Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Monday, June 6, 2016, 6:38 PM

Earlier this morning, five people were killed in an attack on a Jordanian intelligence service office at a Palestinian refugee camp near Amman. According to the Associated Press, “such attacks are relatively rare in Jordan, even though the pro-western kingdom is on the front line in the military campaign against the Islamic State.” During a press conference, Jordan’s minister of media affairs, Mohammed al Momani, “gave no details of the attack but said it was carried out by those with ‘criminal behaviour of people who are outside of our religion.’” The Guardian tells us that former Jordanian minister of information, Samih al Maaytah, “told the Al Arabiya news channel: ‘This attack was obviously deliberate. Whoever is responsible [wanted to show] that they are present in Jordan and are capable of carrying [out] attacks.’” The BBC has more on what Jordanian government officials are labeling a terror attack here.

It appears the Islamic State is currently going through a witch-hunt as it searches for spies within its own ranks. The Associated Press tells us that the killing of jihadi Abu Hayjaa al Tunsi “sparked a panicked hunt within the group’s ranks for spies who could have tipped off the U.S.-led coalition about his closely guarded movements. By the time it was over, the group would kill 38 of its own members on suspicion of acting as informants.” Read more on ISIS’s paranoia here.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces have secured the southern edge of Fallujah from the Islamic State. The Associated Press reports that “Iraqi special forces, also known as its counterterrorism forces, have secured the largely agricultural southern neighborhood of Naymiyah under cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.” Yet, even with the recent success, the advance on Fallujah has slowed, and Iraq’s Shiite militias want to step in and appear to be getting “antsy.” The Washington Post shares that “Iraq’s government has ordered the militiamen to stay away from the battle to drive the Islamic State out of Fallujah, fearing further sectarian unrest from their presence inside the Sunni stronghold.” However, a move sending the Shiite militias into the city may cause serious problems. It also doesn’t help that the Iraqi army and the Shiite coalitions are bickering with one another about the Fallujah operation. Read that story from Reuters.

While the battle for the besieged city continues, reports indicate that at least 50,000 civilians remain inside Fallujah. Some are trying to flee, but are being shot by the Islamic State as they leave. More on that from the BBC here.

“Syrian troops on Saturday reached the edge of the northern province of Raqqa, home to the de facto capital of the Islamic State militant group's self-declared caliphate, in a push that leaves the extremists fighting fierce battles on four fronts in Syria and neighboring Iraq.” The Associated Press writes that the “Syrian troops reached the ‘administrative border’ of Raqqa province under the cover of Russian airstrikes.” As the Syrian forces advance closer to the Islamic State’s capital, it is unclear of a possible assault on Raqqa is in the works.

Raqqa has become the central prize in an international fight for legitimacy. The Los Angeles Times shares that Raqqa has now “become the central prize in a race between the Russian-backed Syrian government and a U.S.-supported Syrian Kurdish-dominated militia known as the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF). Both sides - with the support of their international backers in the U.S. and Russia - are vying for the legitimacy that comes with destroying Islamic State.” More from the LA Times here.

In another fight, U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have surrounded the northern Islamic State-held city of Manbij. Reuters tells us that the assault spans three sides of the city and describes it as “a major new offensive against the jihadists near the Turkish border. In that same operation in Manbij, the Associated Press shares that a top Syrian commander was killed after sustaining injuries from sniper fire. “Abu Layala, who commanded a brigade inside the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, was hit by sniper fire on the outskirts of Manbij” and “was evacuated by U.S. forces to a hospital in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, where he died.”

The Daily Beast takes a look into the front line in the bloody fight to take Manbij from the Islamic State. Check out who is really leading the battle here.

However, civilians are still being killed in the on-going Syrian civil war. At least 53 people were killed, including children, by government airstrikes in Aleppo. According to Al Jazeera, “dozens of barrel bombs -oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel - were dropped by military helicopters on the heavily populated al Qatriji neighborhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said on Sunday.”

“Turkish warplanes struck militant targets in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey and the army killed 27 fighters near its borders with iraq and Iran, the armed forces said on Sunday.” Although Turkey’s state run news outlet did not provide casualty numbers, allegedly, a small group of PKK militants were killed. Reuters has more on that story here.

Meanwhile, talks to revive the Israeli and Palestinian peace talks started in France last Friday. However, the latest “Middle East Peace Initiative” resulted in “nothing of interest.” Al Jazeera has the latest on the peace accords here.

