Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Friday, September 26, 2014, 2:51 PM

Earlier this afternoon, the U.K. Parliament authorized British airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS by a vote of 524-43. Earlier reports noted that British operations could begin as early as this weekend.

The Brits are not the only country signing up for action: so too are the Danes. Earlier this morning, Denmark’s government said it plans to join the U.S.-led military campaign, sending seven fighter jets to target ISIS in Iraq. Like other traditional European allies, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that Denmark would not participate in operations in Syria.

Having trouble keeping up with who's in and who's out? Thankfully, the Washington Post has a run down of the contributions from each member of the now 62-nation coalition.

At the same time, airstrikes in Iraq and Syria continue, but the mission has shifted to targeting oilfields controlled by ISIS. U.S.-led forces also hit ISIS bases in eastern Syria, reports the New York Times. Yesterday, the Pentagon updated its costs of the strikes, estimating that the campaign against ISIS costs somewhere between $7 and $10 million each day. So far, the United States has conducted 198 airstrikes in Iraq and 20 in Syria. The Hill has more.

Happening now: Reuters is reporting that Islamic State fighters are tightening their siege of Kobani, a strategic town on Syria’s border with Turkey. Indeed, as the battle approaches the Turkish borders, witnesses on the ground claim two shells have landed inside Turkish territory. As of today, more than 140,000 Kurds have fled from the town into Turkey.

The Washington Post brings us news that two rebel groups fighting in Syria have abandoned their bases, fearing that US strikes could target them next. The initial bombing in Syria, which targeted not only ISIS, but also the Khorasan group, has added uncertainty to the question of exactly who the US might target and sowed further chaos.

Even so, the Wall Street Journal notes that the pace of the air campaign in Syria is expected to slow in the coming days as many high-value targets are eliminated. Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby noted that “the kinds of attacks that we're conducting in Syria are strategic-level,” targeting oil fields and organizational infrastructure, whereas those in Iraq are more tactical and aimed at helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces advance.

McClatchy reports that many on the group feel airstrikes are not doing enough; commanders for rebel groups that are part of the CIA-approved program say that they still need arms, ammunition, and other material support.

Yesterday, Iraq’s new prime minister made waves saying that his government had uncovered a plot by the Islamic State to attack subways in Paris and the United States. The claim elicited skepticism from U.S. intelligence officials, who quickly made clear that they had no credible intelligence of a specific or imminent plot. It is not clear why the prime minister chose to mention the attack, and some Iraqi officials have questioned his comments, suggesting it was based on “ancient intelligence.” Reuters has more.

More troubling news from Iraq: the New York Times reports that an Iraqi women’s rights activist, Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy,  was tortured for several days and eventually executed publicly by ISIS militants on Monday. Ms. Nuaimy was convicted of apostasy by an Islamic State court for Facebook posts condemning ISIS activity, including the destruction of mosques and shrines in Mosul.

Today, the Post also weighs in on the president’s legal standing for strikes in Iraq and Syria, suggesting that he should secure both a Security Council and Congressional authorization for force against ISIS. However, both of those seem increasingly unlikely, at least this year. Politico quotes Speaker John Boehner, who now believes that voting “with a whole group of members on their way out the door” would not be the “right way to handle this.”

The FBI believes it has now identified the ISIS militant behind the decapitation of two American citizens and a British aid worker. However, FBI Director James Comey says authorities will not reveal the man’s name or nationality at this time.

And, in a sign of the deteriorating security dynamics in Sanaa, the United States has ordered some diplomats to leave Yemen. Certainly, we hope that this is not part of the model solution for Iraq.

Reuters tells us that Interpol is continuing to expand its foreign fighter database, which has grown to include over 1,300 names from 33 countries. Meanwhile, Spain and Morocco arrested nine people suspected of belonging to an ISIS-linked cell on the northern coast of Africa.

Shifting to the once-again forgotten war, Reuters reports that hundreds of Taliban fighters have stormed the strategic district outpost of Ajrestan in an Afghan province southwest of the capital. The latest official reports suggest that the fighters are close to capturing the field after killing dozens, including by beheading some.

In the Washington Post, Greg Miller and Kevin Sieff remind us that while the United States gears up for a long war against ISIS, much remains unfinished in the fight against al Qaeda and in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan.

