Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena
Wednesday, May 4, 2016, 5:14 PM

Petty Officer First Class Charles Keating IV was identified by a family member as the Navy SEAL who was killed during an Islamic State assault in Iraq. Speaking on Keating's death, the White House reaffirmed that U.S. personnel are not engaged in combat activities but stated that U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria are “doing dangerous work,” according to the Hill. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that “this young man found himself in combat and sacrificed for this campaign’s success.” Carter also declared that the fight against the militant group “is far from over,” as he addressed representatives from 11 allied countries in efforts to bolster support for the ongoing effort against ISIS. Carter told the representatives that “all of our friends and allies across the counter-ISIL coalition can and must do more as well, both to confront ISIL in Iraq and Syria and its metastases elsewhere.”

As Iraqi forces advance on Mosul, the Islamic State is trying to impose a blackout across the city, restricting television, internet, and cellular connections. Reuters writes that the militant group seeks to “insulate residents and its own fighters from any further news about the advance of Iraqi forces” as well as to “reduce the chances of a co-ordinated uprising against Islamic State in the city and of people who could be used as ‘human shields’ trying to flee.” Local residents have described the militants’ efforts to remove satellite receivers from local homes and scramble signals in efforts to disrupt broadcasts.

Dozens more are dead in Aleppo as clashes between rebel and government forces continue. Recent fighting in Aleppo has left more than 300 people dead in the past two weeks. After regime-allied planes bombed Al Quds hospital in Aleppo, a general surgeon wrote in the Times that "we are running out of coffins," lamenting the destruction and loss that has devastated the city.

Meanwhile, diplomats are struggling to salvage the tenuous ceasefire as French and German foreign ministers met with U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Berlin to discuss the latest fighting in Aleppo. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a halt in the fighting, suggesting that “either we put peace efforts back on track ... or we risk falling back into escalation, into an explosion of violence and the continuation of the civil war.” According to Reuters, he stated that "there could be no return to the political talks in Geneva if a ceasefire in and around Aleppo is not observed.”

Meanwhile, noting Russia’s continued military involvement in Syria, CNN writes that “Russia says it wants to extend a ‘regime of silence’ to the Syrian city of Aleppo -- but Russian fighter jets are still roaring off the tarmac at Hmeymim air base in Latakia, the staging ground for Russia's air war in Syria.”

As fighting continues, the Associated Press reports that Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Syrian regime and its allies “that they face an August deadline for starting a political transition to move President Bashar Assad out, or they risk the consequences of a new U.S. approach toward ending the 5-year-old civil war.” But as AP notes, referring to past U.S. warnings, it is “unclear what effect Kerry's ultimatum might have.” Kerry himself stated that “if Assad does not adhere to this, there will clearly be repercussions,” among which, he suggested, could be the collapse of the ceasefire and the return to war. He added that “there may be even other repercussions being discussed. That is for the future.”

In response to a series of recent attacks on medical facilities in conflict areas, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution condemning attacks on hospitals. The Wall Street Journal tells us that “the International Committee of the Red Cross documented 2,400 cases of attacks in 11 conflict zones on medical personnel, facilities and patients in the past three years.” According to the president of Médecins Sans Frontières, “four out of five permanent members of the Security Council have to varying degrees been associated with coalitions associated [with] attacks on medical facilities,” and the New York Times writes that “the resolution also raised an awkward question: Can the world’s most powerful countries be expected to enforce the rules when they and their allies are accused of flouting them?”

Relatedly, in the aftermath of October’s Kunduz bombing, Charlie Dunlap has a different take, raising a few questions for Doctors Without Borders and the human rights community at large.

The Afghan Taliban has denied government reports that it killed the Taliban's shadow governor in Kandahar. According to the Long War Journal, Afghanistan’s “Ministry of Interior reported that it killed Haji Lala, who it identified as the shadow governor of Kandahar, and Ahmad Shah, the deputy shadow governor, along with 43 fighters during an operation in Shah Wali Kot district.” The Taliban not only denied that it had incurred any casualties but also suggested that the Afghan government had also misidentified the heads of the local Taliban shadow governments. Meanwhile, the New York Times notes that a successful opium harvest this year will likely generate high profits for the Taliban.

