Fdd's overnight brief

November 1, 2019

In The News

Islamic State

The Islamic State militant group Thursday announced the successor to its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who U.S. officials said killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during a raid last week on his hiding place in northwest Syria. A recording released by the Islamic State’s media arm confirmed Baghdadi’s death and named his successor as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qorashi. – Washington Post  

Islamic State confirmed on Thursday that its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a weekend raid by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria, and vowed revenge against the United States. – Reuters 

A majority of Americans say President Trump should get credit for the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, though the successful operation did not budge how people view Trump’s strength as a leader, according to a new Washington Post–ABC News poll. – The Hill

The killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in Idlib, Syria, announced by U.S. President Trump on October 27, 2019, was met with approval and praise from some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. However, most of the articles on this topic in these countries’ government and pro-regime press took a very different view, attacking the U.S. These articles accused the West, led by the U.S., of creating and cultivating the terror organizations, and claimed that Al-Baghdadi was a product of Western and other intelligence apparatuses and had served them until he was no longer needed – at which point they eliminated him. Some of the articles emphasized that President Trump had timed the operation for maximum political gain ahead of the U.S. presidential election. […]The following are translated excerpts from articles in the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian government dailies criticizing and accusing the U.S. following Al-Baghdadi’s killing. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Christian C. Sahner writes: Despite the violence, the death of a caliph has not necessarily spelled the end of a dynasty. This is the basic lesson regarding the future of the Islamic State, too. […]What is clear, however, is that he will preside over a shattered sliver of the group’s once mighty state, which means he is unlikely to cut the same inspiring figure as his predecessor. That could change, of course. While Iraq and Syria remain the Islamic State’s spiritual home, its branch in Afghanistan is thriving and may make for a good base in the future. – Washington Post  

Danielle Pletka writes: Perhaps the time has come for Western governments to demand collectively that the region’s leaders be answerable to their own people before we face another wave of refugees, the next iteration of the Islamic State and Baghdadi’s successor. – Washington Post 

Eli Lake writes: As U.S. intelligence analysts comb through electronic and paper documents seized last weekend from the lair of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, one question is foremost on their minds: How was the Islamic State leader able to find refuge in a Syrian province secured by the Turkish military and its proxy forces? […]It was Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, remember, that cultivated the source that was able to find Baghdadi. U.S. intelligence analysts may soon find out if the Turks knew where he was all along. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It is revealing that the U.S. cannot trust its allies with the sort of intelligence that led to the killing of the most high-profile terrorists of the past 20 years. With Baghdadi’s death, the U.S. must re-examine how to achieve its goals in Syria or Afghanistan if neighboring countries are not working with it — and might even be working against Washington.  Killing bin Laden and Baghdadi were tactical successes. But U.S. strategy requires a world where U.S. allies are truly allies. Perhaps the U.S. needs to better confront countries such as Turkey and Pakistan if they are not helpful in the war on terror. – The Hill


Iran’s hierarchy often rails against the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia as direct threats to its security and regional influence. But lately the authorities in Tehran have turned their attention to two new sources of worry: Lebanon and Iraq. – New York Times   

Iran has stepped in to prevent the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi by two of Iraq’s most influential figures amid weeks of anti-government demonstrations, sources close to both men told Reuters. – Reuters  

The United States said on Thursday it had imposed sanctions on the Iranian construction sector and trade in four materials used in its military or nuclear programs, even as it waived sanctions to let foreign firms continue non-proliferation work in Iran. – Reuters  

Iran has spent $16 billion on its “militias” in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV on Thursday. – Reuters  

Saudi Arabia has freed 19 Iranian fishermen detained 10 months ago by the kingdom’s coastguard, an Iranian official was quoted as saying on Thursday, following talks between the two regional rivals. – Reuters  

Israel’s prime minister says Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in the region due to the lack of response to its recent actions. – Associated Press 

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin on Wednesday said the military’s multi-tiered network of air defense systems were “on alert” amid a general threat of attack by Iran. – Times of Israel


Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said on Thursday the resignation of Saad al-Hariri as prime minister would waste time available to enact reforms which are widely seen as necessary to steer Lebanon out of an economic crisis. – Reuters  

