Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, November 4, 2016, 4:00 PM

The Washington Post reports that Iraqi forces entered six new neighborhoods in eastern Mosul today: Malaeen, Samah, Khazraa, Karakul, Quds, and Karamah. Their advance has opened a path for thousands of civilians to flee the city. Humanitarian groups continue to lack the infrastructure to receive the displaced, but staying in Mosul is likely the worst option for the city’s residents. Islamic State militants have been executing civilians en masse, rounding up children to fight, and moving locals into the city to use as human shields. Reuters has more.

Government troops that have been bogged down while clearing Mosul’s southern outskirts are now approaching the city, the Wall Street Journal adds. Satellite imagery shows that militants have built up a defensive perimeter around the southernmost neighborhoods, writes the BBC, creating roadblocks and demolished buildings around Mosul’s airport to clear their line of fire on approaching troops. ISIS fighters are also using roadblocks in eastern Mosul to delay the coalition’s advance.

As Iraqi forces penetrate Mosul, the United States reiterated that American advisors will not accompany the troops into the city, saying that only the Iraqi military will execute this final stage of the offensive. But there are some caveats, Reuters tells us. One U.S. official anonymously suggested that the definition of “Mosul” is flexible in terms of how the United States counts the suburbs. The campaign spokesperson also left room to change the U.S. position, warning, “I don’t like to use the word never.”

Iraqi forces may bypass some districts in eastern Mosul and cut straight through to the Tigris, Reuters reports. Islamic State fighters are more firmly embedded to the western bank of the river, which divides Mosul in half. Iraqi military officials are optimistic, citing the relative ease of the fight compared to other cities their forces have liberated from the Islamic State, such as Ramadi.

But coalition officials warn that this is only the beginning of a prolonged operation that will likely become more difficult, Reuters writes. Iraqi forces have only pushed roughly one mile into Mosul, and the districts they have already cleared are both less developed and less populated by the city’s Sunni majority. More dense and more Sunni areas could provide greater defensive benefits to the militants.

Shiite militias are working to cut off western routes to Mosul, but have not yet sealed off the city, Reuters observes. The Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) has begun its assault on Tal Afar, 35 miles west of Mosul, in attempt to sever the Islamic State’s lines of communication. The group is primarily concerned with preventing militants from fleeing to Syria. While the U.S.-backed coalition has expressed some comfort with the existence of this escape route, which would draw militants out from the well-defended and highly-populated urban areas, Iran and its Shiite clients—both the militias and the Syrian regime—have expressed frustrations with this approach, which would direct extremists back to Syria.

A car speeding out of Mosul in the recent past may have been carrying the Islamic State’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced that Western intelligence agencies believe al-Baghdadi has left Mosul, the Guardian tells us. Johnson accused al-Baghdadi of hypocrisy for abandoning Mosul while also urging ISIS militants to fight to the death in an audio message released yesterday.

But it seems that some fighters tried to follow al-Baghdadi’s model of flight over fight. The Islamic State killed 50 men trying to desert earlier this week, notes the BBC.

The Islamic State is again trying to divert time and attention from the offensive by attacking other cities across Iraq, the Journal comments. The latest target was Shirqat, a town 70 miles south of Mosul. Dozens of Islamic State fighters attacked the city, and the Middle East Monitor notes that fighting is ongoing. The group’s previous attempts—most notably on the city of Kirkuk, to Mosul’s west—have all failed.

Russia’s unilateral ceasefire in Syria has once again drawn to a close, writes the BBC. Neither rebels nor civilians left during the 10-hour window, and the renewal of the siege of Aleppo is impending. This result is relatively unsurprising giving the numerous humanitarian pauses that have failed to flush out insurgents and locals before. Both groups cite disbelief that regime forces will not arrest or harm them as they leave the city. The Syrian government, on the other hand, accused rebels of blocking civilians from leaving, Reuters observes.

The rebel counteroffensive to break the siege on eastern Aleppo continues, the AP writes. Mortar fire hit two Russian soldiers near one of the humanitarian corridors that the Kremlin hoped civilians would use to leave the battlefield. The counteroffensive has made little headway, but rebels have increased shelling and car bombs against government positions in western Aleppo.

What country receives the most Afghan migrants? Afghanistan itself, notes the New York Times. Many who left Afghanistan during the country’s long-running conflict with the Taliban are now returning—and not all by choice. Europe, Iran, Pakistan, and others are sending back 1.5 million migrants this year alone. These expatriates will return to a resurgent Taliban, faltering Afghan government, and intensive fighting across the country.

Three U.S. service members died in Jordan today, the Post reports. They were in the country as military trainers, and Jordanian security forces shot and killed them after they failed to stop at a checkpoint outside of a military base. The exact circumstances of their deaths remain unclear.

Turkish police detained dozens of lawmakers belonging to a Kurdish opposition party in an overnight raid, the Journal tells us. The lawmakers had ignored subpoenas ordering them to testify about terrorism in the country. These arrests constitute only a fraction of the tens of thousands of detentions that followed this summer’s coup attempt, but represent a notable expansion of the scope and intensity of President Recep Tayipp Erdogan’s crackdown, which appears to have now spread to include pro-Kurdish politicians.

The U.S. intelligence community believes Russia will continue to meddle in the presidential election, the Post writes. The Kremlin likely lacks the capability to actually change the election’s outcome, but it may be able to create false trails of voter fraud to delegitimize a potential victory by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Department of Homeland Security has detected Russian “scanning” of U.S. electronic electoral infrastructure for potential vulnerabilities.

The controversies surrounding Russian interference in election are symptomatic of a broader collapse in relations. A new study finds that mutual mistrust of the Russian and American publics has returned to Cold War levels, the Post notes.

The U.S. government has alerted New York City, Texas, and Virginia law enforcement about the possibility of an al Qaeda attack near the election, Reuters tells us. The threat is “relatively low level” and unspecified. A DHS officials said the threat may be designed to inspire a lone wolf attack around that time.

British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated her commitment to Brexit before European Union leaders, expressing her belief that a ruling by the U.K. High Court preventing Britain’s exit from the bloc without support from Parliament would be overturned. Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Stenmeier promised to drive a hard bargain in negotiating the conditions for Brexit once talks commence.

The United States is set to deploy a THAAD anti-missile battery to South Korea within ten months, Reuters tells us. The news follows comments made by the commander of U.S. forces in Korea suggesting plans to rotate weaponry into South Korea to deter potential attacks from the North, which have not been confirmed.

Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins has appointed two special prosecutors to investigate whether Guantanamo defense counsel obtained classified information that should not have been available to them, Carol Rosenberg writes at the Miami Herald. Controversially, one of the special prosecutors was formerly assigned as a prosecutor on the 9/11 case.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Shannon Togawa Mercer commented on the U.K. High Court’s ruling on Brexit procedures.

Paul Rosenzweig argued that there is a “theater of the absurd” in government policies that can undermine cybersecurity.

Kemal Kirisci discussed Turkey’s illiberal crackdown.

Christopher Young offered some recommendations on cybersecurity policy for the next administration.

Zac Copeland reviewed the legal implications of Executive Order 13224, which expands executive authority to target terrorist finances.

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