Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 2:01 PM

A little over a week after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced he was leaving his post, CNN reports that President Obama has decided on Ashton Carter, who served as Deputy Defense Secretary under both Leon Panetta and Hagel, to be his replacement. Last year, Carter wrote an article in DefenseOne that outlined his plans for the Pentagon, which you can find here. Earlier, the Associated Press reported that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson removed himself from consideration for the post, narrowing President Obama’s options. Also, Bloomberg came out with five big reasons why you shouldn’t want to be the next Secretary of Defense.

Israel is heading for early elections. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Likud-led ruling bloc has finally, officially, collapsed under the strain of coalition infighting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud), Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), among others. The Times of Israel analyzes why this coalition, notable for being one of the few to exclude the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, disintegrated so quickly. Israeli finance paper Globes reveals that the early elections, which are likely to be held in mid-March, will end up costing NIS 2 billion (~$500 million) and will preclude a quick resolution to Israel’s battle over the 2015 budget.

The fallout continues to spread from Ferguson. The New York Times reports that in response to the continuing outcry over the death of Michael Brown, President Obama will, among other tactics, toughen standards on police use of military gear. ABC News has more on the executive’s four-point-plan to respond to Ferguson.

The New York Times brings us news that there is still no agreement on a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. The proposed buffer zone would provide an area of protection for Syrian rebels and civilians against the forces of Bashar al-Assad and those of the Islamic State. However, the move would also represent another dramatic escalation of American forces in the conflict. Reuters notes that several proposals are currently circulating, from a small safe-zone abutting the border to a larger no-fly zone that would encompass most of northern Syria.

However, the Iraqi government in Baghdad has reached a major deal with Kurdistan on oil sharing, wherein Kurdish authorities will exchange oil from the country’s north for a 20 percent share of the national budget. The Associated Press has more on the deal which is viewed as a key part of the battle against the Islamic State.

Even without an agreement, coalition war planes continued to attack Islamic State positions over the weekend. Reuters reports that 55 airstrikes were conducted in Iraq and Syria since last Friday, with at least one targeting the Khorasan Group.

It appears that the U.S.-led coalition may not be the only band of air force squadrons targeting ISIS in Iraq; the Huffington Post writes that, according to a U.S. official, Iran is also conducting airstrikes in the country. The strikes appear to be occurring in a different part of the country than U.S. operations, targeting locations along the Iranian border to the south.

A third American has died in Operation Inherent Resolve. Stars and Stripes reports that Air Force pilot Captain William Dubois was killed when his F-16 Falcon crashed due to maintenance problems on Sunday afternoon.

Stars and Stripes also brings us news that 250 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division will head to Iraq “to conduct security operations in support of the mission to protect U.S. personnel and facilities.” The troops will relieve American forces already in the region.

According to Al Jazeera, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has fired at least 24 senior government officials after a government probe discovered over 50,000 “ghost soldiers” on the military’s payroll. The false names on the military’s roll could be costing the government up to $380 million each year.

Reuters reports  on the exploits of a Syrian rebel commander.  He claims that U.S. training made the difference in a battle against the Islamic State.  Still, because they await more aid for more troops, the rebels' capacity going forward remains uncertain.

Reuters also breaks the news that Lebanon has detained a wife and daughter of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. There has been no immediate reaction from social media outlets associated with ISIS. Analysts see the arrest as a sign that the U.S. and associated intelligence agencies may be developing a clearer picture inside Iraq and Syria, getting ever closer to Baghdadi himself.

The FBI has warned members of the U.S. military of the possibility of ISIS supporters attacking them inside the US. In coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau advised all service members to scrub their social media accounts of anything that might bring unwanted attention from violent extremists. The warnings come as U.S. officials increasingly worry about the potential for copycat attacks mimicking those in Canada last month.

In Foreign Policy, Siobhan O’Grady lets us in on a little secret: “joining ISIS isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” This comes as a 23-year-old Indian recruit returned to the sub-continent after jihad amounted to nothing more than cleaning toilets and fetching water.

And finally, for your recommended long read, we recommend Charles Lister’s new 66-page Brookings report and recommendations for battling the Islamic State.

Under a nuclear deal extension with world powers, Iran will convert increased amounts of its higher-grade enriched uranium into reactor fuel. Reuters reports that this would make the material less suitable for building nuclear bombs. According to al Monitor, Iran will also commit to limiting its research and development of advanced centrifuges and allow the IAEA expanded access to its centrifuge facilities.

