Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Tuesday, September 23, 2014, 3:03 PM

The United States and its allies began airstrikes in Syria with a massive assault across vast swaths of the country’s airspace last night. Foreign Policy carries the story. President Barack Obama authorized the the strikes, which, according to CENTCOM, involved a “mix of fighter, bomber, and Tomahawk land attack missiles.” Using a fleet of F-15Es, F-16s, FA-18s, B-1 bombers, F-22 Raptors, and Predator drones, the US and its allies carried out 14 attacks against ISIS targets, including “command and control facilities, training compounds, headquarters, storage facilities, a finance center, and supply trucks and armored vehicles.” According to Reuters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 ISIS fighters were killed in the strikes.

The United States also targeted a little-known group of hardened al Qaeda veterans called Khorasan. Per US intelligence, the militant organization consists of jihadists from all over the globe; more distressingly, intelligence personnel thought the group had possibly reached the operational stage of a plot that included Yemeni bomb makers in an attempt to bring down a US airliner. The core of the group is said to be veteran al Qaeda fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan who have linked up in Syria with the al Nusra Front. The move to Syria was reportedly aimed at gaining access to Western jihadists with US or European passports, which could be used to access planes and then hijack them. AP has more.

In response to this threat, the Pentagon announced Tuesday morning that the US carried out an additional 8 Tomahawk cruise missile airstrikes near Aleppo against KhorasanAccording to the Washington Post, the attacks targeted “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications, building and command and control facilities.” Reuters reports that 50 fighters and 8 civilians were killed in the strikes. We expect to hear much more on this as many questions remain regarding the group and US actions against them.

Today, Pentagon Press Secretary Admiral John Kirby told reporters that “last night’s strikes were only the beginning.”

The New York Times reports that the Arab states participating in the airstrikes, whose “intensity and scale...were greater than those launched by the United States in Iraq,” included “Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.” The strikes took place around Raqqa, ISIS’s headquarters, as well as Dayr az Swar, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal. Earlier this morning, the US Navy uploaded a video to Youtube of the launch of Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles from the USS Philippine Sea. Over at the National Journal, there are pictures of US forces in action, including the first-ever combat utilization of the new stealth F-22 Raptor.

This morning, the Department of Defense provided a before and after photo of a target hit during the F-22’s maiden combat voyage:

