The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2017
PUTIN ORDERS RUSSIAN TROOPS TO START PULLING OUT OF SYRIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered Russian forces in Syria to start withdrawing, saying that after a two-year military campaign, Moscow and Damascus had achieved their mission of destroying ISIS. Putin made the announcement during a surprise visit to Russia’s Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s Latakia Province, where he held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and addressed Russian military servicemen. “The task of fighting armed bandits here in Syria, a task that it was essential to solve with the help of extensive use of armed force, has for the most part, been solved and solved spectacularly,” Putin said.

Putin’s visit follows the Russian announcement last week that the Syrian army under Russian air cover routed ISIS in eastern Syria and fully restored control over the border with Iraq. Russia first launched airstrikes in Syria in September 2015, turning the tide of the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor. Putin on Monday said that the Russian military would maintain its presence at the Hemeimeem air base and the naval facility in Tartus. Reuters, BBC News, Associated Press

Trial set for ex-officer accused of supporting ISIS: The first law enforcement officer in the U.S. ever to be charged with a terrorism offense is scheduled for trial. Jury selection begins Monday afternoon in federal court in Alexandria, Va., in the case against Nicholas Young, who was a police officer in the region’s Metro system when he was arrested last year in a government sting. Prosecutors say Young bought nearly $250 in gift cards he intended for ISIS and gave the cards to an individual who turned out to be an FBI source. Young’s lawyers say the sting amounts to entrapment after their client was under surveillance for six years. The trial had been expected to begin last week but was delayed when new evidence emerged. Associated Press

Guantanamo prosecutor charges trio in post-9/11 southeast Asia terror plots: A Guantanamo prosecutor has issued new charges against the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate in southeast Asia, blaming him for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing and adding two Malaysian captives to the proposed case as alleged co-conspirators. A copy of the non-capital charge sheet accuses Indonesian Riduan bin Isomuddin, known as Hambali, of dispatching fighters from Jemaah Islamiyah to Afghanistan after 9/11 to meet with Osama bin Laden and carry out suicide bombings. The would-be suicide bombers were Bashir Lap, 41, known as Lilie, and Mohd Farik Bin Amin, 42, known as Zubair, two Malaysian prisoners cast as Hambali acolytes. Together the three are accused of murder, terrorism, attacking civilians and civilian objects, attempted murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, and destruction of property as a war crime. Miami Herald

Sessions wasn’t required to disclose foreign contacts for security clearance: A newly released document shows that the FBI told an aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Sessions was not required to disclose foreign contacts that occurred in the course of carrying out his government duties when he was a senator. The FBI email from March bolsters the explanation by the Justice Department for why Sessions did not disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador in his application for a U.S. security clearance. When the omission of the foreign contacts on the form was first reported by CNN in May, the Justice Department said Sessions' office was advised by the FBI that he didn’t need to disclose the meetings. CNN

Congressman says evidence of Trump campaign coordination with Russia is ‘damning:’ Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Sunday that the evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia is “pretty damning.” In an interview with CNN, Schiff said, “The Russians offered help. The campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help. And the president made full use of that help.” Schiff is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Hill, Axios


PENTAGON FORESEES AT LEAST TWO MORE YEARS OF COMBAT IN SOMALIA
Amid its escalating campaign of drone strikes in Somalia, the Pentagon has presented the White House with an operational plan that envisions at least two more years of combat against Islamist militants there. The proposed plan for Somalia would be the first under new rules quietly signed by President Trump in October for counterterrorism operations outside conventional war zones. The U.S. military has carried out about 30 airstrikes in Somalia this year, twice as many as in 2016, and nearly all have come since June.

In a sign that the Defense Department does not envision a quick end to the deepening war in Somalia against al-Shabaab and ISIS, the proposed plan is said to include an exemption to a rule in Trump’s guidelines requiring annual vetting by staff from other agencies of operational plans for certain countries. Instead, the Pentagon wants to wait 24 months before internally reviewing how the Somalia plan is working in an internal review., according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. New York Times
Related:
Voice of America: UN: 4,500 Civilians Killed, Wounded in Somalia Since 2016

NEW PROTESTS ERUPT AGAINST TRUMP’S JERUSALEM DECISION
A new wave of protests against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital erupted on Sunday in parts of the Muslim and Arab world. Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons into crowds of protesters that had gathered near the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Thousands of protesters chanted slogans against Trump’s decision, with some throwing rocks and setting tires and a large trash container on fire outside the embassy’s gated compound. Some protesters tried to rip the barbed wire off a fence, but they were repelled by the security forces. New York Times, BBC News

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, thousands of protesters mounted a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Other protests occurred in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories. Voice of America, ABC News
Related:
Associated Press: Israel, France Clash over Trump’s Jerusalem Decision
BBC News: Jerusalem: Netanyahu Expects EU to Follow U.S. Recognition
CNN: UN Ambassador Haley Cites ‘Will of American People’ on Jerusalem Decision

NORTH KOREAN SUBMARINE MISSILE THREAT PROMPTS U.S.-LED DRILLS
Amid fears that North Korea is rapidly developing its submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea are teaming up for a drill to track such hard-to-detect missiles, military officials said Monday. The drill will take place over two days in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Destroyers from the three nations will engage in computer-simulated training to track submarine missile launchings by North Korea.

