Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Friday, August 28, 2015, 1:14 PM

More news has come in on the discovery, made yesterday, of a truck filled with bodies abandoned east of Vienna. Austrian authorities have now counted 71 bodies believed to be refugees seeking asylum in western Europe, likely including some Syrians. The New York Times reports that Austrian and Hungarian officials have arrested three people believed to be members of a vast Bulgarian-Hungarian human trafficking ring. As a flood of migrants has poured into Europe from countries wracked by economic turmoil and violent chaos, Europe has struggled to cope with the migration crisis and the rising levels of human smuggling that have come along with it.

The Wall Street Journal has more on Junaid Hussain, a U.K.-born ISIS hacker killed by a U.S. drone strike. Hussain’s death was an indication of “the extent to which digital warfare has upset the balance of power on the modern battlefield,” with his exploits in hacking and online recruitment apparently posing enough of a threat to lead the United States and United Kingdom to target him for killing by drone.

And speaking of Western-born extremist propagandists killed by drones, remember Anwar al Awlaki? Al Qaeda may have been eclipsed by ISIS, but Scott Shane argues in the New York Times Magazine that the radical preacher’s controversial death still has much to teach us about counterterrorism strategy.

Over at Defense One, Khalid Koser and Amy Cunningham of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund are ready to help revise that counterterrorism strategy, making the case that a coordinated international institution in countering violent extremism would be a great help in preventing radicalization. “Countering violent extremism,” or CVE, is a promising paradigm for addressing the underlying causes that lead to radicalization, but the lack of a coordinated policy program has proved to be a major deficit.

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy suggests that we may need CVE programs for a long time to come. Top U.S. officials, including General Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and outgoing Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, have indicated that the fight against ISIS may be one for the long term. The question is whether the United States is politically and militarily prepared to dig in for a 10- or 20-year campaign.

The two Iraqi generals killed in an ISIS suicide attack near Ramadi yesterday were targeted by car bombs built into U.S.-made Humvees, the Times writes. ISIS presumably captured the Humvees from the Iraqi army. The militant group has benefited greatly from seizures of U.S.-made equipment and ammunition provided to Iraq by the United States, using the materials to gain a tactical advantage over the very army that originally owned them.

According to a report issued by the Iraqi parliament, the military officer responsible for protecting Mosul was on vacation during the period leading up to ISIS’s capture of the city, despite repeated warnings. The Washington Post examines the report’s conclusions, which paint a picture of the Iraqi army as corrupt, disorganized, and not up to the challenge of facing off against highly disciplined ISIS forces.

The AP tells us that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has recommended the establishment of an independent panel to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. The panel would operate with investigative authority to enter the necessary regions of Syria and would have the ability to formally assign blame for the use of chemical weapons. Despite agreeing to give up al chemical weapons under an international agreement two years ago, the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad has been accused of routinely using chlorine gas in the battle to maintain control of the country.

Clashes between Turkish forces and and PKK militants have lead to the deaths of seven people in southeastern Turkey, Reuters reports. The fragile peace enjoyed by the region for several years has collapsed in the wake of renewed Turkish efforts to crack down on the PKK.

A new IAEA report indicates Iranian compliance with many aspects of the nuclear accords, the AP writes. But while levels of Iranian uranium enrichment and nuclear research and development appear consistent with the deal, the U.N. agency expressed concern over suspicious construction activity currently taking place at the Parchin military site. The latter, which is included within the supplementary IAEA-Iran agreement on investigations of possible locations of past nuclear weapons development, has been at the center of controversy over possible Iranian efforts to sanitize the site prior to investigation. The Journal has more.

Over at the Post, former Treasury officials Juan Zarate and Chip Poncy weigh in on the benefits of using financial power to constrain potential post-deal Iranian aggression. Their suggestion? An “economic constriction campaign” targeting Iranian sponsors of terrorism and other destabilizing activities in the region, in collaboration with the European Union. While nuclear sanctions will be lifted under the terms of the deal, terrorism-related sanctions need not be.

Fresh from seizing the southern port city of Aden, the Yemeni government will soon launch a campaign to retake the capital city Sanaa from Houthi control. Reuters writes that, according to Yemen’s foreign minister, the offensive is set to begin within two months. While the government has recently made some headway in its battle against the Houthis, recent instability in Aden has cast into question the ability of government forces to maintain security and control.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Saudi-led pro-government air campaign of using illegal cluster bombs in northwest Yemen---not the first time that the coalition has been accused of using indiscriminate tactics leading to unacceptable levels of civilian casualties. Yet the coalition’s spokesman denied use of the particular type of cluster bomb in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Protests continue in Beirut over the Lebanese government’s failure to solve the city’s growing garbage crisis. The “You Stink” movement has touched a nerve among Lebanese citizens fed up with a government that many see as dysfunctional and corrupt. The Times has the story.

