Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Tuesday, May 10, 2016, 4:33 PM

As the United States and Russia work together to attempt to get the Syrian peace talks back on track, yesterday, the Syrian military extended the fragile ceasefire around the northern city of Aleppo. The Washington Post reports that “shortly before the ceasefire was due to expire and as fighting raged in the northern city of Aleppo, the Syrian military announced that the truce would be extended for 48 hours.” However, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with caution rather than optimism and said, “These are words on a piece of paper. They are not actions. It is going to be up to the commanders in the field and the interested parties - which include us.” Earlier yesterday, the United States and Russia came to an agreement on working together to restore the ceasefire and extend it to all of Syria.

Despite the United States and Russia’s push to renew the ceasefire, two airstrikes struck a northwestern Syrian town today killing at least 10 people. According to the Associated Press, “the air raids on the town of Binnish in the northwestern province of Idlib came hours after a fragile ceasefire in the nearby city of Aleppo and its surrounding countryside was extended for the third time, for another 48 hours starting at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights expects the death toll to rise.

Speaking of airstrikes, the Pentagon announced yesterday that a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed one of the Islamic State’s senior military commanders in Iraq. Reuters reports that “the attack, on May 6, killed Abu Wahib, the Islamic State’s chief military official in Anbar Province, said Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman. He said the strike had hit a vehicle carrying Mr. Wahib, also known as Shakir Wahib, and three other Islamic State members near the town of Rutba.” This has been the first time that the Pentagon has publicly indicated that Wahib was killed.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in a city northeast of Baghdad that killed at least 13 people. The Associated Press shares that the bomber detonated an explosive-laden minibus shortly before sunset Monday night in a Shiite neighborhood of the city of Baqouba. The attack wounded an additional 60 people.

General Raymond Thomas, the new commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, says that a “transregional” approach is needed to defeat the Islamic State and other terrorist organizationsDefense News writes that “the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations have no boundaries in terms of borders or bureaucracy, and special operations forces should operate in the same ‘transregional’ way these adversaries do.” General Thomas also indicated that “with modern communications and social media, transregional challenges aren’t just based across state boundaries but across multiple continents and regions.”

Here is your Islamic State fun read for the day: Check out Karen Leigh, Jason French, and Jovi Juan’s interactive take on the Islamic State and its affiliates for the Wall Street Journal.

One man was killed and another three people were wounded by a 27-year-old German man earlier today. The New York Times reports that “the attack, which occurred shortly before 5 a.m. on a commuter train and platform in the bucolic suburb of Grafing, nearly 20 miles east of Munich, shocked and unsettled many Germans” who had been on edge since the attacks in Paris and Brussels. According to authorities, man was arrested shortly after carrying out the attacks, and after questioning, was not deemed to have any contacts with Islamic extremists. The BBC adds that the man arrested “suffered from psychological problems and drug addiction.” Read more on the attack from the BBC here.

In Belgium, evidence revealed yesterday, during the start of a trial involving 16 people suspected of having ties to the attacks in Paris and Brussels, confirmed that the “Islamic State sent at least three Belgians who had joined its ranks in Syria back to Europe in 2014 to carry out an attack that was narrowly foiled.” The Wall Street Journal tells us that “the alleged plot, whose target is unclear, was foiled in January 2015, when elite Belgian and French police killed two of the men at a safe house in the eastern Belgian town of Verviers and arrested several others.” The Journal has more.

The Afghan Taliban claimed that it has “thousands of fully armed martyrdom seekers” at its disposal who are “awaiting to take revenge.” In a statement released yesterday by the insurgent group, the Taliban “said it would give ‘top priority’ to retaliate against government agencies involved in the execution of jihadist prisoners.” The statement came after the Afghan government hanged six jihadists for various attacks throughout Afghanistan. The Long War Journal has more.

