Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena
Monday, November 30, 2015, 6:29 PM

Fallout from Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet last Tuesday continues. Reuters tells us that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu dismissed “any suggestion Ankara should apologize for downing a Russian warplane in its airspace last week, after winning strong NATO support for the right to defend itself.” Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia had announced the plane’s flight plan to the United States, a narrative denied by U.S. officials. Putin also stated that Turkey shot down the aircraft in order to protect “Turkish profiteering from illegal imports of oil produced by Islamic State rebels in Syria.” Russia has now implemented sanctions against Turkey.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State said that “while the United States supported Turkey's right to defend its airspace, it was important now for Ankara and Moscow to take steps to de-escalate the tensions on both sides.” In the Hill, Maj. Gen. Charlie Dunlap explores whether Russia might have a case in protesting the downing of its jet.

Reuters tells us that Russian air strikes killed at least 30 in Ariha, a town in northwestern Syria. Following the downing of the Russian jet, Syrians in rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria near the Turkish border have reported intensified air strikes by Russian warplanes.

Western forces continue to target ISIS in Syria in Iraq, but intelligence officials are warning that “the group’s leaders are also devoting new resources and attention to far-flung affiliate groups,” especially the group’s Libyan coastal stronghold of Sirte, sometimes spelled Surt. The New York Times writes that that the group’s leadership "is now clenching its grip on Surt so tightly that Western intelligence agencies say they fear the core group may be preparing to fall back to Libya as an alternative base if necessary.” The Wall Street Journal suggests that “the militant group has expanded in Libya” in an attempt to establish “a new base close to Europe where it can generate oil revenue and plot terror attacks.” ISIS has exploited rifts in the country’s political fabric in order to establish Sirte as “a new stronghold of violent religious extremism just across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy.”

Elsewhere, the New York Times highlights how the Islamic States’ predatory practices that have enabled the group to raise over $1 billion per year, as “a broad consensus has emerged that [the group’s] biggest source of cash appears to be the people it rules, and the businesses it controls.”

The Associated Press reports that “fighting between U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and rival militants has killed more than 20 people in northern Syria over the past two days.” Much of this fighting has occurred in a border region “where Turkey is examining the possibility of creating a safe zone to protect civilians and moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces,” causing one expert to suggest that the recent fighting is an attempt to stymie any creation of such a a safe zone.

McClatchy tells us that Iraqi forces have succeeded in cutting off all ISIS supply lines linking Ramadi to Syria. Iraqi troops are currently attempting to recapture Ramadi itself, which was seized by ISIS in May. Although the Iraqi security forces have made progress in recent weeks, an unnamed official suggests that “Iraqi forces have struggled in urban operations, and Ramadi will be tough once they enter the city.”

Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast write that Kurdish forces allied with the United States have abused and tortured ISIS prisoners captured during a recent Delta Force raid. However, they note that U.S. officials are unlikely to intervene in the Kurdish treatment of ISIS prisoners despite what appears to be a violation of international law. Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters have told the Guardian that “U.S. special forces have been waging a covert war on the frontline in Iraq for months” despite repeated denials by U.S. officials that U.S. troops are fighting on the front lines.

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have called for an increase of troop presence in Iraq and Syria, Reuters tells us. Suggesting that the “aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle,” the Senators are pushing for Washington to triple the number of soldiers in Iraq to 10,000 and to send an additional 10,000 troops to Syria “as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State in both countries.” As Western countries seek to strengthen efforts in the fight against ISIS following the attacks in Paris, Reuters reports that German officials are also considering sending 1,200 soldiers to support the coalition fight against the Islamic State.

French President François Hollande visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday. While the two leaders did not agree upon the fate of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, both “pledged to increase intelligence sharing to better coordinate strikes in Syria.” The Washington Post reports that a day after the meeting, the Kremlin “played down the possibility of a grand coalition with the West to strike the Islamic State in Syria.” A Kremlin spokesman stated that “[Russia’s] partners are not ready to work as one coalition.” For its part, France maintains that Russian strikes must only target the Islamic State and other extremist forces, and a spokesman for France’s foreign minister stated that “there can be no possible ambiguity on the objectives being pursued, which must only target the destruction of Daesh [Islamic State].”

Reuters reports that the European Union and Turkey have agreed on a $3.2 billion plan to mitigate the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe as "part of a wider deal to speed up Ankara's efforts to join the 28-nation bloc." According to Politico, the deal would aim to improve the conditions of refugees in Turkey, loosen restrictions on Turkish visas into the E.U., and the hasten the process of allowing Turkey to enter the Union.

