The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Pentagon announced Tuesday that three ISIS leaders were killed last week by a coalition airstrike in Raqqa, Syria. Two of those killed, Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou, were reportedly directly involved in plotting the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, a Pentagon spokesman said. The men were said to be “close associates” of ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who was reportedly killed by a drone strike in August. Killed along with them was Walid Hamman, described as “a suicide attack planner” who was convicted in absentia in Belgium for a plot that was thwarted in 2015. New York Times, CNN, NBC News, Reuters
On Tuesday, Google released a series of eight National Security Letters, in which the FBI secretly requested subscriber information on specific accounts. The letters range from 2010 to 2015, and identify a number of accounts and sometimes a specific time frame but provide no reasons to justify the request. Google revealed in October it had been freed from a gag order preventing it from talking about a secret FBI request for customer data made in 2015. The Verge, The Intercept, Engadget
The U.S. has blocked a sale of precision munitions from Raytheon to Saudi Arabia because of concerns about civilian casualties in the Yemen war that administration officials attribute to poor targeting. Over the life of the contract, the deal was worth about $350 million. The Obama administration will also curtail some intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia over concerns about targeting and civilian casualities in Yemen, but it will expand support in other areas, including those related to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. New York Times, Washington Post
Trump team working to remove top NATO officer: The incoming Trump administration is looking to get rid of the No. 2 official at NATO, an American nominated by President Obama who took the job only in October and has a multi-year contract. A representative of the transition team reportedly met late last month with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels and delivered a private but deliberate message: The incoming administration would like Stoltenberg to replace Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller. Washington Post
Another Guantanamo detainee cleared for release: The Pentagon announced Tuesday at a 22nd Guantanamo detainee has been cleared for overseas release. Yemeni detainee Yassin Qasim Muhammad Ismail Qasim, 37, was sent to Guantanamo in May 2002 and, though never charged with a crime, was classified for years as a “forever prisoner.” There are 59 total detainees; 10 men are charged in military commissions and 27 have been classified as “forever prisoners.” Miami Herald

A day after Russia declared that the four-year battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo was over, clashes continued to erupt between Syrian government forces and rebels, and the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians from the besieged city was halted amid the fighting. “The withdrawal was supposed to start at dawn but shelling resumed in the morning hours and buses meant for the evacuations, which were waiting at the rendezvous point on the edge of the rebel enclave, returned to their depots,” reports the Los Angeles Times. More: Reuters, New York Times
Washington Post: Endgame in Aleppo, the Most Decisive Battle in Syria’s War
New Yorker: The Battle for Aleppo, Syria’s Stalingrad, Ends
ISIS is reportedly developing its own arsenal of military-grade weapons and ammunition, including rockets, mortar rounds, and bombs. Arms monitoring group Conflict Armament Research said the jihadist group had a “robust supply chain” of raw materials from Turkey, and that the technical precision of its work meant that its efforts could not be described as “improvised” weapons production. Reuters, Independent
ISIS claims Cairo bombing: ISIS militants have claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Coptic church in Cairo on Sunday that killed 25 people. A statement from the group vowed “to continue war against apostates,” and warned of more attacks to come. Guardian, New York Times
Afghan VP accused of sexual assault of rival: Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum has been accused by a political rival, Ahmad Ishchi, of ordering that Ishchi be tortured and sexually assaulted while Ishchi was being held hostage by Dostum’s guards for five days late last month. Dostum’s office issued a statement denying the allegations of abuse, calling them a plot to defame him. At the time of the alleged assault, Dostum was the acting president because President Ashraf Ghani was out of the country. He is a former warlord with a long history of allegations of human rights violations and abuse. Los Angeles Times, New York Times

French terror arrests: The arrest of four terrorism suspects in November has rattled French citizens, since the men displayed no outward signs of radicalization. New York Times
5 ways Trump can prevent radicalization at home: “Despite the energy from the White House and from within Washington,” write Eric Rosand and Stevan Weine in The Hill, “CVE efforts have been hampered by inconsistent leadership, lack of coordination, resourcing issues, the dominance of law enforcement, and early missteps that made it difficult to bring on non-law enforcement partners– from faith leaders to mental health professionals and teachers – that are critical for prevention efforts. Here are 5 practical, and mutually exclusive, recommendations for changes that the Trump administration might want to pursue.”
Trump is playing a risky spy game: “Russia’s secret hacking against Democratic Party officials threatened the integrity of the U.S. political system,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “And President-elect Donald Trump shouldn’t have criticized the CIA after its analysts told Congress about the Kremlin’s efforts. Trump, unbelievably, seemed to be taking a potential adversary’s side against his own nation’s intelligence professionals.”
The high hidden costs of terrorism: “Americans are clearly concerned about terrorism, but are they too concerned about it?” asks Spencer Case in National Review. “Exit polls revealed that 18 percent of Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential election named terrorism ‘the most important U.S. issue,’ a figure consistent with the findings of previous surveys. This has prompted criticism from skeptical intellectuals and commentators who argue that voters are overestimating the threat.”
Ruling by tweet: the experience of Pakistan: “Trump is not the first leading political figure who has used and abused Twitter as a tool of governance,” writes Ahmed Rashid in the Financial Times. “He could be taking a leaf out of the Pakistani elites playbook. Over the past three years the military and the civilian government in Pakistan have used Twitter relentlessly to release policy statements on issues as diverse as the war on terror, foreign policy and reaction to daily events.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief

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