U.N.-sponsored peace talks for the conflict in Yemen resumed in Kuwait today, Reuters reports. The talks, which have been held in the backdrop of an ongoing ceasefire that began on April 10, were suspended three days ago by the Yemeni government in response to a Houthi attack on a military base near Sanaa.

Israeli security forces today fired at a Hamas base in Gaza in response to mortar fire originating from the base. The Daily Star adds that “despite Israeli allegations that Hamas is building fresh tunnels that could reach into Israel, the border region has remained relatively quiet in recent months.”

In efforts to counter NATO expansion, Russia is stepping up its military presence along its western border, creating three new divisions along the border. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated at a television-broadcasted meeting that “the Defense Ministry is taking a series of measures in order to counter the expansion of NATO forces in direct proximity to the Russian border.” The Wall Street Journal tells us that “the Pentagon has said new NATO troop deployments are in response to Russia’s ‘provocative’ military exercises along its borders with alliance members,” while on the other hand, “Russia says its exercises are partly a result of the increased NATO presence.” According to the Journal, the move raises concerns that the Baltics could become a flashpoint in growing tensions between Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, Japan is looking to increase its ties to Russia. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday in what will be the 13th meeting between the two leaders. The Journal writes that number of visits “compares with seven meetings between Mr. Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama, illustrating how Mr. Abe has made turning over a new leaf in Japan-Russia relations a pillar of his diplomatic policy.”

Turning to China. Chinese state news agency Xinhua said that China will perform a series of military exercises in the South China Sea this month. According to Reuters, "Xinhua said the ships, including a new guided missile destroyer, would take part in anti-submarine, anti-missile and other exercises."

The Chinese military released a new recruitment video that “appears aimed at millennials brought up on first-person shooter video games.” The Guardian writes that "China’s military is appealing to the younger generation with a slick new recruitment video featuring aircraft carriers, rocket launchers, tanks and fighter jets, all set to a rousing rap-rock soundtrack."

Spanish authorities arrested four people suspected of promoting Islamist militancy over social media. Reuters reports that the three Moroccans and one Spanish national "allegedly targeted hundreds of people via instant messaging and other social media before making direct contact with smaller groups." The arrests bring the total number of suspects detained by Spain for related charges up to 23.

Elsewhere, the AP tells us that “Kenyan police have disrupted a cell of extremist medics linked to the Islamic State group suspected of plotting a biological attack on Kenya and recruiting university students to join the group in Libya and Syria.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN that ISIS does have the capacity to mount an attack similar to previous attacks in Paris and Brussels within the United States. Pointing to the San Bernardino attack, he suggested that ISIS had less of a planning role in the attacks, but would provide the “general, strategic guidance, and then let the local cell figure out how to achieve the objectives.”

According to the Intercept, a new intelligence community transparency report reveals that “the NSA and CIA doubled the number of warrantless searches they conducted for Americans’ data in a massive NSA database ostensibly collected for foreign intelligence purposes.” While the report sheds lights on “queries” searched in the NSA’s Section 702 database, the Intercept notes that the report “leaves unanswered how many Americans’ communications are collected in the first place.”

Buzzfeed News reports that the Department of Defense “has farmed out to a private company much of the criminal investigation and trials of the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to federal records and sources affiliated with the trials.” Even more surprising, Buzzfeed News writes that “the government has hired the same firm, SRA International, to serve both the prosecution and defense teams, sparking concerns of a conflict of interest that could undermine the integrity of one of the most significant terrorism cases in modern history.” Meanwhile, the Navy has reinstated a Guantánamo nurse who refused to force feed detainees on hunger strikes. As the Miami Herald writes, “the case became a cause célèbre in certain circles that both honored the nurse’s defiance and defended the duty of a medical professional to let his ethics trump his chain of command if he disapproves of U.S. military medical decisions.”

Parting shot: China is going all in on its efforts to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea, deploying a new set of tools to uphold Chinese sovereignty: Magicians, singers and actors.” That story here.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben shared the video of the Fordham Law School Center on National Security conference, "Hindsight: Reflections On 15 Years of the War on Terror."

David Hoffman considered the link between privacy and security.

Carrie Cordero argued that those who care about national security cannot countenance Trump.

Rachel Brand took a look at what effective intelligence oversight looks like.

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