ISIS vows attack on Washington; Brennan: more attacks coming; Paris ‘mastermind’ ID’d; Gitmo closure delayed; 5 detainees transferred to UAE; And a bit more.
The Islamic State just released a new video vowing a direct attack on Washington, D.C., Reuters reports this morning. The clip warns other countries dropping bombs in Syria that they will suffer the same fate as France with the Paris attacks. “The video, apparently released by an Iraqi sub-group calling itself Wilayat Kirkuk, used television footage showing Francois Hollande speaking and police operations in the wake of the shooting and suicide bombings that killed at least 129 people in Paris on Friday,” The Independent adds. The video featured a man “identified as Al Ghareeb the Algerian, [and] also warned Europe in the video that more attacks were coming.”
More attacks are possible. That’s what CIA Director John Brennan said during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this morning when asked if the ISIS attack on Paris was a one-off event. “I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline,” Brennan said. “I do believe that this is something that we’re going to have to deal with for quite some time.”
“It is clear to me that ISIL has an external agenda, that they are determined to carry out these types of attacks,” he continued. “This is not something that was done in a matter of days. This is something that was deliberately and carefully planned over the course, I think, of several months.” That gave ISIS time to get the operatives, explosives and suicide belts.
Brennan said many attacks of the Paris scale are thwarted before they occur. He said the CIA works “very, very closely with our French partners” and he has “an exceptionally strong relationship with the heads of the external and internal services.”
European nations have had large numbers of people who have traveled to Syria and Iraq and back to Europe. “Their ability to monitor and surveil these individuals is under strain,” Brennan said. “It’s not a surprise that this attack was carried out from the standpoint of we did have strategic warning. We know that these plans, [and] plotting by ISIL was under way, looking at Europe in particular as the venue for carrying out these attacks.”
Operatives are adapting to keep their activities concealed from the authorities. “There are a lot of technological capabilities that are available right now that make it exceptionally difficult, both technically as well as legally, for intelligence and security services to have the insight they need to uncover it,” he said. Much more on the ISIS fight below the fold.
Five GITMO detainees transferred. Defense One had the scoop yesterday on a big move for the Obama administration's push to close Guantanamo: five Yemeni detainees were transferred from the U.S. military prison in Cuba to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The transfer of Ali Ahmad Muhammad al-Razihi, Khalid Abd-al-Jabbar Muhammad Uthman al-Qadasi, Adil Said al-Hajj Ubayd al-Busays, Sulayman Awad Bin Uqayl al-Nahdi, and Fahmi Salem Said al-Asani brings the total population to 107, with 48 more cleared to go. And it comes just days ahead of Obama signing the annual defense authorization bill, in which lawmakers extended existing restrictions and added new ones intended to freeze transfers into 2017. It also takes on a defiant tone amid preemptive political outcry over the Obama administration’s ever-imminent plan to close Guantanamo, which officials say will include a series of options for alternative sites in the U.S., and its refusal to rule out executive action to ultimately shutter the facility in Cuba. More here.
Speaking of the GITMO closure plan — it's delayed. Again. And the hold up may have cost the Obama administration its most important ally for the push to close Guantanamo: Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. “That gives you a pretty good sense of what we’re up against, right?" White House spokesman Josh Earnest quipped. "Even our friends on this issue are threatening lawsuits.” More here.
From Defense One
In Cuba, a U.S. Navy hospital ship is forging new bonds with America’s previously-cutoff southern neighbor, writes SOUTHCOM chief Gen. John Kelly and Rebecca Bill Chavez, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs. Read all about the diplomacy at the heart of the USNS Comfort, here.
An emerging “drone hub” in upstate New York is making locals very nervous about surveillance — despite the regional gains to be made in putting people to work. The Atlantic’s Alana Samuels has the story, here.
Who wins in a cyber war with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea? Tucked away in the new defense authorization bill is a provision written by lawmakers demanding U.S. Cyber Command conduct simulated “war games” with the four nations after a series of high-profile hacks (like OPM and Sony) shook the U.S. government and civilian industry in recent months. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein has more, here.
