King Abdullah, the leader of Saudi Arabia, has died at 90, the New York Times reports. He assumed power in 1995 when his predecessor suffered a stroke, and then ascended to the throne in 2005. World leaders have eulogized the king as a careful reformer who maintained his country’s stability throughout the Arab Spring. His death sets up a complex transition of power within in the House of Saud as the critical US ally faces a multitude of challenges, including the specter of Islamic extremism and falling oil prices. The Washington Post explains the process, noting that the King’s 79-year-old brother, Prince Salman, will take power.
A less peaceful transition has occurred in Yemen: Days after his presidential palace was seized by Houthi rebels, the Yemeni president has resigned. The BBC notes the move came after the rebels appeared to renege on a peace deal mere hours after agreeing to it. In response to the ongoing upheaval, Reuters tells us, the US has removed more staff from its embassy, though officials insist that the embassy will remain open. Craig Whitlock covers how the chaos may threaten US counterterrorism efforts as the man who personally approved US drone strikes recedes from the scene. The Washington Post Editorial Board argues that the collapse of the Yemeni government, along with the Paris attacks allegedly orchestrated by the al Qaeda branch operating in Yemen, show the complete failure of President Barack Obama’s ‘partners’ strategy in counterterrorism.
A day after Iraqi and Kurdish forces mounted assaults around the Iraqi city of Mosul, a US general announced plans for a joint Iraqi-US offensive to retake the city this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal. General Lloyd Austin, the head of US Central Command, described the emerging contours of the Mosul operation, which will combine US-trained Sunni forces with Kurdish peshmerga. At the same time, US Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones claimed that the US-led coalition had killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters since June – a claim that US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel later disputed, noting that was no measure of success in the conflict.
In London, the foreign ministers of 21 countries met yesterday to discuss strategy in addressing ISIS. The Journal reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking after the meeting, hailed significant progress in the coalition’s campaign against the terrorist group. At the same gathering, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked Western countries to allow deferred payment for weapons; the steep fall in oil prices has been disastrous for the oil-based Iraqi economy, making it difficult for the country to pay for the weapons it needs. The New York Times has more.
Reuters notes that the deadline for the ransom of two Japanese hostages imposed by their ISIS captors has passed with no indication of what has happened to the two men. Japan continued to fight for their release, but would not say if it would pay the $200 million ransom demanded by the group. The Daily Beast reveals that the current hostage crisis may have been averted, had the Japanese government not “interfered” in an attempt last year to negotiate for the release of the first hostage. A later, independent attempt resulted in the capture of the second hostage.
Rumors of an emerging ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan are still just rumors, the Christian Science Monitor explains. While there have been scattered reports of ISIS-affiliated Afghanis building followings in the country, these appear to mostly stem from rifts within militant groups, rather than from widespread acceptance of ISIS’s ideology and strategy.
In response to the news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled a visit to Congress without consulting the White House, neither President Obama nor Secretary Kerry will meet with the prime minister, Al-Monitor reports. The official justification for the move is that Prime Minister Netanyahu will face elections soon after his visit, though officials also intimated that the rejection is also retaliation for the prime minister’s secrecy in planning the congressional address.
In a letter posted on the website of a Hamas-run news channel, Mohammed Deif, Hamas’s military leader, exhorted Hezbollah to join with the group in fighting Israel. While the two groups support opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, the letter asserts that “The true enemy … is the Zionist enemy.” Reuters has more.
Days after Boko Haram rebels massacred thousands in northeastern Nigeria, the Nigerian national security adviser has said the country does not need UN assistance and that it and its neighbors are “in good shape” to fight the insurgents of Boko Haram, the BBC reports. The adviser claimed that nearly half of the Nigerian army was deployed to fight the group. However, the purported leader of Boko Haram said that his group had captured enough weapons in Baga, the scene of the massacre earlier this month, to crush the government’s forces.
The Nigerian national security adviser also called for a delay in next month’s national elections. The Financial Times notes that out of 68.8 million registered voters, 30 million have not yet received the requisite voting cards.
The Associated Press notes that, in Ukraine, separatist rebels flush with new Russian military machinery seem to be preparing for a major offensive on government forces. NATO officials have stated that previous flows of Russian heavy weapons have been followed by rebel advances. Additionally, the leader of the separatists has rejected any further peace talks and said that the rebels will continue to fight for more land.
The Paris terrorist attacks have exposed a split within German leaders over mass data collection, Bloomberg writes. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and members of her cabinet have pushed for both national and EU laws enabling law enforcement to search the social networks of citizens for while looking for criminal or terrorist activity. However, the German envoy to the EU on digital affairs, who is affiliated with the ruling coalition’s junior party, has publicly denounced the mass collection of online data as a counterterrorism tool.
US and Cuban diplomats met yesterday to discuss the process of normalizing relations between the long-estranged neighbors, the Associated Press reports. Roberta Jacobson, the US State Department’s main diplomat for Latin America, led the US delegation; she stated that progress had been made, though the sides still had serious differences to address.
The Daily Beast breaks the news that the CIA’s top spy will step down from his post and retire from the agency. The retirement of the head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service comes as the CIA’s director, John Brennan, considers restructuring the entire agency.
Bloomberg shares that Wesam El-Hanafi, a former Lehman Brothers employee, has received a 15-year sentence for aiding al Qaeda. El-Hanafi admitted to scouting the New York Stock Exchange for al Qaeda as it planned a terrorist attack there. El-Hanafi’s co-conspirator was previously sentenced to 18 years.
Lt. Col. Judge Advocate General Jay Morse explains General Raymond Odinero’s Regionally Aligned Forces concept in Small Wars Journal.
Parting Shot: If you’re serving alphabet soup this winter, remember: people like the CIA and NSA, but not the IRS.
ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare
Cody and Sebastian explored the enclaves that dot the border between India and Bangladesh, and looked at the legal, economic, and development issues surrounding them in this week’s Throwback Thursday piece.
Ben responded to the recent release of Ali Saleh Al-Marri, noting, among other things, that Al-Marri’s case illustrates the difficult balance between short-term intelligence and long-term detention interests.
Yishai Schwartz posited that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech before Congress in March, while perhaps politically shrewd in the short-term, actually harms Israeli interests in the long-term.
Ben told us that Mexican authorities found a drone heading for the US border with six pounds of methamphetamines in tow.
Wells noted that the Obama administration has recognized that security conditions preclude the transfer of GTMO detainees to Yemen—which seems to make Senator Kelly Ayotte’s (R-NH) own bill banning transfers to Yemen unnecessary. Apparently lost in this shuffle of bans, Wells continues, is the fact that all of one GTMO detainee has been transferred to Yemen since 2009.
Ben gave us this week’s Rational Security podcast (Episode #3), which eschewed the banalities of State of the Union rehashes in favor of a searching discussion of the United Arab Emirates.
Thursday also brought us the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast (Episode #50), in which Stewart Baker talks with David Sanger, the New York Times reporter who broke the Stuxnet story.
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