War on Terrorism

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

South Asia Strategy Already Paying Off in Afghanistan, Official Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2017 — Government forces are developing momentum that will mean a very bad fighting season for the Taliban and other enemies of Afghanistan, Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch told Pentagon reporters today.

Bunch, the chief of the Resolute Support Mission’s future operations division, said the new South Asia strategy President Donald J. Trump announced in August and the new permissions that flow from that fundamentally changed the battlefield in favor of Afghan national security forces.

New Strategy

The new strategy is conditions based -- meaning the coalition will remain in place until conditions improve to the point that Afghan forces can maintain security on their own. This means the Taliban and other terror groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al-Qaida, the Haqqani group and others, cannot wait out the coalition. “As [Army] Gen. [John W.] Nicholson has stated, we will be here until the job is done,” Bunch said. Nicholson is the commander of the Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.

Afghan forces and the coalition have already changed tactics and this is having an effect on the Taliban, Bunch said. His shop developed a sustained air interdiction campaign aimed at eliminating the drugs that are at the heart of the Taliban. “Using air power, we have been able to target the Taliban in their so-called safe zones, command-and-control nodes, illicit revenue-generating ventures, and their logistical networks,” he said. “This new air interdiction campaign directly strengthens the Afghan defense forces and their continued battlefield successes.”

Bunch said the Taliban receives about $300 million to $400 million a year with about $200 million of it coming from the production of heroin.

“Since the beginning of this campaign, we have eliminated 25 narcotics processing labs from the Taliban inventory,” the general said. “This equates to almost $80 million of drug money eliminated from the kingpins' pockets, while denying over $16 million of direct revenue to their Taliban partners.”

The strikes come from coalition air forces, the Afghan air force and other coalition fires.

“Additionally, the Afghan National Interdiction Unit conducted two simultaneous raids of Taliban narcotics bazaars, as part of this integrated campaign.” This, he said, resulted in more than 2 tons of heroin and more than 5.5 tons of opium being seized.

The strikes caught Taliban leaders off guard, and that enabled the killing of Taliban “Red Squad” commander Mullah Shah Wali. Bunch called this a severe blow to the Taliban’s criminal network. “Again, the Taliban have never had to face a sustained targeting campaign focused on disrupting their illicit revenue activities,” he said.

The campaign continues and Bunch promised the Taliban will face a long winter “as we will continue to disrupt their revenue sources again and again and again.”

Change is coming to yet another aspect of the fight as Resolute Support advisers and trainers will begin working with Afghan kandaks -- a unit roughly comparable to battalions. “This change allows our forces to train, advise and assist Afghan units and leaders directly controlling the fight and accelerate the transition to increased capability and capacity,” Bunch said.

This aspect of the fight will kick into high gear when a new U.S. Army security force assistance brigade deploys early next year. This will “further enhance our advising of the Afghan defense forces going into the next fighting season,” he said.

Bleak Future for Taliban

The Taliban face a bleak future. “They have been completely unable to achieve any objectives from their declared Operation Mansouri during this fighting season,” Bunch said. “In addition to their unrealistic goals, they have been unable to take a provincial capital or even a single city. This year the Taliban and have fared poorly.”

The terror group was forced to stop combat operations and a return to high-profile attacks, kidnappings for ransom and assassinations, the general said. “These are heinous acts of violence that bring attention to their group and indiscriminately target the Afghan people, resulting in unimaginable suffering,” he said.

Now the momentum is clearly with the Afghan defense forces. “Our coalition is proving the enemy's theory of victory is wrong: They believed they would win because we lacked political will,” Bunch said. “They underestimated us, and they underestimated the will of the majority of the Afghan people. Eighty-seven percent of the Afghans believe the Taliban is bad for Afghanistan.”

Akayed Ullah Charged With Terrorism and Explosives Charges in Connection With the Detonation of a Bomb in New York City

Akayed Ullah, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, and a lawful permanent resident from Bangladesh, has been charged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in connection with Ullah’s attempted detonation of a bomb in a subway terminal near the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City on Dec. 11.  At least three people were injured as a result of the detonation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr., of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the NYPD made the announcement.  Ullah will be presented before the Honorable Katharine H. Parker.

