Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Sebastian Brady
Thursday, February 5, 2015, 1:15 PM

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense nominee Ash Carter appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing. Republicans were concerned over micromanagement by the Obama administration; Politico reports that Carter emphasized that he would maintain independence from the White House even under pressure. The Guardian provides a summary of the hearing, noting that Carter supported providing lethal aid for the Ukrainian military, a “conditions-based withdrawal” from Afghanistan, enhancing U.S. cyber capabilities, and asserted that he would not be pressured into hastening the release of Guantanamo detainees. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast also provide coverage of the hearing.

Who runs Raqqa? In the capital of the so-called Islamic State, Syrian nationals are notably absent. Rather, the Wall Street Journal notes that the group’s leadership there is dominated by foreign fighters who have flocked to Syria to join the group, changing the character of the city as much as they have changed the nature of the war. Elsewhere, rebels shelled the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing at least five people in the government stronghold, according to the Associated Press. For its part, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the group in both Iraq and Syria continued airstrikes yesterday, conducting 17 across both countries, Central Command shares.

The country of Jordan is seething with anger, writes the Guardian. According to Martin Chulov, images of Muadh al-Kasasbeh being burned alive have filled the streets of Amman, from tea houses to universities, with anger and a pulsing desire for revenge. In response to the killing of the Jordanian pilot by ISIS, Jordan unleashed its own series of airstrikes against the militant group. Al Arabiya reports that Jordan killed 55 ISIS militants in a series of strikes that also killed a senior ISIS commander. The Wall Street Journal reveals that Jordan is also mulling a longer-term increase in its commitment to the anti-ISIS coalition. It’s all part of a determination to retaliate that Kevin Baron, writing in DefenseOne, calls the “real Arab Awakening the Pentagon has been waiting for.” He notes that suddenly, in the Hashemite Kingdom, the war against ISIS has become “our war.” Jordan’s 250 strike fighters, 1,300 tanks, premier special operation forces--all wrapped in a $1.5 billion budget-- sit waiting for whatever revenge King Abdullah determines to march forward.

In the United States, the Hill shares that President Barack Obama is preparing to formally request that Congress pass a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the fight against ISIS, as part of a renewed effort to put the U.S. campaign against ISIS, which has already included thousands of airstrikes in the region, on firmer legal footing. At the same time, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is pushing to cut off a significant source of cash for ISIS. The AP notes that Russia is proposing a U.N. resolution that would keep terrorists from collecting ransom payments for hostages or illicitly selling oil.

In Yemen, a deadline for a power-sharing deal imposed by the Houthi rebels has passed. The rebels had threatened to seize power if a satisfactory compromise had not been reached by then, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the group appears to be allowing more time for talks.

Even as the government falls into turmoil, US counterterrorism operations in Yemen continue. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has confirmed that Sheikh Harith bin Ghazi al-Nathari, a leading member of the group, was killed by U.S. drone strike on January 31st. Reuters has more.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Ukraine today, where he is meeting with Ukrainian officials to discuss arming the Ukrainian military as it continues to battle Russian-backed separatists, Al Jazeera notes. Foreign Policy details how the Obama administration has shifted from opposition to arming the rebels to what appears to be growing support. European leaders are also in Ukraine to push for peace, the BBC reveals. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were set to present a proposal for peace in Ukraine on Thursday before travelling to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday.

Five more Ukrainian soldiers have been killed as rebels continue their assault on a key town, Reuters shares. As the fighting continues, NATO is also preparing to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe, the BBC reports. As part of the effort, Britain has committed up to 1,000 troops to a proposed NATO rapid response force, and has announced that it will send fighter jets to help maintain security in the Baltic states. In another sign of Putin’s expansionist agenda, Radio Free Europe notes that Russia has formed a “strategic partnership” with Abkhazia, the region of Georgia that Russia helped separate from Georgia during a brief 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

The United Nations is appointing an independent panel to investigate the death of one of its peacekeepers in Lebanon last week, according to the Times. The Spanish soldier was killed during a brief surge of violence between Hezbollah and Israel.

Kunar province, a key region in northeastern Afghanistan, has seen an increased Taliban presence since the departure of U.S. troops last year. Al Jazeera reports that the Taliban’s resurgence has included the imposition of strict interpretations of sharia law pronounced by Taliban courts.

India has expressed interest in using U.S. technology in a planned aircraft carrier, Reuters reveals. Such military cooperation would draw India away from Russia, on whom it has previously relied on for military aid, and closer to the United States, while at the same time helping counter a growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

In North Korea, Kim Jong Un executed an army general last month for expressing an opinion that differs from the dictator’s, Bloomberg reports. The execution is the latest in a series of purges by Kim since taking power in 2011.

In a speech here at Brookings yesterday, General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Robert Litt explained that, were Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to sunset on June 1, the program managing the bulk collection of data on telephone calls would be shut down. However, Politico reports that Litt went on to explain that an amended version of the program might continue under other legal authority. Even so, the Wall Street Journal explains that the approaching sunset has the FBI worried that it may lose at least some of its most important tools in rooting out terrorists and spies.

A funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security has again stalled in the Senate, CNN reveals. Democrats voted against the measure due to the immigration-related amendments currently attached to it. Funding for the Department will run out on February 27th.

The Navy contractor at the center of a Navy bribery scandal has begun cooperating with investigators, the Post shares. Leonard Glenn Francis, who has already pleaded guilty in the corruption case, has identified new suspects and provided details on the bribery operation.

Senate Democrats are pushing for the administration to go beyond the voluntary cybersecurity framework for businesses, the Hill notes. In a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, senators heard praise for the framework from industry executives, but the senators expressed deep concerns over the framework’s adequacy.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Carrie Cordero provided a first take on the surveillance reform report issued by the government on Tuesday.

Paul Rosenzweig updated us on the news of the cyber world and linked to an article on how the NYPD is integrating Big Data into its operations.

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