ISW Daily Update: March 16, 2017

 These are the major events from March 16, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYR: The U.S. continues to signal deepening support for Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operations against ISIS in ar-Raqqah. The Pentagon reportedly developed a plan to deploy an additional 1,000 U.S. troops to northern Syria in order to advise the SDF. If approved, the plan would double the current U.S. deployment in support of the Kurdish-led coalition and would risk major retaliation by Turkey, including cross-border ground operations against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. // GREAT

IRQ:  Arab states continue to propose economic agreements with Iraq in order to counter Iranian influence. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi spoke with Jordanian Prime Minister Hadi al-Mulqi by phone following a visit by Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit to Baghdad on March 15. Both leaders likely discussed the Iraq-Egypt pipeline, which would pass from Basra through Aqaba to Egypt. Arab and Gulf states also likely view Iraq’s upcoming elections as an opportunity to compete with Turkey for influence among Iraqi Sunni Arab politicians. Upcoming elections, the impending recapture of Mosul, and changes in U.S. policy toward Iran are likely drivers of their recent activities. 

AFG:  Political turbulence following the 08 MAR attack on the Kabul Military Hospital may temporarily disrupt the combat effectiveness of Afghan security institutions ahead on the spring fighting season. The Afghan Deputy Interior Minister for Security was dismissed and replaced by Tariq Shah Bahrami, and the lower Afghan Parliament summoned three top security officials for hearings on 27 MAR. At least 24 security officials, including multiple Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) generals, were arrested for negligence on 15 MAR. The Taliban spring offensive is expected to begin in April, but could start as early as 20 MAR. 

RUS/UKR: The Ukrainian government took further steps to increase economic pressure on Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko authorized sanctions against leading public banks following his announcement on 15 MAR of a de-facto blockade of separatist territory in Donbas. Russia will likely push to characterize Ukraine’s decisions as de-facto surrender to nationalist groups in Ukraine. Russia will likely take punitive measures to increase economic and political pressure on Ukraine in response.

EGY: Egypt seeks closer relation with NATO. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a presidential decree establishing a diplomatic mission to NATO. Under the decree, Egypt will appoint an ambassador to NATO. Egypt has been a NATO partner since the 1990s. NATO has invited Egypt to exchange diplomatic missions earlier this month. The timing reflects NATO's desire to develop closer cooperation with Egypt curb illegal migration from North Africa to Europe. Egypt’s closer ties to NATO will become increasingly relevant if Russia attempts to expand its strategic basing to Egypt.