Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, September 8, 2015, 3:00 PM

This Labor Day weekend saw a flurry of activity as European leaders attempted to grapple with the growing migration and refugee crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the charge with a promise to allow migrants and refugees to enter the country and to spend $6.7 billion to assist asylum seekers. Yet the chancellor emphasized that Germany will need help from other E.U. member states in dealing with the growing crisis, the Wall Street Journal writes.

The BBC has a helpful roundup of measures taken by various E.U. countries. Most notably, France and the United Kingdom have pledged to accept 44,000 migrants and refugees into their countries. The Guardian also brings us news that, according to Germany’s vice-chancellor, the country will be able to accept 500,000 refugees a year for “several years”—a high number, but lower than the 800,000 refugees who are projected to seek asylum within Germany each year.

In Foreign Policy, Alex Massie argues that the refugee crisis has become a critical moment for a Europe struggling to define itself. The dream of a united Europe, with states working together under a common policy to address shared problems, has never been more urgent—and yet it remains as far away as ever. Of course, much of the problem stems from Europe’s overwhelming failure to address the chaos in Syria, which is coupled with what Gayle Tzemach Lemmon calls in Defense One the Obama administration’s failed “containment” approach to the Syrian Civil War.

In apparent response to Europe’s crisis, Israel has begun building a fence along the country’s eastern border with Jordan. According to the AP, the fence appears intended to deter refugees Syrian refugees from entering the country, many of whom have taken shelter in Jordan.

The Economist examines the vexed distinction between refugees and migrants, taking a hard look at the numbers to figure out what characterizes those heading to Europe for safety or economic prosperity. The question is a crucial one: as many Lawfare readers know, refugees and migrants are granted very different protections under international law.

And the Journal reports that Europe’s nightmare may only get worse from here. As news of refugees and migrants entering Europe gains increasing prominence, many more people are feeling it’s time to take the journey as well. In particular, Iraqis and Nigerians battered by the extremist violence in their home countries are beginning to make the perilous trip in increased numbers.

On Monday, U.K. authorities announced that the United Kingdom had launched its first armed drone strike inside Syria, killing two U.K. citizens belonging to the ISIS militant group. One non-U.K. citizen was also killed. The New York Times reports that the government’s decision to extend drone strikes into Syria is a “significant step” for the United Kingdom, which is not currently conducting military operations within the country. The strike has drawn comparisons to the 2011 targeted killing of Anwar al Awlaki, the radical al Qaeda-linked preacher and U.S. citizen, who was killed when the United States conducted a drone strike outside a clearly defined theater of combat.

Though the strike has drawn serious criticism from both within and outside the United Kingdom, U.K. Defense Minister Michael Fallon stated that his government “wouldn’t hesitate” to carry out similar strikes in the future “if we know that there is an armed attack that is likely.” The Times has more.

A number of observers have weighed in on the legal arguments for and against the United Kingdom’s actions. Over at the blog Head of Legal, Carl Gardner argues that the strike was, as the government argues, legal under U.K. and international law. At the Guardian, Joshua Rozenberg agrees. At the Financial Times, however, David Allen Green feels that there’s “room for doubt” as to the legitimacy of the government’s self-defense arguments.

Meanwhile in France, President Francois Hollande is also preparing to launch airstrikes in Syria. The Journal reports on the planned expansion of French anti-ISIS efforts, which appear to be influenced by fears of a potential ISIS attack on France—an argument strikingly similar to the United Kingdom’s self-defense rationale. The country has recently suffered a series of extremist attacks on its own soil, the most recent being a highly-publicized, attempted shooting on a high-speed train last month.

As France and the United Kingdom prepare to ramp up their respective anti-ISIS campaigns, the Times brings us news that the Pentagon is planning a major overhaul of the struggling U.S. train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian rebels. Since the program began, it has grappled with small numbers of recruits, an unclear purview, and—most recently—the kidnapping of several rebel leaders by the al Nusra Front. So how does the Pentagon intend to turn this sinking ship around? “Dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer zones, as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills.”

