Saturday, November 28, 2020

DOD Identifies Air Force Casualty


The Department of Defense announced today the death of an Airman who was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Captain Kelliann Leli, 30, of Parlin, New Jersey, died November 27 in a non-combat related vehicle incident at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

She was assigned to the 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California.  For more information, media may contact the 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs office at 707-290-1169.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Sussex County Woman Charged with Concealing Terrorist Financing to Syrian Al-Nusra Front, a Foreign Terrorist Organization

 A Sussex County, New Jersey, woman, Maria Bell, a/k/a “Maria Sue Bell,” 53, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, was arrested at her home today and charged with one count of knowingly concealing the provision of material support and resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito for the District of New Jersey announced.

She is scheduled to appear by videoconference this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor.

According to documents filed in Court, beginning at least as early as March of 2017, Bell used mobile applications to communicate with and provide advice to fighters based in Syria who were members of various factions fighting the Assad regime.   The complaint is centered on her communications with, and provision of money to, one specific fighter based in Syria, a self-identified member of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alias for the the designated Foreign Terrorist Organization the al-Nusra Front (ANF).  Notably, Bell sent currency to this fighter via Western Union using an intermediary to conceal the source of the funds, and also provided him advice on weapons and ammunition. 

The charge of concealment of terrorist financing to a designated foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Assistant Attorney General Demers and U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean C. Sovolos of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit with the assistance of the Department of Justice, National Security Division Counterterrorism Section.

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

South Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to ISIS

 In San Antonio today, 34-year-old Kristopher Sean Matthews (aka Ali Jibreel) admitted to conspiring to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (aka ISIS), announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer for the Western District of Texas, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.

Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney, Matthews pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge to provide material support to ISIS.  By pleading guilty, Matthews admitted that since May 2019, he conspired with 22-year-old Jaylyn Christopher Molina (aka Abdur Rahim) of Cost, TX, to share bomb-making information for the purposes of domestic and foreign attacks on behalf of ISIS and to radicalize and recruit other individuals to support ISIS.

Matthews faces up to 20 years in federal prison.  He remains in federal custody pending sentencing scheduled for 10:30 am on March 4, 2021, before Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia in San Antonio.

Molina and Matthews were charged by a federal grand jury indictment handed down on Oct. 14, 2020, with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and one substantive count of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  Molina, who remains in federal custody, faces up to 40 years in federal prison upon conviction.

The San Antonio FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), with valuable assistance from the San Antonio Police Department, the United States Secret Service, and the Gonzalez County Sheriff’s Office, continues to investigate this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Roomberg, William R. Harris, and Eric Fuchs and DOJ Trial Attorneys George Kraehe and Felice J. Viti of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

It is important to note that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt.  Molina is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Senior Defense Officials Provide Background Briefing on Afghanistan and Iraq Troop Reductions

 Nov. 17, 2020

Three Senior Defense Officials

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Hey, everybody. It's -- it's SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1 here. I have with me SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 3 and SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2. We're going to go through and -- and -- and SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 is going to give some brief remarks here. 

Once again, this is on background to "senior defense official," embargoed until the conclusion of the acting secretary's remarks, which as you're all aware of, start at 14:00, following this. We will leave the line open for you guys to -- to do that, if you’re coming into the building or will be in the building for it. Seating is -- is somewhat limited, but we'll be able to get some time to transition to that.

So we have -- right now, I think we -- we have about 50-60 reporters on. I'll call the questions afterwards. I'm assuming we may want to open it to as many questions as we can, but obviously, we're a little tight on time here, so I apologize, but we do want to give you guys a chance to ask questions.

So with that, I will turn it over to SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks. Thanks very much. I appreciate you -- you, SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1, and your team's efforts here. And thanks to everybody for taking the time to focus on this incredibly important policy matter and national security matter on behalf of Secretary Miller and obviously, the President.

