The Soufan Group Morning Brief



The Obama administration is planning to transfer 22 or 23 detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to about six different countries, anonymous government officials told the Guardian. The White House expects to release the detainees by the end of July in an effort to further reduce the number of prisoners held at Guantanamo. Some of the transfers reportedly still need to be approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter. There are currently 80 men being held at the prison. Guardian, The Week

Manhattan federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged 22-year-old Sajmir Alimehmeti with providing material support to ISIS and with passport fraud. Alimehmeti allegedly facilitated the travel of an undercover law-enforcement agent he believed was heading to Syria to join ISIS. At least four undercover agents were involved in the joint FBI and NYPD sting operation, according to court documents. Recordings by American Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki were found on Alimehmeti’s laptop. Karen J. Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, said that Awlaki’s message continues to resonate and that “this case, in its details, reinforces the trend in ISIS cases: the preference for weapons other than explosives, the importance of social media, the virulence of ISIS videos, a new trend in efforts to avoid detection online and the youth of these individuals in the United States.” New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, ABC

Gitmo: Republican Senators are seeking to use the annual defense funding bill to make it difficult for President Obama to carry out his campaign promise of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) filed an amendment to the 2017 defense bill that would reduce foreign aid for countries that “lose control” of transferred detainees. Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) also filed an amendment that would require the White House to submit a declassified report about terror activities committed by former Guantanamo detainees. The Hill

The Hill: GOP seeks to remove funding to design Gitmo alternative

Saudi Arabia: On Tuesday, several House lawmakers accused the Saudi government of promoting extremism as they debated a new Senate bill that would allow families of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week that “it’s difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation.” Foreign Policy

The Hill: Paul ties release of 9/11 docs to defense bill

Airstrike casualties: Airstrikes within Pakistan, such as the drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, will be included in an upcoming White House report on those killed in counterterrorism operations outside of war zones. The Washington Post had previously reported that operations within Pakistan would not be included in the figures. Washington Post

Intelligence reporting: The House passed an annual policy bill on Tuesday to authorize U.S. intelligence activities for 2017 with provisions to prevent officials from manipulating reports on counterterrorism efforts. The measure comes in response to earlier allegations that CENTCOM officials altered their analyses to present an overly optimistic view on the fight against ISIS. The bill reportedly makes it easier for whistleblowers to bring their concerns to Congress. The Hill

The Taliban announced the selection of Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada as its new leader early Wednesday. The Taliban also confirmed that its previous leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. Akhundzada had previously served as one of Mansour’s deputies. New York Times

Wall Street Journal: How the U.S. Tracked and Killed the Leader of the Taliban
Chicago Tribune: Taliban figure says death of leader in U.S. drone strike could unify group

Syria: A U.S.-backed alliance of militias began a new offensive against the city of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, on Tuesday. The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia and controls large parts of northern and eastern Syria, reportedly captured towns north of Raqqa in preparation for a larger assault against the ISIS-held city. Reuters, CBS, CNN

Iraq: The UN expressed concern for the security of civilians in Fallujah, as Iraqi forces shelled the ISIS-held city for a second day on Tuesday. The UN refugee agency UNHCR said several women and children had died while trying to flee the city. Reuters

Egypt: The EgyptAir passenger jet that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea last week did not show signs of technical problems before leaving Paris, according to investigators. However, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Tuesday that the possibility of terrorism could not be ruled out, though he did not provide any evidence of the claim. Reuters, NBC, Financial Times

United Kingdom: Simon Cole, the police leader of the government’s Prevent anti-radicalisation program, said on Tuesday that the program’s plans may be too difficult to enforce. Cole warned of creating a “thought police” by allowing police officers to judge “what people can and can not say.” Guardian, The Independent
The U.S.-Saudi Arabia counterterrorism relationship: “I argue that Saudi Arabia has made considerable progress on counterterrorism in the last 15 years but still has a long way to go,” writes Daniel Byman at Brookings. “Before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and really until Al Qaeda began to attack the Kingdom directly in May 2003, Saudi Arabia was often uncooperative on counterterrorism and more part of the problem than part of the solution...Since 2003, the Saudi regime has emerged as a vital counterterrorism partner, and several important successes against Al Qaeda in particular are due in large part to Saudi cooperation.”

The magical thinking of killing Mullah Mansour: “The ‘important milestones’ come and go; we keep on killing bad guys, and the bad guys just keep on keeping on,” writes Rosa Brooks on Foreign Policy. “In the three years since the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the group appears to have gotten stronger, not weaker: Afghanistan experts say the Taliban now control more territory in the country than at any time since before the 2001 U.S. invasion.”

The southern front in Syria: “For the past two years, Washington has focused its attention on northern Syria, where it has attempted to strengthen the Syrian Democratic Forces and rout the so-called Islamic State. It has paid much less attention to southern Syria. That is a mistake,” writes Ehud Ya’ari on Foreign Affairs. “The United States has an opportunity there to consolidate and expand upon recent rebel gains. A relatively modest assistance program from Washington could help the local factions expel ISIS from its small enclave in the region and gradually dissolve the local al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Fragile Alliances Against 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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