The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2016
OBAMA EXPANDS WAR WITH AL QAEDA TO INCLUDE AL SHABAAB

The Obama administration has decided to deem al Shabaab, the Islamist militant group in Somalia, to be part of the armed conflict that Congress authorized against the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the New York Times. The move shores up “the legal basis for an intensifying campaign of airstrikes and other counterterrorism operations” against the militant group, carried out largely in support of African Union and Somali government forces. The decision is expected to be publicly disclosed next month in a letter to Congress listing global war on terror deployments. It is part of the Obama administration’s effort to relax various self-imposed rules for airstrikes against Islamist militants as it tries to help its partner forces in several conflicts around the globe. New York Times
 
At Lawfare, Marty Lederman writes that as a practical matter, the decision means “that the government would now have legal authority under the 2001 AUMF to use force against all Shabaab forces, rather than only against those Shabaab members who are also part of al Qaeda itself (which was the government’s working view until recently). Importantly, however, that does not mean that the government will do so, or will treat Shabaab as it treats al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan…. Moreover, the Administration is not declaring Somalia to be an “area of active hostilities” that is exempt from the limitations of the 2013 PPG.” Lawfare
OBAMA WIDENS JSOC’S POWER TO HUNT TERRORISTS
The Obama administration has decided to give the elite Joint Special Operations Command expanded power to track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe, according to the Washington Post. The decision has been driven by concerns that as ISIS militants are driven from strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the global terrorist threat will become more dispersed. When finalized, the move will elevate JSOC from being a highly-valued strike tool used by regional military commands to leading a new multi-agency intelligence and action force. Washington Post
 
THANKS TO FBI PROGRAM, ISIS SOCIAL MEDIA LEADERS ARE KILLED ONE BY ONE
One by one, American and allied forces have reportedly over the past year killed the most important of roughly a dozen members of an ISIS cell that the FBI calls “the Legion,” who were responsible for exhorting online followers to carry out attacks in the West and spread ISIS propaganda. The drone killings have been part of a secretive campaign that “has largely silenced a powerful voice that led to a surge of counterterrorism activity across the United States in 2015 as young men and women came under the influence of ISIS propaganda,” according to the New York Times. “Initially the threat posed by the Legion was primarily seen as a problem for law enforcement officials,” according to the report. “But as the threat worsened last year, and the FBI stepped up the monitoring of terrorism suspects around the country, the bureau pressed the military to focus on the group, according to current and former U.S. officials.” New York Times
 
Taliban combatant case: A former Russian army officer who fought alongside Taliban-linked forces and was brought to the U.S. for trial is claiming in a new appeal that he is a lawful combatant entitled to be treated as a prisoner of war and immune from the U.S. court system. Irek Hamidullin, who fought with the Haqqani network, was captured in 2009 after leading a band of insurgents in an attack on an Afghan border police compound. He was brought to the U.S. in 2014 for trial on charges including conspiring and attempting to kill members of the U.S. military. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, is scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 9. Associated Press
 
CIA torture lawsuit: A psychologist who is the subject of a pending lawsuit on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program is releasing a book on Tuesday. In it, James Mitchell argues that he acted with government permission in devising and running the program, and that he and psychologist Bruce Jessen, his co-defendant in the lawsuit, received medals from the CIA for their efforts. New York Times
 

ISRAELI TROOPS CLASH WITH ISIS-LINKED FIGHTERS IN GOLAN HEIGHTS
Israeli troops engaged in what is believed to be their first direct firefight with ISIS-affiliated militants in the Golan Heights on Sunday. Israeli Defense Forces soldiers killed four Syrian militants, according to the military, after the militants reportedly assaulted an Israeli reconnaissance unit with gunfire and mortars on the Israeli-controlled side of the contested territory. Washington Post, New York Times, The Week
 
PAKISTAN NAMES NEW ARMY CHIEF
Ending weeks of intense speculation, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced on Saturday that he had named Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, a career infantry officer, to replace Gen. Raheel Sharif, the country’s popular army chief. Bajwa, who serves as an inspector general at army headquarters, is said to have strong pro-democracy views and might be more open to civilian involvement in foreign and security policy than past army chiefs, according to analysts. Sharif passed over three more senior generals in appointing him. The handover of responsibility marks the first time in 20 years Pakistan’s army chief has kept his promise to retire on time. Washington Post, BBC News, Reuters
 
TALIBAN LEADERS MAY HAVE MOVED FROM PAKISTAN TO AFGHANISTAN
The leaders of the Taliban may have moved back to Afghanistan from Pakistan this year to try to build on recent gains in the war and to establish a permanent presence, according to the Associated Press. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the news outlet that the leadership shura, or council, relocated to Afghanistan “some months ago,” although he would not say to where. Another Taliban official said the shura had moved to southern Helmand province, while other Taliban sources said the justice, recruitment, and religious councils had also moved to southern Afghanistan. Associated Press
Related:
Lawfare: The Islamic State-Taliban Rivalry in Afghanistan
 
Russia’s military hardware: The flotilla of Russian warships in the Mediterranean that is providing support to the Syrian regime has also thrown into sharp relief the limits of Moscow’s conventional military. Wall Street Journal
 

FRENCH SAY NEW SURVEILLANCE POWERS HELPED FOIL TERRORIST PLOT
French authorities say that five men who were arrested last week in France were ISIS operatives planning an “imminent” attack under the direction of a commander based in the terrorist group’s haven in Iraq and Syria. Paris prosecutor François Molins also announced that “new techniques” granted under an antiterror law that went into effect this summer helped investigators track down the group of militants. Molins said the militants received instructions on how to procure themselves weapons via encrypted messages. The new surveillance powers were granted in the wake of the November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, France 24
 
BOMB FOUND NEAR U.S. EMBASSY IN MANILA
Authorities in the Philippines said Monday that they had detonated an explosive device found in a trash can less than 500 from the U.S. Embassy in Manila. National police chief Ronald dela Rosa said components of the device suggested it could have been planted by the Maute, a Muslim rebel group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS. NBC News, CNN
TOP OP-EDS
What James Comey did: “Whatever else one might say about the just-concluded 2016 presidential election, one thing is certain: FBI Director James Comey played an outsized and exceptionally inappropriate part,” writes David Cole in the New York Review of Books. “His highly prejudicial announcement on October 28, just eleven days before the election, that he had reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server ensured that the final critical days of the campaign were taken up with innuendos and suppositions set off by his action.”
 
The soldier Trump called a traitor: “The case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who, after leaving his post, was held hostage by the Taliban for five years, became a recurring theme of Donald Trump’s unruly campaign speeches,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “In August 2015, Mr. Trump fired up a New Hampshire crowd by calling Sergeant Bergdahl ‘a dirty rotten traitor.’ He proceeded to falsely claim that ‘six young beautiful people were killed trying to find him.’ Those remarks are certain to loom large over Sergeant Bergdahl’s court-martial, which is scheduled to start in April.”  
 
Far-right or Islamist, call terrorism by its name: “If public discourse persistently associates terrorism with Islamist atrocities only, how can the notion that all terrorists are Muslims, or all Muslims are potential terrorists, be rejected?” write Haras Rafiq and Magnus Roar Bech in CNN.com. “By not showing consistency, we feed the Islamist narrative that the West hates Islam and vice versa. Also, by not acknowledging the extremist nature of white supremacist, alt-right ideologies, and by failing to expose their parallels to Islamist extremism, we disregard the severity of the rising far-right problem.”
EDITOR'S PICK

SOUFAN GROUP
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