Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith, Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, July 23, 2015, 1:49 PM

This morning, Secretary of State John Kerry headed to the Hill to make the case for the Iran deal before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, testifying alongside Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Secretary Moniz, who played a crucial part in the nuclear negotiations, stated yesterday that the Obama administration has experimental proof to back up one key provision of the deal: though Iran is allowed a 24-day window before international inspectors can examine suspicious sites, Energy Department experiments affirmed that nuclear residue could not be effectively concealed during that time. Politico writes that others, including a former IAEA official, have doubted Secretary Moniz’s claim. The Times also carries a story about the growing concern over verification, in which Brookings scholar Bob Einhorn notes that the 24-day window certainly will make it difficult for Tehran to cheat in any significant way, but could still allow the possibility of cheating around the edges.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice revealed the existence of “side” deals between Iran and the IAEA yesterday. The agreements, the details of which have not yet been made public, provide for accounting of Iran’s past nuclear activity---an issue not addressed in the deal between Iran and the P5+1. The Hill has more.

While Republicans in Congress are railing against the deal, trickles of Democratic support are beginning to flow, the Hill and the Wall Street Journal report. Foreign Policy notes the high probability that Congress will initially vote down a deal, and considers what that might ultimately mean for its implementation and success.

Continuing his tour of the Middle East region in the wake of the deal, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met with Saudi leaders in Jeddah yesterday. Despite Saudi Arabia’s testy relationship with Iran, U.S. officials stated that King Salman voiced support for the deal in his meeting with Secretary Carter---though the Washington Post tells us that the King insisted on a “snap back” of sanctions in the case of Iranian noncompliance with the deal’s provisions. The New York Times has more.

Secretary Carter also unexpectedly dropped in to Baghdad this morning, in what the Times reports is his first visit to Iraq as Secretary of Defense. His arrival comes in the midst of an Iraqi campaign to retake the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah from ISIS control, and on the same morning that ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Baghdad that killed 20 yesterday.

Colonel Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman told reporters yesterday that “when conditions are right, we will transition into an assault to seize Ramadi.” According to Col. Warren, American airstrikes and Iraqi forces are currently tightening the noose around the city, “isolating” ISIS elements, and “shaping” the battlefield. The battle plan, laid out by American advisers based at Al Taqqadum Air Base, calls for a total attack force of 6,000 troops, with another 5,000 tribal fighters joining to hold the city once it is captured. The Times has more on the battle plan.

Over at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Renad Mansour examines the “faltering” Iraqi military recruitment campaign. The military, he writes, is competing with Shiite militias for recruitment, and is falling far behind them even as it pleads, “your country needs you.”

Turkey is reinforcing its border with Syria in response to last week’s suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc. The Guardian writes that Turkish authorities have begun the process of building a wall, reinforcing wire fencing, and digging a 225-mile-long ditch in order to prevent the conflict in Syria from creeping across the Turkish border. Meanwhile, a pro-ISIS Turkish propaganda magazine has turned its attention to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, referring to President Erdogan’s government as “the atheist gang” and complaining over its lack of support for ISIS in the region.

Defense One brings us breaking news that Turkey has agreed to allow U.S. warplanes to use Incirlik Air Force Base for coalition operations against the Islamic State. Incirlik is roughly 250 miles from the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa and access to its facilities has been a U.S. objective since the bombing campaign began last September. Under current arrangements, U.S. aircraft have been flying as many as 1,200 miles to reach the battlegrounds.

Sweden has arrested two Swedish citizens on “suspicion of terrorist crimes in committing murder” while fighting in Syria in 2013. According to Reuters, roughly 300 Swedes have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with extremist groups such as ISIS and the Nusra Front.

FBI Director Jim Comey made waves yesterday at the Aspen Security Forum when he said that the Islamic State is the threat “we’re worrying about in the homeland most of all,” telling audience members that ISIS is “not your parents’ al Qaeda.” According to Director Comey, threats from the Khorasan Group have been “significantly diminished” in the wake of U.S. military strikes, and that the biggest threat now are lone wolf actors which ISIS tells to “kill where you are.” He also called the threat of a terrorist group launching a cyberattack on the United States a “small but potentially growing problem.”

