The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2016
U.S. EXPECTS ISIS TO USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN MOSUL FIGHT

The United States expects ISIS to use crude chemical weapons in its desperate attempt to hold control of Mosul, according to U.S. officials. However, the group’s technical ability to develop and produce such weapons is highly limited. U.S. forces have reportedly been regularly collecting ISIS shell fragments to test for possible chemical agents, after the group allegedly used sulfur mustard gas on October 5 in a shell fired at local forces. Reuters

More than 900 people have fled Mosul into Syria as the military campaign to retake Iraq’s second-largest city began, according to the United Nations. As many as 1.5 million people are believed to still be living inside Mosul. The Pentagon said Tuesday that ISIS is using civilians as human shields as Kurdish and Iraqi forces begin to push forward to retake the city. BBC

Related:
New York Times: At the Mosul Front: Traps, Smoke Screens and Suicide Bombers
The Hill: Pentagon: ISIS using civilians as human shields in Mosul
BBC: Mosul battle: 900 civilians flee city ahead of fighting
New York Times: Retaking Mosul From ISIS May Pale to What Comes Next
NBC: Fall of Mosul Would Mean End of ISIS 'Caliphate' in Iraq: U.S. General
CNN: Iraqi armored division closing in on Mosul
New York Times: After Losses in Syria and Iraq, ISIS Moves the Goal Posts

DISABLED MAN SENTENCED IN ISIS CASE
A federal judge in Kansas sentenced a disabled man to 15 months in prison for lending $100 to someone he thought was planning to attack a U.S. military base on behalf of ISIS. Alexander Blair, 29, suffers from Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that results in abnormal brain development and learning disabilities. In May, Blair pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. His defense lawyer said of the decision that “Alex’s genetic condition made him easily manipulated and unable to appreciate the gravity of his conduct. While I believe that a prison sentence was not the right outcome, I appreciate that Judge Crabtree recognized that the government’s demand for five years in prison was overreaching.” Wall Street Journal

Gitmo: The military judge presiding over the trials connected to the attack on the USS Cole announced on Tuesday that he had signed a warrant to compel testimony from a reluctant witness in the case. Air Force Col. Vance Spath said on Tuesday that he issued a “warrant of attachment” the night before for Stephen Gill, who had refused to conduct his testimony via video conference from Arlington, Virginia, reportedly over a reimbursement dispute. Gill was seized by U.S. Marshals and taken to Virginia. Gill, a Massachusetts attorney, was expected to testify on what he perceived to be unauthorized involvement by Pentagon legal advisers in the case after their disqualification by Judge Spath. Miami Herald, Courthouse News Service

Related:
ABC News: Deciding the Future of Guantanamo and Its Prisoners
Washington Post: The media’s Guantanamo Bay dilemma, as explained by ABC’s David Muir


TALIBAN REFUTES REPORTS OF SECRET PEACE TALKS
On Tuesday, the Taliban formally refuted earlier reports of secret meetings with the Afghan government, saying that there has been no change in the group’s policy for holding peace negotiations. The Guardian reported earlier in the day that anonymous Afghan officials and sources within the Taliban confirmed at least two secret meetings over the last two months between the warring sides in Doha, Qatar. VOA

Yemen: A 72-hour ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government will begin on Wednesday night, according to the United Nations. U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he “welcomes the restoration of the cessation of hostilities, which will spare the Yemeni people further bloodshed and will allow for the expanded delivery of humanitarian assistance.” Reuters, The Hill


Iran: Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American businessman and his father to 10 years in prison each for violating security laws. Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi, a former United Nations official, were reportedly sentenced to a decade in prison “for cooperating with the hostile American government.” The Hill

Belgium: Belgium has charged four people with participating in and aiding a terrorist organization, after they allegedly funded and recruited for ISIS. The announcement comes after Belgian police raided 15 homes in the cities of Antwerp, Ghent, and Deinze, and detained 15 people for questioning on Tuesday morning. VOA, Bloomberg

WikiLeaks: On Tuesday, Ecuador announced that it has cut off Julian Assange’s internet access while he is in exile in the country’s embassy in London over concerns that it is being connected to WikiLeak’s attempts to influence the U.S. election. In a statement, the government said it “respects the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other countries...and it does not interfere in the electoral processes in support of any candidate in particular.” New York Times


Russia’s longtime ambassador to the United Nations has described relations between the United States and Russia as the most strained since nearly four decades ago, during tensions over the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin said “the general situation is pretty bad: I think the tensions are probably the worst since 1973.” New York Times

Related:
Bloomberg: Russia Suspends Aleppo Bombing Amid Growing Sanctions Threat
New York Times: Russia and Syria Pause Bombardment of Rebel-Held Parts of Aleppo
 
TOP OP-EDS
There Are Really Two Battles for Mosul: “Even before the battle for Mosul began, there has been a general sense of inevitability about the outcome in favor of the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces. The worry is about what happens after, when the spoils of the largely Sunni and Kurd oil-rich city are divided among the Shiite-led government, the Shiite militias that are joining the battle, the Iraqi forces, the Peshmerga, and states like Turkey and Iran, which has played a role in the battle against ISIS,” writes Nancy Youssef on The Daily Beast. “Perhaps because of that, some are trying to shape the outcome even before it happens through rhetoric, hoping today’s words will mitigate tensions in post-ISIS Mosul.”

After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for the Islamic State to Go Underground: “When facing a major clearance operation, the group has often managed to go ‘underground’ rather than fight a conventional military force head on. As clearance operations get underway in Mosul, the Islamic State will likely replicate this approach, deactivating and dispersing its military units and reinforcing its intelligence, security, administrative, and financial groups,” write Patrick Ryan and Patrick Johnson on War on the Rocks. “The coalition of Iraqi and U.S. forces must anticipate this adjustment, and prepare to execute a deliberate campaign targeting Islamic State ‘enabler’ elements, which may operate just under the radar of coalition and Iraqi forces, but in plain sight of the all-important civilian population.”

Trump and Clinton offer two kinds of Syria policy: bad and worse: “Clinton’s no-fly zone, and in practical terms, Trump’s safe zone, both open the same door to a greatly enlarged conflict,” writes Peter Van Buren for Reuters. “Any no-fly zone (or safe zone for that matter) must address the near-certainty it will be challenged by the Russians; it almost has to be, given the struggle for dominance in the region. Shooting down a Russian plane would enlarge the conflict in Syria while at the same time risking a retaliatory move that could take place anywhere in the world, perhaps even in cyberspace.”
EDITOR'S PICK

SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The U.S. Election and the Specter of Domestic Political Violence




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