The Soufan Group Morning Brief

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

The Afghan minister of defense and the army chief of staff both resigned on Monday as the government faced mounting pressure over a Taliban sneak attack that killed more than 160 soldiers last week.

The resignations of the defense minister, Gen. Abdullah Habibi, and the chief of staff, Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim, came two days after the single deadliest Taliban attack of the 16-year war. Ten Taliban assailants, disguised as soldiers carrying wounded comrades, drove onto the country’s largest base near Mazar-e Sharif on Friday. Some of them detonated explosives among hundreds of unarmed troops who were emerging from Friday Prayer, while others went on a rampage gunning down soldiers, most of them teenaged recruits in training. New York Times, BBC News, Guardian

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Monday to assess America's longest war as the Trump administration weighs sending more troops. Time
Hours after news outlets including CNN reported that the Trump Justice Department may seek Julian Assange's arrest on charges for disseminating stolen top-secret documents, Wikileaks released what it claims is the 31-page user guide for a CIA device code-named “Weeping Angel.” The device can turn some Samsung TVs into surveillance tools with an implant for recording audio from a TV’s built-in microphone. Last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that going after national security leaks was a top priority for the department. “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said. CBS News, The Hill

Comey and the election: The New York Times does a deep dive into how James Comey tried to shield the FBI from allegations of political interference in the 2016 election, but in the process, helped to shape its outcome. New York Times

Former Guantanamo detainee’s appeal: Lawyers for a former Sudanese captive at Guantanamo named Ibrahim al Qosi, 56, have appealed his conviction before the war court on the grounds that the crimes he pleaded guilty to weren’t actually war crimes. But before the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review considers the arguments, the judges have asked the defense lawyers to demonstrate that Qosi actually wants to appeal, since he has returned to the battlefield since his release. Miami Herald

State Dept. official reassigned after media attacks: A career government employee has been moved out of a top advisory role at the State Department amid pressure from conservative media outlets. Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who helped shape the controversial Iran nuclear deal, had her yearlong detail to the policy planning team cut short earlier this month, after critical stories about her and others appeared in the Conservative Review and on Breitbart News. Politico

Trump’s Islam rhetoric: NBC News talks to Michael Downing, who recently retired as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department's counterterrorism unit, and other law enforcement officials about whether Trump’s divisive rhetoric on Muslims is making Muslim-Americans reluctant to cooperate with the federal government, for example, by providing crucial tips about potential terrorists. NBC News

U.S. Special Operations forces carried out a ground raid in Syria this month that killed a militant who was known as “a close associate” of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and who had helped plot a deadly attack on a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Day. American troops killed the insurgent, Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, on April 6 in an operation in Mayadin, Syria, the Pentagon said. The American operation was conducted by the so-called expeditionary targeting force, a group of commandos from the secretive Joint Special Operations Command who target Islamic State leaders and fighters in Iraq and Syria. New York Times

Newsweek reports that in the first week of January 2016, the Obama administration went after Ayman al-Zawahiri with a drone strike in Pakistan’s remote Shawal Valley. A Pakistani source says “The drone hit next to the room where Dr. Zawahiri was staying...The shared wall collapsed, and debris from the explosion showered on him and broke his glasses, but luckily he was safe.” The man added that “four of Zawahiri's security guards were killed on the spot and one was injured but died later.” He said al-Zawahiri had “left the targeted room to sleep just 10 minutes ahead of the missile that hit that room.” Newsweek
Reuters: Al Qaeda Chief Urges Jihadists to Use Guerilla Tactics in Syria

Widespread torture in Afghanistan: Torture and mistreatment of detainees by Afghan security forces is as widespread as ever, according to a U.N. report released on Monday. Reuters

North Korea detains U.S. citizen: North Korea detained a U.S. citizen on Saturday as he attempted to leave the country, bringing the total number of Americans held by the isolated country to three. Reuters

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen led the first round of voting in France’s presidential election on Sunday. Macron won the first round with 23.8% of the vote, ahead of Ms. Le Pen with 21.5%. The two will now face off in the second, decisive round on May 7. Opinion polls published Sunday indicated Macron would handily defeat Ms. Le Pen in a head-to-head contest. The European Union has become the defining issue in the race. Macron is a former investment banker who seeks deeper EU integration; Le Pen is an avowed opponent of the EU and its common currency. Wall Street Journal
New York Times: How Terrorism Can Alter Elections

ISIS’s reach in India: The departure of five relatively prosperous Indian families from Kerala for ISIS-held territory in Afghanistan has raised concerns about the militant group’s reach in India. Washington Post

Saudi Arabia national security center: Saudi Arabia has announced it is launching a National Security Center that will be linked to the royal court. Mohammed bin Saleh al-Ghofaili was also named the country’s national security adviser by royal decree over the weekend. Al Arabiya
America’s dangerous love for Special Ops: “The country, and its presidents, have been enamored with special operations forces ever since Franklin Roosevelt created the first unit in 1942,” writes Mark Moyar in the New York Times. “But the history of America’s special operations forces recommends caution. They are primarily tactical tools, not strategic options. Nor, for all the talent and training, can they always beat the odds.”

The resurgent threat of al Qaeda: “It may appear that al Qaeda has simply declined, but that is very far from the truth,” writes Ali Soufan in the Wall Street Journal. “Since the death of its founder, it has transformed itself from a close-knit terrorist outfit with a handful of struggling affiliates into a vast network of insurgent groups spread from Southeast Asia to northwest Africa. Together, this network now commands an army of tens of thousands of Islamist militants. Years after bin Laden’s death, they stand united in their commitment to his ideology. We have killed the messenger, but the message lives on.”

Trump’s dangerous ‘good cop, bad cop’ foreign policy: “Good cop, bad cop may be useful in reducing a prisoner to confession, but the contradictory messages emanating from Washington serve mostly to confuse — and not in a good way,” writes Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post. “Trump, by conveying to allies and non-allies that he’s likely to do anything at any moment, is telegraphing not strength but instability and impulsivity.”

Syria changed the world: “The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War,” writes Anne Barnard in the New York Times. “Our challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under ‘Muslims killing Muslims’: the war in Syria.”

From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State
with Ali Soufan and Lawrence Wright
Tuesday, May 2
Fordham Law School
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Another Remarkable Election in the West

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