Lebanon’s Hezbollah targeted a drone over the country’s south with “appropriate weapons” forcing it to leave Lebanese airspace on Thursday, al-Manar TV reported, citing a statement from the Iran-backed movement. – Reuters 

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, who is on a diplomatic visit to Greece, met on Thursday with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, as well as with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. At the meetings, Katz requested that Greece condition its assistance to Lebanon on canceling the country’s precise missile project, and called on Greece to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. – Arutz Sheva


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad clawed back control over much of his country with the help of Russia and Iran. Now he is poised to take back much of the rest—in large part because of the U.S. The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw most U.S. troops from northeastern Syria reordered the security landscape in the country, opening the door for Mr. Assad to reclaim areas he hasn’t held in years. – Wall Street Journal 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that his government’s ultimate goal was to restore state authority over Kurdish controlled areas in northeast Syria after an abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal but he expected it to happen gradually. – Reuters 

U.S. armored vehicles were seen on Thursday near the Syria-Turkey border in a part of northeastern Syria where they had not been observed since early October when Washington announced the withdrawal of American forces, according to a witness and Reuters video footage. – Reuters 

Russian military police stationed in Syria are departing from the Aylishar border crossing in northern Syria on a joint patrol with Turkish forces on Thursday. – Tass  

By claiming a right to Syria’s oil, President Donald Trump has added more complexity — as well as additional U.S. forces and time — to an American military mission he has twice declared he was ending so the troops could come home. – Associated Press


Syrian refugees in this Turkish border town have been celebrating. Every day, news trickles of advances by Turkish-backed troops in carving out a safe zone in northeastern Syria and opening the way for the refugees to return home. – New York Times 

Turkish-Russian relations are entering a new stage as they prepare to start joint patrols of a strip 10 kilometers (six miles) deep inside northeastern Syria Friday following Ankara’s incursion into the region this month to expel US-backed Kurdish forces. – Al Monitor  

Turkey has handed over 18 men believed to be Syrian government soldiers who were seized in northeast Syria near the Turkish border earlier this week, the Turkish Defense Ministry said late on Thursday. – Reuters  


U.S. military aid to Israel has emerged as the latest flashpoint in the Democratic presidential primary, evidence of a split in the party being driven by its resurgent progressive wing. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s military said an anti-aircraft missile was fired from Lebanon at one of its drones on Thursday but the aircraft was not hit in the rare launch. – Reuters   

That best-buddy friendship between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a personal alliance that has shaped America’s Mideast policy for nearly three years — has cooled. Instead of gushing over Netanyahu and boasting of what he called the warmest U.S.-Israeli relationship in history, Trump has gradually backed away. – LA Times  

A rocket was fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into southern Israel on Thursday evening. – Algemeiner  

The Israeli Air Force next week will host its biannual Blue Flag aerial exercise, with the F-35 stealth fighter jet taking part in the drill for the first time, the military said Friday. – Times of Israel 

Israel advanced and approved plans for 2,342 West Bank settler homes in October, the left-wing NGO Peace Now reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post  

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said it would be “a gigantic mistake” for the U.S. to make aid to Israel conditional on ending settlement building in the West Bank. […]While Biden, like Warren and Sanders, opposes the building of settlements, he doesn’t believe any conditions should be put on U.S. aid to Israel. “I hope they misspoke or they were taken out of context,” he said. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, two days after the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. – Reuters  

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday he supported the creation of a government of experts to lead the country out of crisis and pledged to dedicate the rest of his term to ending a sectarian power-sharing system he called a “destructive disease.” – Bloomberg 

Iraq’s president said Thursday that Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi had agreed to resign once a successor is found and vowed to move toward new elections after days of violent protests between anti-government demonstrators and security forces left at least 200 people dead. – Bloomberg

Qatar moved a step closer to holding legislative elections Wednesday after delaying them repeatedly for over a decade. The country’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, issued a decision establishing a committee to prepare for elections to a key legislative body, according to a tweet from state-run Qatar News Agency. – Bloomberg

Yemen’s Houthi movement said on Friday its air defenses downed a U.S.-made ScanEagle drone near the Saudi border, the group’s military spokesman said. – Reuters 

Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since 2015, a database project that tracks violence said Thursday. – Associated Press 

