Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Monday, March 28, 2016, 4:07 PM

At least 72 people were killed, including many children, and hundreds more were injured in Lahore, Pakistan on Sunday when a suicide bomber attacked a park targeting Christians celebrating Easter. According to Pakistani police, Sunday’s blast was near a play area for children. Haider Ashraf, deputy inspector general of police in Lahore stated that “this was a soft target, innocent people, women and children were hit. It’s like we’re in a state of war.” Jamaat ul Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed credit for Sunday’s assault.

Earlier today, Pakistani officials confirmed that the country will launch a paramilitary crackdown on the militants in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Reuters reports that the “decision had been made to launch a full-scale paramilitary Rangers operation, giving [security and government officials] powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in the same way as they have been in the southern city of Karachi for more than two years.” The decision has not yet been publically announced, but it represents the civilian government’s decision to provide the military with special powers to combat Islamist militants. Reuters also notes that yesterday’s suicide bombing was the deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of 130 school children in Peshawar.

Syrian government forces have recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra which has been occupied and ravaged by the Islamic State for almost a year. The New York Times writes that the recaptured city represents a major strategic prize for Syrian President Bashar al Assad and also provides him with a rare measure of international peace. The Times also tells us that “among the dozens of cities and towns captured by the Islamic State, Palmyra had provoked an unusually far-reaching outcry. The extremist group imposed its familiar, merciless strictures on residents, including summary executions, and it destroyed some of the city’s spectacular ruins, the remains of a civilization that 2,000 years ago was a crossroads among Roman, Persian, and local cultures.” The Islamic State’s defeat in Palmyra further underscores the terrorist group’s ability to retain territory in Syria and Iraq.

An Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least 41 people and injured 105 others who had gathered to watch a soccer game in a stadium south of Baghdad on Friday. The Washington Post reports that the attack occurred in the Babil province town of Iskandariyah and came just hours after the United States announced the death of a senior Islamic State commander. The suicide attacker detonated his explosives as trophies were being awarded to the teams after the soccer tournament. The Islamic State claimed credit via their own Amaq News Agency and stated that the attack targeted a gathering of Shiite militias, but failed to mention that the blast took place at a soccer outing.

Meanwhile, the United States is expected to send more troops to Iraq in the next coming weeks. On Friday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford said that military officials will recommend that President Obama increase the force already in Iraq with extra troops “to help Iraq forces as they accelerate their push into Islamic State strongholds."

The death toll for the Brussels terrorist attacks has now risen to 35. The Associated Press reports that four people wounded in the suicide bombings have died in the hospital. Additionally, two more U.S. citizens are confirmed to be among the dead in Belgium, bringing the death toll for Americans to four. A former Belgian ambassador to the United States during the Clinton administration, Andre Adam, was also killed in the Islamic State’s assault on Brussels. Ambassador Adam served during President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Belgium continues its hunt for more information about the attack that rocked its capital last week. Reuters reports that, earlier today, Belgian police forces issued a new appeal for more information about a man caught on surveillance video at the Brussels airport with the two other suspected suicide bombers. However, Reuters writes that “it was not clear whether the appeal meant the man, thought to have had a bomb with him, was on the run or that police were simply trying to bolster their case that a suspect they have arrested and charged with ‘terrorist murder’ is the man in the footage.” Half a dozen people have been charged in Belgium following the attacks.

As Belgian security officials continue to investigate last Tuesday’s attacks, the “pan-European effort to crack the Islamic State network” is yielding an unsettling discovery—a network of terrorist cells across the continent. The Wall Street Journal tells us that “European authorities said they suspected that several men detained in a number of countries over the Easter weekend all had connections to perpetrators of the deadly attacks” in Paris and Brussels. The Journal has more.

As Belgium continues to round up those suspected of having ties to the attacks, they may not want to place them in their prisons. The Washington Post provides a piece on how Belgian prisons have become a breeding ground for Islamic extremism. Check that story out here.

U.S. air raids killed 14 suspected al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen yesterday. Reuters characterizes the air raids as “one of the largest U.S.-led assaults on the group since a civil war broke out a year ago.” Additionally, Reuters tells us that the strikes took place amid fresh signs of easing tensions between the Iran-allied Houthis and Saudi-led forces after a year of fighting that has claimed the lives of more than 6,200 people. The militants belonged to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has taken advantage of Yemen’s civil war to pit Houthis against forces loyal to exiled President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people protested in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa on the anniversary of the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalitions entrance into Yemen’s civil war. The Washington Post tells us that as coalition jets roared over the city, “some demonstrators carried the Yemeni flag and chanted ‘End the seige!’ while others vowed to ‘fight the Saudi aggression and its agents until their last man.’”

