Fdd's overnight brief

October 31, 2019

In The News

Islamic State

A high-risk raid last week that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is expected to temporarily disrupt the group’s activities, but the militants are likely to regroup and may attempt revenge attacks against the United States, a senior U.S. commander said Wednesday. – Washington Post 

The Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was able to hide out in an unlikely part of Syria, the base of a rival group, because he was paying protection money to its members, according to receipts for the payments recovered by researchers. – New York Times 

The Islamic State group’s leadership has a “deep bench” and a replacement for deceased chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could surface within weeks, the US government’s top counter-terrorism expert said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse 

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, Gen. Frank McKenzie, offered fresh details on Wednesday about the raid that killed ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including that the attacking commandos killed five other ISIS fighters and that the terrorist leader’s remains have been buried at sea. But he wouldn’t confirm President Donald Trump’s vivid description of the terrorist leader’s final moments. – Politico 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday said the Trump administration still owes the House a briefing on the situation in Syria with Turkey after defense and intelligence officials briefed lawmakers following the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. – The Hill 

Raffaello Pantucci writes: What relevance does the death of Baghdadi have to any of these attackers, or to the terror threat at large? There is little historical evidence that decapitating terrorist groups destroys them. Leaders have networks around them built on personal contacts, and their deaths change those dynamics. […]Their removal can weaken the aura around their organizations, but it can’t promise eradication. – Wall Street Journal


The United States plans to allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue work at Iranian nuclear facilities to make it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

The U.S. Embassy in Tehran remains frozen in 1979 as the 40th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis approaches, a time capsule of revolutionary graffiti, Underwood typewriters and rotary telephones. – Associated Press

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei signaled his opposition to uprisings roiling Lebanon and Iraq, where the Islamic Republic’s allies are resisting calls to oust governments through street protests. – Bloomberg

Iran and Russia on Tuesday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to maintain a military presence near oil fields in northeastern Syria, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying any exploitation of resources would be illegal. – Reuters

Simon Henderson and Elan DeLzier write: Put simply, any further departure by Iran from the JCPOA terms should be viewed with great concern, especially because of Tehran’s recent dangerous behavior, albeit denied, in the Gulf area, including the placing of limpet mines on tankers starting in May and particularly the drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil-processing facility in September. This is the wider diplomatic environment that awaits the incoming IAEA director-general and his reported firmer approach to the Iran issue. – Washington Institute


Saudi Arabia, Qatar and   four other Gulf nations joined the U.S. in imposing sanctions on a financing network controlled by Iran’s military and several men linked to the Tehran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel has requested that the US and others condition aid to the Lebanese government on it taking action against Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile program. – Algemeiner 

The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was a victory for anti-government protesters flooding the country’s streets by the millions. It also was a wake-up call for Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim organization that wields substantial power in the region and is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States. – LA Times 


Every day in northeastern Syria, waves of American troops are pulling out under President Trump’s order this month that paved the way for a Turkish offensive that included assaults on the Pentagon’s allies, the Syrian Kurds. And at the same time, a separate wave of American troops from the opposite direction is pouring back in. – New York Times

Turkey has information that the Kurdish YPG militia has not completed its withdrawal to 30 km (18.64 miles) from the Turkish border in northeast Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, despite assurances from Russia that they had left. – Reuters 

Adam Taylor writes: The civil war that wrecked Syria began as part of the regionwide Arab Spring protest movement. In some ways, it feels as though that movement never ended. […]Assad faces the additional challenge of rebuilding a war-torn country. As a nation, Syria is far from lost and its story is far from over. One chapter of the conflict may be ending, but a new one has just begun. – Washington Post 

Bobby Ghosh writes: The prosecution of these men is important for all the obvious reasons: accountability and punishment for crimes, justice for victims. But the timing serves another useful purpose. It reminds us that for all the news about the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Turkey’s military invasion, a Kurdish humanitarian crisis and Russian patrols, the Assad regime has perpetrated the overwhelming majority of the horrors visited upon Syria. – Bloomberg


Turkey adamantly opposes U.S. plans for Syrian oil, including Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposal to use crude revenue to help fund American military operations in the war-torn nation. – Bloomberg

A day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that could penalize Turkey for its military offensive in northern Syria, Erdogan was noncommittal when asked if he’ll still travel for talks with President Donald Trump on Nov. 13. – Bloomberg 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that the Trump administration is keeping a list of Turkish sanctions targets ready if needed, but so far is pleased with the ceasefire in Syria that caused prior sanctions to be lifted. – Reuters


President Trump’s departing Middle East envoy says he is saddened to be leaving the job before publication of a much-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but believes that the two sides are closer than ever after years of Iranian aggression in the region. – Washington Examiner 

