Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Staley Smith, Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, June 18, 2015, 2:13 PM

The New York Times reports that nine people were killed yesterday evening when a gunman opened fire on a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman, whom the F.B.I. has identified, was later caught across the border in North Carolina. The Charleston Police Department, the F.B.I., and other federal agencies have initiated an investigation into what officials are calling a hate crime.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, General Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter indicated potential openness to allowing a combat role for U.S. troops in Iraq, given the scarcity of Iraqi and Syrian recruits available to train in the fight against ISIS. The United States has previously insisted that the troops in Iraq are stationed there for advisory roles only.

With the war almost a year old and ever expanding, the House yesterday voted down a measure that would require the withdrawal of troops in absence of an explicit Congressional authorization for the use of military force. The Hill has more.

In their remarks, Reuters reports that General Dempsey and Secretary Carter also commented on the Assad regime’s recent retrenchment, emphasizing that the regime continues to lose territory to both ISIS and Syrian rebel groups.

Despite this---or perhaps on account of it---the regime continues to commit gross violations of human rights. While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons trumpeted the news that almost all effluent from the regime's weapons had been eliminated, according to witnesses at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Assad’s forces routinely deploy chlorine attacks across the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi visited Tehran yesterday to meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over Iran’s role in helping to combat ISIS, according to the Wall Street Journal. Khamenei pledged to support operations in Iraq and warned al Abadi that America’s intention in the country is to “plunder Iraq’s wealth.” The Long War Journal informs us that during the meeting, Iraqi Prime Minister al Abadi introduced Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, “the operations chief for the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Committee and a U.S.-listed Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”

Earlier today, the Islamic State claims to have shot down an Iraqi fighter jet conducting a raid north of Ramadi, says Reuters.

Away from Iraq and Syria, according to a Pentagon report, the Islamic State is in an "initial exploratory phase" and discovering ways to expand in Afghanistan. The Taliban too is raising concerns about the Islamic State presence, warning ISIS to leave its turf. Iran and the Taliban, historically toxic enemies, have found a common enemy in the Islamic State. The Daily Beast reports that a Taliban delegation recently visited Iran to discuss regional issues.

Islamic State-inspired groups in Gaza are stepping up attacks on Israel. A group inspired by ISIS fired rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon last week and promised more attacks in the future. Hamas is now in conflict with the extremist groups that have been carrying out small scale bombings and assassinations in Gaza.

Residents from the Turkish border town of Akcakale are raising fears about Islamic State militants crossing the border disguised as refugees. The town has become a way point for fighters in Syria and many of the city’s residents fear revenge attacks from ISIS after the group lost the bordering town of Tal Abyad to Syrian Kurdish fighters. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

A group identifying itself as the “Islamic State in Yemen” claimed responsibility for the series of car bomb attacks that hit Sanaa yesterday. The attacks targeted two mosques as well as a house and office belonging to leaders of the Houthi movement. At least 50 people were killed or wounded in the attacks. Al Jazeera has more.

The Washington Post reports that the CIA drone strike that killed Nasser al Wuhayshi earlier this week did not actually target AQAP leader. Rather than a “personality strike” aimed at al Wuhayshi specifically, the attack was a “signature strike,” conducted on the basis of suspicious patterns of behavior rather than the identity of a particular target. Though the Obama administration suggested in 2013 that it would phase out this controversial targeting method, the Post’s story indicates that signature strikes are still in use. And the strikes seem to be working in more ways than one: the killing of al Wuhayshi has sowed distrust, paranoia, and confusion among AQAP members, leading to the execution of alleged spies for enabling the strike.

Yet, as demand for strikes like the one conducted against al Wuhayshi rise, the Air Force is having problems both recruiting and retaining pilots to fly drones. The Washington Post has more.

Boko Haram has killed at least 38 people in an attack on Niger. Chad conducted airstrikes against Boko Haram in retaliation for a separate string of suicide bombings conducted by the militant group, which hit the Chadian capital on Monday.

Across the continent, African Union troops foiled an attempted al Shabaab car bombing of a Somali political conference aimed at establishing a federal system for the Somali government.

A court in Belgium has ordered the seizure of 1.6 billion Euros in Russian assets as part of a long-simmering response to Russia’s dismantling of the Yukos Oil corporation in 2003. The Court’s ruling is punishment for Russia’s failure to comply with an earlier ruling by an international arbitration panel that the country must pay back Yukos’ assets to shareholders.

In an exclusive, Vice News uses social media to track the path of one Russian soldier on his journey to fight in Ukraine. The evidence, they claim, demonstrates that Russian troops are actively engaged in combat in eastern Ukraine, contrary to Moscow’s claims of innocence. In more bad news for Russia, the European Union chose to renew sanctions against Moscow through the next seven months.

The hacking collective Anonymous claimed responsibility for DDOS attacks that downed websites and servers belonging to the Canadian government. The group declared the cyberattacks to be a protest against a recent anti-terrorism law that will dramatically increase the Canadian government’s surveillance capacity.

Parting Shot: Want a free book? How about a free paperback of the executive summary and findings of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation? Maybe you should consider running for president. An independent publisher is mailing its edition of the “torture report” to every presidential candidate---“even Donald Trump.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Steve Vladeck wrote on the D.C. Circuit’s decision in al Bahlul, arguing the functional case against military commission trials of “domestic” offenses.

Ben posted this week’s Rational Security podcast, in which Shane Harris discusses how Iranians attempted to recruit him as a spy.

Cody provided the Second Circuit’s opinion in Iqbal v. Hasty, otherwise known as Turkman v. Ashcroft.

Ben linked to former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden’s thoughts on the OPM hacking.

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