It is still unclear what the F-22 Raptor's mission was, and where it flew from. The Daily Beast tackles some of the questions about what brought the jets, costing $150 million each, into the arena.  You can also find a map of the attacks across Syrian airspace over at Vox, while War is Boring has a detailed rundown of the operation, its phases, and which aircraft struck what. Why did the US go big in Syria on a single day? At the Washington Post, Dan Lamothe posits a few reasons, including the possibility of an imminent attack by the Khorasan group, as well as the risk of continued violation of Syrian airspace should the Assad government no longer welcome U.S. strikes. NBC News reports that the Syrian Foreign Ministry released a statement today asserting that the US informed Syria’s envoy to the UN in advance of the airstrikes. A State Department spokesman confirmed that “the Syrian regime was notified that the coalition was going to take direct action” against ISIS militants in regions of the country, but took pains to point out that the US “did not seek the regime’s permission” and did not “coordinate our actions with the Syrian government.” Furthermore, she asserted that Secretary of State John Kerry did not personally send a letter to the Syrian regime. The Washington Post quotes the Pentagon's director for operations, Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., as saying Syrian military radar was "passive" during the airstrikes and no attempt was made to interrupt them. President Obama gave a statement today on the airstrikes, and the Guardian has the full transcript. The video of the speech can be found on Youtube here. At the New York Times, David D. Kirkpatrick and Omar al-Jawoshy write that ISIS has proved resilient in the face of US airstrikes in Iraq, in part because many important Sunni tribes continue to sit the conflict out. Additionally, ISIS continues to deal devastating blows to the Iraqi army, with reports today claiming that hundreds of soldiers have been killed in mass executions by the group at a camp north of Fallujah. The New York Times writes that ISIS militants are pummeling Sunni Kurds in northern Syria. More than 130,000 Syrian Kurds have fled from the violence near Kobani north to Turkey. It remains unclear whether the US will attempt to aim airstrikes so as to halt the deteriorating situation there. Speaking of Kurds, Al-Monitor asserts that the US and Iran are courting rival Kurdish factions in their joint crusade against ISIS. The BBC carries a series of maps detailing the latest situation in the region. In a mountainous region in northern Algeria, ISIS-affiliated militants kidnapped a French citizen hours after ISIS exhorted militants worldwide to attack Westerners. The New York Times reports that the group, Jund al-Khilafah, vowed to kill Herve Gourdel if France did not halt its airstrikes against ISIS within 24 hours. Separately, ISIS released a second video featuring British journalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012. ISIS has held at least 23 Westerners hostage so far. The BBC has more. The Guardian reports that US intelligence clarified that there are 20-30 Americans are currently fighting in Syria for jihadist groups. Earlier statements that estimated 100 Americans included those that had gone and returned to the United States. Not all of them are warring for ISIS; the Pentagon estimated earlier this month that approximately 12 Americans work for the Islamic State. At the BBC, Jonathan Marcus argues why air power alone will not defeat ISIS. RIA Novosti carries comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to the airstrikes, who warned that US-led airstrikes against ISIS in Syria “should not be conducted without the consent of the Syrian government.” Kimberly Dozier of the Daily Beast analyzes President Obama’s UN plan to choke off ISIS’s foreign recruits, and suggests that its major weakness lies in its probable lack of punitive measures, due to resistance by other UN members. Also at the BBC, Marc Weller, professor of international law at Cambridge, assesses the lingering legal questions surrounding the strikes against ISIS, while at the New York Times, Charlie Savage reports that Senior Obama administration officials claiming that airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, without permission of the Syrian government of UN Security Council, are legal because they were done in defense of Iraq, and because Syria is "unwilling or unable" to deal with the threat.  Today, at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) speaks about Congress’ important role in approving a new AUMF for  the fight against ISIS and its impact on war powers. According to the New York Times, the World Food Program announced on Monday that the organization will have to scale back rations for those living in Syria by 40% next month. The agency faces a $350 million deficit in its Syria programs by the end of 2014. Georgia has offered to host a training site for Syrian rebels, Foreign Policy reports. If approved, the site could supplement planned areas in Saudi Arabia expected to train 5,000 anti-ISIS Syrian rebels. Semih Idiz of Turkish newspaper Hurriyet argues that Ankara cannot sit on the fence regarding ISIS, and that the group’s geographic proximity to Turkey poses significant threats to the country’s stability. King Abdullah II of Jordan said on Monday that his country’s borders are resilient against ISIS, and its military has the “capacity to withstand an advance” by the militant group. His comments come after 11 members of the group were arrested for allegedly planning a terror attack in the Hashemite Kingdom. The Times of Israel has more. Israeli forces killed two Hamas members that were accused of murdering three Israeli teenagers earlier this year. The death of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha near Hebron adds another chapter to a tragic saga which began this summer. The teenagers’ killing in June, and a subsequent reprisal attack by ultra-Orthodox Jews on an Arab, had precipitated a debilitating war in Gaza that ended with thousands of Palestinian fatalities and dozens of deaths