Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 1:13 PM

A senior Hezbollah operative suspected of involvement in the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military complex in Saudi Arabia has been arrested and is currently in Saudi custody. A U.S. court indicted Ahmad Ibrahim al Mughassil in 2001 for his role in the bombing of Khobar Towers, which wounded over 500 people and killed 19 U.S. servicemembers. As Mughassil is a Saudi citizen, the United States will likely not seek to extradite him from Saudi Arabia, and it is unclear if U.S. intelligence officials will be allowed to interview him. The Washington Post has the story.

There’s a war on against ISIS, but even the Pentagon might not have a sense of whether it's succeeding. So says the New York Times, which brings us news that military officials may have reworked intelligence assessments of the anti-ISIS campaign to cast U.S. efforts in a more positive light. An investigation is currently underway by the Pentagon’s inspector general. The Times suggests that the alleged skewing of assessments may be responsible for mixed or even contradictory reports on the success of anti-ISIS activities from within the Obama administration.

Turkey and the United States have ironed out the final details in their agreement to jointly conduct an air campaign against ISIS, the Wall Street Journal reports. Turkish forces will be integrated into the current U.S. campaign, though it may take several days for joint airstrikes to begin. Al Jazeera describes the “diplomatic saga” of mixed messages that finally led to the agreement, pointing to the apparent lack of communication between the allies over what the deal included and even whether it had been reached. Even though Turkish and U.S. forces will be working together, the question remains “what a joint military operation would entail and even what its goals should be.”

Within Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political troubles continue. In what many see as a move to bolster his own political fortunes, Erdogan has seized the anti-ISIS momentum to spearhead a renewed military campaign against the Kurdish PKK, but now angry Turks have begun protesting the campaign at funerals for slain Turkish soldiers. Politico has the story.

Doctors Without Borders and a Syrian medical and aid organization have both accused ISIS of using chemical weapons in an attack on a northern Syrian village last week. Testimony from doctors affiliated with the organizations appears to confirm reports of ISIS’s use of mustard gas and possibly other chemical agents as well, the Post writes.

Airstrikes conducted near Damascus by the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad---from whom ISIS might have obtained its chemical weapons---have killed nearly 250 people over the last 10 days, Reuters tells us. The strikes may be part of an intensified campaign on the part of the Assad government, which many feel may be nearing its hour of reckoning. Nevertheless, the regime is doing its best to maintain a sense of normalcy within the cities it still controls. And an interview yesterday with Hezbollah’s television network, President Assad stated that he has “strong confidence” that the Kremlin will continue to support him.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Peshmerga fighters have launched an aggressive campaign against ISIS’s presence in the northern province of Kirkuk. Rudaw reports that, aided by U.S. airstrikes, the Peshmerga have pushed ISIS forces into retreat across the province.

Gunmen killed two police officers in Egypt’s northeastern Sinai Peninsula, the AP writes. In recent months the peninsula has increasingly become the site of an insurgency headed by the ISIS-affiliated group Sinai Province, many of whose attacks have been directed against the Egyptian police.

ISIS has acquired its first known Ghanaian recruit. Though nearby Nigeria has been plagued by the extremist Boko Haram insurgency, which is now associated with ISIS, Ghana had previously been relatively unscathed by Islamist extremism. The BBC has more.

This morning, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir finally signed an internationally-sponsored peace agreement that negotiators hope may finally bring calm to the wartorn, young country. Al Jazeera reports that Kiir had previously delayed signing the deal for a week after it was agreed to by his rebel counterpart. The U.N. recently promised to implement harsh sanctions on South Sudanese officials if Kiir declined to support the agreement.

Hezbollah has aligned itself with mass protests in Beirut against the Lebanese government’s failure to provide trash cleanup and other basic services. The “You Stink” protests have led to police clashes in recent days as Lebanon’s paralyzed government has repeatedly failed to solve the growing trash crisis. While “You Stink” has drawn wide support, the AP writes that Hezbollah’s announcement may “fuel concerns the Iranian-backed group will try to hijack a rare, non-political movement for its own political gain.”

On Monday, U.A.E. forces rescued a U.K. oil worker held hostage in Yemen by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Now, according to AFP, AQAP is saying that it had nothing to do with the hostage. Who was holding him instead remains anyone’s guess.

An armed raid on a Red Cross office has led the organization to suspend its humanitarian operation in the Yemeni port city of Aden, the Times tells us. Though the Yemeni government recently recovered control of the city, the area remains unstable, with militants retaining pockets of control. The Red Cross’s temporary withdrawal from Aden may affect up to a million people in the surrounding region, worsening Yemen’s already dire humanitarian crisis.

