Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Monday, November 23, 2015, 4:14 PM

As authorities continue to search for Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam, Brussels remains on lockdown and at the highest terror alert level. The New York Times reports that at least 21 suspects have been detained during a series of raids across the capital as authorities seek “to head off what the prime minister earlier described as a ‘serious and imminent’ threat of a Paris-style terrorist assault.” The Wall Street Journal has more.

Meanwhile, in response to France’s continued efforts to create a global coalition against the Islamic State, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved and “adopted a resolution, drafted by France, calling on countries around the world to take ‘all necessary measures’ to fight the Islamic State.” The New York Times notes that, despite highlighting “diplomatic convergence,” the resolution does not invoke Chapter VII, which authorizes use of force, and provides “no legal basis for military action.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to seek parliamentary support for launching airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria. Following a meeting with French President François Hollande, Cameron expressed support for French military action against the Islamic State and “called for greater European Union-wide efforts to share intelligence to stop extremists and offered the use of the air base at Akrotiri on Cyprus for actions in Syria against the Islamic State group.” The Financial Times reports that Cameron is expected to outline a five-year review which will focus on targeting the Islamic State and increase the counterterrorism budget by 30%. Cameron will also allocate “12 billion pounds ($18.2 billion) more in spending to help fund nine new Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and two new rapid-reaction ‘strike brigades.’"

Despite French hopes that Russia could coordinate anti-ISIS initiatives with the West, President Barack Obama expressed skepticism about whether Russia would be able to shift its focus in Syria to combat extremists and maintained that there could be no political solution in which Syrian President Bashar al Assad remained in power. Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign minister suggested that Russia felt threatened by the developments in the region and, therefore, is serious about seeking Western cooperation to find a political solution. With French President Hollande expected to meet with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, the White House will work to ensure that “Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.”

After soccer match in Hanover was cancelled last week, the Guardian writes that “terrorists planned to detonate three bombs inside the stadium” before the attack was thwarted by the match’s last minute cancellation. German authorities were alerted by French intelligence sources “that a terror cell planned to detonate five bombs in Hanover, including three inside the football stadium, one at a bus stop and one at a railway station.” While no bombs have been found at any of the described locations, German security personnel are searching for the suspects named by French intelligence. Germany’s domestic intelligence service says that “there are 1,100 Islamists in Germany, of which 420 are classified as likely to threaten public safety because they have apparently shown a readiness to use violence.”

Highlighting the shift in the Islamic State’s strategy, the New York Times tells us that the “recent attacks in Paris and Beirut and the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt were the first results of a centrally planned terrorism campaign by a wing of the Islamic State leadership that oversees ‘external’ targets.” Drawing from intelligence that included intercepted communications and propaganda, American and European intelligence officials suggest that the “Islamic State’s overseas operations planning cell offers strategic guidance, training and funding for actions aimed at inflicting the maximum possible civilian casualties, but leaves [the coordination of attacks] to trusted operatives on the ground.” Meanwhile, in the wake of the Paris attacks, French officials are attempting to understand the intelligence failure revealed in the wake of the Paris attacks.

President Obama addressed the growing concerns about the Islamic State from Kuala Lumpur and urged the “American public not to give in to fear.” The Post writes that “even after three global summits in Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia, the president had no new strategies for dealing with the so-called Islamic State, and few tangible new commitments from international partners.” Still, the President remarked that “destroying ISIL is not only a realistic goal,” but that the United States will destroy the group “with every aspect of American power and with [its] coalition partners.” The President also called on Russia to limit its attacks in Syria to target extremist forces as opposed to moderate forces opposing the Assad regime. The Associated Press and the Guardian have more on the President Obama’s remarks.

As the Pentagon expands its investigation into “Centcom, as Central Command is known, where analysts say that supervisors revised conclusions to mask some of the American military’s failures in training Iraqi troops and beating back the Islamic State,” President Obama has ordered “senior defense officials to find out whether intelligence reports had been altered to reflect a more optimistic assessment of the American military campaign against the Islamic State.”

In examining the difficulties in defeating the Islamic State, Vox writes that the Assad regime remains at the center of the group’s existence and that the only way to defeat the group is though a peace deal in Syria. Considering the same question, the Journal suggests that “military advances will show little progress unless more work is done to eliminate the militant group’s financing, counter its propaganda and cut a diplomatic deal among world powers on Syrian rule.”

Russian-backed Syrian government forces gained ground in the Homs province with state media reporting that “the military and a local force had taken control of Mheen and Hawwarin towns, to the southeast of Homs, and had killed a large number of ISIS militants.”

The Washington Post highlights the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, “the most potent propaganda machine ever assembled by a terrorist group.” Relying on “dual messages [] designed to influence a divided audience,” the group maintains an organized and high tech propaganda arm which “sometimes [depicts] the caliphate as a peaceful and idyllic domain, other times as a society awash in apocalyptic violence.”

In today’s long read, the New York Times sheds light on the women who enforced the Islamic State’s laws and their ultimate escape from the purported caliphate’s tight control. The Times also takes us inside the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.