A country’s strength isn’t measured by how many bombs it drops, or how many armies it funds, argues The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart in a rebuttal of much of the GOP 2016 fray’s war-hungry foreign policy after last Tuesday’s debate. “Five of the candidates on the main stage, and everyone in the GOP’s undercard presidential debate, support a no-fly zone in Syria. Asked why, most of them said some variation of: We need to show Russia who’s boss,” he writes. “The chances that Syria’s moderate rebels could defeat Assad, defeat ISIS, rid themselves of their al-Qaeda-like allies, and create a stable, decent Syria are vanishingly slim. But for the hawks in the GOP field, this is almost beside the point. The point is to show that America still runs the Middle East.” More, here.
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France devoted much of Sunday to bombing ISIS HQ in Raqqa, Syria — an escalation previously dodged by U.S. warplanes. But now that French President Francois Hollande having galvanized his citizens under what he declared was an “act of war” by ISIS, French restraint in Syria is (temporarily) out the door.
France used 10 planes to drop 20 bombs on Raqqa, but both numbers are expected to quickly rise with the imminent arrival of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle — which holds an additional two-dozen aircraft, including “up to 12 Rafales and nine older Super Etendard fighters plus support planes,” The Daily Beast reported Sunday. “If France uses all of those airplanes it has aboard the Charles de Gaulle and based in the region, it could conceivably have more manned fighter and attack aircraft in the sky than the U.S. does. And those planes may be less constricted in their strikes.”
And this morning, the alleged mastermind of Friday’s attacks in Paris has been ID’d by French officials. Abdelhamid Abaaoud is now the terrorist du jour — a Belgian-born child of Moroccan immigrants who grew up in Brussels, according to the Associated Press.
He’s already believed have had a hand in the August attack on the “Paris-bound high-speed train that was foiled by three young Americans … and the other against a church in the French capital's suburbs,” AP reports. “Belgian authorities suspect him of also helping organize and finance a terror cell in the eastern city of Verviers that was broken up in an armed police raid on Jan. 15, in which two of his presumed accomplices were killed. The following month, Abaaoud was quoted by the Islamic State group's English-language magazine, Dabiq, as saying that he had secretly returned to Belgium to lead the terror cell and then escaped to Syria in the aftermath of the raid despite having his picture broadcast across the news.”
French authorities conducted whopping 168 raids overnight at the homes of suspected militants, with nearly two-dozen under arrest this morning. They also seized a cluster of arms, “including a rocket launcher and automatic weapons,” Reuters reports.
On the global stage — a seismic shift is underway to bring unprecedented force to bear on the Islamic State, and two of the chief beneficiaries could be the presidents of Russia and Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported. On the sidelines of Sunday’s Group of 20 meeting in Turkey, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin “agreed on a broad process for resolving the Syria war, White House officials said, with a noticeable shift to a less-critical tone regarding Russia’s military effort there.” Not that that means Obama is expected to shift the U.S. strategy of its limited troop engagement.
“We don’t believe that U.S. troops are the answer to the problem,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser said. “Frankly, it’s more sustainable and effective to have opposition forces on the ground in Syria and partners in Iraq who are able to take back and hold this territory in their own communities.”
But the U.S. has expanded its intelligence-sharing with France in the wake of Friday’s attacks. Still, the problem with taking the wind out of ISIS’s sails remains the same lingering one it’s been since Syria’s civil war kicked off more than four years ago: “The more you support Assad the more you are getting on the wrong side of the Sunnis, and give them only one option — supporting Daesh,” said François Heisbourg, a leading French security specialist.
The U.S. is reportedly on the verge of a $1.3 billion sale of 13,000 smart bombs to the Saudis, Bloomberg reports. “The weapons include Joint Direct Attack Munitions with GPS satellite guidance from Chicago-based Boeing, one of the U.S.’s most precise weapons. The first JDAMs for sale to the kingdom were approved in 2008. Also included would be a resupply of Paveway laser-guided bombs that Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon first sold to the Saudis in 2011. The bombs are in part intended to replenish Saudi inventories expended in its air operations against Islamic State in Syria and rebels in Yemen.” More here.
Massachusetts armory: robbed. “The U.S. Army Reserve armory in Worcester, Massachusetts, was broken into Saturday night and more than a dozen guns were stolen,” TDB reported. The haul? “Six M4 assault rifles, 10 pistols, and several long guns (M-16s).” You’d think security at these places would be tighter these days. More here.
Lastly today — catch footage of French warplanes on their way to Raqqa here, or listen to the bombs fall via audio recorded by activists in Raqqa, here. Those activists — from the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently — have done a pretty bang-up job tallying the hits around ISIS HQs in their Twitter feed, which you can scan right here.