Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Helen Klein Murillo
Friday, May 5, 2017, 2:19 PM

A U.S. service member was killed yesterday in an operation against al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab in Somalia, the Washington Post reports. The incident comes several weeks after the White House approved an expanded role for U.S. forces in the country, allowing military members to routinely accompany local forces on offensive operations against the extremist group. Foreign Policy notes that the service member killed was a U.S. Navy SEAL and that the casualty marks the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since 1993. The Wall Street Journal confirms that Pentagon officials have noted that the incident appears to be the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since the 1993 killing of 18 U.S. service members in Mogadishu.

The Post reports that North Korea has accused South Korea and the United States of plotting an assassination attempt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un using “biochemical agents.” This isn’t the first time North Korea has made such claims, none of which have been verified, and experts on the North Korea-U.S. relationship say the claim is unlikely to be true.

United States and allied military will be prohibited from much of Syrian airspace pursuant to a deal struck between Iran, Russia, and Turkey, according to the New York Times. It is not clear whether the United States has agreed to that prohibition or whether Russia will enforce the no-fly zone. The centerpiece of the deal is the establishment of four “de-escalation zones,” in which Syrian government and opposition forces have agreed to stop fighting, but that aspect of the agreement has not been accepted by all opposition groups. The Times explains that some rebel groups saw too many loopholes for the Syrian government in the proposal for de-escalation zones. At Just Security, Nathalie Weizmann distinguishes between these “de-escalation zones” and so-called “safe zones.” The Wall Street Journal reports that United States officials are wary of the deal, particularly in light of Iran’s role as one of three guarantor countries, along with Russia and Turkey. The Washington Post highlights that the deal may not be especially different from previous failed cease-fire deals in Syria.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force has deployed its newest combat planes, stealthy F-35A fighters, to Europe for training missions with NATO allies, a move intended in part to deter rising Russian aggression, the Journal reports. The training exercises lay the groundwork for the United States to permanently base several of the aircraft in Europe, shoring up NATO’s deterrence posture, explained the head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Iraqi forces have launched a new offensive against ISIS in an effort to oust the group from Mosul’s Old City, writes the Journal. Operations in the city are complicated by the presence of civilians, leading allied forces to forgo heavy weaponry, as the fight to regain the city enters its seventh month, the Journal explains. U.S. military personnel are more engaged than in previous efforts, with posts closer to the front lines in order to facilitate cooperation between U.S. and its allied Iraqi forces.

The Pentagon will send President Trump its troop recommendations for Afghanistan within the week, notes the Hill. In a Washington Post op-ed, Michael Gerson examines President Trump’s options in Afghanistan, arguing that “[t]he choices are being clarified in a context that is the clearest strength of the Trump presidency: his first-rate national security staff.”

Meanwhile, President Trump is facing increasing opposition to his controversial pick for Secretary of the Army, Mark Green, over his anti-LGBT comments. The Hill reports that ten retired military officers have urged the administration to rethink the pick, calling Green “unfit to serve.” The Hill also notes that 41 civil rights groups have joined together to urge the Senate Armed Services Committee to reject Green’s nomination.

President Trump met yesterday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier reports the New York Times. Despite reports of a confrontational phone call between the two in the early days of the administration regarding an Obama-era refugee deal, the meeting appeared to go smoothly. President Trump admitted to the tense phone call yesterday in one breath, but called it “fake news” in another, explains the Washington Post.

A global coalition of former military leaders and diplomats have created a Nuclear Crisis Group to advise world leaders and members of President Trump’s administration on de-escalating nuclear tensions, Politico reports. The group, dubbed a “shadow security council,” is comprised of former officials from China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, including President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering. The officials warn of a deteriorating global political climate, citing tensions with North Korea and nuclear build up in India, Pakistan, and China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday that he called Chinese President Xi Jinping at the behest of President Trump to pressure China to exert its influence over North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reports. The comments come after Trump faced substantial criticism over his warm call with Duterte, accused on human rights violations in his anti-drug campaign, in which President Trump invited Duterte to the White House and praised Duterte’s drug policies.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in his first presidential visit to Europe at the end of the month, reports Politico. President Trump will be attending a NATO summit in Brussels and a G7 meeting in Sicily.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked Trump associates including Roger Stone, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn to provide emails and other records of their communications with Russian officials. The Times writes that the Committee may issue subpoenas if the four men are not forthcoming.

ICYMI: Yesterday, On Lawfare

Tom Dannenbaum reviewed Aaron Xavier Fellmeth’s Paradigms of International Human Rights Law.

Benjamin Wittes posted the latest episode of Rational Security, the “Intelligence Porn” edition, covering FBI

Director James Comey’s Senate testimony, President Trump’s overtures to autocrats, and recent NSA surveillance news.

Bobby Chesney and Steve Vladeck posted the latest episode of the National Security Law Podcast, “Skirmishes in the Surveillance Wars,” in which the two discuss NSA “about” collection and ODNI’s 2016 Transparency Report.

Russell Spivak analyzed Mohammed Jawad’s petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in his case seeking damages for alleged torture while in U.S. custody.

Jordan Brunner summarized ODNI’s 2016 Annual Statistical Transparency Report.

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.