Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Friday, October 3, 2014, 3:03 PM

The Associated Press reports that a U.S. Marine who ejected from a  MV-22 Osprey when the plane lost power over the Persian Gulf is “presumed lost at sea.” The news marks the first reported casualty in the U.S.’s operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The news comes as military officials have decided to treat the new mission in Iraq as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, typically the name used by the U.S. military for the war in Afghanistan. The decision is meant to allow U.S. forces deployed in Iraq to qualify for Global War on Terrorism medal consideration. The current mission against ISIS still has no official name from the Pentagon. The Hill has more.

The coalition against ISIS grew again yesterday, as the Australian cabinet also gave approval for Australian fighter jets to join U.S.-led military against in Iraq, writes the BBC. Today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that Australian special forces will also be deployed to “advise and assist” in the fight against the Islamic State.

Also yesterday, the Turkish parliament voted 298-98 to give the government new powers to launch military operations in Iraq and Syria and to allow foreign forces to use Turkish territory for possible military operations against ISIS. The vote comes as Islamic State forces push an offensive against the Kurdish town of Kobani along the Turkish border. Even so, AP reports that following the vote, Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said, “don’t expect any immediate steps.”

The Wall Street Journal has more on the vote, as well as the status of Kobani, which Aaron Stein says “looks closer to falling and the U.S. may have to ramp up airstrikes to stop that happening.” Kurdish fighters protecting Kobani now say that ISIS is within a half mile of the town, with the head of Kurdish forces warning that he now expects “massacres and destruction.” Over 160,000 people have fled from the area in recent days.

A new report released by the United Nations suggests that more than 5,500 people have been killed in Iraq by ISIS since the Islamic State launched its offensive inside the country in June, the New York Times reports. The report emphasized that its numbers were the “absolute minimums.” Colum Lynch has more on the report in Foreign Policy, focusing on the terrifying picture of life under ISIS rule for women and children. Bloomberg also covers the atrocities, noting that about 500 women and girls of Yezidi and Christian minority communities have been given to ISIS militants or trafficked for sale in markets in Mosul and Raqqa.

From FP: the U.N. report states: "ISIL has directly and systematically targeted Iraq's various diverse ethnic and religious communities, subjecting them to a range of gross human rights abuses, including murder, physical and sexual assault, robbery, wanton destruction of property, destruction of places of religious or cultural significance, forced conversions, denial of access to basic humanitarian services … and [a] systematic policy that aims to suppress, permanently cleanse or expel, or in some instances, destroy those communities within areas of its control."

You can read the full report here.

The Washington Post has more on recent ISIS advances in Iraq’s Anbar province against the strategic town of Hit, where defenders are preparing for a street-by-street battle and are appealing for intensified U.S. airstrikes. The Post notes that the Islamic State advances in both Iraq and Syria suggest that the militant group “retains enough firepower and command structure to make continued gains.”

And so, airstrikes against the group continue. U.S. Central Command confirms that U.S. and United Arab Emirates aircraft launched four strikes in Syria and that the U.S. and the United Kingdom conducted 7 strikes in Iraq. Only one strike was near Kobani.

McClatchy has more on the ongoing dispute between Syrian rebels over the role of the al Nusra Front in the fight against Assad and ISIS, with some analysts suggesting U.S. strikes are forcing rebels to take sides in the fight. Last week, rebel groups complained that the U.S. was not coordinating with groups that were already vetted by the CIA and were thus missing Islamic State targets and antagonizing the very opposition key to dislodging Assad and defeating ISIS. Now, Foreign Policy reports that the rebels claim that if the U.S. does not dramatically “accelerate and significantly modify” its anti-ISIS campaign to consult with rebels on airstrikes, Baghdad may be at risk of falling.

Finally, in an exclusive, Eli Lake in the Daily Beast has learned that U.S. Special Ops prepared attack plans against Khorsan in June, but did not send the plans to the White House because there was no expectation that the president would authorize the strikes.

Turning to the first theatre of Operation Enduring Freedom: Yesterday, the new top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell said that despite a recent uptick in violence and Taliban battlefield wins, he is confident in what Afghan security forces can do.” The general suggested that some media reports of Taliban resurgence were “very exaggerated.” The Washington Post covered the briefing, which you can read in full here.

Even if Afghan security forces are increasingly up for the job, the Economist writes that if Barack Obama does not want to see “history repeat itself, he needs to change his mind about the nature and the duration of the military support America and the West gives Afghanistan.”

Today, the Pakistani military reported that at least 15 militants were killed by jet strikes in the country’s northwest tribal region. The strikes are part of the ongoing military operation in the region that was launched on June 15th.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called on the country’s religious scholars to play a part in countering terrorism in the country, saying that they have a responsibility to preach that Islam is a religion of peace, not violence. Earlier in June, over 100 Muslim religious leaders declared that the Pakistani military’s operation against militants in North Waziristan was jihad and that the nation had a duty to support the mission. Pakistan’s Dawn has more.

Finally, the Indian Express reports that in contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent claim that terrorism in India was “not home-grown,” the leader of al Qaeda’s new branch in the Indian Subcontinent may be of Indian origin.

Small pivot to the Asia-Pacific: Clashes have broken out away from the Hong Kong protest Central site, notes Reuters. Hundreds of supporters of Chinese rule have stormed tents and ripped apart banners belonging to pro-democracy protesters, causing many to leave. However, as news of the event spreads through the city, more protesters have headed for the district in order to reinforce the demonstration. According to the report, Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying has now agreed to open talks with protesters, but has refused to step down.

With violence escalating, Foreign Policy asks, “How will the Standoff in Hong Kong End?” Elsewhere, Slate has amazing photos from the protests.

AFP reports that the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has appeared in a new video, dismissing Nigerian military claims of his death. In addition, the latest 36-minute video shows graphic scenes of an amputation, a stoning to death, as well as a beheading.

According to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his best effort to suggest that Russian economy was resilient in the face of Western sanctions in a speech to business leaders on Thursday. However, in a presentation preceding Putin’s, Russia’s economic minister, Aleksei V. Ulyukayev, said the country was stuck in stagflation, suffering from an inflation rate of 8 percent and growth of less than 1 percent.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the CIA’s Inspector General report on how the Agency spied on Senate staffers, reports the Hill.

The Los Angeles Times has the scoop on the President’s shortlist for the next Attorney General. According to the Times, those in the running are Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, and former White House Counsel Kathryn H. Ruemmler.

The Miami Herald brings us news that U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has rejected an Obama administration attempt to close next week’s hearing on force-feeding at Guantanamo. You can read Judge Kessler’s five-page ruling here.

In other Guantanamo news, Uruguay is increasingly wary of the plan to resettle six prisoners from the base to the South American country. The AP carries the story, which notes that 58 percent of Uruguayans oppose the resettlement.

JPMorgan Chase has reported that 76 million household accounts and 7 million small business accounts had been affected by hackers, but noted that the information was limited to contract information such as names and addresses. Today, the Hill tells us that in the wake of the news, lawmakers have renewed their push for cybersecurity legislation, with Senator Angus King (I-ME) suggesting that the next Pearl Harbor will be cyber, and shame on us if we’re not prepared for it.”

For your weekend reading on the future: the MIT Technology Review links us to a story on the “Town Built for Driverless Cars,” where “tricky intersections and rogue mechanical pedestrians will provide a testing area for automated and connected cars.”

ICYMI: Jennifer Willaims, Deputy Foreign Policy Editor for Lawfare, shares her story on “How a Blonde Tattooed Texas Girl Became an ISIS Twitter Star.”

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