Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner, Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, January 19, 2017, 12:05 PM

Foreign Policy warns us that the Trump national security team continues to be “missing in action” on the eve of the inauguration. The lack of key deputies may hobble the new administration’s response to emergency situations as posts remain empty throughout the National Security Council and the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security. The situation is at its worst in the Defense Department, where Defense Secretary-designate General James Mattis—whom Politico reports is set to be confirmed after a green light from the Senate Armed Services Committee—has had numerous fights with senior members of the transition team over positions at the Pentagon. Despite the chaos, Josh Rogin writes at The Washington Post that Reince Priebus, Steven Bannon, and Jared Kushner have emerged as “the big three” shaping Trump’s decision-making.

Meanwhile, the transition team announced today that 50 key government employees will stay on in the Trump administration, including U.S. envoy in the fight against ISIS Brett McGurk and Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work. Reuters has more on the transition.

The Senate is holding confirmation hearings today for former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has been tapped to lead the Energy Department, a government agency he once promised to abolish if elected president. The New York Times informs us that Perry has faced a steep learning curve as he has discovered that in addition to overseeing oil and gas, his primary responsibility will be managing the United States’ vast nuclear arsenal.

McClatchy DC tells us that the FBI and five other federal agencies (including the CIA and NSA) have collaborated to investigate possible Kremlin assistance of the Trump campaign. The interagency working group is specifically focusing on how money may have moved from Moscow to the United States in order to help Trump win the election, possibly by funneling pension payments to Russian-Americans to pay U.S.-based hackers. The investigation began prior to the circulation of the dossier alleging communication between the Kremlin and the Trump team, though some of the allegations in the dossier are consistent with McClatchy’s reporting on the ongoing investigation.

U.S. B-2 bombers struck and destroyed two ISIS camps in Libya last night in a short-notice operation approved by President Obama, the Times writes, killing what is believed to be “several dozen” militants. Unmanned aircraft were also involved in the strike along with the bombers. The Pentagon had previously announced that air operations against ISIS’s presence in the coastal city of Sirte would end on December 19th.

The Wall Street Journal explains that as the military prepares to present Trump with options to defeat ISIS after he is sworn in, a main priority for the Pentagon will be to insure that Syria isn’t a sanctuary for ISIS to continue attacks after Mosul falls. In an interview with the AP, outgoing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter cautions against the option of sending thousands of U.S. troops to fight ISIS, warning that the United States would be fighting on unfamiliar turf and would risk alienating its allies.

Even sheep and other livestock are not safe from ISIS as large oil fires continue to burn from August, when they were lit by ISIS fighters fleeing Mosul, Reuters reports. The fires have destroyed the surrounding environment and have left toxic clouds over Qayyara, near Mosul.

Reuters reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has voiced hopes for “reconciliation” deals with the rebel groups at peace talks backed by Russia and Turkey in Kazakhstan next Monday. Rebels would give up their weapons and receive a pardon under such agreements.

The Post examines the war in Afghanistan and the state of affairs Trump will inherit there. Casualties are mounting as Afghan troops struggle to counter a resurgent Taliban, though Taliban fighters have failed to maintain control over major cities across the country. It remains unclear what position a Trump administration will take on Afghanistan given the President-elect’s few and vague statements on the subject.

The Times informs us that the death toll from the accidental striking of a refugee camp by the Nigerian military has climbed to 70, including at least nine aid workers. The bombs struck just when refugees were receiving measles vaccination at the camp, which was located near a Nigerian military post.

In Mali, the Post reports that a truck bomb has killed at least 60 at a camp in Gao, including army troops. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The crisis in Gambia grows as President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down following his electoral defeat. The BBC tells us that Adama Barrow, the victor of the country’s recent presidential election, will be sworn in as president in neighboring Senegal in his country’s embassy there. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that an estimated 26,000 have fled Gambia as military intervention from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana looks likely in order to unseat Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years.

The Miami Herald reports that the D.C. District Court has denied the petition of a Guantanamo detainee to be released from the prison prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration as President. Sufyian Barhoumi, who has expressed a desire to build a pizza parlor in his native Algeria, after his release, has been cleared for transfer since August, but his release has not yet been approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The Post reports on newly released emails and documents from the CIA that expose a bitter fight over the qualifications and ethics of two former military psychologists who pushed the agency to adopt interrogation methods widely condemned as torture. The records, released as part of an ongoing lawsuit against psychologists James Mitchell and J. Bruce Jessen by the ACLU, reveal the intensity of opposition within the agency to relying on the two men and the methods they recommended, which some considered to be malpractice. An attorney for Mitchell and Jessen pointed out that the methods were cleared by the Department of Justice.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast: Posse Comitatus: Latin for “Get Off My Turf”?

Benjamin Wittes posted the Rational Security Podcast: The “Four Horsemen” Edition.

Jane Chong flagged the new, unclassified CIA procedures for handling U.S. person information under E.O. 12333.

Paul Rosenzweig expressed rare disagreement with Ben and Susan over the Manning commutation.

Nora Ellingson provided history and commentary on the Noor Zahi Salman case.

Brian Wilson reviewed his article in the Stanford Journal of International Law on balancing human rights and security interests within a maritime context.

Shannon Togawa Mercer explained the challenges that UK Prime Minister Theresa May will face in trying to live up to her promise of a “hard” Brexit.

Ryan Hagemann responded to lines of attack against the intelligence community and its recent election hacking report.

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