Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, October 20, 2016, 2:49 PM

Coalition forces fighting to retake Mosul from the Islamic State continued to make progress today, reports the Washington Post. Iraq’s elite, U.S.-trained counterterrorism forces engaged ISIS militants in the south, while the Peshmerga closed off northern routes into Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi noted that the offensive was progressing “more quickly than planned.” Islamic State fighters are using suicide bombers, booby traps, mortars, and sniper fire to contest the Iraqi and Kurdish advance into the suburbs surrounding Mosul. Once these villages and towns are cleared, Iraqi government forces will spearhead the assault on Mosul proper.

The new front opened by the Kurds in the north focuses on capturing the town of Bashiqa, the Wall Street Journal notes. The move further envelopes the militants in Mosul, who now face attacks in the south, east, and north. Iranian-backed militias announced yesterday that they planned to capture territory to Mosul’s west, preventing the militants from retreating to Syria. The liberation of Bashiqa—only 12 miles from Mosul—also brings central Mosul into coalition artillery range. Bashiqa is one of 27 villages to the city’s north that Peshmerga plan to recapture, adds the New York Times.

Kurdish forces report that Islamic State fighters in Mosul are using drones, writes Reuters. Peshmerga troops report shooting down drones that militants are using to feed targeting information to mortars, and potentially to drop explosives. This follows recent evidence that the Islamic State has increased its use of drones, including to serve as flying IEDs.

The exodus of civilians from Mosul has begun, the Wall Street Journal notes. The city’s residents are starting to escape across the front lines, and the United Nations expects more than half of Mosul’s 1.2 million residents to follow suit. Coalition forces will face challenges in verifying that militants are not trying to blend in with the refugees, a tactic ISIS has used in sieges before. The Financial Times has more.

A U.S. service member died from wounds related to an IED explosion in northern Iraq near Mosul, Reuters tells us. This marks the fourth death of a U.S. service member since the beginning of the U.S.-led coalition military effort against ISIS in 2014.

Both Western and Iranian officials have confirmed that Iran is deepening its support for the Houthi insurgents in Yemen, Reuters writes. U.S. sources claim Iran is using Oman as a waypoint to smuggle in “anti-ship missiles, explosives … money, and personnel.” The claim that Iran is providing the Houthis with anti-ship missiles is particularly concerning given the series of missile attacks on the USS Mason earlier this month.

Russia’s “humanitarian pause” in airstrikes against eastern Aleppo goes into effect today, the Post reports. The Syrian government has approved U.N. requests to provide aid to the city, but U.N. officials say they have neither sufficient time nor meaningful security guarantees from the regime’s forces that would be required to deliver humanitarian relief. Reuters notes that the United Nations has called on Russia to extend the current pause, which lasts 11 hours a day for four days, by another day.

The Russian and Syrian governments want insurgents and civilians to take the opportunity to flee, but neither rebels nor civilians trust regime forces. Negotiated evacuations have consolidated government control of Moadamiyeh, Daraya, and Homs in the past several months. In Aleppo, however, the rebels have rejected such offers and have instead announced preparations for a counter-offensive, observes Reuters.

Turkish airstrikes killed approximately 200 U.S.-sponsored Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, writes the Financial Times. The fighters were members of the YPG, which Turkey considers an affiliate of the PKK, a Turkish insurgent group that uses terrorist tactics. The operation comes as no surprise given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s promise this week to push the YPG out of Syrian territory bordering Turkey. The attack is likely to aggravate the United States, which views the YPG as an important component of its anti-Islamic State coalition.

The European Union is considering sanctioning Russia for its humanitarian abuses in Syria, reports the Financial Times. Officials note that the major European powers support sanctions, but Spain, Greece, and Cyprus have voiced opposition. The aforementioned Russian “humanitarian pause” is likely intended to complicate European efforts to form a consensus on sanctions. European leaders have taken increasingly hard lines with Moscow following its recent spree of military activism. A statement set to be released tonight has been modified to more strongly condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, writes the Journal.

At the same time that European and Russian leaders verbally spar over Syria, a multilateral conference yesterday produced a “road map” to move toward stability in Eastern Ukraine, reports the Post. Germany, Russia, France, and Ukraine outlined a plan to withdraw troops in parts of Donbass and to increase monitoring assets. German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned, “We now have a starting document, but it still has many points of discord … This is certain still to be very arduous.” The document aims to address the failures of the Minsk I and II accords, which have constrained neither Ukraine nor Russia from fighting. The Journal has more.

The Dutch are also pressuring the European Union to clarify that it does not intend to grant Ukraine membership in the bloc, adds the Journal. The Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which paves the way for greater trade as well as military and political ties, entered into force earlier this year. The Netherlands is the last state holding out on ratification, and wants a statement clarifying that the deal does not signal Ukraine’s movement toward membership. The decision stems from domestic political calculations, as the Dutch prime minister will soon square off against an anti-immigrant party in the Netherland’s upcoming elections.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is making good on his promises to pivot away from the country’s strategic relationship with Washington and instead embrace Beijing. Duterte has worked diligently to undermine U.S.-Philippine cooperation in recent months—a mood encapsulated in his latest statement that it is “time to say goodbye” to the United States, writes the Washington Post. He also went on to imply plans to ally with Russia, saying, “there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” For the time being, the Philippines remain a U.S. treaty ally.

Duterte has been meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the two agreed to bilateral talks on disputes in the South China Sea, as well as 13 other agreements ranging from counternarcotics to fishing. There are also plans for significant Chinese investment in the Filipino economy, including $9 billion in loans. The Wall Street Journal has more.

North Korea tested its second missile in five days, and both tests failed, reports the Times. The missile in question was North Korea’s intermediate range Musudan ballistic missile, which it feverishly tested over the summer before finally achieving a successful flight. The Musudan has the potential to strike American military targets in South Korea, Japan, and Guam.

Investigators have found NSA hacking tools among the documents that NSA contractor Harold Martin took home from work, writes the Times. Investigators are unsure, however, whether Martin’s stockpile was the source of the recent “Shadow Brokers” leak.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Herb Lin added to his original post on “loud” cyber operations intended to make attribution to the United States apparent.

Bobby Chesney created a bingo card for the presidential debate.

Dan Arbell considered the possibility that the Obama administration is planning new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives as a November Surprise.

Chris Mirasola covered the military commissions in the al-Nashiri trial.

Quinta posted an opening for a spring internship with Lawfare.

Ashley Deeks and Michael Livermore highlighted the risks that more embarrassing materials like the Apprentice tape might be used to blackmail a future President Trump.

Andrew Kent and Julian Mortenson outline three periods in American history that illustrate the evolution of executive legal authority.

Heather Hurlburt explored how gender dynamics in the US national security apparatus influences foreign policy.

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