Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, September 25, 2014, 2:48 PM

In breaking news this morning, US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he will resign his office. Holder will remain in office until his successor is nominated and confirmed, perhaps remaining in office into the new year, the New York Times reports.

Carrie Johnson at NPR has more on Mr. Holder’s tenure and his decision to resign. President Obama is expected to address Holder’s resignation at 4:30 pm. On Tuesday, Holder gave a full interview to Katie Couric, in which he covered many of the international and domestic challenges that will define what will be his final months at the Justice Department.

Turning towards ISIS: Yesterday, speaking at the United Nations, President Obama pressed the world to consolidate in action against the Islamic State. Obama called on leaders to destroy this “network of death” through direct action, arguing that “the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.” In a strong warning, the President told those who have joined with the Islamic State to “leave the battlefield while they can.” The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have more on Obama’s remarks and the rest of the day’s events at the UN General Assembly.

In Lawfare, Benjamin Bissell analyzes the president’s comments on the structural nature of transnational terror. You can read the president’s full remarks, as delivered, here.

In what the AP describes as a “rare move”, the president also chaired a meeting of the U.N Security Council where the 15 members unanimously adopted the U.S. draft of a resolution requiring all countries to prevent recruitment, transport, financing, and assistance to would-be foreign fighters attempting to join ISIS. AFP notes that the special session was only the sixth time the Security Council has convened at the level of heads of state. The BBC covers the resolution and maps the flow of foreign fighters into Syria. Taj Moore analyzed the resolution a few weeks ago for Lawfare.

While potentially a positive step in stemming the flow of foreign fighters into the region, the New York Times editorial board notes that the resolution “has no real enforcement measures and relies on the countries to follow through.”

The United States also stepped up its financial war on ISIS, with the US Treasury Department designating 11 individuals and one entity as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Meanwhile, the United States and allies continued to pummel the Islamic State from the air, taking aim at a key source of revenue as the US led strikes targeting ISIS-held oil sites in Syria. According to the New York Times, ISIS is believed to control 11 oil fields in Iraq and Syria, netting more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, theft, and extortion. Elsewhere, strikes targeted checkpoints, compounds, training grounds, armored vehicles, and a building used by militants as an Islamic court in northern and eastern Syria. In all, a CENTCOM press release states that the US, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates conducted 13 airstrikes.

Near the Turkish border, Syrian Kurdish fighters reported that three airstrikes had hit near the town of Kobani, or Ayn Arab, which has been under siege by ISIS militants. However, a spokesman for the fighters said that the strikes has not been effective in turning back the militants. Writing in Foreign Policy, Mohammad A. Salih explains why the Kurds keep calling on Washington to authorize more strikes against ISIS.

In Bloomberg, Tony Capaccio notes that the U.S. has dropped almost as many bombs and missiles on ISIS positions in Syria in the past few days as were used during the entire first month operations against the group in Iraq.

According to CENTCOM, two other airstrikes hit west of Baghdad, destroying two ISIL armed vehicles and a weapons cache. Further north, two more strikes occurred southeast of Irbil.

At the same time, French fighter jets also executed strikes in Iraq. The attacks followed the beheading of a French tourist, Herve Gourdel, in Algeria as retaliation for French involvement in the US-led coalition. And, perhaps as a result of the murder of Mr. Gourdel, France is now considering expanding its operations into Syria. Saying that “this crime will not remain unpunished,” French President Francois Hollande will meet with senior cabinet members to discuss the option today, the Washington Post reports. Earlier this week, France’s Foreign Minister was quoted as saying there was no “legal obstacle” to airstrikes in Syria.

The Associated Press reports on the Algerian forces mission to find the extremists responsible for Mr. Gourdel’s murder. In Foreign Policy, Shane Harris raises the chilling proposition that ISIS brutal tactic of beheadings could be replicated around the world by other extremists sympathetic to the cause of the Islamic State. Indeed, it would seem that Mr. Harris is onto something, as a Philippine Islamist militia has now threatened to kill two German captives unless Germany stops supporting U.S. action against ISIS. Reuters has more on the story.