Less than a day after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir finally signed a peace deal to bring an end to the country’s year-long civil war, both rebels and the South Sudanese army are accusing each other of violating the terms of the permanent ceasefire. Reuters reports on the dispute, which centers on whether rebels or government troops began a firefight in two rebel-held towns.

After reports of a young Ghanaian man’s recruitment by ISIS, Ghana is investigating concerns of ISIS recruiters targeting university students, the BBC tells us. Despite its geographical closeness to Nigeria, which has been battered by the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram insurgency, Ghana had until now remained distant from the threat of extremism.

The international coalition fighting against ISIS may soon include Uzbekistan, Radio Free Europe indicates. The United States has invited the country to participate in anti-ISIS efforts “in any way it sees fit”---possibly including intelligence gathering and squeezing ISIS finances as well as, or instead of, military operations. Uzbekistan has recently struggled with the rise of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a radical group that has allied itself with ISIS and has crossed the border into Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has launched airstrikes to retake the Afghan district of Musa Qala from Taliban control, CNN reports. Control of the district continues to change hands: long a Taliban stronghold, it fell under government control only to be seized by the Taliban again in recent days. The Afghan military is participating in the efforts. Meanwhile, Afghan forces successfully drove the Taliban out of the northern district of Kohistanat under the leadership of Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, Pajhwok writes.

For those of you confused over the ongoing Taliban power struggle in the wake of Mullah Omar’s confirmed death, Radio Free Europe has a helpful diagram.

India and Pakistan exchanged fire across their shared border, killing as many as 11 people, including several civilians. Reuters reminds us that the exchange took place on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war between the two countries over control of Kashmir. On that note, Dawn writes that Pakistani officials have apparently been briefed that India is the only external threat faced by the country.

As tensions between Russia and the West remain high, NATO continues to readjust itself to the new political and military reality in Eastern Europe. Defense One tells us that NATO forces are preparing for what may be the organization’s most complex military drill since the Cold War, involving an “ambitious” range of hybrid combat scenarios. Meanwhile, the Journal reports that NATO has opened a new joint training base in Georgia, a non-NATO member, in what Georgia hopes will deter further Russian aggression and which the Kremlin has already deemed to be a “destabilizing factor.”

With NATO increasing its presence along the Russian border and stepping up its military drills, Russia is also doing its best to display its military might---but the flailing economy has thrown a wrench in the works. President Vladimir Putin’s goals of revitalizing the armed forces and the Russian defense sector aside, government defense and security firms are trying to reduce their expenditures, and a weakened ruble can only stretch so far. The Journal has more.

Bloomberg reports that the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed a lower court's judgment this morning in Obama v. Klayman, though the appeals court allowed the case to go forward. In 2013, a U.S. district court granted a bid by activist Larry Klayman and others for a preliminary injunction, but stayed that relief pending appeal.

German newspaper Die Zeit reports that Germany’s national intelligence agency provided information on German citizens to the NSA in exchange for access to XKEYSCORE, a powerful surveillance software used by the Agency to “query large databases of emails, browsing histories, online chats and webcam photos.” According to the paper, the agreement occurred with little to no political oversight by the German government and may have violated German law. Whether German political channels were involved or not, the revelation will likely add fuel to the growing firestorm surrounding German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of NSA spying in Germany.

The Associated Press filed suit against the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday, objecting to the FBI’s failure to provide records related to the Bureau’s decision to send a fake article to a 15-year-old who was suspected of making bomb threats. The fake story, which impersonated the Associated Press, allowed the FBI to compromise the suspect's computer, revealing his location and Internet address. The AP’s FOIA request aims to determine how many times since 2000 that the Bureau has impersonated a media organization in order to deliver malicious software.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is expected to announce the next step in his ambitions campaign to harness the power of Silicon Valley for defense sector innovation today, this time providing funding for a new research institute that will be run by Flextech Alliance, a public-private consortium that aims to invent and improve flexible electronics. According to Defense One, the Pentagon will contribute $75 million while 96 private companies and 11 labs and universities will contribute $90 million over the next five years.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reports that, perhaps as a result of ongoing political difficulties, the Obama administration is now considering “building a ‘Guantanamo North’ from scratch” instead of relocating detainees to already existing high-security prisons. Major General Michael Lehnert, the general tasked with construction the detention facility in 2002, told the Herald that while anything is possible, “he simply find[s] it hard to believe there isn’t a prison in this country to incarcerate the bad actors.”

Parting shot: “Guantanamo North” may very well be on the way, but the Onion brings us news that the current detention camp has broke ground on a new and potentially needed “geriatric care wing.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Nicholas Weaver responded to Ben’s hard questions on encryption with a “Tale of Three Backdoors.”

Wells pondered the future of public-sector cybersecurity standards after the Third Circuit’s decision in FTC v. Wyndham.

Bobby alerted us to a new ISIS material support case involving individuals within the United States.

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