Fareed Zakaria writes: So we see an emerging post-American Middle East, with various regional powers jockeying for influence, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran, along with others such as Turkey and Israel, pushing their own interests. These are uncharted waters in a time of great upheaval — Syria has produced more than 5 million refugees , and Yemen faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The Islamic State has been decapitated and is scattered for now, but the demons that have fueled such terror — stagnation, repression, despair — continue to haunt today’s Arab world. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea conducted another test of super-large multiple rocket launchers on Thursday afternoon, calling it a success, the state news agency KCNA said on Friday. – The Guardian 

Successful sanctions evasion, economic lifelines from China and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment woes may be among the factors that have emboldened North Korea in nuclear negotiations, analysts and officials say. – Reuters  

The two projectiles fired by North Korea on Thursday were “short range”, South Korea’s military said in a statement. – Reuters


Chinese President Xi Jinping emerged from a Communist Party conclave with a resolute endorsement of his leadership, despite a slowing economy, a bruising trade war with the U.S. and unrest in Hong Kong. The party’s governing Central Committee also signaled a firmer stance on Hong Kong, calling for stronger safeguards for China’s national security in the city—a formulation that some experts say foreshadows new legal powers to squelch dissent against Beijing’s authority. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese cellphone carriers will begin offering super-fast, next-generation 5G service on a commercial basis Friday, a development that the ruling Communist Party says will unleash a technological revolution. With this milestone and ambitious usage targets, Chinese authorities are sending a message to the United States that they will not allow the country’s industrial development — especially that of tech titan Huawei — to be stymied. – Washington Post   

Chinese companies like Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. threaten U.S. national security because the use of their equipment in networks gives the Chinese government an advantage it can use for espionage, cyberattacks and intellectual property theft, according to senior officials and lawmakers. – Bloomberg

Josh Rogin writes: The U.S. government has imposed visa bans and blacklisted 28 Chinese entities that are complicit in the human rights violations in Xinjiang. But stronger sanctions have been sitting on the shelf for several months. The White House seems to be falling for Beijing’s threat to disrupt trade talks if Washington confronts them on human rights. The truth is, Beijing’s threat works only if we back off. […]Like James, many Americans will decide they don’t care or don’t want to pay the price for daring to speak out about Chinese government repression. But no one can say they didn’t know the truth; all you have to do is “google Uyghurs.” – Washington Post

South Asia

India’s Muslim-majority region of Kashmir was formally divided on Thursday, almost three months after losing its autonomy in a move that triggered violence and stoked tensions with arch-rival Pakistan. – Agence France-Presse   

India engaged in a diplomatic war of words with China over Kashmir on Thursday as it formally revoked the disputed state’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories in a bid to integrate it fully into India. – Reuters  

A record number of civilians were killed in Afghanistan between July and September due to a drastic increase in terrorist attacks, according to a report issued Oct. 30. More than 4,300 civilian casualties were reported during the time period, according to the report from SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction — an increase of more than 40% over the previous year. – Washington Examiner  

Thousands of members of a radical Islamist party have camped out in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, calling for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation over economic hardships. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The state, Myanmar’s poorest, is no stranger to violence, either. It first came to the world’s attention back in 2012, when intercommunal conflict between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims broke out. […]Less well known outside Myanmar, however, has been a third wave of violence, which began around the start of this year and has continued ever since. In this, the Tatmadaw has been fighting the Arakan Army, a Buddhist insurgent force formed back in 2009 that has perhaps 4,000 guerrillas under arms – Foreign Policy 

Sadanand Dhume writes: In the end, though, India’s decision will likely depend more on geopolitical and national-security concerns than on purely economic factors. India’s strategic elites are wary of growing Chinese influence, and New Delhi has pushed back against elements of Beijing’s economic expansionism. India is the most prominent Asian country to give the cold shoulder to Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. The odds of its embracing Huawei 5G are slim. – Wall Street Journal  

Toby Dalton and Gaurav Kalwani write: Crisis management in South Asia is hugely consequential. A limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would be disastrous for people in the region, but the effects could spread well beyond South Asia. Preventing the next crisis from escalating to a point at which nuclear weapons might be used is therefore a global imperative. It is far better that the next South Asia crisis be managed, to the extent possible, with careful planning and preparation, rather than counting on luck to see it through. – War on the Rocks


