Topics discussed include:
- NY Times: Leaders death will damage ISIS but not destroy it
- War on the Rocks: Don’t kill the Caliph! The Islamic State and the pitfalls of leadership decapitation
- BBC: Johnson/EU agree to Brexit extension
- NBC News: California wildfires force nearly 200,000 to evacuate
- NY Times: Live update on California wildfires
- CalFire: Live incident map
Bray Wheeler: Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of BryghtCast for the week of October 28th, 2019. I’m Bray Wheeler, consultant here at Bryghtpath.
Bryan Strawser: And it’s Bryan Strawser, principal and chief executive here at Bryghtpath.
Bray Wheeler: So, this week, we have a few topics to talk about, the one being probably the most dominance in the news is the death of ISIS leader Al Baghdadi.
Bryan Strawser: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. [crosstalk 00:00:46].
Bray Wheeler: Abu Bakr. He is no longer with us, according to the US government. Over the weekend, the US conducted a raid on the compound that they located him at and he was… According to reports, self-detonated a suicide vest after he was cornered by US special forces.
Bryan Strawser: In a tunnel. In a dead-end tunnel.
Bray Wheeler: In a dead-end tunnel, apparently. Unfortunately, it sounds like he took three of his children with him. However, the US was able to capture a lot of Intel out of that rate, it sounds like, according to the president who gave kind of an at-length kind of update on what had transpired over the weekend, revealing probably a little bit too much information. But needless to say, kind of around the death of ISIS’s leader, there is no clear replacement. Sounds like we’ve also struck a couple of other targets, one being the heir apparent and the other being their primary spokesperson.
Bryan Strawser: Both of whom were apparently killed this morning, US time.
Bray Wheeler: Yep.
Bryan Strawser: In separate actions. I think one of those I saw was perhaps done by Kurdish forces with US special operations’ assistance. Definitely wound appears to have been a special operation by US military forces. I mean, this is a huge deal. I know there’s been some that have been equating this to the Bin Laden raid, and I would not put it on that level because Bin Laden was someone who everyone knew in the world and was responsible for thousands of deaths here in the United States. And I don’t want to downplay the role of the ISIS leader, but I don’t think most people outside of this particular world that we live in knew who al-Baghdadi was. They probably just knew that there was a leader for ISIS.
Bryan Strawser: I remember when this Saturday evening, not long before I was going to bed in the 9:00, 10:00 range, I was looking at Twitter and I saw the first tweet from someone claiming that we had captured al-Baghdadi, which would have been a fascinating intelligence grab, but I don’t think this mission was aimed at capturing al-Baghdadi any more than the Neptune Spear operation was aimed to capture Osama bin Laden. The intent was to kill him as a legitimate target of the United States government, but it quickly broke out to, within a few hours, I think even credible folks who have been studying ISIS and the Syria issues for quite some time were coming around to it appears that we have killed al-Baghdadi. of course, there was no official confirmation until the president spoke at about 9:15 Eastern on Sunday morning from that.
Bryan Strawser: There’s a number of interesting things here we should unpack related to this, I think, briefly. The president stated that we had obtained information and intelligence from a number of sources and that we had the cooperation of a number of countries, and he specifically mentions Syria, Turkey, the Russians, and the Kurds as cooperating or not interfering with the operation during his press conference, then he answered several questions around that as well.
Bray Wheeler: Yep. And I think some of the big reveals that kind of caused some consternation with security intelligence folks was, one, the question of airspace and our use of Russian airspace, Syrian airspace, Turkish airspace, which causes some apprehension in terms of revealing probably a little bit too much around how we’re able to kind of get in, get out a little bit of how that process works.
Bray Wheeler: I think that unfortunately… His press conference’s announcement, unfortunately, revealed kind of too much in terms of operational details that potentially could pose some real significant challenges for kind of future operations, engagements. Certainly, part of that is to kind of protect publicly some of our cooperating partners here in the international community to have them save face a little bit. I think the president took a different approach of just trying to praise those people and kind of thank them for their cooperation, but unfortunately, that’s not always very helpful. And so right now, I think it’s kind of a mixed bag. Certainly, Bryan, to your point, his death is pretty prominent in terms of ISIS and kind of their future direction. Does it kind of 100% solve the ISIS problem? No, but it certainly leaves them kind of without a captain at the moment, without somewhat of a direction. And kind of to your point, the intent of probably not capturing him is to the benefit of kind of ripple effects of additional attacks and things like that. Certainly, if you know we had apprehended them and were holding him, there probably would’ve been-
Bryan Strawser: Reprisals.