German officials are warning that “migrants seeking out Arabic-language mosques in search of the familiar are increasingly ending up at those attended by Islamist radicals.” The officials fear that local extremists may attempt to recruit refugees and asylum seekers. No successful cases of such recruitment have taken place, but authorities have highlighted the potential threat posed to European security. Adding to concerns, a fight broke out in a Berlin refugee center. Reuters tells us that hundreds of asylum-seekers were involved in the fighting, highlighting the ongoing tensions posed by the prolonged refugee crisis and the challenges facing Germany as it works to accept thousands of asylum-seekers.

Agence France-Presse updates us on the latest from Yemen. A combination of ground fighting and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in the southern Daleh province killed at least 16, including 12 Houthi rebels and 4 loyalists. Also, shelling from inside of Yemen left three dead in the country’s border zone with Saudi Arabia.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Embassy has received "credible reports of an imminent attack" in Kabul. The Embassy has urged caution in moving about the city but has not provided more specific information on the nature of the possible attack.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the possibility of resuming peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. According to the Wall Street Journal, a statement from Sharif’s office said that “both leaders agreed to work with all those who would enter such a process as legitimate political actors and act, alongside the Afghan government, against those who refuse to take the path of peace.”

The AP writes that the U.S. assault on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz that left 31 civilians dead “resulted from preventable errors by soldiers and airmen who violated rules of engagement and have been removed from duty while awaiting further investigation.” Despite recent statements made by military officials, the AP points out that the report fails to address the question of “how the attack was ordered in a populated area based on a ground commander's request with little apparent review by higher headquarters.” According to the newswire, the crew of the AC-130 gunship was given the coordinates for an Afghan intelligence building where Afghan forces were said to be in danger, but the coordinates pointed the plane to an open field near the hospital. The crew then used a physical description of the facility to find the target, mistaking the hospital for the facility.

The New York Times writes that Abid Naseer, an al-Qaeda member who plotted a car bombing in Manchester, England, was sentenced to 40 years in prison last week. Naseer was indicted by federal authorities in 2010 and extradited from Great Britain to the United States in 2013.

The NSA’s collection of bulk metadata under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act has finally come to an end. Politico reports that the new program authorised by the USA Freedom Act took effect on midnight of November 29th. For Lawfare, Cody flagged the ODNI’s statement regarding the transition.

President Obama signed the NDAA on Wednesday and issued a statement accompanying the annual bill which said “that a congressional ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. impedes his ability to close the detention facility.” The New York Times has more.

Parting Shot: In the Atlantic, Graham Allison explains the key to Henry Kissinger’s success.

ICYMI: The Thanksgiving Holiday, on Lawfare

Rebecca Crootof explained why the prohibition on permanently blinding lasers is a poor precedent for banning autonomous weapons systems.

Jennifer Daskal and Andrew Woods proposed a framework for cross-border data requests.

Ammar Abdulhamid answered the question, “Who are those Syrian refugees really?”

David Ryan explained the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision in New York Times v. Department of Justice and what the opinion means for future FOIA lawsuits.

Herb Lin highlighted the final report from the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulation Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee. Later, Zoe Bedell walked us through the specific recommendations issued by the Task Force.

Susan Hennessey explored the role of immigration fraud plays in terrorism prosecutions.

Stewart Baker interviewed the New York Times’ Charlie Savage in the 90th episode of Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast.

Adam Klein pointed out that it would be a war crime if the pilots of the Russian plane were, in fact, shot as they ejected from the Russian aircraft.

Paul Rosenzweig alerted us to the fact that the annual conference on European Data Protection was cancelled.

Ben shared the "Gobble, Gobble, Toil and Trouble" Edition of Rational Security, which featured Lawfare's new managing editor, Susan Hennessey, in her first podcast appearance.

Julian Ku argued that the United States should “hold its fire over China’s boycott of UNCLOS arbitration.”

Jessica Stern asked what ISIS really wants, suggesting that the group will continue to recruit foreigners as well as those willing to undertake attacks against the West.

Matthew Weybrecht noted that the State Department’s recent letter to Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) emphasizing that the Iran deal is only a political commitment.

Butch Bracknell asked what exactly is behind the United States’ policy of the warning civilians participating in hostilities as part of its operations against ISIS.

Marc Meyer considered why mass shootings are not an effective tactic for terrorism in America.

Paul Rosenzweig provided a helpful metaphor to explain counter-terrorism.

Paul also provided a primer on refugee law.

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