The Taliban once again overran more police checkpoints in Helmand province and killed at least 15 Afghan police officers. Reuters tells us that “the attack on checkpoints in Gereshk, on the main highway through Helmand, a few kilometers to the north of the governor’s compound in Lashkar Gah, and Nad Ali, to the west of the town, underlined the growing pressure on security forces clinging on in the southern province.” According to one Afghan security official, “if the government does not act soon, there will be a disaster.”

A joint U.S.-Afghan raid against Islamic militants earlier today unexpectedly found and rescued the son of a former Pakistani prime minister. The Associated Press shares that “Ali Haider Gilani, believed to be about 30, was discovered in good health during the raid near Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan. The operation killed four of the extremists.” Additionally, the AP tells us that “Gilani is the son of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who celebrated the rescue with his family. His secular anti-Taliban Pakistan People’s Party led several major offensives against Islamic militants.” Gilani was said to be taken to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul. The Washington Post has more on Gilani’s rescue and also tells us that Taliban fighters claimed they had shot down a U.S. drone this week near the Pakistani border. U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan confirmed that they had lost contact with a drone that was flying over the country’s Nangarhar province.

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded in the parking lot of a state-run university in southwestern Pakistan, killing two police officers and wounding five other people. The Associated Press reports that there has been no claim of responsibility and police are attempting to figure out who planted the bomb near the Baluchistan university in the city of Quetta. Read more from the AP here.

Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamzah, has a new message from al Qaeda, marking the second time he has spoken on behalf of his father’s terrorist group. The folks at the Long War Journal tell us that in the new video released today, “Hamzah speaks at length about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying Muslims everywhere must ‘participate in our Palestinian brothers’ intifada’ by ‘killing Jews and striking their interests worldwide. Muslims must ‘purge’ their ‘beloved Palestine’ of the Jews and their Western ‘supporters,’ according to Hamzah.”

Two Israeli women were stabbed by masked attackers today and Israel has launched a manhunt to capture the assailants. The Associated Press reports that “police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said five women were walking along a Jerusalem promenade near the ‘Peace Forest’ when they were attacked from behind. Two of them, both said to be about 70 years of age, were stabbed and were taken to a hospital with moderate injuries.” Today’s stabbings are the latest in a series of attacks throughout Israel in the last couple of months.

A former U.S. Marine is suing IranPolitico shares that “Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American from Michigan, was convicted on vague espionage charges after being taken into custody while on a visit to Iran. He and three other Americans of Iranian descent were released earlier this year as part of a prisoner swap negotiated between Iranian officials and the Obama administration.” Hekmati, held prisoner in the Islamic Republic for more than four years, is suing the country seeking damages for torture that he endured while in captivity. Politico has more.

The Pentagon sent another U.S. warship through the South China Sea today in another operation that challenged China’s territorial claims. The Wall Street Journal reports that “a guided-missile destroyer, the USS William P. Lawrence, navigated to within 12 nautical miles of a land feature in the South China Sea known as Fiery Cross Reef, according to a senior defense official. China’s defense ministry said two fighter jets and three vessels monitored the U.S. ship’s passage and warned it to leave the area.” Today’s operation marked the third time this year that the United States has conducted “freedom of navigation” operations in the contested waters. In response to the U.S. operation, China scrambled fighter jets and denounced the patrol “as an illegal threat to peace which only went to show that its defense installations in the area are necessary.”

Earlier today, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans “celebrated” the newly completed ruling-party congress with a “massive civilian parade featuring floats bearing patriotic slogans and marchers with flags and pompoms.” It wouldn’t be a party without leader Kim Jong Un, who presided over the festivities and waved to the crowd. The Associated Press writes that “by calling a congress - something his father, Kim Jong Il, never did - Kim demonstrated what may be a leadership style more like that of his charismatic grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung.” The AP also tells us that “the congress touted Kim’s successes on the nuclear front and promised economic improvements to boost the nation’s standard of living.”

Anna Fifield, of the Washington Post, analyzes whether Pyongyang is a “city bracing for the full force of international sanctions or a city blissfully immune to outside pressure.” But on the ground in the Hermit Kingdom’s capital, it is hard to tell which is true. Read more here.