A federal court in New York has issued a summons to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is set to arrive in the United States tomorrow for a series of high-profile meetings, including a White House dinner. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Modi committed a series of human rights abuses in connection with the 2002 religious riots in the state of Gujarat, where he was Chief Minister at the time. The New York Times has more on the case, which is unlikely to affect Mr. Modi’s visit, but could complicate diplomatic issues.

The New York Times reports that the Ebola epidemic is only worsening in Sierra Leone, prompting government officials there to extend quarantines, which now cover over a quarter of the country and approximately 1.5 million people. Ominously, infection rates have been increasing in the densely-populated capital, Freetown. So far, according to the WHO, there have been 2,917 deaths from Ebola amid 6,242 reported cases.

The Wall Street Journal reports that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has raised the possibility of reworking Ukraine’s newly ratified trade pact with the EU in response to Russian pressure. While Ukrainian President Poroshenko has declared the worst of the war in Ukraine is over, this recent statement may “intensify Russian pressure on” Ukraine as it seeks to integrate itself economically with the trade bloc. According to Reuters, Ukraine has set 2020 as a deadline for entering the EU.

Chinese state media now report that more than 40 have been killed in a terrorism-related crackdown in the country’s restive Xinjiang province. After a series of deadly blasts by separatists on Sunday killed six people and injured over 50 others, a “police operation” killed 40 “rioters,” “either by police gunfire or suicide blasts.” The Wall Street Journal has more.

In Hong Kong, Reuters reports that hundreds of children are joining the pro-democracy protests there. Secondary school students organized a one-day “class boycott,” and over 13,000 of them attended a rally to demand greater democracy for the specially administered territory. The campaign is stretching into its second week.

Indonesia’s parliament passed legislation early on Friday that abolished the direct election of local leaders, including provincial governors, district chiefs, and mayors. According to the Guardian, these moves reverse a “key post-dictatorship reform” in the world’s third-largest democracy that “have been credited with producing a handful of promising new leaders unconnected to the old elite,” including Indonesia’s President-elect, Joko Widodo. According to opinion polls, over 80% of Indonesia’s population is opposed to the legislation, which was passed by a coalition of parties “led by Prabowo Subianto,” who lost the recent July presidential election to Jokowi.

State media in North Korea officially acknowledged that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is suffering from ill health by politely stating that he is suffering from “discomfort.” Speculations abound about what kind of health problems the young leader has, fuelled by his conspicuous absence from public view since September 3rd. Reuters has more.

Reuters also carries a poll published on Thursday showing the Brazilian presidential race is deadlocked between incumbent Dilma Rousseff and main challenger Marina Silva. Rousseff attracted 42% support, while Silva had 41% support, a statistically insignificant difference.

The imminent resignation of US Attorney General Eric Holder continues to attract commentary from around the political spectrum and “reignited” the often partisan battles over his legacy. The Washington Post has more reactions from Capitol Hill. Among possible candidates for Holder's replacement “are Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.; Jenny Durkan, who is stepping down as US attorney in Seattle next week; Tony West, who recently stepped down as associate general; former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler; Loretta E. Lynch, the US attorney in Brooklyn; and Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan.” Bloomberg also speculates as to Holder’s replacement.

Bloomberg analyzes the departure of President Obama’s “heat shield,” who often took “the worst from Republicans, the media and the black community, and what his resignation portends for the remaining two years of the Obama administration.

47-year-old radical Islamist Anjem Choudary is among the nine arrested by UK police in wide-ranging raids conducted yesterday in London. Authorities arrested the firebrand preacher on suspicion of being a member of a “proscribed organization, or supporting a proscribed organization, as well as encouraging terrorism.” According to the Guardian, Choudary was a “former spokesperson for the extremist or radical group Al-Muhajiroun,” which has since been banned in the UK.

On Thursday, FBI Director James Comey expressed concern that Apple and Google were building phones that “cannot be searched by law enforcement.” The Wall Street Journal has more on his press conference with reporters, including this quote: “‘What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.’”

On Thursday, a California jury convicted two men, Sohiel Omar Kabir and Ralph Deleon, of conspiring to “support terrorists and kill Americans overseas.” According to ABC News, both face life sentences.

Defense One writes that the Office of Naval Research of the US Navy is interested in using cloud computing and data fusion in the warfighting environment. The office recently began a 5-year, $12.3 million operation to build a tactical cloud for the Navy.

Finally, Medium has a series of photographs detailing the recent US airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

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