The Cable

SitRep: ISIS 2.0 On The Way

Raqqa falls, al Qaeda making a comeback, John McCain mad at Mattis and McMaster.

Syrian Democratic Forces look out over a devastated Raqqa on Oct. 16. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian Democratic Forces look out over a devastated Raqqa on Oct. 16. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

The Islamic State is dead, welcome to the new Islamic State. While the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have all but evicted the Islamic State from their one-time capital of Raqqa in Syria, counterterrorism officials across the globe say the group is hardly finished. The NYT lays out a host of places the group continues to project power — hundreds of miles of territory in Syria, as well as deep pockets in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and the  Philippines.

As we’ve seen with many terrorist groups however, land ownership doesn’t necessarily equate to strength. Experts warn that the group still has its eyes on sowing chaos in the West, and should continue to have the ability to do so.

From Baghdad. Briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Baghdad, Col. Ryan Dillon said, “even after the military defeat of ISIS there’s still going to be work to be done. ISIS will be defeated militarily, but we know that there still is going to be the ideology and the continued insurgent activity as they devolve into that.”

An SDF spokesperson told Reuters they’re quickly refocusing their efforts on ISIS positions in the Euphrates River Valley and Deir Ezzur east of Raqqa, potentially setting up a showdown with Iranian-backed militias, Hezbollah fighters, and Syrian government forces backed by Russian airpower pouring into the valley.

al Qaeda is still around. And might be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Islamic State’s faltering fortunes.

SEALs were prepped for Pakistan hostage raid. The American/Canadian couple and their three children freed from Taliban bondage last week in a Pakistani military raid almost got to meet SEAL Team 6. The elite unit was standing by to hit the convoy they were traveling in after a CIA drone spotted the family being bundled into cars and crossing into Pakistan, the New York Times reports.

Taliban assaults. At least 46 Afghan police officers, including a senior general, were killed in two separate Taliban attacks on Tuesday in Paktia and Ghazni provinces after insurgents used captured U.S.-supplied Humvees as explosive-packed suicide vehicles. The assaults were part of a deadly day in the country, as at least 71 people were killed in a variety of Taliban attacks on Tuesday.

McCain wants information. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said Tuesday that he hasn’t been getting the information he needs from the Pentagon and White House about U.S. military strategy, so he’s halting confirmation of over a dozen civilian Pentagon officials until he gets some answers.

He let one through Tuesday, however. Senators voted 70-17 to approve David Trachtenberg’s nomination to be Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. Trachtenberg is coming from a job as president and CEO of Shortwaver, a national security consultancy, but he previously served in the Pentagon and as a staff member with the House Armed Services Committee. There are 24 other DoD nominations awaiting Senate confirmation, while 15 more positions do not have a nominee.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Fast and furious. Tuesday marked both the third anniversary of the founding of the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve coalition against the Islamic State and the effective end of the terrorist group’s rule in its former capital of Raqqa. So what better way for Syrian Democratic Forces to celebrate than to peel out some sick donuts in Al-Naim Square in the city, the same place the Islamic State had celebrated its conquest in 2014.

Heist. A North Korean-linked hacking group made off with a $60 million haul after hacking into a Taiwanese bank, according to a report from defense contractor BAE Systems PLC. Hackers from the Lazarus Group, believed to be associated with North Korean intelligence, broke into the Far Eastern International Bank in Taiwan and began transferring money to accounts around the world in Sri Lanka, the U.S. and Cambodia.

Kunduz. Buzzfeed takes a long look at the disastrous November 2016 special operations raid in Kunduz, Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of 26 civilians and two American Special Forces soldiers

Today’s number. 3,000 — the number of extremists in the U.K., estimated by MI5 Director General Andrew Parker.

Election hijinks. Another day, another digital platform investigating whether or not Russian operatives used it to try and influence the 2016 election. The latest entrant into the controversy is the Internet advertising giant Outbrain, which says it is “currently conducting a thorough investigation specific to election tampering and continue[s] to monitor our index.”

Trolling IRL. Employees of the Russian troll farm implicated in ad purchases aimed at interfering in the 2016 election also spent $80,000 to put around 100 activists in the U.S. on their payroll. An investigation Russian newspaper RBC shows that the Internet Research Agency hired Americans to stage protests on divisive political issues like gun rights and race.

Cybersecurity. In the wake of reports that Hewlett Packard Enterprise allowed Russian authorities to review the source code for its security monitoring software used by the Pentagon, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has written a letter to the Defense Department asking it to explain its policy on using software that has been subject to review by foreign governments.

Israel. Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu has reportedly promised to extend a Russian buffer zone between Hezbollah forces in Syria and the Israeli border following warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel will not accept an Iranian military footprint in Syria in perpetuity. Shoigu is currently on a visit to Israel for talks with the Israeli government.

Bribes. A group of U.S. military veterans are suing a handful of American healthcare companies, accusing them of paying bribes to the Mahdi Army militia in order to keep doing business with Iraq’s health ministry run by the anti-American militant group. The suit alleges that bribes paid by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Roche, and General Electric helped enable attacks by the Mahdi Army on American troops.  

Return of the drones. Suspected strikes by U.S. drones have killed an estimated 31 people on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, shortly after Pakistani authorities freed a Canadian man, his American wife, and their three children last week. Locals say the strike included six missiles fired on Taliban targets on the Afghan side of the border.

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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