Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Caitlin Gilligan, Rishabh Bhandari
Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 2:40 PM

In response to yesterday’s suicide bombing on Jordan’s border with Syria, Amman has declared its borders with Syria and Iraq to be closed military zones. The attack consisted of a truck “full of explosives driven at high speed over the border from Syria and blown up beside a Jordanian military post,” BBC reports. According to Jordan’s Information Minister, Mohammed Momani, there were warning signs that ISIS members were hiding among Syrians stuck at the borders for months. Jordan expects that armed forces will assess humanitarian cases at the crossing, but international relief workers are concerned that the suspension of humanitarian aid to the now closed military zones will only further place the lives of the million of displaced people at risk.

Along Lebanon’s border with Syria near the town of Arsal, Lebanese forces backed by the U.S. and Britain “have been quietly making steady progress, fighting against Islamic extremists holed up in the rugged mountains,” the Associated Press tells us. Recently the Lebanese armed forces have seen consistent success and gained significant territory formerly held by IS and the Nusra Front. The U.S. and Britain have supplied the 5,000 Lebanese troops with helicopters, anti-tank missiles, artillery and radars, training and drones.

Russian and Syrian fighter jets conducted airstrikes on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, on Tuesday evening, killing at least 18 civilians, according to activists. Meanwhile Syrian President Bashar al Assad called for a new government in Syria, tasking Electricity Minister Emad Khamis with the role of Prime Minister. It remains why Assad called for a new government or why he has chosen to replace to Prime Minister Wael al Halaki.

Recent success in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State might have negative consequences, Reuters reports. Although the “Islamic State’s defeats in Iraq and Syria have erased its image of invincibility, they threaten to give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of disaffected Sunni Muslims because Shi’ite and Kurdish fighters are a major part of the campaign.” Another potential consequence would be ISIS turning to “less conventional military tactics” and inspiring attacks elsewhere including Europe and the United States. Echoing similar concerns, CIA Director John Brennan said “Our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.” Citing the Orlando attack, Hassan Hassan from the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London told the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee that “The Islamic State’s international appeal has become untethered from its military performance on the ground,” suggesting that military gains in Iraq and Syria won’t be enough to defeat the Islamic State.

Combat in Fallujah has forced over 85,000 people to flee the Iraqi city, and according to aid officials, the Iraqi government “appears to have prepared little assistance for the fleeing families.” This has left the UN scrambling to match the pace of supplies with the pace of displaced people. One family complained that because supplies have been low, those with money and connections have been given priority over others. The lack of preparedness “raises concerns about what will happen in the aftermath of a planned offensive to retake the much larger city of Mosul,” which the United Nations estimates will displace 600,000 to 1.2 million people.

U.N. funding shortages will also affect already limited food distribution in Yemen, where approximately 14 million people suffer from food insecurity at either “crisis or emergency levels,” where “emergency level is just one step before famine.” According to the Associated Press, shortages will affect “war-scarred Yemen by August.”

President Obama’s nominee to head U.S. Africa Command, Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, told Congress yesterday that the Obama’s administration has no “overall grand strategy” for combating ISIS in Libya. CIA Director Brennan has called the Islamic State-affiliate in Libya to be “the most developed and the most dangerous.” However the Washington Examiner cites Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, who stated that “the most important thing, we believe, in the Libyan situation is the formation of this government, the strengthening of this government, support for this government, so that it can handles these security matters on their own.”

Even with disputes in Washington, Libyan government-backed forces “have made their largest gains yet” in the ISIS-occupied city of Sirte. BBC reports that troops advanced more than 1 kilometer into residential districts previously held by the Islamic State and have taken control of an official radio station, power management facility, and an ISIS ammunition store. Al Jazeera adds that Libyan pro-government forces lost at least 18 members in the battle, but killed dozens of ISIS fighters.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are set to meet early next week to discuss “growing international pressure for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.”

