The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2017
PENTAGON QUIETLY ESCALATES U.S. PRESENCE IN SOMALIA
The Trump administration has been quietly but rapidly escalating its campaign against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, launching almost daily drone strikes in recent days and increasing the number of U.S. troops deployed there almost tenfold since May.

The expansion in Somalia has been largely unnoticed. But last week, the Pentagon acknowledged that the number of U.S. troops in Somalia had grown to 500 from 50 in the spring and that U.S. aircraft had struck targets of the al-Shabaab terrorist group six days in a row. The growing Somalia presence now rivals the U.S. presence in Syria, where defense officials say 503 U.S. troops currently are operating.
BuzzFeed News
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DETAINEE, JUDGE AGREE NEITHER CAN FORCE LAWYER TO GO TO GUANTANAMO
A war court judge capped three weeks of hearings trying to resolve a stalemate over a resigned civilian defense team Friday by asking the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing whether he wanted his long-serving capital defense counsel to return to court.

“I believe he chose to leave this case, and I support him,” Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri said. His death-penalty defense lawyer, Rick Kammen, quit the case because of a secret ethics issue and has twice in recent weeks defied the judge’s order to come to Guantánamo and litigate.

Air Force Col. Vance Spath, the judge, made clear that the decision of whether Kammen and co-counsel Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears would be relieved was not Nashiri’s. Spath framed it as only seeking input from the man awaiting a death-penalty trial for allegedly orchestrating the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the warship off Aden, Yemen, that killed 17 American sailors.

“All the attorneys are free to have their own opinion, and I support them. In other words, I cannot force anyone to come here,” Nashiri told the judge.

“Clearly, neither can I,” Spath replied. Miami Herald

UNSEALED FBI DOCUMENTS REVEAL MINNESOTANS UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR ISIS TIES
More than a year af­ter the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment com­pleted its land­mark pros­e­cu­tion of 11 young Twin Cities men — the larg­est ter­ror­ism con­spir­a­cy case ever charged in the Unit­ed States — unsealed FBI re­cords show that the bureau is investigating at least half a dozen people in Minnesota for ties to ISIS. The cases in­clude a 35-year-old fa­ther of four al­leg­ed­ly who en­listed to help edit a popu­lar ISIS propa­ganda mag­a­zine, a hack­er who re­port­ed to the FBI by fel­low hack­ers trou­bled by his boasts of ji­ha­dist con­nec­tions, and a ju­jit­su instruc­tor who allegedly helped ra­tion­al­ize su­i­cide at­tacks for a man since con­victed on ter­ror­ism charges in In­di­an­a. Minneapolis Star Tribune

OLDEST INMATE AT GUANTANAMO SAYS TREATMENT HAS CHANGED UNDER TRUMP
Saifullah Paracha, at 70 the oldest prisoner at Guantanamo, has told his lawyer that because six detainees are on a hunger strike, prisoners are being subjected to collective punishment and increasingly harsh treatment by guards at the prison. He says that after he wrote a letter to the prison commander complaining of the treatment, soldiers rushed into his cell, one holding a video camera, and forced him onto his stomach before strapping him to a stretcher. He was handcuffed, hoisted out of the lock-up and taken to a cell in solitary confinement.

“We are getting collective punishment because of the hunger strike,” he told Newsweek via his lawyer. (Inmates are rarely allowed visitors and cannot speak to the press.) “It felt like when we were brought in to Gitmo. Not since the beginning days of Guantanamo has it been like this. It’s a hell.” Newsweek

BORDER AGENT IS KILLED IN TEXAS
A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously injured on Sunday morning in an attack in rural West Texas while they were on patrol. The United States Customs and Border Protection provided few details about what happened but said the agents were “responding to activity” near Interstate 10 in Culberson County, Tex., about 90 miles east of El Paso, when the episode occurred. The agent who survived reported they had been hurt and needed help. Agent Rogelio Martinez, 36, died at the hospital. His partner has not been identified and remains hospitalized in serious condition.