So, as you guys have been hearing rumblings, we are going to be announcing a decision at 14:00 today that will be consistent with the President's publicly-announced engagements regarding this matter, going back to multiple years, but most recently, in June where he publicly announced that based on his continuous interaction with his national security cabinet and his military officials, that should certain conditions be satisfied and the safety and security of America not be threatened, then the president has been very focused and public about withdrawing some troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

And so if we fast-forward over to you today, over the last week, 10 days, since Secretary Miller and I have been in the office, we would say our internal transition here has been exceptionally well-received because of the senior staff that have been working here, along with all the military officials. And so we are continued on the trajectory laid out by the president and his national security cabinet. We've engaged with him directly at the White House since coming on to the seat. And so we are making an announcement that's consistent with his promise to the American people, and also, most importantly, that comes at the recommendation of the senior-most military officials based on the security interests both in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now that the President has arrived at a decision, the secretary will announce that decision, and we'll go from there. Over.

And so for clarity, and as SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1 said, on embargo until the secretary is done with his comments. So the decision that the secretary will announce is that in Afghanistan, we will reduce our troops to 2,500 by 15 January, 2021. And the second announcement is that we will go down to 2,500 troops in Iraq, also by 15 January, 2021.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: OK. All right, so we'll stop there, and we'll go to the phone for questions. So first, Bob Burns, A.P.

Q: Oh, thank you. This is Bob. SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2, you said this is based on recommendations from senior military officials, and so are you saying that these reductions were recommended by General Miller and/or General McKenzie and/or General Milley? And also, what necessary conditions have been satisfied that you said the president would require?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thank you. So I'm not going to get into specifics as to which senior military officials have conferred with the President and the secretary of defense and national security advisor and Secretary Pompeo and others. Needless to say, we have a national command authority. That has not been ruptured since the transition internally. The secretary of defense has continued to engage with all of his combatant commanders, including the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President, the White House and other officials. And this was a collaborative decision that the president made based upon guidance from all these commanders both in the field, here in Washington, and career officials both at the White House and here at the Pentagon. Over.

Q: What about the conditions on the ground? You said that they've been satisfied. How so?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So the conditions-based portion of this is a determination made similarly by those individuals we just generally talked about that, first and foremost, is the national security of America threatened by this maneuver, by this decision, and we do not feel that it is. And second, can we maintain a force posture in Afghanistan that permits us to carry out our mission with our allies and partners whom we've all talked to over the last week and this morning, and the answer to that is affirmatively, yes, we can. So those two questions being answered, those were underlied by the specific conditions, which I'm not going to get into, but the professionals both in the military and civilian service have agreed that this is the right move, and they've recommended that to the President, and the President has made his decision.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, Bob, thank you. We'll go over to Ryan Browne, CNN.

Q: Yes, thank you. The fact is that al Qaeda – the Taliban hasn't broken clearly with al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda still has a presence in Afghanistan, but you're still reducing the number of troops. I guess, how do you square that? And then also, will the remaining U.S. troops will be allowed to carry out air strikes in defense of Afghan forces? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Sure. So as far as al Qaeda being in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has been in Afghanistan for decades, and the reality is we'd be fools to say they're going to leave tomorrow. What has to happen in Afghanistan, and the President's been very clear on this, as have other members of his national security cabinet, the solution in Afghanistan is to broker a power-sharing or some form of agreement whereby the two, the Taliban and the Afghan people, can live side-by-side in peace. One is not going to militarily defeat the other, nor are we going to engage in a decades-long war to that end, which we will not meet. So we feel this is the best decision to drive towards the peace agreement that we've been working on, and so we think that this supports that and those efforts. 

And as to your second question, in terms of specific capabilities, I won't get into, but the military officials that we've engaged with in the national security cabinet believe that our capabilities will remain sufficient to achieve both of our goals, which is the protection of the American people and also the protection of the Afghan people and also to assist our allies and partners, who support this decision. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, guys, we're going to keep moving along, try to get to as many people as we can. Phil Stewart, Reuters? 

Q: Real quick, I didn’t hear Somalia. Is there going to be an announcement on Somalia? And then on the issue of Afghanistan, what is the exact mission of the 2,500 troops that will remain there? Will it be strictly counterterrorism? Thanks. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: So Phil, this is SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1. We have no announcement on Somalia. We have announcements today on Iraq and Afghanistan. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks. And as it relates to, again, you're asking for the specifics of the mission. The dynamics of the mission have not changed. The military officials and the president's national security cabinet believe that the number of troops that we will go to by 15 January, 2,500, can accomplish everything we have been doing, so there's no need to keep the force posture at over 4,000, where it currently stands. 