Israeli diplomats shuttered the gates to the country’s embassies and consulates around the world on Wednesday as a seemingly never-ending work dispute burst into the open when the Finance Ministry failed to honor an agreement hammered out in July. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel’s security cabinet decided Wednesday to establish a mechanism to monitor Chinese investments, following three years of debate and pressure from the United States. – Haaretz 


Iraq’s leaders were in tense talks on Wednesday over the ouster of the country’s embattled premier, as a rights commission said the latest week of anti-government demonstrations has left 100 dead. – Agence France-Presse 

Two rockets were fired into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone on Wednesday, killing one Iraqi soldier and adding to the violence gripping the country amid unprecedented anti-government protests and a violent security crackdown. – Associated Press 

The Pentagon on Wednesday identified a U.S. Army soldier killed in a noncombat incident in Iraq over the weekend. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

Egyptian security forces have arrested more than 4,300 people across the country since small but extremely rare protests erupted Sept. 20, according to the independent Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms . While the government previously focused on targeting political opponents, the latest efforts have swept up anyone deemed a threat, including more than 100 foreigners, journalists and even children. – Washington Post 

Waves of sustained protests have shaken entrenched Arab rulers from Algeria to Iraq, injecting a new sense of euphoria among activists across the region as more leaders succumb to demands for change. – Wall Street Journal

Lebanese President Michel Aoun formally asked Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Wednesday to stay on in a caretaker role in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution a day after he resigned — a post that Hariri will retain until a new government is formed. – Washington Post 

In his response article, Bin Bakhit rejected the conspiracy theories spread by many Arabs, which hold that outside forces, including the U.S., are responsible for Al-Baghdadi’s terrorism, and accused Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world at large of cultivating the ideology of terrorist organizations and of figures like Al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden. – Middle East Media Research Institute

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s participating in Saudi Arabia’s annual investment conference this week raised ethics concerns from a watchdog alleging that the Saudi government is a part-owner of a company building a Trump-branded property that Kushner’s wife Ivanka Trump holds a stake in. – Newsweek

Yasmeen Serhan writes: In many ways, the ongoing protests in Iraq and Lebanon mirror demonstrations taking place all over the world: Huge numbers of people in Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, and Egypt have taken to the streets in recent weeks to challenge social and economic inequality and government corruption. […]These nonsectarian protest movements stand in contrast to the prevailing political systems in both countries, which are based on power-sharing arrangements that divide government—and, by extension, society—among different ethno-religious groupings. – The Atlantic 

James Phillips and Nicole Robinson write: The massive anti-government protests represent a widespread rejection of an entrenched and corrupt political oligarchy that has failed to deliver adequate basic services, including electricity, potable water, garbage collection, health services, and public transportation. – Daily Signal

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired two projectiles toward the Sea of Japan, South Korea’s military said, as the country seeks to increase pressure on the U.S. amid stalled nuclear-disarmament talks. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent condolences over the passing of the mother of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Moon’s office said on Thursday, despite Pyongyang’s aloofness and frosty bilateral ties. – Reuters 

Beer exports from Japan to South Korea fell 99.9% year-on-year in September, the Japanese government said Wednesday, as the two countries’ trade war rages on with no end in sight. – Business Insider


Experts point out that the American president, facing a weakening economy and an impeachment inquiry, would like a deal to alleviate the trade war’s effects on agricultural states as the 2020 election approaches. […]In many ways, that’s a win for China because the two sides would be essentially agreeing to the deal that they brokered in April — but without the requirements for legislative changes in China, the part that triggered Beijing’s objections and led to the talks’ collapse. – Washington Post 

The Interior Department announced on Wednesday that all drones in its fleet that were manufactured in China or contained Chinese-made parts would be grounded as part of a review of the department’s drone program. – New York Times 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday stepped up recent U.S. rhetoric targeting China’s ruling Communist Party, saying Beijing was focused on international domination and needed to be confronted. – Reuters

China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday that Beijing and Washington will proceed with the bilateral trade negotiations according to plan and that the talks are progressing well. – Reuters

The U.S. and its Western allies at the United Nations sharply criticized China’s treatment of its ethnic Uighurs, stepping up pressure over human rights just as Washington and Beijing seek to complete a “phase one” deal in their lingering trade dispute. – Bloomberg

John Deni writes: It is clear the most important German decision-makers are not yet fully attuned to the threat posed by China, despite some evidence earlier this year of a changing mindset in Berlin. China’s economic threat isn’t the same as the competitive challenge posed by the United States or, as Merkel recently noted, a post-Brexit United Kingdom. Beijing’s massive state subsidies and easy loans to Huawei and other Chinese companies have undercut European industry, destroying European jobs. – Newsweek


