Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, December 4, 2014, 2:22 PM

Iranian fighter jets continue to pierce the skies of Iraq, according to the New York Times. As both the United States and Iran seek to shore up the government in Baghdad while eliminating its greatest existential threat, the Islamic State, both countries are also attempting to avoid looking like allies. Even so, the Iranian airstrikes represent a major tactical shift by Tehran, wherein the Iranian government is now willing to overtly conduct military operations rather than operate through on the ground proxies. It remains to be seen what this expanded role for Iran--- which in recent months has led operations across the region from Lebanon, to Syria to Iraq, to Yemen---will mean for the stability of the Middle East. But according to one American official, “for the Iranians, really, the gloves are off.”

Yesterday, in a 60-nation-meeting on the battle against the Islamic State in Brussels, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi requested more help training his military and reconstructing towns and cities that Iraq plans to retake from ISIS control. No official costs have been outlined. US Secretary of State John Kerry told the meeting that oil-rich Sunni states would contribute greatly to the rebuilding effort, but that “our commitment will be measured most likely in years.”

Even as Iraq makes plans to rebuild the cities it will recapture from the Islamic State, Reuters notes that since the beginning of the US air campaign, the Islamic State has ceded little ground. The picture is becoming one of a “stalemate;” ISIS can no longer advance or take new towns, but the Coalition has yet to begin retaking large swaths of land, with few exceptions such as the Baiji oil refinery.

That assessment comes as the battle for Kobani continues. Reuters brings us news that a second group of 150 Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters has arrived in the Syrian border town. The second group will replace the first peshmerga fighters who arrived in early November.

According to the Associated Press, Army General David Rodriguez, the head of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters yesterday that ISIS has set up training camps in eastern Libya. General Rodriguez suggested that the camps were a recent development, but that the U.S. would be watching them closely.

There’s another brewing mystery in the Middle East: who is the woman currently detained by Lebanese security officials? Depending on who you believe, she is the wife of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the wife of one of his enemies in al Qaeda, or neither. Jacob Siegel in the Daily Beast has more on the controversy, sparked by the Iraqi government’s claim that the woman was not who Lebanese officials say she is.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has issued a threat to kill an American hostage in Yemen following an attempted U.S. operation to free him, reports the Washington Post. The hostage is Luke Somers, a 33-year-old photojournalist who was kidnapped in September 2013. The kidnapping further exposes the difficulties in the U.S. strategy to combat violent extremism, as Yemen’s pro-U.S. government has steadily eroded under pressure from al Qaeda and Shiite-linked, and Iranian-backed, rebels known as Houthis. In light of the Houthi takeover, Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has suspended most of its financial assistance to the beleaguered country, including $500 million deemed for military purposes.The Wall Street Journal has more on the devolving situation in Yemen.

Israeli lawmakers passed a bill yesterday to officially dissolve the country’s parliament, the Knesset. The move came just a day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, cementing the prospect of an early poll after weeks of speculation. The New York Times has more.

Reuters reports that US and EU leaders pledged to form a united front on Russian sanctions and on “strengthening the energy security of Europe and Ukraine.” The positions were outlined in a draft document released yesterday. While the US has led the push for tougher sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and alleged activities in eastern Ukraine, European capitals, who are more closely linked with the Russian economy, have been more hesitant about crippling their eastern neighbor’s finances.

Still, the sanctions currently in place are hitting Russia hard. As the AP outlines, those embargoes, in addition to a crash in the price of crude and a devalued ruble, are battering average Russians’ pocketbooks.

Amid the increasing hostility between the Kremlin and Western capitals, some governments of NATO member countries are urging the alliance to “rebuild” military contacts with Moscow in an effort to avert a broader confrontation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the new calls by foreign ministers for a “crisis-management mechanism” between Russia and the West carries echoes of the Cold War-era emergency lines of communication deployed between the USSR and the US.

In a meeting in London today, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani proposed his plan for a “transformation decade” from 2015-24. According to the BBC, Ghani sought assurances that troop withdrawals would not mean cutbacks in financial support from world powers. An uptick in violence has rocked the mountainous country in recent weeks, prompting aid agencies to worry that security threats may make the situation untenable for their workers, reversing the progress that has been made.

In Foreign Policy, David Bosco writes that “the war over U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan is heating up.” For the first time, the International Criminal Court has named U.S. forces as potential violators of the laws of war. The claim involves  U.S. detention practices, and the alleged use of torture, in Afghanistan. Here in Lawfare, Ryan Vogel argues that “whatever one’s views regarding U.S. detention policy in Afghanistan from 2003-2008, the alleged U.S. conduct is surely not what the world had in mind when it established the ICC to address “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”

Reuters reports that in recent weeks, the Pakistani Taliban has come under renewed pressure from both US drone strikes and Afghan tribal leaders. According to the report, an uprising in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, coupled with an increase in US drone strikes, has pushed the militant group from small Afghan towns deeper into the mountainous border areas.

The Indian army killed six militants who has crossed from Pakistan into India along the disputed Kashmir border. The crossing appeared time with the tense state elections in Indian Kashmir, which have seen the highest voter turnout in two decades. The New York Times has more.

In a move that US experts characterized as “baffling,” Nigeria’s military this week canceled specialized training with American soldiers on fighting Boko Haram militants. The Voice of America has more on the decision by Abuja, which is currently locked in a struggle with Islamists in the country’s northeast.

Ashton Carter is not as hawkish as you think. So says Gopal Ratnam of Foreign Policy, who asserts that while the Secretary of Defense-to-be once wanted to bomb North Korea, he would be far more circumspect vis-a-vis Iran and ISIS.

The Washington Post reports that the crippling cyberattack last week against Sony Pictures Entertainment was “probably” the work of North Korea. The assault may have come in response to Sony’s upcoming film, “The Interview,” which features a fictitious CIA plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The New York Times writes that Sony is working closely with the FBI to investigate more about the attack and its perpetrators.

According to the Associated Press, the number of sexual assaults reported by those serving in the US military increased by 8 percent in 2014. Fortunately, details to be released today, in addition to a new anonymous survey, both suggest that victims are far more willing to come forward and file complaints now than in the past.

Reuters reports that the Senate and the CIA have resolved their dispute over a long-awaited report that is rumored to be “highly critical” of the spy agency’s coercive interrogation program. The news bureau asserts that the document will likely be released early next week. Bloomberg has an inside look into the battle over the CIA torture report.

Parting Shot: It’s time to add one more thing to the list of items off limits to regular North Koreans: the name Jong-un.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stewart Baker brought us the latest Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with Troels Oerting.

Cody Poplin linked us to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) letter announcing her plans to introduce new drone safety legislation.

Bobby Chesney provided his thoughts on what parameters will be woven into the rules of engagement for the war in Afghanistan in 2015.

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