Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Monday, August 3, 2015, 2:09 PM

New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has called for Taliban unity in the wake of Mullah Omar’s death, the BBC reports: “division in our ranks will only please our enemies.” Mullah Mansour also appeared to dismiss burgeoning peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, declaring that “we will continue our jihad until the creation of an Islamic system.” Even so, the New York Times notes that Mansour reportedly approved the meeting between government and Taliban leaders that led to hopes for negogiations, and his statement did not rule out future talks. Before Mullah Omar was confirmed dead, statements released in his name had also supported the discussions. The Washington Post has more.

Despite his calls for a united front, Mullah Mansour still faces potential challenges to his leadership and serious divisions within the Taliban. Radio Free Europe writes that Mullah Omar’s family has stated that it does not support Mansour’s leadership and has not pledged allegiance to him. Some high-ranking Taliban members have instead expressed support for Omar’s son.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government has finally weighed in on Omar’s confirmed death and the leadership crisis currently roiling the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani released a statement declaring that the government will not accept the creation of any “parallel political structure”---a reference to the Taliban’s aspirations of governing Afghanistan---in peace talks. Dawn has the story.

Over at the Post, Carter Malkasian considers the Taliban’s future post-Omar. Either the movement will hold together despite the loss of Omar’s strong leadership, he writes, or it will dissolve into splinter groups---which would be good news for ISIS.

It seems Mullah Omar isn't the only Islamist leader whose passing has been recently proclaimed: anonymous Taliban sources report that the founder of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is also dead. He purportedly died of natural causes almost a year ago---though the news of his death appeared only last Friday, a day after the Taliban confirmed the death of Mullah Omar. Nevertheless, Radio Free Europe tells us that the Taliban has denied reports of Haqqani’s demise, releasing a statement that claims to quote Haqqani as mourning Omar.

Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Qatar today to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in an effort to assuage regional concerns over the possibility of a resurgent Iran. According to the AP, topics of discussion included continued U.S. security cooperation with the Gulf states and the development of a ballistic missile defense capabilities in the Gulf. The Times writes that, during the discussion with Secretary Kerry, GCC members seemed to place their cautious support behind the nuclear deal.

Before his trip to Doha, Secretary Kerry stopped in Cairo, resuming formal U.S.-Egypt strategic talks that were last held before the Arab Spring. While Kerry discussed security concerns and U.S.-Egyptian military collaboration, he also addressed Egypt’s growing climate of repression, urging Egyptian authorities to consider the interrelationship of human rights with a strong security policy. “Obviously,” Secretary Kerry said, according to the Post, “there has been a little bit of tension here and there” between Egypt and the United States “on certain issues.”

The question of repression and human rights also remains a topic of contention between the United States and Iran, nuclear deal or no. The Wall Street Journal examines the knotty problem posed by the billions of dollars in damages which U.S. courts have awarded to victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, and which Iran has refused to pay. The unfreezing of Iranian assets as part of the nuclear deal may bring this issue to new prominence as new potential sources of compensation payment become available.

But the Iranian government isn’t taking accusations over its human rights record lying down. The Guardian reports on a bizarre Iranian effort to discredit the U.N. special rapporteur investigating the country’s human rights record by distributing a fake Wikileaks cable, suggesting that the rapporteur was bribed by the Saudi government.

President Obama has authorized the United States to begin conducting airstrikes in defense of U.S.-trained Syrian rebel forces---ones fighting against other rebel groups as well as the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. As the Journal describes, the decision suggests that the United States may soon come into direct military confrontation with the Syrian government---a situation that the Pentagon has so far avoided.

The President announced his decision a few days after the Nusra Front kidnapped several leaders of the U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces. The al Qaeda-linked group has threatened to attack all U.S.-backed rebels within Syria, the Post writes.

A fighter jet belonging to the Syrian government has crashed in the rebel-held Syrian town of Ariha, killing nearly thirty people. The plane had dropped a bomb at the town’s center shortly before crashing.

Recently intensified Turkish efforts to close the porous Turkish-Syria border has led to problems for the stream of ISIS recruits entering Syria, who are finding it far more difficult to cross the Turkish border. Turkey’s increased border security is a component of Turkey’s new anti-ISIS (and anti-PKK) push, which was catalyzed by an ISIS-supported suicide bombing in the Turkish border town of Suruc, two weeks ago. The Post has the story.

Violence between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish PKK continues, with several Turkish troops killed and wounded in a PKK suicide attack near the Turkish border with Iran. Meanwhile, the Journal brings us news that the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has asked the PKK to withdraw from the region, arguing that Turkish airstrikes on the PKK are endangering Kurdish civilians.

