The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country. - CNN
Reuel Marc Gerecht writes: On both the left and the right, there is a consensus in Washington that the United States needs to “push back” against the Islamic Republic’s nefarious actions in the Levant, Iraq, and Yemen….But among Republicans and Democrats, no one really wants to clarify what “push back” means. For cause: Any serious American effort against the Islamic Republic will inevitably risk the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump administration has signaled that it will, with increasing reluctance, keep but “rigorously” enforce. – Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas
CTP’s Threat Update series is a weekly update and assessment of the al Qaeda network. The al Qaeda network update includes detailed assessments of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the Maghreb and Sahel. CTP’s Iran team follows developments on the internal politics, nuclear negotiations, and regional conflicts closely.
The ongoing cholera crisis in Yemen is one of the worst outbreaks in the world and is expected to get far worse, with the World Health Organization warning that the rainy season will increase the pace of transmission. Tens of millions of Yemenis lack access to clean water, sanitation and basic health care, as three years of civil war have decimated the country and shows no sign of resolution. – Washington Times
Frederic Hof writes: Recognizing that nothing good can happen in Syria so long as civilians are subjected to collective punishment and mass homicide by their “government” is the beginning of sensible policy planning. Yes, Syria is terribly complicated. But leaving civilians utterly unprotected makes any American national security objective in Syria, no matter how modest, unobtainable. Civilian protection is more than a humanitarian and human rights issue (as if that were not enough). It is the alpha and omega of a decent, lasting, and civilized end to the Syrian crisis. It is the key to the United States and its allies emerging from this catastrophe with anything at all worth having. – Atlantic Council
How Trump Should Handle Iran
Forget the nuclear deal. Trump's real priority should be regaining leverage over Tehran.
By Eric Edelman & Charles Wald, Politico: “Neither staying in nor exiting the JCPOA can accomplish America’s overriding priority in the Middle East. Only increased U.S. leverage can prevent a nuclear Iran.”
As Assad’s troops gain a foothold in Dair Alzour, the crossroads of a strategic land corridor from Tehran to Beirut, U.S.-trained opposition fighters and allies nearby said they hope to take a stand with American backing, potentially drawing the U.S. into a long and costly conflict. – Los Angeles Times
Speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, Gen. Raymond Thomas, the commander of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), said the U.S. asked the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG, to re-brand because of its alleged linkages to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an internationally designated terrorist group – Military Times
Advances against the Islamic State group in its stronghold in the Syrian city of Raqqa have slowed down amid stiff resistance from the militants, said the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the group. – Associated Press
Syrian jihadists linked to a former al Qaeda affiliate consolidated their grip over large parts of the northwestern province of Idlib on Sunday after their main rival evacuated a major border crossing with Turkey, rebels and residents said. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: Special Operations Command chief Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas defended the Trump administration’s decision to end the CIA program to arm Syrian rebels in public remarks here at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday, arguing that the program had problems and ending it was not a gift to Russia. – Washington Post
Rogin also reports: Although the Trump team inherited a terrible hand in Syria, the way it is playing it repeats the same fundamental mistakes made by President Barack Obama — and it will likely have the same negative results for the Syrian conflict, as well as for American interests. – Washington Post
Editorial: It’s hard to imagine a stable Syria as long as Mr. Assad is in power. But if he stays, then the U.S. goal should be a divided country with safe areas for Sunnis and the Kurds who have helped liberate Raqqa. Then we can perhaps tolerate an Assad government that presides over a rump Syria dominated by Alawites. But none of that will happen if the U.S. abandons its allies to the Russia-Assad-Iran axis. And if abandoning Syria to Iran is the policy, then at least own up to it in public so everyone knows the score. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michael Vickers writes: The United States faces growing challenges to the international order from Sunni global jihadists and the Iranian regime in the Middle East, from Russia in Europe and from China in East Asia. Making common cause with Russia and Iran in Syria can only lead to the further erosion of U.S. global power. – Washington Post
Temple Mount riots: This week Palestinians protested at the Haram-al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount to Christians and Jews, about the presence of metal detectors at the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque. David Goldman argues that the dispute is because much of the Arab world clings to the fantasy that if the Jews do not control the Temple Mount they really have not returned to Zion, and their presence in the surrounding city of Jerusalem and country of Israel must be a temporary aberration. READ THE STORY HERE
Trump Has Rare Meeting of Full National Security Team to Discuss Afghanistan
From The Washington Post: “President Trump presided over a rare meeting of his full national security team Wednesday in the White House. The subject was the future of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, and hovering over the discussion was a big question: How committed is the president to a long-term and costly American presence in the country? Trump has said little about America’s longest war since taking office in January, but the debate over how to stabilize the country and reverse the Taliban’s momentum has divided top officials in the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House in recent weeks. The meeting Wednesday was designed to tee up final decisions for the president in what has been a long and difficult policy review, said current and former U.S. officials.”
