Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Thursday, February 11, 2016, 4:09 PM

Calling South Korea’s decision to suspend operations at the jointly run Kaesong industrial zone a “declaration of war,” North Korea has moved to kick out all South Koreans from the area. Reuters tells us that, for years, the industrial park has been considered a “symbol of cooperation” between the two Koreas. South Korea’s decision to cease cooperation comes after North Korea launched a satellite into space and also tested a nuclear bomb earlier this year.

The United States has also moved forward with a response to the hermit kingdom’s satellite launch and nuclear bomb test. On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved new sanctions against North Korea. The Hill reports that the newly passed legislation will “require the Obama administration to sanction anyone involved with Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, arms-related materials, luxury goods, human rights abuses, activities that negatively impact cybersecurity, and the use of coal or metals in any of the activities.”

However, one individual who may have been sanctioned recently met a far worse end. Reportedly, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had Ri Yong Gil, chief of the North Korean military’s general staff, executed for corruption and other charges, among them “forming a clique.” Ri had previously missed two key national events. He is the 70th North Korean official executed since Kim's inauguration. The Associated Press has more.

In Europe today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that he expects more than two dozen countries to contribute to the battle against the Islamic State, as the United States seeks to accelerate efforts in the fight. Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Carter is expected to lay out his plan to other NATO allies in an afternoon meeting and will also ask them to find ways to increase their contributions to the fight.

Even as Secretary Carter seeks more help from allies, Brett McGurk, the United States’ special envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, notes that we “still have a long ways to go.” Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, McGurk said that the U.S.-led military campaign is starting to see results, citing that airstrikes have reduced Islamic State oil output by 30 percent. However, he also noted that militants still control 80 percent of Syria’s energy resources.

McGurk also referenced Russia’s air campaign “against” Islamic State militants, saying that 70 percent of Russian airstrikes do not target the Islamic State at all, but instead hit opposition groups that are ready to fight against ISIS. Mr. McGurk stated, “What Russia’s doing is directly enabling ISIL.” Indeed, it would appear we have a long ways to go.

There is some good news out of Ramadi, however. Military Times reports that the Iraqi army has, at last, seized control of the entire city—six weeks after they initially declared victory. Even though the city has officially been retaken, U.S. airstrikes continue to hit small Islamic State targets that remain in the area. In the city, the Iraqi military continues to face “untold thousands” of booby-trapped homes and improvised explosive devices.

The Russians are also messing up the United States’ plans for peace talks to end the war in Syria. For months now, the United States has been adamant that there can be no military solution in Syria, only a peace accord between Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition forces. However, the New York Times suggests that Russia may be proving the United States wrong. On Wednesday, a senior U.S. official conceded that there may be a military solution, “just not our solution.” The Times has more.

Even so, Russia has proposed a ceasefire in Syria that would take effect on March 1. According to the AP, the United States believes that Moscow is using the three weeks before March to help the Syrian government crush opposition forces. The United States responded to Russia’s ceasefire request with demands for the fighting to stop immediately. Peace talks aimed at ending the five-year Syrian civil war are set to resume on February 25.

Rejecting demands to open its borders to tens of thousands of more Syrian refugees, Turkey angrily stated that if they were to do so, the move “would amount to complicity in the Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels out” of Aleppo. Turkey is hesitant to open borders to the refugees due to fears that hostile forces could overrun its territory. The Washington Post calls the chaos in Aleppo the latest reminder of “ways in which civilians have routinely become pawns in the Syrian conflict.” The Syrian conflict has displaced nearly 5.5 million refugees.

As refugee numbers continue to rise, allies of the United States are sharply criticizing the Obama administration’s Syria policy. The Times reports that outgoing French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called President Obama’s Syria plan “ambiguous” and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the United States’ inaction in the conflict has allowed the region to descend into a bloodbath. President Erdogan once again lashed out at the United States’ support of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which his country labels a terrorist group that is affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Speaking of the Kurdistan fighters, Defense One shares an on-the-ground chronicle of the guerilla fighters in Kurdistan that are battling the Islamic State. Some of the fighters believe that when the war ends, the Kurds could potentially have their own state. Check out the video here.

While the United States and its allies feud, U.S. allies are finding new ways to cooperate with one another. Defense News tells us that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are planning to hold joint military drills in what Turkish diplomats describe as efforts to “cooperate against common threats.” However, some analysts express caution that this partnership could ignite sectarian tensions, prompting a response from Iran.

In rhetoric that will be familiar to Americans, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has announced that he intends to “surround all of Israel with a fence” in order to protect the country from Palestinians and citizens from surrounding Arab states, whom he described as “wild beasts.” The barrier to protect Israel is projected to cost billions. The Guardian has more.

