Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Friday, June 19, 2015, 2:04 PM

U.N.-sponsored peace talks over the conflict in Yemen have ended without making any headway, Reuters writes. Earlier today, Saudi airstrikes pounded a site held by elite Republican Guard forces allied with the Houthis. Meanwhile, in the midst of a Geneva press conference, an unidentified woman threw her shoe at a Houthi leader, who then proceeded to throw it back at her.

With no end to the conflict in sight, Reuters reports that the United Nations is now appealing for $1.6 billion in aid to adequately address the “looming catastrophe” in Yemen. According to U.N. estimates, 80% of the Yemeni population is in need of some form of humanitarian aid.

From one Middle Eastern conflict to another: ISIS fighters have imposed a fuel embargo that is creating shortages in northern Syria, the New York Times reports. The shortages have severely affected rebel-held areas of Syria, limiting the ability of local hospitals to provide medical care in the midst of violence.

With reports accumulating that Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces have routinely used chlorine gas in bomb attacks, Russian officials are working with the United States to create a mechanism for determining responsibility for Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons. In 2013, Russia’s help was instrumental in reaching an agreement with President Assad to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, but Moscow has also repeatedly sheltered the country from accountability for its actions in the ongoing civil war.

More trouble than training, really: A Pentagon spokesman stated that under 200 moderate Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the United States. Out of 2,000 recruits, 1,500 were accepted after a screening process, and “at best” 180 have actually begun training. That’s disheartening news, especially as the Washington Post reminds us that General Martin Dempsey announced last year that 12,000 to 15,000 moderate rebels would be required to make a serious effort at recapturing territory. Only 11,820 more rebels to go.

In many ways, the Kurdish Peshmerga has become America’s most trusted ground force in the region. As Kurdish fighters battle ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Wall Street Journal has a story on the “Kurdish moment.” The Journal suggests that as the current conflicts reshape the Middle East as we know it, the prospect of an independent Kurdistan may not be as outlandish as it once sounded.

Earlier this week, we flagged news that the Taliban had politely warned the Islamic State to say out of its emirate. Yet, throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, Reuters reports that ISIS is fast outstripping al Qaeda and the Taliban in online popularity.

In Pakistan, al Qaeda has released photographs on Twitter that purportedly show Warren Weinstein, the American aid worker held hostage and killed in an American drone strike this past January. The photographs seemed to show Weinstein praying, images meant to bolster al Qaeda’s claim that Weinstein and his fellow hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto, converted to Islam after their capture. U.S. officials stated that they could not confirm Weinstein’s presence in the photographs.

After the widely reported death of AQAP leader Nasser al Wuhayshi in a CIA drone strike, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a new emir---and he has a brother in Guantanamo. The Long War Journal writes on what we know about new AQAP leader Qasim al Raymi from information released at his brother’s combatant status review tribunal.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has denied that its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was killed earlier this week in an American airstrike. The Times quotes a terrorism expert who stated that “this is at least the eighth time [Belmokhtar] has come back from the dead,” and compared announcements of Belmokhtar’s death to “Elvis sightings.” Libyan authorities had previously confirmed Belmokhtar’s death; the Pentagon told reporters it was not possible to know if he was actually dead without forensic evidence.

Another al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabaab, claims to have killed over 60 Ethiopian troops in southern Somalia last week. The group released graphic photographs as evidence of the ambush, though the deaths have not yet been confirmed by the African Union Mission in Somalia or the Ethiopian government.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke on the homegrown radicalization of British Muslims, calling for greater criticism of those members of Muslim communities who give voice to extremist ideology. Prime Minister Cameron promptly faced criticism for “finger-pointing” instead of seeking to engage with Muslim youth, the Guardian reports.

The shooter who attacked a historic Black church in Charleston has been charged with nine counts of murder, and a debate has sprung up over whether the attack should properly be labeled a hate crime or---relevant for Lawfare readers---domestic terrorism. At CNN, Peter Bergen argues in favor of considering the shooting an act of terrorism, while the Washington Post, the International Business Times, the New York Times, and the Daily Beast also weigh in.

A nuclear deal with Iran is on the horizon, despite various obstacles, according to Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau. With pressure mounting for both American and Iranian negotiators, Reuters describes the official mood as one of “cautious optimism” as the June 30th deadline nears. However, earlier this week, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) told Secretary of State John Kerry to ignore the looming deadline, should it be necessary to get a better deal.

The Senate voted on Thursday to pass the NDAA, including controversial provisions that have moved the White House to threaten a veto. The bill evades military spending cuts through reliance on a “war fund” that has remained free from sequestration’s budget caps, and sharply limits the government’s ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Nevertheless, Senator John McCain (R-AZ)---who supported the bill---stated that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has promised him to draft a plan for Guantanamo’s closure. The Hill has the story.

In response to Secretary Carter’s concerns over spending cuts and troop withdrawals in the British military, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon invited an as-yet-unnamed U.S. official to participate in a British review panel on the state of the United Kingdom’s military. The Washington Post has more on Secretary Fallon’s response to his American counterpart.

The Post also reports that the data breach of security clearance information at OPM took place almost a year ago, meaning that the Chinese government has long had access to federal employees’ data. The breach of personnel data occurred was discovered four months ago. At Defense One, Robert Knake of the Council on Foreign Relations considers why the United States has failed to release an official statement blaming China for the hacking.

Nevertheless, a U.S. official has stated that the United States does not intend to avoid the controversy over the OPM hack, or China’s activities in the South China Sea, at a U.S.-China talks later this week.

From the E.U. Observer: Countries in the eurozone will hold an emergency summit later this week in an attempt to avoid a Greek default. The Guardian suggests that the Kremlin may offer Greece a bailout despite the recent renewal of E.U. sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, after Belgium froze Russian state accounts in retaliation for Russia’s failure to pay shareholders after its 2003 seizure of the Yukos Oil corporation, Russia threatened to target the assets of foreign corporations.

Parting Shot: For the low, low price of $50,000, you too can be the proud owner of a Russian tank---the very same model that crossed the border into Ukraine. Wired walks us through the purchasing process.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Paul alerted us to the Supreme Court’s pending decision in City of Los Angeles v. Patel, which has the potential to be a major case in privacy and Fourth Amendment law.

Stewart Baker posted this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast.

Ben considered reactions to his earlier post on the privacy community’s response to the OPM hack.

Ben also welcomed Jihadology and the new Jihadology Podcast to Lawfare. The podcast’s first set of episodes are now available on Lawfare here, here, and here.

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