"The Department of Justice is relentless in taking on the terrorist threat," said Attorney General Sessions.  "In my time back at the Department, nothing has impressed me more.  Since 9/11, the Department has convicted more than 500 criminals of terrorism-related offenses, and the FBI has open terrorism investigations in every state.  To make law enforcement’s job easier, however, Congress must finally fix our broken immigration system so that we admit to this country those who are likely to succeed, not violent criminals, gang members, terrorists, or their sympathizers. The fact that somebody won a lottery or is someone’s relative tells us nothing about their ability to assimilate.  Nevertheless, the Department of Justice will prosecute this case and every other case to the fullest extent of the law, and we will bring those who threaten America to justice."

“Yesterday, in the heart of rush hour, as thousands came into New York City through the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Akayed Ullah allegedly came with a hate-filled heart and an evil purpose: to murder as many innocent people as he could and blow himself up in the process, all in support of the vicious terrorist cause of ISIS,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kim.  “Although yesterday he allegedly stood in the tunnels under Port Authority plotting to kill, today he stands charged with federal crimes of terrorism.  Those alleged terrorists who target New York City do so because they feel threatened by the strength of our spirit, the height of our ambition and the breadth of our freedom.  They come seeking to sow hate, fear and terror.  But in New York City, they find instead strength, resilience and hope.  Like many before him, Akayed Ullah will also find another great American virtue: justice.  That justice will be tough, it will be fair and it will be swift.”

“Akayed Ullah let loose his plan to conduct a mass casualty attack, setting off a pipe bomb, strapped to his body, inside a New York City subway terminal, as we allege today,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney.  Like many others before him, we believe Ullah was inspired by a group that exploits technology in an effort to spread a violent ideology, effectively convincing sympathizers to commit terrorist acts worldwide.  The nature of this particular strain of the terrorism threat can often mean evaluating behavior that doesn’t mean anything until you combine it with other pieces of intelligence.  We rely heavily upon the community’s assistance to accomplish that task.”

“The act of terror committed in New York City yesterday accomplished nothing,” said Commissioner O’Neill.  “It has not changed our way of life. It was a cowardly act, fueled by a false sense of purpose — motivated by propaganda in the shadows of the internet.  What is clear is the resolve of New Yorkers to live in a free society, devoid of fear.  I want to commend the work of the NYPD-FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the prosecutors in the Southern District for bringing today’s charges.  Finally, our security requires every single member of the public’s help.  It requires their vigilance.  And it requires their care.  If you see something that doesn’t look right, contact law enforcement.”

As alleged in the Complaint:

Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS)

ISIS is a foreign terrorist organization based in the Middle East and Africa whose publicly stated purpose is the establishment of an Islamic state or caliphate based in the Middle East and Africa that encompasses all Muslims worldwide.  ISIS has pursued the objective of an Islamic state through, among other things, killing and deliberate targeting of civilians, mass executions, persecution of individuals and communities on the basis of their religion, nationality, or ethnicity, kidnapping of civilians, forced displacement of Shia communities and minority groups, killing and maiming of children, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.  ISIS has recruited thousands of foreign fighters from across the globe to assist with its efforts to expand its so-called caliphate in Iraq, Syria, and other locations in Africa and the Middle East, and has leveraged technology to spread its violent extremist ideology and for incitement to commit terrorist acts.  

The Dec. 11, Attack

On Dec. 11, at approximately 7:20 a.m., an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated inside a subway terminal (the Subway Terminal) in or around the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal located at West 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue in New York, New York (the December 11 Attack).  Shortly after the blast, members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department located an individual later identified as Akayed Ullah lying on the ground in the vicinity of the explosion. Surveillance footage captured Ullah walking through the Subway Terminal immediately prior to the explosion, and then falling to the ground after the explosion.