The Wall Street Journal has the scoop on how backroom maneuvering clinched a deal with the Saudis that paved the way for airstrikes in Syria by Arab states. In a moment that set the course for action in Syria, King Abdullah promised to back the US initiative, saying “we’ll provide any support you need.”

As the coalition grows, the Dutch government has also announced that it will contribute F-16 jets to fight ISIS in Iraq. In addition, British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament for a vote to authorized British airstrikes in Iraq. According to the Guardian, Cameron said that Britain must not be so “frozen with fear” of repeating past mistakes in Iraq that it fails to take on the “psychopathic, murderous, brutal” forces of ISIS. The Guardian notes that Cameron has support from the leaders of the Labour party and from the Liberal Democrats, increasing the chances that Britain could join coalition strikes as early as this weekend.

Defense One has a map of the coalition against ISIS.

The New York Times covers the story of Khorasan, a terror cell that seems to have purposely avoided the spotlight, while in Politico, Matthew Levitt has an overview of the group and why he thinks we should be thankful Obama went after them. The Washington Post reports that the strikes against the group killed at least one of its senior operatives, but it remains unknown whether Mushin al-Fadhli, the group’s top-commander was killed. However, Reuters reports that a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “We believe he is dead.” US intelligence agencies continue to access information from the strikes.

And in a stunning act of bravery, a Syrian woman from Raqqa has recorded a secret video showing what life is like inside ISIS’s homebase in northern Syria. The Telegraph has the video.

In Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch writes that the Islamic State has made electronic surveillance “respectable” again.

According to the Financial Times, London’s Metropolitan Police conducted pre-dawn raids today that searched 18 residential and commercial properties and arrested 9 individuals suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations and encouraging terrorism. The raids stretched across the entirety of the UK capital, and were said to be the a part of ongoing investigations into Islamist related terrorism, unrelated to any direct terror plot, nor to the murder and kidnapping of UK citizens by Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Dov S. Zakheim of Foreign Policy argues that despite vows to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, the United States government will be unable to do so because it is not willing to commit ground troops to the cause and because it has proven inept at training other countries’ ground forces.

According to the New York Times, US officials believe that the new Afghan administration will ratify a new security agreement allowing American forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 immediately following its inauguration. The agreement, while widely expected, is an important step in allowing American forces to legally advise Afghan ones.

Reuters reports that Israeli officials on Wednesday accused Iran of secretly testing technology that could only be used for exploding a nuclear weapon at its Parchin base. Israel has long accused Tehran of using nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 to stall until it perfects its nuclear weapon capabilities.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged world leaders to not lift sanctions against Russia until his government reasserts control over all Ukrainian territory, including Russian-annexed Crimea. Yatsenyuk also called for Russia to start “real talks” with his country and to “stop the supply of Russian-led terrorists.” The Washington Post has more.

The Associated Press writes that in the wake of recent victories by the Nigerian military against militant Islamist group Boko Haram, hundreds of Islamic extremists have surrendered in the country’s northeast. In addition, the Nigerian Defense Ministry asserts that it has killed hundreds of militants recently, including several militant commanders. However, it remains unclear whether the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, was killed in the fighting; an earlier photo released by the Cameroonian military purporting to show his corpse has been dismissed by the Nigerian government, who claims the body is that of his double. The government is trying to arrest a Boko Haram surge from taking Maiduguri, the provincial capital of Borno state.

A US drone strike today in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal zone killed 10 Uzbek and local militants. The AP writes that the missiles hit the vehicle when it was only 500 yards away from the Afghan border.

AP reports that in the trial of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Judge George O’Toole last night granted the defendant a two-month delay, but rejected a change in the venue from Boston to Washington, DC, as Tsarnaev’s lawyers requested. In asking for the trial to be moved to DC, the defendant’s lawyers cited “extensive media coverage...in Boston,” as well as “evaluations of public sentiment by their experts.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, Jonathan Hafetz argues that despite the crimes of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, allegedly the mastermind of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the US should not execute Mohammed, in part because he was the victim of “blatantly illegal treatment,” including water-boarding.

Relatedly, the Miami Herald reports that Obama administration officials have confirmed that if the US were to capture suspected ISIS insurgents, they would not be held at Guantanamo.

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