Trump: More U.S. Troops Might Not Be Needed in Afghanistan
By Greg Jaffe, Washington Post: ““I’m skeptical that the strategy can be dramatically improved,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “You can try to be tougher on Pakistan. You can try to make clear that we are there for a long-term commitment. But I don’t expect a dramatic metamorphosis of this mission.””
Al Houthi movement rhetoric shows closer alignment with the Iranian Axis of Resistance. Leader Abdul Malik al Houthi pledged military support to Hezbollah and Palestinians against Israel in response to Israeli security measures following an attack at al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The al Houthis have sustained regular cross-border attacks targeting Saudi sites for the Kingdom’s role in the war in Yemen and have begun more regular attacks on Saudi-led coalition ships in the Red Sea. Al Houthi leaders have openly denounced the UN-led negotiations for a political resolution, saying the process is biased toward Saudi Arabia. [Read Katherine Zimmerman’s recommendations for pushing back on Iran in Yemen.]
Saudi’s leadership coup: What was an open secret in the Arab world is now out in the open… last month’s House of Saud ascension for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was in fact a leadership coup. Pepe Escobar writes that the coup displaced CIA favorite Mohammad bin Nayef and puts into power a risk-taking “gambler” that some consider to be the most dangerous man in the Middle East. READ THE STORY HERE
Make Saudi Arabia's Vision of Tolerance a Reality
By Clifford D. May, Deseret News: “Last year, Saudi Arabia unveiled Saudi Vision 2030, a bold plan to transform the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy to make it much more diversified and durable, no matter how global energy markets change. Vision 2030 makes it clear: to accomplish that would require Saudi Arabia to become “a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method.” Who can argue with that goal?”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has decided that the Pentagon will not give Pakistan the remainder of a key U.S. military reimbursement fund allotted to the country for 2016, a move that could signal a burgeoning hard-line approach by the Trump administration toward Islamabad. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricket star turned politician, believes his moment of political triumph has finally arrived. On Monday, the country’s Supreme Court will begin a series of hearings in a highly anticipated corruption case that could result in the removal of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from office. – New York Times
Silk Road troubles: The worsening law and order situation in southwestern Pakistan is becoming a serious challenge to Beijing’s regional Silk Road ambitions and its current attempts to build modern transport connections from China’s interior to Pakistan’s Gwadar seaport. F.M. Shakil reports that this strategically important region straddles both Iran and Afghanistan, and, despite being now patrolled by heavily-armed Pakistani Army and paramilitary units, the deadly attacks continue. READ THE STORY HERE
U.S., SYRIA: U.S.-Backed Syrian Forces Taking Heavy Casualties in Raqqa
By Jack Detsch, Al-Monitor: “Despite stiff resistance from improvised explosive devices, car bombs and even drones, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have now entered the Old City of Raqqa, breaking through a seventh-century wall laden with explosives where IS has been holding out. The contingent of Arab and Kurdish soldiers number between 30,000 and 40,000.”
IRAQ, ISIS: After Mosul, Islamic State Digs in for Guerrilla Warfare
From Reuters: "Islamic State militants began reinventing themselves months before U.S.-backed Iraqi forces ended their three-year reign of terror in Mosul, putting aside the dream of a modern-day caliphate and preparing the ground for a different fight. Intelligence and local officials said that, a few months ago, they noticed a growing stream of commanders and fighters flowing out of the city to the Hamrin mountains in northeast Iraq which offer hideouts and access to four Iraqi provinces. Some were intercepted but many evaded security forces and began setting up bases for their new operations. What comes next may be a more complex and daunting challenge for Iraqi security forces once they finish celebrating a hard-won victory in Mosul, the militants' biggest stronghold."