Weeks after face coverings at demonstrations were banned in this protest-torn city, traditionally busy Halloween celebrations were marked by clashes between riot police and demonstrators wearing masks of Guy Fawkes and Chinese President Xi Jinping. – Wall Street Journal 

China will roll out new steps to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong after months of antigovernment protests that have destabilized the semiautonomous city, the Chinese Communist Party leadership announced on Thursday. – New York Times  

China vowed Friday to prevent foreign powers interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and carrying out acts of “separatism, subversion, infiltration and sabotage.” – Associated Press

China signaled a new push to institute “patriotic” education in Hong Kong, potentially reviving a third-rail initiative shelved after mass student demonstrations seven years ago. – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump plans to skip the 18-nation East Asia Summit for the third straight year, and this time he’s not even sending Vice President Mike Pence or Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to replace him. Instead the U.S. will have its lowest level representation at the meeting since Barack Obama formally joined the group in 2011, with new national security adviser Robert O’Brien leading the delegation to Bangkok. – Bloomberg 

A Hong Kong court has temporarily banned publishing anything online that could encourage violence, Apple Daily has reported. – Bloomberg 

Southeast Asian leaders are making last-minute efforts with wealthier neighbors led by China to conclude negotiations on one of the world’s largest free-trade accords and will praise progress in talks on a nonaggression pact in disputed waters when they meet for a summit in Thailand. But intractable differences, often hidden behind handshakes and ceremonial photo-ops, have stymied those efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. – Associated Press

Editorial: This supports Mr. Wong’s claim that he was “targeted by the central government,” and it is further proof that the Chinese Communist Party has no intention of respecting Hong Kong’s legal autonomy. […]Meanwhile, on Thursday, economic data showed Hong Kong has officially slipped into a recession. Beijing’s latest assault on the rule of law in Hong Kong will deepen the crisis. – Wall Street Journal


A new pipeline constructed to carry Russian natural gas to Germany is advancing toward its goal along the floor of the Baltic Sea, while U.S. legislation crafted to block the tube from reaching its destination has stalled on Capitol Hill. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia is exploiting the continuing instability in the West as it seeks to show off its S-400 missile system “on Europe’s soil,” TASS media reported. S-400s and the Pantsir-S missile system were sent to Serbia, a Russian ally, as part of a military drill called Slavic Shield 2019. At the same time Russia says it will be helping African countries with counter-terrorism efforts. – The Jerusalem Post 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: So it’s too late for the U.S. to act. Sanctions against financing the pipeline could have been effective at the stage before European companies — Royal Dutch Shell, Engie, Uniper, OMV and Wintershall — provided what was needed. Sanctions against pipe-laying vehicles could have made a difference before the construction work began. In any case, they could have given Ukraine more time to renegotiate its gas-transit contract with Gazprom, which runs out at the end of this year. – Bloomberg


The International Monetary Fund has put off a bailout for Ukraine because it is worried the country’s president won’t recoup billions of dollars allegedly looted from banks—including one once controlled by a close supporter—according to people familiar with the negotiations. – Wall Street Journal  

The death of the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was met this week with no outpouring of joy or even relief in France, even though this is the European country that suffered most from his depredations. The reason is simple: the Islamic State’s crimes, and the fear they instilled in the national psyche, are so ingrained in France that the daily fabric of life has been inexorably altered. – New York Times  

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic broke the law by refusing to take in asylum seekers coming to the European Union during the chaotic summer of 2015, an advisory body to the bloc’s highest court said on Thursday. – Reuters  

Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Thursday issued a joint statement committing to uphold minority rights in Ukraine, a step welcomed by the Hungarian authorities who had threatened to block Kiev’s NATO membership over the issue. – Reuters  

A Brussels court has ordered Belgium to repatriate from Syria within 75 days a woman whose husband fought for Islamic State and her children. – Reuters 

The mayor of the southern French city of Nice has strongly condemned rising antisemitism in his country following an incident at a Jewish school in which a man yelling antisemitic epithets tried to break into the building. – Algemeiner   

