Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Friday, March 4, 2016, 3:27 PM

In the latest news out of North Korea, Kim Jong-un ordered his military to have its nuclear warheads deployed and ready to be launched at any moment. The New York Times writes that Kim’s orders arrive a day after the United Nations Security Council approved stricter sanctions against North Korea in a move designed to curb the country’s technology for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Reuters reports that Kim also instructed his military to be in “pre-emptive attack mode in the face of growing threats from its enemies.”

This week, War on the Rocks published an open letter from GOP national security experts on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, stating that they could not support a GOP ticket with Mr. Trump’s name on it. Facing criticism for his lack of a rational understanding of foreign policy and national security affairs, Trump announced yesterday that he has tapped Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as chairman of his national security advisory committee. Adding to the criticism is John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a statement issued yesterday, Senator McCain said, “I would also echo the many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues that have been raised by 65 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders.” The Senator was referring to the letter from War on the Rocks, which now includes 100 GOP defense and foreign policy leaders as signatories. The Washington Post has more on that letter here.

The United States Navy has deployed a small armada to the South China Sea after months of high tensions in the region. According to military officials, “the carrier John C. Stennia, two destroyers, two cruisers, and the 7th Fleet flagship have sailed into the disputed waters in recent days,” as the Navy Times writes. While U.S. ships enter the waters, China continues to accuse the United States of “militarizing” the South China Sea. TIME reports that today, the spokesperson for China’s National People’s Congress, Fu Ying, stated, “America made an important decision, which is deploying over 60% of its navy to the Asia-Pacific region… The U.S. is strengthening military deployments with its alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. If we’re talking about militarization, what’s this? Isn’t it militarization?” As the latest moves by Washington and Beijing continue to fuel tensions, Foreign Affairs provides thoughts on how to end the crisis here.

Osama bin Laden allegedly warned al Qaeda affiliates against prematurely declaring an Islamic caliphate and advised fighters to stay away from dsiplays of brutality, according to documents obtained during the raid that resulted in bin Laden’s death. The documents were released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence this week. The Times of India has more on the al Qaeda letters here.

Speaking of caliphates, the Islamic State is now using water as a weapon, as Deutsche Welle reports. Throughout the caliphate’s crusade in Iraq and Syria, the pseudo-state has taken control of six of the largest dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. According to Tobias von Lossow, a scholar at Berlin’s Institute for International Security Affairs, “on one hand, the Islamic State is damming the river to retain water and dry up certain regions, thereby cutting off the water supply to villages and communities. On the other hand, it has also flooded areas to drive away their inhabitants and to destroy their livelihoods.” Earlier this week, the U.S. Embassy Baghdad and the Iraqi government issued a warning to citizens of a possible collapse of the Mosul dam. Foreign Policy has an account of what could happen if the dam were to collapse.

Do you find yourself wondering how the Islamic State is faring these days? The Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk sat down with the New Yorker and reflected on the American-led campaign against the terrorist group. You can read the interview text here.

Regardless of the “cessation of hostilities” in the Syrian civil war, the Syrian opposition group said today that the Syrian government was mobilizing forces on many different fronts. Reuters reports that the U.S.-Russian unprecedented agreement, which came into effect last Saturday, has slowed the pace of the 5 year conflict, but did not stop President Bashar al Assad’s forces from halting attacks on strategic fronts.

In Israel, U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford and Air Force General Philip Breedlove held talks with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other security officials on plans to further cooperation in the face of regional instability. Defense News tells us that Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are set to continue the talks next week.

Over in Turkey, a car bomb and rocket attack by Kurdish militants killed two police officers and wounded 35 people in the southeastern province of Mardin today. Reuters reports that although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bomb blast was blamed on the PKK. Shortly after the explosion, a clash between militants and police forces erupted.

During a talk with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign affairs advisor, Sartaj Aziz, indicated that the Afghan Taliban’s leadership is living in Pakistan. The BBC tells us that for many, this disclosure has been an open secret for years, but one in which the Pakistani military has refrained from speaking about. Read the rest of what Aziz said here.

Ukraine recently suffered a massive cyberattack targeting its powergrid. Wired’s Kim Zetter delves inside the “cunning, unprecedented hack.”

In other cyber news, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental outpost. Carter attended the “Shark Tank” event, named after the ABC show featuring investors pitching ideas to funders, and acted as a “millionaire funder” himself. The five companies pitching to the Defense Secretary were Qadium, Saildrone, Quid, Bromium, and Hacking 4 Defense. Read the rest from Defense News here.

Keeping up the the Apple vs. FBI dispute? Apple has a collection of the amicus briefs being filed in their defense. Check the long list out here.

The FBI has stated it was hopeless in attempting to obtain information on one of the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhones. However, the Intercept flags that notably missing from the Bureau’s argument was any mention of the NSA. Couldn’t the NSA break open the phone? The Intercept has more.

In the latest Guantanamo news, a new poll indicates that nearly half of the American people oppose closing the detention facility. The Hill writes that “about 56 percent think the controversial detention facility should continue operating in a new CNN/ORC survey released Friday.

Parting Shot: Need something to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered. Tina Fey’s new war comedy, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, was released last night. Based on Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle, the movie chronicles a journalist going “from typing TV news in an office to a tour of duty as a journalist in war-ravaged Afghanistan." Comedy not your thing? Check out London Has Fallen, an action packed film featuring a U.S. president who must be saved from terrorists...again. Too lazy to travel to the movie theater? No worries, because House of Cards Season 4 was released today on Netflix. Happy binge-watching.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Peter Margulies provided us the good, the bad, and the ugly in regards to Privacy Shield’s prospects.

Matthew Weybrecht chronicled the February 23rd 9/11 military commissions session: The “Toughy” Edition.

Helen Klein summarized the February 24th 9/11 military commissions session, which she dubbed the “Bird Noises and Vibrations” edition.

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