Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 1:42 PM

Turkey and the United States have reached an agreement to conduct a joint “comprehensive” air campaign against ISIS, or so one side says. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced yesterday in an interview with Reuters that negotiations between the two countries had concluded on a plan to clear ISIS from a strip along the Turkey-Syria border, which may also involve the collaboration of the United Kingdom, France, and Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. Yet Reuters also reported that, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, negotiations between the U.S. and Turkey are continuing and no agreement has yet been reached.

Elsewhere, McClatchy brings us the unsettling news that Turkey may have had a hand in the recent kidnapping of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels by the al Nusra Front. An officer of “Division 30,” the U.S.-backed rebel force, told McClatchy that Turkish intelligence leaked plans of the group’s attack to Nusra fighters, who were then quickly able to capture many of the division’s soldiers. While unconfirmed, Turkey may have leaked the plans out of fear that Division 30’s forces would target not only ISIS but other extremist groups that have worked with Turkey to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, including the al Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham.

Speaking of Ahrar al Sham, the New York Times reports on the strategic problem posed by the militant Islamist “Free Men of Syria.” Despite its radical leanings, the group has sought to position itself as a viable ally for the West in the fight against both ISIS and the Assad regime. Yet Ahrar al Sham’s close ties to the al Nusra Front has left the United States leery of any potential cooperation. For more background, see Charles Lister’s piece in Lawfare from early July.

Inside Turkey, the turmoil continues: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for snap elections to resolve the country’s political unrest. Opposition parties have accused the president of using the election simply to consolidate his power after his party’s recent losses---especially given the widespread sense that Erdogan has leveraged, and perhaps even initiated, the anti-ISIS and -PKK campaign for his own political advantage. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

In the wake of this weekend’s foiled attack by a suspected ISIS sympathizer on a high-speed French train, Spain and Morocco have arrested 14 people for involvement with an ISIS recruiting network. The attacker on the train, Ayoub El Khazzani, is a Moroccan citizen who had lived in Spain and been identified by Spanish authorities as a security risk. According to the Journal, while European security efforts have increased in the wake of last year’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, the train incident may spearhead a renewed push for increased security across the continent.

In an apparent first, the Daily Beast brings us news of a Minnesota court’s efforts to rehabilitate an ISIS recruit through a deradicalization program that “resembles a high-school civics class.” Abdullahi Yusuf, who was arrested for attempting to join ISIS at age 18, must routinely meet with a civics group called Heartland Democracy and read texts by authors such as Richard Wright and Sherman Alexie. The group previously had no experience dealing with extremism, but given the sheer volume of ISIS recruits who are now being funneled through the judicial system, this new kind of rehab may be the wave of the future.

News broke this weekend that ISIS had destroyed the ancient Temple of Baalshamin, previously one of the best-preserved ruins in Palmyra, Syria. Now, the BBC writes that ISIS has released what it says to be images of the temple’s detonation. The New York Times reports that ISIS may be picking up the pace in its staggering campaign of archaeological destruction, causing an irreversible loss to world history.

Members of the U.N. Security Council heard testimony on ISIS’s crimes against gay individuals, in the first Security Council meeting on anti-LGBT violence. The Guardian reports on the meeting and tells us that ISIS has reportedly executed at least 30 people for sodomy.

The AP updates us on the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Airstrikes intensified yesterday as part of coalition efforts to push north toward the Houthi-held capital city of Sanaa. Despite the Yemeni government’s assurances that the port city of Aden is now firmly under its control, AQAP fighters reportedly remain in small but strategically important pockets within the city.

Airstrikes conducted by the Afghan intelligence agency killed the leader of Jundullah, an extremist insurgent group with ties to the Taliban. Meanwhile, three men planning to conduct a suicide attack against Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum have been arrested, Pajhwok News tells us. Recently, Dostum has been at the head of efforts to pacify insurgency in the north of Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army has reopened a criminal inquiry into a series of civilian deaths between 2012 and 2013, which Afghan military investigators previously concluded were the responsibility of an Army Special Forces team. Earlier non-criminal military investigations had cleared the team of blame, and a military investigation was opened and then quickly closed in 2013. The Times reminds us of the controversy, which centered on an Afghan interpreter who claimed that the Special Forces team tortured and killed several detainees.

As the day nears when Congress will return to session and begin debate on the nuclear deal with Iran, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is aggressively whipping Democrats to support the accord, the Hill writes. And on a similar note, Politico examines President Obama’s description of those who oppose the agreement as “the crazies.”

Many French politicians may be among those “crazies,” the Journal notes. Even after participating in negotiations with Iran, France appears less than enthused over the prospects of the deal---though not particularly willing to torpedo it, either. Jacques Audibert, French President Francois Hollande’s senior national security advisor, has even contradicted Secretary of State John Kerry by suggesting that a “no” vote on behalf of Congress might not be a diplomatic end-of-the-world moment.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano has stated that the organization requires up to $10.6 million in additional funding if it is to meaningfully monitor Iranian compliance in the nuclear accord. According to Reuters, Amano also announced that Iran has provided “substantive” information on the past military dimensions of its nuclear sites, though it is not yet clear whether this information is new.

