Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Friday, November 13, 2015, 1:46 PM

Not two days after launching an offensive to retake the city from ISIS, Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airpower and Yazidi fighters entered the town of Sinjar today and announced its liberation from Islamic State control. Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani declared that the victory “could provide critical momentum in efforts to capture the western provincial capital Ramadi, and Mosul in the north.” The Washington Post reports that, as they entered Sinjar, Kurdish peshmerga faced little resistance from ISIS militants, most of whom had fled the city. The peshmerga forces have now raised their flag over important sites in Sinjar which has been under ISIS’s control for over 15 months. The New York Times writes that Kurdish fighters advanced on the city from both the east and west and, in addition to peshmerga, included members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

While not a notable ISIS stronghold, Sinjar is at the center of a critical ISIS supply route linking the group’s capital in Raqqa to its stronghold in Mosul. Even so, while losing Sinjar will likely raise the costs of supplying forces, the Times tells us that cutting off the supply route might not necessarily halt the flow of fighters and supplies as the group has traditionally “avoided opposing forces and supplied sleeper groups by driving trucks across the landscape on zigzagging, informal roads.”

As the Kurds claim victory in Sinjar, the United States is stepping up its airstrikes on ISIS controlled oil fields in Iraq. The operation seeks to “cripple eight major oil fields, about two-thirds of the refineries and other oil-production sites controlled by the Islamic State.” The fields provide one of the main sources of revenue for the group, generating nearly $500 million a year.

The United States also launched an attack targeting Mohammed Emwazi, otherwise known as “Jihadi John.” Emwazi was suspected of murdering several foreign hostages, including Steven Sotlff, James Foley, Abdul-Rahman Kassig, Alan Henning, David Haines, and Kenji Goto. With both U.S. and British leaders confirming that ISIS’s infamous executioner was likely killed in the strikes, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that the strike was “in self defense” and remarked that “if this strike was successful, [...] it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL.”

A new report from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum suggests in graphic and brutal detail that the Islamic State is perpetrating a genocide against the Yazidis in Iraq. The report draws from a series of interviews with victims, meetings with government officials, and visits to refugee camps. Last summer, the Islamic State killed over 1,500 Yazidis and kidnapped thousands of women and children many of whom were forcibly converted, enslaved, and raped. Foreign Policy tells us that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is considering labeling the ISIS persecution of the Yazidi minority as genocide. However, Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News notes that to term ISIS’s crimes a “genocide” would have greater implications than just wording, as the legal designation under a 1948 treaty requires countries take actions to “prevent and punish” the “‘odious scourge’ of genocide.”

World leaders are set to meet this Saturday in Vienna to discuss a possible political solution to the Syrian crisis. John Kerry attempted to downplay expectations ahead of Saturday’s discussions, pointing out the varying opinions among world leaders regarding the fate of Bashar al Assad. Defending the U.S.'s position that Assad must not remain in power, Kerry remarked that “asking the opposition to trust Assad or to accept Assad’s leadership is simply not a reasonable request; it’s literally a nonstarter.” Before embarking on the journey to Vienna, Kerry gave a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace where he maintained that “U.S. diplomatic and military actions in Syria are ‘mutually reinforcing’” and referred to ISIS as “the gravest extremist threat faced by our generation and the embodiment of evil in our time.”

The Islamic State released a new video threatening Russia in retribution for Moscow's military involvement on behalf of the Assad regime. The video, entitled “Soon Very Soon the Blood Will Spill Like an Ocean,” shows the watermark of ISIS’s propaganda, but has not yet been verified as authentic. Earlier this month, ISIS militants claimed responsibility for downing a Russian jetliner in the Sinai Peninsula. Authorities have not yet confirmed who or what led the plane to crash. As investigations into the downed Russian aircraft continue, Egyptian officials announced that they were sending the blackbox abroad for analysis but did not specify which country would perform the analysis.

A twin suicide attack in Beirut left at least 43 dead and over 200 injured. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack which occurred in a primarily Shia neighborhood with a high concentration of Hezbollah loyalists. The area targeted by the explosion also houses a number of refugees from Palestine and Syria. The Wall Street Journal writes that, if ISIS’s claim proves true, this would be the first large-scale ISIS attack on Lebanese soil and would raise “worries even among Hezbollah’s supporters that its high-profile involvement in a sweeping ground offensive in northern Syria against opponents of the Syrian regime could trigger fiercer retaliation in Lebanon.”

Two ISIS-claimed attacks killed 26 in Baghdad. A suicide bomber targeted the funeral of a Shia fighter, killing 21, while a roadside bomb in front of a Shia shrine left an additional 5 dead. The Associated Press tells us that since the “emergence of IS extremists, Baghdad has seen near-daily attacks, with roadside bombs, suicide blasts and assassinations targeting Iraqi forces and government officials, with significant casualties among the civilian population. “

Westerners who have defected to the Islamic States are lamenting living conditions, and Fox News reports that “no Starbucks, rude help at beauty salons, lousy restaurants, slow Internet and bad cellphone service are among the common complaints that paint life under the terrorist organization as uncomfortable.”

