Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Monday, March 7, 2016, 5:25 PM

The United States carried out airstrikes in Somalia over the weekend, successfully killing more than 150 al Shabaab militants. The Guardian writes that the the strike targeted al Shabaab’s “Raso” training camp, a facility about 120 miles north of the capital of Mogadishu. According to the U.S. military, the United States had been monitoring the training camp for weeks before intelligence signified an “imminent threat” posed by the trainees, says the Guardian.

Speaking of drone strikes, the Guardian also reports that a senior White House aide has pledged to release how many terrorism suspects and civilian casualties have been killed in U.S. drone strikes since 2009. Lisa Monaco, the current counterterrorism advisor to President Obama, indicated that the “expanded transparency would bolster public support for drone strikes and other counterterrorism practices that she indicated would last for years to come.” This statement follows a court filing on Friday wherein lawyers with the Department of Justice said that the White House would release a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guidance on U.S. drone operations overseas.

Yesterday, an Islamic State operative detonated a truck bomb in bumper-to-bumper traffic at a security checkpoint south of Baghdad. Fox News tells us that this incident is the most deadly car bomb attack in Iraq this year. According to the Associated Press, the death toll has climbed to 61 people. Among the dead were 52 civilians, while the rest were Iraqi security forces and another 95 people were injured.

Elsewhere, political rivalries are said to be delaying an offensive to recaptures Mosul from the Islamic State. The Wall Street Journal writes that “despite local calls for an offensive, people involved in the discussions say differences among the various forces fighting Islamic State—a group that includes the U.S., Iran-backed militias and Kurdish fighters—have prevented any meaningful military planning for an assault on Mosul.”

Over in Afghanistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated that the Islamic State has been defeated in eastern parts of his country. During his speech at the opening of Afghanistan’s parliament, President Ghani stated that Afghan forces had “dislodged ISIS loyalists” from regions within the Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan. Additionally, President Ghani said that “Afghanistan will be their graveyard.”

Newsweek reports that hackers associated with the Islamic State have posted the names and addresses of U.S. officials online and are encouraging the terrorist group’s supporters to carry out lone wolf attacks. The Caliphate Cyber Army released personal data belonging to 55 New Jersey police officers last week after hacking into the New Jersey Transit Police’s website. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are working with NJ Transit Police on the matter.

On Tunisia’s border with Libya, Tunisian security forces killed 28 militants after they had launched a cross-border raid from neighboring Libya. The attack follows growing concern in Tunisia regarding the threat from Islamist fighters based in Libya being able to cross the border. According to the BBC, after the initial raid at the border, a subsequent attack occurred on an army base and a police station in Ben Guerdane, a town in eastern Tunisia. Nine security force personnel and seven civilians were killed during the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

A rocket and mortar barrage killed 13 civilians and wounded 40 more people in Aleppo on Sunday. The Associated Press writes that Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, reported that the attack by “terrorists” occurred in the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, which has been subjected to insurgent shelling for days despite the “cessation of hostilities” implemented last week.

Speaking of the cessation of hostilities, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that both Iran and Turkey support the current Syrian cessation of fighting and the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity. President Rouhani’s remarks come after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s two day visit to the Islamic Republic, despite both countries’ opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. However, Prime Minister Davutoglu acknowledged both countries’ opposing sides and said that cooperation was necessary to end the bloodshed in the five year conflict.

Turkey has also launched a “broad crackdown” on militants across its territory in an effort to amp up its counterterrorism measures after a series of terrorist attacks last year. Read the rest of Turkey’s new measures from the Washington Post.

Vice President Biden began his Middle East tour today traveling to the Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi. The Vice President vowed that the United States would destroy and “squeeze the heart” of the Islamic State while he thanked both U.S. and Emirati service members at the base. Biden will also travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan during his visit.

The Egyptian government said that members of the Muslim Brotherhood carried out the bombing that killed Egypt’s top prosecutor last summer in Cairo. The government also linked the attack to Hamas, stating that the Palestinian militant group trained members of the Muslim Brotherhood for the assassination. The New York Times has more.

The Taliban has claimed that they will not participate in any international peace talks. The talks, planned by officials from the United States, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, were initially set to take place this month in Pakistan. However, the Taliban have cited an increase in American airstrikes and Afghan government military operations as the primary reasons for withdrawing from the peace process. The insurgents issued a statement on their websites denying that any Taliban representative would attend the peace talks.

A Pakistani Taliban-affiliated group, known as Jamat-ul-Ahrar, attacked a district court building in northwest Pakistan today. According to the militants, the attack was revenge for the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri who was executed in Pakistan last week for his killing of a provincial governor in 2011. Ten people including two police officers were killed when the bomber detonated his explosives after entering the court building.