Bray Wheeler: Reprisals pretty immediately.
Bryan Strawser: There’s going to be reprisals anyway, of course. No, I think you’re right. I think it’s important to look at this in the context of the broader fight on counter-terrorism. One of the things about this particular organization, ISIS as opposed to Al-Qaida is Al-Qaida was a little more decentralized than the way ISIS has operated. Al-Baghdadi has led ISIS since about 2010 or so if I remember correctly.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: There was no real clear successor, although there was a potential heir apparent, a number three, I believe it was, that is who we’re claiming was killed this morning. And they had a public spokesperson who was also killed this morning. I think it’s likely, although we’ll probably never know, that these raids today were driven by intelligence that was captured yesterday. That’s kind of a hallmark of modern-day US special forces operations in terms of immediately exploiting intelligence captured from the scene and then just increasing the OPTEMPO of raids that go on from there.
Bryan Strawser: I do think it’s worth mentioning briefly that there has been some counter-argument around targeting al-Baghdadi. There’s an article that we’ll link in the show notes from War on the Rocks, the War on the Rocks blog and website, where pretty strong argument not to decapitate ISIS because al-Baghdadi, although clearly involved in the deaths of many US citizens and others, didn’t appear to be an overly competent leader for ISIS. They lost all of their territories during the last two years, two and a half years.
Bray Wheeler: After pretty strong aggressive gains that were very impressive by kind of any modern standard for a non-governmental military force.
Bryan Strawser: Right. I think also worth pointing out here that one other thing that ISIS had going forward it as a terrorist movements, there’s a significant amount of ISIS propaganda in teaching that is available on sites like YouTube and other more Jihadi-focused social media channels that would censor that kind of content, and you’ve had a number of attackers, even here in the United States, who have executed the lone actor attacks and then credited ISIS or credited al-Baghdadi or credited “I learned the tactics and techniques and tools through the ISIS magazine, online magazine” or through these online lectures.
Bryan Strawser: So, even without a leader in place, the propaganda lives on, and these attacks, even the ones here in the US, have been… They haven’t been centrally commanded and controlled. ISIS just takes credit for it after the details come out that this person who was motivated by ISIS or was trained through ISIS online material.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah. ISIS has been pretty quick to kind of claim responsibilities for a lot of different things. Certainly, if the attacker or kind of intelligence or investigative kind of evidence after the fact suggests that they were on ISIS’ websites or kind of any mention of them, they’re quick to say, “Hey. Yep, we’re responsible for that.” ISIS is certainly much more tech and social media, and their presence online is much stronger than Al-Qaida’s ever was and still is. ISIS, that’s kind of one of their hallmarks is how savvy they are on that front.
Bray Wheeler: And so certainly losing a couple of their head guys plus spokesman certainly, organizationally, paints a different kind of picture for them, directionally. But in terms of their presence online, it doesn’t necessarily change much. I think the one thing too that is kind of significant here too and around that is the… And you kind of touched on this earlier, kind of the difference in kind of recognition of al-Baghdadi compared to Osama bin Laden is his… al-Baghdadi’s death is much more significant for the Middle East region than it is, say, in the US or in Europe. He was responsible for several atrocities in that region. And so, most famously, the Jordan fighter pilot who was burned alive in a steel cage and then plastered kind of across the world, awful, awful video. Awful, awful event. But those are the kinds of things that he’s been responsible for.
Bray Wheeler: So, in terms of kind of a… The first kind of a sigh of relief for the breadth of… I don’t want to say joy, but appreciation for what’s happening is really in the Middle East region, and the US and Europe are kind of secondary. Now, doesn’t mean that that’s not going to change or we haven’t experienced some of that stuff, San Bernardino kind of being the most probably famous one for folks with an ISIS affiliation to it, but- [
Bryan Strawser: I remember that one well.
