Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Friday, December 5, 2014, 2:04 PM

Today in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Barack Obama appointed Ashton Carter to serve as his fourth Secretary of Defense. Carter, a physicist by training, is a “national security centrist,” according to the New York Times, who is expected to “advocate a stronger use of American power.” During his announcement, President Obama praised Mr. Carter, saying “it’s no exaggeration to say there are countless Americans who are alive today, in part because of Ash’s efforts.” The New York Times has more on the nomination.

Carter will take over a Pentagon in turmoil and will need to smooth an at times tense relationship between the department and the White House, all while quickly stabilizing a war effort against the Islamic State that is wreaking havoc in Iraq. Yesterday, the New York Times reports that a string of car bombings killed 37 people, with three attacks occurring in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, and a fourth striking the northern city of Kirkuk.

In the war's second theatre, ISIS claimed to have taken control of the Al Jafra village near a key government air base in the province of Deir ez-Zor. The air base has strategic significance as it serves to defend access to oilfields in the region, and holds a large cache of weapons used by Syrian government troops. Al Jazeera has more.

According to the Associated Press, the new US Ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones, said yesterday that the Iraqi government has granted assurances to the United States that American forces will receive immunity from prosecution as part of its effort to push back the Islamic State. The issue had been a major issue previously, leading to the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.

"I'm sick of it. My iPod doesn't work out here. I need to come back!” That’s jihad, according to one disenchanted French fighter attempting to return to France. Vice News carries the story, which highlights a number of emails and letters from Islamic State recruits who are now contacting attorneys for advice on how to come home. The fighters show an apparent willingness to leave Syria, but fear prosecution on their return. That fear comes on top of what a Paris-based attorney calls a "lethal cat and mouse game” with militants who are not willing to see their recruits leave.

And, if you're in the holiday mood to give, make sure you do your due diligence: a charity in France has been accused of being a front for financing terrorism in Syria. The New York Times reports that Pearl of Hope, which claims to provide aid and relief to sick and wounded Syrian children, used funds to funnel support to jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front. Twelve other groups are currently under surveillance under suspicion of committing similar offences.

The Wall Street Journal reports that US forces only attempted to rescue American hostage Luke Somers a full week after they knew his possible location. Some US officials are now saying that delays in the planning and approval of the raid could have contributed to the operation’s failure. The Journal also divulges that authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested a woman who is suspected to have stabbed an American schoolteacher to death in Abu Dhabi and planted a bomb at the house of an American doctor.

The Long War Journal writes that fighters affiliated with the Caucasus Emirate group entered the Chechen capital of Grozny two days ago and launched a major attack on government forces. The fighting has reportedly killed more than a dozen people. The Financial Times points out that this latest terror attack in Grozny has shattered the fragile stability in the war torn Russian republic.

In response to this attack and the continuing worldwide opprobrium over the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “Russia’s destiny is in its hand.” The New York Times has more analysis on the leader’s recent comments. The Times also quotes US Secretary of State John Kerry as saying that Russians are dying in Ukraine and that Moscow needed to “carry out a peace accord.” Der Spiegel reports that in response to continuing friction with the Kremlin, Polish intellectuals are beginning to “sound the alarm” about Russia more loudly.

According to FT, US oil reserves are at their highest point since 1975. The milestone is just the latest manifestation of how the US shale oil revolution is transforming Washington’s energy situation.

At the London Conference on Afghanistan, the United States and Britain pledged to continue supporting Afghanistan’s new unity government even as both countries drawdown their military forces in the country. The conference reaffirmed previous commitments of $16 billion over four years made at a Tokyo meeting in 2012. Reuters has more on the meeting.

Yet, even as the US continues to prepare for its drawdown, the Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is pushing forward plans to keep hundreds more troops above the previously announced force of 9,800  temporarily in the country. The United States will have to keep additional forces in the country, as not all NATO nations will be able to meet their targets for contributing troops by January 1. The “bridging solution,” as US officials called it, resulted from delays in finalizing the bilateral security agreement.

Yesterday, the Pentagon also issued its report on the killing of Major General Harold J. Greene, confirming that the gunman, an Afghan private named Rafiqullah, had not acted on behalf of the Taliban. The report also indicated that the casualties from the attack were worse than previously reported. While General Greene was the only officer killed, 18 other officers or soldiers were wounded. The New York Times has more on the report.

Former Interior Minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik, claimed today that the militant group ISIS is active in Pakistan. According to Mr. Malik, Pakistani security personnel have arrested several Islamic State militants in raids conducted throughout the country. Leaflets callings for support for ISIS have been seen in several parts of Kyber Pakhtukhwa, but Malik’s claims are a direct contradiction to current Federal Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who dismissed the idea of an ISIS presence in Pakistan a few weeks ago.

A deadly attack in Indian-administered Kashmir today has left three suspected militants and nine Indian soldiers dead, reports the BBC. The gun battle was the second in as many days, and comes during the provinces staggered elections, and just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the region. The Indian Express has more, including images from the deadly attack.

The Hill reports that the House of Representatives finally passed a defense authorization bill that will equip the Pentagon with funding through the 2015 fiscal year. It also points out that the NDAA, which was approved in a roughly bipartisan vote, is one of the few pieces of legislation that has always been passed on time. The text of the bill can be found here.

The Washington Post reports that the President and Congress are currently playing a “waiting game” on a new AUMF against ISIS, despite both branches’ agreement that an accord needs to be approved quickly.

According to Politico, US Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has finally gotten his war debate. While he initially attempted to force a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday over an ISIS AUMF, he eventually relented and accepted a vote on the subject next week. The Hill has more on the panel that is expected to hammer out a compromise on the subject.

At DefenseOne, Molly O’Toole points out that retaliation against victims of military sexual assault still persists. According to a Pentagon report on the issue, despite reforms, 62% of women who reported to a military authority that they were sexually assaulted said they had experienced some kind of retaliation in response.

Almost a month after a congressional plan to curb one of the NSA’s contentious spying programs failed, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on President Obama to make drastic reforms himself. The Hill reports that Leahy’s recommendation to end the NSA’s bulk collection of telephony metadata comes just a day before the program is scheduled for court renewal.

In what is a big victory for real estate developers in Lower Manhattan, House and Senate negotiators have all but agreed to extend federal terrorism insurance for another six years. In order to sweeten the deal for conservatives, the compromise hinges on changes to the controversial Dodd-Frank bill. The New York Times has more.

Parting Shot: DefenseOne explains why “eel drones” are the future of naval warfare.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith weighed in “on the sad collapse of the New Republic,” resigning his position as contributing editor in the wave of the magazine’s shake-up.

Ben Bissell provided this week's Throwback Thursday, diving into China’s constitution and the growing speed of legal reforms in the People’s Republic.

Carrie Cordero offered her observations on encryption and the “Going Dark” debate, suggesting there are important difference between the ongoing conversation and the one in the 1990s.

And, Ryan Vogel overviews the ICC prosecutor’s advances in examining US detention policies in Afghanistan, arguing such policies are not what the ICC was established to address.

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