He lives! The New York Times writes “when the North Korean state news media on Tuesday published lists of officials newly selected for senior posts, at least one name came as a surprise: Ri Yong Gil, a prominent general.” The only thing is, General Ri was reportedly executed on corruption charges back in February. Pictures released earlier today seem to support General Ri’s survival, but with a three-star rank instead of four. The Times has more.

The Guardian has the latest on an alleged hacker fighting extradition to the United States. Lauri Love, accused of stealing massive quantities of sensitive data from the Federal Reserve and NASA computers, does not have to provide the passwords for his encrypted computers to British law enforcement. The Guardian reports that “the National Crime Agency (NCA) raided Love’s family home in Stradishall, Suffolk, in October 2013, seizing encrypted computers and hard drives. No charges were brought against him in Britain and Love is suing the NCA for the return of six items of encrypted hardware, which he says contain his entire digital life.” Love also told the Guardian“the U.S. government is conducting a war against information activists like me,” referencing his extradition battle. If found guilty in the United States, Love faces up to 99 years in prison.

In another extradition case, an alleged hacker belonging to the Syrian Electronic Army has been extradited to the United States from Germany. According to the Washington Post, the hacker faces “charges of conspiracy linked to a hacking-related extortion scheme.” Peter Romar, is expected to appear in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday. More from the Post here.

In 2007, China launched a missile that blew up a dead satellite in orbit. However, “it was another Chinese launch three years ago that made the Pentagon really snap to attention, opening up the possibility that outer space would become a new front in modern warfare.” That launch reached a more distant orbit where “the United States parks its most sensitive national security satellites, used for tasks such as guiding precision bombs and spying on adversaries.” Read more on what Air Force General John Hyten calls the “most valuable real estate in space” from the Washington Post.

The House of Representatives may weigh in next week on whether women will be required to register for the military draft. Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) is challenging the proposal by the House Armed Services Committee that requires women 18-26 years old to register for the Selective Service. Representative Sessions told Stars and Stripes, “I have the utmost respect and deepest appreciation for the young women who bravely volunteer to serve our country, but I am adamantly opposed to expanding the draft and coercing American’s daughters to fight on the front lines.”

Speaking of America’s daughters, the Marine Corps has approved requests by two women to move into infantry military occupational specialties. The Marine Corps Times shares that “one woman has been approved to become a rifleman and another to become machine gunner.” The Corps is not yet releasing the female’s identities or what units they will be joining.

The Guantanamo parole board has approved the release of Salem bin Kanad, a “forever prisoner” from Yemen who has faced the Periodic Review Board four times prior. The Miami Herald reports that “the decision, released by the Pentagon on Monday, means 27 of the 80 captives currently held at the U.S. detention center in Cuba can leave in a transfer deal that satisfies Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.” Kanad was originally captured in 2001.

Yesterday, harmless and odorless gas was released on a subway platform at Grand Central terminal testing how the air moves through tunnels underneath Manhattan. But the test also sought to determine “how a biological contaminant would travel through the nation’s biggest transit system during a terrorist attack.” The Associated Press tells us that “detectors have been installed in more than 55 stations and some outdoor spots to see where the vapors go. The collection boxes pull air through filters and capture particles into bags for analysis. About 12,000 samples will be taken this week, federal officials said.” Donald Bansleben, program manager of DHS’s Chemical and Biological Defense Division, reiterated that there was no specific threats against the subway system.

Parting Shot: See Spot run. See Spot ravage an Islamic State fighter. A German Shephard U.S. service dog is being hailed a hero after charging at Islamic State militants during a recent firefight in northern Iraq. “The dog leaped at one of the fighters, ripping into his face and neck, before mangling the arms and legs of another. Both militants turned and fled, screaming.” Who's a good boy?

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Zachary Goldman and Samuel Rascoff featured their new book Global Intelligence Oversight: Governing Security in the Twenty-First Century.

Jake Laperruque and Joe Onek analyzed how a chain link fence can protect privacy in the age of “collect it all.”

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.