But the Journal tells us that problems for anti-ISIS rebel groups may not end any time soon: ISIS fighters are closing in on a northern Syrian town close to a crucial border crossing with Turkey, which is a main supply route for rebels. ISIS’s seizure of the crossing would essentially compensate for the extremist group’s loss of the Tal Abyad border crossing earlier this summer.

And yesterday, ISIS seized control of the last oil field remaining under Syrian government control, Reuters writes. Syrian state television failed to mention the loss of the field in the official report on the battle.

What exactly is it that Russia is trying to do in Syria? That’s the question of the moment, with recent reports of Russian military buildup within the embattled country. Now AFP lets us know that Russian officials have dismissed U.S. concerns over the buildup, saying that the Kremlin has “never concealed the fact that it is sending military equipment to the Syrian authorities to help them fight terrorism.” But the AP suggests that President Vladimir Putin may be preparing to join the anti-ISIS coalition in an effort to mend his country’s frayed ties with the West—perhaps freeing the Kremlin to amp up its presence in Ukraine. The Daily Beast, meanwhile, theorizes that Russia’s goal is to fortify the flailing regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Violence continues between the Turkish government and the Kurdish PKK, with reports that a bomb has killed 14 Turkish policemen. Al Jazeera writes that the explosion occurred soon after the Turkish military carried out airstrikes against PKK forces in northern Iraq.

Recently, the chaos and dysfunction roiling Libya has made the country an easy target for ISIS-affiliated extremist. But now, the Journal reports that two of Libya’s most powerful rival militias are collaborating to halt ISIS’s westward expansion. The militias had previously been on opposite sides of the civil war that has raged across Libya since the Arab Spring, but have now reached what seems to be a lasting ceasefire.

Mali’s military has arrested three militants suspected of involvement in a series of recent attacks on the country’s capital city of Bamoko, Reuters tells us. The militants are affiliated with the group Massina Liberation Front, a relative newcomer to the crowded world of extremist Islamist organizations.

Reuters also brings us the news that Qatar is sending 1,000 ground troops into Yemen to aid in the Saudi-led coalition’s efforts, though sources are conflicted as to whether the troops have already entered the country or not. Meanwhile, the coalition has deployed the Patriot Air Defense System to Yemen’s Marib Province. And VOA News reports on Saudi Arabia’s first acknowledgement of the presence of Saudi ground troops in Yemen—which came after 55 of those soldiers were killed in a Houthi missile strike.

With Congress back from August recess, the circus begins: This week both chambers will debate the nuclear agreement with Iran. On Friday, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) announced his opposition to the deal in a Washington Post op-ed. But the AP tells us that the Obama administration has succeeded in whipping not just the 34 Senators needed to block a veto override of a disapproval measure, but the full 41 required to prevent the measure from even reaching the Senate floor—if all those who have now stated their support for the deal vote in favor of it when the time comes.

11 Afghan policemen were killed in a U.S. airstrike in southern Afghanistan on Monday, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior has declared. The Journal reports on the incident, which the Afghan government blamed on a “lack of proper coordination” between Afghanistan and the United States. Yet according to the Times, the U.S. military denies that such an airstrike ever took place. If true, the strike would be one of the deadliest recent incidents of friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour is taking steps to consolidate his power as the Taliban’s new leader, attempting to quash a breakaway faction of the organization that has instead declared loyalty to Mullah Mansour Dadullah in the wake of Mullah Omar’s confirmed death. Mullah Dadullah has long been a gadfly to the Taliban leadership, the Times writes, and there is some suspicion that his fighters harbor sympathies with ISIS.

Pakistani authorities declared on Monday that the country’s first air strike conducted by a domestically manufactured drone had succeeded in killing three militants, the Times reports. The drone, named “Burraq” or “Prophet’s Horse,” struck in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan and brings Pakistan into an elite-club of countries that have successfully used a drone in a combat or counterterrorism operation. If you want to get an eyeful of the new Pakistan-made drone, the Journal has got you covered.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe secured another term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after no challengers filed applications to run against him. Mr. Abe will remain the president of the party for at least another three years. He told reporters that he intends to push forward with his plan to change the Japanese constitution to allow Japan’s military to fight in conflicts abroad. The legislation effectuating the change is expected to be enacted next week. The New York Times has more.