The Express Tribune reports that Afghanistan has summoned the Pakistani ambassador over continuous shelling from Pakistan into the northern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. According to Afghan officials, as many as 53 rounds have been fired, killing three civilians and injuring two others.

Bomb blasts killed at least 29 people in Nigeria and 24 in Cameroon yesterday, according to the Associated Press. The attacks were attributed to Boko Haram, which Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari ---fresh off his four-day visit to Washington---accused the United States of “aiding and abetting” because of its refusal to sell his country weapons he deems necessary to defeat the extremist group.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is considering proposals to send Ukraine longer-range radar in order to counter artillery from Russian-backed rebels. The radar equipment under consideration tracks the trajectory of an incoming mortar, in order to determine from where it was fired. The Journal notes that the move comes as “U.S. military officials signal a growing willingness to bolster the country’s defenses.” Even so, the White House continues to oppose sending lethal aid to Ukrainian forces, with one senior official saying that “there is not any desire to put in place equipment that would be seen as escalatory and exacerbate the situation on the ground.” That news comes as a pro-government daily in Hungary reports that U.S. tanks could be heading to Hungary next year for military exercises as part of the continuing NATO response to the conflict in Ukraine.

Finally, with almost 9 out of 10 Russians supporting the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wall Street Journal details how differences in the media coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17’s crash one year ago “exposes a fallacy of U.S. policy toward Russia since the end of the Cold War.” The rise of the Internet has not changed the perceptions of Russians, united the world toward common beliefs, or collapsed the role of state-run media in Russia.

The Economic Times brings us news that Japan is set to take part in joint naval exercises with India and the United States in the Indian Ocean in October. Military sources say that eight years ago, a similar military drill rattled to the point that Delhi has not since hosted such a multilateral wargame.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the Mexican drug kingpin, escaped through tunnels that had been dug months earlier. His escape strategy was similar to the one used by one of his Sinaloa Cartel lieutenants, who broke out of another prison through a hand-dug tunnel.

Defense One announces that the Obama administration is in the ‘final stages’ of its plan to close Guantanamo Bay. Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House will send its closure plan to Congress ‘soon.’ Earnest also said that President Obama will veto any attempt to block the closure of Guantanamo, which has been a goal of his since his first days in office, Politico says. While the President has issued the same threat every year, some commentators think he may be more likely to carry it out now as his time in office runs short.

Meanwhile, detainee Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi told the military commissions court that he has “a very disturbed relationship” with his military lawyers and he does not want to be represented by them at his pretrial hearing. The Navy Times tells us that prosecutors produced evidence that showed a conflict of interest between al Hadi and one of his current defense lawyers.

In response to the OPM hack, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced new legislation yesterday that would give the Department of Homeland Security greater authority in monitoring all federal agencies in the “dot-gov” internet domain and would also allow the agency to actively employ defensive countermeasures to protect sensitive government data. Reuters has more.

Sony is launching a new company, Aerosense, to produce camera drones, the Guardian reveals. Aerosense will work with ZMP, an autonomous driving startup, who will provide the robotics expertise. Sony does not plan to sell the drones, rather it will lease them for “measuring, surveying, observing, and inspecting”.

Dylann Roof, the man accused of killing nine people inside a historic Charleston Church last month, has been charged with federal hate crimes, according to the Washington Post. The 33-count indictment includes a number of charges that carry the death penalty, although the Justice Department has not signalled whether they will pursue that sentence.

Parting Shot: Who would command the U.S. military in the event of a space war? It’s a debate that’s just begun.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Aaron Zelin brought us a posthumous message from AQAP's leader Nasir al-Wihayshi: "About Understanding the Implementation of Islamic Law"

Herb Lin explained cybersecurity as a federal priority.

Wells provided an update on the United States v. Abd al Hadi al Iraqi military commissions case which will be on hold for at least the rest of this week, if not longer.

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