Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Sebastian Brady
Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 2:32 PM

An Afghan soldier opened fire at a government compound in Jalalabad earlier today, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding at least two others, the Associated Press reports. It’s the second fatality suffered by the NATO mission in Afghanistan this year. Details are still scarce.

In Yemen, Saudi-led airstrikes continued, hitting the Al-Anad airbase and other targets near the southern port city of Aden. Reuters reports that the airstrikes, now in their second week, have succeeded in driving Houthi rebels back in some parts of southern Yemen, though Houthi forces have nonetheless pushed into the center of Aden. However, according to a Saudi official quoted in the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, the airstrikes have helped volunteer forces aligned with ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi push Houthi forces to the outskirts of Aden.

The United States announced yesterday that it will expedite the delivery of arms to members of the Saudi-led coalition and increase its intelligence and logistical support to the military campaign, the Wall Street Journal notes. The New York Times writes that the move signals increased U.S. involvement in the conflict. In Riyadh yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken praised the Saudi-led coalition as “sending a strong message to the Houthis and their allies that they cannot overrun Yemen by force.”

Helping push the United States toward greater involvement in the conflict are fears that the chaos is helping al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Times notes. Speaking in Tokyo yesterday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that “A.Q.A.P. has seized the opportunity of the disorder there” to capture broad areas of land in the country.

But while the United States is rushing forward with aid, Pakistan, which the Saudi government has asked for help in the military campaign, has been much less willing to lend a hand. The Pakistani Parliament debated what role the country should play in the conflict earlier today, and Reuters reports that MPs appear largely opposed to intervention. The Foreign Minister of Iran, which is allegedly backing the Houthi forces in Yemen, is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan today, where he is expected to lobby against Pakistani intervention in the conflict.

At the same time that Iran is trying to keep Pakistan out of the conflict, it appears to be increasing its own involvement. Iranian state TV reported today that two naval vessels---including a naval destroyer---were sent to waters near Yemen, though an Iranian military official claimed that the ships would be part of an anti-piracy campaign. The AP has more. And earlier this week, the Saudi ambassador to the United States accused Iran of embedding members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Houthi units fighting in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal notes that this comes after previous Saudi accusations that Iran is providing military, financial, and intelligence support to the Houthis.

Amid all these machinations, the conflict’s death toll continues to rise. According to aid workers in Yemen, at least 560 Yemenis have been killed thus far, including dozens of children. Over 1,700 people have been wounded and 100,000 people have been been forced to flee. The AP covers the crisis.

But while Iran and the United States are on opposite ends of the conflict in Yemen, both governments appear to be supporting the deal they reached (along with several other world powers) on Iran’s nuclear program. The Times describes the coalescence of Iranian hard-liners behind the deal. Many Iranian officials, including the highest ranking commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, have publicly praised the efforts of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in reaching an acceptable deal. And while Ayatollah Khamenei has yet to weigh in, analysts say that the public praise by Iranian conservatives probably signals the Supreme Leader’s opinion of the deal.

In the United States, the Obama administration appears to face much tougher sledding in selling the deal to American politicians. The Times details the difficulties of promoting a deal that is still largely incomplete and adds that gaps in the deal have provided fodder for critics. Politico reports that the administration is relying on Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the former MIT physicist who played a key role in the Iran negotiations, to help assuage politicians’ worries over the technical aspects of the arrangement. Also defending the framework is CIA director John Brennan, who Agence France-Presse quotes as saying “individuals who say this deal provides a pathway for Iran to a bomb are being wholly disingenuous.”

As administration officials stump for the deal, dozens of foreign policy heavyweights gave the administration’s sales pitch a boost. The Hill notes that more than 50 former government officials, elected representatives, and military officers signed a statement calling on Congress to delay any legislative action that might affect the Iran deal until after the June 30 deadline.

Henry Kissinger and George P. Schultz have an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that takes a dimmer view. They write, “negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.”

In Syria yesterday, car bombs struck two rebel bases in the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, the AP reports. The explosions, which targeted areas held by Islamist opposition groups, killed dozens of people; ISIS is suspected of carrying out the attacks. The AP adds that Lebanese army reported killing three militants in a raid near Syria’s border with Lebanon.