A spokesman for the FBI’s El Paso field office said that reports that the agents were shot were not true. “They were not fired upon,” said Jeannette Harper.

President Trump appeared to connect Martinez’s death to border security, and plugged his plans for a border wall in a tweet Sunday night. “We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible,” Trump tweeted. “We will, and must, build the Wall!”

On Twitter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) asserted, without explanation, that Martinez and his partner were “attacked” and also linked the incident to security on the border with Mexico. Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times

SENATOR REMOVES OBSTACLE TO TRUMP’S JUDICIAL PICKS
The Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee has curtailed one of the last legislative limits on a president’s power to shape the federal courts, giving Donald Trump more freedom than any U.S. president in modern times to install his judges of choice. Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) reined in a tradition that empowered senators to block federal appeals-court nominees from their home state.

His decision came about four years after Democrats, citing Republican filibusters of President Barack Obama’s circuit-court nominees, eliminated a Senate rule that required the majority party to mount 60 votes to advance a nominee to a confirmation vote. Together, the threat of a filibuster—or delaying tactic—and use of “blue slips”—so-named because senators indicate support or opposition to nominees on blue slips of paper—guarded against lifetime appointments for nominees deemed far outside the mainstream. Wall Street Journal

Mueller requests DOJ documents: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives has now directed the Justice Department to turn over a broad array of documents. In particular, Mueller’s investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter. ABC News
Related:
Washington Post: ‘A Long Winter’: White House Aides Divided Over Scope, Risks of Russia Probe


YEMEN’S CIVIL WAR IS STARVING ITS CHILDREN
David Beasley, head of the U.N.'s World Food Programme, warns that 125,000 children are on the brink of starvation in Yemen and could die if his organization doesn't get more funds in the next few months. 60 Minutes managed to get cameras in to record some of the suffering children, despite the fact Scott Pelley and his team were prevented from entering Yemen by Saudi Arabia. 60 Minutes

AFGHAN ARMY RECRUITMENT FALLS AS TALIBAN THREATEN FAMILIES
The Afghan Army, already struggling with record casualties and attrition, cannot replenish its dwindling ranks, in large part because Taliban insurgents have made inroads in eastern and northern Afghanistan — long the most important recruiting grounds for the army — and are directly threatening the families of soldiers. Afghan Army officials in some provinces report that recruitment is down by as much as 50 percent.

“We used to gather about 350 or 400 people a month, now it’s about 150 a month,” said Abdul Qadeer, head of army recruitment in Kunduz Province, where the Taliban have twice seized the center of the provincial capital in recent years. “All the districts outside the city are under enemy influence, and they threaten the youth into not joining the army.” New York Times
TOP OP-EDS
The Pentagon has detained a U.S. citizen for more than two months - and said little: “For more than two months, the U.S. military has held an American citizen in detention in Iraq. Officials allege that the man fought alongside the Islamic State in Syria — but other than that, the Pentagon has provided little information about him,” writes the Washington Post in an editorial. “While the government may have legitimate reasons not to identify the man or swiftly bring him to the United States for trial, at the very least it must provide him with legal counsel and access to the justice system if he wishes it. And it is past time that the Pentagon makes public basic information about his case in the spirit of accountability and transparency.”

Saudi Arabia has no idea how to deal with Iran: “Few things are as explosive as the combination of power, ambition and anxiety — and there is plenty of all three in Riyadh these days,” writes Emile Hokayem in the New York Times. “But if its goal is to counter Iran, Riyadh is picking the wrong battlefields.”

The art of dealing with the Taliban: “Why should the Taliban be allowed to keep its address in Doha, and what, if anything, would the United States gain from doing deals with the Taliban in the future? This is the wrong question with which to start,” writes Candace Rondeaux in Lawfare. “As with any negotiated deal, sequencing is everything. What national security officials should be asking is: What has changed in the calculus of Russia, Iran, India, China, Pakistan, and the Gulf States when it comes to a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan? The answer is: a lot.”
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THE ROLE OF STATE AND NON-STATE ACTORS
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