Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, August 27, 2015, 1:00 PM

The United States has confirmed that Junaid Hussain, an ISIS recruiter and hacker, was killed Tuesday in a targeted U.S. airstrike. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hussain was instrumental in ISIS’s online recruitment campaign of “lone wolves” within the United States and would often attempt to goad potential recruits into attacking U.S. servicemembers. As a U.K. citizen, Hussain’s death in a targeted airstrike is somewhat unusual: the Journal indicates that U.K. and U.S. authorities collaborated in identifying him as a legitimate target and in sharing intelligence on his whereabouts. A recent U.K. news report suggested that Hussain had been third on the United States’ list of ISIS leaders to be targeted, but Reuters tells us that U.S. officials denied this.

Speaking of ISIS recruitment, the Journal has put together an informative graphic of “Jihadi Trails”: the various paths taken by some high-profile ISIS recruits to join the militant group in Syria. And the investigative organization Bellingcat has released a new report on the foreign fighters who travel to Syria not to join ISIS, but to fight against it.

Over at the Daily Beast, Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef update us on the recent news that military officials may have been skewing reports of the anti-ISIS campaign in the United States’ favor. Pentagon high-ups have pushed intelligence analysts to present an overly sunny view of the military campaign, either through direct requests to rewrite reports or by creating an environment where self-censorship is encouraged. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, described the situation as the “politicization of the intelligence community.”

Earlier this week, McClatchy reported that Turkish officials may have fed al Nusra Front militants information that allowed the extremist group to kidnap members of the U.S.-trained Division 30 forces. Now, the publication tells us that Turkey has denied the allegations. The office of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan released a statement emphasizing Turkey’s backing of the U.S. program to train Syrian rebels and its view of the al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, with which it does not collaborate.

A car bomb in southern Turkey has killed the commander of a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel organization. No group has yet claimed responsibility, though the Journal writes that a Turkish official tentatively attributed the incident to “internal strife among the rebel groups inside Syria.” The attack is one of several recent cases in which violence within Syria has spilled across the Turkish border, leading to Turkey’s desire to create a “buffer zone” along the border with Syria.

And speaking of that buffer zone…. ISIS has seized new ground in the border region that Turkey hopes to clear of militants, Reuters reports. The militant group began an offensive in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, along the Turkish border, and has captured several villages that were recently held by the al Nusra Front and transferred to control of other Syrian rebel groups.

But Turkey’s woes may stretch far beyond the violent and porous Syrian border: according to the Bangkok Post, Thai police are now investigating 20 Turkish citizens as suspects in the recent bombing of a popular Bangkok shrine. Weeks before the bombing, Turkish protesters linked to an extremist group attacked the Thai embassy in Istanbul in protests of Thailand’s decision to deport over 100 Uighur Muslims to China.

In the New York Times, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman argues that U.S.-Turkey collaboration in the fight against ISIS may be a dangerous misstep: although the two countries share short-term goals, their long-term visions for the future of the region are radically different. And at Defense One, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations points out that the United States’ use of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to conduct strikes against ISIS has yet to spearhead any serious strategic developments in the anti-ISIS fight.

An ISIS suicide bomb north of Ramadi killed two Iraqi generals yesterday. The AP reports on the attack, which took place in the midst of an ongoing Iraqi offensive to regain control of Iraq’s Anbar province from ISIS forces. While the offensive has been underway since July, only “modest progress” has been made.

Al Jazeera examines the paradoxical regulations that restrict U.S. military aid from organizations guilty of human rights abuses. While the so-called “Leahy law” might sound good on paper, it has proven difficult to implement consistently. The end result is that the United States continues to supply military aid to the increasingly repressive government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, while holding back aid from the Nigerian military---a decision which, argues Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, has actually worsened the environment for human rights within Nigeria by preventing the government from cracking down on the Boko Haram insurgency.

Al Shabaab militants attacked a government convoy in Somalia on Wednesday, killing at least seven people. The attack took place near Somalia’s border with Kenya, which has struggled to protect itself from violence within Somalia. Reuters has more.

Reuters also tells us that the United Nations may be close to negotiating an end to the rivalry between Libya’s two warring parliaments. According to U.N. special envoy, the two parliaments may be ready to reach an agreement as soon as September 10th. Discord between the governments has allowed chaos in Libya to spiral into a country-wide power vacuum, leading to a rise in prominence for militant groups within the region.

