The Soufan Group Morning Brief


MONDAY, MAY 23, 2016

Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, the White House confirmed early Monday. President Obama said in a statement that Mansour’s death is “an important milestone.” The attack was the first U.S. drone strike in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, the de facto headquarters of the Afghan Taliban. Mansour’s death sends the Taliban into its second leadership crisis within a year, as the group does not have a clear successor. New York Times, Washington Post

Reuters: Afghan Taliban meets on succession after U.S. drones target leader
Just Security: Moves toward greater transparency on the use of lethal force
The Telegraph: Al-Qaeda 'planning major terror attack against West' from Afghanistan

The Periodic Review Board has approved the release of a 36-year-old Afghan man known by the name Obaidullah. The Bush and Obama administrations had each considered Obaidullah a candidate for a war crimes tribunal for his alleged role in storing and concealing anti-tank mines and other explosive devices near his home in Afghanistan. Obaidullah was previously charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism in 2008. The Obama Administration dropped the charges in 2011. 28 of the remaining 80 detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been approved for transfer by the Periodic Review Board. Miami Herald, Associated Press

Gitmo: Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee added a provision to the 2017 defense bill that would nullify Col. James Pohl’s decision allow the military to use female guards to touch Guantanamo Bay detainees while moving them around the facility. The dispute over the use of female guards has raised questions about the independence of the Guantanamo war court and raised the possibility of outside influence. New York Times

The Hill: Senate defense bill includes funding to design Gitmo alternative

Microsoft counterterrorism: Microsoft announced on Friday that it was updating its terms of use for its online services to specifically ban the posting of “terrorist content.” The company is also reportedly considering the display of “positive messaging” in its Bing search engine results when users search for terror-related terms. The Hill, PC Mag

Drones and airstrikes: The Obama administration is preparing to publish statistics on how many militants and noncombatant civilians it has killed since 2009. However, according to a report in The Washington Post, these statistics will likely exclude attacks in Pakistan, where the CIA has reportedly carried out hundreds of drone strikes. Washington Post

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a new military operation to retake the ISIS-held city of Fallujah on Sunday. Abadi said that Iraqi forces are “approaching a moment of great victory” in the fight against ISIS. However, Iraqi forces are expected to face a difficult fight, as the city has been held by ISIS for more than two years and was the site of the bloodiest insurgent battle of the Iraq War. New York Times, CBS

Syria: CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Joseph Votel made a secret visit to Syria on Saturday to assess the progress of local forces in their fight against ISIS. Votel is the highest-ranking officer to enter Syria since the United States first began its campaign against ISIS in 2014. Associated Press

New York Times: Blasts Hit 2 Syrian Cities in Assad Stronghold, Killing Scores

Yemen: Two ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in the northern city of Aden on Monday. Yemeni security officials said the attacks targeted young army recruits as they waited outside recruitment centers. Associated Press

Kosovo: Kosovo has become a hotbed for ISIS recruitment and radicalization, according to a new report in The New York Times. Police have identified 314 Kosovars, including two suicide bombers, who have left the country to join ISIS in Syria over the last two years. This is reportedly the highest number per capita in Europe. New York Times

Paris: Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam refused to answer questions during his first appearance before judges at a court in Paris on Friday. Abdeslam’s attorney said that his client “is prepared to speak at a later date.” VOA, AFP

Egypt: Egypt has sent a robot submarine to search for the wreckage of EgyptAir Flight 804, which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea last Thursday, in an effort to find the aircraft’s black boxes. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said on Sunday that it may take a “long time” before the cause of the airliner crash could be determined. New York Times, Reuters

United Kingdom: A police study focused on counter-radicalization found that approximately half of all people at risk for radicalization have mental health or psychological problems. The study, which examined 500 cases of potential radicalization, found that 44 percent of individuals involved had vulnerabilities related to mental health. Guardian
Obama’s fatal fatalism in the Middle East: “The administration’s fatalism ignores a fourth policy option that Obama, from the beginning, was determined not to try: patient, open-ended engagement using all U.S. tools — diplomatic as well as military — with a positive outcome, not a fixed deadline, as the goal,” writes Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post. “That is an approach that has worked before. In Korea, the United States forged an intimate alliance more than a half-century ago, and today U.S. soldiers and diplomats are still present.”

Those 28 pages on the Saudis, and these 5 trials of 9/11 plotters: Are we looking for closure in the wrong place?: “This determined quest for the truth is admirable, but it forces us to confront why so many people have seemingly had so little urgency for so long about another, much larger lapse in the explanations surrounding the worst terror attacks in U.S. history — namely, the ever-delayed trial of the five 9/11 defendants accused of orchestrating the attacks,” writes Karen J. Greenberg in the New York Daily News.

Is the Iran deal unraveling? Think again: “Iran’s dissatisfaction presents a serious diplomatic dilemma for Washington. But it should not be interpreted as evidence that the deal is ‘unraveling,’ ” writes Suzanne Maloney at Brookings. “Rather, the chorus of complaints from Tehran demonstrates the accord signed in July 2015 is working exactly as it was intended—forestalling Iranian nuclear ambitions while amplifying the incentives for further reintegration into the global economy.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: A Message from the Islamic State

Join the Center on National Security on Wednesday, June 1 for a discussion with Director Karen J. Greenberg, author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. To RSVP click here

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