The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The U.S. Special Forces unit that came under attack in Niger earlier this month had been pursuing a senior militant, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News. The officials did not provide the name of the target, whom one of the officials described as an ISIS recruiter. The soldiers did not succeed in catching him.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the Green Berets set out on a reconnaissance mission, and that the intelligence suggested there was a low risk of contact with the enemy. He also said the military was investigating whether the mission changed as it unfolded. The 12-member team was conducting a routine patrol alongside 30 Nigerien soldiers when they were asked to check on a site where a high-value target was believed to have been previously, one official told CNN.

One theory, said an official with direct knowledge of the military’s investigation, is that the soldiers were gathering information about the target, and, after learning his whereabouts, decided to pursue him. A big question would then be whether the unit got authorization, and whether the risks were assessed.

On their way back to their operating base, they stopped in a separate village in order to enable the Nigerien troops to replenish supplies. While there, US troops met with local leaders as a courtesy. The official said that it is “quite probable” that someone in the village tipped off the ISIS-affiliated terrorists that US forces were in the village, setting up the attack. The village elders themselves are not suspected.
Wall Street Journal: Four Americans Killed in Niger Battle Had Limited Combat Experience
A pair of Republican senators sounded an alarm Tuesday about President Trump’s fitness for office and warned that his actions were degrading and dangerous to the country — an extraordinary breach that threatens his legislative agenda and further escalates the civil war tearing apart the Republican Party.

Delivering an emotional speech on the Senate floor announcing that he will not seek reelection next year, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Trump’s behavior is “dangerous to our democracy” and summoned fellow Republicans to denounce the president’s conduct.

“It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” Flake said. He added, “Politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.”

The speech from Flake came hours after Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) questioned the president’s stability and competence, reigniting a deeply personal feud with the president. Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who also will not run for reelection in 2018, told reporters in assessing Trump’s nine-month tenure: “I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. As a matter of fact, it seems to me it’s almost devolving.” Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times
Washington Post op-ed by Sen. Jeff Flake: Enough

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Tuesday to reauthorize Section 702 -- a widely used foreign surveillance law that is set to expire at the end of the year. The vote was 12-3 to advance the measure to the full Senate.

There is bipartisan support for the surveillance law, which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to collect information on foreigners abroad, but some lawmakers are seeking provisions they claim will better protect Americans’ communications. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is pushing a bill that would require the FBI to receive an after-the-fact review from the national security-focused FISA court when they use the surveillance program in some cases. If the court determined that some agent inappropriately used that, that information could not be used in any further proceeding. Associated Press, Axios, Reuters
Charlie Savage blog: A Rundown of the Differences in 702 Reform Bills

Gag orders on tech firms: The Justice Department has ended the routine imposition of gag orders barring tech companies from telling customers that their emails have been turned over in response to legal demands. The move comes 1.5 years after Microsoft sued the department, asking a federal judge in Seattle to strike down portions of a major privacy law that governs the secrecy orders. Washington Post

ISIS returnees: The question of what to do with ISIS returnees now fleeing the fall of the caliphate has left authorities in their home countries puzzled. At least 5,600 men, women and children from 33 countries who traveled to live in ISIS’ caliphate have now returned home, according to a report by the Soufan Center. While the report says returning fighters have not as yet added significantly to the threat of terrorism around the world, it warns that ISIS’ leadership will likely be looking to supporters overseas, including returnees, “to keep the brand alive.” NBC News, NPR

Clinton campaign and Russia dossier: The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports. Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research. Washington Post

Manafort faces another money laundering probe: The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office is pursuing an investigation into possible money laundering by Paul Manafort, adding to the federal and state probes concerning the former Trump campaign chairman, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. pressed Pakistan for the elimination of havens for militants within its territory, according to American and Pakistani officials, in a meeting Tuesday between Pakistani leadership and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

However, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi insisted to Tillerson that there are no terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, according to Pakistani officials, and Abbasi pledged to cooperate with the U.S. to stabilize Afghanistan. Wall Street Journal

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told the BBC this week that there is a “huge trust deficit” between his country and the US over the conflict in Afghanistan. He dismissed the possibility of economic sanctions being levelled against Pakistan by the US if his country is not deemed to be doing enough to tackle the Taliban. Pakistan only received “a trickle” of economic assistance from the US, he said. “We do not get any military hardware from them. We are not like in the past when we were their proxy.” BBC News

Afghan officials say Taliban fighters have stormed a security post, killing nine soldiers in a western province. A spokesman for the governor of Farah province said Wednesday the militants stormed a security post killing nine soldiers and wounding four other soldiers. The attack took place Tuesday night in Pusht Road district. The intense, four-hour gun battle included the use of artillery against the army. Associated Press

Iraqi forces were preparing to launch an offensive to recapture the last patch of Iraqi territory still in the hands of ISIS militants, the Iraqi military said on Wednesday. “Your security forces are now coming to liberate you,” said leaflets dropped by the Iraqi air force on the western border region of al-Qaim and Rawa. Reuters

Russia vetoes extension of Syrian chemical weapons inquiry: Russia used its veto power on the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to block an extension of efforts by international inspectors to determine who was behind chemical weapons attacks that have killed scores of Syrian civilians. Moscow’s veto decision was condemned by the United States, Britain and others as an attempt to shield the perpetrators from answering for the most controversial human rights abuses of Syria’s six-year-old war. Washington Post, BBC News

Kurds offer to put independence on hold: Kurdish authorities in Iraq offered on Wednesday to put an independence drive on hold, stepping up efforts to resolve a crisis in relations with Baghdad via dialogue rather than military means. But an Iraqi military spokesman suggested an offensive to wrest back Kurdish-held territory would continue regardless. NBC News

Iran has sentenced to death a person found guilty of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists, Tehran’s prosecutor said on Tuesday. Authorities did not identify the defendant, but Amnesty International said on Monday that Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian doctor who studied and taught in Sweden, had been sentenced to death in Iran on espionage charges.

At least four scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012 in what Tehran said was a program of assassinations aimed at sabotaging its nuclear energy program. Iran hanged one man in 2012 over the killings, saying he had links to Israel. Reuters, BBC News

Indonesia arrests 9 with alleged ISIS links: Indonesian authorities have arrested nine men suspected of having links to a militant network loyal to Islamic State and planning a series of attacks on police posts. Reuters
The moderate face of al Qaeda: “It remains unthinkable to most that the term ‘moderate’ could ever be applied to an affiliate of the group responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001,” writes Colin Clarke in Foreign Affairs. “But al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise has quietly emerged as the less extreme alternative to ISIS within the jihadist universe.”

Terrorists and travel: “We’ve argued that the judicial meddling in Mr. Trump’s travel ban orders is constitutionally unwarranted, because the law gives the President wide latitude here. But it’s also worth pointing out that what started out as an anti-terrorist initiative seems to have morphed into a broader ban on refugees,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “We’re for improved vetting. But the decision to make entry harder even for legitimate refugees suggests the government doesn’t have confidence in its ability to execute the extreme vetting Mr. Trump demanded.”

The FBI’s political meddling: “For anyone who cares to look, the real problem here is that the FBI itself is so thoroughly implicated in the Russia meddling story,” writes Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal. “The agency, when Mr. Mueller headed it, soft-pedaled an investigation highly embarrassing to Mrs. Clinton as well as the Obama Russia reset policy. Which means that Mr. Mueller has the means, motive and opportunity to obfuscate and distract from matters embarrassing to the FBI, while pleasing a large part of the political spectrum.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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