So there was no elimination of capabilities. And on top of that, should there be a fracturing event or a dynamic situation in Afghanistan, both the secretary of defense and the president feel that we are well postured to augment our posture in Afghanistan, should it need be done. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: We'll keep moving. Jennifer Griffin, Fox News? 


My question is, are the talks with the Taliban over and why not go to zero in Afghanistan? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: The talks with the Taliban was made, I think, public last week are still very much ongoing. Meetings in Doha, meetings in-country by our military officials including General Scotty Miller and others, so that has not changed and we don't believe the trajectory of that will change. That is our goal, is the peace deal. 

And I think the second part of your question is why not go to, did you say, zero? 

Q: Yes. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: At this point, we are not going to zero because we are continuing on the president's approach, which he announced in June, which is to reduce troops to the number necessary to carry out the mission. And the generals and the civilian professionals believe that 2,500 is the best number. The president agrees and executed that decision. 

STAFF: All right, Dan Lamothe, Washington Post? 


We've reported that Secretary Esper, before he departed, submitted a memo recommending against additional cuts. That was citing senior military officials at the time. Can you explain the difference, how we got from point A to point B? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: We're not going to comment on any memo which you may or may not have in your possession for obvious reasons. 

Q: As you're casting this as a recommendation from generals, it just seemed like there’s a contradiction there. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: There is no contradiction with the president and his national security cabinet. There is no contradiction with the president and the secretary of defense, and the decision was made in consultation with him along with the vice president and his senior-most military advisors in the region and here in Washington. 

So as for the current state of play, there is no contradiction and we will have no comment on whatever memo you may or may not have. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, thanks, Dan. 

We'll keep moving along, Luis Martinez? 

Q: Thank you again for this briefing. When were these options presented to the President and when did Acting Secretary Miller, when was he briefed on them and when did he decide that this was the course of action based on what the recommendation had been from the military? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: So in terms of when the president and others were briefed on this, as I said earlier, this has been a continuing iterative process. There wasn't a day yesterday or the week before that we just woke up and said this is what we're going to do. 

The President announced in June a reduction of troops, and then he also, at that time, said we would do a further troop reduction, should his national security official cabinet determine that we have achieved a certain position for safety and security of the American people and the Afghan people. So that's the trajectory we've been on, nothing has changed, the president issued his decision. 

In terms of Secretary Miller's position, as you know, his background as former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and before that as a deputy assistant secretary of defense here at the Pentagon, he has been well versed in following matters in Afghanistan involving both the war and the counterterrorism efforts. 

So he was obviously briefed by all the relevant officials and commanding generals when he assumed the post here, but that was again a continuation of his deep background on the matter, and he and the President and others had extensive conversations coming in before making this decision. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, we’ll keep – keep moving along. Kasim Ilari? 

Q: Thank you very much for this. I was wondering, has the White House officially sent a guidance or notification for the withdrawal or not? And when did it arrive? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Kassim, do you mean military guidance within the U.S. government or outside of the U.S. government? 

Q: Within the military, U.S. military. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Ok, fair question. I'm not going to get into the internal dynamics of how that occurs, but the President made a decision through the normal course of the interagency process. That decision was communicated to the Department of Defense, and the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs will execute that decision, as you'll see once we do the announcement at 14:00.


Q: Going to defer to my fine colleagues, thanks. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: OK. We'll keep going. Nancy Youssef, Wall Street Journal? 

Q: Thanks. I have two questions. You mentioned earlier that you talked to NATO allies, have any of them mentioned a proportionate drawdown of their forces? And if so, from what country? 

Also, what discussions have you had with the Afghan government? When were they informed of this decision? 

And can you give any guidance in terms of why, given the reduction in forces in Iraq, what effect if any that will have on Syria, what considerations remain for any possible drawdowns in Syria? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks very much, I'll try to answer all those questions, I'll probably forget the last one by the time I get through them. 