The Surge in Afghanistan Under Trump Are Contractors; It Will FAIL, Here's Why & U.S. Options Against Taliban Emerging
Options for a Future Strategy for the Afghan Taliban
By Paul Butchard, Divergent Options: “Given the territorial degradation being suffered by Daesh in Iraq and Syria and the presence of a Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan, the Taliban may once again find itself in the crosshairs of an international anti-terrorism coalition.”
On "War Machine"
By John Q. Bolton, Strategy Bridge: “Perhaps the Afghan’s advice that the best thing we can do is “leave now” is a starting point. In an era when “thank you for your service” and similar bromides surround military service, War Machine is a welcome (if failed) satire that will undoubtedly become politicized by those with no skin in the game.”
Afghanistan has grown more deadly this year for women, children and other residents of the capital, the United Nations mission in the country said on Monday, even as the violence is expected to intensify in the coming months with no hope of peace talks any time soon. – New York Times
More civilians were killed and wounded in Kabul during in the first six months of 2017 than in war-ravaged Helmand, according to a United Nations midyear report on civilian casualties that showed deaths and injuries in Afghanistan remained near record levels documented last year. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
During nearly two months of de facto exile in Turkey, Afghanistan’s embattled vice president, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, hastily formed a new coalition of the discontented. On Monday, he tried to return to Afghanistan, to add to the woes of his own struggling president. But as hundreds of supporters waited late into the night at an airport in the country’s north, the small private plane carrying Mr. Dostum, an ex-warlord accused of torturing and sexually assaulting a political rival, was denied permission to land on orders from the central government, according to several Afghan and Western officials. – New York Times
Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War by Sebastian Gorka.
America is at war. The fight against global jihad has cost 7,000 American lives and almost $2 trillion, and yet, most Americans do not understand what is at stake. The public lacks knowledge and safety because two presidents and their administrations neglected the most basic strategic question: who is the enemy?
Presidents Bush and Obama both named the global jihadi movement—a movement with an intent to destroy the West—“violent extremism.” Their tidy term was an attempt to maintain peace with the Muslim community. But when they failed to appropriately name the enemy, they failed to fully understand Islamic extremism. This failure is why the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for sixteen years with no end in sight.
But this war is eminently winnable if we remove our ideological blinders, accurately name our enemy, and draw up a strategy to defeat the ideas that inspire terrorism. So says Dr. Sebastian Gorka, one of the most experienced and sought-after authorities on counterterrorism.
Dr. Gorka has been one of the intelligence community’s go-to experts on counterterrorism since 9/11. He’s been called to brief Congress and the Marine Corps and was asked to analyze the Patriot’s Day Boston Marathon Bombing for the US government. Dr. Gorka’s report for the trial of Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev was widely circulated in counterterrorism circles and the media because it accurately painted a picture, not of a teenager on the cover of Rolling Stone, but of a terrorist.
Dr. Gorka is respected by peers because he understands our enemy is not "terror" or "violent extremism." Our enemy is the global jihadi movement, a modern totalitarian ideology rooted in the doctrines and martial history of Islam whose goals are to build an empire, suppress “false Muslims,” and engage in guerilla warfare against infidels.
Taking his cue from the formerly top-secret analyses that shaped the U.S. response to the communist threat, Dr. Gorka has produced a compelling profile of the jihadi movement—its mind and motivation—and a plan to defeat it.
U.S. Special Operations Forces – Searching for Lasting Peace in Somalia
By Luke Drabyn, RealClearDefense: “The United States has significant strategic interests in Somalia, aptly named “the world’s longest running collapsed state” by Davidson College’s Ken Menkhaus. The country’s status as a hotbed of instability and Islamic extremism poses clear and convincing security threats to the United States and its allies within and around the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Given the complex operational environment in Somalia and the U.S. public’s aversion to the prospect of conventional “boots on the ground,” the choice to deploy Special Operations Forces (SOF) in pursuit of established political objectives has proven wise.”
Iran Penetrates Irak & The Islamic State Penetrates IRAN: The story; Beijing Arrives To Dominate African Horn
U.S., IRAQ, IRAN: Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. 'Handed the Country Over'
By Tim Arango, New York Times: “Across the country, Iranian-sponsored militias are hard at work establishing a corridor to move men and guns to proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. And in the halls of power in Baghdad, even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials have been blessed, or bounced out, by Iran’s leadership.”