Bray Wheeler: For the region, his death certainly is appreciated, I think, from several different fronts kind of across that area.
Bryan Strawser: So, I think there’s a couple of geopolitical implications here. One is that Bray’s right. I mean, this is going to have a big impact on the Middle East. There’s probably going to be a period of time here where ISIS is going to be in some disarray, at least in terms of their ability to capture land and hold land or hold cities or towns. That was really kind of driven by al-Baghdadi. I think that will be seriously degraded, but I think we should keep in mind that we’re probably going to see another day or two of decapitation strikes as the United States and its allies who exploit intel that was gained during the raid.
Bryan Strawser: And so I think we’ll see more impacts in the days to come or maybe we won’t hear about them, but they will happen. But even in doing so, it’s not going to stop the lone actor or the decentralized group that’s affiliated with ISIS from carrying out attacks. I saw the French National Police went on alert today about potential reprisal attacks in France. That might just be precautionary. That might be because they know something or something was gained.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah, or they’ve been fought… They’d been tracking several cases where they have known cells that are there that they’re just preparing for those to activate. Paris and Belgium have also kind of been hit pretty hard from an ISIS standpoint. So, it’s not surprising that those, in particular, are kind of standing up their precautionary measures and their alertness levels.
Bray Wheeler: So, on that front, so transitioning a little bit too… I don’t know if it’s happier news or different news is the EU has agreed to extend the Brexit deadline for the United Kingdom moving it to January 31st of 2020. So, they reached that deal here kind of in the last 24 hours. It certainly is a good thing in terms of allowing for a little bit more time to hopefully negotiate an exit that is a little bit cleaner for the United Kingdom and the EU. It throws a little bit of a wrench into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for trying to get the deadline hard and fast and kind of force some of the deals, but really kind of, one, it extends the conversation and kind of the negotiation longer, but at the same time opens up more room for potential kind of exit with a plan.
Bray Wheeler: So, as we’ve talked about last week, the UK kind of approved kind of initially the deal that was struck, but didn’t approve kind of the pace at which that was going to be negotiated. So, this certainly gives that buffer of, hey, there’s kind of an agreement around the deal. Now, there’s a little bit of time to kind of work through that. The other piece of it is the kind of election that Prime Minister Johnson has called for in December will more than likely take place, and the results of that will probably impact the way that the negotiations go. So, there’ll probably be a little bit of talk over the next month and a half, but those will probably be more aggressive after the results of that election are kind of held. And right now-
Bryan Strawser: Who knows how it’s going to go?
Bray Wheeler: Who knows how that’s going to go?
Bryan Strawser: This kind of reminds me of being involved in Minnesota politics and watching the every other year biennium where we try to negotiate a state budget in a divided government because we’ve had divided government here for almost seven years where, currently, the Republicans control one house, the Democrats control another, and the governor is a Democrat. And you can set whatever deadlines you want. The real action is when the session ends, and now you’re screwed because the government’s going to shut down if you don’t pass a budget. And they tried that this year with all kinds of budget dates and it just didn’t… It didn’t get anywhere. There was a deal at the end after the session ended.
Bryan Strawser: So, I think the extension is probably helpful for the UK. I don’t know if that necessarily helps Boris Johnson in the planned December general election, but at least now they’re not leaving without a framework in place, which I don’t know would have gone well in a number of categories. So, I don’t know. I suspect this will be the last extension that the EU is going to be willing to work on, or maybe the EU is kind of like that parable of the guy that’s got the death sentence over his head and he tells the King that he’s going to teach his horse to talk and the King gives him two years to do it or whatever. And someone’s like, “Why did you do that?” And the horse can’t talk. And he goes, “Yeah, but a lot can happen in two years. There could be a new King. The horse could talk.”
Bray Wheeler: Right.
Bryan Strawser: Things can happen. There might be a revolution. So, I don’t… I mean, I think ultimately, this is probably good. A negotiated exit is a better path.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: They got a long way to go.
