Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, October 16, 2015, 3:56 PM

Turkish fighter jets have shot down a drone flying in Turkish airspace near the Syrian border, the New York Times reports. The Turkish military stated that it had warned the aircraft three times before firing, “in accordance with rules of engagement.” According to the BBC, “the images of the downed drone appear to show a small non-military model plane.” Given previous reports of Russian aircraft entering Turkish airspace, a U.S. official suggested that the drone might well be Russia’san accusation that the Kremlin has strenuously denied.

Syrian government forces have launched a ground and air offensive in the Aleppo region. Reuters writes that the government troops are backed by Iranian and Hezbollah forces as well as Russian air power, representing the “first time Iranian fighters had taken part on such a scale in the Syrian conflict.” With foreign support, the government is now managing multiple offensives on rebel-held cities in western Syria.

The United States has charged a hacker, a national of Kosovo detained in Malaysia, of stealing personal data belonging to U.S. miltiary personnel and giving the data to ISIS, the Post writes. U.S. officials state that the charges represent “the first ever against a suspect for terrorism and hacking, and they represent a troubling convergence of the techniques used in cyberattacks with terrorism.” The suspect will likely be extradited to the United States.

Defense One examines the military’s triumphant reports that 20,000 ISIS fighters have been killeddespite indications that ISIS’s “overall force” remains roughly the same size. The group’s ability to maintain a steady fighting force despite the high rate of attrition is an indication of its effective recruitment, but it’s also a reminder that tallying the deaths of enemy fighters is not a particularly effective measure of battlefield success. That said, earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russian strikes had killed hundreds of militants, adding that between 5,000 and 7,000 Russians were fighting among ISIS forces.

European leaders are pushing for Turkey to accept a plan that would “keep more than two million Syrian refugees in Turkey … and prevent them attempting to get to Europe” in exchange for possible movement on Turkey’s bid for E.U. membership, among other favors. So writes the Guardian, reporting on what appears to be the E.U.’s “desperate attempt to gain Turkish cooperation” even as Germany continues to push for a new asylum regime that would distribute asylum seekers more evenly across E.U. member countries.

Meanwhile, the Post tells us that Europe has increased the power of Frontex, the E.U. border agency, to deport “migrants whose asylum claims have been denied.” Hungary will close its border with Croatia to proceed with a “unilateral crackdown on the flow of migrants[.]” The World Bank is also stepping up efforts to help with the crisis as it draws up plans to provide financial assistance for neighboring countries hosting Syria’s refugees. The BBC has the story.

U.S. special operations analysts believed that the MSF hospital in Kunduz attacked by U.S. airstrikes was being used by a Pakistani ISI operative as a headquarters for the Taliban, the AP reports. While the analysts were aware of the facility’s status as a hospital, it is not clear whether the commander who authorized the strike was aware that the location was a medical site or whether the analysts’ assessments of the facility’s misuse played a role in authorizing the strike. For its part, MSF continues to demand an independent international probe, despite the lack of U.S. and Afghan signoff for that approach. MSF has also accused the United States of forcing a tank into the remains of the hospital, potentially destroying evidence for a future investigation. The Guardian has more.

Following President Obama’s announcement of his decision to leave U.S. troops in Afghanistan following his departure from office, Politico suggests that the president has failed to achieve his desired legacy as a “peacemaker.” According to James Jeffrey, the president’s former ambassador to Iraq, Obama’s decision reflects the idea that “’ending wars’ is no longer as important as defending the global system.” The Post shares a map that helps to explain the President’s thinking.

Tensions have reached a boiling point in Israel. As Hamas called for another “day of rage,” Palestinian protesters set fire to Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site in the West Bank. The Post tells us that a total of 8 Israelis and 34 Palestinians have been killed, with 15 of those Palestinians “labeled as attackers” and others caught in clashes between Palestinian stone-throwers and the Israeli security forces. The Journal reports that Israeli police have begun to restrict movement in and out of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, which are home to many of the attackers. And the Times notes comments by Israel's chief rabbi, David Lau, suggesting that the violence stems from a false belief held by young Palestinians that Israel intends to destroy Al Aqsa Mosque.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discovered a Russian-made rocket launch system in Ukraine; now the United Kingdom is demanding to know just how the system got there. The system, referred to as a “Buratino,” is significantly more destructive than other Russian-made systems that have been found in Ukraine. More on that from the Post.

