The Soufan Group Morning Brief


A U.S. Army Green Berets patrol, outnumbered by suspected Islamic State militants, fought for two hours in Niger on Oct. 4 before air support provided by French military jets arrived, much longer than previously reported by Pentagon officials, Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday. The Special Forces unit didn’t call for help for an hour after shooting started, and French Mirage jets didn’t arrive for another hour after that. By that time, the Army would determine later, four U.S. soldiers had been killed and two others wounded.

Speaking in a hastily arranged news conference, Dunford said he still lacks many of the details about how the attack unfolded, and he asked for patience as the military investigation by U.S. Africa Command continues. Officials want to determine, for instance, why it took the U.S. force an hour to call for air support, Gen. Dunford said. He said that “within minutes” after the unit called for assistance, a U.S. drone was moved into position overhead, providing surveillance and full-motion video. He declined to say if it was armed, but said it did not fire. “It was planned as a reconnaissance mission. What happened after they began to execute, in other words, did the mission change? That is one of the questions that’s being asked,” Dunford said.

“I make no judgment as to how long it took them to ask for support,” Dunford added. “I don't know that they thought they needed support prior to that time. I don’t know how this attack unfolded. I don’t know what their initial assessment was of what they were confronted with.”

Dunford also clarified that, while an ISIS-affiliated group is suspected in the attack, the Pentagon doesn’t believe the attackers were foreign fighters. “Our assessment right now is it is an ISIS-affiliated group,” he said. “These are local tribal fighters that are associated with ISIS.” Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, CNN, Politico
The Trump administration will allow refugee admissions to the U.S. to resume for all countries but with new rules meant to better vet applicants, administration officials intend to announce Tuesday. Refugee admissions had generally been halted in June, with some exceptions.

Under the new rules, the administration will collect more biographical data, such as names of family members and places of employment, officials said. The administration will also do more to mine social media posts to see, for instance, if refugees’ public pronouncements are consistent with the stories they offer in their applications, the officials said. In addition, officials who do the screening at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, will be given new guidance and better training aimed at detecting fraud on the part of applicants, one person said. Wall Street Journal

In a new test of the reach of the Guantánamo war court, a military judge has ordered three civilian lawyers who quit the USS Cole defense team to come to court at the remote U.S. Navy base in Cuba next week.

Attorneys Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades, and Mary Spears quit their jobs on Oct. 11 as lawyers for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of orchestrating al Qaeda’s warship attack in 2000. They obtained permission to do so from the chief defense counsel, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, who found “good cause” for their resignations. They cited a cascading ethical conflict over a lack of confidence in the confidentiality of their privileged conversations Nashiri at Guantánamo, but the details are classified.

But the case judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, wrote in an Oct. 16 order that, while Baker “purported to find good cause” to approve their leaving the case, Spath, as judge, has not. “Accordingly, Mr. Kammen, Ms. Eliades, and Ms. Spears remain counsel of record in this case, and are ordered to appear at the next scheduled hearing,” Spath wrote. Miami Herald
Miami Herald: Guards’ Seizure of 9/11 Terror Trial Laptops Could Snag Trial Preparation

Miami mall bomb suspect made ISIS-inspired videos: The man arrested for plotting to bomb a Miami-area mall sent a government informant three videos that featured a man wearing a black mask and shirt, standing in front of a black flag identical to one used by ISIS, according to a federal criminal complaint. Solano allegedly made the three ISIS propaganda videos in his room and kept a sketch of a bomb diagram. He told the informant in late September that he wanted to “set off a bomb and [had] the balls to do it.” Miami Herald

As the ISIS caliphate collapses, officials in dozens of countries are asking themselves: Just how many fighters have survived? Where are they? What threat do they pose? A new report, released Tuesday by the Soufan Center and the Global Strategy Network, details some of the answers: At least 5,600 people from 33 countries have already gone home—and most countries don’t yet have a head count. On average, 20 to 30 percent of the foreign fighters from Europe have already returned there—though it’s 50 percent in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden. Thousands more who fought for ISIS are stuck near the borders of Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq, and are believed to be trying to get back to their home countries. New Yorker

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made back-to-back, unannounced visits to Afghanistan and Iraq on Monday, flying into both countries under great secrecy out of concern that he might be a target for militants.

Tillerson and his aides donned flak vests and helmets in Baghdad before boarding helicopters that took them to the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in the Green Zone to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President Fouad Massoum.

Tillerson’s visit to Afghanistan was conducted in even greater secrecy and was announced only after he had left the country. Though he never left Bagram air base, north of Kabul, his short visit showcased U.S. support for the Afghan government after a week of Taliban attacks that killed more than 200 people.

“That top American officials must sneak into this country after 16 years of war, thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars spent was testimony to the stalemate confronting the United States because of a stubborn and effective Taliban foe that is increasingly ascendant,” the New York Times reported.

In Afghanistan, Tillerson emphasized anti-corruption reforms, which he said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani assured him would continue as a way to end the conflict there. The secretary also invited members of the Taliban who would “renounce violence” to the negotiating table. Washington Post, NPR, New York Times, Foreign Policy

Doctored photo: Soon after Tillerson’s secret visit to Bagram was publicly disclosed, the American Embassy and the office of President Ashraf Ghani made statements about their productive meeting and placed it in Kabul. “The problem is that the meeting was not in Kabul, but in a windowless room in Bagram, the heavily fortified American military base a 90-minute drive away,” reports the New York Times. “The misinformation, apparently meant to obscure the true venue, was betrayed by discrepancies in similar photographs released by the Americans and the Afghans.” New York Times
When it comes to surveillance, watch the watchmen: “The real risk is that without legislation requiring disclosure about surveillance technology and techniques, the good guys — everyday citizens — will be left in the dark,” writes Matthew Feeney in the New York Times. “Police departments should be doing more, not less, to keep the public informed about what tactics they’re using and why.”

The national-security law expert who blocked Trump’s travel ban: “A former federal prosecutor and deputy counsel to the Department of Homeland Security” has ruled that the latest ban violates the Constitution, said Garrett Epps in The Atlantic. “His opinion may not survive; but it will not be easy to refute.”

What the end of ISIS means: “Unless you’re someone who thinks beheading people is an appropriate way to advance a repressive political cause, the imminent demise of the Islamic State is welcome news,” writes Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy. “But we should be wary of a premature ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment and be judicious in drawing lessons from an outcome that otherwise merits celebration.”

The myth of the ISIS patsy: “Now that ISIS’s territorial dominion is all but over, some of the captured, surrendered or defected among its depleted ranks are telling a very different story — that of the innocent patsy who was misled into signing up for a cause that was ultimately betrayed by ISIS,” writes Simon Cottee in the New York Daily News. These accounts “strain credulity, because it asks us to believe the impossible — namely, that he was blissfully ignorant of ISIS’s demonic savagery until it was too late.”

Trump is tarnishing the military: “President Trump’s cruel and unseemly battle with a war widow is shedding new and disturbing  light on the proliferation of generals at the top tier of the administration,” writes Max Boot in Foreign Policy. “The extent to which these generals feel compelled to lend their stars and their gravitas to save the president from suffering political damage for his own screw-ups should disturb anyone who cares about the future of the American armed forces.”
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