The Soufan Group Morning Brief


TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2016

A U.S. airstrike has killed the top ISIS commander in Fallujah, Maher al-Bilawi, as Iraqi forces continue to advance on the city. According to a U.S. military spokesman, al-Bilawi was killed in an airstrike that targeted ISIS headquarters in the city last Wednesday. Meanwhile, Iran has played an increasingly important role in the offensive against ISIS, raising concerns of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite religious leader about Iran’s involvement in Iraq. Iran has reportedly placed its top military operative, Qassim Suleimani, in Iraq to assist in the military offensive against ISIS in Fallujah. ABC, NBC, New York Times

President Obama said that three American service members who were killed while fighting ISIS in Iraq were part of missions that involved combat. During remarks at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day Monday Obama said “in Iraq, three Americans have given their lives in combat on our behalf, and today I ask you to remember their stories as well.” The Obama administration maintains that U.S. forces in Iraq are serving in non-combat, advisory, and support roles in the fight against ISIS. Washington Post

Snowden: Former Attorney General Eric Holder said that Edward Snowden performed a “public service,” yet deserves to be punished under the law. Holder said in an interview “we can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.” Holder added that Snowden’s actions were “inappropriate and illegal” and “harmed American interests.” NBC, Slate

Airport Security: The Transportation Security Administration claim that long airport security lines are the result of an increase in passenger volume and insufficient staffing and funding levels to meet the challenge. However, in last year’s Homeland Security budget, the TSA proposed cutting the number of security screener personnel by almost 1,700 as a way of saving money. New York Times

New York Times: Behind Long Airport Lines, a Chain of T.S.A. Cuts, Missteps and Crises

Gitmo: Military officials at Guantanamo Bay are reportedly planning for operations to continue at the prison after President Obama leaves office. Guantanamo staff are discussing whether they will need to build wheelchair ramps for some prisoners during the next presidential administration. Miami Herald

A pretrial hearing for five 9/11 suspects began on Monday at Guantanamo Bay. 42 motions are scheduled for the week-long hearing that is expected to focus on the detainees’ treatment at the military prison. Defense attorney James Connell told the judge in the case, Col. James Pohl, that medical records provided by the prosecution lacked sufficient identifying information or a chronology of patient care. Reuters

The Hill: Senate contradicts itself on Gitmo

Refugees: Almost eight months into the Obama administration’s effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, the government has admitted only about 2,500 individuals. Critics of the administration’s immigration and refugee policies say that President Obama’s initial optimism on the issue has not been matched by action. New York Times

Guardian: Number of internally displaced Afghans tops 1.2 million, says report

Navy: 29-year-old Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier pleaded guilty on Friday to charges of unlawful retention of national defense information after he illegally photographed classified areas of a nuclear submarine. Saucier admitted to taking photos of instruments and equipment of the USS Alexandria. Although the charges fell under part of the Espionage Act, there has been no suggestion that Saucier intended to disclose the photos to anyone outside the Navy. Politico, The Hill

More than 20 people and about 50 others were injured in three bombings on Monday in Baghdad. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks which targeted Shiite neighborhoods and a police station. Reuters, Associated Press

Afghanistan: The Taliban overran several government-held checkpoints in southern Helmand Province and killed at least 25 Afghan police since Saturday. The renewed attacks are the first major assaults in Helmand since the Taliban named its new leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah, last week. New York Times

Drone strike: The family of a taxi driver killed in the May 21 U.S. drone strike that also killed former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has registered a case in Pakistan against U.S. officials on murder charges. The family of Mohammad Azam claims that Azam was a non-combatant and did not know the identity of his passenger. Associated Press, Al Jazeera

Somalia: On Monday, a military court in Mogadishu sentenced two men to life in prison for their role in the February bombing of a Daallo Airlines flight. The attack, which was claimed by al-Shabab, killed one passenger before the aircraft made an emergency landing with a gaping hole in the fuselage. Wall Street Journal

Iran: Iran will not allow its citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia this year for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca over disputes and “obstacles” with the Saudi government. Last year, over 2,400 pilgrims died in a stampede, which included hundreds of Iranian citizens. The two countries still disagree over the number killed in the accident, and Iran continues to criticize Saudi Arabia’s planning and management of the pilgrimage. New York Times

UAE: Two American citizens have been acquitted of terrorism charges in a UAE court on Monday. Father and son Amal and Kamal Eldarat were reportedly cleared on charges of illegally supporting armed terrorist groups in Libya. Washington Post
With my brother in Guantánamo Bay, the heart of my family is missing: “Like people around the world, my family has now read Mohamedou’s Guantánamo Diary...It has confirmed the many terrible reports I had heard of what had happened to my brother, and the worst fears of my family. But it has also given my family solace,” writes Yahdih Ould Salahi in the Guardian. “Alongside the sadness that came with reading about all the stages of torture he was subjected to...they are extremely proud of how he managed to maintain his sanity, his humanity, and his faith.”

What Was Mullah Mansour Doing in Iran?: “Mullah Mansour’s trip to Iran may well have been a simple trip to the doctor. But the trip may have had more nefarious purposes, too,” writes Michael Kugelman on Foreign Policy. “Despite the differences between Tehran and the Taliban, they share some key interests and have often cooperated operationally. Indeed, Tehran and the Taliban have a more symbiotic relationship than meets the eye.”

The Folly of Lobbying to Carve Up Iraq: “This is how Iraq can go forward: through serious negotiations between politicians who have a long relationship going back to the 1992 opposition conferences,” writes Luay al-Khatteeb in the National Interest. There will be difficult issues, “and if it appears that the Kurds will finally break away from Iraq, the international community must ensure that unresolved issues such as the Kirkuk cluster oilfields, which were seized by the peshmerga in 2014, are resolved peacefully.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Assault on Raqqa

Politics and Prose will be hosting a book talk with Karen J. Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, on her new book Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State on Thursday, June 2 at 7:00pm.

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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