The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg is suing the Defense Department over its delay in providing figures for staffing levels at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Rosenberg filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking an expedited release of the data. Rosenberg said of the data: “I’ve been trying to examine staffing levels for years….The detention center used to give us precise numbers on a given day, then the Southern Command stopped them.” Staffing levels are often used as a key indicator in understanding the military’s future plans for Guantanamo. Miami Herald, Courthouse News Service

Cuba: For the first time in 25 years, the United States abstained on Wednesday in a United Nations vote condemning the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Each year, the UN General Assembly votes heavily in favor of condemning the embargo and urging the United States to end its harsh economic policy towards Cuba. The move signals the Obama administration’s continued warming of relations with Cuba. Washington Post
Drones: The U.S. military has secretly expanded its overseas network of drone bases to North Africa, deploying unmanned aircraft and military personnel to a facility in Tunisia, according to U.S. officials. The Tunisia post has reportedly been used to conduct missions over Libya and assist in the fight against ISIS. Washington Post

On Sunday, the U.S. military carried out airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan targeting two of Al Qaeda’s most senior leaders in the country. The Pentagon said it was still trying to determine if the two targets, Faruq al-Qatani and Bilal al-Utabi, were killed in the strikes. Qatani was described as Al Qaeda’s emir for northeastern Afghanistan and a “senior planner for attacks against the United States.” Utabi has allegedly worked to re-establish a haven in Afghanistan to attack Western targets and was involved in the recruitment and training of foreign fighters. New York Times, Washington Post
Iraq: On Wednesday, ISIS fighters continued their defense of the southern front of Mosul, forcing Iraqi troops to put a more rapid advance on hold. Ten days into the military campaign to retake Mosul, Iraqi army forces have moved to within 20 miles of Mosul in the region of Shora to the south. Reuters
Reuters: At Iraqi village, victory is fraught with risks in Mosul offensive
AP: Offensive on ISIS base Raqqa will be harder than Mosul, U.S. general says
Wall Street Journal: ISIS Failure in Kirkuk Shows Its Loss of Sunni Arab Support
ABC: Offensive on Raqqah 'Imperative' to Prevent Terror Plots: US General
Somalia: Fighters linked to ISIS have seized an ancient port town in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northeastern state of Puntland, according to local residents. A group of 50 armed militants reportedly captured the town on Wednesday after security forces withdrew. New York Times, AP
Syria: Suspected Russian or Syrian government airstrikes killed at least 26 people on Wednesday, most of them schoolchildren, in a rebel-held village in Idlib province. The strikes hit a residential area and a school in the village of Haas, according to the Syrian Civil Defence rescue workers’ network. Reuters, New York Times

Tunisia: On Wednesday, two Americans were detained over their suspected involvement with a terrorist organization, according to police officials. The two men were arrested in the small northwestern town of Jendouba and then transferred to the country’s main counterterrorism center in Tunis. They were later released and driven away in a United States Embassy car. New York Times, NBC
China: Special forces from Saudi Arabia and China held their first joint counterterrorism drills, according to state media. Twenty-five troops from each country took part in the joint training over two weeks in the southwestern city of Chongqing. Reuters

Russia canceled a request to refuel a flotilla of warships headed to Syria at a Spanish port on Wednesday. The group of ships, including cruisers, submarine hunting warships, and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, had originally planned to refuel in Ceuta, a small Spanish enclave in North Africa near the Strait of Gibraltar. The move came amid mounting criticism of Spain’s willingness to allow the refueling from NATO’s secretary general. Washington Post
Britain said on Wednesday that it will deploy fighter jets to Romania next year as part of the NATO buildup in Eastern Europe. Germany, Canada, and other NATO allies also pledged forces at a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels. Reuters
ISIS leaders may flee Mosul as their ranks are decimated: “US military officials believe that around this time some ISIS leaders will "go out the back door," shaving off their beards and blending into the local population,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN. “At some point U.S. officials expect that ISIS fighters will fall back to Mosul city itself, where the terrorist army has ‘canalized’ streets so that Iraqi forces are drawn into their fields of fire.”
Playing With Fear: Russia’s War Card: “Clearly, the Kremlin is deliberately creating a sense of impending war by having its own media insist that NATO has put Russia under threat — from the military alliance itself and its democratic ethos,” writes Michael Khodarkovsky in The New York Times. “Ominously, Mr. Putin loses no opportunity to extol the Russian people’s wartime virtues of heroism and martyrdom.”
Al Qaeda’s ruthless pragmatism makes it more dangerous than Islamic State: “Al Qaeda’s ruthlessly pragmatic approach has placed it in a far better position to achieve its strategic objectives. It has proved more effective in taking advantage of U.S. policy in the Middle East, primarily in Syria, to legitimize itself as an armed force and, increasingly, as a viable political player,” write Colin P. Clarke and Barak Mendelsohn for Reuters. “The al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, since rebranded Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or JFS, is quietly morphing into a mainstream option in the broader panoply of rebel groups operating in Syria, even as Islamic State’s caliphate continues to shrink and the United States and Russia spar over mistaken targets.”
Counter Terror Smarter: Government leaders must leave behind these four failed counterterrorism strategies: “When what you’re doing isn't working, doing more of it isn't the solution. We can't keep responding to attacks the same way and expecting a different result. There is a better way to counter terrorism, and a more effective model that we can adopt, but first government officials must abandon failing strategies,” writes Michael German on the U.S. News & World Report.

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State Strikes in Pakistan

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