Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 2:09 PM

The nuclear accord with Iran will stand.

On the heels of yesterday's endorsements of the JCPOA with Iran by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has announced her intention to also support the Iran nuclear deal reached by the P5+1 in July. In a statement, Mikulski said that she had concluded that this deal “is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb.”

Mikulski, as the 34th Senate vote in support of the deal, assures that President Barack Obama will have the necessary support to sustain his veto of a future resolution of disapproval, should one be passed by Congress when it takes the deal up for debate later this month. The Wall Street Journal provides an updated whip count, displaying where each member of the House and Senate stand on the agreement. President Obama will now likely attempt to get enough Democratic support to filibuster a resolution of disapproval.

Yet just in case there was any confusion, Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times shares that the United States remains the “Great Satan” in Iran, at least to hardliners anyway. Although “Death to America” graffitti has been removed from the walls of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, hardliners like Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, still have criticized Iranians advocating for greater ties with the West. In a speech before the Assembly of Experts, Jafari said Iran should not be “cheated by the new slogans” of America. The remarks came as police officers inside Iran’s capital caught distributors selling clothing featuring American flags and British Union Jacks.

The CIA and U.S. special forces have launched a new secret campaign to hunt Islamic State leaders in Syria as part of a targeted killing program distinct from the broader U.S. military campaign against ISIS, reports the Washington Post. The campaign is responsible for several recent strikes, including the killing of high-profile British militant Junaid Hussain. Officials indicated that while the move may complicate Obama’s plan to shift to drone program to the Department of Defense, the new approach allows the CIA to remain involved in “finding and fixing” terrorist targets while leaving it up to JSOC to “finish” the target. The Post has more, including that the model is increasingly seen as one that could be deployed in future conflicts.

If reports from the Daily Beast are accurate, the United States may not be the only foreign actor boosting its activities in Syria. Michael Weiss indicates that a “flurry of reports” have shown that Russia is expanding its role in the conflict, providing more weapons to Syrian forces, and perhaps even preparing to fly missions alongside the Syrian air force. More on that, including curious silence at the Pentagon, here.

Turkish warplanes pounded PKK positions in Turkey today, with state media claiming that 20 militants had been killed. Reuters has the story. According to the BBC, 18 Turkish construction workers were kidnapped by unknown militants in Baghdad.

Al Jazeera shares more information on the arrests of three Vice News journalists. Apparently, they were charged because one of the men was using an encryption service often used by ISIS militants, at least that’s the story from a senior Turkish press official. The three men have been charged with “engaging in terrorist activity.” But foreign journalists are not the only victims of the Turkish government’s latest crackdown: the Guardian reports that the Ankara-based offices of a media group critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been raided and six people arrested for “providing financial support to and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The State Department called on Turkey to “uphold universal democratic values” including “freedom of the press, due process and access to media information.”

In Yemen, two Red Cross employees were killed by an unknown attacker today, according to the international aid group. The motive for the attack remains unclear.

Elsewhere, the BBC asks if the war in Yemen has simply handed over the port city of Aden to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State. According to the British news agency, with no effective policing or government control, “the once tranquil port of Aden is being steadily infiltrated by jihadists.” In one recent report, ISIS supporters dressed a number of Houthi prisoners in orange jumpsuits, put them in a boat, and then blew the boat up, killing everyone onboard.

Yesterday, a U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan killed at least five suspected militants and wounded four more, according to RFE/RL. The drone strike was the 10th reported in Pakistan this year. The Long War Journal apprises us that three Uzbeks were among the five dead, signalling that they may have been associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group that recently swore allegiance to the Islamic State. Of course, the Uzbeks could have also been members of the Islamic Jihadi Union, which remains loyal to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Oh, the splintering jihadist groups of Pakistan…

The Taliban made news yesterday, releasing a 5000-word biography of its new leader in five separate languages. The document waxes poetic, describing Mullah Mansur as a “good listener” and a“neat dresser” who is “naturally bequeathed with unique leading and guiding capabilities.” The biography neglects to address recent charges by Afghan Vice President Rashid Dostum that Mansur used to serve as a spy for the government.