Weekly Recon – Multi-Domain Updates
By Blake Baiers, RealClearDefense: “Followings its decades long economic offensive on the African continent, China has deployed the first troops to its first ever permanent overseas base, located in Djibouti. Mere miles from Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. base in Djibouti, this deployment marks a new era in Chinese foreign policy ... "
Cooperation with Russia is becoming a central part of the Trump administration’s counter-Islamic State strategy in Syria, with U.S. military planners counting on Moscow to try to prevent Syrian government forces and their allies on the ground from interfering in coalition-backed operations against the militants. – Washington Post
Syria’s anti-Assad rebels and their supporters are disappointed by the patchwork nature of truce agreements and fear they could allow Mr. Assad to further reclaim the approximately 15 percent of Syrian territory held by the opposition after six years of brutal civil war. Mr. Assad and his key backers, Iran and Russia, stand to be the big winners from the truce, they fear. – Washington Times
Air strikes killed at least nine people in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus overnight and insurgent shelling from the rebel-held area landed near the Russian embassy on Tuesday, a war monitor reported. - Reuters
Russia has deployed military police to monitor the cease-fire in a safe zone in the eastern suburbs of Syria’s Damascus, the chief of the Russian General Staff said on Monday. – Associated Press
U.S., SYRIA: Trump Ends Covert CIA Program to Arm Anti-assad Rebels in Syria
From Washington Post: “President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials. The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later. Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.”
Robert Ford writes: America also risks forfeiting its role in shaping the contours of a future Syria. Tillerson has said that the country must be stable in order to prevent ISIS from rising anew. But if a ceasefire process does actually work and expands, it will produce a Syria dominated by different factions: the Assad government, Syrian Kurds, and Syrian Arabs—a de facto divided Syria (partition is a dirty word in the Middle East). Such a Syria, surrounded by meddlesome neighbors, would be unstable, and mired in endless peace talks, like the moribund Geneva peace talks. The Assad regime, backed by Iran, would continue nibbling away at opposition-held territories. – The Atlantic
FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork writes: Today, we are discovering that America’s posture of uncritical engagement has far-reaching consequences. China is not only crushing democracy at home but challenging the universal rights and liberal democratic norms and universal abroad. A response to this will not come from the White House. Just hours after Liu died, President Trump praised Xi Jinping as a “terrific guy” at a press conference in Paris. Liu cannot comment on Xi’s ascendancy, and the attendant U.S. retreat. But we still have his writings to guide us. “Tyranny is not terrifying,” he wrote in 1996, “what is really scary is submission, silence, and even praise for tyranny.” – The Weekly Standard
Ray Takeyh writes: It is unlikely that the professoriate and the American left will abandon their myths about 1953. They are too invested in their narrative and too obsessed with defending the Islamic Republic to defer to history’s judgment. The clerical complicity in the demise of Mossadeq is sure to embarrass the theocratic regime that has gained much from Roosevelt’s legendary story. The documentary disclosures and declassifications may not nudge the left in the right direction, but for those with an open mind, the case is now closed. – The Weekly Standard
Kashmir-Chemical attacks planned: Audio intercepted in June by Indian security agencies points to a plot by the Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen to use chemical weapons against security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. E Jaya Kumar reports that the revelation comes after a terror attack on Amarnath pilgrims killed seven in Batingoo, near Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district late on Monday. READ THE STORY HERE
Pakistan Prime Minister RESIGNING, "CITADEL" Wins In Campaign of Disruption & Intimidation; Democracy Loses In Pakistan, The Story
Sharif to resign? The beleaguered prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, is believed to have decided to step down after a judicial probe found him guilty of amassing wealth incommensurate with his declared sources of income, sources in his party have told Asia Times. F.M. Shakil writes that insiders are saying the question is now not if but when Sharif will resign and talk has now turned to who will fill the prime minister’s shoes. READ THE STORY HERE
ISIS vs Taliban in the Tora Bora Mountains. @billroggio @followfdd
The Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan (or Khorasan province) has released a new set of photos documenting its battles against the Taliban in the Tora Bora Mountains and the nearby area. The region garnered worldwide attention in late 2001, after Osama bin Laden and many of his men retreated to an al Qaeda base in the mountains. It could have been bin Laden’s last stand, but the al Qaeda founder escaped and continued to manage an international network of subordinates until early May 2011, when he was finally killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
In June, press reports indicated that Wilayah Khorasan had captured bin Laden’s cave complex in Tora Bora from the Taliban. It was a supposedly high-profile win for Baghdadi’s men at a time when they are losing ground in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. CBS News cited a broadcast in Pashto on the so-called caliphate’s local radio station, which trumpeted the territorial gain.
