Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Monday, November 28, 2016, 3:45 PM

In a series of bizarre tweets yesterday, the President-elect cast doubt on the authenticity of an election that he himself won, falsely claiming that “millions of people … voted illegally” for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump appears to have been responding to an effort by Green Party candidate Jill Stein to engineer a recount of ballots in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. His comments raise concerns over the possible damage that Trump could do to the legitimacy of American elections following what appears to have been a concerted Russian effort to influence the results of the presidential campaign. The New York Times has more.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Trump has attended only two intelligence briefings in the weeks after his election, an unusually low amount for an incoming President. In contrast, Vice President-elect Mike Pence has attended briefings nearly every day.

The Times takes a careful look at Trump’s many business ventures and potential conflicts of interest around the globe. Given that the President-elect has appeared unwilling to mitigate these conflicts through the normal ethics procedures, his business activities—in Brazil, India, Turkey, the Philippines, and elsewhere—could have serious implications for United States security and foreign policy.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Trump added two members to his national security team: KT McFarland, a Fox commentator, as National Security Advisor and Donald McGahn, a Washington lawyer, as White House Counsel. More on that from the Times and Reuters.

In Syria, government forces have gained full control over northeast Aleppo, pushing farther into the zone of rebel control within the besieged city, the Post writes. Over 10,000 civilians fled the area following the government offensive, which was aided by Russian air support and troops supported by Iran. Aleppo’s fall to government control now seems all but imminent, the Times tells us, calling into question whether the rebel movement can hang together after the loss of the city or whether this will spell the end of the bedraggled insurgency.

An American Special Operations Forces member was killed by an IED in northern Syria on Thanksgiving in the first combat death suffered by the U.S. military in its operation there. The death of the service member is a reminder of U.S. ground engagement in the anti-ISIS campaign, though officials maintain that U.S. troops are playing only a training and advisory role.

The Israeli Defense Forces killed four ISIS-linked militants on Sunday in response to an attack from the Golan Heights, the Times reports. The incident marks the first skirmish between Israel and forces linked to the Islamic State in Syria, though it remains unclear whether the militants’ attack indicates an intentional move toward confrontation with Israel on the part of ISIS.

Fighting has slowed in Mosul as Iraqi forces struggle to flush ISIS forces out of the dense urban environment, Reuters writes. According to the Iraqi military, nearly a thousand Islamic State fighters have been killed so far. But civilians are also suffering as the battle drags on: residents of Mosul who heeded the government’s advice to shelter in their homes are now increasingly vulnerable to ISIS attack as the Islamic State begins to intentionally target civilians.

The Mosul offensive has also been complicated by the Iraqi parliament’s controversial decision to officially incorporate Shiite and other militia units into the country’s security forces, the Post tells us. Despite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s statement that the legislation was merited by the crucial service of militia members in maintaining Iraqi security, many Iraqis are doubtful over the decision to give the stamp of legitimacy to militia units that have previously been accused of violations of the rights of Sunni Iraqis, and some of which are aligned closely with Iran. The decision has plunged the country once more into sectarian disagreement over the role of Shiite fighters, with Sunni lawmakers boycotting parliament on the day that the measure was passed.

Houthi fighters are struggling to hang on in a ravaged Yemen, the Times writes. As the war in Yemen has ground to a bitter stalemate, the Houthi rebels have a limited ability to maintain the basic functions of governance despite their control over crucial areas of the country.

Infamous Al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar may have been killed in a joint U.S.-French operation in southern Libya earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal informs us. The airstrike was conducted by a French aircraft on the basis of U.S. intelligence, marking the first confirmed French airstrike in Libya. But don’t hold your breath: Belmokhtar has been declared dead numerous times in the past, only to reappear each time.

The Joint Special Operations Command will soon have increased authority to target suspected terrorists outside conflict zones, the Post reports. The Obama administration’s decision to increase JSOC’s reach is a response to the potential danger caused by a possible exodus of ISIS fighters from Raqqa and Mosul as coalition offensives push the Islamic State from those two cities and limit its territorial control. This new set of missions will be carried out by a new entity, the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” which will also provide intelligence and advice to allied militaries and security forces.

The Obama administration now considers al-Shabaab to be an “associated force” of al-Qaeda under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the Times tells us. While previously the administration had confined its targeting of al-Shabaab under the AUMF to leaders of the group who were individually affiliated with al-Qaeda, this new understanding places airstrikes against al-Shabaab members without such an affiliation on steadier legal ground. However, it remains unclear on which basis the decision to alter al-Shabaab’s status under the AUMF was made.

 

ICYMI: This Holiday Weekend, on Lawfare

Ben posted Rational Security, the “Emoluments” edition.

Chris Mirasola updated Water Wars with news on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Paul Rosenzweig considered a possibly illegal proposal by Donald Trump to protect civilian infrastructure from cyberattack.

Quinta Jurecic examined Donald Trump’s relationship with the truth and his propensity for bullshit, in the philosophical sense.

Jane Chong argued that Trump’s conflicts of interest present a serious national security problem.

Julian Ku asked whether President Trump will impose economic sanctions on China.

Quinta reviewed Lawfare’s week.

She also posted the Lawfare Podcast, this week featuring a discussion of a new paper on “Real Security: Governance and Stability in the Arab World.”

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Seth G. Jones studied the rivalry between the Taliban and the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

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