The Soufan Group Morning Brief


At least 50,000 militants from Islamic State have been killed since the US-led coalition started fighting in Iraq and Syria two years ago, an unnamed U.S. military official has said. The official called the figure a “conservative estimate.” In August, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland said about 45,000 combatants have been taken off the battlefields. The official on Thursday said that coalition air strikes could be intensified in places like Mosul, which Iraqi troops are now battling to recapture, but that had to be offset against the risk of civilian casualties. BBC News, Fox News, CBS News  
President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday night that last week’s stabbing attack at Ohio State by a Somali refugee was a “tragic reminder” of the need to take a hard line on immigration, arguing that his administration would put the safety of Americans first in a way the Obama administration did not. Speaking at a “thank you” rally in Des Moines, Trump said the attack — carried out by a refugee who Trump has said should not have been in the country — had been “yet one more tragic reminder that immigration security is now national security.” Trump added, “No more games, folks, no more games.” Abdul Artan, 18, injured 11 people with a knife on the Ohio State campus before being killed by police. New York Times
Guantanamo detainee to Israel for trial?: The Obama administration has asked Israel to take and prosecute a Kenyan captive held at Guantanamo since 2007. Israel is interested in prosecuting Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, 43, who has been linked to a 2002 terror attack on an Israeli hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. But Israeli officials are awaiting cooperation from the FBI, whose agents interviewed Bajabu after he came to Guantanamo. Miami Herald
Army reopens investigation into detainee’s death: The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command has reopened its investigation of a Special Forces soldier who said in a recent Fox News interview that he killed a Taliban bombmaker who had been held as a detainee in Afghanistan. Washington Post
Surveillance case: Wikimedia argued in a federal appeals court Thursday that a major U.S. surveillance program is unconstitutional. The government argued the group has no standing to bring the case to court. CNET

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Syrian government forces have suspended fighting in eastern Aleppo and are focused on evacuating residents from the besieged districts. Lavrov's comments come one day after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Hamburg to discuss ways to end the bombing of Aleppo and how to allow safe passage of those who want to flee the war-torn northern Syrian city. Government forces have retaken at least 75 percent of east Aleppo in recent weeks - areas that rebels had controlled for four years. BBC News, CNN, New York Times
Daily Beast: How to Salvage Syria
Guardian: Aleppo’s Fall Won’t End the Syrian Conflict -- It Will Signal a More Terrifying Stage
Boubaker Hakim, 33, a veteran French-Tunisian ISIS operative suspected of enabling a terrorist attack on a tourist beach in Tunisia, was targeted by a U.S. drone strike in late November, reports CNN. Western intelligence agencies are still working to verify if he was killed. Intelligence indicated that Hakim was connected to the Tunisian cell behind the June 2015 Sousse attack via an intermediary in Libya; 38 people were killed in that attack. CNN
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Friday, with a schedule that included meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul and with U.S. military commanders and thanking the troops at Bagram Air Base. The Obama administration had originally intended to remove nearly all U.S. troops from the country before leaving office. But faced with a lingering Taliban insurgency and the emergence of a local ISIS affiliate, Obama revised the plan several times, eventually opting to hand-off the issue to his successor. "America is, and will remain, committed to a sovereign and secure Afghanistan," Carter told a news conference with Ghani. CNN, Reuters
ISIS video threatens U.S. bases in Bahrain: A new ISIS video has urged followers to launch attacks on U.S. bases in Bahrain. This weekend, Bahrain will host the Manama Dialogue, where U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is scheduled to give the opening address. Toronto Star
Fight against ISIS in Libya: U.S. officials warn that despite ISIS being driven from its Libyan stronghold in Sirte this week, the militant group still has several hundred fighters who have dispersed across Libya and pose a threat to the country, its neighbors and, potentially, Europe. New York Times, Reuters

In rare public comments, the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency warned Thursday that cyberattacks and the militant group Islamic State pose grave dangers to Britain and its allies. In his first major public speech since winning the top job at MI6 in 2014, Alex Younger warned that “hybrid warfare,” which included cyber-attacks and subverting democracy, was becoming an “increasingly dangerous phenomenon.” “The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty,” he said. “They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.” BBC News, Wall Street Journal, Reuters
Obama’s tenure ends with a turf war over killing terrorists: “Obama’s Tampa trip this week came as the Pentagon and CIA were buzzing about what critics claimed was a power grab by the Joint Special Operations Command, the super-secret group that manages most military counterterrorism strikes,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “The flap centered on a Nov. 25 Post article that said JSOC had received ‘expanded power to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe.’ Military officials deny that there’s any formal expansion of authority for JSOC or its parent organization, SOCOM. But the clandestine military unit has indeed become Obama’s preferred instrument for killing terrorists.”
The FBI’s scary new surveillance powers: “In a too-little-noted ruling, the FBI has been granted new and vastly expanded surveillance powers, which will likely have profound and frightening implications in the upcoming Trump administration,” writes Fred Kaplan in
Don’t shrink Iraq to save it: “The Islamic State is likely to be forced out of Mosul and Raqqa,” writes Albert Wolf in the National Interest. “Yet many of the conditions that led to its emergence in the first place still remain. Military force is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for defeating ISIS. However, the proposal that we partition Iraq along sectarian lines will not solve the problem.”
The world fears Trump’s America. That’s a good thing: “During the last eight years, President Obama showed what happens when the world’s greatest power tries strenuously to avoid giving fright,” writes Mark Moyar in the New York Times. “He began his presidency with lofty vows to conciliate adversaries, defer to the opinions of other countries and reduce America’s military commitments. Consequently, he received rapturous applause in European capitals and a Nobel Peace Prize. In the real world of geopolitics, however, the results have been catastrophic.”
Why America should not use torture: “It’s incredibly depressing that barely more than a decade after the utter disaster of Abu Ghraib, where disgusting images of torture at the hands of American troops shocked the world, America is once again debating whether it should resume torture,” writes Ken Gude in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s Growing Body Count

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