Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Monday, November 7, 2016, 3:51 PM

The offensive on Raqqa has begun, and it has a name: “Euphrates Rage.” The fight for the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria will be carried out by Kurdish and Arab forces with the backing of U.S. air support and over 300 members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces. According to U.S. military officials, the goal is to gradually encircle and isolate Raqqa before retaking the city from ISIS, though it will take some time before the advancing coalition reaches Raqqa itself. The Washington Post has more.

The Post and the New York Times both note the complicated political dynamics underlying the offensive. The Turkish government has objected to the inclusion of Kurdish militias within the coalition attacking Raqqa, fearing that the Kurds will use their new political and military power to make a grab for an autonomous state. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford met with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Sunday to assuage Turkey’s concerns over Kurdish involvement in the battle.

Coalition forces may not yet have reached Raqqa, but the Islamic State is already fighting back fiercely. Advancing troops were hit with seven ISIS car bombs thirty miles north of the city on Monday, the Post reports.

General Dunford stated in Ankara on Sunday that it would likely “take months” to isolate Raqqa, and other U.S. officials have echoed his cautious words, with some noting that U.S. forces are still engaged in training Arab troops for the fight. The battle will be further complicated by the adjacent conflict of the Syrian civil war. Reuters writes that the coalition will likely still be in the midst of the fight for Raqqa when President Obama leaves office in January 2017.

While coalition forces advance toward Raqqa, the battle for Mosul goes on in Iraq. Kurdish forces advanced further toward Mosul on Monday, clearing ISIS forces from the town of Bashiqa on the city’s outskirts. Reuters notes that armed U.S. troops accompanied Kurdish fighters through the city. As with Raqqa, the advance on Mosul has been slowed by hundreds of ISIS car bombs.

Iraqi military forces discovered a mass grave south of Mosul on Monday, according to the Post. The identities of the bodies remain unclear, but police indicated that they appeared to have been buried for at least a year.

The Post also takes a look at the network of booby-trapped tunnels dug by ISIS under the villages surrounding Mosul. Islamic State fighters have used the tunnel network to enable ambushes of, and speedy retreats from, advancing coalition forces. The network has made it difficult for the coalition to definitively declare a village cleared of militants: “though we control the surface,” one Iraqi colonel said, “ISIS will appear from under the ground, like rats.”

A splinter Kurdish militant group known as the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed at least 11 people at a police station in southeastern Turkey on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reports. In response, the Turkish government reiterated its claim that the bombing was the work of the Kurdish PKK. Notably, last Friday also saw the arrest of numerous lawmakers belonging to a pro-Kurdish opposition party in the country’s broadening crackdown.

The AP writes that Turkish authorities have begun the trial of 36 suspected ISIS militants for their involvement in the October 2015 suicide bombings in Ankara, which killed over a hundred people. The defendants are accused of aiding and training the attackers, whom police believe to have been one Turkish and one Syrian ISIS sympathizer.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have released a U.S. Marine veteran whom they abducted in April 2015, the Times tells us. Wallead Yusuf Pitts Luqman was detained shortly after Houthi forces seized power last year. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry thanked the government of Oman for its key role in facilitating negotiations with the Houthis.

Al Qaeda’s top Afghan leader was killed by a U.S. military airstrike two weeks ago in eastern Afghanistan, the AP reports. The Pentagon is attempting to determine whether another top Afghan al Qaeda figure was also killed in a similar airstrike.

The Times examines how the Kremlin has begun to use the long arm of Interpol to pursue its political enemies, submitting Interpol alerts labeling dissidents traveling abroad as criminals wanted for arrest. While the resulting arrests often do not result in extraditions, the strategy has been successful in harassing Moscow’s adversaries, leading to concern over the potential abuse of Interpol’s systems by authoritarian regimes.

Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor has alleged involvement by “Russian nationalists” in a plot to assassinate the country’s prime minister and orchestrate a coup, Reuters reports. The coup was disrupted in mid-October and a group of plotters, which included both Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, were arrested. The Russian government does not appear to have been involved.

A second Philippine mayor accused of drug charges by President Rodrigo Duterte has been killed by police officers, the Times writes. The mayor was shot in his jail cell by the police in what authorities described as a “firefight.” Only a week earlier, another mayor similarly targeted by President Duterte was shot dead by police at a checkpoint. Duterte’s anti-drug campaign has been highly criticized for its appeal to extrajudicial violence in flushing out supposed drug dealers and users.

The Philippine Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf claims to have abducted a German man and killed his companion, the AP writes. The country’s military discovered an abandoned yacht off the Philippine coast and is attempting to verify the militants’ claims. Despite efforts by the Philippine government to clamp down on the organization, Abu Sayyaf has pulled in over $7 million from kidnappings in the first six months of 2016. It has not yet demanded a ransom for the German hostage.

At the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg reports that Guantanamo Bay’s parole board will revisit the status determination of Saifullah Paracha, the detention center’s oldest prisoner at 69. While the board refused to grant Paracha’s request for release in April, Paracha’s age and health conditions have led the board to allow a rehearing.

And yes, there’s a presidential election tomorrow. The Times studies the variety of far-right groups that have found vindication in Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency and examines the lasting impact Trump’s candidacy will have on the place of white supremacy and other extremist beliefs in American society—win or lose. “Trump has shown that our message is healthy, normal and organic,” said the leader of a white supremacist group.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Zachary Burdette reviewed Lawfare’s week.

Kenneth Pollack described his impression of the Kurdistan Regional Government from his visit to Irbil.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring Jack Goldsmith’s interview of David Priess at the Hoover Book Soiree.

In this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, Ariane Tabatabai studied Iran’s relationship with its Iraqi Shia allies.

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