So in terms of communications with allies and partners, since Secretary Miller has been in the seat, we have been reaching out on a daily basis to all of our allies and partners including NATO, General Stoltenberg, and our most important allies and partners in the region for Afghanistan, so that has been a continuous ongoing conversation.

I won't get into the details of that, but I will say that it was not a surprise to any of our allies or partners, this decision, and none of them tried to dissuade us from executing this decision. Rather, they were all supportive of how we can, in a collaborative effort, continue the mission that we have in Afghanistan, which I think leads us to believe we made the right choice because not a single one said otherwise. 

We also talked to many heads of state including both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we could not have been more warmly received when we had these discussions with both their leadership at the presidential and prime ministerial level. 

And I think you had one other question...

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Nancy, you have another question? 

Q: I was just asking about Syria and whether there's any defense ministerials, and what effect the draw-downs in Iraq could have on operations in Syria.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So as to the impact of the decision for the draw-down in Iraq in Syria, the military officials and the combatant commanders in the theater do not see a negative impact for our posture in Syria, and that was a large part of the decision-making process for us to go to that number, because if they felt otherwise, that it would negatively impact our efforts in Syria, we would not have drawn down to that number.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: OK. And just to follow up on the conversations with heads of state, o this morning, the acting secretary spent most of this morning today calling through some of our NATO allies, some of our Resolute Support mission partners and as SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 mentioned, Iraq and Afghanistan governments. He additionally spent a good bit of time this morning calling through congressional partners, talking with House and Senate leadership, as well as committee leadership to -- to give them a heads-up on the decision, and to seek their input and feedback, as well. So that's been taking place today. We've been doing the contact and -- and doing the process that we normally do if we're making announcements like this.

All right, so we'll keep going. We'll try to get a couple more before we've got to drop off here. So we'll go to Paul Handley, AFP?

Q: Hi, yes. You said that if there's a fracturing event, the posture could be augmented. What do you see would be a fracturing event? That the Taliban would take advantage of this and step up violence? 

And secondly, in fact, the Defense Department IG has reported that the violence levels are up. So how can you say that conditions have actually been met for drawing down to 2,500?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So thanks for the question. So notto get in front of either the President, the chairman or the secretary of defense. The Department of Defense is set up to respond globally to events based on the conditions on the ground. We will not set a baseline as to if this happens, we will do "Y". But we can commit to you and the American public that the President, through his national command authority, are well-postured in the region and around the world to react, should that become necessary. So we will take that as a case-by-case basis.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: And I'll take the second part. I believe you're asking about the SIGAR report. You know, I'm not going to characterize the findings of the SIGAR report, but would say that we've been clear that we would like to see reduced levels of violence in Afghanistan. We would like to see progress on the peace talks, and we're seeing that in both cases. But what we also see is it's not just the U.S. presence, the U.S. forces, that there are Afghan forces that are becoming more capable in the area. We've got partners there. So we're looking at this as a whole, not just as one piece of data that comes from one specific report.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, we'll keep going. Go to Tara Copp from McClatchy.

Q: My question would be, who is actually going to come home? Do you have an idea of what units might be re-deploying to the U.S.?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: In terms of – I’m not sure I follow your question. When you say who is coming home, I mean, we're not going to get into the details of what soldiers are coming back, but do you mean something else by that?

Q: Yes. Can you give us any indication of, you know, when Fort Bragg troops were brought back from Syria earlier this year there was an announcement about that. Do you know what capabilities or units will be returning home in January?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Yes, I didn't understand the question. Sorry about that. Yes, we have worked through that with the chairman and the commanding generals in theater. Obviously, they are the professionals making the recommendations to get to this number and what types of troops and forces we need to reduce to. So those decisions have been calculated and made. And we will make those decisions, or execute those decisions here today on (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: But we're not going to announce which units today. And then just on the previous question, I think I said the SIGAR report. I meant the IG report, so just to clarify that.

We'll do one more question and then we've got to drop here. So we'll go to Tom Bowman.

Q: Yes, thanks for doing this. I think, SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2, you talked about how the President has been discussing this for years. So is this more keeping a campaign pledge rather than an action that furthers American security interests?

