The Soufan Group Morning Brief


MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2016

On Saturday, the United States transferred nine Yemeni detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia. Among the nine detainees was Tariq Ba Odah, who had been on a hunger strike at the military prison for more than nine years. The transfers come only days before President Obama’s scheduled visit to Riyadh. There are now 80 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo Bay, of which 26 have been approved for transfer. Miami Herald, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC,

NPR: After 9 Detainees Transferred From Guantanamo, The Number Held There Drops To 80
NY Mag: U.S. Releases 9 More Guantanamo Detainees
Miami Herald: Navy health teams still analyzing Guantánamo’s Camp Justice

The Obama administration is preparing to increase the number of Special Operations forces who advise Syrian rebels, and is considering deploying Army attack helicopters to fight ISIS militants in Iraq. On Saturday, U.S. officials said that the potential moves would support Syrian rebels near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and help Iraqi troops as they prepare a campaign to retake the ISIS-held city of Mosul. Speaking during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that “you should expect us, to see us, doing more,” against ISIS. New York Times, Associated Press

Daily Beast: U.S. Ratchets Up Cyber Attacks on ISIS
Reuters: U.S. Turns to Gulf Allies to Help Rebuild ISIS-Ravaged Iraq
Guardian: Pentagon chief mulls new strategies to fight Isis as US strikes in Syria and Iraq

Refugees: The State Department is attempting to resettle an average of 1,500 Syrian refugees per month in an effort to meet President Obama’s goal of accepting 10,000 refugees by September. Only about 1,300 refugees have been resettled in the United States since last September, when Obama laid out the goal. The State Department cited a lack of personnel available to interview refugees and said that it is conducting a “surge operation” of consular staff in Amman, Jordan to help meet the backlog. The Hill

Apple v. FBI: On Friday, Apple told asked Magistrate Judge James Orenstein to reject the Justice Department’s effort to compel the company to help unlock an iPhone connected to a New York drug case. In the court filing, Apple argued that if the court approved the FBI’s request it would lead to “an avalanche” of similar demands by the government. The filing also claimed that the FBI had “utterly failed to demonstrate” the necessity of its request. Wall Street Journal, New York Times

NPR: Apple-FBI: The Theories And Mysteries Of The San Bernardino iPhone
Forbes: More Proof Feds Don't Need Apple -- FBI Cracked iPhone 5 Passcode In 2015

Airline mishap: A college student who came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight earlier this month after another passenger informed the flight crew that he was speaking Arabic. The UC Berkeley student, 26-year-old Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, had called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he had attended with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Makhzoomi was escorted off of the flight, searched, and then questioned by FBI investigators. Southwest Airlines issued a statement saying it “neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.” New York Times

Nearly 2,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2016, according to the United Nations. A UN official said that “in the first quarter of 2016, almost one-third of civilian casualties were children.” The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees added that over 80,000 civilians have been displaced this year, as the conflict in Afghanistan continues to impact civilians in record numbers.  New York Times

Syria: As many as 10,000 civilians living at a Palestinian refugee camp outside of Damascus are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations. The UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, warned that humanitarian conditions are “desperate” inside the Yarmouk refugee camp. CBS, PBS

Yemen: Representatives from Yemen’s warring parties will meet today in Kuwait to begin UN-mediated peace talks. The two sides reportedly issued optimistic signals over the weekend through official statements and social media posts. This is the third attempt at finding a political solution to the conflict between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government. Reuters, Voice of America

Iran: On Saturday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey must work with Iran to combat terrorism and sectarianism in the region. Erdogan stressed that his country should narrow its differences with Iran saying “it is above all in our own countries’ interest to strengthen our political dialogue and reduce our differences of opinion to a minimum.” Speaking at a National Army Day parade on Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed to protect Muslim nations against terrorism and Israel. Reuters, Associated Press

Sweden: The trial of 20-year-old Sevigin Aydin began in Sweden on Friday. Prosecutors accuse Aydin of planning a terrorist attack after he purchased materials similar to those used in the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013. Aydin had allegedly self-radicalized, visiting ISIS and Al Qaeda websites and downloading  a “mujahedeen guide” with bomb-making instructions. If convicted, he could face life in prison. Deutsche-Welle
Thanks to UK and US intervention, al-Qaeda now has a mini-state in Yemen. It's Iraq and Isis all over again: “The Saudi intervention, supported in practice by the US and Britain, has made a bad situation far worse. The dire consequences of the Saudi intervention and the rise of AQAP has been largely ignored by Western governments and media,” writes Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. “Contrary to their grim-faced declarations about combating terrorism, the US and UK have opened the door to an al-Qaeda mini-state.”

5 ‘big ideas’ to guide us in the Long War against Islamic extremism: “It is also apparent that the attacks and other activities of such extremists will not be confined to the areas or regions in which they are located,” writes David Petraeus in The Washington Post. “Rather, as in the case of Syria, the actions of the extremist groups are likely to spew instability, extremism, violence and refugees far beyond their immediate surroundings, posing increasingly difficult challenges for our partners in the region, our European allies and even our homeland.”

Syria’s Future: A Black Hole of Instability: “Syria, one of the most important states in the Arab world, has cracked up, and no peace settlement can put it back together,” writes Thanassis Cambanis in The New York Times. “Despite talk of a ‘regime’ and ‘opposition,’ Syria today is a mosaic of tiny fiefs. The government has ceded control of stretches of land to Iran, Russia and Hezbollah.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Natural Disaster Threat

The Center on National Security at Fordham Law will host a full-day conference “Hindsight: Reflections on 15 years of The War On Terror” on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The event is currently full. If you would like to be added to the waitlist please send an email here.

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