North Korea has threatened to launch nuclear attacks against the United States and its military bases in Northeast Asia as the United States and South Korea begin their yearly large-scale joint military exercises. The New York Times tells us that Pyongyang has made similar threats before; however, tensions are currently heightened due to North Korea’s recent nuclear test earlier this year. Yet, the threats have not stopped the United States and South Korea from kicking off their joint military drills. The Washington Post reports that these drills included “rehearsals of surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities and ‘decapitation raids’ by special forces targeting the North’s leadership.”

Over in China, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to curb any moves by Taiwan toward formal independence. The Associated Press shares that during an address to the annual meeting of China’s parliament, Xi said that China would not “budge in its insistence that Taiwan recognize it is part of China regardless of political changes on the island of 23 million.” The address was President Xi Jinping’s first public remarks since Taiwan elected a president and legislature from the independence-leaning party earlier this year.

The Pentagon is discussing plans to permanently move one or more Army brigade combat teams back to Europe. According to the Military Times, if the proposed plan is approved, “the move would involve thousands of troops and mark the first time in decades that U.S. European Command has increased its footprint on the continent.” The discussions come as a top commander has signaled an urgent need to ramp up defenses against the Russians.

NATO announced that it would expand its maritime efforts to stop smugglers from transporting migrants across the Aegean Sea. The New York Times tells us that the announcement came a day before a European conference designed to persuade Turkey to increase its efforts to halt the uncontrolled flow of migrants across the sea. The Guardian reports that the European leaders will call on Turkey to do more to stop the refugees from traveling across the Aegean and into Greece. Every day, between 1,000 to 2,000 people are landing on Greek shores, while more than 35,000 others are trapped in Turkey due to the country’s border closures.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter noted that the U.S. National Guard’s cyber unit may join the fight against the Islamic State. Last Friday, Secretary Carter visited the National Guard’s Cyber Unit at its base in northwestern Washington state. According to Voice of America, the National Guard’s Cyber Unit was formed back in the 1990s and primarily focused on defensive cybersecurity efforts. The unit is comprised of a 101-person team of part-time soldiers of whom hold full-time jobs in the tech industry.

Reuters reports that Apple customers were targeted by hackers over the weekend in a campaign targeting Macintosh computers using “a pernicious type of software known as ransomware.” According to Reuters, ransomware is one of the largest growing types of cyber threats and can encrypt data on infected machines. Once encrypted, ransomware then asks users to pay ransoms in digital currencies in order to access their data. Read the rest of from Reuters.

Speaking of Apple, the tech company’s software engineer, Craig Federighi, says that the Apple vs. FBI fight has the potential to “turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies.” You can read Mr. Federighi’s full opinion piece in the Washington Post, here.

The New York Times provides coverage of how the Republicans, and even President Obama, went astray on Guantanamo. Read the rest on these “years of politicized stalemates” from the Times here.

According to former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations, senior American officials held confidential talks with Iran about Iraq’s future before the United States invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein’s government. In his new book, The Envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad also points out that the United States secured a promise from Iran that the Iranian military would not attack U.S. warplanes that entered Iranian airspace. The New York Times writes that more than a decade after the talks took place, Mr. Khalilzad considers the failure to keep an open channel to Iran one of the greatest “what-ifs” of the Iraq war.

On Friday, Donald Trump clarified that he would not order the U.S. military to break international laws following intense criticism of the candidate's policies on torture and killing terrorists’ family members. Military and legal experts cited that Mr. Trump’s stances and subsequent policies on these issues would certainly violate the Geneva Conventions. However, the GOP frontrunner’s reversal did not stop him from claiming that current laws banning waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques puts the United States at a strategic disadvantage against the Islamic State.

On the Democratic side of the 2016 election, last night former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders debated over race, education, gun control, and infrasturure repair. MSNBC noticed that national security was not mentioned at all during the two hour long debate.

Parting Shot: Cyborgs are soon to be a reality. CNN shares that the U.S. military is spending millions of dollars on an advanced implant that would allow the human brain to communicate directly with computers. The Pentagon’s research arm hopes that the implant would benefit people with aural and visual disabilities, such as veterans injured in combat. Read the rest here.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Alex shared The Week That Was, highlighting everything Lawfare covered last week.

Ben issued the latest Lawfare Podcast featuring the Wilson Center’s panel on the Apple vs. FBI controversy.

Carrie Cordero warmly welcomed Commander Scott Kelly back home from his year long mission in outer space.

Jordan Tama outlined why strategic planning matters to national security.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.