The Journal also reports on the strange network of enmities and alliances between ISIS and various Kurdish groups. Though ISIS is fighting Kurds in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group has nevertheless been successful in recruiting Turkish Kurds---including the suicide bomber in Suruc.

A group that tracks coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq has released a report tallying a high number of civilian deaths in the continuing air campaign. The AP tells us that the group identified 57 strikes in which civilians were killed, with a total of 459 civilian deaths. For those interested, the report itself is available here.

The Daily Beast examines the role of defense contractors in the fight against ISIS. One company has negotiated a contract for a presence in Iraq through 2018---yet one more sign that those in the know doubt that the crisis in Iraq will end anytime soon.

In response to two recent acts of terror---a fatal stabbing at a gay pride parade and the arson of a West Bank home that killed a Palestinian toddler---numerous Israeli officials have proposed harsh new security measures. The Post tells us that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered authorities to employ “administrative detention” in dealing with suspects in such attacks. The latter is currently used only against Palestinian terrorist suspects, apparently.

The Nigerian army has successfully rescued 178 captives from Boko Haram, many of whom had been held by the extremist group for over a year. One Boko Haram commander was also captured.

The situation in Burundi continues to grow worse, with the assassination of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s former intelligence chief this Sunday. IOL News writes that the assassination may move the country closer to the brink of political and ethnic violence, a possibility that has concerned commentators since the beginning of President Nkurunziza’s campaign to remain in office for an unconstitutional third term.

India and Bangladesh have finally swapped their border enclaves, settling a dispute that reaches back to colonial times. The tiny pockets of land, located within one country's borders but controlled by its neighbor, have now been exchanged. The move is good news for the many individuals living within the enclaves, who were effectively stateless but have been allowed to choose either Indian or Bangladeshi citizenship. The Post has more.

NATO members are reporting surges in Russian airspace violations and instances where aircraft are scrambled to intercept foreign jets, the Guardian tells us. NATO aircraft were forced to conduct more than 500 scrambles over Europe in 2014 – a fourfold increase on the previous year. 85% of those incidents were aimed at intercepting Russian aircraft.

China’s island building in the South China Sea continues to face scrutiny. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is hosting an annual security dialogue beginning tomorrow, which is set to focus on concerns over China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea. Also expected to be among the issues discussed at the talks in Kuala Lumpur are Southeast Asia's human-trafficking problem and concerns over North Korean missile launches. The AFP has the details.

National security concerns have led China to restrict exports of high-performance drones and supercomputers, the BBC reports. In an official statement issued by China's Ministry of Commerce and its Customs Office, the new regulations cover drones that can stay airborne for longer than an hour, handle bad weather and reach altitudes of one mile, and limit the export of computer hardware that supports high-speed processing. New resctrictions in Beijing come soon after the U.S. hardened its restrictions on the computer hardware that firms can sell to China.

In a reversal of its original position, the United States has decided to retaliate against China for the OPM hack--- but, according to the Times, the government is now “struggling to decide what it can do without prompting an escalating cyber conflict.” According to one administration official, “One of the conclusions we’ve reached is that we need to be a bit more public about our responses, and one reason is deterrence.” The Justice Department is reportedly exploring legal action against Chinese individuals and organizations believed responsible for the OPM data breach.

Further straining the U.S.-China relationship, the Chinese government has demanded that the Obama administration return Ling Wancheng, a businessman with high-level connections to the Communist Party who fled to the United States. The Times notes that “should he seek political asylum, he could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic,” given Ling’s likely “treasure trove” of knowledge on Chinese government activities.

The Guardian examines the American Psychological Association’s divided response to a recent report describing the organization’s complicity in CIA torture. While some APA members believe that the report requires in-organization reforms, others have warned that proposed ethics changes represent a misguided,“politically motivated, anti-government and anti-military stance.”

Parting shot: Add your smartphone’s battery life to the list of ways you can be tracked. European security researchers have pointed out how information received by mobile sites on the state of a phone battery can essentially be used as an ID number, tracing the user’s path across the Internet.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Byman posted this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, on “The Limits of Counterterrorism.”

Aaron Zelin provided a statement from Ahrar al Sham: “Condolences on the Death of Mullah Omar.”

Jack explained what he sees as the United States’ feckless cyber deterrence policy.

Cody presented this week’s Lawfare Podcast, featuring a “mixtape” of interviews with Lisa Monaco, James Clapper, and Loretta Lynch from the the Aspen Security Forum.

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