Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Friday, August 22, 2014, 3:31 PM

NATO officials announced today that the Russian military has moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukraine in recent days and is actively using them against Ukrainian forcesreports the New York Times. If true, the move represents a dramatic escalation of a conflict that the West has long accused Russia of fueling. The statement follows a Reuters report that said at least 90 trucks from a Russian aid convoy had crossed into Ukraine without permission. The government in Kiev declared the move a “direct invasion.” However, authorities said that they would not move against the convoy. The Associated Press has more on the story.

Yesterday, Ukraine suffered heavy losses after separatists launched a counterattack along a major supply route leading to Donetsk, the Wall Street Journal reports. However, the government said that it regained control of Ilovaisk, a town of 18,000 on Wednesday.

All the while, the Russian border remains a hive of military activityaccording to the New York Times, where the flow of human traffic, convoys of tanks and other military vehicles arrive almost nightly.

The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the murder of American photojournalist James Foley, according to Attorney General Eric Holder. Politico has more on the announcement.

At the same time, the Telegraph writes that British intelligence services are attempting to determine whether two men from east London, who were both charged and later cleared of kidnapping Westerners in Syria, have information about the identity of Mr. Foley’s killer. The Associated Press shares how voice recognition software and other images are providing clues as the investigation proceeds.

The Guardian notes that efforts to identify the suspected killer have sparked debate in London as to how best battle domestic extremists.Weighing in on the debate, the Financial Times editorial board urges British Prime Minister David Cameron to avoid “knee-jerk initiatives,” but reminds us that “the threat from radical Islam is real” and that leaders need to have a serious conversation about “why so many young men feel alienated from society.”

News that the Islamic State demanded $132 million for Foley’s release has reignited the debate as to why the United States does not pay ransoms, while some other Western countries do. Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department outlined U.S. policy: “We believe that paying ransoms or making concessions would put all Americans overseas at greater risk for kidnapping” while helping to finance the groups that “we are trying to degrade.” The Washington Post has the story.

Yesterday, Tara told us that earlier this summer a U.S. special operations team had attempted to free Foley and a number of his fellow prisoners from captivity in Syria. That report, a result of a leak, has angered some members of Congress who worry that the information could damage future operations. According to the Hill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R – CA) has called for an investigation into who leaked the information, saying that “disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike.”

Yesterday, American planes bombed militants near Mosul dam, in the latest round of attacks on extremists operating in northern Iraq. According to Defense News, U.S. Central Command confirmed that the strikes destroyed or damaged three Humvees, another vehicle, and a number of homemade bomb emplacements.

Back in the United States, military officials seemed take a harder line against ISIL, raising expectations that the U.S. may be preparing for broader operations against the group. The Guardian reports that U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that the group is “beyond anything that we’ve seen” and it is an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” Hours after Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said that the U.S. would not be limited in its response by “geographic boundaries,” according to the Wall Street Journal, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey called the border between Iraq and Syria essentially “non-existent,” suggesting that the Islamic State could not be defeated without strikes in Syria.

Hagel also suggested that the conflict with the Islamic State may cause the Pentagon to reshape the $555 billion 2015 budget proposal to reflect the crisis. Defense News has more on the Secretary’s remarks.

“It certainly looks like war.” That’s from the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA),  who said that the U.S. efforts in Iraq have “broadened” into something that requires a “real debate – dialogue – about authorizing the president to do what he’s doing.” The Hill has more.  And, while many lawmakers remain reluctant to hold a vote on military action in Iraq, Jeremy Herb, reporting in Politiconotes that pressure could rise if the U.S. effort goes beyond force protection and instead on the offensive. Herb cites our own Bobby Chesney, who suggests “it’s going to be very hard to maintain the humanitarian and force protection arguments if the U.S. becomes more involved in sustained air support operations to evict ISIS from territorial gains.” Here on Lawfare, Jack weighs in on why the Administration should seek Congressional authorization for the use of force against the Islamic State.

Zalmay Khalilzadwriting in the National Interest, suggests a five-step plan for defeating the Islamic State, while Patrick Cockburn, in the Nationexamines how the War on Terror created the world’s most powerful terror group. Shane Harris suggests that one painfully ironic path to stability in Iraq may be the “re-Baathification” of the country, effectively splitting ISIS off from one of its most powerful but unnatural allies. And, at The Daily Beast, Eli Lake writes a piece entitled, “Obama vs. ISIS: This Time It’s Personal.”

