Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, August 31, 2016, 3:39 PM

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish forces have agreed to a temporary pause in fighting in northern Syria, but Turkish officials insist that their military operations in the war-torn country will continue until the threats to its security are resolved. Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said on Tuesday, “In the last several hours, we have received assurance that all parties involved are going to stop shooting at each other and focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant threat.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest also lauded the temporary halt in fighting between the Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian Kurdish forces. Al Jazeera has more.

The Associated Press adds that the Kurdish-backed Jarabulus Military Council had released a statement confirming it had agreed to a ceasefire with the Turkish military in northern Syria after lengthy consultations with the U.S.-led coalition. France’s President Francois Hollande delivered a speech on Tuesday urging both Turkey and Kurdish forces to avoid exacerbating the bloodshed in Syria and work instead to defeat the Islamic State.

But Turkish officials have denied claims that Ankara had reached a tentative agreement with Kurdish forces. The Hürriyet Daily News tells us that Turkey has expressed its unhappiness to U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass over American statements regarding the ceasefire deal. A spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said, “It has been underlined that such statements are by no means acceptable and that they do not comply with the alliance relationship.”

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius warns that the United States’ campaign to seize Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, may be delayed because of lingering tensions and distrust between Turkey and the Kurds. The Kurdish YPG are highly regarded by the U.S. military as the coalition’s most reliable and formidable fighters on the ground, but Ankara has viewed the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, an organization it has branded a terrorist outfit. If the United States continues to stand with Turkish officials in demanding that the YPG withdraw from Manbij, any assault on Raqqa may be postponed until Kurdish fighters can be cajoled again into spearheading the operation.

The  Post writes that Russia has claimed credit for the airstrike that killed Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s main spokesman and a leading strategist involved in planning attacks overseas. An anonymous U.S. defense official said that Russia’s claim to have killed Adnani was “a joke.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon has stated that it targeted Adnani in an airstrike yesterday, but is still assessing the strike’s results.

The New York Times documents an ongoing debate within the counterterrorism community regarding whether the targeted killing of top terrorist operatives is effective. Some experts argue that terrorist organizations have become more decentralized and are able to recruit new members after attacks, but others claim targeted killings can be an effective component of a more holistic counterterrorism strategy.

The Associated Press reports that the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on whether the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons merited sanctions. The body had convened to discuss the findings of an international team of inspectors that determined that both the Syrian government and Islamic State militants were responsible for chemical attacks carried out in 2014 and 2015. Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said it was too early to consider implementing a September 2013 council resolution authorizing sanctions for any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The United Nations is under increasing pressure to set up an independent inquiry into its Syria aid program after The Guardian revealed that the international body awarded contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to people closely associated with the regime. The United Nations has said its work has saved millions of lives, but the international body’s humanitarian access is contingent on the approval of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

A recent U.S. Army report flagged a growing trend of insurgent and terrorist organizations using remote-controlled or “tele-operated” weapons. The report examined 21 case studies of remote-controlled rifles and machine guns used by extremist organizations such as the Islamic State and Jabhat Fatem al Sham, the former Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda. The Washington Post has more.

Speaking at a cybersecurity symposium, FBI Director James Comey reiterated his warning that widespread encryption will cause a “going dark” problem for law enforcement. Comey called on manufacturers to begin an “adult conversation” with law enforcement officials over the debate between privacy and national security. The Guardian has more.

Reuters relays a pledge by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister that the Kingdom will not allow the Iranian-allied Houthi movement to take over Yemen. The KSA has rebuked Iran for its role in the Yemeni civil war and claims that Tehran is fomenting instability in the broader region. Peace talks between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government broke down earlier this month, and the foreign minister also commented that the question of when talks will resume is contingent on Houthi willingness.

