Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, October 12, 2016, 3:28 PM

The Islamic State used a small drone booby-trapped with an explosive payload against Kurdish forces last week, the New York Times reports. The group has been using small, commercially-available drones for reconnaissance, and it seems that the militants have now added explosives. Reuters notes that the modus operandi is part of a well-established pattern of booby-trapping, which the group is now doing to Mosul in preparation for the US-backed offensive.

The long-awaited battle for Mosul seems likely to occur within weeks. Reuters chronicles the extensive preparations that the remaining Islamic State militants have made to weather the assault, including an elaborate system of underground tunnels, networks of child spies, and an excavated ring around the city that militants will fill with burning oil to complicate targeting for American aircraft.

Even setting aside the Islamic State’s preparations, the Mosul offensive faces serious challenges, warns the Washington Post. Tensions remain within the multiethnic and multisectarian coalition that is converging on Mosul. Turkey has insisted on training Sunni troops and playing a role in the offensive, while the Iraqi government—which has favored state forces and Shiite militias—has sharply rebuked Turkey’s military presence in northern Iraq as an unsanctioned occupation. Meanwhile, both governments also have tense relationships with the Kurdish militias involved in the offensive, and similar debates are taking place between Sunni and Shiite groups about stability operations after Mosul falls. In short, the ethnic and sectarian dysfunction that facilitated the rise of the Islamic State will continue to haunt Iraq after the proto-state falls.

Turkey maintains that it will not withdraw its military presence from northern Iraq until the offensive against Mosul has succeeded, writes Reuters. In the meantime, it continues to back certain Sunni and Kurdish groups fighting the Islamic State. Those groups are facing “stiff resistance” from ISIS in northern Syria, according to the Turkish military. Turkish-backed forces are spearheading an offensive on the Syrian city of Dabiq, which the Islamic State currently controls.

Domestically, Turkey is still in the midst of a crackdown on dissent following the failed coup attempt this summer, Reuters reports. The latest round of purges includes hundreds of the state’s military envoys stationed abroad at NATO bases in Europe, weakening Turkey’s integration in NATO at the same time that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken measures to improve his relationship with Russia. The Turkish government also announced that it will go forward with plans to revise the constitution to expand executive authority. The Financial Times has more on Turkey’s intensive crackdown.

There have been two attacks in as many days in Afghanistan, both targeting Shiite worshipers during an important religious holiday, the Post writes. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a shooting in Kabul that killed 17 Shiites. Worshipers refused to let the attack deter them from observing the holiday, and a bomb killed 12 in an attack in the Balkh province.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein continues to push for his proposal to limit the veto power of U.N. Security Council members in cases related to war crimes, comments Reuters. Al-Hussein called on the United States, Russia, and China to join Britain and France in supporting the initiative. It is unlikely any of the three are likely to join the bandwagon, especially following Russia’s veto last week of a French-led U.N. Security Resolution that proposed a no-fly zone over Aleppo.

Hezbollah reiterated its commitment to supporting Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, Reuters observes. The militant group has been part of the motley coalition propping up the Syrian regime by providing foreign fighters to supplement the depleted Syrian military. Hezbollah justifies its intervention on sectarian lines, claiming it needs to defend against Sunni extremists and to preserve Iran’s network of shiite actors in the region.

American officials believe that Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents were responsible for a missile attack on a U.S. ship off the coast of Yemen. The Houthis have denied responsibility for the two missiles fired from their territory this past Sunday. If the United States can attribute the attack to the Houthis, the military may directly engage the rebel forces, even if only for a limited retaliatory strike. U.S. involvement in Yemen has so far been limited to direct engagement of al-Qaeda targets and logistical and intelligence support of the controversial Saudi-led intervention combatting the Houthis. Reuters has more.

France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are leading discussions on potential initiatives to deepen military collaboration among the European powers. The states are considering investing more collaborative resources in military spending and R&D, peacekeeping, and cyber-security. They have also clarified that such proposals would complement, not substitute, NATO and would include the United Kingdom even after its exit from the European Union.

Britain continues to debate how to proceed with Brexit, Reuters observes. Prime Minister Theresa May has argued for a deal with the European Union “that will include maximum possible access to the European market,” but has not yet allowed Parliament to initiate the Brexit procedure.

The lawyers representing the chief suspect in last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris have dropped the case after their client refused to speak with them, the New York Times writes. The client, Salah Abdeslam, is the only living suspect from the attacks and has reportedly indicated that he no longer wants legal representation. French law does not require that a suspect have representation during a criminal investigation, though Abdelslam will be appointed counsel at trial.

The Financial Times reports on increasing signs that Chinese President Xi Jinping may intend to stay in office beyond the traditional two terms. Experts are speculating that Xi may waive the traditional party retirement requirement for officials of age 68 or older, which would allow him to retain his position for a third term or beyond when he turns 69 at the end of his second term in 2022.

China may be considering the implementation of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) across the disputed South China Sea following construction of its second aircraft carrier. The move would be considered extremely provocative by the United States and China’s neighbors in the area, many of whom have staked their own claims to the waters of the South China Sea. Beijing announced an ADIZ in the East China Sea in 2013, though it has struggled with enforcement.

Meanwhile, Japan is criticizing China’s move to continue gas exploration in the East China Sea in violation of an agreement on resource development cooperation in the area. In July, Chinese officials declared that Beijing would not recognize Japan’s “unilateral” boundary-setting. Reuters has more.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on his trip to China next week, Reuters writes. The visit comes amidst rising tensions between the Philippines and the United States as Duterte appears to pivot away from Washington and toward Beijing. Yet on Wednesday, Duterte also announced his plans to maintain the Philippines’ existing defense treaties and alliances—suggesting that he will be maintaining defense ties with the United States, despite his previous statements to the contrary.

Days after the United States formally attributed the recent hacking of Democratic Party information to Russia, the White House has now promised to launch a “proportional” response against the Kremlin. It remains unclear what kind of response the Obama administration has in mind and whether or not the retaliation will be covert. The Journal reviews the possible options, from sanctions to a cyberattack on Russia.

The Supreme Court has granted review in a long-running case on whether former Bush administration officials can be held liable in civil court for sweeping detention policies adopted in New York City immediately after 9/11. The Times reports on the case, which began as a class-action lawsuit in 2002.

The Uruguayan government has offered to reunite Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a former Guantanamo detainee who has been on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his life in Uruguay, with his family. Uruguay has approved visas for Dhiab’s family and will offer them accommodations, the AP writes. Dhiab began his hunger strike to demand that he be resettled with his family in a Muslim-majority country.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Melvin Small reviewed Michael S. Neiberg’s new book, The Path to War: How the First World War Changed America.

Quinta Jurecic uploaded a new statement from the Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins on the resumption of pretrial hearings for the 9/11 case.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker with analysis on events in Syria, Iraq, and Morocco.

Benjamin Wittes posted a comment from Peter Keisler on Trump’s threat to jail Clinton in the debate.

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