Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Sebastian Brady
Friday, March 27, 2015, 3:24 PM

A Saudi-led coalition continued its bombing campaign in Yemen on Friday, targeting Houthi forces and installations for the second straight day. The Associated Press reports that the strikes hit at least six provinces, but were focused on Sadaa, the northern province home to the Houthis, and military facilities around the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. These facilities were reportedly managed by factions of Yemen’s Republican Guard loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

As the conflict in Yemen heats up, recently ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi surfaced in Riyadh yesterday, Al Jazeera notes, and was said to be traveling to Egypt, where he will join a two-day Arab League summit and attempt to secure further Arab support for airstrikes. Reuters has a helpful ‘Factbox’ detailing the current coalition. Thus far, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council except Oman have joined the coalition, along with Jordan, Sudan, and Egypt, which has also raised the possibility of contributing ground forces. Morocco announced earlier today that it would make troops already stationed in the UAE available for the campaign. But Pakistan, which Saudi Arabia said yesterday had joined the coalition, announced today that it had not yet made that decision.

The AP writes that the current coalition may catalyze the creation of a joint Arab military force, a longtime goal of some in the region. Many members of the Arab League are pushing for such a force as a way to counter Islamist extremism or Iranian aggression, but Iraq and Syria, beneficiaries of Iran, remain reluctant to go along with such a plan.

The United States was quick to approve of the coalition’s actions and to note that it had provided “logistical and intelligence support” for the strikes, but it appears that the Saudis kept the U.S. government partially in the dark about the operation---a potential sign of the Kingdom’s growing independence from the United States. Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia didn’t reveal key details of the planned strikes until just before they began. The Washington Post adds that Republican politicians quickly claimed that this is due to a lack of trust between the two nations thanks to the Obama administration’s hesitance to upset Iran during ongoing nuclear negotiations. The Saudi ambassador to Washington, however, discounted these allegations, noting that “When push comes to shove, this relationship is unshakable.”

Saudi and U.S. officials also argued that a Saudi-led operation is key in dissuading Yemeni citizens from supporting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Sunni AQAP, the Wall Street Journal notes, is attempting to convince the majority Sunni Yemenis that it is the only force that can fight back against the Shiite Houthis. While attention has been focused on Sana’a and Aden, the terrorist group has already advanced elsewhere in the country, capturing bases in Shabwa and Lahij provinces.

While the United States is playing second fiddle in the Yemen campaign, it has apparently just “just declared ownership over the war in Iraq,” according to Jacob Siegel and Nancy Youssef, because of its recent decision to begin providing air support to the Iraqi government’s assault on Tikrit. That appears to be a problem for the Shiite militias who were spearheading the Tikrit assault until U.S. airstrikes, now in their second day, began. The New York Times reports that thousands of Shiite fighters are now boycotting the fight against the last ISIS militants in the city.

“We won’t let the Americans take the glory.” That’s the sentiment from Iran-backed Shiite militias as they withdraw from the battlefields of Tikrit, according to a spokesman for the militias. One militant took an even more hostile tone toward U.S. support: “We are staying in Tikrit, we are not leaving and we are going to target the American-led coalition in Tikrit and their creation, ISIS.”

Muscling Shiite militias out of the Tikrit campaign helped the U.S. government temporarily avoid directly supporting these paramilitary forces, many of which have been accused of spreading sectarian violence. But such maneuvering is becoming increasingly difficult as the militias fuse with official Iraqi security forces. The Post writes that this makes ensuring that U.S. weaponry doesn’t fall into the hands of these militias extremely difficult. While Iraqi officials claim that all U.S. weaponry given to Iraq remains in Iraqi government hands, numerous photos have surfaced showing militias using U.S. guns and military vehicles. “The Obama administration,” Missy Ryan writes, “appears to have accepted that [militias] will, at least sometimes, be using U.S.-provided weaponry.”

Even as conflict erupts in the region, negotiators in Switzerland are hoping to reach a framework agreement on the Iranian nuclear program by March 29th, Bloomberg reports. Diplomats involved in the negotiations said that the current round of talks, which resumed yesterday ahead of a March 31st deadline for a political agreement, has made progress, though envoys are still wrestling over how to define the agreement and how much of the agreement to make public.

