Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Thursday, May 5, 2016, 4:43 PM

Dozens of people were killed in an airstrike against a refugee camp in rebel-held northern Syria today. The BBC reports that “images on social media showed tents destroyed at the Kamouna camp near Sarmada in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border.” It has not been confirmed who was responsible for the airstrike, but some reports indicate that the attack was by Syrian or Russian warplanes. The strike comes as the United States and Russia arranged an extension of the truce temporarily ceasing the fighting in the region.

The United States and Russia have arranged a cease-fire between the Syrian government and rebels in and around the war-ravaged city of Aleppo. The Wall Street Journal reports that “there were conflicting reports as to the timing and duration of the pause, although the situation in Aleppo was relatively calm Wednesday, a day after dozens of deadly attacks on both sides of the city, including a maternity hospital.” The United States, Russia, and Syria, after days of diplomacy, have halted the catastrophic fighting in the city but did not seem to negotiate the details and duration of the truce. Yet, Syrian President Bashar al Assad said today that his country would not accept anything less than an outright victory over rebels in Aleppo and across the country. However, he will abide by the “regime of calm.”

The BBC reports that there is an “uneasy calm” across Aleppo as the agreed-upon ceasefire took effect. Some residents ventured out into the city’s streets for the first time in days after nearly 300 people had died in the past two weeks amid increased violence and fighting. Yet, despite the calm in Aleppo, the Associated Press tells us that a car bomb exploded in streets of the central province of Homs earlier today, killing at least 10 people and wounded many more.

Petty Officer First Class Charles Keating, the U.S. Navy SEAL killed in Iraq this week, “died rushing to the rescue of Americans on a routine training mission who got caught up in a multi-pronged attack by Islamic State fighters.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Keating “was part of a quick reaction force deployed to rescue another group of American service members who were meeting with local forces in the area.” Keating’s death, the third in the United States’ operation to combat the Islamic State, has raised questions about the role of American military members in Iraq and the nature of the United States’ mission. The Guardian has obtained a video capturing the intense fight between U.S. special forces, the Kurdish commandos, and the Islamic State fighters that resulted in Keating’s death.

Earlier today, Islamic State militants captured the main Shaer gas field in eastern Syria marking the terrorist group’s first gain in the Palmyra desert area since it lost the ancient city earlier this year. According to the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq news agency, Islamic State militants “had taken over the gas field area and its facility where Syrian troops were stationed and killed at least 30 soldiers and gained large caches of heavy weapons including tanks and missiles.” Reuters has more.

Despite the terrorist group’s new gains, the Turkish army has fired back at the Islamic State in retaliation for cross-border rocket attacks that wounded three Turks. The Turkish attack killed four Islamic State militants. Reuters tells us that earlier today, two Islamic State rocket attacks landed in the residential area of the border town of Kilis.

A U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed Australia’s most dangerous known Islamic State operative. The Associated Press reports that “the United States had confirmed that Neil Prakash, also known as Abu Khaled al Cambodi, was killed in Mosul on Friday.” Additionally, the AP tells us that Prakash, a former rapper from Melbourne, was featured in Islamic State recruitment videos and “was linked to several attack plans in Australia and had urged lone wolf attacks against the United States.”

Saudi Arabia also conducted their own counterterrorism operation against Islamic State fighters in Mecca today. According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, “the terrorists fired upon security forces requiring them to respond in kind to neutralize the threat, leading to the killing of two and the death of two others who blew themselves up with their explosive belts.” No security forces or civilians were harmed in the operation.

In response the storming of Iraq’s parliament and the breach of the Green Zone over the weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has replaced the commander of the military responsible for protecting the Green Zone. Stars & Stripes reports that, according to an Iraqi cabinet spokesman, Prime Minister Abadi issued a decree to replace staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ridha due to “the breach and assaults against the government institution.” During the protest and breach of security in the Green Zone, some security forces stood idle, and some were even seen kissing and shaking hands with the protestors.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press observes the total destruction of Ramadi. Liberated from 8 months of Islamic State control earlier this year, the cost of winning back the city of Ramadi has been the city itself.

In other news, an army officer is suing President Obama over the legality of the war against the Islamic State. The New York Times shares that the lawsuit is “setting up a test of Mr. Obama’s disputed claim that he needs no new legal authority from Congress to order the military to wage that deepening mission” against the Islamic State. The 28-year-old Army officer, Captain Nathan Smith, currently is stationed in Kuwait where he acts as an intelligence officer. According to the Times, Captain Smith “voiced strong support for fighting the Islamic State but, citing his ‘conscience’ and his vow to uphold the Constitution, he said he believed that the mission lacked proper authorization from Congress.” The Washington Post adds that the lawsuit reads “in waging war against ISIS, President Obama is misusing limited congressional authorizations for the use of military force as a blank check to conduct a war against enemies of his own choosing, without geographical or temporal boundaries.” Yale Law School’s Bruce Ackerman weighs in on whether America’s war on the Islamic State is illegal in the New York Times and on Lawfare.

