Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, November 29, 2016, 3:56 PM

Syrian government forces have maintained pressure on rebel fighters in Aleppo following the regime’s victory in a major operation yesterday, Reuters reports. The government assault recaptured all of northeastern Aleppo—a third of rebel-held territory in the city—and now the regime is intensifying its attacks on rebel positions in the southeast. Rebels claim they have stabilized the new battle lines and continue to resist Shiite militias allied with the regime that are approaching from the south.

The Syrian regime’s gains in Aleppo mark a significant turning point in the siege. While the Guardian tells us that the chief rebel negotiator argues the rebellion will continue, the defeat makes the prospects of a political settlement less likely. Yesterday’s assault may represent the regime’s commitment to clearing Aleppo before President-elect Donald Trump comes to office. An anonymous “senior official in the pro-Damascus military alliance” claims the Russians are pushing for this quick timetable in preparation for a shift in American policy on Syria, Reuters notes.

Russia is spinning the Syrian regime’s victory in northeastern Aleppo as a humanitarian benefit, Reuters writes. The Kremlin stated that 80,000 civilians who the insurgents kept as “human shields” now have access to Russian humanitarian supplies, including food and field hospitals. Russian officials also announced plans to send 100,000 tons of wheat to Syria for humanitarian relief. Statements from Moscow did not mention Russian targeting of hospitals in eastern Aleppo or the Kremlin-enforced prohibition on U.N. aid convoys from entering the besieged city. The AP has more on the humanitarian costs of the siege, including the 16,000 people displaced from the latest operation.

The United States formally confirmed that it made a “mistake” in accidently striking Syrian regime forces instead of Islamic State fighters on September 17th, the BBC tells us. Military officials maintain that the incident, which allegedly involved four planes attacking the troops for around an hour, was inadvertent, despite accusations from the Assad regime that the United States deliberately targeted government forces.

The U.S.-backed coalition continues its multi-pronged offensive against Mosul, the AP reports. To the city’s south, government and allied militias are still struggling to clear Islamic State fighters from the outlying cities and have not reached the perimeter of Mosul proper. To the east, elite government counterterrorism units within the city have become bogged down in the dense urban terrain, grappling with fierce ISIS resistance. To the west, Iranian-backed Shiite militias have yet to move on Tal Afar despite capturing its airfield last week and long-standing promises to take the village in order to cut off the Islamic State’s lines of communication running to Syria.

The humanitarian situation in Mosul remains grim. The Islamic State has been targeting Mosul residents who will not cooperate or who may share intelligence with coalition forces, Reuters tells us. The militants have killed families for not opening their homes to fighters and for fleeing toward the Iraqi military. Roughly 650,000 civilians have also lost their access to water amid the fighting.

The Houthi insurgents in Yemen announced the formation of a new Houthi-led government yesterday, the New York Times reports. The move comes as a surprise following repeated U.N. efforts to negotiate a political settlement to end the civil war, which had included discussions of a power-sharing agreement as recently as a few weeks ago. The Houthis had expressed support for such a plan, but the incumbent President Hadi rejected the proposal, which would have left him a mostly symbolic role in the government.

Iranian and American officials exchanged verbal reprimands over yet another naval incident in the Persian Gulf, Reuters writes. The latest episode involved a small Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ship aiming its weapon at a U.S. Navy helicopter when the helicopter came close to two Iranian ships in international waters.

Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan commander, has reached out to the Russians for military support in combating militant Islamists, Reuters observes. Haftar operates in opposition to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, which is the only organization that can legally import weapons into the country following a 2011 U.N. arms embargo on Libya. The commander hopes Russia will decide to abrogate the “unjust verdict,” but the Kremlin has not publicly committed any military aid.

The Kremlin is cooking up a “Red Web” to control what Russian citizens can access on the internet, the Guardian tells us. Moscow is collaborating with Beijing on importing technologies that the Chinese developed for the Great Firewall. Recent Russian legislation gives the government significant control over cyberspace in the country, and the state plans to use Chinese data processing techniques to prevent political dissidents from organizing.

