Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex Potcovaru
Wednesday, August 9, 2017, 3:08 PM

FBI agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller executed a search warrant against the home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort early in the morning of July 26, the day after Manafort met privately with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators, The Washington Post reports. Agents seized material from the home after searching for tax documents and banking records, according to The New York Times. Manafort’s spokesman confirmed that the search took place and said that Manafort had been cooperative. The agents would have had to apply before a federal judge for the search warrant, though details of the warrant remain unclear.

Tensions continue to rise between the U.S. and North Korea, with President Trump threatening to release “fire and fury” against North Korea if it continues to threaten the U.S., The New York Times reports. Individuals familiar with the event said that the president’s comment, which generated a flurry of anxiety within the United States and across East Asia, was improvised. Pyongyang responded by threatening to strike Guam if North Korea is attacked. The Post reported Tuesday that U.S intelligence agencies believe Kim Jong Un’s regime has created a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that Americans “should sleep well at night” and not be concerned about the tensions of the past few days, The Times reports. Still, in two tweets Wednesday morning, Trump emphasized the strength of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and pledged that the United States would always be the strongest nation in the world. The Pentagon released a statement Wednesday from Defense Secretary James Mattis noting the readiness of the United States and its allies “to defend themselves from an attack” and urging North Korea to halt consideration of any moves that “would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

An unmanned Iranian drone came within 100 feet of a U.S. Super Hornet fighter jet in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, causing the American aircraft to swerve to avoid a collision, The Times reports. The fighter jet had been in a holding pattern over an aircraft carrier, preparing to land. Officials said that the Iranian craft ignored repeated radio calls directing it to keep clear. This is the 13th time this year that Iranian maritime forces have engaged in what the Pentagon described as an “unsafe” or “unprofessional” manner with U.S. forces.

The U.N. warned Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis could become newly displaced as Iraqi security forces launch operations to drive Islamic State out of its final strongholds in the country, The Times reports. More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced by the conflict, presenting challenges for the government as it tries to reestablish control. And even as individuals return to their homes, the U.N. is particularly worried about the targeting of Sunni families suspected by their peers of sympathizing with ISIS.

The Taliban has been refocusing its tactics to demonstrate wide geographic reach in Afghanistan while adopting increasingly brutal tactics that take a psychological toll on local populations, The Post reports. This destabilizing activity comes as the Trump administration considers a new strategy in the 16-year conflict. Additionally, experts said the Taliban’s actions are capitalizing on rifts within the struggling government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Iran may also provide support to the group to counter ISIS's influence.

The U.S. and Vietnam pledged to maintain deeper defense commitments, with the United States promising to send an aircraft carrier to visit Vietnam next year, Reuters reports. Secretary of Defense Mattis met with his Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich at the Pentagon on Tuesday, engaging in a discussion that covered current tensions in the South China Sea. Vietnam has played a growing role in countering Chinese moves in the region and has expanded its security relationships with Japan, India and the U.S.

Five active-duty transgender service members have filed a lawsuit against Trump’s three-tweet plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military, CNN reports. Although the Pentagon has not taken steps to implement the ban, the plaintiffs say the announcement has led to immediate injury by “unsettling and destabilizing plaintiffs' reasonable expectation of continued service."

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Michel Paradis analyzed recent Senate legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Trump and explained how these bills could actually harm Mueller and his investigation.

Sarah Grant covered last week’s military commissions proceedings in the USS Cole case.

J. Dana Stuster posted the Middle East Ticker, covering the faltering of Russian-backed cease-fires in western Syria, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s warning to the U.S. over the international nuclear agreement, and possible indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Alex Potcovaru discussed the international law of anticipatory self-defense and how it relates to U.S. options for addressing the North Korean threat.

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