Iran has met the IAEA’s deadline to supply necessary information concerning its previous nuclear activity, the Times tells us. The IAEA now has until December 15 to reach an assessment of “all past and present outstanding issues” on the Iranian nuclear program.

The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris takes a look at the prisoner swap that Iran seems to be hinting at, with regard to Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. There are at least 19 people imprisoned in the United States whom Iran might seek to swap for Rezaian. Many of them have been charged with sanctions violations.

The Daily Beast also reports on photos and videos of underground missile bunkers provided by Iranian state TV. At a purported 500 meters below ground, the bunkers are too deep to be destroyed by existing U.S. bunker-buster bombs--though the military is working on fixing that problem. And it’s hard to know how seriously to take that 500-meters-deep figure, given Tehran’s “reputation for military fakery.”

The U.S. is working on a deal to limit the scope of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the Times says. The talks are the first overt effort to deal with the country’s fast-growing arsenal since revelations that A.Q. Khan had sold Pakistani nuclear technology around the world over a decade ago. Some onlookers described the state of the talks as similar to the initial overtures between the U.S. and Iran three years ago, though others expressed doubts that Pakistan would be able to follow through on any negotiated deal.

Libyan authorities released details on two new suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombings, sharing that one of the suspects had served as spy chief under former Libyan leader Gaddafi. Speaking of Gaddafi, the Atlantic's Adam Chandler reflects on the four years since the ruler was ousted from power; apparently the author talked to members of one of Libya’s rival governments, the General National Congress. A critical component of the GNC’s platform seeks “to bar anyone affiliated with the Qaddafi regime from power[.]”

The Journal reports that a suspected Boko Haram attack has killed 30 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. A similar attack killed 20 people earlier in the day.

In Military Times: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson defended planned U.S. naval patrols within waters claimed by China in the South China Sea, stating that the United States considers such tactics to be "part of exercising international rights in international waters.” Others suggest that allowing China a territorial claim over the 12 nautical miles surrounding their artificially constructed islands would set a dangerous precedent.

Today, Beijing convened a meeting of Southeast Asian defense ministers in what the AP describes as “a bid to burnish its reputation in a region weary of Beijing’s territorial ambitions.” This marks China’s first time hosting the ASEAN meeting. Reuters lets us know that, during the meeting, China’s defense minister invited other Southeast Asian countries to join China in its military drills in the South China Sea.

With South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s arrival to Washington, the Journal predicts that North Korea will be high on the agenda. Park and Obama are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program as well as the continuation of the strong U.S.-South Korean alliance.

The Journal reports on opposition within U.S. technology firms toward a global "cyber arms control" arrangements. This would consist of restrictions on the export of cyberweapons, such as surveillance technology used by repressive governments; ​but now U.S. firms are objecting to what they see as efforts to block what the Journal calls “legitimate spyware.”

A U.S. district court judge suggested yesterday that Tariq Bah Odah, a Guantanamo detainee who is currently on a hunger strike, may be entitled to a medical panel review on whether his poor health requires his release. Yet the Justice Department is arguing that allowing Bah Odah’s release would give other detainees an incentive to harm themselves through similar hunger strikes, the Miami Herald writes. Bah Odah has been on a hunger strike since 2007.

As debates continue about women serving in the U.S. armed forces, the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said that he “[doesn’t] know what the debate is.” The Post reports that, since the Marine Corps began research on "how to better integrate women into combat roles and unit," seven sexual assaults have been reported.

Parting shot: Need a security clearance for your next job? Try claiming that you were recruited by the CIA. It worked for Wayne Simmons, a frequent Fox News talking head and self-ordained terrorism expert… though he now faces criminal charges for, shall we say, misrepresenting his past. More on that from the Post.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta examined the law underpinning the presence of U.S. drone bases in Africa and the surrounding areas.

Paul let us know that the NSA may be to perform public key encryption.

Nicholas Weaver explained how the NSA may be using “weak DH” to perform bulk decryption.

David Bosco updated us on the ICC prosecutor’s decision to seek an investigation into the 2008 hostilities between Russia and Georgia.

Adam Klein responded to The Intercept’s story on the drone papers.

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