Potentially complicating the final days of negotiations was a spurt of Twitter diplomacy by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Times notes that President Rouhani tweeted the details of a letter he sent to President Obama detailing Iran’s position in the talks, and apparently followed the letter up with calls to several European leaders. In his calls, he reportedly pressed for the speedy end of sanctions on Iran, a position western negotiators have been loath to adopt.

Stateside, the Senate went the other direction, setting the stage for further sanctions on Iran. The Hill reports that the Senate yesterday unanimously passed an amendment supporting reimposing and broadening sanctions on Iran if President Obama can’t verify that the country is complying with the nuclear deal. But the broad support for the amendment is mostly due to its ambiguous nature. Politico explains that Democrats believe that it gives President Obama more room to negotiate, while Republicans think they’ve finally gotten Democratic support for Iran sanctions.

Yesterday, we reported that Pakistan has deployed ‘Burraq,’ its new armed drone, in its campaign against militants. But while Pakistani officials hailed the new drone as an entirely Pakistani creation, it turns out that they may have gotten a little help from a friend. IHS Jane’s writes that initial analysis of video showing ‘Burraq’ firing off a missile reveals a striking similarity between ‘Burraq’ and China’s CH-3 UAV. As frequent readers will note, China has recently become very interested in tamping down insurgencies in Pakistan.

Two attacks by the Pakistani Taliban left five police officers dead and wounded ten others, the AP reports. The first attack was a rocket strike late last night on a vehicle in Baluchistan. That was followed by a roadside bomb attack in Karachi.

Immediately ahead of tomorrow’s elections in Nigeria, the Nigerian military announced that it had destroyed Boko Haram’s headquarters in Gwoza. Reuters writes that Boko Haram captured Gwoza last August and was believed to hold some 200 of the schoolgirls whom the militant group kidnapped last year there.

Reuters also reports that a day after a suspected Islamist attack killed one police officer in Mombasa, Kenyan authorities arrested 52 people suspected of some connection to the attack. But, diplomats note, it is precisely these massive roundups that are helping fuel the rise of militancy in the country.

One year after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, are western sanctions actually hurting Russia? The Post asks the question, and argues that the current dismal state of the Russian economy is mostly due to factors other than western sanctions, like the precipitous drop in the price of oil. The biggest thing the sanctions have achieved is to help increase anti-Americanism to “heights not seen since Stalin.”

Australian lawmakers have passed new data-retention laws in an attempt to counter terrorist threats. The Wall Street Journal reports that the laws will require telephone operators and Internet providers to store records of their customers’ email and other communications for at least two years. The records include metadata from communications but not the content of the communications themselves.

According to newly released documents, the Pentagon is considering prosecuting up to seven more Guantanamo detainees, Carol Rosenberg writes. These additional prosecutions would increase the number of the 122 detainees currently at Guantanamo who could be accused of war crimes to 17.

The Times gives us the rundown on the unusual “misbehavior before the enemy” charge facing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

A National Guardsman has been arrested in Indiana for allegedly trying to travel to Libya in order to fight for the Islamic State there, the Times reports. This is reportedly the first time an American has been arrested for trying to join ISIS somewhere other than Syria.

Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, writes about Congress’s failure to vote on the Obama administration’s proposed AUMF for ISIS in the Hill today. While noting that Democrats fear the AUMF would be a blank check for war, Kate counters that “adopting a new AUMF for the war against IS won’t be a blank check for war; doing nothing, failing to vote on a new AUMF, will be the blank check.”

Parting shot: British Muslim scholars trying to counter the spread of extremist ideology through online media have published the first issue of a digital magazine exposing the reality of Islamist movements. Check out the first issue of Haqiqah here.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ingrid Wuerth assessed the current U.S. policy toward the South China Sea.

Yishai argued against the Obama administration’s potential shift toward supporting a UNSC resolution condemning the Israeli construction of settlements in disputed territory.

Ben brought us a new episode of Rational Security and the newest Chess Clock Debate, which features Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution and Ryan Evans from War on the Rocks debating the merits of arming Ukraine.

Ben also broke the news that a federal judge threw out a defamation suit between two private parties at the behest of the U.S. government.

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger posted the last of four excerpts from their new book, ISIS: The State of Terror.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.