The Hermit Kingdom finally knows success. North Korea took a significant step on Wednesday towards developing a powerful ballistic missile that can reach U.S. bases in the Pacific. The rocket tests had previously failed on five separate occasions in the last two months, but today’s results are a sign of North Korea’s resolve to upgrade its missile capability in the face of international pressure. Pyongyang was slapped with the strongest sanctions in two decades after its nuclear test and long-range rocket launch earlier this year. South Korea’s Unification Ministry called the launches a “clear provocation,” while Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “we find it utterly unforgivable.” The Associated Press and the BBC have more more, while Agence France-Presse produced a video to break down the launch’s implications for regional stability.

According to the Yonhap News Agency in South Korea, the U.S. military and its South Korean counterpart conducted joint-helicopter attack exercises on Wednesday to test their combat readiness. The exercises are aimed at simulating situations where the helicopters would need to deter the movement of North Korean armored vehicles.

A sharp debate is emerging in South Korea over how the country should process defectors from North Korea after a human rights group took the country’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, to court alleging that the NIS has blocked the legal rights of 12 North Korean women who arrived in South Korea in April. Pyongyang charges that the women were kidnapped. Though the NIS has the right to detain all defectors for up to six months in order to gain intelligence and filter out would-be spies, accusations have plagued the agency in recent years that it subjects inmates to abusive language, violence, and threats of deportation.

The Boeing Company announced yesterday that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran Air, the Iranian national carrier, that expresses “the airline’s intent to purchase Boeing commercial passenger airplanes.” Although Boeing did not disclose the specifics of the order, Iranian and industry officials told the New York Times that Iran would purchase 100 Boeing jetliners, including new generations of the popular 737 and 777 models. The transaction, which is estimated to be worth roughly $17 to $25 billion, would be the most significant business deal between Iran and an American company in decades.

An Egyptian court took the country by surprise when it nullified the government’s decision to transfer two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The move is a setback for President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi, who gave the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to the KSA during a visit by Saudi King Salman in April. Saudi Arabia had owned the two islands until 1950 when the Saudi government transferred them to Egypt out of fear that Israel might seize them. Though Sisi had painted the transfer as a correction of a historical quirk, his critics were quick to point out the financial assistance Saudi Arabia has provided since he ousted the Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. For more, check out the Times and the Journal.

Across Europe and the United States, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are struggling to reckon with attackers such as Omar Mateen, the shooter in the Orlando massacre, who do not evince any warning signs until they strike. Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times highlights the counterterrorism strategies that government officials must develop to stop lone wolves when the evidence is slim and often legally permissible behavior.

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the U.S. Senate is likely to pass legislation today to expand the Bureau’s intelligence-gathering capabilities. The bill, which was introduced by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), is largely backed by Republicans and would allow the FBI to access a person’s email account data and Internet browsing history without a warrant in terrorism and espionage cases. Although it is unclear whether this measure will pass the House, the Obama administration has pushed vigorously for the measure. Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI’s inability to access such information without a court order “affects our work in a very, very big and practical way.” Critics claim the bill would compromise civil liberties while doing little to improve national security. Reuters has more.

Defense One fills us in on a new database the Pentagon is slated to launch next month for investigating the trustworthiness of personnel who could have access to federal facilities and computer systems. The Defense Information System for Security will integrate existing tools for vetting employees and job applicants. Defense Department officials said the move was necessary after well-publicized leaks of classified data and shootings on military bases.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Charlie Savage responded to Ashley Deeks and Marty Lederman’s piece criticizing the State Department Syria dissent memo, arguing that the debate so far about the legality of strikes against Assad has not accurately reflected the opinion of the Obama administration.

Jack Goldsmith also responded to Deeks and Lederman, explaining his interpretation of the Obama administration’s legal position.

Jack also noted that the U.S.-China cyberespionage agreement is aiding President Xi Jinping in his efforts to centralize military control.

Isaac Park dissected the Supreme Court’s ruling in RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Community.

Ben highlighted another material support suit against Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ken Anderson shared a brief review of Ann Larabee’s 2015 book The Wrong Hands: Popular Weapons Manuals and Their Historic Challenges to a Democratic Society.

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