Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Sebastian Brady
Thursday, January 22, 2015, 2:10 PM

The main terminal of the Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine has been captured by rebels, the Los Angeles Times tells us. The airport has seen fierce fighting in the past several months and has taken on symbolic significance in the battle between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military. The BBC adds that although Ukrainian forces still control parts of the airport, the partial retreat represents a major loss for the Ukrainian government. Also in Donetsk, which is currently held by rebels, a city bus was hit in shelling that killed 13 civilians.

After multilateral peace talks on the Ukrainian crisis Wednesday, Russia expressed its interest in an immediate cease-fire. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, however, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia of sending 9,000 troops into Ukraine. The New York Times covers the diplomatic exchange, along with reports of fighting across eastern Ukraine. Also at the Davos forum, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, expressed support for further economic aid for Ukraine, according to Reuters. Reuters also reports that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that there has been an increase in Russian military equipment in Ukraine and called for Russia to withdraw. Defense News shares that the US will send soldiers into Ukraine to train the Ukrainian military.

Japan is struggling to free two hostages held by ISIS. The Associated Press reveals that Japanese counter-offers to the militant group have gone unanswered as the group’s deadline for a $200 million ransom payment draws near. Japanese government officials have repeatedly claimed that aid given to the region, the apparent inspiration for ISIS’s threats, is solely meant to help refugees, the BBC reports.

Asharq Al-Awsat shares that Iraqi and Kurdish military forces have launched a joint operation against ISIS outside of Mosul. The attacks serve as a prelude to a planned major military operation later this year to liberate the city. The Washington Post breaks the news that, per a Kurdish spokesperson, Kurdish peshmerga have pushed ISIS out of a significant area in northern Iraq.

According to the Express Tribune, Pakistani security forces captured an ISIS commander in Lahore. The commander has admitted to being ISIS’s representative in the country. Reuters explains that the commander’s activity in Pakistan represents a broader foray by ISIS into South Asia, as militants disappointed with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are drawn to the new group by its recent successes.

Pakistan also took steps to weaken another militant group operating within its borders, Dawn reports. The government has frozen all assets held by Jamaatud Dawa, the political branch of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and imposed a foreign travel ban on the group’s leader.

In the New York Times, Jayne Huckerby writes of the significant flow of female fighters--roughly 10 percent of Western recruits--into the ranks of ISIS and the oft-overlooked role they play in the group’s operations.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that the Houthi rebels who took control of the Yemeni presidential palace yesterday have agreed to a power-sharing agreement with the government. However, CNN reports, hours later a Yemeni official claimed that the rebels had not yet released a key presidential aide, thus jeopardizing the tenuous peace plan. Representatives of the Houthis have expressed satisfaction with the deal, but rebel gunmen continue to patrol the presidential palace, according to Reuters.

The instability of Yemen has already altered the Obama administration’s Guantanamo policy. While the president has not reinstated the ban on transferring detainees to Yemen, administration officials have intimated that detainees will not be transferred to the volatile country in the near future. The AP has the story.

In other Guantanamo news, the commander of the base, Navy Capt. John Nettleton, has been relieved of his duties, the Miami Herald reports. The move comes during an NCIS investigation into the mysterious death of a base employee earlier this month. Nico Hines of the Daily Beast covers another development casting a pall over the base’s operations, namely allegations by the Guantanamo diarist that he was gang-raped by female guards. Over at Politico, Rich Lowry argues against closing Guantanamo, saying, among other things, that if detainees are brought to the US, jihadists will mount violent rescue operations to free them.

In a move signalling the GOP’s increasing willingness to challenge President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. The Post reports that the prime minister’s speech, organized without consultation from the White House, will likely express Israeli opposition to the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and support new sanctions on the country.

Elsewhere yesterday, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and opposed a new Iran sanctions bill, the Hill notes. A collection of foreign policy chiefs from Germany, France, Britain, and the European Union wrote an op-ed in the Post explaining the successes already achieved by the ongoing talks and the importance of delaying new sanctions until diplomacy has been given a fair chance.

An opinion piece at Reuters dives into the horrific statistics of Boko Haram’s campaign in Nigeria and details just how little coverage the conflict has received in the media.

Responding to the Paris attacks and the continuing threat of returning foreign fighters, the US European Command has directed all US military bases in Europe to increase security, CNN reports. In the aftermath of those same attacks, Microsoft turned over data requested by the FBI on behalf of the French government in just 45 minutes, according to Bloomberg.

Osama bin Laden’s ex-secretary, Wadih El-Hage, has lost his appeal in the 2nd Circuit Court. El-Hage was fighting the life sentence handed down for his role in the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Reuters has more.

In the lead-up to President Obama’s visit to India next week, Reuters explores the success India has already had in countering Chinese influence in the region, including (unofficially) helping unseat a pro-Chinese president in Sri Lanka.

At the Daily Beast, Shane Harris informs us that a recently disclosed NSA document reveals that South Korea, in addition to spying on its northern neighbor, also spies on the US. The US, Harris notes, doesn’t seem to care that much.

National Geographic has a powerful collection of stories from soldiers using art to address the brain trauma they absorbed during battle.

Parting shot: Beating Amazon to the punch, Mexican drug cartels have already started drone deliveries. Authorities in Tijuana, Mexico found a crashed drone that was carrying six pounds of crystal meth on its way across the US-Mexico border.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

The president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday engendered several responses on Lawfare. Jack argued that, despite President Obama’s call for a new AUMF, his administration’s actions consistently show that the president wants no such thing.

Also in the speech, the president reiterated his commitment to closing Guantanamo. Ben took the opportunity to note the serious shortcomings on both sides of the Guantanamo debate.

Carrie Cordero wrote that the counterterrorism sections of the president’s remarks failed both to adequately address the current reality of the counterterrorism mission and to lay out an effective future strategy.

Yishai Schwartz detailed the storm of counterterrorism-related detentions and prosecutions in France that have followed the Paris attacks, noting that, despite assumptions to the contrary, French civil liberties are in many ways less robust than those in the US.

Wells put us in the shoes of an executive branch lawyer who has just received a letter from Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) asking the entire executive branch to return all copies of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s recent report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation practices.

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