Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette
Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 2:46 PM

Syrian rebels have vowed to continue the fight in eastern Aleppo despite losing a third of their territory to a government assault earlier this week, Reuters reports. The rebels refuse to negotiate a surrender agreement with regime forces, which a number of other insurgents have done in besieged cities across Syria. The insurgents in Aleppo have repeatedly declined to leave during Russian “humanitarian pauses” designed to compel fighters and civilians to flee, although thousands of civilians are now leaving eastern Aleppo. Those who remain face intensified airstrikes and the prospects of further offensives. The next government assaults may prove more difficult, though, as the remaining rebel-held territory is more densely populated.

The Syrian government is detaining combat age males in recaptured areas of Aleppo, the Washington Post writes. Regime officials claim they have not arrested the men but rather are keeping them in “specific places.” Government forces have used such tactics in other sieges before, but not at this scale. Over 300 young men from Aleppo are missing.

Russia has criticized the U.N. humanitarian effort for providing allegedly disproportionate aid to areas held by the rebels, Reuters observes. Russian officials called for further aid to areas besieged by the Islamic State. The statements are part of an overall Kremlin effort to distract from its own humanitarian abuses in the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian government alleges that Israeli aircraft fired two missiles in the Syrian city of Sabboura, just west of Damascus, the BBC tells us. Unverified reports claim the targets were a Syrian military arms depot and a Hezbollah convoy. These targets would be consistent with Israeli strikes against arms shipments to support Hezbollah. The Lebanese militia is currently active in Syria, supplementing depleted government forces in the country’s civil war.

More details are emerging about the U.S. investigation into the 17 September airstrike that inadvertently targeted the Syrian military instead of the Islamic State, the Wall Street Journal notes. The investigation concluded that targeting decisions were made in good faith, but human error was responsible for the mistake. Confirmation bias, ignoring a dissenting analyst, and miscommunication with the Russians all contributed to the failure.

The humanitarian costs of the Mosul offensive continue to grow, Reuters notes. Food is running low, 40 percent of the city’s population has lost access to water, and the Islamic State is targeting some civilians while other are caught in the battle’s crossfire. The New York Times has more on the Islamic State’s mass graves around Mosul.

Meanwhile, winter is coming, and the season’s cloudy weather may benefit the insurgents by obstructing allied air support operations around Mosul, Reuters adds. Bad weather has already slowed the coalition’s advance several times since the offensive began last month.

C.I.A. Director John Brennan warned in an interview with the BBC that abrogating the Iran deal in the next administration would be “the height of folly.” Brennan warned that doing so would embolden Iranian hard-liners and increase the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Brennan’s feelings are not shared by the man Trump has tapped to be his successor, Mike Pompeo, who tweeted after the announcement of his appointment: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” The Times has more.

The European Union has released more specific information on plans to deepen defense cooperation, the AP tells us. The proposal focuses on coordinating defense spending and procurement across countries, which would mitigate the EU’s current struggle with inefficiency and duplication in spending. EU leaders will decide on the measures in mid-December.

Europol data on terror investigations were accidently leaked online today, Reuters notes. An employee transferred the information to a personal hard drive, then inadvertently connected it to the internet at home without realizing that the data were then unprotected. It remains unclear whether any unauthorized individuals accessed the information.

Authorities have arrested a German intelligence agent for attempting to share information on the country’s counterterror efforts with militant Islamists. It turns out that the recently-hired agent was a militant Islamist, having secretly converted to Islam several years ago. Other intelligence officers discovered the double-agent when he was sharing information in a digital chatroom under an alias he had used only five years before while working as a pornographic actor. The incident has raised eyebrows about the German intelligence agency’s screening process for new recruits. The Washington Post has more.

Italy has withdrawn an extradition request for an extremist held in Norway, the Times writes. Najmaddin Faraj Ahmad, known as Mullah Krekar, is accused of radicalizing others via the internet. Norway had supported the request, but it seems that an Italian court decided to rescind the warrant for the Krekar’s arrest.

François Fillon’s victory results in France’s center-right presidential primary may signal another victory for the Kremlin. In stark contrast to the current French administration, Fillon has advocated closer relations with Russia and the end of sanctions for its annexation of Crimea. The Times has more.

The United Nations Security Council voted today to impose new sanctions on North Korea that will reduce, but not eliminate, North Korean coal exports, the Times reports. The new penalties will. The tighter sanctions regime gained Chinese support following North Korea’s most recent nuclear tests and months of negotiation. But the the Chinese fear that cutting off coal exports entirely could could prompt the collapse of the regime and massive refugee flows across the North Korean-Chinese border.

The Philippine military is cracking down on Islamist militants in the country’s south, Reuters tells us. Government forces have ended a five-day siege against fighters from Maute, a group linked to the Islamic State, killing 61 militants. Militants are also suspected of orchestrating a bombing on a presidential security convoy in Mindanao, which wounded nine. The Journal has more.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is pressuring President Obama to release the full 7,000 pages of the Senate Torture Report, Politico writes. While the 525 page executive summary is publically available, the majority of the study remains classified as a Senate record. Feinstein argues that releasing the information now is critical before the President-elect, who has praised torture and promised to re-institute it, comes to office.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stephanie Leutert discussed the kidnapping epidemic in Mexico.

Beverley Milton-Edwards commented on the most recent failed ceasefire in Yemen.

Stewart Baker shared the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast.

Adam Klein assessed Justice Scalia’s legacy on foreign and comparative law.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker with analysis on Syria, Turkey, and Jordan.

Sarah Tate Chambers rounded up the latest developments in cybercrime.

Benjamin Wittes shared journalist Jonathan Rauch’s query for input from Lawfare readers concerning how to identify when the Trump administration has crossed key red lines protecting liberal-democratic norms.

Paul Rosenzweig outlined how immigration and border security policies may evolve in the next administration.

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.