Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Monday, October 31, 2016, 3:48 PM

Details remain murky surrounding FBI Director James Comey’s decision to release a letter to Congress on Friday noting the existence of new emails possibly relevant to the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which were unearthed in connection with an investigation into former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s illicit communications with a minor. Comey has come under fire from the Clinton campaign and others over the weekend for his disclosure, which broke with law enforcement norms and has ignited controversy within both the Justice Department and the FBI.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder weighs in on the matter in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sent an open letter to Director Comey both expressing his discontent with the Director and suggesting the existence of “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government,” which he stated that “the public has a right to know.” The Post has more.

Iraqi special forces have entered Mosul. The troops advanced into the city’s Karama district after breaking through ISIS defenses in a suburb to Mosul’s east in a morning assault, Reuters writes. This marks the first step that coalition forces have taken into the city following the beginning of the Mosul offensive two weeks ago.

On Saturday, Shiite militias began an assault on the ISIS-held city of Tal Afar, 45 miles to Mosul’s west. The goal is to retake Tal Afar while moving in toward Mosul, cutting off ISIS fighters from fleeing west into Syria, the Wall Street Journal tells us. But the New York Times notes that the advance on Tal Afar will plunge the city into the middle of a regional power struggle between Turkey and Iran: Iraq has been hesitant to allow Iranian-backed Shiite militias to play a major role in the Mosul offensive, while Turkey has seen the militias’ increased political power as a potential threat and has stationed troops within Iraq in response.

The rebel offensive on Aleppo has slowed, Al Jazeera reports. The effort to break the Syrian regime’s siege of the city began on Friday but weakened over the past few days under the force of regime pushback. The United Nations has condemned reports of civilian casualties from rebel fire.

Michel Aoun has become the President of Lebanon, the Times writes, bringing an end to the 29-month interregnum in which Lebanon has been without a leader. Aoun, who had been widely expected to come to power following a deal by the country’s major political parties last week, was formally elected after four rounds of contentious voting by the Lebanese Parliament. He is a controversial figure who has sought the presidency for decades, both admired by his fellow Maronite Christians and reviled by others for his newfound alliances with the Syrian regime and Hezbollah.

The U.S. State Department ordered all family members of its consular staff in Istanbul to leave Turkey on Sunday in response to increased security threats. Earlier last week, the department advised American tourists to reconsider traveling to the country.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has continued its crackdown in the wake of July’s coup attempt, firing 10,000 more civil servants and closing 15 media outlets. Reuters reports that over 100,000 people have been fired or suspended and 37,000 arrested since the failed coup.

Airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 43 people in Yemen on Saturday, the Post writes. The strikes targeted a security facility and many of those killed were prisoners. In response, the coalition declared that Houthi rebels were using the facility as a “command and control center for their military operations.” The Times has more.

The Post takes a look at the sorry state of Afghanistan’s roads. Despite extensive U.S. investment in Afghan roads as a sign of efforts to reconstruct the country, the road system is damaged, ill-maintained, and in some cases “beyond repair”—a symbol of the United States’ lack of success in addressing Afghanistan’s persistent problems.

Meanwhile, the Times reports on the Taliban’s new embrace of social media. The insurgents have come to rely more and more on cellphone video footage of battlefield victories to spread their message, taking a page from what the paper describes as the Islamic State’s “propaganda-first strategy.”

Protests began across Morocco on Sunday in response to the death of a fish seller crushed by a garbage truck when trying to receive his fish, which had been thrown into the truck by police. The Journal writes that some protesters have compared the man’s death to that of the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation in 2011 sparked the Arab Spring.

ISIS has declared itself responsible for the death of an Algerian police officer killed while eating in a restaurant on Friday, the AP tells us. Algerian authorities said that the officer had been killed by a “terrorist group” but gave no further details.

This year, the United Nations has secured the release of 876 children detained by the Nigerian military on suspicion of involvement with Boko Haram, the Post reports. Nigeria has been criticized for its policy of routinely detaining those freed from the terrorist group in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

On Monday, the Netherlands began the trial of far-right politician Geert Wilders for discrimination and inciting hatred over his 2014 comments suggesting support for the forcible removal of Moroccans from the country. Wilders, who has made a name for himself within Europe for his denunciation of Islam, did not attend the first day of the trial. The Journal notes that this is Wilders’ second prosecution on hate speech charges.

The Times examines the case of Harold T. Martin III, the former NSA contractor currently jailed over his theft of classified information from the Agency. Martin appears to have received a security clearance despite a history of erratic behavior and was able to remove 50 terabytes of data from NSA without authorities noticing. Martin’s case is a reminder that the government’s system for protecting classified data is far from perfect.

 

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Zachary Burdette reviewed Lawfare’s week.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Lawfare Podcast, covering the D.C. Circuit’s recent opinion in Al-Bahlul.

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes provided a helpful guide for those perplexed by the ongoing flap over FBI Director James Comey and the Clinton email investigation.

In this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, Clint Watts examined the United States’ conflicted relationship with its counterterrorism allies.

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