Reuters writes that on Tuesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor demanded an appeal against a court decision to drop charges against former president Hosni Mubarak, in addition to other senior government figures.

In Foreign Policy, Keith Johnson examines whether or not OPEC’s recent power play over worldwide oil prices can do what it is intended to: kill the US oil boom.

Radio Free Liberty reports that the Ukrainian military has reached a temporary ceasefire with pro-Russian separatists at the airport in rebel-held Donetsk. The truce was agreed to after discussions between Ukrainian and Russian officials. Reports of the ceasefire come amid accusations from Kiev that Russian special forces are actively “taking part in attacks” on the airport and its environs. Reuters has more.

Despite months of asserting that the country could weather negative economic indicators, Moscow has for the first time acknowledged that Russia will enter a recession in 2015. The New York Times has more on the admission. The Guardian reports that the country’s already-flagging economy has been buffeted recently by Western sanctions and low oil prices.

In what likely comes as a personal blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Financial Times writes that Russia will abandon its $40 billion South Stream pipeline over EU objections.

According to the Wall Street Journal, NATO is struggling to develop a “spearhead force” capable of countering Moscow’s European ambitions. The Journal also analyzes a video released by the Norwegian Armed Forces that depicts a Russian MiG-31 flying “uncomfortably close” to a Norwegian F-16. According to the paper, the footage marks yet another sign of “escalating concern” among NATO states over the Kremlin’s increased military footprint on the continent.

Violence continued to echo throughout Afghanistan on Tuesday as Taliban militants killed six Afghan soldiers in the northwest of the country. The New York Times has more on the wave of instability, which has led several leading international aid organizations to call for a temporary exit from the country. However, the times notes that until now, violence has been down in 2014. So far, 36 aid workers have been killed and 95 wounded throughout Afghanistan, compared with 44 killed and 167 wounded in 2013.

It appears that the Taliban is also trying to up its propaganda game. Following its attack last week on Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan, the militants released a weird video featuring training regimens and battle preparations that include a toy mock-up of the base. The Washington Post has the video and more analysis.

A Naxalite attack in Chhattisgarh, India has killed at least 13 Central Reserve Police Force members and injured a dozen more, according to Indian media outlet Livemint. The maoist insurgencies in the country’s tribal regions, which fight to install a communist government, are considered some of the greatest threats to India's stability.

Boko Haram militants conducted double bombings in northeast Nigeria yesterday, killing at least 7 people and injuring dozens in two state capitals. According to the Washington Post, police said 30 fighters from the group were killed in clashes with the country’s security forces. These assaults are just the latest in a week-long spate of violence that has killed more than 170 people in the region. In the New York Times, Adam Nossiter asserts that these attacks prove that Boko Haram is able to strike “at will” in Nigeria, especially against civilian targets.

The BBC reports that al Shabaab massacred 36 non-Muslims in an attack on a quarry in Kenya. The attackers reportedly shot the victims after separating them from Muslims.

Newsweek covers the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s November Drone Report. According to the report, there has been an uptick in drone attacks in Yemen as well as claims that two teenage boys were killed in CIA strikes in Pakistan.

In the wake of the major attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment last week, the FBI warned US businesses that hackers are employing destructive cyberattacks within the United States. Reuters has more.

Congress has only 10 days to address a litany of important national security decisions. DefenseOne has more on the pressing issues. In one hopeful sign, the Hill reports that House and Senate lawmakers reached a compromise on a joint fiscal year 2015 defense policy bill. The measure is expected to be unveiled today. The Wall Street Journal tells us that the compromise will not include language sought by the White House and Senate Democrats that would allow for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay federal prison.

According to RollCall, the CIA’s plan to purge most of its email is being opposed by two powerful senior senators: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). Both called upon the nation’s archivist to prevent the intelligence agency from adopting the new email retention policy, which they allege would make it less transparent.

David Laufman, an experienced former federal prosecutor, will oversee the Justice Department’s counterespionage efforts, writes the Huffington Post. His nomination is reportedly part of a “broad restructuring” of the national security prosecution team towards the emerging threat of cyberattacks.

Parting Shot: If you still have not seen the “eerily beautiful” drone footage of Chernobyl’s environs, stop what you are doing and watch it here.

ICYMI: Yesterday, On Lawfare

Ben wrote of “Threats, Terrorism, and Domestic Violence” in Elonis v. U.S., which was argued yesterday in front of the Supreme Court.

Paul Rosenzweig highlighted the links between “Labor Relations and Chemical Security.”

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