The breakdown of Iraq dominates today’s headlines. Yesterday, insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured the cities of Tikrit and Samarra, located just 70 miles from Baghdad. The Washington Post reports that they are continuing southward toward the capital, while Reuters notes that the militants have taken control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery. The strength and speed with which ISIL forces overtook northern Iraq has prompted concerns about the ability of the American-trained Iraqi military to defend the country. The Daily Beast indicates that the insurgents have become a “full-blown army,” having captured weapons and vehicles the U.S. had given to Iraqi security forces.
According to the Associated Press, American lawmakers are wondering whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should step down. The Iraqi leader has asked the U.S. to conduct air strikes against insurgents, but the New York Times reports that the White House is hesitant to engage in operations in Iraq since the withdrawal of troops from the country in 2011. Politico indicates that members of the Defense Department will brief the Senate Armed Services Committee in a classified hearing this morning. In advance of the hearing, though, Senator John McCain declared that President Obama should replace everyone on his national security team. Politico has that story, too.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed in Foreign Policy, Michael Knights calls the latest developments in the Gulf state the beginning of the third Iraq War. Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post seems to agree, arguing that the situation in Iraq is likely to get worse.
As ISIL has overtaken Mosul, Tikrit, and Samarra, Kurdish troops have seized control of Kirkuk, a strategic oil-rich city in northern Iraq. The New York Times notes that the Kurds are closely allied to neither the Shia-led Iraqi government, nor the Sunni ISIL militants. The Kurdish forces appear far more disciplined and loyal to their commanders.
Russia has, of course, weighed in on the situation in Iraq: Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov says Russian leaders warned many years ago that British and American “adventurism” in the Gulf state would end poorly. The New York Times has more.
Outside of Iraq, ISIL engaged in an attack on the Free Syrian Army base in Minbej, now under the control of what the New York Times calls “the most extremist jihadi group in the Syrian conflict.” Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post indicates that, though it is hard to be certain, ISIL may now be the world’s wealthiest terrorist group.
Two CIA-operated drones struck northern Pakistan late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. The Washington Post indicates that these are the first U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan since December 25, and Reuters reports that the Pakistani government, which in the past has condemned such assaults, gave “express approval” for the operations. The strikes occurred in the North Waziristan region.
According to the New York Times, while the first attack hit mostly ethnic Uzbek militants---who claim they fought alongside the Pakistani Taliban in its assault on Karachi’s international airport---the second struck members of the Haqqani network, the group known to have held Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the past five years. The sergeant’s release seems to have given the U.S. more freedom to attack the militant group.
The New York Times says that Sgt. Bergdahl was given an administrative discharge from the Coast Guard after four weeks of basic training, though the reason for the departure remains unclear. He joined the Army two years later; it is also unknown whether he was granted a waiver to do so.
The Washington Post got a hold of Sgt. Bergdahl’s journal, essays, stories, e-mails, and photos from Kim Harrison, a friend of Bergdahl’s. The information portrays Bergdahl as an often troubled and emotional young man.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel defended Bergdahl’s release yesterday in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. FOX News highlights Hagel’s admission that the administration “could have done a better job” informing members of Congress, but NPR points to the Secretary’s description of the emergency situation the White House faced. The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung also reports on Secretary Hagel’s testimony. Jack wrote a post summarizing the legal takeaways from the hearing.
Orin Kerr writes in the Volokh Conspiracy about the Eleventh Circuit’s decision yesterday in United States v. Davis. The decision held that the Fourth Amendment “protects historical cell-site information”---diverging from the Fifth Circuit’s decision last year that it does not. Ellen Nakashima also has the story.
The Hill reports that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) indicated at an AEI event yesterday that he is “extremely optimistic” that the Senate will pass the House’s USA Freedom Act. At a Georgetown University event, Congressman Rogers also said that the U.S. might be getting past its “emotional phase” after the Snowden revelations and the media hysteria that fueled it. Defense News has more. However, the Hill quotes former NSA director Michael Hayden as saying that people in the agency refer to the former contractor as “he who will not be named,” suggesting that not everyone is quite over the disclosures.
The White House outlined steps yesterday to prevent disclosures of the identities of covert officials while the president is traveling abroad. The move comes after the embarrassing accidental leak of the CIA’s top operative in Afghanistan last month.
Seventy media and press freedom organizations have written a letter to Congress urging it to take up the Free Flow of Information Act, which would make it easier for journalists to protect their sources. The move comes after the Supreme Court turned down a petition from James Risen, the New York Times reporter who fought a subpoena requiring his testimony in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA officer accused of leaking classified information. Josh Gerstein of Politico has more on the status of the shield law in Congress.
Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov admitted that his country was providing assistance to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Washington Post reports that he announced Russia has been sending “humanitarian aid to...the conflict zone.” Meanwhile, recently inaugurated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko indicated he would be willing to enter discussions with the pro-Russian insurgency if they halt attacks. Reuters notes that such talks would represent an important move toward peace. Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) declared yesterday that the U.S. needs to increase its forces in Eastern Europe. Defense News has that story.
Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post analyzes the background of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani. Ghani, a former World Bank executive and professor at Johns Hopkins University. In speeches, Ghani has dismissed his previous career in the West, saying “I learned English only so I could satisfy the foreigners and defend our national interests.” Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times calls Ghani’s transformation into a “populist” the “most surprising story line in the Afghan presidential campaign.”
Last night, PBS NewsHour examined Guantanamo Bay and the Obama administration’s failure to close the detention facilities. Ben participated in the discussion: