Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Friday, July 31, 2015, 2:06 PM

Fault lines are already appearing as the Taliban scrambles to explain and restructure after the death (some time back) of Mullah Omar. Yesterday, a group of senior Taliban leaders elected Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour as the successor. Yet Reuters reports that several leaders, including Mullah Omar’s son and brother, walked out of the meeting in protest when it became clear that Mansur would be selected. A significant proportion of Taliban leaders supported Omar’s son over Mansour.

Internal splintering over Mansour’s election may have negative effects for the nascent peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Reuters estimates that Mansour has direct control over only about 40% of Taliban fighters, and he likely won’t command the same authority as Omar, Al Jazeera notes. The Atlantic examines the potential “nightmare” scenario that a divided Taliban might pose for peace negotiators: without a unified Taliban front, government negotiators will have “no one to talk to.” Peace talks were originally scheduled to continue today but have been postponed in the wake of Omar’s death.

Even worse, ISIS may benefit from the dissension among Taliban ranks. ISIS and the Taliban have been locked in a battle for supremacy among Islamist insurgencies, and the Taliban’s leadership crisis may lead to a wave of defections from the Taliban to ISIS. Al Jazeera has the story.

The Washington Post weighs in with a story on the search for information on the elusive, “ghostlike” Mullah Omar. And the New York Times takes a look at the confusion surrounding Omar’s death: according to an anonymous U.S. official, Omar “could have died two weeks ago, or two years ago…We think we know, but we don’t know we know.”

The extremist group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat has made its mark in Karachi, Pakistan, the Wall Street Journal writes. The large network of militants, whose radically anti-Shiite organization is officially banned by the Pakistani authorities, provides public services to residents in poor areas of Karachi by digging wells in a water-scarce region. ASWJ is linked to the radical group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose leader was killed in a firefight on Wednesday.

Pakistan’s government is considering going to the United Nations over spying by India. The Express Tribune reports that the issue has already been discussed by Pakistani and Indian authorities, but that Pakistan is likely to bring its grievances before the international community.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has published an op-ed in the Guardian calling for international nuclear disarmament in the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran. Minister Zarif argues that the deal could be the start of a major political shift toward disarmament and suggests negotiations for an international weapons elimination treaty to complement the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Meanwhile, alliances in the Middle East are still in the process of reshuffling after the nuclear deal. In the Times, Hussein Ibish examines Saudi Arabia’s “new Sunni alliance” with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni states in the region. The Saudi strategy appears to be based on pulling together a group of allies against Tehran’s soon-to-grow influence---but at the cost of “consolidating already sharp sectarian divisions.”

In what may be one example of the new Saudi policy, the Kingdom signed an agreement with Egypt yesterday to strengthen economic ties between the countries and form a “joint Arab military force.” Al Jazeera reports on the “Cairo Declaration.”

Early this morning, arsonists attacked a Palestinian home in the West Bank, killing a young child. The destroyed home was found marked with a Star of David and Hebrew graffiti reading “revenge,” the Times writes. The Post notes that the Israeli media has suggested the arson to be a “price tag attack,” carried out by extremist settlers as retaliation for actions conducted against them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the Israeli government have called the attack an act of terrorism, a sentiment echoed by their Palestinian counterparts. Haaretz has more.

The World Food Program has cut its aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan, the AP tells us. The worsening crisis in Syria and the surrounding areas has placed severe strain on the resources of humanitarian organizations.

The AP also brings us the unpleasant news that, according to various estimates from U.S. intelligence agencies, ISIS has not been significantly weakened by a year of U.S. bombing. The CIA., the Defense Intelligence Agency, and unnamed other agencies have seen “no meaningful degradation” of ISIS’s forces---an assessment that contrasts with the view of General John Allen, the Obama administration’s Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, who stated last week that “ISIS is losing.” The extremist group has modified its tactics to work around significant U.S. pressure, and continues to draw in oil revenue to fund its operations.

