The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2017
CIA EXPANDS ITS HUNT FOR TALIBAN IN AFGHANISTAN

The CIA is expanding its covert operations in Afghanistan, sending small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan forces to hunt and kill Taliban militants across the country, reports the New York Times -- the latest sign of the agency’s increasingly integral role in President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy.

The assignment marks a shift for the CIA in the country, where it had primarily been focused on defeating Al Qaeda and helping the Afghan intelligence service. The CIA has traditionally been resistant to an open-ended campaign against the Taliban, the primary militant group in Afghanistan, reportedly believing it was a waste of the agency’s time and money and would put officers at greater risk as they embark more frequently on missions. The expansion also reflects the CIA’s assertive role under its new director, Mike Pompeo, to combat insurgents around the world.

The mission is a tacit acknowledgment that to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table — a key component of President Trump’s strategy for the country — the United States will need to aggressively fight the insurgents. New York Times

Deadly week in Afghanistan: Twin bombings tore through mosques in Kabul on Friday, killing at least 67 people. The attacks brought last week’s death toll in six terror assaults across the country to more than 200, prompting local officials to demand answers from the government in Kabul about the eroding security situation. Washington Post, New York Times
 
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CHICAGO-AREA MAN GETS MAXIMUM 15 YEARS IN TERRORISM CASE
A federal judge scolded a former college student from suburban Chicago as he sentenced him to a maximum 15-year prison term last week for seeking to join terrorist-linked militants fighting Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, saying he would have given him even more time behind bars if statutes allowed it.

Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 23, pleaded guilty in 2015 to attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Defense attorneys insisted he’d been motivated foremost by a sincere desire to help Syrians by fighting Bashar Assad’s repressive regime — not by any extremist ideology - when he sought to join Jabhat al-Nusrah.

“You traded your opportunity to attend college for a terrorist training camp,” Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan said, addressing Tounisi directly. “You chose to join a bunch of thugs who took pride in cowardly killings.”

He then added sternly: “There are no free passes when it comes to collusion with terrorists.”
Tounisi apologized in a brief statement before he was sentenced, speaking softly and looking younger than his 23 years. After reflection in jail, he said, he’s now grateful federal agents arrested him at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on April 19, 2013, before he could start his journey to participate in the civil war in Syria. Associated Press

FBI STING FOILS ALLEGED PLOT TO BOMB MIAMI MALL
An alleged plot to blow up a shopping mall in South Florida was foiled by federal agents in an undercover operation, which led to the arrest of a man from Miami on Friday.

Vicente Solano, who authorities say acted alone, was communicating with a confidential informant who tipped off the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force about his alleged plot to carry out a weapons of mass destruction attack on the sprawling mall in Sweetwater, according to authorities.

Before the planned bombing attack, Solano made pro-ISIS videos, authorities said. But there is no indication he was directed by ISIS terrorists. Miami Herald, CBS News, ABC News

FBI: Couldn’t access 7,000 devices because of encryption: The FBI hasn't been able to retrieve data from more than half of the mobile devices it tried to access in less than a year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Sunday. In the first 11 months of the fiscal year, federal agents were unable to access the content of more than 6,900 mobile devices, Wray said in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia. “To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem,” Wray said. Associated Press


GUNMEN KILL 13 NIGER SOLDIERS IN ATTACK NEAR MALI BORDER
Gunmen on motorcycles and pickup trucks killed 13 soldiers and wounded five others in an attack on their base in western Niger, security authorities said on Saturday.

The village is near the border with Mali, and a few dozen miles from where militants killed four American soldiers in an ambush on Oct. 4 that has thrown a spotlight on a United States counterterrorism mission in Niger, a country that straddles an expanse of the Sahara.

Niger’s military officials confirmed the attack. The assailants had come across the border from Mali and drove about another 25 miles to the village of Ayorou before springing their attack. Reuters
Related:
The Atlantic: What the Hell Happened in Niger?
Washington Post: Everything We Know About the Niger Attack that Left 4 U.S. Soldiers Dead
Daily Beast: Senators Stunned to Discover We Have 1,000 Troops in Niger

U.S.-ALLIED FORCES TAKE SYRIA’S BIGGEST OIL FIELD FROM ISIS
U.S.-allied forces said Sunday that they have captured Syria's largest oil field from the Islamic State. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are in a race with Russian-backed Syrian troops to seize parts of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province, said they are in full control of the Omar field. Los Angeles Times

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that Islamic State killed at least 128 people in a Syrian town in central Homs over a three-week period before the Syrian army recaptured it on Saturday. Reuters, Associated Press
Related:
New York Times: ISIS Fighters Not Flooding Back Home to Wreak Havoc as Feared
Los Angeles Times: They Went to Syria to Fight ISIS. Now Two Americans Find Themselves in Limbo.

IED casualties surge in Afghanistan: The number of IED deaths and injuries is falling overall among countries under U.S. Central Command’s authority, but not in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon numbers. Some 3,043 people were killed or injured by IEDs in 1,143 incidents in Afghanistan between the beginning of April and the end of June of this year - a 17 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Foreign Policy


FRANCE CHARGES 8 IN FAR-RIGHT TERROR PLOT
French authorities have charged eight young men, aged between 17 and 29, in an alleged far-right terror plot to target mosques, politicians, black people and those of North African descent. The men were arrested on Tuesday evening in the Paris region and in the south of France and were charged on Saturday night.

Prosecutors accuse the men of being linked to the OAS group led by far-right militant Logan Alexandre Nisin. Nisin, who was detained in June near Marseille, was the administrator of a Facebook page that glorified Norwegian neo-Nazi mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Politico

Terrorism prosecutions soar in Germany: German federal prosecutors have opened up more than 900 terrorism-related cases so far this year, including 800 related to radical Islamists, stretching the manpower of the federal prosecutors office. The number of terrorism cases has jumped nearly four-fold compared to last year, when federal prosecutors opened about 250 proceedings. In 2013, there were about 80 terrorism cases in the courts. Deutsche Welle
 
TOP OP-EDS
America’s forever wars: “The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “It’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists.”

Sessions just confessed his negligence on Russia: “Lost in the back-and-forth last week and amid focus on his testy exchange with Sen. Al Franken about Russian contacts, however, was a truly damning moment about Sessions’s tenure at the Justice Department thus far,” said Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey in Foreign Policy. “According to the attorney general, the Justice Department is not even reviewing the specific question of what policy or bureaucratic changes might be appropriate in establishing an active role for the department concerning the most basic defense of democracy.”

John Kelly and the language of the military coup: “Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup,” said Masha Gessen in NewYorker.com. “You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like.”
EDITOR'S PICK

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