Meanwhile, South Korea on Monday imposed a new round of sanctions on 20 North Korean groups and 12 individuals. The sanctions, an effort to curtail North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, were imposed in retaliation for the North’s launching of a missile in late November that experts said was capable of hitting much of the continental U.S. New York Times, NBC News

Iraq celebrates victory over ISIS: The Iraqi military has “fully liberated” the country’s territory of “ISIS terrorist gangs” and retaken full control of the Iraqi-Syrian border, it said in a statement on Saturday. “Our heroic armed forces have now secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border,” Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Twitter. The campaign to eradicate ISIS took more than three years and about 25,000 coalition airstrikes. Last month, troops retook the town of Rawa, one of ISIS’s last footholds in the country.  On Sunday, an Iraqi military parade in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone celebrated victory over ISIS, and Abadi declared that December 10 would be an annual national holiday. CNN, Reuters

UN urges immediate evacuation of 137 Syrian children: The UN children’s agency has called for the immediate evacuation of scores of sick Syrian children from a besieged rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus amid continued violence. Five children in Eastern Ghouta have reportedly died, while 137 others require immediate medical assistance, UNICEF said in a statement on Sunday. “The situation is getting worse day by day," said UNICEF’s representative in Syria said. An estimated 400,000 people living in Eastern Ghouta have been almost completely cut off from humanitarian assistance since 2013, according to UNICEF. Al Jazeera, Voice of America


Trial begins against suspects in Istanbul nightclub attack: A trial began Monday in Turkey against dozens of suspects in the attack on Istanbul's Reina nightclub, which occurred early on January 1, 2017, and was claimed by ISIS. Fifty-seven suspects, mostly foreigners and 51 of them behind bars, went on trial near a prison on the outskirts of Istanbul. Albulkadir Masharipov of Uzbekistan, the lead suspect in the case, is charged with membership in a terror group, murder, and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, among other charges. Masharipov was captured after a massive 17-day police hunt involving 2,000 officers, and experts say evidence he provided has helped Turkish authorities break up a major extremist network in Istanbul. Prosecutors said Masharipov trained in Afghanistan and that he confessed to carrying out the attack after receiving orders from ISIS leaders in Syria. Associated Press

German intelligence warns of increased Chinese cyberspying: The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned Sunday that China allegedly is using social networks to try to cultivate lawmakers and other officials as sources. Hans-Georg Maassen said his agency, known by its German acronym BfV, believes more than 10,000 Germans have been targeted by Chinese intelligence agents posing as consultants, headhunters or researchers, primarily on the social networking site LinkedIn. “This is a broad-based attempt to infiltrate in particular parliaments, ministries and government agencies,” Maassen said. Associated Press, BBC News

Iran says ‘good relations’ possible if Saudis change: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is ready to restore ties with Saudi Arabia if it ends its bombing campaign in Yemen and cuts its alleged ties with Israel. In a speech broadcast Sunday, Rouhani said the regional rivals could have “good relations” if the Saudis end their “misguided friendship” with Israel and halt the “inhuman bombardment” of Yemen. Riyadh severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in January 2016 after Iranian demonstrators attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in response to the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite dissident cleric. Tensions spiked last month after Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile that was intercepted near Riyadh. Associated Press

Britain’s top diplomat raises detainee’s case in Iran talks: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson raised the case of a detained dual national on Sunday when he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a trip to Tehran. The British Foreign Office says Johnson raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly plotting against Iran's government. The Foreign Office said both Johnson and Rouhani “spoke forthrightly” and “agreed on the need to make progress in all areas,” without elaborating. Following the meeting, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s court appearance scheduled for Sunday on fresh espionage charges was postponed. Her husband said it was “undoubtedly a good sign.” Voice of America, BBC News, CNN

Melbourne to test terrorism alarm system: Melbourne will test a terrorism alarm system this month after police thwarted two alleged plots targeting Christmas-New Year crowds. A man has also been charged with killing six pedestrians with a stolen car along a pedestrian mall in an attack in January. Loudspeakers are being installed at more than 90 sites across downtown Melbourne as part of the alarm system that will be tested on December 28. The speakers will sound a siren and police instructions to the public in the event of a terrorist attack. Associated Press, Sky News
TOP OP-EDS
Europe must work with Iran: “The nuclear deal is a rare triumph of diplomacy over confrontation. Undermining that would be a mistake,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif writes in the New York Times. “Europe should not pander to Washington’s determination to shift focus to yet another unnecessary crisis — whether it be Iran’s defensive missile program or our influence in the Middle East. This would repeat the very dynamics that preceded the nuclear deal.”

Children of the Caliphate: victims or threat? “As the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria crumbles, European governments are paying particular attention to foreign fighters returning to their countries of origin. What to do with children returning alongside them, however, has received much less focus,” Robin Simcox writes in Lawfare. “There is hardly an established playbook for how European democracies should integrate into society children potentially already radicalized. There are, however, options.”

Public and private eyes: surveillance in the digital age: “Put simply, sometimes government surveillance is reasonable, and sometimes it is not. Drawing the line between what is and what is not reasonable is the hard part,” Jennifer Daskal writes in Foreign Affairs. “Wherever one comes down on these issues, the interests on both sides need to be taken into account. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to access information to keep people safe. But at the same time, as the United States’ founders wisely recognized, there is a real risk that security will trump all other concerns.”

Democracy is far from dead: “Democracy has taken some hard hits. But before we cede bragging rights to autocrats, or persuade ourselves of the need for precipitate action to arrest a perilous strategic slide, we need perspective on what has been happening,” Bruce Jones and Michael O’Hanlon write in the Wall Street Journal. “It is true that the ‘third wave’ of democratization—the proliferation of democratic states in the late 20th century—has largely ended. But it has not been reversed by any stretch of the imagination.”
EDITOR'S PICK
 
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