In an address at a White House summit on countering violent extremism yesterday, President Barack Obama asserted that defeating ISIS will require a stable Syria and a political transition in the country, the Wall Street Journal reports. If that is true, it seems we are a long way from defeating ISIS, as fighting continues to rage throughout Syria. Rebels claimed to have captured over 30 pro-government soldiers yesterday near Aleppo as both sides scramble to maximize their controlled territory ahead of a potential ceasefire agreement, according to the Washington Post. State-run Syrian TV has suggested that the rebel forces have been aided in their fight as fresh militants flow in from Turkey.
Whether that’s true or not, moderate Syrian rebels will soon be re-entering Syria to fight ISIS. Reuters reveals that Turkey and the United States have agreed to a deal to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels on Turkish land beginning next month. For their part, Syrian citizens recently surveyed want a solution to the civil war that maintains the territorial integrity of the country.The Post covers the poll.
In a surprise announcement, the Wall Street Journal reports that, according to a senior military official, the plan to retake Mosul from ISIS will require 25,000 Iraqi soldiers and will begin in April or May. The Pentagon does not usually reveal plans for individual operations in a war. When pressed as to why Central Command would reveal this unusual level of detail, an official said that the United States wants to demonstrate the significance of the Mosul operation and that the Iraqis are “absolutely committed to this.” Perhaps that is true, but other analysts and officials have noted that telegraphing the battle that is coming to Mosul may have two other impacts: It may weaken the resolve of ISIS fighters as they understand the odds they face and it may persuade residents of Mosul to take up arms and aid the Iraqi force.
As substantial pushback against ISIS in Iraq and Syria grows, cracks are appearing within the group’s ranks.The Associated Press reports that, bogged down and at times forced onto the defensive, skirmishes have broken out among its foreign fighters, leaving some commanders dead. An activist described the group’s internal bickering, saying, “Daesh tries to portray itself as one thing, but beneath the surface there’s a lot of dirt.”
On the flip side, the coalition campaign against ISIS continues to create uncomfortable bedfellows. Earlier, the Post shared a list of some of these uneasy alliances. Now Radio Free Europe reveals that, according to one Russian official, the United States and Russia may soon start to share intelligence on the ISIS threat.
ISIS affiliated extremists conducted three suicide car bombings in eastern Libya today, killing at least 35 people. The Post reports that the extremist group that claimed responsibility for the blasts cited recent Egyptian airstrikes in Libya as justification. According to residents of another central Libyan city, Sirte, other ISIS affiliated militants seized a university just days after capturing the city’s administrative hub, Reuters adds.
The Libyan crisis continues to divide several countries in the Middle East. After Qatar refused to support Egypt’s unilateral strikes, Egypt accused it of supporting terrorism, leading Qatar to recall its ambassador. Now, the Times reveals, the Gulf Cooperation Council, usually supportive of the Egyptian regime, has come out in support of Qatar.
As fighting continues to intensify, more migrants are flee Libya across the Mediterranean, hundreds of whom have drowned on the way. In response, the European Commission has committed to extending the joint search-and-rescue force that patrols Italy’s coast. However, some have suggested that the rescue teams encourage migrants to attempt risky sea passages because they believe the Italians will save them. The Wall Street Journal has more.
As Europe continues to confront the threat of domestic terrorism, the open borders that allow people and goods to easily cross from country to country are presenting a security liability. The Post explains that, despite stringent gun regulations throughout Europe, obtaining an illegal firearm, such as the one used in Sunday’s attack in Denmark, is relatively easy.
According to a U.N. mediator, several Yemeni political factions have agreed to form a transitional council to keep the country from sliding further toward a civil war, the Wall Street Journal reports. The council will include underrepresented minorities and work with the current house of representatives to legislate the political transition. At the same time, however, the Houthi rebels that pushed the previous president from power and seized control of northern Yemen are employing increasingly brutal tactics against peaceful protesters. The Post reveals that the rebels have employed kidnappings and beatings to quell the protests that erupted after their coup in January.
In the Somali capital of Mogadishu today, Al Shabaab militants detonated a car bomb outside a hotel where national politicians had gathered, Reuters reports. Militants then stormed the hotel and opened fire, killing 10 people and wounding several others.