An Afghan policeman was shot by a NATO coalition soldier after attempting to carry out an insider attack. Insider attacks on the Afghan police force have plagued the agency for months. Although it remains unknown why the police officer shot at coalition forces, similar attacks, dubbed “green on blues,” have been attributed to the Taliban. The policeman died of his injuries sustained in the shootout. The Taliban has not claimed credit for the assault.

Speaking of the Taliban, the insurgent group in Afghanistan has a new and particularly brutal commander of its forces combating the Islamic State and other groups that deny Mullah Mansoor as “Leader of the Faithful.” The Daily Beast profiles the Taliban’s Pir Agha here.

Two female suicide bombers belonging to Boko Haram attacked the Dikwa refugee camp in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday. The Times tells us that three girls entered the refugee camp on Monday and were welcomed with shelter. Early Tuesday morning, two of the girls detonated bombs that they had concealed, killing 58 people and wounding an additional 78. The other suicide bomber recognized that her parents and siblings were at the same camp and refused to detonate her device. Instead, she turned herself over to the authorities, warning that more attacks were coming.

In Cameroon, another double suicide bombing killed at least 10 people and wounded 40 others. Today the governor of Cameroon’s Far North region, Midjiyawa Bakari, said that the bombers are suspected of coming from Nigeria. No further information was provided on the suicide attack, however the AP writes that Boko Haram has previously staged similar attacks in this region of Cameroon.

The Daily Beast reports that the Pentagon has grounded plans to develop a carrier-based bomber drone. The Department of Defense’s budget proposal for 2017 released yesterday shoots down the “on-again, off-again” program that aimed to develop a bomb-wielding robotic jet that could launch and land from a U.S. Naval aircraft carrier. The Beast has more on the now scrapped plan.

NATO and the European Union have reached an agreement to improve cooperation in cyber defense. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the new agreement an example of how both organizations are joining forces to combat modern forms of hybrid warfare. The AP shares that the agreement establishes a framework for emergency response teams to share information and best practices.

The Judicial Redress Act passed the House late Wednesday and now heads to the president’s desk for signature. The bill extends privacy protections to “the digital content” of citizens from European nations whose data flows into the United States. The Judicial Redress Act’s passage reflects a key step forward for the new “privacy shield” struck earlier this month between the United States and the European Union.

The FBI has requested $38.3 million to develop and acquire tools that will allow it to access encrypted data. FBI Director James Comey has publicly complained for more than a year that his agency does not have the necessary tools to access encrypted data during its investigations. Motherboard has more here on the budget request.

Buzzfeed tells us that the CIA corrected its own corrections to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Program—without telling anyone. Take a look at the “Note to Readers” on the report from the CIA here.

Chief Military Commissions Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins has submitted in a filing in a Guantanamo Bay military commission that the executive summary of the SSCI study is in fact accurate. The Washington Post tells us that Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made his declaration in a long motion filed in the military commission case against five suspects accused of carrying out the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The AP reports that the human rights group Amnesty International has requested that the Defense Department investigate claims by Mustafa al-Hawsawi’s lawyers that he is receiving inadequate medical treatment. In a letter, interim head of Amnesty International, Margaret Huang states that Hawsawi “is reported to be suffering chronic and potentially life-threatening illness, and he requires appropriate and ongoing medical assessment and treatment.” Yet a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, signaled that detainees receive the same treatment as soldiers.

And in a final bit of fun GTMO news, the Wall Street Journal reports that House Republicans have hired attorneys for legal advice in a possible lawsuit against the Obama administration if President Obama tries to transfer the remaining detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.

Parting Shot: Have you ever wondered what members of al Qaeda were thinking as they developed the the September 11th plot and watched it take form? The folks over at the Long War Journal provide a summary of AQAP’s former leader’s “untold story” with Osama bin Laden. Take a look.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith commented on the impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in Aleppo.

Laura Dean released the fifth dispatch of her series, Syria Displaced, highlighting refugee communities in the Aksaray and Fatih neighborhoods of Istanbul.

Andrew Keane Woods shared his thoughts on the US-UK Data Deal, arguing that headlines announcing the agreement should have been titled, “US and UK Take Important Step for Internet Privacy.”

Nicholas Weaver responded to Susan Hennessey’s piece on the NSA’s recently announced reorganization, saying that the main problem with the agency’s reorganization is one of trust and perception.

Ellen Scholl renewed her Hot Commodities roundup of the latest energy news, in which a new year begins with the same problems.

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