The State Department is looking into a video that surfaced yesterday showing an American woman and her Canadian husband held hostage by the Afghan Taliban. The video shows the couple pleading the United States to force Afghanistan to end its executions of Taliban prisoner, saying that the Taliban will kill them and their children unless the policy is changed. A Taliban spokesman said that the video was recorded in 2015 and that the couple remain alive and in Taliban custody. The Post has more.

India and the United States have signed a landmark agreement increasing military cooperation between the two nations, the Post tells us. The agreement has been more than a decade in the making, owing to uneasiness in New Delhi over the possibility that closer military ties with the United States could upset Indian diplomatic relations with Russia, China, and Indian allies in the Middle East.

In remarks made during a visit to India, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Pakistan must work harder to counter extremist groups within its territory, though he also stated that, “I believe in the last months progress is being made and the Pakistanis are moving at a greater pace.” Reuters has more.

The Times writes that the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is requesting its fifth straight annual increase in military spending, in a budget proposal that is sure to spark another domestic debate over whether Japan should maintain its historical pacifism in the face of mounting regional security challenges. Amid regional environment strained by Chinese claims to territory in the South and East China Seas, along with North Korean aggression,  the budget would allow Japan to place troops near the disputed Senkaku island chain and expand its missile defenses.

Days before President Obama is scheduled to arrive in China, Chinese authorities has formally charged a long-detained American consultant with espionage. Sandy Phan-Gillis has been detained in China for over a year, the Post reports, and is only now being charged. The formal charges may pose diplomatic complications for Obama’s visit to Hangzhou for the G20 summit.

Ongoing skirmishes with the tiny militant group Abu Sayyaf have killed 15 Philippine soldiers and wounded twelve others, according to the Times. The troops were searching for rebel fighters and hostages on the island of Jolo when clashes broke out. A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said that increased troops will be deployed to Jolo in an effort to see that “the threat of the Abu Sayyaf is terminated as soon as possible.”

Malaysian police arrested three suspects believed to be planning ISIS-inspired attacks on a Hindu temple and entertainment complexes around Kuala Lumpur, Reuters reports. The men reportedly planned their attack for the eve of Malaysia’s Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday, acting on the instructions of a Malaysian ISIS fighter who also orchestrated an ISIS grenade attack on a Kuala Lumpur bar in June. Since 2013, Malaysia has arrested 230 people, including 200 Malaysians, for involvement with ISIS.

Boko Haram will be pushed out of its remaining strongholds in northeast Nigeria “within weeks,” says the commander targeting the rebel group. Reuters writes that, according to Major General Lucky Irabor, “almost all of the locations held by the Boko Haram terrorists have been reclaimed.” Nigeria’s relative success against Boko Haram may be attributable to increased military cooperation with neighboring countries such as Chad.

The Washington Post writes that a resettled Guantanamo prisoner who went missing for weeks and later resurfaced in Venezuela has now been deported back to Uruguay. According to a government official who is tasked as the Uruguayan government’s liaison with former Guantanamo prisoners, Abu Wa’el Dhiab “has arrived and is well.” Dhiab, a Syrian native, was among six former Guantanamo prisoners who were resettled in Uruguay after being released by U.S. authorities in 2014.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to halt the trial by military commission of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi national charged with orchestrating the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors. The court abstained from ruling on Nashiri’s claim that, because the United States was not with Al Qaeda at the time of the Cole attack, Nashiri is not a war criminal and thus is ineligible for trial by a military commission.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Rosenthal endorsed a new initiative by the Department of Homeland Security that would seek to obtain information about individuals trying to enter the United States through their social media accounts.

Quinta Jurecic uploaded the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to deny Abd Rahim al Nashiri’s petition to move his case to the federal court system.

Nicholas Weaver asked Lawfare readers how we can turn mobile phone security into an accessible and affordable good rather than a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

Mai El Sadany positively reviewed a proposed bill in Congress that would implement sanctions on a wide range of individuals who have supported and facilitated the Syrian regime’s human rights atrocities.

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