Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, October 26, 2016, 3:09 PM

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that a new offensive against the Islamic State’s capital in Raqqa is only weeks away, NBC reports. The start of the Raqqa offensive would follow only weeks behind the long-awaited and currently ongoing assault on Mosul. Secretary Carter claimed the U.S. military “will be capable of resourcing both” operations. Another military official added that the United States hopes to add a “couple hundred” fighters with U.S. backing to the coalition before moving on Raqqa, writes the Washington Post.

The United States is backing the Mosul offensive with logistical, intelligence, and air support, but Secretary Carter emphasized that, “We are not going to be part of the occupation or hold forces.” The U.S. military is using an airbase in the Iraqi city of Qayyarah, known as Q-West, as its main staging ground to support the offensive. The Post profiles the base, including “rocket city,” from which U.S. forces fire precision munitions on militants in Mosul.

The Islamic State is forcefully contesting the coalition advance in the areas south of Mosul, Reuters tells us. While other coalition forces have nearly reached the city, Iraqi government forces are struggling to clear extremists from the Shora region 20 miles south of Mosul. U.S. military officials said the difficulties were consistent with expectations that resistance would strengthen as forces came closer to the city. The Post notes that the Islamic State has thus far not invested significant resources in defending the outlying towns, “instead relying on suicide bombers, roadside bombs and indirect fire to inflict piecemeal casualties on the Iraqi forces before falling back toward Mosul proper.” The Post has also collected satellite imagery that illustrates the Islamic State’s scorched earth tactics as it loses ground.

The Islamic State has continued to savage the civilian population around Mosul. The United Nations believes ISIS fighters are moving civilians into the city to use as human shields and is shooting many others, writes the New York Times. The group is strategically targeting former police officers out of fear that they may rise up against the militants, but it is also killing women and children. These atrocities are designed to frighten the population into submission as the Islamic State endeavors to repel the coalition’s assault, argues the Guardian.

The United Nations is preparing to receive hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians. Iraqi forces have already evacuated over 1,000 people from the offensive’s front lines, notes the Post. U.N. officials have accused Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias of raiding these camps, threatening the refugees, and stealing humanitarian supplies, adds the Times.

The Kurdish forces that control Kirkuk have also targeted the displaced, the Post comments. After the Islamic State attacked the city to divert attention and resources from Mosul, the local Kurdish authorities feared that the displaced Sunni families could be collaborators. The Kurds destroyed their temporary housing and forced the Sunnis to flee.

Russian and Syrian aircraft have maintained pressure on rebels across Syria, the Post reports. An airstrike hit a school in the rebel-held Idlib province, killing 22 civilians today. The Wall Street Journal chronicles the continued carnage in Aleppo, which has now run out of space to bury its dead.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his commitment to military intervention in Syria until the Islamic State loses control of al-Bab, Reuters writes. The town is only 22 miles northeast of Aleppo, and forces allied with the Syrian regime are threatening to attack any Turkish-backed rebels who approach their positions around the city. A Syrian helicopter attacked Turkish rebels last night in the first direct clash between the two forces. President Erdogan emphasized that the Turkish military had no intentions of moving on Aleppo.

The Taliban seized control of the highway linking Kabul to Kandahar today, Reuters reports. The move comes as the resurgent Taliban have been assaulting provincial capitals across the country. This resurgence—coupled with the Islamic State’s growing influence in the country—has led to a spike in U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, Reuters notes. The United States has executed approximately 700 airstrikes, over a quarter of which have targeted Islamic State affiliates.

The Islamic State rounded up and killed 23 civilian hostages in western Afghanistan today, writes the Times. The militants had defected from the Taliban to join the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate. The massacre was retaliation for the death of the group’s leader at the hands of Afghan police forces.

Russia withdrew its request to refuel a battle group en route to Syria at a Spanish port, reports the Journal. NATO pressured Madrid to deny the request because the Russian military assets will likely contribute to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. The controversy comes amid growing tensions between NATO and Russia.

In response to the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine and heightened military activity near European borders, NATO is increasing its military presence in Eastern Europe. Britain announced today its plans to send drones, tanks, and 800 soldiers to Estonia, writes the Journal. These forces will become part of four battle groups stationed in the Baltics and led by the United States, Germany, Britain, and Canada. Numerous NATO members are contributing forces. Reuters has more.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he wants U.S. military presence out of the country within two years, the Times reports. President Duterte expressed his willingness to “revise or abrogate” the country’s 2014 basing agreement with the United States to make that happen. He added that this year’s joint military exercises with the U.S. military will be the last. The Philippine’s pivot from the United States toward China has made Japan uneasy, and President Duterte has tried to use his visit to Japan to assure Tokyo that he is not planning military collaboration with the Chinese.

Reuters tells us that China will conduct military drills today in the South China Sea. The drills take place less than a week after the United States conducted a freedom of navigation operation near the Paracel Islands.

In a moment of surprising frankness, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated during an interview on Tuesday that persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program was “probably a lost cause,” the Times reports. In response, the State Department reaffirmed that U.S. policy remains focused on “verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The AP catches us up on the reaction to Clapper’s comments from North Korea’s neighbors, who mostly appear unperturbed by Clapper’s candor.

The Journal takes a look at the Islamic State’s efforts to recruit new members from the al-Qaeda-affiliated group al-Shabaab in Somalia. The recruitment blitz has resulted in several hundred defections as ISIS promises lower taxes and a “purer holy war.” Clashes between the two competing terrorist groups are ongoing in Somalia. Meanwhile, a local Somalian group affiliated with ISIS gained its first major victory after seizing a port town in the region, Reuters writes.

Gambia will be the third African nation to leave the International Criminal Court, the Post reports. The country is following behind Burundi and South Africa in abandoning the global court, raising concerns of a possible mass exodus of African countries in what would be a serious blow to the court’s legitimacy. African leaders opposed to the court have argued that it is biased and colonialist in the cases it chooses to pursue, which have largely involved abuses on the continent. Kenya, Namibia, and Uganda may be next in line to make their exit.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald tells us that a federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit by a former Guantanamo detainee seeking to have his name cleared of connections to terrorism. The U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia held that Shawali Khan could no longer pursue his habeas corpus suit because he has been released from U.S. custody.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stewart Baker uploaded the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast.

Robert Williams assessed the legal implications of the Navy’s latest freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.

Isaac Park covered the 10/19 session of the military commission in the al-Nashiri case.

J. Dana Stuster provided the Middle East Ticker, this week with analysis on Egypt, Mosul, Syria, and Yemen.

Daniel J. Sargent reviewed Mark Bradley’s book The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century.

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