among Israelis. The New York Times has more. Ynetnews writes that despite earlier reports that Hamas was leaving the Cairo ceasefire talks with Israel in response to the deaths of Qawasmeh and Abu Aisha, the Islamist group will press on with negotiations. The New York Times reports that the Israeli military shot down a Syrian fighter jet on Tuesday morning that had infiltrated Israeli airspace. The Russian-made Sukhoi warplane was brought down by a Patriot missile over the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, but the pilots ejected safely into Syrian airspace. Iran is refusing to move its Fordo underground enrichment plant due to its fear that a relocation would leave it more vulnerable to Israeli airstrikes. The plant’s move is a key US demand in negotiations with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program that are set to expire on November 24th. The Times of Israel has more. Ynetnews reports that the Israeli Navy’s newest submarine, the INS Tanin, has officially arrived at Israeli waters after leaving its shipyard in Germany. The Dolphin-class submarine is purported to be one of the most advanced conventional models in existence. The Times of Israel writes that a US jury has convicted Arab Bank on 24 counts of supporting terrorism by financing Hamas. This is the first time that a financial institution has been found liable for terrorism by a US court. The suit was brought after a legal team “representing around 300 American relatives and the victims of 24 attacks carried out in Israel and the Palestinian authorities during the Second Intifadah” alleged that the bank violated the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act. The New York Times reports that if fresh graves in Sierra Leone are to be believed, the death toll from the current Ebola outbreak in the country is likely understated. While the Sierra Leone Health Ministry confirmed only 10 Ebola deaths in the capital Freetown as of Sunday, a point of good news compared to the numbers coming out of next-door-neighbor Liberia, the internment of over 110 Ebola victims at the King Tom Cemetery near the city raised doubts as to whether authorities are reporting the true scale of the crisis. At Foreign Policy, Siobhan O’Grady examines how colonial legacies are contouring Western responses to the outbreak. The WHO published new figures on Monday that paint a much more dire situation than anticipated in Ebola-stricken regions. Not only does the report warn that without improvement the outbreak will reach 20,000 cases by November 2nd; it also suggests the virus could reach a critical mass sufficient to make Ebola endemic to the region. The death rate observed in the three most heavily affected countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, is approximately 70%. On Monday, the chief mediator tasked with resolving the conflict simmering in South Sudan called on all sides to “stop stalling with procedural issues,” and further asserted “neither side could win on the battlefield.” Reuters reports that the conflict between troops backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers affiliated with his former deputy, Riek Machar, has killed more than 10,000 and put the young nation of 11 million on the brink of famine. A bomb in Peshawar killed has three people, BBC reports. Nine others were injured in the explosion, which was reportedly directed at a convoy of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. The BBC also reports on the continuing ability of Pakistani militants to strike at will in the country. The head of the United Nations election audit in Afghanistan supported a decision to announce Ashraf Ghani as the new president without releasing the final vote count, reports the New York Times. The decision to omit final results was a requirement of Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up, who argued that releasing the results would legitimize an election result he feels was fraudulent. Al Jazeera reports that Houthi rebels have carried out raids just one day after a U.N.-brokered peace deal with the government came into place. The group attacked the homes of a powerful military commander, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and his allies in Sanaa. On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, according to the AFP. In the first meeting between leaders of the two countries since 1979, Cameron intends to urge Iran to join the coalition against the Islamic State. The BBC tells us that China has sentenced Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur academic and former member of the Communist party, to life in prison on charges of trying to divide China and encouraging separatism. The development is significant, as Tohti was not an independence activist; in fact, many of his publications had encouraged building bridges between the Uighur community in Xinjiang and leaders in Beijing, and insisted that the province remain part of China. Yesterday, the White House announced that the United States will no longer use anti-personnel landmines outside of the Korean peninsula. However, neither the United States nor the Republic of Korea will fully implement the Ottawa Convention prohibiting landmines on account of the “unique situation” of the Demilitarized Zone. Defense One has more on the story. Judge Richard Leon has put a hold on Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) lawsuit against the NSA, reports Politico. Judge Leon did not offer an explanation but granted the stay while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit considers the NSA surveillance issue in a case brought by Larry Klayman. Bloomberg reports that Congress denied the Pentagon’s request for $1.5 billion in funds to buy 8 new F-35s and 21 AH-64 Apache helicopters. The Atlantic Council think tank just announced its newest fellow: Dave Anthony, director and writer of popular war strategy game Call of Duty. Foreign Policy has more on the pick. Here’s your wartime interlude: War is Boring has the CIA’s Monster Manual - A Bizarre Personification of the Agency’s most hated Cliches. Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.