Bombing in Quetta kills 60+; Russia gains upper hand in Syria; New drone-strike rules; Spies keeping watch in Rio; and a bit more.

A suicide bombing in Quetta, Pakistan, killed more than 60 this morning, BBC reports. “About 120 others were injured in the blast, which happened at the entrance to the emergency department where the body of a prominent lawyer shot dead earlier on Monday was being brought.”

What happened: “The casualties included lawyers and journalists accompanying the body of Bilal Anwar Kasi. Gunfire followed the explosion. It was not clear who the attackers were. Mr Kasi, who was president of the Balochistan Bar Association, had been shot by two unknown assailants while on his way from his home to the main court complex in Quetta.”

There have been no immediate claims of responsibility for either the bombing or the shooting of Kasi, al-Jazeera adds.  

The context: “Targeted killings have become increasingly common in Quetta, the capital of a province that has seen rising violence linked to a separatist insurgency as well as sectarian tensions and rising crime,” NBC News reports. “Several ethnic Baluch separatist groups operating in the resource-rich province, but al Qaeda and other militant groups also have a presence there. Quetta has also long been a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there in the past.”

Kabul kidnapping: Men dressed in Afghan security forces uniforms abducted an American and Australian university professor at gunpoint “near the Kabul campus of the American University of Afghanistan” on Sunday evening, the Washington Post reported. “An Afghan colleague and a driver were with them but they were not abducted, police said. Police said no group has made contact demanding ransom or claiming responsibility.”

The Islamic State may have overcome a big hurdle to its ambitions in Afghanistan by teaming up with the Taliban in the eastern province of Nangarhar, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. “[R]ecently, Afghan officials say, the two insurgencies have worked out local deals to stop fighting each other and turn their sights on the government. The upshot is that Islamic State has been able to focus on fighting U.S.- backed Afghan forces in Nangarhar province and shift north into Kunar province, establishing a new foothold in a longtime Taliban and former al Qaeda stronghold,” the Journal reports, cautioning, “the cease-fire between them could break apart at any time.”

How I$I$ is trying to achieve this goal: “by offering small salaries in desperately poor areas. In one district, for instance, Islamic State has recruited around 40 men for its battle for Nangarhar province, according to a tribal elder in Sarkani district, Malak Khan Bacha. But it has yet to start military operations against the government in Kunar, as it focuses on recruitment.” Read the rest, here.

And over the weekend, ISIS published photos of what it claims were captured U.S. military equipment—that stuff here—along with an ID card allegedly lost/abandoned in haste in Nangarhar, the global extremist monitors at SITE Intel Group reported. The U.S. military in Afghanistan declined several questions by Military Times about the alleged loot, but they did confirm the soldier whose ID card appears to be in ISIS hands is in fact alive and with his unit.

The only lead so far, MT writes, comes from “late July, [when] five American troops were wounded there during separate engagements with ISIS fighters, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan… The Americans were accompanying a group of Afghan troops on… a clearing mission intended to help the Afghans reclaim territory lost to ISIS.” More here.

Syria: Like Afghanistan, only different. Russia has gained an upper hand in Syria, the New York Times reported Sunday, but for how long may turn on the battle for Aleppo. “For the first time since Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Russian military for the past year has been in direct combat with rebel forces trained and supplied by the C.I.A. The American-supplied Afghan fighters prevailed during that Cold War conflict. But this time the outcome — thus far — has been different,” The Times’ Mark Mazetti, Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt wrote Sunday.

So what’s different this time around? In short: the complicating, many-headed hydra that is al-Qaeda. “The Russian campaign began in September, after a monthslong offensive by C.I.A.-backed rebel groups won new territory in Idlib, Hama and Latakia Provinces in northern Syria. One problem for Washington: Those groups sometimes fought alongside soldiers of the Nusra Front, which until recently was officially affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

Meantime, the insurgency is drastically depleting Assad’s army, so much that Damascus has called up prisoners and even ordinary government workers such as teachers to take up arms and fight rebels and ISIS, The Wall Street Journal reported late last week.

And up near Aleppo, the Syrian uprising has entered a new phase, Middle East scholar Hassan Hassan wrote Sunday—shortly after a coalition of some 20-plus rebel groups (temporarily) broke the Assad regime’s siege on rebel-held Aleppo. The short story: Watch out for the growing battlefield impact of the al-Qaeda-linked group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra‚ now Jabhat Fateh Al Sham. Hassan explains: “The rebranding of Jabhat Al Nusra was not a compromise in any sense. It is part of a familiar and stated strategy by Al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri, who in 2006 spoke of four phases of jihad that involved the expulsion of American troops from Iraq; the formation of an Islamic authority there, which could evolve into a caliphate; the spreading of the ‘jihadi wave’ into neighbouring countries; and confrontation with Israel.” More of his take, here.

For what it’s worth: Watch the (alleged) moment rebels broke the Aleppo siege here.

And Agence France-Presse has produced this map of what and where to watch for what’s next in northern Syria.


From Defense One

How ISIS is shaking up transatlantic views on surveillance and counter-terrorism. France’s heightened security didn’t prevent a bloody July. Why not? Heather Horn explains, via The Atlantic, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. This day in 1946 saw the first flight of the first intercontinental bomber, the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


New drone-strike rules: The White House has released more on its updated guidance on America’s war on terror—documents from a revision produced in 2013, but that the Obama administration has been slowing releasing to reporters for a few weeks now. The key point of emphasis in the latest release? The U.S. requires “near certainty” that an airstrike will kill its intended target and not a host of civilians along the way. AP has more, here.

The ACLU got its hands on the newly-released documents—called “the Presidential Policy Guidance, once known as “the Playbook”—first, per a FOIA lawsuit).

A portion of their feedback: “The PPG should have been released three years ago, but its release now will inform an ongoing debate about the lawfulness and wisdom of the government’s counterterrorism policies. The release of the PPG and related documents is also a timely reminder of the breadth of the powers that will soon be in the hands of another president.” Read their summary of the documents, here.

The U.S. military carried out another airstrike in Yemen on Thursday, CENTCOM announced, adding the strike killed three al-Qaeda fighters in central Yemen’s Shabwa governorate.

ICYMI: In Yemen, “children are offered between $100 and $200 per month and are also lured by the promise that they’ll carry weapons,” WGBH reported late last week.

And, oh by the way: Yemen peace talks have just been suspended yet again, NYT’s Rod Nordland reported Sunday from Cairo.

In a move widely praised by U.S. Army noncommissioned officers, the service is finally reworking its obesity test after being “spooked by nationwide obesity findings,” Military Times reported Sunday. Ask any NCO or officer about the “tape test” and you’ll no doubt find yourself in the middle of a heated debate over what constitutes “fat” soldiers—if you’re spared stories about Saran Wrap and IcyHot—according to service standards. It’s that tape test that’s under the microscope, and you can read all about the “absolutely useless” metric, here.

Lastly today: the Olympics in Rio have become quite the spy haunt, NBC News reported in their story about how the U.S. has some 1,000 spies in the country during this summer’s games.

And the matter of spies took rising importance late last week when a “Russian diplomat” was attacked at gunpoint—but reportedly disarmed the gunman via jujitsu, stole the gunman’s weapon and shot the assailant dead—a story some found difficult to believe in light of the new Jason Bourne movie out in theaters. Gawker digs into the “Russian diplomat” whom Russia says is not its own, over here.

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