In other Islamic State news in the Middle East region, the rise of the so called caliphate’s affiliates in Egypt is altering the security landscape. According to the Wall Street Journal, “militants with Sinai Province, which has pledged allegiance to the extremist group, have developed ties with the Palestinian movement Hamas that rules the neighboring Gaza Strip.” The Journal also writes that “Egypt’s and Israel’s shared concern about Sinai Province’s growing threat is spurring deeper security cooperation.”

On Sunday, David Gilkey of NPR and translator Zabihullah Tamanna were killed in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when the Afghan army battalion they were traveling with came under fire by insurgents and their vehicle was hit by shelling. The BBC and the Associated Press have more.

The Taliban claimed credit for an attack on a court building in Pul i Alam, the capital of Afghanistan’s Logar province. The New York Times reports that “the newly appointed attorney general of Logar Province, just one hour into his job, was among seven people killed on Sunday when two Taliban insurgents attacked as his inauguration ceremony was ending.” Read more on the attack from CNN.

Last August, Omar Diaby, “the so-called superjihadiste also known as Omar Omsen, the prescient PR mastermind who began disseminating pro-jihad and anti-Western-imperialism videos in 2012, well before the rise of the Islamic State, widely known as ISIS, had been killed. But last week it turned out that Diaby faked his own death - and took to French television to discuss it.” The Daily Beast has more on France’s own infamous resurrected jihadist recruiter here.

In other European news, NATO held its biggest ever joint exercise in Poland today “at a time when central and eastern European nations are seeking strong security guarantees amid concerns about Russia.” According to the Associated Press, “the exercise will involve some 31,000 troops from Poland, the U.S., and 17 other NATO member nations and from five partner nations, according to Poland’s military Operational Command that is organizing and coordinating the exercise.”

The Strategic and Economic Dialogue began today in Beijing. The Wall Street Journal reports that “China pushed back strongly against U.S. criticism of its stance on maritime disputes as the two sides prepared for economic disputes as the two sides prepared for economic and security talks expected to be dominated by tensions over the South China Sea.” The Journal writes that “the dialogue, beginning on Monday in Beijing, takes place with China bracing against growing international pressure over its territorial claims and asserting its intent to exercise greater clout as a major power. Economic strains between Beijing and Washington, meanwhile, have flared over currency and trade practices.”

Speaking of China, the United States military wants India to counterbalance China’s rise as a sea power. The Washington Post has more on that story here.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Washington today and “will seek to cement progress the two countries [the United States and India] have made on economic and security fronts.” Prime Minister Modi is also set to address Congress during his three-day visit and meet with President Obama as a “consolidation visit.” The Wall Street Journal has more on the Indian prime minister's trip.

The annual State Department Country Report on Terrorism designates Iran as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. However, the Iranians are not too fond of that. The Associated Press shares that Iran “rejected” the designation and said that the report is “false” and that it is further evidence of the “lack of credibility of reports by the U.S. State Department.”

And, speaking of the State Department, Foreign Policy has the latest news regarding the deleted video from a press briefing on the Iran Deal. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “wants the State Department’s inspector general to launch a formal investigation into why the recording of a three-year-old press conference about the Iran nuclear talks was deliberately doctored - and to find out who gave the order to do so.” More from Foreign Policy here.

Cuba and the United States are discussing a possible prisoner swap. In a move demonstrating the two countries’ efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with one another, the potential swap includes Ana Montes, convicted in 2002 for spying for Cuba for almost two decades while working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Among the prisoners that the United States would certainly like back is Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard is wanted for the 1976 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. Read more on the possible prisoner swap from NBC News here.

Thirty Guantanamo detainees have been approved for release following an inter-agency parole board’s disclosure last Friday. Their release will bring the number of GTMO detainees down to 50. More from the Miami Herald.

Parting Shot: ISIS is making money off of antiquities. The problem? No one knows how much money we are talking about. “For excavators - archaeologists, but also looters like the Islamic State, or ISIS - the opportunity for discovery in modern Iraq and Syria is dazzling.” All of us know that the Islamic State is taking advantage of Iraq and Syria’s history by digging up and selling archaeological artifacts to make money. Yet, no one seems to know exactly how much money the self-proclaimed caliphate is actually making. Read more from the Washington Post.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig penned an open letter to Edward Snowden, where he asked “Ed” if he had any friends inside the IRS.

Alex McQuade shared The Week That Was, rounding up all of Lawfare’s activity from last week.

Paul also asked if any law students wanted to work on some legal research focusing on the powers of the presidency.

Benjamin Wittes released the latest Lawfare Podcast, observing how the Iran Deal is really going.

Carrie Cordero shared some thoughts on Vice News, Snowden, and fantasy.

In Sunday’s Foreign Policy Essay, Chris Meserole commented on national security in a data age.

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