Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Monday, June 20, 2016, 2:41 PM

Traces of uranium discovered by investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency at a secretive Iranian military base strongly suggest that Tehran pursued a nuclear bomb despite its longstanding denials. The Wall Street Journal interviewed key U.S. officials who claimed the discovery of uranium at Parchin, a military site in southeastern Iran, is consistent with prior intelligence assumptions that Iran had actively sought to develop a bomb. Robert Einhorn, a former top negotiator on the Iran deal and a senior fellow at Brookings, cautioned that the recent revelation is not sufficient as stand-alone evidence but does fit with other intelligence the U.S. government has gathered about Tehran’s nuclear history. While U.S. intelligence still believes Iran suspended its bomb-making efforts in 2003, critics of the Iran deal allege that this latest disclosure shows the nuclear accord did not go far enough in forcing Iran to answer all questions regarding its past nuclear work.

During a televised interview on Friday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State in Anbar province, saying “we promised you the liberation of Fallujah and we retook it.” But despite al Abadi’s proclamation of victory, a CNN crew that accompanied Iraqi security forces as they advanced into Fallujah reports that the Islamic State is still fighting. Fallujah was the first major city taken by ISIS when the Sunni radical group seized it in January 2014 as a key base of operations for subsequent attacks against Baghdad.

Yet celebrations surrounding the government’s impending victory in Fallujah have been tempered by the humanitarian crisis in the city that is now unfolding. Agence France-Presse reveals that over 84,000 civilians have become refugees in the past month as the fighting intensified. Humanitarian camps are overstretched and underfunded while those seeking to escape Fallujah risk not only death at the hands of the Islamic State and Shiite militia groups but also the scorching heat, which regularly tops 104 degrees. This video posted by Loveday Morris of the Washington Post shows the depth of destruction in the city.

The United Nations released a searing report on Monday that claimed more people are now on the run than ever before in recorded history. From those fleeing drug lords in Central America to the civilians caught in the crossfire in Fallujah, the U.N. Refugee Agency’s Global Trends Report estimates a staggering 65 million people have been displaced by conflict. The new figures come at a time when public support for accepting migrants and refugees has been declining in a number of Western countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany.

The Islamic State suffered another blow after a U.S. drone strike and an ensuing ground operation by Afghan soldiers killed more than two dozen Islamic State operatives in eastern Afghanistan. While the Islamic State has a sizeable footprint in Libya, in addition to the swathes of territory the so-called caliphate governs in Iraq and Syria, the organization has struggled to establish a foothold in Afghanistan. While Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani claimed in May that the Islamic State had been defeated, airstrikes targeting top operatives persist. According to local officials in eastern Afghanistan, the latest operation killed 27 Islamic State loyalists and avoided any civilian casualties. The operation comes as the U.S. military prepares for an expanded combat role in the Afghan government’s separate fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency. The Stars and Stripes have more.

Elsewhere, Reuters tells us that Afghanistan was rocked by two bombs on Monday that killed at least 20 people. At least 14 were killed when a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying Nepali security contractors in Kabul, while another eight civilians have been confirmed dead after a bomb detonated in a crowded marketplace in the northern province of Badakhstan.The Taliban claimed credit for the first attack; an insurgency spokesman said, “by organizing this attack, we wanted to show Americans and NATO military officials that we can conduct attacks wherever, and whenever, we want.”

As the Islamic State continues to lose ground through conventional military defeats in the Middle East, the South Korean intelligence agency warns that the group has gathered information on 77 U.S. or NATO military facilities around the world and is encouraging lone wolves to attack these sites. The Islamic State also released information on individuals in 21 countries. The South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) said the United Cyber Caliphate, the hacking arm of the Islamic State, collected details of U.S. Air Force units in South Korea and distributed them through the Telegram messaging service.

The Washington Post reports that FBI released Monday a partial transcript of the 911 calls Omar Mateen made as he slaughtered 49 people in Orlando last weekend. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the transcript would be released scrubbed of the references Mateen made to the Islamic State. “What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this individual’s pledge of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda,” she explained. Critics lambasted the move as an example of political correctness and political interference to frame the attack as a question of gun control and homophobia rather than terrorism. Ric Grennel, a FOX News contributor, said, “this is not just a simple wording issue. The fact that Loretta Lynch is somehow redacting the enemy that is being called out here is a PR move.”

