Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, November 1, 2016, 3:17 PM

Iraqi troops entered Mosul yesterday for the first time since the Islamic State gained control of the city over two years ago. The New York Times reports on Iraqi special forces’ advance into the Gogjali neighborhood on Mosul’s eastern edge in the face of strong resistance from ISIS fighters. According to the Washington Post, the special forces are set to begin moving toward the city center, while Iraqi Army troops continue to approach the outskirts of Mosul from the south. This next phase of the battle will likely be long and difficult, as other coalition forces attempt to catch up with special forces troops and the bulk of the fighting increasingly draws near Mosul’s large civilian population.

Local television showed civilians fleeing from Gogjali yesterday following the advance of special forces, though it is unclear how many left the city. Meanwhile, the Guardian writes that eight civilians were killed by a U.S. airstrike in support of the offensive outside Mosul. The Pentagon is investigating the strike, which, if confirmed, would be the first instance of civilian casualties from a U.S. airstrike since the beginning of the Mosul offensive.

Turkey is deploying tanks to a village along the Iraqi border, Reuters tells us. According to the Turkish defense minister, the move aims to put Turkey in a position to respond quickly to possible territorial gains by the PKK in western Iraq—and perhaps to intervene in Iraq if Iranian-backed Shiite militias “cause terror” in their battle against ISIS for the Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has promised that the offensive on the ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa will begin “within weeks,” and it now appears that the goal is to remove Raqqa as a potential refuge for ISIS fighters fleeing Mosul. The Post takes a look at the imminent operation, which has been plagued by tensions between Turkish troops and the Syrian Kurdish YPG, whom Turkey pushed against including within the Raqqa coalition.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced that he expects to rule Syria until the end of his term in 2021, the Times writes. At a meeting with U.S. and U.K. journalists and analysts, Assad declared that political changes in Syria must wait until the government wins the country’s civil war and said mockingly, “I’m just a headline—the bad president, the bad guy, who is killing the good guys.”

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, all peace talks in Syria will be postponed following civilian casualties from the rebel assault on Aleppo, Reuters tells us. But the Post reports that Secretary of State John Kerry promised in a London speech to work “to the last minute” for a Syrian ceasefire.

Turkish authorities raided the offices of the country’s oldest national newspaper and detained 13 of its employees, the Journal reports. Activists are concerned that the government strike against Cumhuriyet represents a newly aggressive campaign against freedom of the press in Turkey following the government’s longstanding crackdown in the wake of July’s failed coup attempt.

The Times takes a look at Egypt’s newly tense relationship with its main benefactor, Saudi Arabia. Though the Kingdom has been crucial to Egypt’s economic stability under the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the bond between the two countries has frayed in recent weeks following Egypt’s vote in support of a Russian U.N. resolution on the continued bombing of Syria, which Saudi Arabia opposed. Egypt, accustomed to leadership, appears uncomfortable with its new dependence on a Kingdom trying to assert itself as a regional power.

Nigeria will investigate allegations by Human Rights Watch that over 40 women and girls were raped by Nigerian soldiers and police in displaced persons camps for refugees fleeing Boko Haram. Reuters has more.

The Times interviews Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, the Taliban’s former chief negotiator. Both in his interview with the paper and in a letter sent to Taliban leaders over the summer, Agha advocated the resumption of peace talks with the Afghan government and called on the organization to break free of its dependence on the Pakistani intelligence service.

Tensions remain high between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region, with eight civilians killed and nine wounded by cross-border fire on Tuesday. The two rivals have exchanged fire across the border several times in recent months following a militant attack on an Indian military base in Kashmir in September. The AP has more.

Malaysia may be following in the Philippines’ footsteps in aiming for closer ties to China, the Post writes. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited Beijing this week in the hope of strengthening defense coordination between the two countries, suggesting that increasing Chinese dominance in the South China Sea may be changing the calculus for leaders in the region. Meanwhile, the Journal reports on the possibility of joint patrols between Indonesia and Australia in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese aggression in the area.

The Times examines Estonia’s anxiety over increased Russian assertiveness abroad. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and amidst fears over NATO’s unwillingness to risk a direct confrontation with Russia, the tiny country has increased training for its “Estonian Defense League,” crafting an army of potential insurgents should the Kremlin ever turn its gaze toward the Baltics.

British police are now requesting tips on illegal firearms in the hope of preventing terrorist attacks similar to the mass shootings in Paris one year ago. The Journal tells us that almost half of the attempted terrorist attacks disrupted by U.K. police since 2013 have involved guns, despite the country’s strict restrictions on firearms ownership.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a settlement of a lawsuit filed against the New York Police Department for its surveillance of Muslims following 9/11, the Times reports. Judge Charles Haight found the settlement insufficient to address potential rights violations. In September 2001, Judge Haight had ruled in favor of the same relaxed restrictions on policing that led to the surveillance at issue in this suit.

A number of stories—some more perspicacious than others—broke yesterday evening regarding Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s reported connections to the Kremlin. Mother Jones wrote that Trump is being “cultivated” by Russian intelligence, while Slate dropped a purported bombshell about the ostensibly suspicious connections between a Trump server and the servers of a Russian bank. But the Times quickly threw cold water on these reports, writing that an FBI investigation over the summer failed to discover a “conclusive or direct link” between Trump and the Russian government and that the Bureau concluded the strange server connections noted by Slate could be innocent in nature.

And on that note, CBNC also reports that FBI Director James Comey may have argued against publicizing possible Russian interference in the presidential election close to Election Day. The story, which comes from an unnamed former FBI official, adds new fuel to the controversy surrounding Comey’s decision to announce the Bureau’s discovery of new information possibly relevant to the Clinton email investigation.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Steve Slick reviewed The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals that Reshaped the Middle East, by Jay Solomon.

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes considered Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s role in the controversy over FBI Director James Comey’s announcement in the Clinton email investigation.

Quinta Jurecic updated Lawfare readers on the upcoming week.

Carrie Cordero flagged a new report by the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security on defense against cyber threats in the private sector.

Julian Ku and Chris Mirasola updated their tracker of China’s compliance (or lack thereof) with the recent international tribunal ruling rejecting Chinese claims to the South China Sea.

Michael Price asked whether the FBI violated the Fourth Amendment in examining Huma Abedin’s emails while investigating the Anthony Weiner case.

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