The Soufan Group Morning Brief


FRIDAY, JULY 29, 2016

Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, announced on Thursday that it was ending its relationship with its parent organization. The group also changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or Front for the Conquest of Syria. The group’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, said the move was aimed at removing any “pretext” for the United States and Russia to coordinate joint airstrikes against his group. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri gave the Nusra Front his approval for the change. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the change was simply “a PR move,” and that the Nusra Front “would like to create the image of being more moderate.” Reuters, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

The FBI has launched an investigation into a separate cyber attack on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The newly disclosed cyber attack at the DCCC may have attempted to steal information about political campaign donors. Russia denied involvement in the DCCC attack. Reuters, Politico

New York Times: D.N.C. Hack Raises a Frightening Question: What’s Next?

Cost of ISIS operations: On Thursday the Pentagon said that the cost of military operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has exceeded $8 billion. The military has spent an average of $11.8 million per day for 678 days since operations began in August 2014. The Hill

Spy satellite: On Thursday, an Atlas 5 rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite blasted off from Cape Canaveral. The satellite was reportedly launched in the interest of “national defense,” according to the United Launch Alliance, a private space company contracted to put the satellite into the Earth’s orbit. CBS, NBC

U.S. intelligence agencies are preparing classified briefings for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on issues related to national security. National Intelligence Director James Clapper said both nominees would be eligible to receive intelligence briefings within days after the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention. One unnamed senior intelligence official said on Wednesday that he would not participate in any intelligence briefing session with Donald Trump. Washington Post

Five U.S. Special Operations troops were wounded in Nangarhar province while fighting alongside Afghan security forces against ISIS militants. The troops were wounded during fighting over the last week from small-arms fire and shrapnel. Washington Post, The Hill

New York Times: Afghan Forces Fail to Turn Back Taliban Gains

Syria: The U.S. military said on Thursday that six American air strikes against Al Qaeda and ISIS killed 14 civilians since April 29. U.S. Central Command said “we deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from our airstrikes and express our sympathies to those affected.” Reuters

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to secure Russian military cooperation in the fight against ISIS in Syria suffered significant setbacks on Thursday. The Syrian army announced it had cut off supply routes into the rebel-held eastern side of Aleppo and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government asked residents to leave the city. Reuters

Turkey: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reportedly seeks to place the Turkish military and national intelligence agency under the control of the presidency, according to a parliamentary official. The Turkish government has arrested and detained tens of thousands of military personnel as part of a major overhaul and purge after the failed coup. New York Times, Reuters

Russia: The Russian and Syrian air forces have resumed a bombing campaign, extensively using cluster munitions, which have killed and injured dozens of civilians, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Washington Post
Clinton vs. Trump as commander in chief: A world of difference: “Clinton, unlike Trump, has an extensive foreign policy record to examine based on her four-year tenure as secretary of state, which can help us understand how she might operate as commander in chief,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN. Hillary Clinton refuses “to be typecast as either hawk or dove. Instead, she has long been resolutely both, advocating for military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria while also being unafraid to express her support.”

The Nusra Front Is Dead and Stronger Than Ever Before: “Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also known as the Nusra Front, remains as potentially dangerous, and as radical, as ever. In severing its ties to al Qaeda, the organization is more clearly than ever demonstrating its long-game approach to Syria, in which it seeks to embed within revolutionary dynamics and encourage Islamist unity to outsmart its enemies, both near and far,” writes Charles Lister on Foreign Policy. “In this sense, the Nusra Front (and now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) differ markedly from the Islamic State, which has consistently acted alone and in outright competition with other Islamist armed factions. Instead of unity, the Islamic State explicitly seeks division.”

ISIS is Hurt But Its End Is Not In Sight: “With a presence of some sort in about 40 countries and formal affiliates in nine of them (Egypt and Libya the most advanced), loss of land in Iraq and Syria does not deprive ISIS of territorial options for plotting, training, and launching terrorist attacks,”
writes John McLaughlin on the Cipher Brief. “In fact, the combination of chaos in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the weakness of so many Middle Eastern and African governments give terrorists more “ungoverned” space to exploit than has existed in the last couple decades.”

Leave ‘Martyrdom’ to the Jihadists: “The demand to put the slain French priest on the fast track for sainthood was made by a prominent Italian politician, Roberto Maroni, the president of the Lombardy region….Such calls to canonize the murdered priest are ill advised. They will only play into the hands of the extremists, writes Paul Vallely in The New York Times.

Global Dispatches: Arsalan Iftikhar Battles Islamophobia

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Rebranding of al-Qaeda in Syria

Out Now: Karen Greenberg's newest book, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, is the definitive account of how America's War on Terror sparked a decade-long assault on the rule of law, weakening our courts and our Constitution in the name of national security.

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