The Soufan Group Morning Brief



A U.S. service member was killed on Tuesday during an operation against ISIS in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The incident occurred in the Achin district, just miles from the Pakistani border. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that the service member, who remains unnamed, was killed by an improvised explosive device in a “combat situation...alongside Afghan partners.” It was the third U.S. combat fatality in Afghanistan this year. Washington Post, New York Times

Last year, Yahoo secretly built a custom software program to search its customers’ incoming emails for information requested by U.S. intelligence agencies, according to a report by Reuters. Yahoo reportedly complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning customers’ email accounts at the request of the NSA or FBI, according to three former employees. Some experts say this is the first known case of a tech company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request to search incoming messages, as opposed to scanning stored messages or a small number of accounts. Reuters

The Hill: ACLU blasts Yahoo’s secret email searches for government
Fortune: Google and Microsoft Not Part of NSA Email Scanning Tied to Yahoo
Slate: Yahoo Let U.S. Government Search All of Customers’ Incoming Emails, Report Says

Surveillance: The company that makes Signal, a secure phone call and messaging app, said on Tuesday that it had received its first federal grand jury subpoena for one of its customers’ communication records. The company, Open Whisper Systems, said it did not provide all of the information requested and that its program does not gather or keep most data that was being requested, as the platform does not collect metadata on calls and messages that record the times, dates, phone numbers, and durations of communications. Washington Post

ISIS defector: A newly released video clip raises questions about the claim made by a former ISIS member that he refused to commit violence or murder while with the group in Syria. Harry Sarfo, 28, defected from ISIS last year and was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison upon his arrival in Germany. The video shows Sarfo assisting fellow ISIS members move prisoners before a public execution in Palmyra last year, and then apparently shooting at a the bodies of the prisoners after they had been killed. German authorities said the video will “probably lead to a new investigation and case” against Sarfo. Washington Post, New York Times

Afghan forces regained control of the center of the city of Kunduz from Taliban fighters on Tuesday, according to Afghan police. A police spokesman said that at least forty Taliban fighters were killed in the ongoing operation to push the group out of Kunduz, where insurgents overran a central city square on Monday. CNN, New York Times

Syria: Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticized Russia on Tuesday for turning “a blind eye” to the Syrian government’s use of chlorine gas and barrel bombs against civilians. Kerry left little hope for an early resumption of talks with Russia over a renewed ceasefire effort. New York Times, Reuters

On Tuesday, Russia announced that it had deployed a surface-to-air defense missile system to its naval base in Syria. The S-300 system could potentially pose a threat to U.S. coalition aircraft operating in Syria against ISIS. The Hill

New York Times: U.S. Election Cycle Offers Kremlin a Window of Opportunity in Syria
Washington Post: Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again
NPR: Amid Deteriorating U.S.-Russia Relations, Questions Grow About Cyberwar

Yemen: On Wednesday, The United Arab Emirates said that Houthi forces attacked a UAE civilian ship in an important Red Sea shipping lane off the coast of Yemen last weekend. The UAE Foreign Ministry called the incident an act of terrorism. Reuters

Philippines: Annual joint military exercises by the United States and the Philippines began on Tuesday, despite recent tensions between the two countries. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte previously said that U.S. special forces assisting with counterterrorism operations in the south of the country must leave. He also threatened to end the 2014 defense agreement with the United States. The Hill

European Union: The European Parliament voted to tighten legislation that bans exports of torture equipment from the EU. The ban includes items such as portable electric shock devices, shackles, and handcuffs modified to inflict pain, as well as further restrictions on chemicals used in executions. BBC
How to Stop Kashmir from Spiraling into All-Out War: “Only one realistic option remains: managing the Kashmir problem in ways that maximize stability and minimize violence and human-rights violations, as well as the probability of war,” writes Rajan Menon on the National Interest. “For that to happen, India must take steps to protect Kashmiri Muslims from mistreatment, even death, at the hands of the Indian army, the CRPF and the local police.”

‘Surrender and you can eat again’: Aleppo on the brink: “Even as members of the Obama administration acknowledge the horror, they remain wary of options that might counter the onslaught,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “Whatever else U.S. officials say about Syria, they should begin with an admission that we are diminished, as individuals and as a nation, by watching the destruction of a city and its people. Russia may be wading further into a military quagmire, but the United States is deep in a moral one. The stain of Syria won’t leave our national consciousness for many years.”

The Secular-Islamist Divide Deepens in Jordan: “For now the intellectual debate is restricted to newspaper pages, while emotional debates continue to take place on social media. One missing player in all this is the state itself, which appears to be entrenched and sitting on the fence. While claiming to be pushing for political reforms, it is hesitant to take sides in the ongoing dispute,” writes Osama Al Sharif for the Middle East Institute. “One reason for that, perhaps, is the heavy political cost that could result from choosing a side, despite its insistence on following a centrist brand of Islam while fighting religious extremism. But in a society that is exhibiting worrying signs of religious fervor, which is translating into individual acts of violence, the price of doing nothing may prove hefty.

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Role of Shi’a Militias in the Battle for Aleppo

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