The head of German intelligence services warned that Russian hackers may interfere with upcoming elections, the Washington Post writes. The warning follows yesterday’s cyberattack on a German telecommunications company as well as German accusations that Russians attacked the computer systems of two of the country’s political parties.

Peace talks on enforcing the Minsk I and II accords in eastern Ukraine ended today without result, Reuters notes. The four-way conference involved Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia. Officials had downplayed the prospects of a breakthrough in the talks for weeks, and the pessimistic predictions proved correct.

Skirmishes continue to flare up along the Indo-Pakistani border. There were two separate clashes today between militants and Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in the death of seven Indian soldiers. The New York Times has more.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey has not “closed the book” on E.U. membership but alluded to other alternatives if its accession fails, Reuters observes. The statement follows a European Parliament vote to temporarily pause Turkey’s bid for membership following Erdogan’s centralization of power and harsh crackdown on dissidents after this summer’s botched coup. The alternative Erdogan was likely referencing is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a 15-year old institution of marginal cohesion and influence led by the Russians and Chinese.

The Taliban announced today that it is willing to protect development projects in Afghanistan to end delays in construction, Reuters tells us. The group cited projects such as the TAPI gas pipeline and plans to mine a major copper deposits near Kabul as examples of what they would defend. The Afghan government countered that the Taliban has repeatedly attacked infrastructure projects as recently as this fall.

The U.N. Security Council is set to vote Wednesday to implement new sanctions for North Korea following the hermit kingdom’s most recent nuclear test. The draft text of the new resolution, which a U.S. official referred to as “pretty good,” would cap North Korean coal exports, among other restrictions. The Chinese government said that it hopes the new sanctions will send a “clear” message to Pyongyang.

China has kept an uncharacteristically low profile during Taiwanese rescue drills in the South China Sea today, holding back from the fiery language it normally directs at other states conducting operations in the disputed region. Reuters writes that the Chinese government may be content with Taiwan’s claims on the grounds that the island nation will one day be subsumed by mainland China.

Nevertheless, tensions remain high between China and Singapore following Chinese impounding of nine Singaporean troop carriers in Hong Kong last week, Reuters tells us. While a state-run Chinese tabloid stoked public anger against Singapore by writing that the carriers should be “melted down,” the Singaporean government has done its best to play down the importance of the incident. Relations have cooled between the two nations over Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

President-elect Donald Trump has may find it difficult to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” as he promised on the campaign trail. The Times examines the political and legal restrictions that have grown up following the post-9/11 torture controversy and which are likely to prevent a return to waterboarding and similar techniques. Crucial amid this landscape is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has established himself as a fierce opponent of such abuses.

21 of Guantanamo’s remaining 60 prisoners have now been cleared for release by the detention center’s parole board, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald. 29 prisoners are now “forever prisoners,” who will neither be tried nor released, while ten are being tried by military commission. With this most recent decision to clear the 29th prisoner for release, the Periodic Review Board has now completed the first round of hearings, only five years behind schedule.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack yesterday at Ohio State University, broadcasting that the suspect was a “soldier of the Islamic State,” the Times writes. OSU student Abdul Artan, who was killed by police after attempting to drive into pedestrians and attacking passersby with a knife on the university campus, appears to have posted references on social media to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, and “sleeper cells” of Muslims.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Dan Byman discussed U.S. efforts to train and equip allied governments to fight terrorism.

Chris Mirasola profiled the latest additions to the Trump national security team.

Bobby Chesney flagged recent developments in how the Obama administration has structured the war on terror.

Bobby also commented on the administration's decision to declare Sirte an “area of active hostilities,” therefore turning off limitations from the administration’s PPG rules.

April Doss called for an audit of the presidential election voting, but for the sake of cybersecurity due diligence rather than politics.

Nora Ellingsen rounded up recent material support charges.

David Ryan previewed the oral argument in Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department of Justice.

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes flagged the next Hoover Book Soiree for Christopher Moran’s Company Confessions: Secrets, Memoirs, and the CIA.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.