A bomb exploded in a Yemeni mosque attended by Houthi supporters yesterday. Since the conflict began, a total of 5,600 people have been killed in the violence between Saudi-backed government loyalists and Iran-backed Houthi-rebels. Adding to the severe conditions facing Yemen, a swarm of locusts could descend upon the country after two rare cyclones slammed into it. Vice News suggests that the increased water levels in the country could provide an attractive breeding ground to the locusts.

Following previous reports that the U.S. forces who called in the strike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz did not have eyes on the facility, Defense One tells us that being able to see the target is not necessarily a requirement when calling in airstrikes.

In what one official called “the most important international police operation in Europe in 20 years,” an E.U. sting operation resulted in the arrest of 17 people with suspected ISIS connections. The Atlantic writes that yesterday’s arrests occurred in Great Britain, Finland, Norway, and Italy.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested that the “tide of migrants coming to Europe from the Middle East and Africa may be part of a left-wing plot to pack the continent with sympathetic voters.” Reuters writes that “Orban's anti-immigrant rhetoric and the border fences he has erected to block the wave of people fleeing war and poverty have made him a winner at home from a crisis that has divided Europe.”

Just days after Slovenia began construction of a fence along its border with Croatia, Austria has announced that it to is planning to build a 2.5-mile fence on either side of its busiest border crossing with Slovenia in order to manage the flow of thousands of migrants a day into its territory. Austria's defense minister clarified that "the measures being introduced were necessary for 'orderly, reasonable and humanely decent' crowd management" and that "an Orbanisation of Austria is not taking place," referring to the Hungarian leader's harsh attitude towards migrants. Europe has authorized the plans of both Sweden and Germany to reinstate temporary border control measures in order to better manage the flow of asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, British charity Oxfam is accusing Bulgaria of brutality against refugees and migrants, citing “cases of alleged extortion by Bulgarian police, physical violence against migrants, and attacks by police dogs.” The group has called upon the European Union to step in to protect the rights of the refugee population.

In Myanmar, Friday's election results revealed that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party (NLD) has won the requisite 329 seats in Parliament to "allow it to form Myanmar's first truly civilian government in more than half a century." The NLD is expected to face challenges in dealing with the country's expectations, its "fractious ethnic minorities," and "religious and racial tensions involving the ethnic Rohingya minority and other Muslims," among other issues.

Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew near artificially constructed islands in the South China Sea, “the latest in a series of American challenges to Beijing’s maritime claims.” The move came less than two weeks after a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-claimed reef. A Pentagon spokesman claimed that the “B-52s were on a routine mission in the [South China Sea].” For its part, China maintains that it “resolutely opposes any country, in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight, harming and violating international law, harming China's sovereignty and security interests.”

The Washington Post reports that an Ohio man, Terrence J. McNeil, 25, has been charged with trying to solicit the murder of members of the U.S. military after he shared a series of social media posts that contained dozens of service members’ personally identifiable information and called for followers to “behead them in their homes.” Prosecutors said that McNeil went by various Twitter handles containing the phrase “LoneWolfe.”

It’s Friday and we’re still waiting on the new plan to close Guantanamo, which many expected would be released by the end of the week. In Foreign Policy, Dan De Luce notes that “to close Guantanamo, Obama will have to test the limits of presidential power,” power that candidate-Obama criticized extensively. Even if a new plan is released shortly, the fight over the zip code in which the detainees will be held is likely to continue for a quite a while.

Meanwhile, back in the Bay, Carol Rosenberg reveals that a secret Defense Department surveillance program monitors all activities and conversations of detainees held in Camp 7. Judge James Pohl, in last month’s pre-trial hearings, advised detainee Walid bin Attash, “you must assume anything you say in Camp 7 is not confidential and will be disclosed to the U.S. government.” According to Pohl, “only when you are in Echo 2 will anything you say be covered by the attorney-client privilege.” The revelation of the surveillance program has raised new questions about whether detainees can receive a fair trial in the military commissions.

“If some future president is going to decide to waterboard,” former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden says, “he’d better bring his own bucket—because he’s going to have to do it himself.” That little doozy is from today’s long read in Politico, where Chris Whipple previews his new documentary The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs, which interviews twelve previous CIA directors about the agency, its direction, and what role it should play in American security.

Parting shot: Some people just don’t know when to stop in their pursuit of beauty, at least that’s the lesson from the French jihadist who walked into a Turkish barbershop for some planned cosmetic procedures and came out booked for plotting terrorist attacks in the country. Get the scoop from Foreign Policy.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

David Bosco pointed out that Indonesia has signalled it will consider taking its dispute with China over possessions in the South China Sea to an international arbitration court.

Stewart Baker shared this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with Adam Kozy and Johannes Gilger on China’s Great Cannon.

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