Jasmin Mujanović and Molly Montgomery write: These proposals aim to reassert U.S. leadership in a region hungry for alternatives and do so by emphasizing practical, quality-of-life concerns with a strategic aim: countering growing Russian and Chinese designs on the Western Balkans. – Foreign Policy


Nigeria has temporarily lifted a suspension of the operations of two aid groups, Mercy Corps and Action Against Hunger, in the country’s northeast. – Reuters   

Sudan has agreed a roadmap to “rehabilitate” the country with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and African Development Bank, its finance minister said on Thursday. – Reuters   

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would end Cameroon’s preferential trade benefits from Jan. 1, citing what he called the African country’s “persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” – Reuters  

South Sudan’s Media Authority has revoked the press accreditation of Canadian journalist Sam Mednick in response to a recent story she wrote for The Associated Press. The AP stands by Mednick and her story. – Associated Press 

Stephen Paduano writes: However, none of this will necessarily stop Russia’s rise. One thing the great-power framing also fails to take into account is how African states, like all states, can maintain multiple partnerships. It is a basic diplomatic fact that offers particular benefits in Africa, McFaul said, given that the “U.S., Russia, and China play in different lanes.” Nigeria, which announced a new arms agreement in Sochi, is one such beneficiary. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

Desperate Mexican soldiers implored the captured son of legendary drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to call his brother and get him to stop the attacks by dozens of cartel gunmen on security forces in their bid to rescue him. – Wall Street Journal  

The U.S. State Department warned on Thursday that it had seen indications of Russian “influence” on recent unrest in Chile, where two weeks of protests and riots have rocked the administration of President Sebastian Pinera. – Reuters 

Max Fisher writes: An unspoken rule in Latin America, like in many transitional democracies, is that if protests demanding the leader’s removal reach a certain threshold and have a certain degree of institutional support, then he or she will step down. “Presidents are reaching the conclusion that if society is polarized and if there’s disagreement about which side should prevail, then if they have the military, they will survive.” – New York Times


A lawsuit filed on Thursday accuses Facebook of letting ad targeting tools be used to exclude women and older people from offers regarding loans, investments and other financial services. – Agence France-Presse  

Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) WhatsApp to take over users’ phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company’s investigation. – Reuters 

Top U.S. government officials delivered a blunt message at an Oct. 31 hearing on 5G and supply chain security: the United States is behind on confronting the threats to next-generation networks. – Fifth Domain


The U.S. Army has selected General Dynamics Land Systems’ Multi-Utility Tactical Transport, or MUTT, for its Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport unmanned ground system program of record. The initial contract for the eight-wheel drive robotic vehicle totals $162.4 million and includes support hardware, user training and technical support. The contract will wrap up at the end of October 2024, according to an Oct. 30 Defense Department announcement. – Defense News

The Missile Defense Agency has selected four companies to develop prototype sensors capable of detecting and tracking hypersonic weapons from space, the agency announced Oct. 29. The four companies selected are Northrop Grumman, Leidos, Harris Corporation and Raytheon. Each of the companies was awarded a $20 million contract through the Space Enterprise Consortium, an other transaction authority that fosters rapid prototyping. The agency received 12 proposals in total. – C4ISRNET

The Navy is gaining enough experience with unmanned vehicles on and below the water’s surface that it’s becoming easier to kick off new programs, as each can build on previous program’s lessons learned, service officials said last week. – USNI News

Trump Administration

A senior National Security Council aide on Thursday confirmed a key episode at the center of the impeachment inquiry, testifying that a top diplomat working with President Trump told him that a package of military assistance for Ukraine would not be released until the country committed to investigations the president sought. – New York Times 

President Trump plans to nominate North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun to serve as deputy secretary of State, the White House announced Thursday. – The Hill 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The long hangover from the brief US experiment with being a kind of global empire, or colossus, means that there is reticence to using US power. The Trump agenda and that of his opponents generally agree US power is declining, they just don’t know how to reduce the US footprint. Even if the US pivots to a big power-focused strategy of confronting China and Russia or other countries, such as Turkey and Iran, it’s apparent that US adversaries think the US can be easily outplayed in places like Syria. – The Jerusalem Post