In mid-June, the Islamic State’s Naba magazine also carried an article on the campaign. Naba claimed that Wilayah Khorasan’s members sought to dispel any misgivings about their intentions after the Taliban had previously warned people in the area about the self-declared caliphate.
The Taliban denied that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists held the ground in Tora Bora, according to press reports. However, Wilayah Khorasan’s offensive in early June forced the Afghan government to respond after locals forged an alliance with the Taliban to fight the caliphate’s representatives.
The Taliban is battling the Afghan government and its Western allies on multiple fronts throughout Afghanistan. This allowed the Islamic State’s arm, which has far fewer fighters, to take advantage of a neglected front, as its enemies were preoccupied elsewhere.
To its enemies, the Brotherhood is a terrorist group that seeks to unravel the established Arab order, and not just in Egypt, where the group was founded in 1928, but in countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, where the group has inspired similar movements. Yet, members like Mr. Shalash, many of whom are either in jail in Egypt or in exile in countries like Turkey, say the group is not only democratic, but decimated and divided. They say it has little ability to exert control over even its own members, let alone the governments of the Middle East. – New York Times
The Moslem Brothers and the trouble in the Gulf. @ambjohnbolton @thadmccotter
In recent weeks, governments on the Arabian Peninsula have been having a diplomatic brawl. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (together with Egypt and other Muslim countries) have put considerable economic and political pressure on Qatar, suspending diplomatic relations and embargoing trade with their fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member. Kuwait and Oman, also GCC members, have been mediating the dispute or remaining publicly silent.
The Saudis and their supporters are demanding sweeping changes in Qatari policies, including suspending all financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist groups; joining the other GCC members in taking a much harder line against the nuclear and terrorist threat from Shia Iran and its proxies; and closing Al Jazeera, the irritating, radical-supporting television and media empire funded by Qatar's royal family.
The United States' response so far has been confused. President Trump has vocally supported the Saudi campaign, but the State Department has publicly taken a different view, urging that GCC members resolve their differences quietly.
As with so many Middle East disputes, the issues are complex, and there is considerable underlying history. Of course, if they were easy, Saudi Arabia and Qatar would not be nearly at daggers drawn seemingly overnight.
Washington has palpable interests at stake in this dispute and can make several critical moves to help restore unity among the Arabian governments, even though the issues may seem as exotic to the average American as the Saudi sword dance Trump joined during his recent Middle East trip.
Twin issues to confront
Confronting the twin issues of radical Islamic terrorism and the ayatollahs' malign regime in Iraq are central not only to the Arab disputants but to the United States as well. In addition to providing our good offices to the GCC members, the Trump administration should take two critical steps to restore unity and stability among these key allies.
First, the State Department should declare both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), thus triggering the penalties and sanctions required by law when such a declaration is made. Both groups meet the statutory definition because of their violence and continuing threats against Americans. The Obama administration's failure to make the FTO designation has weakened our global anti-terrorist efforts.
The Muslim Brotherhood's defenders argue that it is far from monolithic; that many of its “affiliates” are in fact entirely harmless; and that a blanket declaration would actually harm our anti-jihadi efforts. Even taking these objections as true for the sake of argument, they counsel a careful delineation among elements of the Brotherhood. Those that, in whole or part, meet the statutory FTO definition should be designated; those that do not can be spared, at least in the absence of new information. The Brotherhood's alleged complexity is an argument for being precise in the FTO designations, not for avoiding any designations whatever.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab governments already target the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization but Qatar does not. That may sound suspicious, but as of now, of course, the United States hasn't found the resolve to do it either. Once Washington acts, however, it will be much harder for Qatar or anyone else to argue that the Brotherhood is just a collection of charitable souls performing humanitarian missions.