As Afghanistan’s conflict intensifies, casualties among the country’s security forces are continuing to increase, a troubling sign while American and Taliban negotiators look to revive talks regarding a peace deal likely to include a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. – Washington Post 

The report says U.S.-led peace talks to end the 18-year-old war have omitted addressing the fate of the Afghan special forces that work “as part of the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency.” The report suggests either disbanding them or bringing them under the control of the Defense Ministry. – Associated Press

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) suffered approximately 5% more casualties between 1 June and 31 August 2019 than during the same period the previous year, John Sopko, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said in his latest quarterly report released on 31 October. – Jane’s 360 

South Asia

Militants in Kashmir pulled five construction workers from their apartment, lined them up outside and shot them dead, witnesses and officials said on Tuesday, in the deadliest single attack on civilians since the Indian government revoked the disputed region’s autonomy nearly three months ago. – New York Times 

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators were due in the Pakistani capital on Thursday to demand that the government step down, piling more pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan as he strives to get the faltering economy on track. – Reuters

India keeps making last-minute requests after it agreed to terms for the world’s largest regional trade agreement, potentially preventing Asian leaders from announcing a breakthrough next week on the 16-nation pact during a summit in Bangkok, people familiar with the situation said. – Bloomberg


Since antigovernment protests erupted in June, hotels in Hong Kong have become ghost towns. Restaurants, normally heaving with tourists and locals, are struggling to attract diners. Nearly a quarter of American businesses polled said they were considering moving capital or assets out of the city. And the city is now officially in a recession. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong police tightened security and braced for potential evening clashes on Thursday between masked “Halloween” pro-democracy protesters and fancy-dressed clubbers in a popular party district in the heart of the city. – Reuters

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said on Thursday it had frozen properties worth A$17.3 million ($11.9 million), including a “supersized mansion” as part of an investigation into money laundering by Chinese nationals. – Reuters

Hong Kong bourse Chief Executive Charles Li said there are fundamental flaws in the “one country, two systems” formula that governs the former British territory as it grapples with its biggest political crisis in decades. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department has approved Japan’s request for an upgrade package for almost a hundred of its F-15 Eagle interceptors, paving the way for the U.S. ally to upgrade its rapidly ageing fleet. – Defense News 


Russia and Japan launched a new program aimed at resolving a territorial dispute that has festered between the neighbors for decades, as a group of Japanese tourists departed for a visit to a group of contested islands. – Wall Street Journal

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday welcomed a pullback by the Ukrainian army and Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, but reiterated calls for Russia to “withdraw all their troops”. – Agence France-Presse 

Russia’s cybermeddlers have found elections in parts of Africa to be fertile venues for their maturing disinformation tactics on social media, according to a report published Wednesday by the Stanford Internet Observatory in conjunction with Facebook Inc. – Bloomberg

Bulgaria said on Wednesday it had declined a visa to the incoming defence attaché at the Russian embassy in Sofia, a day after expelling another Russian diplomat over spying allegations. – Reuters

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Wednesday introduced a resolution to withdraw the U.S. from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows treaty members to fly unarmed observation flights over the territory of other signatories. “Russia is in open violation of the Open Skies Treaty,” Cruz said in a statement. “It enhances Russia’s surveillance of major American cities, strengthens Russia’s espionage capabilities, and costs the United States millions of dollars. The treaty no longer serves America’s national security interests, and it is long past time the United States withdraw.”  – The Hill

Ukrainian forces are under heavy assault by Russian drones and ground systems equipped with jammers and direction finding technology honed to sniff out Ukrainian military positions — a near-peer battle offering lessons learned for American forces. – Military Times 


Denmark said Wednesday it is giving permission for a joint German-Russian underwater gas pipeline to be laid to through its territory, in a blow to the United States, which had fiercely opposed the project. – Associated Press

The European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc will only give as much access to its single market to Britain after Brexit as is justified by London ensuring that EU rules and standards are preserved. – Reuters

Britain is headed for its first Christmas election since 1923 but don’t expect “goodwill to all” in a rancorous campaign that may mark the climax of a Brexit battle that has radicalized both sides. – Daily Beast

The chiefs of staff of the armies of the United States and Germany have signed an agreement targeting an unprecedented level of interoperability between their formations within seven years. – Defense News 


Police in the South African city of Cape Town used water cannons Wednesday while arresting and dispersing hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers, including children, who had camped for weeks outside the U.N. refugee agency’s office seeking protection after anti-immigrant attacks. – Associated Press

Facebook said Wednesday it had taken down accounts linked to a Russian ally of President Vladimir Putin seeking to spread disinformation on the social network in eight African countries. – Agence France-Presse 