With Yemen being only one of many humanitarian crises roiling the region, Europe continues its struggle to figure out what to do with the flood of asylum-seekers entering its borders. A new U.N. report indicates that roughly 3,000 migrants a day will pass through the Balkans while attempting to enter Europe over the next few months. Yet anti-immigrant violence is also on the rise, particularly within Germany. The Times has more.

French prosecutors have levied charges of “attempted murder with terrorist intent” against the would-be attacker who was subdued on a French train this past Friday. Ayoub El Khazzani, a Moroccan citizen, reportedly maintained that he discovered his cache of weapons in a park and had only intended to rob the train. But Al Jazeera tells us that prosecutors pointed to evidence of the terroristic nature of his planned attack, including Khazzani’s earlier trip to Syria and an extremist video that he watched on his phone shortly before the attack.

Internal battles over the Taliban’s leadership appear not to have quieted down in recent weeks. The Express Tribune brings us news that, according to the brother of the deceased Mullah Omar, Mullah Mansour may be on the point of issuing an edict against those who have declined to support his leadership---an action that would surely only deepen the cracks in the Taliban's upper ranks. Instead, Omar’s brother suggested that Mansour would do well to listen to the advice of the religious leaders who have gathered to discuss the Taliban succession crisis.

It’s a busy day for brothers of noted Afghan extremists. According to Radio Free Europe, the United States has added the brother of the Haqqani Network’s leader to the list of “specially designated global terrorists."The leader himself was already listed.

A pair of men wearing Afghan security force uniforms shot and killed two NATO service members in an Afghan military base, before being killed themselves. The AP writes that this may be the third “insider attack” by Afghan soldiers on international forces this year. The attack, which occurred in Helmand province, took place at the same time as the Taliban successfully recaptured another district within the province.

Rallies in the Indian state of Gujarat turned violent on Wednesday, as members of the Gujarati Patel community protested government policies aimed at benefiting historically disadvantaged groups. Patels are typically prosperous but are now complaining that they are disproportionately shut out from college placement and government jobs. The BBC tells us that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the former leader of Gujarat, has called for calm.

Politico takes a look at the new face of agitprop in Putin’s Russia. Russia Today (or RT, as it’s known) “mixes and matches straight news with flippant falsehood, keeping viewers off-balance, keeping audiences muddled and confused and unsure of their footing”---all in all, an unsettlingly effective method of disseminating state propaganda.

Fresh on the heels of the recent standoff between North and South Korea, the Journal examines a recent report on the political situation in Pyongyang. According to North Korean refugees, Kim Jong Un has likely maintained a high level of political support despite the isolated country’s economic woes.

Amidst concerns over China’s island-building projects in the South China Sea, U.S. regional allies are calling for greater military cooperation with the Pentagon. According to the AP, the Philippines now seeks the presence of U.S. patrol plans to prevent Chinese incursion on resupply missions to Filipino reefs in the disputed territory. Meanwhile, the Australian military will soon release a strategic plan to “broaden and deepen” its U.S. alliance to offset Chinese aggressiveness, the Journal reports.

The Journal also writes that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asked the United States to investigate claims of NSA spying on Japanese officials and companies. Wikileaks documents recently posted online pointed to past NSA activity in Japan, though President Obama reportedly reassured Abe that no such operations are currently taking place. Nevertheless, Abe stated that Japan’s close relationship with the United States might be damaged if the allegations prove to be true.

The bill is in for damage control over the OPM hack, and Defense One explains that it’s not going to be cheap. Under OPM procedure, federal agencies must submit proposals and pay out of pocket for protection services to victims of the data breach. The Pentagon’s plan required a payment of $132 million, a whopping 40% of which will be drawn from the Army’s budget.

Finally, Foreign Policy studies the United Nation’s failing oversight process, which has recently come into the crosshairs with reports of rape and other abuses conducted by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The U.N. Investigations Division is a “disgruntled and disillusioned” organization plagued by mismanagement, incompetence, and a fatal lack of independence from the very same U.N. programs that it’s meant to be monitoring. The head of the division will leave her post in early September, in what may---or may not---be an opportunity for much-needed reform.

Parting shot: As water recedes in drought-scorched Poland, long-buried remnants of World War II are resurfacing across the country. Take a look at this video of firefighters excavating a Soviet fighter jet---and the remains of its two crewmembers---from the bottom of a riverbed.

ICYMI:Yesterday, on Lawfare

Thomas Grant examined the role that international law should play in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Cody argued against suggestions that Congress should bolster the nuclear deal with a conditional AUMF against Iran.

Steve Slick considered why Congress should hold back from legislating on the proposed Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC).

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