Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Thursday, July 28, 2016, 1:23 PM

U.N. Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura urged the United States and Russia to work together in reducing violence in the wartorn country, warning that any breakdown of collaboration between the two powers could undermine plans for a future peace settlement. In recent weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have met in Moscow and Laos to hammer out a deal on military cooperation that could pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire. Reuters has more.

The Associated Press reports that the Syrian government and their Russian backers have opened up channels for both residents of Aleppo and rebel fighters to evacuate the besieged city. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the corridors will offer amnesty to fighters in return for Aleppo’s surrender. Though both rebels and civilians are skeptical, international humanitarian agencies worry that a continuing siege of Aleppo could trigger a major catastrophe. An estimated 300,000 residents are trapped in the rebel-controlled eastern segment of the city.

The AP also informs us that al Qaeda appears to have signed off on Jabhat al Nusra’s decision to split from the umbrella organization. Al Nusra leadership indicated that the decision aims to undermine a possible accord between the US and Russia over intelligence sharing and targeting of al Nusra and ISIS in Syria. Leaving al Qaeda will allow Nusra to tie itself more closely to Syrian rebels, making it more difficult for the US to step up strikes against the group. Al Qaeda’s deputy leader Ahmed Hassan Abu el Kheir released a six-minute video instructing “the leadership of the Nusra Front to go ahead with what protects the interests of Islam and Muslim and what protects jihad," urging al Nusra’s leadership to ally with other groups to form an “Islamic government” against the “Crusaders.”

FBI Director James Comey stated that the Islamic State’s territorial defeat in the Middle East might actually spark an uptick in terrorist attacks in the West. Speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University on Wednesday, Comey predicted that “at some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like something we’ve never seen before.” While most members of this coming diaspora will primarily arrive in Western Europe, Comey argued, some could also end up in the United States.

The New York Times discloses that thousands of young Afghan men have left their country to join the Syrian Army and its allies in the ongoing civil war. The men are almost all Shiite Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority, who have not been able to find work in Afghanistan. They are drawn to Syria both by the promise of a regular salary from the regime and a guarantee of legal residence for their families in Iran in the event of their death in Syria.

American-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias seized more than 10,000 documents and 4.5 terabytes of data from the Islamic State during the ongoing fight for Manbij, a northern city that has served as the gateway for new ISIS recruits from nearby Turkey. Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy for combating the Islamic State, said this treasure trove of information will help the United States and its allies identify ISIS fighters, their countries of origin, their routes into Syria, and the illicit networks that recruited them. He added that this information could help European and U.S. law enforcement agencies prevent domestic terrorism attacks as Islamic State fighters look to return home. The New York Times has more.

Turkey is preparing for a drastic overhaul of its armed forces as part of its response to the recent coup, with the dishonorable discharge over 1,700 personnel and 40% of Turkey’s admirals and generals. Meanwhile, the government is also intensifying its pressure on the U.S. to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen for his alleged role in inciting the coup, likening its demand to post-9/11 American demands that Afghanistan hand over Osama bin Laden. Though Turkey is unlikely to pressure the U.S. militarily, it can pressure its ally by dragging its feet in the battle against ISIS, writes Politico.

German intelligence officials are re-evaluating Milli Gorus, an influential Turkish expatriate group with connections to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a potential extremist threat. Though German intelligence considers the group’s founders to be extremist, concerns over its activities have waned in recent years. Germany’s renewed concern over Milli Gorus’ activities is both an indication of German fears of extremism in light of recent attacks and a possible sign of tensions in the German-Turkish relationship.

Meanwhile, German police raided a mosque suspected to be a hotspot for extremists and searched apartments owned by leading members of the “German-speaking Islam Circle Hildesheim” organization. Boris Pistorius, the state’s interior minister, said that “months of preparation” led up to the raids of the organization, which had reportedly called for “hatred toward infidels” and may have motivated members to participate in jihad.

New information indicates that French police had been hunting for one of the Normandy church attackers after receiving tipoffs that the teenager was a suspected extremist. This information adds fuel to the criticism that President Francois Hollande's Socialist government has failed to do enough to prevent the attack. Reuters has more.

Italy has expelled two more suspected extremists as part of its efforts to intensify counterterrorism measures and prevent attacks. According to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the deportations aim to distinguish between “who prays and who shoots,” though the Italian government has not provided any information on the two individuals deported.

The Wall Street Journal reports that China and Russia plan to hold joint naval drills in the South China Sea in September, heightening regional tensions in the wake of a tribunal’s recent rejection of China’s maritime claims over the area. The drills, which China maintained were “routine” and not directed at any particular country, mark the first joint exercises in the area between China and Russia. The two countries have been strengthening their defense ties in recent years.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to dissolve a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels after a militiaman was killed in a guerilla ambush. Duterte demanded an explanation from rebel leaders and an assurance that discipline against the attackers would be taken. The ceasefire between the two sides—who have been battling for nearly fifty years—is only two days old.

North Korea’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs told the AP that Washington had “crossed the red line” by sanctioning Kim Jong Un. Calling the sanctions a “thrice-cursed crime” and a “declaration of war,” the diplomat warned that North Korea may respond with violence should the U.S. conduct its regularly-planned joint military exercises with South Korea next month.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Carrie Cordero compared the cybersecurity risk landscape that faces political campaigns to risks faced in the private sector.

Susan Hennessey flagged a statement by two leading Democratic legislators from California, Representative Adam Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein, that urged the Obama administration to disclose information regarding Russia’s alleged involvement in the DNC hack.

Susan and Benjamin Wittes analyzed Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin to determine whether the Republican presidential candidate is, legally speaking, an agent of a foreign power.

Ben also highlighted Donald Trump’s call for Russian intelligence services to conduct illegal espionage against Hillary Clinton and posted the latest Rational Security podcast, the “How Cosy is Your Bear” edition.

Jack Goldsmith added some more thoughts on the DNC hack, considering attribution and precedent.

Nora Ellingsen covered a charge that three men in Palm Beach, Florida were providing material support to terrorism.

Stephanie Leutert updated her Beyond the Border series, questioning who’s killing whom in Mexico and Central America.

Frank Cilluffo and Sharon Cardash provided an overview and analysis of the White House’s Presidential Policy Directive on Cyber Incident Coordination.

Julian Ku discussed more possible U.S. responses to the South China Sea award and the effectiveness of economic sanctions.

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