Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, June 7, 2016, 1:55 PM

As U.S.-backed rebels close in on Raqqa and Iraqi military forces move into Fallujah, many of the Islamic State’s foreign recruits are looking to leave instead of fight. The Wall Street Journal reports that a growing number of foreign-born Islamic State fighters have begun contacting their governments, seeking helping in returning home after growing disenchanted with the organization. Yet domestic intelligence agencies remain on high alert after the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels, and both Western and Turkish officials have struggled to verify whether the defectors still pose a threat. This spike in defections comes at a time when anti-Islamic State forces are making promising gains in both Iraq and Syria. Reuters covers the gains of both U.S.- and Russian-backed Syrian troops in Manbij and Raqqa respectively.

In Fallujah, CNN reveals that ISIS militants are targeting and killing civilians who seek to flee the city. For those lucky enough to escape the Islamic State’s clutches, the New York Times adds that the journey across the Euphrates to Baghdad presents new dangers, and existing aid camps and humanitarian efforts have been stretched to capacity by both the influx of refugees and the Iraqi government’s tight control of traffic between Baghdad and Anbar Province.

Kremlinology 2.0: Business Insider interprets recent statements by high-level Russian officials including its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as an indication that Vladimir Putin is preparing to expand Russia’s footprint in Syria, three months after the Kremlin had announced it would begin withdrawing from the region. Lavrov told reporters on Monday that Russia would provide “the most active” support to the Syrian army near Aleppo and the surrounding area. On Sunday, Russia’s deputy defense minister said there was still “much to be done to support the Syrian army.”

Today, the Times reports that a car bombing in Istanbul claimed 11 lives including seven police officers. The bomb targeted a police vehicle in a central tourist district of the city,wounding 36 others. Though no party has claimed immediate responsibility, Istanbul saw two suicide attacks earlier this year, both of which were attributed to the Islamic State.

After yesterday’s attack in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, which claimed the lives of five members of the Jordanian intelligence service, the Times updates us that one person has been arrested, though the investigation continues. A government spokesman said “the attack was most likely carried out by a lone wolf cell or sleeper cells affiliated with the Islamic State.”

Reuters informs us that local officials in Bosso, a town in Niger’s southeast, said on Sunday that Boko Haram has seized control of the region in a cross-border raid. These assertions contradict the government of Niger’s claim that the country’s security forces, in partnership with troops from neighboring Nigeria, have fought back the West African terrorist group. As of Monday night, Reuters was unable to verify independently who controls the town.

Foreign Policy notes that Saudi Arabia successfully cajoled United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to take the Gulf power off a U.N.-blacklist of countries and organizations that have egregiously violated children’s rights. The Saudi lobbying efforts succeeded after the country’s inclusion in a report that documented the consequences of Riyadh’s air war in Yemen, where 785 children have died so far because of strikes executed by either the Saudi-led coalition or the Iranian-backed Houthi opposition. Human rights groups sharply criticized the decision.

During last weekend’s Shangri-La security conference in Singapore, Chinese Admiral Guan Youfei, the director of foreign affairs for China’s Defense ministry, dismissed a forthcoming U.N. tribunal verdict in its maritime dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea, saying that the arbitration is illegal and that China will not accept it. The U.S. and other Asian nations warned China that Beijing’s open threat to ignore the ruling could stoke tensions in the region. The Journal, which reported on the conference, opines that the U.S. and its allies must be prepared to counter China’s intransigence with a stabilizing show of unity.

With security concerns staining U.S-Sino relations, leaders have turned to trade and economic investment as the primary generator of goodwill on both sides. Yet as this year’s security and economic dialogue between high-level officials in both governments began on Monday, the Journal documents how the two countries are increasingly clashing at the highest levels on sensitive questions of regulatory and trade policy. Fundamental disagreements between Washington and Beijing on issues such as China’s currency policy and Chinese regulations that coerce foreign companies to surrender proprietary information in return for market access will likely dominate this year’s summit. Officials are likely to also address Beijing’s new security laws, which pressure foreign NGOs and tech companies.

Two days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves Washington, India and the United States will once again hold a large-scale joint naval exercise over eight days in the western Pacific. But while the Malabar exercise has become an annual fixture, Reuters reports that this year will mark the first time since 2007 that Japan also participates in the activities.

Ukrainian officials announced yesterday that they had arrested a French man who was apparently attempting to smuggle explosives and firearms into Europe for possible attacks against the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer championship this month. According to the officials, the suspect is an “ultra-nationalist” angered by the influx of Muslim migrants to Europe. The Washington Post has more.

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is seeking to amend what FBI Director James Comey has characterized as a “typo” in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The change to the surveillance law would “give the FBI explicit authority to access a person’s Internet browser history and other electronic data without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases” through the use of an administrative subpoena known as a national security letter. The Administration made a similar effort six years ago, but dropped the measure after privacy advocates and the tech industry, who view the change as a gross expansion of FBI surveillance authority, opposed it.

In an attempt to force a Congressional discussion over presidential war powers, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CN) introduced an amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that declares neither the 2001 nor the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force apply to the fight against ISIS. While calling for a new ISIS-specific AUMF, the measure sets out that the president “is not authorized to conduct military operations against ISIS without explicit authorization for the use of such force.”

Parting Shot: “Ask people in Washington right now about U.S. troops in Syria, and you’ll get a whole swath of different answers,” write Buzzfeed reporters Ali Watkins and Hayes Brown. So to set the record straight, they outline the kaleidoscope of activities in which U.S. forces are engaged, complete with gifs from all your favorite movies.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Lawfare continued its coverage of the ongoing military commission case against the alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks. Zoe Bedell reported on the May 31st session, while Francesca Procaccini detailed the pre-trial proceedings for June 1st.

Amy Zegart offered a sneak peak into a talk she will give later this week arguing that the cultural gap between Washington and Silicon Valley is both stark and also worsening.

Jack Goldsmith reflected on the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden three years ago and how these have inadvertently bolstered the intelligence community.

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes invited readers to attend the June 15th Hoover Book Soiree where Ben will interview Fred Kaplan about his new book, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War.

Julian Ku rejected China’s claim that it is under no obligation to comply with an impending South China Sea arbitration award as legally unsupportable.

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