Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Friday, May 13, 2016, 3:54 PM

Hezbollah’s top military command was killed in a “major explosion” at Damascus airport. Reuters describes Mustafa Badreddine’s death as “one of the biggest blows to its leadership the Iranian-backed organization has ever sustained.” The Guardian shares that “media reports in Lebanon and Israel quickly suggested the blast had been caused by an Israeli airstrike, a suggestion to which Hezbollah gave weight, announcing it was investigating whether a ‘missile or artillery strike’ had been responsible.” Additionally, Reuters reports that “Hezbollah did not immediately say on Friday who it blamed for the attack, but its deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said there were clear indications of who was behind it, and the group would announce the outcome of its investigation within hours.” There has not yet been any claim of responsibility.

Earlier today, shooting and bomb attacks by the Islamic State killed at least 16 people in northern Iraq. Reuters reports that “three gunmen opened fire with machine guns around midnight at a cafe in the predominantly Shiite Muslim town of Balad where young men had gathered to start their weekend.” Twelve were killed in that attack and an additional 25 people were wounded. After the assailants fled the scene, one of them “set off his explosive vest at a nearby vegetable market after police and Shiite militia members cornered him in a disused building and exchanged gunfire.” That incident killed four and left two others critically wounded.

Yesterday, Islamic State militants killed at least 17 Iraqi soldiers with suicide truck bombs near Ramadi. Reuters shares that this attack was a major assault “on government forces that recaptured the western city of Ramadi in December.” The assaults in Ramadi “dealt one of the heaviest blows to the army since it drove Islamic State out of the western city five months ago.”

An al Nusra Front meeting in northwestern Syria was interrupted by an airstrike. The strike killed 16 senior militants linked to the al Qaeda group, but it was not clear whether the United States or Russia was behind it. Read more from Reuters.

Syrian government officials turned away an aid convoy headed towards the besieged town of Daraya. According to the New York Times, “‘The U.N. and International Committee of the Red Cross aborted the mission to Daraya because the convoy was refused entry, due to the medical and nutritional supplies on board.’ the United Nations spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a written statement, referring to the town. ‘These conditions, imposed by government security personnel, were unacceptable, and contrary to earlier guarantees and approvals obtained by the Syrian government.’” For some of the Daraya residents, the day’s events only summed up their feeling of abandonment.

The Islamic State’s affiliate in Yemen claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that rocked a navy base in Mukalla yesterday. The bomb attack killed at least six troops in what the Associated Press describes a “rare IS attack in a city once occupied by its rival militant al Qaeda branch.” Vice News reports that ten soldiers were killed in the blast, and highlights that the attack occurred just hours before Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Dagr made his first visit to Mukalla since it was recaptured from al Qaeda in April.

“The number of deadly Islamic State rocket attacks on Kilis has risen dramatically in recent weeks as the extremist group fights to retain control of a 60-mile stretch of the Turkey-Syria border it has used for years as a vital supply route.” The Wall Street Journal writes that “as frustration and anger in Kilis mount with each new attack, Turkey is struggling to bring the rocket strikes to an end.” Read more on how the Islamic State’s rocket attacks are driving Syrian refugees from their Turkish border haven from the Journal here.

Eight Turkish military personnel are dead after a clash with PKK militants near the town of Cukurca in Hakkari province. The Associated Press reports that the Turkish military members died in combat with Kurdish rebels and in a subsequent helicopter crash. The helicopter, sent to the area to support the Turkish troops, crashed due to a technical malfunction. Six rebels were killed during the fighting and eight other soldiers were wounded. Reuters has more on the clashes between Turkish forces and PKK militants in southwest Turkey here.

The United States is waging a growing number of “small wars” across the Middle East and Africa to combat both the Islamic State and al Qaeda in places where the U.S. maintains a footprint beyond Iraq and Syria. CNN shares the many locations where these so called a “small wars” are occurring here.

One location is Libya, where American special operations troops established two outposts in late 2015 with a mission to line up local allies to prepare for a possible operation against the Islamic State. The Washington Post tells us that “two teams totaling fewer than 25 troops are operating from around the cities of Misurata and Benghazi to identify potential allies among local armed factions and gather intelligence on threats.” The Post describes the placement of a tiny group of U.S. personnel in the country as reflecting “the Obama administration’s worries about the Islamic State’s powerful Libyan branch and the widespread expectations of an expanded campaign against it.”

“Pakistan is hesitant to take action against the Afghan Taliban on its soil because of concerns that group will redirect its violence against Pakistan and Afghan intelligence will support it, a senior Pakistani official said.” Voice of America has the latest on Pakistan's explanations for why it refuses to go after the Taliban here.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s naval mission to halt people-smuggling in the Mediterranean is failing. According to a report by the British House of Lords E.U. Committee, Operation Sophia, which began in June 2015, “does not ‘in any meaningful way’ disrupt smugglers’ boats.” The BBC shares that “the operation was launched in the wake of a series of disasters in which hundreds of migrants drowned while trying to cross from Libya to Italy.” More on the migrant crisis here.