Migrants and refugees along the border of Macedonia and Greece are protesting after Slovenia “declared it would only grant passage to those fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and that all others deemed ‘economic migrants’ would be sent back,” prompting Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia to follow suit. Reuters reports that “Moroccans, Iranians and Pakistanis on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia blocked rail traffic and demanded passage to western Europe on Monday, stranded by a policy of filtering migrants in the Balkans that has raised human rights concerns.” One man declared a hunger strike and sewed his lips together. Some 180,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Germany this month. To date, a total of 938,000 have arrived in Germany since since January.

Following the assault Friday on Mali’s Radisson Blu Hotel which left at least 20 dead, the New York Times tells us that al Mourabitoun, “a jihadist group loyal to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian operative for Al Qaeda," claimed responsibility for the attack. The group released an audio in which it suggested that its militants had collaborated with al Qaeda’s branch in the Islamic Maghreb. Meanwhile, the Massina Liberation Front also claimed responsibility for the attack, making it the third group to have done so, behind al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Washington Post reports that American forces aided the Malian army as it cleared the hotel and evacuated freed hostages to safety. The Wall Street Journal writes that the attack in Bamako shows al Qaeda’s attempt to reestablish itself in the jihadi world. As one expert notes, “al Qaeda is weakened so it needs to carry out operations to tell its followers that it still exists.” In the aftermath of Mali, Russia is calling for global cooperation to combat terrorism after six Russian nationals were killed in the attack.

Over in Iran, the Post reports that “Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who has been held by the government of Iran for the past 16 months and was convicted on unspecified charges last month, has been sentenced to a prison term.” Rezaian’s case has been shrouded in mystery as those in America have repeatedly called for his release.

During his visit to Tehran, Vladimir Putin pledged that “Russia will resume exporting nuclear technology to Iran” when sanctions are lifted as part of the nuclear accord signed in July. Russia will assist with Iran's export of enriched uranium as well as the modification of two of the country’s nuclear facilities.

Just ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel, another Palestinian attacker was shot and killed after he stabbed and killed an Israeli in the West Bank. On Sunday, an Israeli woman and three Palestinian attackers were killed in separate incidents in the West Bank. The New York Times writes that “more than 90 Palestinians have been killed during the period, about half while attacking or trying to attack Israelis, and the rest during demonstrations where they clashed with Israeli soldiers” while at least “17 Israeli Jews have been killed and dozens wounded in 70 stabbings, 10 shootings and 10 vehicular attacks.”

An investigation looking into the fall of Kunduz concluded that “weak leadership, misuse of resources and lack of coordination between Afghan security services were the main reasons [the] strategic northern city briefly fell to the Taliban.” The investigation also revealed that “army, police and intelligence agency soldiers left their posts as the Taliban advanced on the city” and that “the large-scale desertion enabled the insurgents to enter the city almost unopposed.” The Taliban had been planning the attack for months and had attempted to take the city at least three times before finally succeeding.

In Somalia, a suspected drone strike targeting an al Qaeda base killed al Shabaab militants. Local residents and police told reporters that they had heard a series of crashes that looked like drone strikes and learned that five Shabaab fighters had been killed.

Five teenage girls left 12 dead in two separate suicide attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon. Boko Haram claimed credit for the attacks. The Guardian reminds us that Boko Haram’s “six-year insurgency has killed about 20,000 people and driven an estimated 1.5 million to 2.3 million people in the region from their homes.”

The New York Times reports that Crimean Tatar activists and Ukrainian nationalists “blocked access to repair crews seeking to restore the main power lines in southern Ukraine that supply Crimea, leaving the disputed peninsula in the dark and Ukraine and Russia headed toward a standoff over the issue.” The activists said that they “would prevent repairs until Russia released political prisoners and allowed international organizations to monitor human rights in Crimea.” As tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue, Western leaders who met at the G-20 Summit have agreed to extend sanctions on Russia by six months despite calls for a global coalition against the Islamic State.

The South China Morning Post reports that Chinese forces used flamethrowers “to smoke terror suspects out of their hiding place in a cliffside cave during a recent counterterrorism operation in the far western Xinjiang region.” Chinese authorities have been searching for suspected terrorists in Xinjiang. Last week, officials confirmed that they had killed “28 people suspected of taking part in an attack on a coal mine” in the region.

Parting shot: As the lockdown continues in Brussels, social media users have tried to lighten up the tension by using the Twitter hashtag #BrusselsLockdown. Users have posted “many photos of kittens, some in combat gear, a wry reference to the security level: Four, or in French, Quatre - pronounced Cat'.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jen Williams explored why experts failed to notice the globalization of the Islamic State’s strategy.

Daniel Severson asked what powers the French government has gotten through its extended state of emergency.

Cody posted this week’s Lawfare Podcast which featured Jack’s discussion with Charlie Savage on his latest book at the second Hoover Book Soiree.

Ellen Scholl posted the latest Hot Commodities in which she shed light on the Islamic State's reliance on energy, among other subjects.

Ben provided a rebuttal against the harsh political treatment of refugees within the United States.

Timothy Edgar suggested that the NSA's bulk collection of Internet metadata showed the incoherence of surveillance law.

Ben and Jack invited you to the third Hoover Book Soiree which will feature the Economist’s Edward Lucas.

Zack Bluestone shared the latest Water Wars, discussing the maritime disputes featured during the series of international summits last week.

Cody posted the Week That Will Be.

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