Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commenary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Thursday, June 23, 2016, 1:50 PM

Despite recent losses at the hands of internationally backed forces in Syria, Iraq and Libya, Islamic State militants have displayed stubborn resilience, delivering strong counteroffensives in all three regions, the Associated Press reports. The counteroffensives included an embarrassing setback to Syrian troops near Raqqa, attempts to ward off losses in Fallujah and renewed clashes in Sirte. Resistance in Libya proved most deadly yesterday with more than 60 people killed in an explosion at a depot near the capital and in fighting between pro-government militiamen and Islamic State militants.

In Manbij, Syrian Forces, backed by Arab allies, the U.S. and Kurdish militia, battled Islamic State militants for the first time since laying siege to the militant stronghold, Reuters reports. The campaign, which seeks to drive Islamic State forces from the Syrian-Turkish border, began late last month with the ultimate goal of cutting off the militants’ main access route to the outside world and setting the stage for an assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. In Raqqa, meanwhile, at least 18 civilians were killed yesterday in airstrikes from Russian and Syrian forces. The Associated Press has more.

Southeast Asian militants claiming to be fighting for the Islamic State are forming a regional faction in the Philippines, Reuters reports. In a video released by the militants, a Malaysian militant announced that Abu Abdullah, leader of the Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf and a member of the FBI’s most wanted list, has been chosen to head the regional Islamic State faction. The video marks a new strategy in Islamic State recruiting: encouraging supporters not to join the battle in the Middle East, but to stay home and launch local attacks from a unified, singular umbrella.

In the latest from Guantanamo, the Pentagon announced that a Yemeni man detained in Guantanamo for the last 14 years has been transferred to Montenegro. The transfer leaves 79 prisoners at Guantanamo and is part of the Obama administration's push to close the prison before leaving office.

Worried that the roughly 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan were becoming “forgotten,” the U.N. Refugee chair urged Pakistanis not to view Afghan refugees as terrorists and called on the international community for help. The call comes amid recent complaints that refugees were responsible for terrorism in Pakistan and should be deported.

Seven farmers were shot dead in Yemen by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters during a search for a leader of a pro-government militia. The New York Times says the violence comes amid faltering peace talks between Yemen’s government and the Houthis.

In a speech to the European Parliament, Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin criticized France’s peace conference initiative and lamented the unlikeliness of a peace deal, which he described as a consequence of divisions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, The Wall Street Journal reports. The speech comes during concerns that a forthcoming report--issued by a mediation group composed of Russia, the U.S., the E.U. and the U.N.--will use unusually harsh language to criticize both Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian incitement and violence.

Looking to fend off pressure in the face of the report, Prime Minister Netanyahu will fly to Rome for three days of intense diplomacy. The Guardian, meanwhile, details a senior Israeli minister’s ambitious plan to create a Gaza artificial island as a means to ease the economic blockade and restore Gaza’s connection to the outside world without jeopardizing Israel’s security.

Chaos overtook the House of Representatives on Wednesday night, with House Democrats leading a lengthy sit-in to protest Republicans’ refusal to consider gun control measures in the wake of the Orlando attack. The sit-in, which began at 11:30 AM and continued past 4 AM, comes after four similar amendments failed to pass in the Senate on Monday. The Daily Beast has details on the bedlam.

The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report on the declassification of a 2007 Department of Justice memo that uncovers a “surprising set of CIA rationales” for the Agency’s employment of aggressive tactics such as waterboarding. According to the memo, the CIA would only torture detainees to psychologically break them down to the point where they could no longer withhold information. The interrogations were not intended to get answers to specific questions. A second document revealed that the CIA believed itself to be legally barred from torturing other countries’ detainees.

China’s Foreign Ministry brushed off suggestions that China is largely isolated in its ongoing legal tussle with the Philippines; both Beijing and Manila are awaiting a verdict from an international arbitration tribunal at the Hague regarding China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. China has already threatened to boycott the proceedings and its Foreign Ministry claims more than 40 countries support its position. But analysis conducted separately by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies reveal only eight countries have lent support to Beijing’s claim. On Wednesday, one skeptical U.S. official told Reuters that it was not even clear the details and degree of those countries’ support for China.

Amid these developments, Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo held a cabinet meeting aboard a warship in the southern end of the South China Sea after China stated its “overlapping claim” over the area. Widodo also traveled to the nearby Natuna Islands with his chief security minister, foreign minister, and military chief. Indonesian officials told Reuters that Widodo’s visit is the strongest message that has been delivered to China over the disputed territory. During the meeting, Widodo also called on his military to step up patrols on the heels of a number of recent face-offs between Chinese and Indonesian vessels. The Journal has more.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un boasted that the Hermit Kingdom has the “sure capability” to strike U.S. targets in the Pacific. The claim comes after North Korea carried out an apparently successful test of its Musudan medium-range missile on Wednesday. U.S. and South Korean officials said the Musudan missile reached an altitude of roughly 670 miles. Alexis Lamek, the deputy U.N. representative from France, said all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council “expressed a strong concern as well as their opposition to the launches.” With a theoretical range of up to 2,500 miles, a fully functioning Musudan missile could reach South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Japan’s scientists began studying the suspected nose cone of a North Korean rocket that washed up on a Japanese beach on Thursday. Tokyo hopes to use this investigation as a means of gleaning more information about the extent of North Korea’s ballistic capabilities. Japan is worried about North Korea’s growing military prowess. Gen Nakatani, the Japanese Minister of Defense, said, “the threat to Japan is intensifying.” According to Reuters, the nose cone is suspected to come from a long-range, three-stage rocket Pyongyang fired on February 7 over Japan’s southwest island of Okinawa.

The Guardian reports that a deal on a bilateral ceasefire has essentially been completed between the Colombian government and FARC rebels. The truce would mark the last major step towards ending a seemingly interminable conflict that began in 1964. More than 220,000 people have died in the conflict. The United Nations will monitor the country to ensure both sides adhere to the terms of the deal which includes a pledge to focus on rural reforms and target the drug trade.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the European Union does not wish Turkey to become a member because the majority of the nation’s population is Muslim. Erdogan’s remarks came a day before Britain’s historic referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. Referring to ‘Brexit,’ Erdogan suggested the Turkish government should also offer voters a similar referendum: “We will go and ask the public whether we should continue negotiations with the EU.” Reuters has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Rishabh Bhandari lamented the slim probability that Congress will pass an ISIS-specific Authorization for Use of Military in the wake of the Orlando attack.

Benjamin Wittes dissected a New York Times editorial calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

Nora Ellingsen updated us on two cases in California where defendants have been charged with providing material support to the Islamic State.

Herb Lin offered his interpretation of a recent statement CIA Director John Brennan made in front of a Senate committee regarding the ability of foreign tech companies to produce encrypted products.

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