Bray Wheeler: Well, I think that’s always been the EU’s preferences is to… As long as the UK is giving some semblance of, “Hey, we’re clearly going down this road, but we’re trying to do it in a somewhat reasonable fashion,” the EU is probably going to go along with that to the point where if this election turns back towards Johnson and there’s a bunch of hard-line stances, to your point, this will be the EU’s last kind of extension of that deadline. I think it’s a little… It’s not necessarily that Johnson is removed from office, but I think the manner in which that kind of election goes will give the EU a little bit of a greater sense of what the UK kind of public wants to happen because right now, there’s a little bit of mixed message there too. And so I think once that becomes a little bit clearer and kind of a statement, the EU will probably flex or not kind of one way or the other depending on the outcome of that.
Bray Wheeler: The final topic that we have this week that’s also been kind of breaking over the weekend and has been occurring here for the last several weeks has been the wildfires in California. Those are kind of continuing to kind of spread and move kind of throughout the states in different areas. Wine Country has been impacted. Los Angeles is now somewhat under threat from all these wildfires. PG&E and other utility companies have been kind of rationing power with rolling blackouts and shutting off power to kind of help prevent the spread of wildfire and damage to infrastructure and things like that. But right now, it’s kind of a little bit of a mess in California with the different wildfires and kind of the high winds. There’s been reported gusts of 80 miles per hour. Certainly not… Weather is not helping at the moment. So, it’s kind of a little bit of a chaotic situation in California just from a “Are we evacuating? Are we not evacuating? Is it moving towards us? Is it now moving away from us?” Things like that. So, throughout the kind of significant portions of the state.
Bryan Strawser: We know from wildfire experience and we’ve been involved in several in multiple states. High wind complicates the issue because it moves the fire faster, sometimes faster than you can build real firebreaks to contain this fire. I mean, California has got a number of challenges kind of intersecting here. California’s been resistant to clearing brush that leads to strong fire conditions. PG&E has a lot of outdated infrastructure. They have tried stopping, cutting the power to broad swaths of the state in order to prevent wildfires. That’s proven unsuccessful so far.
Bray Wheeler: Yep.
Bryan Strawser: At least unsuccessful in that we throw are having wildfires. It may have prevented additional wildfires. I guess I’m not close enough to know that, but that raised a challenge for citizens in the state because hundreds of thousands of people were losing power in some of these shutoffs, including major urban areas. So, there’s… California’s got a number of challenges around this right now, but on the ground right now, it’s a massive firefighting operation being led by the Cal Fire folks with a lot of mutual aid from lots of different places.
Bray Wheeler: And I think kind of impact-wise two organizations, certainly in California and certainly in those impacted regions, it’s having likely devastating consequences to operations just from losing facilities and infrastructure and roadways and things like that. But if you are kind of in a periphery of these wildfires or working with partner organizations or you have satellite offices or other facilities, HQ facilities, etc. kind of in those regions, it’s very much a time to start preparing for kind of closure of those facilities, evacuation, employee assistance funds, things like that for those areas. So, if those are things that you’re not doing right now, those should be things that you are considering. If you’re not in an impacted zone in California, probably best to dust off whatever those plans are and at least look at them and start thinking about what those are in addition to just monitoring kind of heavily what’s going on there.
Bray Wheeler: If you have… You’re a big retailer and you have different stores there or you’re a financial institution with different branches, you should be watching. And if you’re a smaller organization, it’s definitely… Especially with kind of partner organizations, starting to think about what your alternatives are to the source material or things like that in the interim.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah, I think… And don’t forget… I mean, Bray’s got great advice on the wildfire. Don’t forget that in the wildfire, one of your biggest impacts as a business is going to be to your team, and really just think about how to communicate what’s going on. Make sure they have information. Make sure as the employer, you’re giving them time to prepare and evacuate and that you’re cognizant of the fact that when the fire’s over, your team and their family and friends could be heavily impacted. And be sympathetic as an employer as you head into that in terms of time off and helping them kind of work through these situations.
Bray Wheeler: Yep. Well, that is it for this week’s edition of BryghtCast. Again, join us next week for our next weekly edition. Have a great week. Thank you.