Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Thursday, June 2, 2016, 3:32 PM

In a “room to room” battle, Al Shabaab attacked the Ambassador Hotel in Mogadishu last night leaving at least 15 people dead and more than 40 others wounded. The New York Times reports that the “militants detonated a deafening car bomb at the gates of a popular hotel in Somalia on Wednesday evening, and gunmen then stormed the hotel, leaving at least 15 people dead and creating a fiery scene of wrecked cars, crumbled buildings, panic, and smoke that stretched for blocks in the heart of Mogadishu, the capital.”

Reuters reports that the assault came to an end earlier this morning when Somali security personnel shot the last remaining assailants. The hotel is now secure.

Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, has stepped up its attacks in recent months and has killed hundreds of people. Why? Some analysts are indicating that “one reason may be that the Shabab are competing with the Islamic State and are desperate to demonstrate their militant prowess.” The New York Times has more on al Shabaab’s attack here.

In other news on the Somali militant group, the Department of Defense confirmed that Abdullahi Haji Daud, one of al Shabaab’s senior military commanders, was the target of an airstrike in south-central Somalia. According to Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, “Daud was one of al Shabaab’s most senior military planners and served as a principal coordinator of al Shabaab’s militia attacks in Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda.” No word yet on whether Daud was killed in the strike.

Meanwhile, another al Shabaab commander was killed in a special forces raid in southern Somalia. Al Jazeera reports that Mohamed Mohamud Ali, the suspected commander believed to have masterminded the 2015 deadly assault on Garissa University in Kenya, “had been killed in a raid in southwestern Somalia overnight.”

Elsewhere in Africa, al Qaeda militants killed a Chinese United Nations peacekeeper and three members of a U.N. de-mining unit in northern Mali. According to the BBC, “China’s foreign ministry confirmed one of its nationals was killed in a mortar attack on a U.N. camp in Gao that seriously wounded three others.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an additional 2,500 peacekeepers to aid the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Mali in response to the recent attacks that have plagued the country. Read more on that story here.

It has been more than a week of intense fighting to reclaim the Iraqi city of Fallujah from the Islamic State’s iron grip. Now, Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State have stalled in their attempts to access to the city’s center. The Wall Street Journal tells us that “Iraq’s special forces remained bogged down on the southern edge of Fallujah Wednesday in a fight with Islamic State, amid a vast network of tunnels the militants have dug into the ground.” Additionally, “north of the city, Shiite militias leading an operation along with army and police forces said they advanced into the town of Saqlawiya” in what could potentially open up a northern route into Fallujah and complete the encirclement around the city.

As the battle for Fallujah continues, reports indicate that at least 130 Iraqi soldiers have been killed so far in a series of attacks by the Islamic State. Al Jazeera tells us that “the first attack happened at dawn on Wednesday when 10 suicide bombers belonging to the Islamic State, hit the town of Kubaisah before storming the nearby village of Al Sejar, and then attacked an army convoy to the south of Fallujah at Amiriyat al Fallujah with roadside bombs.” More on from Al Jazeera here.

“U.S.-backed Syrian militias vowed on Thursday to drive Islamic State from the city of Manbij and surrounding areas in northern Syria and urged civilians there to stay away from militant positions that would be targeted in the campaign.” Reuters writes that “the Syria Democratic Forces alliance, including the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, thrust into IS-held territory near the Turkish border this week.” The offensive, part of a major new front in Syria, aims to drive out the Islamic State from Syria’s northern territories. More from Reuters here.

In that same new front, the United States has “brushed aside” Turkish opposition of involving the Kurds in plans to recapture the area. The Washington Post shares that “the offensive also risks incurring the wrath of Turkey, which reiterated this week its opposition to using the SDF to take control of the predominantly Arab area.”

In other news, the Islamic State has banned all satellite TV in Mosul, citing the alleged risk of “infidel brainwashing.” Read more from the Washington Post here.

Nancy Youssef and Michael Weiss of the Daily Beast have the latest on how a big win over the Islamic State could potentially mean a new war. Youssef and Weiss write “the question ‘what happens after ISIS?’ looms increasingly over the U.S.-led effort.” Read more from the Beast here.

Meanwhile, in Libya, “fighters aligned with Libya’s United Nations-backed unity government are advancing along the Mediterranean coast toward the Islamic State stronghold of Surt, signaling the first major assault on territory that, since last year, has become the terrorist group's’ largest base outside of Iraq and Syria.” However, the New York Times shares that the two separate militias leading the advance seem to have different agendas. Read the rest from the Times here.

Another Gaza war is coming. The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris writes that “Israel ended its last military operation in Gaza almost two years ago. But among some Israeli military officials, national security experts, and activists here, there is a palpable sense that another war is imminent, and that soon Hamas rockets will again be reigning down on Israeli cities, prompting a crushing military response on the beleaguered, 25-mile long strip.”

Talks with the Afghan Taliban on ending the war in Afghanistan are unlikely anytime soon, so says the U.S. military. Reuters reports that U.S. Army Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said “I don’t believe that we will see peace talks any time in the short-term with Mullah Haibatullah.” It was the first time that an American military officially publically voiced doubts of bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. More from Reuters here.

The Washington Post has the latest on “how Obama’s Afghanistan plan is forcing the Army to replace soldiers with contractors.” Check that piece out here.

Foreign banks doing business with North Korea will face sanctions from the United States. The Wall Street Journal reports that “responding to an increasingly ambitious spate of North Korean arms tests that began with a nuclear detonation in January, the U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday designated the insular communist country a ‘primary money laundering concern,’ invoking a provision of the Patriot Act.” The Journal writes that the United States’ move “turns up the pressure on Pyongyang but raises the specter of direct economic conflict with China.”

Meanwhile, “Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of ‘friendly’ ties with North Korea” following a visit by a high-ranking North Korean official this week. The BBC reports that “the visit from Workers Party Vice-Chairman Ri Su-yong is seen as an attempt by the two countries to patch up their relationship.” More from the BBC here.

The BBC reports that “powers that allow U.K. security services to collect large volumes of personal data are not ‘inherently incompatible’ with privacy laws.” The United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Bill “aims to put on a firmer legal footing the collection by the security services of vast quantities of internet data in the U.K. and personal details held on databases.” Read more from the BBC here.

“The A to Z of where we went wrong as a nation.” The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg features an interview with former FBI agent Ali Soufan, the first agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah. Check that out here.

Parting Shot: Don’t kill the caliphate's leader! “The best way to defeat ISIL in the long term is to leave Abu Bakr in place - as the caliph who lost his kingdom.” War on the Rocks features a piece on the Islamic State and the pitfalls of leadership decapitation here.

Another Parting Shot: Avengers assemble! Well… not those Avengers. Introducing the latest militant group from Nigeria: The Niger Delta Avengers. On their website’s first post, the group writes that “we are a group of educated and well-travelled individuals that are poised to take the Niger Delta struggle to new heights that has never been seen in this nation before.” Maybe it's time to give Captain America a call.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ellen Scholl released the latest Hot Commodities, the “summer heat rising” edition.

Andrew Kenealy examined “the art of the bluff” and how presidents can leverage deception.

Carrie Cordero analyzed the Department of Justice, Trump, and the powers of the American presidency in a follow up to Ben Wittes’s post from last week.

Robert Chesney flagged the Department of Defense’s recent airstrike in Somalia targeting an al Shabaab military commander and states that “it is very hard to tell how this strike relates to the presidential policy guidance on the use of force outside areas of active hostilities.”

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