Remember that probe, which the U.S. military plans to reopen, into the deaths of at least 18 Afghan civilians allegedly killed by U.S. special forces? The Washington Post reports that the villagers of Nerkh district are a bit skeptical, with many wondering how justice can be served after so long. One villager said the delayed review is "like throwing dust into the eyes of the people.”

More information out of Somalia today, where the New York Times confirms that the al Qaeda-affiliate al Shabaab did indeed overrun an African Union military base in the country yesterday. For its part, the African Union released a statement asserting they had regained control of the base after initiating a “tactical withdrawal.” Shabaab militants claimed to have killed 50 Ugandan peacekeepers.

Boko Haram militants killed at least 24 people in Nigeria earlier today, in the latest indication that the security situation in that country is still unravelling. According to military sources, the gunmen rode on horseback into two separate villages, opening fire and throwing explosives into crowds. Reuters notes that more than 700 people have been killed in militant attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari took office at the end of May.

In today’s preview of the future of violence: With the use of drones on the rise throughout Latin America, authorities around the region are rushing to pass new regulations in order to prevent criminal activity. The CEO of one Mexican drone manufacturer posed a terrifying question to McClatchy: “What would happen if you put C4 plastic explosives and loaded it with pellets?” McClatchy reports that there may already be signs of illicit drone use, with criminals attempt to smuggle heroin into the United States from Mexico using unmanned aerial vehicles. 

Back in the United States, the National Journal reports that absent federal drone rules, state governments have taken to crafting their own legislation on unmanned aerial vehicles, setting up a potential clash with federal regulations in the long run. The potential for conflict is only likely to grow the longer that the federal government stalls.

A FOIA request by Jason Leopold of Vice News has yielded emails that seem to show the FBI and JSOC discussing an American blogger, Samir Khan, who was later killed in a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The emails discuss a “joint operation” but redactions make it impossible to determine the mission that the FBI wanted to “push forward.” Khan was one of the founding editors of the now infamous Inspire magazine, an online propaganda rag published by AQAP that encourages lone wolf terrorism.

According to the AFP, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter complicated efforts to close Guantanamo yesterday, telling U.S. troops during a televised interview that “some of the people who are at Guantanamo Bay have to be detained indefinitely, they’ve just got to be locked up.” Carter noted that about half of the detainees have been cleared for transfer, but said that “half of them are not safe to release, period.”

Even so, Defense officials are on the prowl for a new location in which to house the forever detainees. Defense One tells us that today and tomorrow, a group of roughly 10 Pentagon officials are set to survey the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina in order to determine whether it is a suitable alternative to GTMO. The Pentagon told reporters that it has a “broad list” of potential maximum security facilities it is considering. Defense One also carries a map of the U.S. facilities currently under consideration for Guantanamo detainees.

Good news, dear federal employees! The Office of Personnel Management has finally awarded a $133 million contract to Identity Theft Guard Solutions, a service that will provide identity and credit theft protection for up to three years to all 21.5 million federal employees affected by the recent hack---just in case the PLA decides it wants that new Honda Accord.

Parting Shot: Sorry, we’re not sorry: North Korea tells South Korea that it isn’t actually sorry for planting the landmine that killed South Korean soldiers a few weeks ago, they just regret that the South was so upset.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Yesterday was Lawfare’s 5th birthday, and in traditional fashion, we celebrated with a cake for the handmaidens of power. In all seriousness, thanks to all those who have helped Lawfare develop and grow over the last half decade!

Aaron Zelin brought us the latest Jihadology Podcast on Turkish jihadism at home and in Syria, featuring the folks from North Caucasus Caucus.

In the latest Kyiv Dispatch, Stephanie Leutert described the rising challenges presented by Ukraine’s “volunteer battalions,” many of whom are ferociously nationalistic.  

Carrie Cordero shared her story of standing atop the World Trade Center fourteen years ago and how the experience in the days following 9/11 shaped her desire to “ensure that the nation addresses security threats directly, proactively, and thoughtfully.”

Daniel Reisner provided Part III in his series reflecting on the UN Commission of Inquiry Gaza Report, this time on “the clash between human rights and law of war specialists.”

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