And also as far as the conditions, Frank McKenzie, who heads CENTCOM, just a few days ago said, quote, "The sheer volume of Taliban-initiated attacks against the people of Afghanistan are not indicative of an organization that is serious about peace." He said, "It's less clear to me they're committed to denying Al Qaida a presence in Afghanistan."

So again, it's curious you mentioned, conditions being met, but clearly the biggest ones are not being met.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: As to your first question on whether or not this is to fulfill a campaign promise, I'd refer you to the White House. You know, we over here are in the civilian chain of command running the Department of Defense. And the secretary of Defense will execute the president's decisions no matter what they are. So we’ve heard the decision and you now have full details on the background as to why that happened.

As to the second part of your question with General McKenzie, General McKenzie's statement in the theater is accurate, as he is our combatant general in the theater. But it is one piece of the formula; it is not to say just because there is an increase in violence that other conditions have not been met.

We've had these conversations, not just with General McKenzie but with General Miller, and with Chairman Milley, and the secretary of Defense, along with dozens of other military officials and national security officials here in the Washington, D.C. area obviously. So there is no one singular point of fact which makes conditions have been met or not met.

Q: So what are the other conditions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: The other conditions are not matters we are going to publicly engage with except to say that the conditions, plural, have been discussed and met. And the decision has been made by the president at the advice of his national security cabinet that such matters have been addressed thoroughly.

Q: So you can't tell the American people what those conditions are that have been met?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: We can tell you that the conditions that have been met are what we've been saying the entire time, that with 2,500 troops in Afghanistan we can protect the American people, we can protect the Afghan people.


Q: No, I'm talking about the conditions that have been met by the Taliban.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Pardon me, I'm still talking.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Tom, you asked the question three times. SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 is going to answer it, so if you can just hold off, SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 will finish his answer and then we're going to move on.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: And the decision to bring troops home was made at the direction of the President because the two greatest concerns, about the protection of the American people and our interests, and the protection of the Afghan people, have been met, based upon the recommendations of the commanding generals in the theater and national security officials here. And the biggest goal and the only solution to Afghanistan is a peace-negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And this takes us one step closer to that…

Q: But again, you can't mention the conditions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Hey, Tom, I think he mentioned the two conditions that have been met that were the ones that were taken into consideration and on which the decision was based. And that is that there's no national security threat and that we can continue with the operations on the ground that are necessary to maintain that posture. So he's mentioned both of those multiple times.

Q: No, but do you understand my question? My question is the Taliban were supposed to abide by certain conditions which they have not.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Tom, I -- I got it --


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: -- Tom? Tom? Okay, we've got to drop off right now.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: We've got to drop off. We'll talk to everybody in about six minutes.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Acting Secretary Miller Announces Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq

 Nov. 17, 2020

Acting Secretary Of Defense Christopher C. Miller

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHRISTOPHER C. MILLER: Good afternoon. I'm Chris Miller, acting secretary of defense, and I'm here today to update you on President Trump's plan to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion, and to bring our brave service members home. 

From Kabul to Kandahar and from Mosul to Fallujah, hundreds of thousands of America's finest sons and daughters, who selflessly answered the call to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have brought us to this point. Their efforts and sacrifice will go down in history as epitomizing the strength, commitment, and empathy of a force that is unlike any the world has ever seen. 

Just last night, I joined Vice President Mike Pence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley to attend the dignified transfer of five American soldiers who perished on duty in the Middle East. This was a somber and humbling moment that reminded us of the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women of the United States military in service of freedom and security. 

Our armed forces take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. They serve not for personal gain, but for the protection and well-being of their fellow Americans and their homeland. They are champions for peace, liberty, and the rule of law, and unrelenting when called upon to defend our people and our values. We owe them and their loved ones an enormous debt of gratitude. 

This is why I'm enormously blessed and privileged to stand before you today to outline the next phase of our campaign to defeat terrorists who have perpetrated attacks on our homeland, including those who help and harbor them, and to prevent -- prevent future acts of terrorism against our nation. 

We owe this moment to the many patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice, and their comrades who carry forward their legacy. Together, we have mourned the loss of more than 6,900 American troops who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will never forget the more than 52,000 who bear the wounds of war and all those who still carry its scars – visible and invisible. 

