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The impact of Mattis' and McGurk's resignations

CNN analyst Samantha Vinograd discusses the impact anti-ISIS point man Brett McGurk and Secretary of Defense James Mattis' resignation will have on coalitions and Americans.

Posted: Dec 26, 2018 3:47 AM
Updated: Dec 26, 2018 4:06 AM

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States, modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily.

Here's this week's briefing:

With Secretary of Defense James Mattis leaving the Pentagon at the end of the year, a key question for any prospective replacement is how to execute on presidential guidance to draw down US troops from actively hostile theaters. Withdrawing roughly 2,000 US troops from Syria on a short time frame -- by either relocating them elsewhere in the region to continue supporting the global coalition against ISIS or deploying them back home -- will be a complex task unto itself. Throw in an anticipated troop draw down in Afghanistan involving about 7,000 more troops, and the next defense secretary faces a herculean task that includes the unenviable job of convincing coalition members to stay engaged in missions we are turning away from.

Syria and Afghanistan may seem far away, and there is plenty of inaccurate messaging that says our troops are there fighting someone else's wars. But make no mistake -- they there because of us. US soldiers are in Syria with a clear mission to fight ISIS, while our troops in Afghanistan are part of a 17-year mission to destroy al-Qaeda and counter the Taliban. These organizations are known enemies of the United States with the proven intent and capability of attacking the homeland. We are engaged in these regions because there is a national security imperative to do so.

Trumping Trump is dangerous: The decision to withdraw about half of all US forces from Afghanistan would override the administration's own strategy, announced in August 2017, to pursue a conditions-based approach to Afghanistan. Less than a year later, the Department of Defense said that the strategy was working when they reported that shifting from a time-based approach to a conditions-based strategy "sowed new doubt in the Taliban, as fighters and leadership recognized that the United States is committed to Afghanistan." The Pentagon also noted that "increased military pressure, the increased capacity of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and the renewed confidence of the Afghan government" had helped paved the way for meaningful negotiations with the Taliban. The precipitous draw down of US forces would remove these elements. It would be part of a new strategy of leaving, even though no conditions have been met to do so.

Withdrawing half our forces flies in the face of pursuing a conditions-based approach and would reduce the credibility of any new strategy announcements. It also would open a security vacuum that the Taliban (which still controls a significant portion of Afghan territory), other terrorist groups and other countries may exploit to sow more discord and pursue their objectives. This leaves the remaining coalition forces, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the Afghan people and potentially Americans vulnerable to attack.

Giving away our trump card: Based on the Pentagon's own assessment, a withdrawal would also concurrently kill any momentum for negotiations between the Taliban and the US. We'd be giving the Taliban what they want and getting nothing in return -- not an end to the violence nor the release of US hostages.

The Taliban is rejoicing after reports of a US troop draw down. The Taliban has been trying to negotiate for the withdrawal of NATO forces for years; it is their desired end goal.

We also just asked Pakistan to help the peace process in Afghanistan. But by withdrawing our forces and ruining the conditions for negotiations, our appeal to Pakistan looks like a waste of their time. Our relationship took a hit when we cut off security assistance earlier this year. Now they will likely pay even less attention to our requests for help down the road.

Crying wolf has consequences: We are currently in Afghanistan as part of a NATO coalition. NATO is in Afghanistan because they are supporting us, in the wake of 9/11, and because they recognize the threat emanating from Afghanistan. They've done the same in Iraq, where they have supported us since 2004.

Similarly, we said there was a threat from ISIS and more than 70 other countries and organizations joined our coalition to fight the terrorist organization. Now, with claims that from the administration that ISIS is "largely defeated," we are withdrawing and abandoning our coalition responsibilities.

We asked for help, our calls were answered -- and now we're leaving other coalition members to do a job we no longer want to do.

This will impact our ability to build coalitions going forward. Mattis noted that he and the President aren't aligned on strategic issues like the importance of allies and coalitions. The President seemed to agree with Mattis when he tweeted on Saturday that allies are important. But he still managed to insult them when they are reeling from news of US withdrawals by saying they take advantage of us.

Other countries are going to question whether we're crying wolf about the gravity of threats and need to stay engaged in missions we've started. We may also be exposing remaining NATO forces to more risk as they are unprepared for new levels of insecurity, without having had to the time to plan for our orderly withdrawal.

To mitigate these risks, it's imperative that the White House reconsider any rapid draw down of US forces so the Pentagon can assess the most orderly and safe way to bring US troops home. Concurrently, the State Department and intelligence community should provide guidance on whether a rapid troop withdrawal will kill the chances for a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government -- and what we want from the Taliban if we grant their main request, US forces leaving Afghanistan.