Ullah was subsequently taken into custody by law enforcement.  During the course of Ullah’s arrest, law enforcement officers located on his person and in the surrounding area what appeared to be the components of an exploded pipe bomb (the Pipe Bomb).  Specifically, law enforcement located, among other items, (i) a nine-volt battery inside Ullah’s pants pocket; (ii) wires connected to the battery and running underneath Ullah’s jacket;  (iii) two plastic zip ties underneath Ullah’s jacket; (iv) several fragments of a metal pipe, including pieces of a metal end cap, on the ground; (v) the remnants of what appeared to be a Christmas tree lightbulb attached to wires; and (vi) pieces of what appear to be plastic zip-ties, among other items. 

After Ullah was taken into custody, he was transferred to Bellevue Hospital, where he made statements to law enforcement officers after waiving his Miranda rights.  During that interview, Ullah stated, among other things, the following:

  • Ullah constructed the Pipe Bomb and carried out the Dec. 11 Attack. Ullah was inspired by ISIS to carry out the Dec. 11 Attack, and stated, among other things, “I did it for the Islamic State.”
  • Ullah constructed the Pipe Bomb at his residence in Brooklyn (the Residence);
  • The Pipe Bomb was comprised of a metal pipe, which Ullah filled with explosive material that he created.  Ullah used Christmas tree lights, wires, and a nine-volt battery as a trigger to detonate the Pipe Bomb.  Ullah filled the Pipe Bomb with metal screws, which he believed would cause maximum damage.  Ullah used zip ties to secure the Pipe Bomb to his body.
  • Ullah carried out the Dec. 11 Attack in part because of the United States Government’s policies in, among other places, the Middle East.  One of Ullah’s goals in carrying out the Dec. 11 Attack was to terrorize as many people as possible.  He chose to carry out the attack on a work day because he believed that there would be more people.
  • Ullah’s radicalization began in at least approximately 2014.  Ullah viewed pro-ISIS materials online, including a video instructing, in substance, that if supporters of ISIS were unable to travel overseas to join ISIS, they should carry out attacks in their homelands.  He began researching how to build IEDs on the Internet approximately one year age.
  • On the morning of Dec. 11, shortly before carrying out the attack, Ullah posted a statement on his Facebook account referring to the President of the U.S., stating, in substance, “Trump you failed to protect your nation.”  Ullah also posted a statement that he believed would be understood by members and supporters of ISIS to convey that Ullah carried out the attack in the name of ISIS.

Items Recovered from Ullah’s Residence

On Dec. 11, law enforcement agents conducted a search of the Residence pursuant to a judicially authorized search warrant.  Law enforcement agents recovered, among other items, (i) multiple pieces of metal pipes; (ii) pieces of wire and fragments of what appear to be Christmas tree lights; (iii) multiple screws consistent with the screws recovered at the scene of the December 11 Attack; and (iv) a passport in Ullah’s name with multiple handwritten notations, including:  “O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE.”

Three individuals were injured as a result of the Dec. 11 Attack.

 *                     *                      *

Ullah is charged in a Complaint with one count of provision of material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment; one count of using and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; one count of bombing and attempting to bomb a place of public use which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; one count of destruction of property by means of fire or explosives, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a potential maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment; and use of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, namely, the use and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction which carries a mandatory minimum consecutive sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment and potential maximum of life, all in connection with Ullah’s alleged detonation of an explosive device in New York City.

Mr. Sessions, Mr. Boente and Mr. Kim praised the outstanding investigative efforts of the FBI; the NYPD; the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Police Department.  Ullah’s arrest is the result of the close cooperative efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force – which consists of law enforcement officers of the FBI, NYPD, HSI and other agencies – and the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shawn G. Crowley, Rebekah Donaleski and George D. Turner of the Southern District of New York, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

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

Staff Sgt. David Thomas Brabander, 24, of Anchorage, Alaska, died Dec. 11 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, as a result of a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The incident is under investigation.       

For more information, media may contact the U.S. Army Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs Office at (907) 384-1542.