Donald Trump called for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials to employ racial profiling in the wake of the Orlando massacre. In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Trump said, “I hate the concept of profiling, but we have to use common sense.” He issued a similar call after Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 others in an attack in San Bernardino, California, last December. Throughout the campaign, Trump has also called for increasing surveillance of Muslims and mosques, and has said he would consider requiring Muslims to register in a special database or carry self-identification cards. The New York Times has more. ”

Meanwhile, U.S. special operations forces will get an extension in Yemen, as the U.S. military looks to reboot its counterterrorism program in the country. According to officials, the operators will “assist troops from the United Arab Emirates, who, along with other Arab forces, are seeking to track down militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Waltee Steinmeyer said “saber-rattling” by NATO forces in Eastern Europe will not be sufficient to deter Russia. Steinmeyer said European and U.S. policymakers should focus on “embedding Russia in an international partnership of responsibility” over issues of mutual importance such as arms control, the Middle East, and the ongoing effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Steinmeyer’s comments come on the heels of the largest NATO exercises since the Cold War in Poland. More than 31,000 troops from 24 NATO countries including Germany participated in the war games. The Associated Press has more.

A statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry denies that Russia hit U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. The Kremlin’s response comes after top military officials from Russia and the United States held a video conference to discuss recent Russian airstrikes. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had told Reuters that Russian strikes on Thursday had killed Syrian forces that were fighting the Islamic State. But images released by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights suggests that Russian munition had been used in the strikes. For more on the story, CNN and the Post have you covered.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights also claims that Turkish border guards killed 11 Syrian refugees, including at least three children, who were trying to enter Turkey. The refugees were shot near the Syrian border town of Jisr al Shoughour, a key smuggling outpost since Turkey closed its border to Syrian refugees this year. The human rights watchdog claims more than 60 Syrians have been killed by Turkish border guards, but Ankara has denied previous allegations. After taking roughly 3 million Syrian refugees, Ankara reversed its open-border policy after the Turkish public’s support for the initiative waned.

The Israeli government approved roughly $20 million in additional financing for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The move, which was justified on security grounds, underscores the increasingly right-wing nature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration and has attracted stinging criticism from both Palestinian leaders and the Israeli opposition. The news comes as Israel’s new defense minister Avigdor Lieberman is slated to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in Washington. Lieberman is a leader in the hardline Yisrael Beiteinu party that recently joined Netanyahu’s coalition. The settlements have been a source of tensions between the United States and Israel, and the Obama administration has gone as far as to label the settlements “illegitimate.” Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said, “Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace.”

Thousands rallied Sunday on the Japanese island of Okinawa to protest the local U.S. military base. The United States’ heavy military presence in the region has angered residents for decades, in part because they see the base as a hotbed for violent and sometimes unprosecuted crime. Sunday’s protest, which was estimated to attract nearly 65,000 people, was framed as a memorial for a 20 year old local woman who was found dead last month. A U.S. contractor has been charged with her death to the public’s outcry. Reuters reports that the U.S. Marine Corps may hand back a 10,000 acre tract of land early next year to mitigate the surge of Japanese opposition.

Business Insider dissects a recent Congressional Research Service paper that documents how the China’s navy has undergone a remarkable modernization in the last decade, putting the PLAN on pace to potentially achieve parity with the United States. According to the CRS study, Beijing has been building its navy with the explicit purpose of displacing U.S. influence in the western Pacific.

But the U.S. Navy doesn’t plan to relinquish its influence in the Asia-Pacific anytime soon. According to Defense News, two U.S. aircraft carriers started exercises in the Philippine Seas this weekend. The arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan and USS John C. Stennis comes at a time when Manila and Beijing have been tussling over maritime disputes in the South China Seas. The Philippines and the United States have improved defense ties in recent years, and a Philippines defense spokesman said the exercises showed the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to defend the Philippines. U.S. Rear Admiral Marcus Hitchcock, the carrier strike group commander, said, “No other Navy can concentrate this much combat power on one sea...it was truly impressive.” Both Beijing and Manila are awaiting a verdict from an international arbitration tribunal regarding China’s claim to most of the South China Sea.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Marc Meyer contextualized the Orlando massacre as the latest in a long string of tragic attacks that have struck the LGBT community in the United States.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged some critical questions that remain unresolved in the field of cyber conflict.

Rishabh Bhandari compiled The Week That Was, rounding up all of Lawfare’s activity from last week.

Ben Wittes released the latest Lawfare Podcast, wherein he interviews Fred Kaplan, the author of Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War.

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