The Soufan Group Morning Brief



President Obama said on Wednesday that he plans to leave 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until the end of his second term in office. The administration had previously planned to reduce troop levels to 5,500 by early 2017. Obama said “the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” and that “even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be.” He added that the United States is no longer fighting a “major ground war” in Afghanistan. New York Times, Washington Post

The Hill: GOPs question Obama's decision to withdraw 1,400 troops from Afghanistan
Defense One: Afghanistan Needs a Settlement, Not Another Troop-Withdrawal Deadline
TIME: How a Resurgent Taliban Forced President Obama's Hand in Afghanistan

Attorneys for Mohamed Mohamud, a Somali-American man who allegedly planned to bomb a 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, are arguing that evidence used to convict their client was gathered unconstitutionally through the U.S. government’s warrantless foreign surveillance program. Mohamud who was convicted of attempting to detonate a fake bomb at the tree-lighting as part of an undercover operation, is appealing his 2013 conviction. Mohamud’s public defender Stephen Sady and ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey laid out their arguments before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon. AP, Guardian

The Intercept: Federal Court Hears Long Overdue Arguments Over 2008 Surveillance Law

Gitmo: The U.S. Navy will spend $240 million on new construction, renovation, demolition and repairs at the military base at Guantanamo Bay in 2017, according to a contracting announcement published on Wednesday. The proposed work does not include any improvements to the detention center at the base. Miami Herald

Countering ISIS online: Despite losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, ISIS has advanced both the quality and volume of its online messaging, according to top law enforcement and diplomatic officials. FBI Executive Assistant Director Michael Steinbach told a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee that the FBI is investigating about 1,000 potential cases of homegrown violent extremists who regularly consume ISIS propaganda. Steinbach said “the most concerning trend that we’ve seen in the past year when we identify these individuals online is the speed with which they mobilize...going now in days, even weeks, as opposed to months and years.” Voice of America

Ohio terror case: Yahya Farooq Mohammad, 37, was indicted on three charges relating to a foiled plot to hire someone to kill U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary. Mohammad, a UAE national, was one of four people arrested in 2015 and charged with planning to travel to Yemen and provide money to Anwar Al-Awlaki years earlier. Mohammad allegedly told a fellow inmate at the Lucas County Corrections Center in March that he planned to hire someone to kill the judge overseeing his case. Prosecutors said Mohammad then arranged for the delivery of money to an undercover FBI employee to carry out his plan. AP, NBC

Countering violent extremism: School districts, universities, county governments, or nonprofit organizations with ideas about how to counter “violent extremism” could receive up to $2 million in federal grant money to carry out their proposals, the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday. A new $10 million program from the Department will support “programs, projects and activities that prevent recruitment or radicalization to violence,” according to a Homeland Security funding notice. Washington Post

Cybersecurity: The House Small Business Committee heard testimony from Jamil Jaffer, Director the homeland security and national law program at George Mason Law School, about foreign telecom companies that build an “unbreakable link” with U.S. businesses to avoid sanctions on “rogue regimes.” Jaffer provided seven recommendations on how to protect American small business from foreign cyber attacks, including more interaction and information sharing between the government and small businesses. Politico, House Small Business Committee

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone call on Wednesday to increase military coordination in Syria, according to a Russian statement. The Kremlin said that “both sides reaffirmed their readiness to increase the military coordination of Russian and U.S. actions.” Obama reportedly stressed the importance for Russia to halt Syrian government attacks on civilians and press for a political transition. Washington Post, Reuters

Syria: American fighter jets were diverted from support of a rebel offensive in Syria in order to bomb a large convoy of ISIS fighters trying to escape from Fallujah. The move came at a critical moment during the rebels’ offensive to retake the eastern Syrian town of Bukamal, according to U.S. officials. Washington Post

Yemen: An Al Qaeda attack killed Eight Yemeni troops and six militants on Wednesday. The attack targeted a military base near the international airport in the southern city of Aden. Reuters

Bangladesh: Bombings at a gathering for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan killed two police officers and a civilian on Thursday after ISIS had warned that more attacks would follow last week’s deadly siege of a Cafe in Dhaka. At least five militants attacked a police post guarding the festivities in the Kishoreganj district, about 60 miles northeast of the capital, Dhaka. New York Times, Reuters

NATO: NATO plans to hold its largest summit meeting in history on Friday and Saturday, including 28 delegations from EU members, 26 from other countries, and representatives from the UN and the World Bank. Leaders are expected to discuss the alliance’s response and plans to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. New York Times

Paris: The brother of one of the gunmen in last November’s Paris attacks was among seven men sentenced to prison on Wednesday for taking part in an Islamist recruitment network and receiving training from ISIS. Karim Mohamed-Aggad, 25, was part of a group that traveled to Syria in 2013 to train with ISIS. New York Times

Refugee crisis: A recent UN report finds that the number of displaced people in the world is at its highest ever. At 65.3 million people, one out of every 113 people in the world is either an asylum-seeker, an internally displaced person, or a refugee. Reuters, CNN

TomDispatch: Whose Century Is It?
Trump gets it right on Saddam: “Defending the brutal Iraqi dictator who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people isn't exactly fashionable. But if you consider the 13 years of war that have wracked the country -- in which a quarter of a million have died -- and add that Saddam brutally repressed all dissent, including groups such as al Qaeda, and also add to this that ISIS is itself a fruit of the Iraq War, it's a far more defensible position,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN.

Trump is wrong about Saddam Hussein. Take it from an Iraqi: “It is true that Saddam killed many people. Saddam killed men and women, kids and minorities and many others who stood up to him. Most of them were not terrorists, though,” writes Hayder Al-Shakeri in the Guardian. “Hundreds of thousands of lives have been wasted under his leadership/dictatorship. Iraq, in his opinion, might have looked better during his time, but Iraqis back then suffered greatly.”

James Comey’s abuse of power: “When FBI Director James B. Comey stepped to the lectern to deliver his remarks about Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, he violated time-honored Justice Department practices for how such matters are to be handled, set a dangerous precedent for future investigations and committed a gross abuse of his own power,” writes Matthew Miller in the Washington Post. “His willingness to reprimand publicly a figure against whom he believes there is no basis for criminal charges should trouble anyone who believes in the rule of law and fundamental principles of fairness.”

Chilcot Report: How Tony Blair Sold the War: “The Chilcot report does not in itself entail accountability. Criminal prosecutions appear unlikely, and outside of the courts, there is a poverty of options to hold the culpable to account,” writes Carne Ross in The New York Times. “The day or two of public embarrassment that Mr. Blair and his collaborators now face is wholly insufficient — and what recourse could compensate for what has been inflicted both on the Iraqi people and on the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in this misbegotten venture?”

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.

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Afghanistan’s Endless War

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