Yet, amid the protests and violence, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have engaged in a prisoner swap as part of a scheduled cease-fire. The Associated Press reports that Saudi Arabia has traded 109 Yemeni prisoners in exchange for 9 Saudis held captive in Yemen. Furthermore, the AP writes that “the exchange comes as the Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni rebels have agreed to a cease-fire at midnight on April 10 ahead of peace talks starting April 18 in Kuwait.”

National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers paid a secret visit to Israel last week to discuss the United States and Israel’s cooperation in cyber defense. According to the Times of Israel, Director Rogers met with commanders of the IDF’s famed 8200 intelligence unit and also met with other senior Israeli intelligence officials to discuss counter attacks attributed to Iran and Hezbollah.

Over in Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents fired three rockets at the country’s parliament building. NBC News tells us that no one was injured in the attack and there was only minor damage from the rockets. NBC News has more on the rocket attack here.

Russia plans to increase its military with a buildup of forces from its western border with Europe to some Pacific islands. The Associated Press reports that while announcing the new military plan, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that “the deployment of NATO’s forces near Russia’s borders has caused concern.” As such, the AP tells us that Russia’s military forces on its western border will receive 1,100 new weapons systems, including warplanes, helicopters, tanks, and other armoured vehicles. In the east, the military will deploy a state-of-the-art anti-ship missile system and more new drones.

Over the weekend, North Korea released a new propaganda video detailing a nuclear destruction of Washington, D.C.. The video also warns “American imperialists” not to provoke the North. The New York Times features the video here.

Reuters reports that Japan has opened a new radar station in the East China Sea, “providing it a permanent intelligence gathering post close to Taiwan and a group of islands disputed by Japan and China.” China has issued an angry response to Japan’s new radar system, saying that the “international community needed to be on high alert to Japan’s military expansion.”

The Guardian shares that the Nigerian government is sending parents from the northeastern community of Chibok to Cameroon to verify whether a suspected female suicide bomber is one of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. According to local government and military sources, two girls carrying explosives were arrested in northern Cameroon and one of them claimed to be a missing girl from Chibok. If confirmed to be one of the missing schoolgirls, the young girl could assist government forces in locating the others. The Guardian has more.

Elsewhere in Africa, 2 suspects in the Ivory Coast beach assault earlier this month were arrested in Mali. The suspects caught were identified as one of the drivers who brought the men to Ivory Coast for the attack and the other was identified as an accomplice. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed credit for the Ivory Coast attack that killed at least 19 people earlier this month.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that one of the Iranians charged with hacking a New York dam’s computer system allegedly used a readily available Google search process to identify the dam’s vulnerabilities. The Journal writes that “the process, known as ‘Google dorking,’ isn’t as simple as an ordinary online search. Yet anyone with a computer and Internet access can perform it with a few special techniques. Federal authorities say it is increasingly used by hackers to identify computer vulnerabilities throughout the United States.” The technique has been around for nearly 10 years and is neither illegal nor always malicious and is primarily used by “white hat hackers.”

In other cyber news, the U.S. Marines Corps is forming a new unit of cyberwarriors. The Marine Corps Cyberspace Warfare Group was activated last Friday during a ceremony at Fort Meade. Stars and Stripes shares that the new unit’s mission is “to man, train, and equip Marine cyberspace mission teams to perform both defensive and offensive operations in support of U.S. Cyber Command and Marine Forces Cyberspace Command.” However, the unit will not be fully functional until next year.

Even with President Obama’s proposed plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, some in the military prison are still in limbo and are waiting for their first review board. The Miami Herald features a piece on these detainees still stuck in limbo in Cuba.

Parting Shot: Are you disappointed that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is receiving terrible (it's not that bad, I promise you) reviews? Well, we’ve got a movie that Lawfare reader’s will definitely enjoy! Eye in the Sky chronicles a military commander overseeing an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya who has to weigh the implications of modern warfare. Our own Paul Rosenzweig tells us that you should run, not walk, to the nearest movie theatre to see it. Watch the trailer here.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith featured his piece in TIME, questioning whether the U.S. indictments for Iranian cyberattacks are hypocritical.

Alex shared The Week That Was, summing up all of Lawfare’s activity from last week.

Paul Rosenzweig provided a testable proposition to the Apple vulnerability disclosure question.

Cody released the latest Lawfare Podcast featuring an interview with Amy Zegart and Stephen Krasner on their newly released national security strategy called Pragmatic Engagements Amidst Global Uncertainty: Three Major Challenges.

In Sunday’s Foreign Policy Essay, Charlie Winter analyzed the Islamic State’s offline propaganda strategy.

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