We're also assessing evolving developments on the following issues:

Troop withdrawals are trending: With the news of possible US troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, our enemies are striking while the iron is hot. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the US military presence in Japan is an obstacle to Russian-Japanese peace treaty negotiations, while North Korea raised, yet again, its demand for US troop withdrawals from the Korean peninsula before it will denuclearize. Other countries like Iraq are probably wondering whether you're considering pulling troops there as well. Because of a perceived willingness to abandon military missions even when they aren't accomplished, our enemies will probably try to convince the White House that US troops do more harm than good and leverage the opportunity for their own benefit.

Oops, they did it again: The latest report from the director of national intelligence indicated that the voting infrastructure was not compromised by foreign actors during the midterm elections in November. It remains unclear whether our defenses prevented any efforts or if hackers simply didn't bother. However, the DNI did find that foreign actors -- including Russia, Iran and China -- continued their influence operations during the midterms. Election security planning for 2020 will need to focus on defending against information warfare attacks as well as effectively deterring them.

Border security: The Israeli government has started destroying Hezbollah tunnels that run from Lebanon into Northern Israel. Tensions on the border, however, are rising. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said the tunnels constitute an act of war by Hezbollah and blamed the Lebanese government for not doing enough to prevent Hezbollah from attacking Israel. This could lead to increased tensions between Israel and Lebanon, as well as more direct Israeli actions against Hezbollah and anyone in Lebanon they hold responsible for Hezbollah's activities.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 333626

Reported Deaths: 3843
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin700691145
Ramsey29459521
Dakota23564198
Anoka23541236
Washington14864125
Stearns14564125
St. Louis9549121
Scott896460
Wright847548
Olmsted714637
Sherburne618746
Clay529960
Carver509715
Kandiyohi440828
Rice432338
Blue Earth431217
Crow Wing383339
Otter Tail338925
Chisago334516
Benton322753
Nobles316032
Winona297832
Douglas283040
Mower274823
Polk271527
Morrison246731
McLeod233721
Lyon232812
Beltrami230718
Goodhue222932
Becker221521
Steele21038
Itasca206324
Isanti203917
Carlton201417
Todd190314
Nicollet172126
Mille Lacs164632
Freeborn16227
Le Sueur157012
Brown156115
Cass153511
Pine14498
Meeker144812
Waseca143411
Roseau13035
Martin124721
Hubbard119729
Wabasha11301
Redwood104620
Chippewa9808
Renville95530
Cottonwood9454
Dodge9311
Watonwan8944
Wadena8637
Sibley8404
Rock8249
Houston8004
Aitkin79930
Fillmore7690
Pipestone76518
Pennington7058
Yellow Medicine69612
Kanabec68614
Swift63610
Murray6124
Faribault6093
Pope5721
Clearwater55410
Marshall5459
Stevens5403
Jackson5321
Lake4518
Koochiching4216
Wilkin4175
Lac qui Parle4124
Lincoln3811
Unassigned38159
Norman3718
Big Stone3392
Mahnomen3225
Grant2986
Kittson2518
Red Lake2303
Traverse1531
Lake of the Woods1071
Cook800

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 237371

Reported Deaths: 2571
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk34873347
Linn14787169
Scott1184692
Black Hawk11288147
Woodbury10763137
Johnson985939
Dubuque947999
Story701924
Pottawattamie682474
Dallas661260
Sioux383829
Webster378339
Cerro Gordo373252
Marshall360950
Clinton345645
Buena Vista316614
Muscatine305172
Des Moines300623
Warren294115
Plymouth287044
Wapello265072
Jones237118
Jasper231546
Lee228719
Marion211922
Carroll204325
Bremer202713
Henry19367
Crawford183116
Benton175423
Tama157442
Jackson151117
Washington150216
Delaware147621
Dickinson145812
Boone144912
Mahaska133928
Wright13107
Clay12505
Buchanan123410
Hardin122812
Hamilton119514
Page11925
Kossuth11768
Clayton115510
Cedar114614
Harrison113432
Floyd111921
Mills11129
Calhoun10987
Fayette109812
Lyon10769
Butler10748
Winneshiek105513
Poweshiek103714
Iowa101414
Cherokee9674
Winnebago96325
Chickasaw9195
Hancock9138
Sac9068
Louisa90122
Grundy89514
Allamakee88413
Cass84725
Union8437
Mitchell8429
Appanoose81613
Humboldt8125
Shelby80511
Emmet79026
Guthrie78315
Franklin76421
Jefferson7635
Madison7265
Unassigned7090
Palo Alto6744
Keokuk6567
Pocahontas6024
Howard5859
Ida54915
Osceola5461
Greene5422
Montgomery51411
Clarke5064
Davis4839
Taylor4833
Monona4567
Adair4539
Monroe45113
Worth3881
Fremont3823
Van Buren3815
Decatur3410
Lucas3416
Audubon3112
Wayne3087
Ringgold2432
Adams1812
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