In light of these tremendous sacrifices, and with great humility and gratitude to those who came before us, I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump's orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries. By January 15, 2001 – excuse me, I clearly am thinking of where this started in 2001 – by January 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same date. This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives, supported by the American people, and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives. 

Moreover, this decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months, including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States Government. 

I have also spoken with our military commanders, and we all will execute this repositioning in a way that protects our fighting men and women, our partners in the intelligence community and diplomatic corps, and our superb allies that are critical to rebuilding Afghan and Iraqi security capabilities and civil society for a lasting peace in troubled lands. 

And just this morning, I spoke with key leaders in Congress, as well as our allies and partners abroad, to update them on these plans, in light of our shared approach. We went in together, we adjust together, and when the time is right, we will leave together. 

One of my calls was to NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. Another was to Afghanistan's President Ghani, who expressed his gratitude for every American service member who has fought for peace and strengthened the longstanding friendship between our countries. 

President Ghani highlighted the caliber of our troops, which he noted has always been more important than the quantity. We continue to stand with him as his government works toward a negotiated settlement for peace. 

Meanwhile, let us remind those who question our resolve or may seek to interfere with this prudent, well planned and coordinated transition – the United States armed forces remain committed to protecting the safety and security of the American people, and supporting our likeminded allies and partners worldwide. 

If the forces of terror, instability, division, and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them. 

As a veteran whose life and family was irrevocably changed in the deserts, mountains, and cities of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops who have fought there and were forever transformed by their experiences, I celebrate this day, as we continue the president's consistent progress in completing the mission we began nearly two decades ago. 

I want to thank the Afghans and Iraqis who have partnered with us throughout, and who now carry the bulk of the fighting to secure their homelands. I want to thank our NATO allies and other partners who have fought alongside us and taken the lead on training and advising the Afghan and Iraqi security forces. We will continue to support their efforts. 

And thanks to our more than 80 partners in the Defeat ISIS coalition. We have destroyed the ISIS caliphate and will ensure they never again gain a foothold to attack our people. 

In closing, we set out to accomplish three goals in 2001. First, go abroad and destroy terrorists, their organizations, and their sanctuaries. Two, strengthen our defenses against future attacks. And three, prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism to include by working with allies and local partners to take the lead in the fight. 

Today is another critical step in that direction, and a result of President Trump's bold leadership. With the blessings of providence in the coming year, we will finish this generational war and bring our men and women home. We will protect our children from the heavy burden and toll of perpetual war. And we will honor the sacrifices made in service to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, and celebrate all those who helped us secure freedom over oppression.

God bless our women and men in uniform. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Guantanamo Periodic Review Board Media Invitation Announced

 Nov. 10, 2020

The Department of Defense will allocate seats for news media at the Pentagon satellite viewing location on Nov. 19, to cover unclassified portions of the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board for Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094).

Due to limited space availability, selection is not guaranteed. Upon selection, additional information on meeting time and location will be provided.

Media desiring to observe the hearing should send requests via email to

All requests must be received no later than noon ET, Nov. 13. Media members should include their name, position, sponsoring organization and contact information (cell phone and email address) in their request. Multiple names from the same organization may be submitted.

Further information, including media ground rules, can be viewed at the Periodic Review Secretariat website at http://www/

Monday, November 09, 2020

Former Elkhart, Indiana Resident Sentenced to Over Six Years in Prison for Financing of Terrorism

 Samantha Marie Elhassani, aka Samantha Sally, 35, formerly of Elkhart, Indiana, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon to 78  months in prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Financing Terrorism, announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Thomas L. Kirsch II, FBI Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division Jill Sanborn, and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis field office Paul Keenan.

“Once again, the Justice Department has held accountable an individual who turned her back on her country to support a terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “As Elhassani admitted, she made multiple trips to Hong Kong to smuggle tens of thousands in cash and gold, knowing that the funds would be used to support ISIS in Syria.  We repatriated Elhassani from Syria because every nation is responsible for holding its citizens accountable and addressing the future threat they may pose.  We will not stop.”