The IAEA said yesterday that North Korea appears to be building new facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear site. According to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, the IAEA has “observed renovation and construction activities at various locations within the site.” The construction was confirmed via satellite; the DPRK has not granted the IAEA access to the site since 2009.

The news comes as North and South Korea have agreed today to hold more reunions for families separated when the two countries were divided. More than 100 families will be reunited over six days in late October, Korean Yonhap News reports.

The Los Angeles Times reports that over the last 14 months, the United States has significanly boosted its spy presence in the Arctic, with most of its 16 intelligence agencies assigning analysts to work full time on the region while the Director of National Intelligence convened a “strategy board” to discuss recent findings and events in the region. The decision reflects a renewed focus on Arctic resources as well as concerns over Russia’s military buildup around the Arctic circle.

In Politico, Joseph Marks provides an overview of the pending legal battle between the U.S. government and tech giant Microsoft over whether or not the Department of Justice can demand access to emails stored on servers abroad. The government won the first two hearings before a magistrate judge and a U.S. District Court. On Wednesday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Microsoft's appeal.

Of course, Microsoft is not the only tech company doing battle with the U.S. government. The New York Times carries news that this summer, Apple refused to turn over encrypted data transiting Apple devices using the company’s messaging service, iMessage.

Finally, Defense One informs us that the State Department is looking to build a “cybersecurity playbook,” that will “clearly guide both offensive cyber operations and responses to cyberattacks.” The department released twelve areas where it is attempting to shore up a strategy, including “cloud computing security,” “dynamic system defenses,” and “application whitelisting.”

The Washington Post carries the story of how one family stopped their son from joining the Islamic State, but now worries that he may go to prison. 19-year-old Asher Abid Khan flew to Istanbul to join ISIS, but without ever leaving the Turkish airport, thought again and returned to his home in Houston. In May, the FBI charged Khan with material support for terrorism, a charge that could land him in prison for 30 years. The case is sure to raise new questions over the United States’s aggressive use of the material support clause in prosecutions, as well as how it should handle de radicalized individuals.

The latest Guantanamo Bay recidivism rates show that the rate of former detainees suspected of “re-engaging” with militant groups increased over the first half of 2015, as five detainees released by the Obama administration were added to the list of those “suspected of reengaging.” The report also reveals that an additional four former detainees that were “confirmed of reengaging” have been killed. Jason Leopold of Vice News has more on the ODNI report, which can be read in full here.

According to the Guardian, the military has rescinded the security clearances for attorneys representing the only detainee who has agreed to testify against the 9/11 defendants. In addition, a doctor who specializes in treating torture victims has also lost access to the base. At this time, the military has not provided justification for the suspension of the clearances. One defense attorney at GITMO said the revocation of the clearances is “an illustration of the dysfunction that plagues Guantanamo and in many ways is getting worse.”

The Associated Press reports that military prosecutors will charge Bowe Bergdahl not only with desertion, but also for misbehavior before the enemy, an offense that the AP notes has rarely been invoked since World War II. If convicted, Bergdahl could face a life sentence.

Parting Shot: Okay, okay. It’s a trend. Chimps don’t like drones either, it seems. But, unlike other animals who haven’t taken too kindly to a quadcopter orbiting their personal space, this chimp planned ahead and attacked the drone with a stick. That video here.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Ben alerted us to William McCants’ new profile of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

Matthew Waxman noted three Lawfare-related books that stood out from his summer reading list.

Llewelyn Hughes and Austin Long wrote this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, on national security, energy, and what they see as the United States’ surprising advantage.

Bobby considered reports of the U.K. citizens killed by their home country’s drone strikes, suggesting that this may be a “British Anwar al Awlaki scenario.”

Dustin Lewis, Naz Modirzadeh, and Gabriella Blum discussed international humanitarian law and the question of medical assistance concerning terrorists.

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