Across the border in Iraq, Iraqi forces have announced plans to follow up their victory in Tikrit with an operation to retake Anbar Province. It remains unclear, however, what that operation should look like. While the assault on Tikrit relied on Shiite militias, unleashing these paramilitary forces in a largely Sunni area worries many policymakers. But the Shiite government of Iraq has thus far been hesitant to arm pro-government Sunni militias in Anbar, despite U.S. pressure to do so. The Times has more.

Ahead of a visit to Islamabad by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian officials claimed that militants from Pakistan crossed the countries’ border and killed eight border guards, the Wall Street Journal reports. The alleged attack complicates Pakistan’s attempts to balance its long-standing friendship with Saudi Arabia and its desire to not upset Iran.

In other Pakistan news, the Times reveals that a Pakistani court has ruled that former CIA Islamabad station chief Jonathan Bank and former C.I.A. lawyer John Rizzo will face criminal charges for their roles in directing drone strikes in that country.

According to the Long War Journal, the U.S. Treasury Department has added the Al Furqan Foundation Welfare Trust to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Al Furqan has provided funds to al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Taliban since its formation in the mid-2000s.

Speaking in Tokyo earlier today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a strong warning against allowing territorial fights in the East and South China Seas to become militarized. The remarks, Reuters notes, come as China continues its land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea.

In the same visit, Secretary Carter is negotiating a new set of bilateral defense rules with Japan. The Washington Post reveals that, if passed, the new rules would dramatically broaden the range of scenarios in which Japan could provide protection for U.S. forces; according to a senior U.S. official, the change would be “a big, big deal.”

An Israeli security official confirmed yesterday that the January death of a Spanish U.N. peacekeeper in Lebanon was caused by Israeli fire, the Times reports. The deadly incident occurred during a brief flare-up of violence between Israel and Hezbollah earlier this year. The Times also reports that a Palestinian man stabbed two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank today. The attacker seriously wounded one of the soldiers before being shot to death.

CNN reveals that, according to U.S. officials, the Russian hackers who recently infiltrated the State Department used their position in the State Department’s networks to access sensitive portions of the White House computer system. While the White House has said no classified system was breached, the agencies investigating the hack have called it one of the most advanced cyberattacks against government computers ever.

This Russian cyber-aggression comes as Russia continues to flex its military muscle abroad. Defense News notes that Russian long-range bombers have been flying an increased number of flights near the United States. The head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Adm. Bill Gortney, said yesterday that the flights --- which may soon include patrols over the Gulf Of Mexico --- are largely posturing. “They are messaging us. They are messaging us that they are a global power …we do the same sort of thing."

According to USA Today, the DEA was secretly collecting records of American’s international phone calls nearly a decade before 9/11. The bulk collection program, the government’s first known operation of this type, logged “virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking.” The program apparently helped federal investigators discover new drug trafficking rings and identify suspects in a range of other investigations.

In announcing his candidacy for president yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) promised to end bulk collection of phone records by the NSA on his first day in office. He told an audience in Kentucky, “The president created this vast dragnet by executive order. And as president on day one, I would immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance." The Hill has more.

Carol Rosenberg writes that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter to direct U.S. military officials at Guantanamo to adhere to the force-feeding protocol used at federal prisons. In the same letter, Sen. Feinstein reiterated her request to be shown videos of force-feedings at the detention facility, a request which the Defense Department has thus far denied.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben reminded us that the clock is ticking on the sunset of Section 215 and laid out why the rapidly approaching sunset matters.

Yishai broke the news that two new judges have been designated for seven-year terms on the FiSA Court.

Stewart Baker brought us a new episode (#61) of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with Joseph Nye.

Jack pointed us to his review of Bruce Schneier’s new book, Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.

And Ben announced the Triple Entente Beer Summit, a “live taping extravaganza” featuring the cast of characters from the Lawfare Podcast, the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, and the Rational Security Podcast. The historic event will take place on Thursday, May 7th from 6-9pm at the Washington Firehouse. Get your tickets here!

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