"Today's sentencing of Ms. Elhassani should serve as a stark reminder that ISIS and other terrorist organizations have no limits when it comes to recruiting people to join their violent agenda,” said Jill Sanborn, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “But it also demonstrates our resolve to diligently go after anyone who makes the fateful choice to provide material support to any terrorist organization, especially those who not only betray their country but who would also put their own children in harm’s way during the process.” 

“Samantha Elhassani was sentenced today for providing financial support to individuals who desired to support ISIS, a terrorist organization that has committed acts of violence against Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II for the Northern District of Indiana.  “She traveled with her husband and brother-in-law to Syria, both of whom became ISIS fighters, putting the lives of her children at risk.  My Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to prosecuting those like Elhassani who provide support to terrorist organizations. ”

“Today's sentence serves as a strong reminder that the FBI will never relent in ensuring those who abandon their country to support a violent terrorist organization, such as Ms. Elhassani did, will be held accountable and justice will be served,” said FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan. “Adding to her betrayal, Ms. Elhassani willfully chose to put her young children's lives at risk through her selfish actions, exposing them to an atmosphere of violence and hatred. She knew exactly what she was doing and why.  She was an active participant in this heinous activity and is now facing the consequences.” 

According to documents in this case, in November 2014, Elhassani was informed by her husband that he and his brother wanted to travel to Syria to join ISIS, which she knew at the time was a terrorist organization that engaged in terrorist activities. Between November 2014 and April 1015, Elhassani helped the two men join ISIS by making multiple trips to Hong Kong and transporting more than $30,000 in cash and gold from the United States and depositing it in a safe deposit box in Hong Kong. Elhassani melted down the gold to look like jewelry and did not disclose the cash and gold on customs declaration forms. At the time Elhassani transported the money and gold, she knew that her husband and brother-in-law had expressed an interest in joining ISIS and that they intended to use these resources to support ISIS.

During her last trip to Hong Kong, in late March 2015, Elhassani procured tactical gear, including rifle scopes and image-stabilized binoculars. From there, Elhassani and her family, including her seven year old son and two year old daughter, departed for Istanbul, Turkey, and entered ISIS-controlled territory in Syria sometime in or around June 2015. In the months leading up to the move to Syria, Elhassani helped conceal the plans by lying to family, friends and federal agents about her travel.

In July of 2018, Elhassani and her children were transferred from the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to U.S. law enforcement custody.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Indianapolis Division and Joint Terrorism Task Force.  This case was prosecuted by the Assistant United States Attorneys Abizer Zanzi, Jennifer Chang and Nathaniel Whalen and the National Security Divisions Counterterrorism Section. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

Portland Resident Indicted for Providing Material Support to ISIS

 The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury in Portland returned a five count indictment against Portland resident Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, 31, charging two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B(a)(1). In addition, the indictment charges Mothafar with one count of false statements in an immigration application in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1546(a) and one count of false statement to a government agency in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2).

Mothafar had his initial appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo yesterday.  Due to the fact that Mothafar has physical disabilities and is confined to a wheelchair, the government did not seek detention. Rather, Mothafar was released on conditions including limitations on travel and the use of electronic devices.

According to the allegations contained within the indictment, between February 2015, and up to the time of arrest, Mothafar conspired with ISIS members to provide material support to ISIS.  This support included a range of activities.  Mothafar produced and distributed ISIS propaganda and recruiting materials that he created and edited in coordination with official ISIS media operatives located overseas.  Mothafar produced, edited, and distributed a number of publications and articles including “Effective Stabbing Techniques,” which provided detailed guidance on how to best kill and maim a target in a knife attack, a tutorial on using explosive ignition devices entitled “How Does a Detonator Work,” and propaganda that encouraged readers to carry out attacks in their home countries if they could not travel overseas to fight.  Mothafar also maintained contact with ISIS officials overseas and provided technical support to these individuals that included opening social media and email accounts for official use.  During the time of this alleged activity, Mothafar also made false statements on immigration documents and to government officials denying any ties to terrorist organizations.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Portland Division and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ethan Knight and Geoffrey Barrow with the assistance of Counterrorism Trial Attorney Alexandra Hughes.

