The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 8, 2017
MONDAY, MAY 8, 2017

The leader of the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan who orchestrated a series of attacks in recent months was killed in a joint Afghan-U.S. special forces raid last month, the president of Afghanistan said in a statement on Sunday. Abdul Hasib was killed in an operation on April 27 in eastern Nangarhar Province, along the border with Pakistan, according to the statement; U.S. military spokesmen in Afghanistan confirmed that U.S. forces had participated in the raid that killed Hasib and up to 35 others. Two American Army Rangers were killed in the operation, perhaps by friendly fire.

Hasib reportedly orchestrated a number of attacks, including a March 8 massacre at a hospital in Kabul that killed at least 50 people and a suicide bombing last July at a peaceful demonstration in the capital that killed at least 80 people. New York Times, CNN
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is set to testify today before a Senate subcommittee today about what and when she told the Trump White House about Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. Yates reportedly warned White House counsel Donald McGahn on Jan. 26 that there were discrepancies in Flynn’s story to his colleagues and others about pre-inauguration calls he had with Russia’s ambassador, and that he could be vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia. Flynn was fired on Feb. 13.

But telling her story won’t be easy because, even though it is widely known that the United States eavesdrops on foreign officials, the existence of a wiretap on the Russian ambassador remains classified. So Yates is not likely to be allowed to say what made her concerned about Flynn’s actions. CNN, Politico, New York Times
Associated Press: Trump Transition Raised Flags about Flynn’s Russia Contacts

A draft of President Donald Trump’s new counterterrorism strategy demands that U.S. allies shoulder more of the burden in combating Islamist militants, while acknowledging that the threat of terrorism will never be totally eliminated. “We need to intensify operations against global jihadist groups while also reducing the costs of American ‘blood and treasure’ in pursuit of our counterterrorism goals,” the 11-page document reads, according to Reuters. “We will seek to avoid costly, large-scale U.S. military interventions to achieve counterterrorism objectives and will increasingly look to partners to share the responsibility for countering terrorist groups.” Reuters

“A major debate over electronic spying that defies the usual partisan factions is quietly taking shape in Congress,” reports the New York Times. A bipartisan coalition of privacy-minded lawmakers has started to circulate draft legislation that would impose new limits on the government’s ability to use incidentally gathered information about Americans who are in contact with foreign targets. But the intelligence and law enforcement communities and their allies in Congress appear determined to extend the warrantless surveillance program law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, without changes. The section sunsets at the end of the year. New York Times

Appeals court to hear arguments on Trump’s Travel Ban 2.0: President Trump’s revised effort to suspend travel to the U.S. for people from six Muslim-majority countries faces its biggest legal test to date Monday, as a federal appeals court in Virginia considers whether the president’s executive order should remain on hold because of concerns about religious discrimination. Wall Street Journal, ACLU

Lawyers call for release of U.S. terrorist who helped ‘dismantle’ al Qaeda: Defense attorneys for Bryant Neal Vinas, an American al Qaeda recruit who had contacts with senior figures in the terror group in Pakistan, have called for him to be sentenced to time served when he appears Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, citing their client's exceptional cooperation with the U.S. government. CNN

CIA deputy may be spared testifying in torture suit: The Trump administration is fighting to block the CIA’s new deputy director from providing a deposition about her role in pioneering the agency’s most abusive torture techniques in a lawsuit against two contract CIA psychologists. The Intercept, Bloomberg

The Nigerian government announced on Sunday that 82 of the girls who had been taken from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, three years ago had been released in exchange for handing over as many as six suspected militants to Boko Haram. Talks to free the girls have reportedly been going on for several months; just over 110 girls of the original 276 who were taken remain captive. New York Times, BBC News

A Navy SEAL was killed and two others were wounded during a raid targeting a remote compound used by Shabab militants in Somalia, U.S. defense officials said Friday. The SEAL is the first U.S. service member killed in combat in Somalia since the infamous "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993 that left 18 U.S. military personnel dead. U.S. forces were reportedly accompanying Somali National Army soldiers during an assault on an al Shabab compound near Barij, about 40 miles west of Mogadishu, when they came under attack before dawn Friday. Los Angeles Times

Somalia’s military said Sunday that it killed one of al Shabab’s regional leaders and three associates in a weekend raid. New York Times

Taliban take Afghan district: More than 2,000 families have been forced to flee their homes in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz after the Taliban recaptured a district in the city amid heavy fighting with security forces. CNN

American detained in North Korea: North Korea has detained another American citizen on charges of committing “hostile acts” against the country, the North’s official news agency reported on Sunday, bringing the total number of Americans in custody there to four. Kim Hak-song, who worked for the private Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was detained Saturday. Washington Post

To the relief of France’s European allies, centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president on Sunday, decisively defeating Marine Le Pen, the far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union. The 39-year-old Macron, a former investment banker who has never held elected office, secured a resounding 66 percent of the vote after attracting centrists who were put off by Le Pen’s far-right agenda. Reuters, CNN, New York Times
Politico: 5 Takeaways from Macron’s Win in France
Al Qaeda is stronger now than when bin Laden was killed: Six years ago, when Osama bin Laden was killed “I worried that al Qaeda without bin Laden might prove even more dangerous,” writes Ali Soufan in the Daily Beast. But “al Qaeda has not, in fact, declined. The group remains in control of all its major global factions, with the exception of the Islamic State (which spun off in 2014). Away from the glare of American attention, those factions have been marshaling their forces.”

Trump goes to Riyadh: “President Trump's decision to make Saudi Arabia his first foreign stop on his first trip abroad reflects the importance his administration has given to courting the Saudis,” writes Bruce Riedel in Al-Monitor. “There are useful lessons to be learned from previous presidents' trips to the kingdom about how to successfully court the royal family.”

Who counts as al Qaeda? Lessons from Libya: “If every group with ties to al Qaeda is viewed as part of al Qaeda, policymakers will exclude pragmatic groups from political settlements and miss opportunities to resolve conflicts,” writes Alex Thurston in Lawfare.
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The French Election and the Global Far-Right

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