The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Syrian army broke a three-year ISIS siege of the eastern city of Deir Ezzour on Tuesday, handing the extremist group a significant setback in one of its most important remaining strongholds.

The Syrian regime’s advance adds to the pressure on ISIS fighters in surrounding Deir Ezzour province, which many of the group’s leaders fled to as it came under attack and lost territory across Syria and Iraq over the past year.

After weeks of fierce fighting along the desert roads stretching east toward the city, Syrian soldiers trundled into the besieged garrison of soldiers at a base known as Brigade 137 early Tuesday and then moved on to a cluster of nearby neighborhoods, where they were greeted by wildly cheering residents.

It could still take weeks, if not months, however, for Assad’s forces to retake all of Deir al-Zour from the militant group, which controls about 60 percent of its neighborhoods. The question now is where Syrian government forces will head next, and whether they plan to press on into the rest of the city of Deir al-Zour or turn their attention farther east and south, to the other parts of the province for which the United States is preparing forces. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press
The House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed records from the Justice Department and the FBI pertaining to a salacious but unverified dossier on President Trump over objections from the committee’s minority members, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, said Tuesday.

The committee issued the two identical subpoenas on Aug. 24, requesting that both agencies hand over documents containing information about the dossier, the FBI’s relationship to its author and whether the FBI had supported opposition research against Trump in the last months of the 2016 presidential campaign. Schiff confirmed the subpoenas, but also complained that they were “uncalled for,” accusing Republicans on the panel of attempting to “discredit” the author of the dossier “rather than looking into how many of the allegations he wrote about were true.” Washington Post, The Hill

CNN also reported Tuesday that the Department of Justice’s special counsel investigation and the congressional probes into Russia’s election meddling are beginning to butt heads. Lawyers working with Robert Mueller approached the Senate intelligence committee this summer for the transcript of an interview Senate staff had conducted with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But they were blocked. Manafort’s lawyers said they had not authorized Mueller's legal team to access the interview transcript under the agreement with the committee, even though Mueller’s attorneys said they had been given permission. The matter is reportedly still under discussion. CNN, The Hill
The Atlantic: Only Mueller’s Team Knows What It’s Actually Doing

There are at least 18 stars on that wall representing the number of CIA personnel killed in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times. It’s a tally that has not been previously reported, and one that rivals the number of CIA operatives killed in the wars in Vietnam and Laos nearly a half century ago.

The deaths are a reflection of the heavy price the agency has paid in a secret, nearly 16-year-old war, where thousands of CIA operatives have served since the 9/11 attacks, the NYT reports. The deaths this year of operatives Brian Ray Hoke, 42, and Nathaniel Patrick Delemarre, 47, show how the CIA continues to move from traditional espionage to the front lines, and underscore the pressure the agency faces now that President Trump has pledged to keep the United States in Afghanistan with no end in sight. New York Times

U.S. apologizes for offensive leaflets in Afghanistan: A U.S. commander on Wednesday apologized for leaflets dropped in Afghanistan that were deemed offensive to Islam. The leaflets dropped Monday night, which encouraged Afghans to cooperate with security forces, included an image of a dog carrying the Taliban flag. The flag has Islamic verses inscribed on it, and dogs are seen as unclean in much of the Muslim world. Associated Press, Reuters

Haley lays out case for U.S. exit from Iran nuclear deal: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley on Tuesday laid out a case for President Donald Trump to step back from the Iran nuclear deal, arguing that Iran’s technical compliance alone isn’t enough for the US to stick with the pact.

In a 20-minute address at the American Enterprise Institute, Haley argued that the nuclear deal can’t be considered in isolation. Instead, Iran’s history, its hostility toward the US and its behavior in the Middle East have to figure into Trump's calculus when he decides in October whether to certify if Iran is abiding by the deal, she said. CNN

Nearly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in less than two weeks, officials said on Wednesday after the United Nations’ secretary-general warned there is a risk of ethnic cleansing in the former Burma that could destabilise the wider region.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the violence in Rakhine state, but she made no mention of the exodus of Rohingya since violence broke out there last month. Reuters, BBC News, Guardian, Wall Street Journal

Putin: Trump is ‘not my bride’: In biting remarks at an economic summit in China, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday addressed Russia’s diplomatic row with the United States, saying Moscow could further cut U.S. diplomatic staffing in Russia and calling U.S. searches of a Russian consulate and other diplomatic properties “boorish.” But he swatted away questions of whether he was “disappointed” with the U.S. president. Trump “is not my bride. I am not his bride, nor his groom. We are running our governments,” Putin said. Washington Post

British soldiers arrested for suspected neo-Nazi links: Four serving British soldiers are among alleged members of National Action, a banned neo-Nazi group, and have been arrested on suspicion of preparing acts of terrorism. Telegraph, Independent
Reading Trump’s tweets in Pyongyang: “How do North Koreans—fed on a diet of their own leaders’ speech, which is simultaneously nationalistic, hyperbolic, and deeply serious—read Trump’s communications?” asks Adam Cathcart in Foreign Policy. What’s likely is that “practically all North Koreans, even those in government service, encounter Trump’s speech in very fragmentary and context-less ways.”

The way to make North Korea back down: “Rather than issuing empty threats or blaming others, the Trump administration should work on becoming a credible financial threat to the Kim regime,” writes Sung-Yoon Lee in the New York Times. “Only then will the United States be in a position to negotiate from a position of strength, an entirely feasible feat that has nevertheless eluded every administration to date.”

The Bush torture scandal isn’t over: “The American Psychological Association is grappling with who should take the blame for greenlighting enhanced interrogations,” writes Daniel Engber in

No more secret surveillance technology in local law enforcement: “In California today, a police or sheriff’s department could buy a fleet of drones or a set of surveillance cameras to monitor the community its employees have sworn to protect, yet not tell anyone — not even the local government,” writes the Los Angeles Times in an editorial.
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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