Al Qaeda militants in Yemen are exiting two coastal cities east of Aden following a tribal-led negotiation. The al Qaeda pullout from Zinjibar and Jaar is expected to take less than a week and comes “after forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government last month drove out al Qaeda militants from what had been their stronghold further down the coast, the city of Mukalla, a year after they captured it.” The Associated Press has more.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced his resignation today. The Associated Press tells us that “Davutoglu, who had a falling out with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced he was stepping aside following a meeting with executives of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has dominated Turkish politics since 2002.” The party is set to hold an emergency convention on May 22 to select the new party leader who will replace Davutoglu. Reuters writes that Davutoglu’s resignation bows to President Erdogan’s drive “to create a powerful executive presidency.”

Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes against militant targets used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups today. The airstrikes come after Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired volleys of mortars against Israel. The Associated Press reports that the fighting in recent days has been among the most serious violence between Gaza and Israel since a 50-day summer war in 2014.” Earlier today, the Israeli military discovered a new tunnel from the Gaza Strip into Israel allegedly built by Palestinian militants seeking to stage attacks in Israel. The AP has more on the increasing conflict.

In Afghanistan, three Haqqani Network operatives were arrested on suspicion of plotting a bomb attack in Kabul. Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security announced that “the men were caught with eight sticky bombs, one pistol, 11 mobile phones programmed to detonate a mine system and one mine remote control.” According a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, “the likely targets of the threats were international guest houses, offices of the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross, banks and residences.” The Haqqani operatives were captured during an Afghan special operation and admitted that they wanted to carry out bomb attacks in the capital. Stars & Stripes has more here.

Here is your bonus read for the day: “Despite billions in U.S. funding, Afghan forces have a problem with boots.” The Washington Post has more on the Afghan forces’ crumbling footwear.

Russia and China are in coordination to hold their first joint computer-assisted anti-missile drill. The news of the joint anti-missile drill comes just after the United States and South Korea discussed their anti-missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea. According to Reuters, “the China-Russia drill will be held this month at a Russian military research center” and “would help the two countries’ militaries familiarize themselves with their respective command structures and data transmission processes.”

Meanwhile, Russia will reinforce its western and southern borders with three new divisions by the end of the year and has threatened to retaliate NATO’s plan to boost its military presence in eastern Europe. Reuters reports that “while Moscow accuses the Western alliance of threatening its Russia’s security, NATO says intensified military drills and its plans for increased deployments on its eastern flank are purely defensive after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and backed separatist rebels in Ukraine.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday confirmed that the alliance would “deploy ‘battalion-sized’ multinational units on a rotational basis in the east.” But Andrei Kelin, a department head at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, indicated that NATO’s proposed deployment would be of concern to Moscow, stating “this would be a very dangerous build-up of armed forces pretty close to our borders. I am afraid this would require certain retaliatory measures, which the Russian Defence Ministry is already talking about.” Yet, Russia is insistent that it is not a threat to anyone, but it will defend its interests if need be.

Tensions between the United States and Iran appear to have worsened yesterday with Iranians threatening to block a vital access route in the Persian Gulf. They have also accused the United States of a “meddling approach and tone.” These accusations and threats come just days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed frustration with the United States and questioned why the country is even in the Persian Gulf. The New York Times reports that “together, the messages appeared to reflect a steady buildup of anti-American sentiment in Iran recently despite the nuclear agreement that took effect in January, which, on paper at least, eased the country’s economic isolation. American and Iranian diplomats had hoped the agreement would help lead to a new period of detente in the estranged relations between their countries.”

More than 100 lawmakers are calling upon the Obama administration to renew its focus on the crisis in Sudan. The Wall Street Journal tells us that the bipartisan group of lawmakers wants the Obama administration to focus on the Sudan crisis and also “use financial pressure against the Sudanese regime to change its behavior.” According to the Journal, “fighting between government forces and rebel groups that dates to 2003 in Darfur has resurged again, and the country also is seeing clashes in other areas as well.” The 100 member bipartisan group “is concerned that millions of people in Sudan lack access to humanitarian aid and are targets of aerial bombardments and other attacks by government forces.”

“My concern with Trump will be that he inadvertently leaks, because as he speaks extemporaneously, he’ll pull something out of his hat that he heard in a briefing and say it.” So says a former senior U.S. intelligence official. When Donald Trump is formally chosen as the Republican nominee for President of the United States, he will receive classified U.S. intelligence briefings and some spies are worried that he may leak information during his unscripted speeches. The Daily Beast has more here.

Parting Shot: Rarely do we see pictures of inside the Guantanamo Bay military base. During a visit to the facility, journalist Ricardo Mir de Francia, of the Barcelona newspaper El Periodico de Catalunya, was “struck by how similar the naval base felt to the suburban America he had seen in the States - a McDonald’s close by, an open air cinema at night, a beach on which to lounge on a day off.” The Washington Post shares some of Mir de Francia’s pictures of Guantanamo here.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Susan Hennessey took a hypothetical on shower cameras and privacy and ran with it.

Jack Goldsmith told us that he is skeptical that the lawsuit against President Obama challenging the war with the Islamic State will succeed.

Benjamin Wittes asked if anyone will make the serious national security case for voting Trump.

Stewart Baker released the latest edition of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with General Michael Hayden.

John Bellinger provided some excerpts of his new article in the Washington Diplomat titled “Legal Minefield: Lawsuits Force Foreign Governments to Navigate U.S. Court System.”

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