Defense News reports that Germany will also begin providing weapons to Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. Meanwhile, Reuters reports on why the U.S. may have to be Iraq’s air force: Washington has failed to provide the 36 F-16s and 24 Apache helicopters that it promised four years ago.

Sectarian violence continued today in Iraq, as Shiite militiamen gunned down dozens of Sunni Muslims in a village mosque, Reuters reports. At least 68 people were killed.

McClatchy reports that the murder of James Foley has coincided with several new abductions of foreigners in northern Syria. Two Italians and one Japanese man were reported kidnapped during the past week.

At the same time, the Syrian government has sent reinforcements to an air base currently under attack by the Islamic State in northeast Syria. According to Reuters, the airbase represents the last government foothold in the area just east of the city of Raqqa. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 30 radicals had been killed in the fighting. The Raqqa Media Center said that prominent Islamic State media activist known as Abu Moussa, who recently appeared in the Vice News series about the group, was among those killed. The AP has more coverage on the assault.

According to a United Nations report released today, nearly 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in 2011. The Wall Street Journal has the story. You can read the full UN report here.

Finally, Foreign Policy has a heart wrenching piece by Qusai Zakarya, a survivor of Assad’s chemical weapons attacks one year ago. She writes:

But the worst sadness of my life did not come the day my friends died. It came three weeks later, while watching a livestream of President Obama. I learned from that speech that the United States would make a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, instead of striking at Assad for his atrocities. I had to translate this news into Arabic for my friends -- we cried harder than we had on Aug. 21, because we knew that Assad now had a green light to kill all the Syrians he wanted, so long as he did not use sarin gas.

Reuters is reporting that Iran has denied earlier reports that Foreign Minister Javid Zarif linked Iran’s cooperation on Iraq to the ongoing nuclear talks.

Gunmen in Gaza have killed 18 people accused of spying for Israel, the Associated Press reports. Seven were publicly executed in front of hundreds of people behind a mosque. The killings were a response to Israel’s airstrikes that killed three top Hamas commanders.

The Washington Post describes how Israeli strikes have hit Gaza’s industries like never before.

The Afghan government has released a statement defending its expulsion of New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg. The Times reports that the government said it “considers Mr. Rosenberg’s report more of an espionage act than a journalistic work, one that was meant to create panic and disruption in people’s minds, and provide the basis for other spying purposes.” James B. Cunningham, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan has called the action a “regrettable step backward” for Afghan press freedom.

Agence France-Presse reports that nine Pakistani detainees have been released from Afghanistan’s Bagram prison and returned home. The detainees are now under Pakistani government custody.

In Pakistan, the Wall Street Journal reports that opposition leader Imran Khan has suspended talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and accused the United States of interfering in the country’s political crisis. At a rally demanding the resignation of Mr. Sharif, Mr. Khan rebuked the United States, saying “You only like those governments in Muslim countries that are your slaves” and that a "Prime Minister Imran Khan can never become a stooge like Nawaz Sharif.”

Boko Haram continued its sweep of terrorist attacks, as the BBC reports that the group has overrun a riot police training academy in northern Nigeria.

The Washington Post reports that the Government Accountability Office has determined the Obama Administration broke the law during the Berghdal exchange when it did not give Congress 30 days notice. Wells covered the review yesterday on Lawfare and you can find the full report here.

Vice News reports that the Senate CIA torture report will not include some of the names of well-known “architects” of the program as their participation has never been formally acknowledged.

John DeLong, the compliance director at the NSA,  said yesterday that complying with the law has become “much easier” to talk about since the Edward Snowden leaks.

The AP reports that Kuwaiti police detained and questioned two men designated by the U.S. Treasury Department to be financiers of militant groups operating in Iraq and Syria. The Kuwaiti government has not charged the two men with supporting terrorist groups.

The New York Times has extensive coverage of the Arab Bank trial. This week’s testimony provided by the plaintiffs focused on Hamas’s responsibility for the 24 terrorist acts that affected the plaintiffs.

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