Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Friday, October 20, 2017, 11:17 AM

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) raised the banner of a Kurdish revolutionary leader in the captured city of Raqqa, the Wall Street Journal reported. Kurdish-led SDF members held a press conference where they hoisted a banner showing Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish separatist leader Turkey has jailed as a terrorist. The move provoked condemnation from the mostly Arab residents of the city. The SDF pledged to incorporate Raqqa into a planned autonomous region under a decentralized Syrian federal system, Reuters reported. The militia said it would include Raqqa in the autonomous zones it is setting up in northern Syria, outside of the control of Bashar Assad’s Syrian government. Elsewhere in Syria, Russian-backed forces moved to capture strategic towns before U.S. proxies could seize them from the retreating Islamic State, according to the Washington Post. Russian airstrikes, which apparently violated a U.S.-Russia deconfliction line, aided the swift fall of the town of Mayadeen to the Syrian government.

Spain’s government plans to dissolve Catalonia’s parliament and hold new elections to thwart the autonomous region’s push for independence, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy secured opposition support for the measures heading into an emergency Cabinet meeting on Saturday. Catalonia’s president has refused to renounce independence. The emergency measures could take advantage of an unused clause in the Spanish constitution that would allow the government to assume direct control of Catalonia’s administration, according to the New York Times.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo distorted the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, the Post reported. At the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Pompeo said the intelligence assessment concluded that interference did not have an effect on the result of the election. In January, the intelligence community released an assessment that concluded Russia had interfered in the election but made no determination whether it had influenced the outcome. A CIA spokesperson said the assessment's conclusions remained unchanged.

The FBI is involved in an investigation into the deaths of four U.S. special forces in Niger as criticism of the military’s handling of the incident mounted, the Journal reported. The FBI will gather information about the militants that ambushed the U.S. soldiers accompanying a detachment of Nigerien forces. Senator John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed frustration at the Department of Defense’s reluctance to provide details about the incident. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the possibility of an ambush “was considered unlikely” and pledged to get answers about the attack, Politico reported. Mattis added, “but there’s a reason we have U.S. Army soldiers there and not the Peace Corps.”

A British lawmaker called for parliament to look into Russian interference in the Brexit campaign, the New York Times reported. Ben Bradshaw, a member of the Labor Party, drew attention to possible links between financial support for the “Leave” campaign and Russian entities. Open Democracy, a civil-society organization, recently published a detailed report on the finances of one of the chief backers of Brexit and his Russian connections.

A Taliban attack completely destroyed an Afghan army unit, killing 43 soldiers, the Times reported. Using car-bombs and assault rifles, Taliban fighters wiped out nearly all the soldiers in an Afghan base in Kandahar province. The attack is the third large-scale loss for Afghan forces this week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would not block European trade with Iran as part of the new strategy to counter the regime, the Journal reported. Renewed European business ties with Iran were a key facet of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. European leaders have pledged to keep sanctions suspended as long as they determine Iran complies with the agreement. Tillerson specifically declined to address whether a multi-billion dollar deal by Boeing to sell airplanes to Tehran would be allowed under the new U.S. policy.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) pledged to accelerate their missile program in the face of U.S. and European opposition, Reuters reported. Last week, President Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The IRGC’s commander said that the Trump administration’s policy shift on Iran would begin an “era of failure” for the U.S.

Foreign Policy’s Emily Tamkin wrote about a point of stability for foreign diplomats trying to connect to the White House: Mike Pence.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Byman predicted how the Islamic State will respond to the fall of Raqqa.

Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean argued that the Senate should clarify its oversight authority over the Department of Homeland Security by passing an authorization bill for the department.

Elsa Kania analyzed the policy choices involved in developing advanced artificial intelligence.

Michael Bahar, David Cook, Varun Shingari and Curtis Arnold discussed how the Supreme Court’s ruling in Carpenter v. U.S. and the FISA Amendments Act reauthorization could affect the future of third party doctrine.

Peter Swire and Richard Clarke argued that FISA Amendments Act Section 702 should be reformed to protect Fourth Amendment principles.

Benjamin Wittes shared the “Decertified” edition of Rational Security.

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