Twelve soldiers in southeastern Niger were killed and eight wounded in an overnight attack by gunmen likely belonging to Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram, the defense ministry said on Wednesday. –  Reuters

The U.S. Treasury has invited Ethiopia and Egypt for talks as part of international efforts to quell a dispute over a giant dam that’s being built on the Nile, according to Ethiopia’s water minister. – Bloomberg

South African lawmakers will debate the government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court after it was criticized by the Hague-based tribunal for failing to arrest Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir at an African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015. – Bloomberg

North America

A prominent US Reform rabbi warned on Wednesday of growing anti-Israel sentiments in the Democratic Party. – Algemeiner 

Quebec will require immigrants seeking permanent residency in the Canadian province to pass a “values” test to ensure they understand its new secularism law, the provincial government said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

Oleksandr Danylyuk writes: What can the origin of the kompromat used by American politicians against each other tell us? Much of this kompromat is kindly provided to American politicians by controversial individuals with close ties to pro-Russian politicians and businessmen. […]The answers to these questions are very important today, as the future of not only the United States, but the world, depends on them. And in order to answer these questions, American politicians must unite and put national interests above the interests of their parties. – Military Times

The Americas

Chile has canceled a pair of major global summits on the economy and environment in the coming weeks amid unrest in Santiago, scrambling President Trump’s hopes of signing a first-step trade deal with China at one of the events. – Washington Post 

Bolivia’s government said Wednesday the Organization of American States is sending a 30-person team to launch a “binding” audit of a presidential election that the opposition says was manipulated to ensure the re-election of leftist President Evo Morales. – Associated Press

Diego Area writes: In his search for legitimacy and recognition, Maduro made a strategic error in running for the contended seat. Rather than shielding his regime from scrutiny, as a member of the UNHRC, Venezuela can expect renewed attention from thousands of defenders of human rights and the international community, who already have begun to take coordinated action. – The Hill


Twitter said Wednesday it would stop accepting political advertising globally on its platform, responding to growing concerns over misinformation from politicians on social media. – Agence France-Presse

In the months leading up to the Department of Defense awarding Microsoft a multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract, the Pentagon’s senior leaders described pent up demand for a new enterprise cloud. But how exactly will DoD leaders use the new technology, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, and what will soldiers be able to do next year that they can’t do today? – Federal Times 

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation intended to shore up cybersecurity for local governments by providing resources for them to switch to secure internet domains administered by the federal government. – The Hill

Data breaches that have troubled the Department of Defense supply chain have captured the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In a wide-ranging confirmation hearing Oct. 29 for DoD CIO Dana Deasy, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., pressed on how the DoD can shore up the cybersecurity shortfalls of subprime contractors. – Fifth Domain

Bill Wright writes: Defense agencies continually face sophisticated cyberthreats from nation-state adversaries. This is a challenge that impacts all branches of the Armed Forces and also industry partners. C2C enables an automated, self-service way to credential endpoints before connecting to the network. Think of it like a security guard that won’t let you into a venue unless you adhere to the proper dress code. – Fifth Domain


The Navy and the Marine Corps have been assessed as “marginal” in their ability to meet the challenges from rival powers in Beijing and Moscow, as well as regional threats coming from Tehran and Pyongyang, according to annual report on U.S. military strength from The Heritage Foundation. – USNI News

The secretary of the Navy said a congressional cost cap on the first Ford-class aircraft carrier led to bad decisions that are reverberating today, and he hopes smarter discussions around cost, risk and requirements will be had for future ship classes such as the upcoming frigate program. – USNI News  

The government has awarded Bluestaq a contract worth as much as $37.5 million to expand a space situational awareness database that integrates information used for air, space and multi-domain operations, the company announced Oct. 29. – C4ISRNET

Long War

Rose, the chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence & Counterterrorism, previously led a letter from 40 members of Congress to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo questioning why several foreign white supremacist groups, such as Ukraine’s Azov Battalion, Finland’s Nordic Resistance Movement or the United Kingdom’s National Action, are not listed as foreign terrorist organizations. – The Hill

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday said that violent, racially motivated extremists in the U.S. are connecting with foreign extremists, with some traveling abroad to train. – The Hill

Police have arrested two men in Manchester on suspicion of preparing an act of terrorism, as bomb disposal experts examine a car. Greater Manchester Police said the pair were seen “acting suspiciously” on Chapel Street in Salford at around 2.30pm on Wednesday. – Independent

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump’s top adviser for Russian and European affairs is leaving his job at the White House, a day before he’s scheduled to testify before the House impeachment investigators, a senior administration official said. – Associated Press

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that President Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “consistent” with the administration’s policies. – The Hill

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday testified that he expects Russian actors to attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections, adding that he also expects countries like China to explore disinformation efforts. – The Hill