Last week, rockets crossed from Syria into Israel over the Golan Heights. Now, Politico reports that Israel has filed formal complaints with P5+1 members, blaming Iran for the “indiscriminate and premeditated terrorist attack.” Israeli officials placed responsibility for the rocket fire on the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and suggested that the attack was coordinated by the head of the Palestinian unit of Iran’s Quds Force. While the officials who filed the complaints maintain that the attack was a serious incident, critics argue that the complaints are a diplomatic sideshow intended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undermine U.S. support for the nuclear deal.

After a meeting in Berlin with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel called for peace talks with the Kremlin over the continuing crisis in Ukraine. Violence in Ukraine has increased in recent weeks despite an ostensible ceasefire.

As tensions with Russia remain high, the United States will soon deploy F-22 fighter jets to Europe as part of an increase in NATO forces on the continent. “For the Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin,” Air Force secretary Deborah James said. The EU Observer has the story.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is expected to soon sign a peace deal, the Sudan Tribune writes. Mediators hope that the agreement will calm the young country’s violent year-long conflict.

In northeast Nigeria, a young girl killed five and injured over 20 in a suicide bombing attack. The bombing matches the pattern of recent Boko Haram attacks in the area, though the militant group has not yet taken responsibility. Reuters has the details.

North and South Korea have reached a tentative agreement to defuse their recent standoff. The Post tells us that according to the terms of the agreement, South Korea will cease broadcasting propaganda across the border and North Korea will “express regret”---but not apologize---for the injuries of two South Korean soldiers in a land-mine explosion. The Journal suggests that Pyongyang is sticking to a familiar playbook: attack, escalation, resolution through diplomatic dialogue… and repeat.

Bloomberg reports that the United States is hoping to expand the use of a mutually-agreed-upon code of conduct with China for maritime encounters. The code, which aims to avoid flare-ups of tension during unexpected U.S.-China encounters by setting out a standard method of interaction, is currently in use with the Chinese Navy and may soon be expanded to include the Chinese coast guard as well.

The Chinese economy continues to tumble, with Asian markets facing another day of volatility. Already, the Journal reports that the Chinese stock market has lost more than $1 trillion USD in value as its main stock index has plummeted 22 percent over the last four days. However, the Journal also shares that U.S. stocks are so far up today, after China’s central bank cut interest rates and reduced bank-reserve requirements, effectively adding roughly $105.7 billion USD to the Chinese economy. The Times examines how a possible Chinese economic slowdown might exacerbate the international problems posed by low oil prices. Across the world, oil exporters including Iraq and Russia are facing potential political instability from the extended drop in prices.

Defense One weighs in on Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) proposal to mandate “geofencing,” software that would keep commercial drones away from aircraft and other manmade flying objects. Despite Schumer’s optimistic announcement, geofencing software is highly vulnerable to hacking that can undo its intended effects.

And the drone coverage continues over at Defense One, with a study of the bureaucratic tangles and inter-branch politics behind the question of just who flies the United States’ unmanned aerial vehicles. While the Army and Navy originally shot down the Air Force’s proposal to oversee all drone flights, it’s now looking like consolidated Air Force management of the ever-increasing U.S. drone fleet might be a good idea. The question, of course, is whether military politics have changed enough to allow it.

A New York Federal District Court ruled yesterday that the Palestinian Authority must post a bond of $10 million, as well as an additional monthly $1 million, in order to appeal an enormous damages award to U.S. victims of terror attacks in which the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization were found liable. The bond amount is equivalent to that which lawyers for the Palestinian Authority stated the organization could pay without damaging the Palestinian government. The Times has more.

The Guardian reports that, out of the remaining 116 prisoners detained at Guantanamo, only three were captured by U.S. forces. The other 113 were instead apprehended by Afghan and Pakistani security forces, spies, and warlords, as well as countries across North and East Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia.

Remember the more than 10,000 .mil addresses alleged to have been found in the Ashley Madison files, addresses which Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the Pentagon would be “looking into?” It now looks like military officials are in no rush to get to the bottom of the hack and there are no plans to “launch a military-wide manhunt for cheating spouses.” Shane Harris of the Daily Beast shares the news.

The Defense Department’s lumbering pace is too slow to keep up with the growing cyber threat, or so argues Major General Daniel Schoeni of the Air Force JAGs, over at Defense One. The Pentagon’s top-down approach to software acquisitions has delayed much-needed improvements in cybersecurity, he says---which is especially worrying given DOD’s attractiveness as a potential target for cyberattack.

The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the Federal Trade Commission can sue companies that fail to provide their customers with reasonable protections against theft of online data, reports the Wall Street Journal. The ruling will allow the FTC to proceed with a lawsuit against Wyndham Worldwide Corp, which it argues bears responsibility for the theft of more than 619,000 credit card numbers over three breaches from 2008 to 2010.

Parting shot: Since his revelations of NSA procedures and practices, Edward Snowden has received a number of awards and honors, but perhaps none higher than this: a German researcher has named a new species of crayfish after the former NSA contractor.

ICYMI:Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells alerted us to a new article by Sean Mirski on China’s defense of its jurisdiction over the South China Sea.

Michael Paradis considered the recent political flashpoint of birthright citizenship, and weighed in on how the history of the debate ties into national security.

Yishai argued that the IAEA-Iran agreement on inspection of the Parchin military site may set a dangerous precedent for negotiations with Iran.

Wells let us know of the important Third Circuit decision endorsing the FTC’s ability to sue companies over security breaches.

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