The Yemeni government has indicated that it will not negotiate with the Houthi rebels who have captured much of the country’s territory, the AP writes. Only after the Houthis surrender will government forces be willing to initiate “dialogue and political process with the participation of all Yemeni parties.”

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Air Force attacked a Hamas weapons production site in the Gaza Strip, in response to a rocket launched from Gaza early this morning. The rocket exploded nearby Gaza without incurring any casualties. Following last summer’s war in Gaza, the region has recently experienced relative calm.

The AP brings us news that, according to a group of Toronto researchers, a sophisticated hacking scheme targeting Iranian dissidents traces back to within Iran, presumably to the Iranian government. The setup relied on a phishing scheme to get around Google’s two-step verification process for logging into Gmail accounts, in what the researchers suggest may be one of the first uses of such a system by politically motivated hackers.

Politico gives us the updated whip count for the Senate’s vote on the nuclear deal with Iran. With 29 Senate Democrats committed to voting in favor of the deal out of the 34 needed to uphold the president’s veto of a congressional measure against the deal, the administration is now gunning for extra votes to cut that measure off at the pass: a filibuster-proof 41 Senators. Meanwhile, Dennis Ross and General David Petraeus argue in the Post that meaningful military deterrence is the key to a smooth implementation of the deal.

Speaking of nuclear weapons, the Post also reports on Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal. The country may be building up to 20 nuclear weapons annually and may have as many as 250 weapons within ten years, which would give it the third-biggest nuclear stockpile in the world after the United States and Russia. Pakistani analysts suggest that this estimate may be overblown, though they do acknowledge that the country is focused on expanding its arsenal due to fears of growing Indian nuclear capability.

The Taliban has successfully captured the Afghan district of Musa Qala in Helmand province, Radio Free Europe writes. The area has long been a Taliban stronghold but recently had come under control of Afghan government forces, and its loss is one of numerous recent setbacks to the Afghan government.

Ukraine has reached an agreement with many of its creditors to restructure its foreign debt. The Times examines the deal, which would allow Ukraine to significantly reduce its debt and delay some repayments for up to five years. All in all, the agreement is a promising one for the wartorn and economically struggling country---though the question remains whether Russia, which is one of Ukraine’s major creditors, will participate.

The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists have committed to finally implementing a ceasefire beginning September 1st. For those keeping track, this is the same ceasefire that formally began last February, and which has been systematically violated by both sides since then. But only hours later, the Ukrainian government stated that several of its soldiers had been killed in fighting near the eastern cities of Donetsk and Mariupol.

Beginning in mid-2016, Poland will store heavy U.S. military equipment, Reuters reports. The decision marks a continuation of U.S. efforts to reassure its Eastern European allies concerned over a newly aggressive Russia, and will be the first time that the United States has stored heavy equipment in NATO members from the former Soviet bloc.

Europe’s migrant crisis continues to worsen, with reports of boats stranded in the Mediterranean and the discovery of up to 50 bodies, believed to be migrants, found in a truck along an Austrian highway east of Vienna. In an incident of sickening irony, the discovery coincided with a conference in Vienna on the topic of finding a solution to the crisis; the meeting was attended by German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and regional leaders from the Balkans. The Times has the story.

Defense One brings us a trio of stories on cybersecurity. One: in response to the recent hacking of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s computer network, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has declared that the Pentagon’s cybersecurity measures are in serious need of an update, and hopes to find help from Silicon Valley. Two: the Army will soon begin funneling soldiers into a yearlong cyber training program, which it hopes will produce a new crop of “cyber operations specialists.” The program is designed to shore up the low numbers of qualified cybersecurity professionals currently working for the Army at a time when demand far outstrips supply.

And three: with the Senate soon gearing up to return to session, it’s time to start thinking again about the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. Defense One takes a look at the 22 new amendments added to the bill, which range from OPM security to defining what constitutes a cyber threat.

Parting shot: Sure, we’re all aware of the game of sanctions and counter-sanctions currently being played by Russia and its Western rivals, but just how up-to-date are you on the Kremlin’s most recent anti-Western programs? Take this Guardian quiz and find out.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

David Lake studied the feasibility of suggestions for an Israel-Palestine confederation.

Paul examined the Third Circuit’s decision in FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp.

Bruce Reidel let us know that Saudi forces have captured Ahmed al Mughassil, the mastermind behind the 1996 Khobar Towers attack.

Cody gave us a rundown of the Pentagon’s recently released Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy document.

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