Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer, Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, August 20, 2014, 2:31 PM

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” President Obama said earlier this afternoon, in reaction to the appalling video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an Islamic State militant.  Obama stressed that the United States would not change course in Iraq, stating, “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless.”

U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed the video to be authenticaccording to multiple media sources, including the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Foley was captured by militants while on assignment in Syria in 2012.

In the video, a militant speaking in British-accented English warns that the life of another American prisoner, identified as Steven Sotloff, depends on President Obama’s “next decision.”  Footage begins with a two-minute segment of President Obama’s announcement of air strikes in Iraq on August 7th, 2014; the film thus essentially deems Foley's execution to be retaliation for American strikes targeting the Islamic State. The Guardian notes that Scotland Yard is working to identify the British militant in the video.

According to the Washington Post, senior White House and counterterrorism officials met early today to discuss the U.S. response. When asked about the possible suspension of strikes, one official who spoke off-record, suggested that the “only question is if we do more.”

The Post has more on the video and the U.S. government response, while CNN sheds light on the life of James Foley and his work in war-torn areas.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military’s recent successes against the Islamic State may create momentum for a broader campaign against the militant group. While Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby denied reports that U.S. troops were on the ground near Mosul Dam this weekend, as Kurdish and Iraqi troops retook the dam, military planners are now considering a series of air strikes that would prevent militants from seizing another strategic site, Anbar province's Haditha Dam.

There are now more than 1,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and U.S. aircraft have conducted at least 70 airstrikes, according to the Army Times. Writing in Foreign Policy, Gordon Lubold and Kate Brannan explain that as the operation expands, it is becoming harder for missions to fit under President Obama’s initial rationale for renewed operations in Iraq. But neither Congress nor the President apparently desire a congressional vote to authorize force, says the New York Times. Here at Lawfare, Jack summarizes the politics of war powers with regard to Iraq: Congress seeks the greatest possible flexibility to criticize the Iraq operation; an up or down vote would get in the way there, by requiring legislators more explicitly to express approval or disapproval. 

The Times notes how U.S. intervention is changing the conflict. After the battle for Mosul Dam, the scene was riddled with evidence of American air power and destruction:“[B]uildings reduced to rubble; cars churned into twisted metal; mammoth craters gouged from the road.” The Post suggests that the U.S. intervention “appeared to have energized Iraqi forces further south,” but reports that the Iraqi army’s attempt to retake Tikrit yesterday stalled as Iraqi forces faced stiff resistance and heavy fire from Islamic militants.

The Times also has a story on Iraq’s next leader, Haider al-Abadi. Iraqis hope that his education, urban upbringing, and decades of living in Britain will mean better results. Already, Reuters reports that Kurdish ministers who had quit the outgoing government of Prime Minister Nouri-al-Malaki have rejoined the administration.

The United Nations announced on Tuesday that it is preparing a large relief effort aimed at bringing supplies to the more than 500,000 refugees and displaced persons in northern Iraq. According to the Wall Street Journal, a four-day airlift campaign, as well as 10-day sea and land shipments from Dubai via Iran, will begin today. The shipments will include 3,300 tents, 20,000 plastic sheets, 18,500 kitchen sets and 16,500 fuel cans.

Time tells us that the fighting in Iraq is causing weapons prices to skyrocket as people arm themselves to fight ISIS. Buried in the story is this concerning detail: a 34-year-old driver brandishes his brand new M-16, stamped, “Property of the U.S. GOVT,” which he bought for $3,000. According to Time, acquisition of the weapon raises questions about the fate of foreign arms provided to fight ISIS.

Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan (ret.) and Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (ret.) share their thoughts on what they call the “no boots on the ground” mantra.

The most recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came to an end yesterday. According to the AP, Israeli negotiators in Cairo left the peace table after Gaza militants fired rockets on Israel. Since then, Israeli Defense Forces have been conducting airstrikes on Gaza. The Times reports that the strikes have killed the wife and child of Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif.

Reuters shares an exclusive, first-hand account of the underground tunnels that still exist beneath the Gaza Strip, despite efforts by the Israeli Defense Forces to destroy the entire tunnel network.

The Post reports of growing worries about possible violence, as the deadline to inaugurate a new Afghan president nears. Indeed, Afghan security forces fought some 700 Taliban insurgents yesterday in Logar province, just south of Kabul. Reuters shares the news. Still, President Obama intends to stick to his withdrawal timeline, according to the Times. As the fated hour looms, Agence France-Presse examines U.S. training of Afghan troops.

The Times shares news that Matthew Rosenberg, one of its foreign correspondents, is being interrogated by the Afghan government over a recent article he wrote for the newspaper regarding Afghanistan’s current political impasse. The AP also informs us that Rosenberg is not free to leave the country.

From Reuters: the Austrian government has detained nine people with alleged plans to join rebels in Syria.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board examines difficulties associated with ensuring Syrian chemical weapons disarmament.

At the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, a shooting accident has left two local guards wounded. The AP has details.

Al Jazeera reports that rockets fired by Libyan rebels on a wealthy neighborhood in Tripoli have killed three people.

The Times analyzes current relations between India and Pakistan, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cancellation of foreign-minister level meetings between the two countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are scheduled to meet in Minsk, Belarus next week. The Wall Street Journal examines the statements that have been issued so far about the upcoming talks.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops continue to push back the rebels, reports the AP. As the pro-Russian separatists increasingly seem to be fighting a losing battle, the command structure among them has changed dramatically. The Times shares details.

Yesterday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans to strengthen the Russian navy over the next six years. According to Agence France-Presse, this statement is a “response to NATO’s vow to halt the Kremlin’s push into Ukraine.” However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared yesterday that NATO will not be stationing combat troops in eastern Europe. Bloomberg News has the story.

Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, details President Putin’s background and explains why his history explains his current aggression.

The Guardian reports that activists in Moscow painted the Soviet star atop “Stalin’s Tower” the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine and then affixed the Ukrainian flag to it.

On Monday, Jane shared news that German intelligence officers had tapped the phones of current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Josef Joffe examines the irony of the situation, given Berlin’s righteous indignation over reports that the U.S. had bugged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.

According to the AP, the Justice Department has announced that within the next six months, it will change the process by which someone is added to the "no-fly" list. This news follows a recent ruling in Latif v. Holder, in which the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon held the current system unconstitutional. Matt Danzer summarized the opinion for Lawfare.

In Ferguson, Missouri, protests over a police officer's shooting of Michael Brown may have reached a turning point.  Or at least that is how an officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol characterized things, per this Post report.

Wired highlights a study conducted by researchers of the University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s X-ray body scanners. They found that weapons and explosives can easily be concealed in order to make it through the scanners.

MIT Technology Review describes the results of a University of Michigan study, which analyzed the security of local, networked traffic lights. According to the findings, “unencrypted wireless connections, the use of default usernames and passwords that could be found online, and a debugging port that is easy to attack” contribute to American infrastructure vulnerabilities.

BBC News reports that hackers, exploiting the “Heartbleed” vulnerability, have stolen the personal information of 4.5 million patients of the U.S.’s Community Health Systems.

Wired shares a series of proposals from Internet experts and stakeholders on “how to save the net.”

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