Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, October 21, 2016, 4:21 PM

A DDOS attack targeting the DNS provider Dyn forced numerous major websites offline for extended periods of time across the East Coast of the United States on Friday. According to the New York Times, Dyn, which routes web traffic to its intended destination, came under attack beginning at 7:30am EDT this morning; a second attack began at around noon. Reuters tells us that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are investigating the attack. It remains unclear who may be responsible.

The Islamic State counter-attacked early this morning in Iraq, striking the northern city of Kirkuk, reports the Wall Street Journal. The militants began with a pre-dawn wave of suicide bombings on local security forces followed by a series of gunfights with police and Kurdish militias. Local authorities claimed the environment was “under control” by the end of the day, writes the Washington Post. The attack on Kirkuk comes as the U.S.-backed coalition closes in on Mosul, and was likely intended as a symbolic counter to that offensive. The guerilla tactics may foreshadow the ISIS’s growing emphasis on hit-and-run operations and terrorist attacks as it loses both territory and its capacity to strike conventionally.

The U.S.-backed coalition forces are making gradual progress in rolling back Islamic State control of the villages surrounding Mosul. The Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraq’s elite “Golden Division” counterterrorism units continue their multi pronged offensive, notes the Post. The Peshmerga report heavy casualties, which they blame on insufficient coalition air support. U.S. military officials stress that demand for air support exceeds supply, and that the United States will continue supporting both Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Yesterday, Iraqi forces announced the capture of Bartella, an important town only eight miles to Mosul’s east. Peshmerga forces claim, though, that the government has “liberated about 75% of the town, but that last 25% will be twice as hard.” Once secured, Bartella will serve “as a gateway to retake Mosul.” The Journal has more.

The Islamic State is preparing for the final showdown in Mosul’s urban center. It has taken hostages from the surrounding villages, whom the United Nations fears will be used as human shields, writes the Telegraph. There are also reports that the extremists are targeting families of Peshmerga troops and threatening to execute them if the Kurdish fighters move on the towns. A Peshmerga officer added that the Islamic State is sending civilians into Mosul both to prevent civilian attacks on militants within the villages and to allow ISIS fighters to more easily cover the villages with booby-traps, the Journal comments.

Many of Mosul’s residents are fleeing—or hope to flee soon—from the city, reports the Post. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that it is not prepared to receive the displaced civilians, estimating that the number of people needing help may reach 700,000. This is symptomatic of the broader humanitarian crisis in Iraq, where ten percent of the population has been displaced. The Turkish Red Crescent announced plans to help by sending enough supplies to aid 10,000 civilians, observes Reuters.

Islamic State fighters remain under siege in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte, writes Reuters. The U.S. and U.N.-backed Libyan government forces have confined the militants in an area of one square kilometer within the city after six months of fighting. The United States began providing close air support to government forces in August, which has been important to whittling down the Islamic State’s presence in the city. The remaining fighters employed tactics similar to those used by the militants defending Mosul—tunnels, booby-traps, and sniping. Sirte is the group’s key base of operations in Libya, and in turn its “main stronghold outside Iraq and Syria.”

Russian and Syrian forces observed their second of four planned unilateral ceasefires today, notes Reuters, though the “humanitarian pauses” have accomplished little. Humanitarian workers cannot deliver aid because of insufficient security guarantees.

Russia and Syria hope that the rebels will cave to the starve-or-submit tactics, but the fighters in Aleppo have thus far refused to negotiate an evacuation agreement or leave the city. The rebels announced plans to continue fighting and even launch a counter-attack to break the siege. Similarly, the residents do not trust the regime forces—especially after their recent campaign of brutal airstrikes—are staying in eastern Aleppo.

European leaders are considering implementing bloc-wide sanctions against Russia, writes the Post. Russia’s bloody campaign in Aleppo and its heightened military activity in Europe are prompting the European Union to take a harder line with Moscow. Yet the bloc still lacks the necessary consensus to impose new sanctions, with Italy, Spain, and Hungary among the states who have voiced support for reducing rather than increasing economic pressure on Russia.

The Turkish military launched a series of airstrikes against Kurdish forces targeting Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria—including members of the U.S.-backed YPG militia, Reuters reports. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed that the country would act unilaterally against groups it perceived as threats. Turkey claims all the groups it has targeted—implicitly including those that the United States sponsors—are terrorist organizations.

Government forces in the Congo killed almost 50 civilians protesting President Joseph Kabila’s decision to remain in power beyond constitutional term limits, Reuters writes. Congolese officials claimed the police were acting in self-defense, although acknowledged that there may have been some mistakes. The International Criminal Court warned that it may prosecute officials for abuses.

At the same time, the International Criminal Court is facing a crisis. South Africa will follow Burundi in withdrawing from the court’s jurisdiction, becoming only the second country to ever do so, the Journal observes. The announcement comes amid accusations that the ICC disproportionately targets African countries for prosecution, given that every case the court has heard involved African defendants. The Times notes that these decisions may snowball and catalyze more countries, especially in Africa, to withdraw from the institution.

Bangladeshi authorities have identified a man who died in a police raid as the mastermind behind the terrorist attack that killed 22 in a cafe earlier this year, writes Reuters. The suspect, Abdur Rahman, jumped from a balcony when fleeing from the police.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated that some of the proposed changes to the country’s peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group are “inviable,” suggesting that negotiations will need to continue between the government, the opposition, and FARC before a viable deal is reached. Santos promised that the negotiators are working at “top speed” to complete a revised peace agreement. Reuters has more.

A U.S. navy warship in the South China Sea sailed within the range of waters claimed by China in the United States’ most recent effort to challenge Beijing’s aggressive assertion of control over the disputed region. The Chinese Defense Ministry called the patrol “illegal” and “provocative.” This marks the fourth U.S. freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea this year.

The Journal gives us the latest update on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot away from the United States and toward China. While Duterte declared his country’s “separation” from Washington during a visit to Beijing this week, he announced upon returning to Manila that “it is not a severance of ties … It is to the best interest of my country that we maintain that relationship [with the United States.” Meanwhile, Reuters examines how U.S. officials have struggled to figure out how best to respond to Duterte’s increasing provocations without further undermining the United States’ position in the region.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic uploaded a statement from Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins on pretrial hearings in the USS Cole case. She also posted the D.C. Court of Appeals’ decision reaffirming Ali Hamza al-Bahlul’s conviction for conspiracy to commit war crimes.

Kenneth Anderson outlined the issues the military will grapple with in developing self-driving vehicles.

Benjamin Wittes posted the latest episode of the Rational Security Podcast.

Zachary Burdette provided the national security highlights from the final presidential debate.

Stephanie Leutert assessed the relationship between drug use in America and cartel violence in Mexico.

Katherine Maddox Davis delved into the ICJ’s decision that the court lacked the jurisdiction to decide on issues of nuclear disarmament.

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