An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

United States Seizes 27 Additional Domain Names Used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Further a Global, Covert Influence Campaign

 Action Follows Last Month’s Seizure of 92 IRGC Domains

The United States has seized 27 domain names that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unlawfully used to further a global covert influence campaign.

As described in the seizure documents, all 27 domains were being used in violation of U.S. sanctions targeting both the Government of Iran and the IRGC. Four of the domains purported to be genuine news outlets but were actually controlled by the IRGC and targeted audiences in the United States, to covertly influence United States policy and public opinion, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The remainder targeted audiences in other parts of the world.  This seizure warrant follows an earlier seizure of 92 domains used by the IRGC for similar purposes.

“Within the last month we have announced seizures of Iran’s weapons, fuel, and covert influence infrastructure,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.  “As long as Iran’s leaders are trying to destabilize the world through the state-sponsorship of terrorism and the taking of hostages, we will continue to enforce U.S. sanctions and take other legal steps to counter them.”

“Today's 29 seizures are another important step against Iran's worldwide disinformation campaign,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson.  “This work will continue.  We cannot allow Iran's attachment to fake news to overtake our commitment to the rule of law.”

“The FBI is aggressively investigating any evidence of foreign influence and the unlawful spread of disinformation by hostile nations.  Today, we seized 27 additional domains that Iran’s IRGC was illegally using in attempt to manipulate public opinion in other countries, including the United States,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.  “Thanks to our ongoing collaboration with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the FBI was able to disrupt this Iranian propaganda campaign and we will continue to pursue any attempts by foreign actors to spread disinformation in our country.” 

The seizure warrant, issued on Nov. 3, 2020, describes how the 27 seized domain names were being operated in violation of federal law.  Control of the domains by the IRGC violated the International Emergency and Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), which prohibit U.S. persons from providing services to the Government of Iran without a license.  Further, the United States has found that the IRGC has provided material support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, and the Taliban.  As such, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added the IRGC to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, imposing additional licensing requirements.  As described in the seizure documents, the 27 domains were registered with U.S.-based domain registrars and used top-level domains owned by U.S.-based registries.  Neither the IRGC nor the Government of Iran obtained a license from OFAC prior to using the domain names and obtaining services from the U.S. providers. 

In addition, four of the 27 domain names, “,” “,” “,” and “,” were also seized pursuant to FARA.  FARA establishes a registration, reporting, and disclosure regime for agents of foreign principals (including foreign governments and their agencies) so that the U.S. government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and law. 

FARA requires, among other things, that persons subject to its requirements submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and the income earned from them.  Disclosure of the required information allows the federal government and the American people to evaluate the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.  Here, the four domains purported to be independent news outlets, but they were actually operated by or on behalf of the IRGC to target the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda in an attempt to covertly influence the American people to change United States policy concerning Iran and the Middle East. 

These domains targeted a United States audience without proper registration pursuant to FARA and without notifying the American public with a conspicuous label that the content of the domains was being published on behalf of foreign principals, the IRGC and the Government of Iran.

Visitors to the sites received the following message:

Notice of Seizure

This seizure was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Special Prosecutions Section and Asset Forfeiture Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, and the Counterespionage Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, are prosecuting the seizure. 

Military Commissions Media Invitation Announced for United States v. Majid Shoukat Khan, Pre-sentencing Hearing

 Nov. 4, 2020

The Department of Defense and the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) will host news media to cover the military commission pre-sentencing hearing scheduled for United States v. Majid Shoukat Khan, November 18, 2020.

The pre-sentencing hearing will be conducted in the National Capitol Region; however, media will view the proceedings via closed circuit television (CCTV) from Fort Meade, Maryland.

Media desiring to view this hearing from Fort Meade must send their requests via email to

All requests must be received no later than noon EDT, Wednesday, November 11, 2020. Multiple requesters from the same organization must register separately with the following information:

Email Subject: United States v. Majid Shoukat Khan, Nov. 18

  • Individual's full name
  • Individual's position
  • Sponsoring organization (individual’s media outlet)
  • Contact information (cell phone and email)

Prior to the hearing, OMC will provide additional information, including COVID-19 mitigation requirements, to all media accepted to attend.

Email with any questions. Military Commissions information, including the media ground rules, can be viewed at the OMC website