Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Monday, October 17, 2016, 3:47 PM

The battle for Mosul is underway. The New York Times reports on the ongoing effort to take back the Iraqi city from the Islamic State—an offensive coordinated between Iraqi counterterrorism forces, the Iraqi military, Kurdish pesh merga troops, and American air support. The pesh merga have been moving swiftly through villages east of Mosul and have taken control of the road from Mosul to Irbil, though they have been targeted by ISIS suicide attacks. Reports indicate that the offensive is moving ahead of schedule.

Discontent has been rising within Mosul in recent weeks as the offensive neared. Reports from within the city describe fresh graffiti on city walls: the Arabic letter M for moqama, meaning resistance. As ISIS fighters prepared to fight, civilians were stockpiling supplies for both the battle and the potential humanitarian crisis that may follow.

The coalition’s ultimate goal is to surround the city and prevent ISIS forces from fleeing into Syria. For those of us who need a map to follow what’s going on, the Times also provides some helpful visuals.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a series of ISIS attacks killed over 50 people in and around Baghdad. Reuters reports on the attacks, which targeted a Shiite religious gathering, a police checkpoint, and the residence of a pro-government Sunni militia leader.

The apocalypse has been indefinitely postponed. On Sunday, ISIS forces retreated from the Syrian village of Dabiq, which the group’s propaganda has long portrayed as the site of a world-ending confrontation with the west. Syrian rebel forces quickly took control of the town, which has little strategic significance but great symbolic weight as an indication of ISIS’s power—and now, perhaps, its decline. The Washington Post examines at the role of Dabiq in ISIS propaganda.

Russia has announced an upcoming humanitarian pause in its bombardment of Aleppo, the BBC reports. Bombing will cease for eight hours on Thursday in order to allow rebels and civilians time to leave the beleaguered city. The announcement comes after multilateral talks between Russia, the United States, and several regional states ground to a halt on Saturday without any breakthrough, though Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that the talks would begin once again on Monday. The New York Times has more.

The Wall Street Journal writes that EU officials are pushing for increased sanctions against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria in response to the assault on Aleppo, as well as a call for Russia to cease its involvement in the bombing. But Politico notes that, according to EU foreign policy representative Federica Mogherini, new EU sanctions against Russia are likely off the table. Mogherini has announced that she will soon begin a new round of talks on Syria’s future with regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey.

Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government, and the Houthi rebels have agreed to an immediate 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen, Reuters reports. The pause in fighting may be extended further with the agreement of all parties. More details on the ceasefire negotiations are available here.

A U.S. warship off the coast of Yemen appears to have come under missile attack once more on Saturday, though CNN reports that it remains unclear whether the USS Mason was actually fired upon or whether the ship’s radar simply malfunctioned. The destroyer fired multiple missiles in response. This would be the third time that the USS Mason came under fire in the past week, following two other missile attacks that the United States believes to have been conducted by the Houthi rebels; on Thursday, the United States conducted retaliatory strikes against Houthi forces in response. Meanwhile, Houthi rebels released two Americans who had been held prisoner on Saturday afternoon.

An internal investigation conducted by Saudi Arabia has found that the KSA-led coalition airstrike that killed over a hundred Yemenis last week was a mistake due to faulty intelligence. The Post reports on the statement released by Riyadh on Saturday, which declared that “a party affiliated” with the Yemeni president “wrongly passed information” regarding a supposed Houthi gathering on the funeral hall targeted by the airstrike.

Kuwait’s emir unilaterally dissolved the country’s parliament on Sunday over security concerns, the Journal writes. While officials did not specify the nature of the concerns, Kuwait has been forced to grapple with the threat of possible ISIS attacks over the past year.

A group opposed to Libya’s U.N.-backed government seized a government building in Tripoli and demanded the formation of a new government, Reuters reports. The forces now in control of the building, which was used by the Libyan parliament, are loyal to Khalifa Ghwail, who headed a previous government. The United Nations has condemned the attempted coup.

Afghan troops have successfully halted the Taliban’s advance into Lashkar Gah, the regional capital of the country’s southern Helmand Province. Together with U.S. special forces and air support, Afghan forces are now doing their best to force the Taliban away from the city. According to Reuters, the Taliban apparently plans to keep Lashkar Gah under siege “as long as possible.”

The New York Times takes a careful look at the new form of warfare carried out by the United States in Somalia—a “shadow war” conducted with a limited amount of “boots on the ground” and relying heavily on airstrikes couched in the language of self-defense. Operations in Somalia have seen a notable increase this year as U.S. forces seek to counter the Al Shabaab terrorist organization.

In response to a string of ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks and threats across Europe, Belgian police are coordinating with the FBI to learn new techniques to stop active shooters. The increased expertise of U.S. law enforcement in dealing with mass shootings is now coming in handy for European law enforcement as the EU grapples with the threat of terrorism.

North Korea tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday, the Times reports. The missile, which Pyongyang successfully tested in June, exploded shortly after launch.

Buzzfeed reports on Fancy Bear, the Russian group responsible for the hacking of Democratic Party information in what the U.S. government now says is a Kremlin ploy to influence the U.S. election. The group has a long history of sophisticated cyberattacks predating its involvement in the U.S. election. Its weapon of choice has been spear-phishing, which it likely used to get inside the DNC.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s internet access was cut off by a “state actor" that the organization now believes to have been Ecuador, according to Wikileaks itself. Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.

U.K. bank accounts belonging to Kremlin propaganda outlet RT have been frozen, the BBC writes. RT’s bank indicated that it is “not prepared to enter into any discussion,” while British Prime Minister Theresa May stated that the decision was made independently by the bank without consultation with the government.

Former deputy chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright has been charged with one count of making false statements in connection to the leak classified information on Stuxnet, and is expected to plead guilty in a court hearing this afternoon. The Post fills us in on the details: Cartwright reportedly leaked information about Stuxnet to Times reporter David Sanger and Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman, falsely telling investigators that he was not involved in the leak. The Daily Beast has more.

Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi has returned to his home country of Mauritania as of Monday, Carol Rosenberg writes at the Miami Herald. Slahi became widely known following the publication of his memoir, Guantanamo Diary, which chronicled his detention and torture. He was cleared for release by Guantanamo’s parole board earlier this summer.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes posted Rational Security, the “John Podesta Makes a Mean Risotto” Edition.

Zachary Burdette reviewed Lawfare’s week.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring Jack Goldsmith and Susan Hennessey on Russian efforts to interfere with the U.S. election.

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Talene Bilazarian examined the usefulness and pitfalls of CVE programs in fighting terrorism.

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