Yesterday, British fighter jets scrambled to intercept three Russian aircraft approaching Baltic airspace. The Guardian shares that "the RAF Typhoons were launched from Amari air base in Estonia on Thursday afternoon when the Russian military transport aircraft did not transmit recognized identification code and appeared to be unresponsive.” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon described the incident as an “act of Russian aggression” and that “this is another example of just how important the U.K.’s contribution to the Baltic Air Policing Mission is. We were able to instantly respond to this act of Russian aggression - a demonstration of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.”

The BBC takes an in-depth look at the new ballistic missile defense system activated yesterday in Romania. “Work is now starting on building a second base in northern Poland. Together with four US Aegis warships, these Aegis Ashore sites will provide a network that can identify, track, and shoot down ballistic missiles fired towards Europe.” Read more from the BBC here.

One of China’s top military officials indicated that the United States and China should manage their differences over the disputed waters of the South China Sea constructively. According to Reuters, “Fang Fenghui, a member of China’s Central Military Commission, told General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the two sides should ‘refrain from actions detrimental to the relations between the two countries and the two militaries,” state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.” The Associated Press reports that the two top generals sought to calm escalating tensions in the South China Sea and “said they were ready to work out an effective mechanism to prevent confrontation and maintain stability in the region.” More from the AP here.

China has a new missile nicknamed "Guam killer.” The missile is capable of striking targets 3,400 miles away and “is raising new fears of a growing Chinese threat to major U.S. military installations and stability in the Pacific Rim.” CNN reports that “the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said this week that China’s DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile - dubbed by analysts the ‘Guam killer’ and unveiled at a military parade in Beijing last September - allows China to bring unprecedented firepower to bear on the U.S. territory of Guam. The territory sits well within the missile’s range.” The Washington Post has more on the “Guam killer” missiles here.

A suicide bomber killed at least six people in the Nigerian town of Maiduguri. The New York Times tells us that “there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the the attack but the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram was suspected. Maiduguri was the birthplace of Boko Haram and has been the scene of numerous attacks by the group’s fighters in the past seven years.” The bomber was stopped outside of a heavily guarded government office complex in the city’s center when he set off his explosives.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Somalia called in an airstrike yesterday that killed five al Shabaab fighters in Mogadishu. Reuters reports that “the U.S. forces had been advising Ugandan soldiers with the African Union mission during an operation against an illegal taxation checkpoint when the Ugandans got into a firefight with 15-20 al Shabaab fighters.”

You wanna know everything about how the Islamic State uses the Internet? BuzzFeed News has got you covered. Check out what one Islamic State Internet victim described as “Sh*t, now they are professional hackers?”

Over on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers are once again pushing for an authorization for the use of force against the Islamic State. The bipartisan group of representatives are hoping to use the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act to force Congress to debate an AUMF for the Islamic State and have already started filing amendments to urge colleagues to debate the issue on the House floor. The Hill writes that “the latest call for a war measure comes after President Obama sent hundreds more troops to Iraq and Syria, raising concerns over mission creep.” The Hill has more on the the new AUMF proposals here.

The United States Navy officer in charge of the 10 American sailors who were detained by Iran earlier this year was removed from his post. According to the Wall Street Journal, Commander Eric Rasch was dismissed due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to command.” The Journal also writes that “the incident sparked an international fracas that came during sensitive negotiations between Washington and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program and prompted puzzlement among military officials in the U.S. over how the crew could have made such a mistake.”

Parting Shot: Are you a fan of Risk? Well we’ve got a new board game that will satisfy your Friday night. Vice News introduces “ISIS Crisis” the new strategy board game developed in Canada “that a wing of the Canadian military says could be useful in getting strategists thinking more broadly about fighting in Iraq and Syria.” They describe the game "Diplomacy meets Dungeons and Dragons meets Prussian military tactics.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith shared an extraordinary story of Michael Ratner’s reaction to 9/11 following the news of Ratner’s death on Wednesday.

Benjamin Wittes released the latest Rational Security, the “creeps and liars” edition.

Christopher Kojm analyzed global changes and megatrends and the implications for intelligence and its oversight.

Susan Landau stated that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “got it wrong” in reference to Harvard’s “Don’t Panic” report.

Ben also commented on sextorition and said that it is a great mistake not to think of it in cybersecurity terms.

Suzanne Maloney questioned whether the Obama administration or the Ben Rhodes’ profile mislead America on the Iran Deal.

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