Afghan officials yesterday confirmed that there will be negotiations with the Afghan Taliban in the coming weeks, the Wall Street Journal notes. Reuters adds that Afghanistan recently captured several Muslim Uighur militants from China and handed them over to the Chinese in an attempt to convince China to pressure Pakistan to facilitate the talks. China fears that militants from its restive Xinjiang province will receive militant training in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; consequently, it has attempted to persuade Pakistan that turning a blind eye to the Taliban is not in its interests.
As Pakistan signals openness to the peace process in Afghanistan, it faces a difficult, deadly war of its own. The Post explains that hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been killed in its offensive against militants in North Waziristan, and officials fear that these militant groups are becoming smaller, more dispersed, and more deadly.
A Ukrainian military spokesman claimed that Russian-backed separatists have fired on Ukrainian forces almost 50 times in the last 24 hours, the AP reports, and also accused Russia of sending more equipment, including tanks, into eastern Ukraine. The attacks come after Ukrainian forces were pushed out of the key town of Debaltseve earlier this week. Soldiers are now streaming into Artemivsk, a town that rebels abandoned earlier this year; residents of the town are frightened that fighting will follow the troops, shaking the relative security of this small town. The Wall Street Journal explains.
The retreat from Debaltseve leaves Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko with few options, Reuters notes. Outgunned by separatists bolstered by Russian personnel, expertise, and machinery, and pressured by European governments to stick to a failed peace plan, President Poroshenko’s outlook appears grim. His proposal for a U.N. peacekeeping force to monitor the ceasefire that was supposed to take effect on Sunday was quickly scuttled by Russia as the rebels opened a new assault on Mariupol, according to the Post.
A debate has emerged in central Europe over a plan to build a nuclear power plant using Russian technology. While its proponents say it will help reduce carbon emissions while giving the region more control over its energy production, critics say it will simply pull the region back into Russia’s sphere of influence. The Wall Street Journal has more.
Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers will continue in Geneva this Sunday, Reuters reveals. But, as the deadline for an agreement looms, the Times notes that Iran is still refusing to answer some of the questions posed by IAEA inspectors.
Yesterday, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers told an audience at a Canadian security conference that the NSA was able to identify North Korea as the source of the Sony hack by analyzing the software used in the attack, Reuters reports. The comments come as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to introduce a cybersecurity bill next week, according to The Hill. The bill will aim to enable the private and public sectors to share information about cyber threats.
One such threat continues to dog the U.S. State Department three months after it was discovered. The Wall Street Journal reveals that the hackers who breached the department’s unclassified email system are still inside the system, despite numerous attempts to oust them.
According to a report by the Intercept based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ hacked into the world’s largest manufacturer of SIM cards to obtain encryption keys meant to shield cell phone communications from surveillance. The manufacturer, Gemalto, has clients including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The Post covers the report.
Jury deliberations in the trial of Khaled al-Fawwaz, the Saudi man accused of playing a role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, will begin next week, the Wall Street Journal notes. This is the third high-profile terrorism case tried in a Manhattan federal court over the past year.
Closing arguments were heard in another terror case in New York City on Thursday, Courthouse News reports. The case pits the families of the victims in the 2002 Jerusalem bombings against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. The plaintiffs claim that the PLO and PA bear responsibility for the attacks. If the jurors agree, the organizations would owe $350 million to ten families of the victims.
Parting Shot: How that emoji can get you arrested on charges of making a terroristic threat. ;)
ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare
Jack followed up Ben’s earlier piece on Times reporter James Risen’s tirade against Eric Holder with several additional points. Ben and Jack then responded to a statement by the Times’s Public Editor defending Risen.
Carrie Cordero discussed the interplay between European privacy and economic concerns relating to U.S. surveillance practices. And Wells posted a document just released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence describing the status of the guidelines governing several agencies’ collection, retention, and dissemination of information regarding U.S. persons.
Paul Rosenzweig brought us the newest edition of “Bits and Bytes,” and Yishai Schwartz and Jennifer Williams gave us this week’s “Middle East Ticker.”
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