels to the FTO list. President Obrador has already publicly stated his opposition to Trump’s idea. When interviewer Bill O’Reilly asked Trump whether the United States would use drones (presumably armed ones) against the cartels, he didn’t say no. There must be great apprehension in Mexico that the United States might violate Mexico’s sovereignty in hot pursuit of the cartels. Moreover, the cost of doing business in Mexico will certainly increase if the terrorist label is applied to the cartels. If nothing else, insurance premiums in Mexico will increase for U.S. businesses as adjustors recalculate risk formulas. Will U.S. businesses leave Mexico? And Mexican officials likely worry about how the listing might affect tourism.

While adding the cartels to the FTO list makes for a good sound bite and will play well within the American electorate, a closer look at the implications paints a different picture. The negative foreign and domestic implications ought to dissuade policymakers from wielding the FTO tool against the cartels.

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