Chad has reintroduced the death penalty as part of anti-terrorism legislation aimed at countering Boko Haram. The death penalty was abolished in Chad only six months ago. According to First Post, opposition activists voiced concerns that the anti-terror measures, billed as necessary to effectively fight against Boko Haram could be used to clamp down on dissent.

Boko Haram’s streak of suicide bombings continues, with ten killed in northeast Nigeria. Suicide bombers targeted the same area last month.

The United States increased its sanctions on Russia over the Kremlin’s activities in Ukraine, “blacklisting” almost thirty more individuals. Many have links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovitch. Meanwhile, France and Russia have reached a deal in their dispute over France’s refusal to deliver promised warships after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, though it is not clear how much France will pay in compensation. Deutsche Welle has the details.

The Times has an interactive, graphic-heavy story on what, exactly, China has been building in the South China Sea. The report examines where islands are being constructed and how they’re being built, and provides time-lapse photography of the construction of one particular island.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the WikiLeaks revelations it’s: don’t hate the player, hate the game. The BBC informs us that recently published WikiLeaks documents reveal that the United States has been spying on Japanese cabinet officials, banks and companies, including Mitsubishi. The surveillance reportedly extends back at least eight years. Allegations of American spying on Japan come following similar reports that the U.S. government spied on Germany, France and Brazil, which like Japan, are all allies.

Patrick Tucker at Defense One notifies us that cyber-aided physical attacks on power plants and the like are a growing concern. In a recent Government Accountability Office report, U.S. Cyber Command officials warned that “a cyber-physical incident could result in a loss of utility service or the catastrophic destruction of utility infrastructure, such as an explosion,”

Facebook introduced its first unmanned connected solar-power drone on Thursday and was able to find “a way to vastly increase the capacity of the lasers that will eventually beam data between the drone network and the ground,” the New York Times says. The company’s goal is to provide internet to remote regions. The Wall Street Journal offers a short video on the project.

The U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford announced that an initial squadron of 10 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35B fighter jets are ready for combat, Reuters reveals. The announcement will make the Marines to first U.S. military service to declare an "initial operational capability" (IOC) of the F-35 fighter, which can take off from shorter runways and land like a helicopter.

The Hill reports that, in response to the recent Chattanooga shooting, Secretary of Defense Defense Ashton Carter has “signed a memo clarifying that commanders can arm qualified troops at recruiting and other off-base sites, and directing the military services to develop plans to improve security at those sites.” The plan is specifically targeted at recruiting that takes place outside of actual military bases.

The D.C. District Court held yesterday that despite President Obama’s statements that the U.S. war in Afghanistan has ended, the U.S. military may continue to detain Muktar Yahya Najee al Warafi, a Guantánamo Bay inmate accused of being a Taliban fighter. Under the laws of war, wartime prisoners must be released at the end of conflict, but the court ruled that “regardless of what Mr. Obama has said about the status of the war in Afghanistan, there continues to be fighting between the United States and the Taliban.” The Times has the details.

Parting shot: “It appears that all the players confronting ISIS are competing to see who can devise the most convoluted strategy to overcome the Islamic State.” So writes Karl Sharro of the Institute of Internet Diagrams, who has helpfully devised a board game to help map out various possibilities to defeat ISIS.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben and Zoe Bedell continued their study of whether Apple could be held liable under the civil terrorism remedies provision of the Antiterrorism Act. Then, they noted the criticism their piece has received.

Ben presented the newest edition of Rational Security, the "What Happens in Aspen" Edition.

Wells alerted us to is to the opinion on the end-of-war motion in the Muktar Yahya Najee al Warafi case.

Bruce Schneier argued that back doors won’t solve FBI Director James Comey's going dark problem.

Jeremy Shapiro described Ayman al Zawahiri’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

And finally, Aaron Zelin and J.M. Berger brought us an emergency Jihadology Podcast in which they discuss the confirmed death of Mullah Omar and what it could mean for the broader Islamic State - Al Qaeda war.

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