Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, December 2, 2015, 3:22 PM

The Pentagon intends to deploy “a targeting force of elite U.S. special operations troops into northern Iraq” in order to gather intelligence and target ISIS leaders, the Daily Beast reports. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon would send a "specialized expeditionary targeting force” of roughly 150 troops to Iraq during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. The team will be tasked with executing independent missions so that, as Carter puts it, ISIS militants “don't know at night who is going to be coming in the window.” The announcement comes amid calls by Republican lawmakers to significantly expand troop presence in Iraq and Syria, as well as criticisms that the Obama Administration lacks a coherent strategy against the Islamic State.

Defense One tells us to expect unilateral raids. They note that Carter’s remarks “publicly recognized and explained an escalation of U.S. military involvement on the ground in Iraq and Syria.” According to Foreign Policy, the force will be comprised of Navy SEALs who will work to bolster Iraqi forces and secure the country’s border.

Just hours after Carter's testimony, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared that Iraqi security forces could defeat ISIS without foreign troops. The prime minister called for "training, weapons and advice from the international community and not ‘foreign ground combat forces fighting on Iraqi soil.’" The reasoning behind al Abadi’s objections is not entirely clear, but the Washington Post writes that Iraqi citizens harbor deep suspicions that the “the United States is supporting the Islamic State for a variety of pernicious reasons that have to do with asserting U.S. control over Iraq, the wider Middle East and, perhaps, its oil.”

Backed by U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi security forces have surrounded the ISIS-held city of Ramadi, but the Associated Press writes that “the battle that is shaping up threatens to turn into a drawn-out siege, with thousands of residents caught in the middle.” Iraqi forces dropped leaflets on Sunday and Monday warning residents to evacuate the city ahead of the impending siege, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the Islamic State is preventing citizens from fleeing the city. Residents have said that announcements over loudspeakers have warned that the residents attempting to flee would be arrested or killed.  

Following Germany’s recent announcement that it would send over 1,000 troops to aid the fight against ISIS, British lawmakers will vote today to authorize British airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria. The New York Times reports that British lawmakers are expected to approve the motion.

Britain has been roiled in a debate between Prime Minister David Cameron, who maintains that strikes will “keep the British people safe,” and Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who suggests that Cameron’s pitch "doesn't stack up." Cameron also referred to opponents of the proposed airstrikes as "a bunch of terrorist sympathizers," a remark which, unsurprisingly, sparked controversy among lawmakers. Reuters writes that “many Britons are wary of wading into another war in the Middle East after Western intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya failed to bring stability to the region and, some believe, led to the rise of ultra-radical groups like Islamic State.” Lawfare’s David Bosco highlights how the recent United Nations resolution calling on member states to suppress ISIS is influencing the debate in the House of Commons. The Guardian provides the full text of the motion tabled by Cameron to Parliament while the Guardian and BBC have live updates of the debate.

After traveling to Brussels to meet with NATO foreign ministers, Secretary of State John Kerry “expects numerous NATO allies to decide within coming days how to step up their contributions to the military campaign against Islamic State in Syria.” He suggested that NATO contributions would come “both in terms of extra military assistance and support aid such as medical facilities or refueling flights.”

U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, appear optimistic about the possibility of reaching a political solution to end the Syrian civil war. Speaking at a Foreign Policy forum, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken pointed to Russia’s military intervention in support of the Assad regime as a factor that “had ‘ironically’ hastened progress towards a potential diplomatic solution to the conflict.”

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al Assad praised Russian airstrikes for “shrinking” the Islamic State. Speaking on Czech television, Assad said that U.S. strikes had not contributed to the fight against ISIS and remarked that the group "has expanded and the recruiting from around the world has increased" since the United States began strikes last year.

Some world leaders, including French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, have expressed concern that the Islamic State may attempt to bolster its presence in Libya due to the increased pressure the group is facing in Iraq and Syria. Even so, U.N. experts said yesterday that ISIS in Libya “has been hampered by a lack of fighters and the militant group is struggling to win local support because it is viewed as an ‘outsider.’” The U.N. experts explained that the group “is not embedded in local communities and has not succeeded in gaining the population's support” which would inhibit extreme territorial expansion throughout the country.

The New York Times highlights the experiences of former Islamic State residents, many of which illustrate how the group’s “statehood project is now in distress, perhaps more so than at any other time since the Islamic State began seizing territory in Iraq and Syria.” The Islamic State’s claim to statehood distinguish it from other competing militant groups and has long been a prominent feature in attracting recruits.

Tensions between Russia and Turkey show no signs of dissipating as Russia now claims to have proof that Turkey is involved with the Islamic State’s oil business. The Russian Defense Ministry released a series of satellite photos which they claim show ISIS oil being transported into Turkey. According to NBC News, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told reporters that "Turkey is the main destination for the oil stolen from its legitimate owners, which are Syria and Iraq." He went on to add that not only did Turkey benefit from the illegal sales of ISIS oil but that the country’s political leadership was involved in the sales as well.

With France’s state of emergency still in place following last month’s attacks in Paris, the French interior minister announced that security personnel have closed a mosque in which jihadi material was found. The police arrested one man, and put nine others under house arrest. Following the raid on the mosque, authorities also banned 22 additional people from leaving the country. Since the state of emergency was declared, France "has so far raided 2,235 homes and buildings, taken 232 people into custody and confiscated 334 weapons, 34 of them war-grade.” France has also closed four mosques since the attacks.

Crimean residents continue to suffer without electricity, after Tatar activists blew up power lines between Ukraine and Crimea last week. Twenty months after Russia annexed the region, residents are growing increasingly disillusioned. Between “the Crimean Tatar activists and Ukrainian nationalists who cut off Crimea’s link to the Ukrainian power grid [and] the local government officials who claimed to have enough power generators stored away to handle such an emergency,” residents are unsure who is most responsible for the current discontent.

After the Obama administration accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty "by developing and testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile," the Pentagon has announced that it will pursue plans to strengthen defense systems in Europe. Republican lawmakers have criticized the Administration for not pursuing measures that would raise costs on Russia for its continued violation of the accord. Meanwhile, NATO invited the state of Montenegro to join the alliance, causing the Kremlin to warn against further eastward NATO expansion. It could take up to two years for Montenegro to become a full member.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove suggested that Russia is unlikely to meet the “year-end deadline for a peace deal in eastern Ukraine.” Breedlove added that Russia was still actively supporting separatist movements in the region.

In the first legal action taken against the European motion to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers across Europe, Slovakia filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Justice against the E.U. decision.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced yesterday that the alliance would keep 12,000 troops in Afghanistan, as the country faces increasing violence from the Taliban and the Islamic State. Unsurprisingly, the Taliban denounced the decision while Afghanistan's foreign minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, supported the announcement. The Washington Post sheds light on the challenges facing air missions in Afghanistan and the country’s shortage of air capabilities.

Meanwhile, Shane Harris of the Daily Beast tells us that there are still U.S. hostages held by the Taliban which “raises questions about how many Americans are being held abroad—and what the U.S. government is doing to recover them.”

Mullah Mansour Dadullah, the leader of the Taliban splinter group, was killed in a gunfight with the Taliban’s main group. The New York Times writes that his death removes “a major rival to the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who has presided over major insurgent offensives this year even while fighting to consolidate his power and address a new threat by fighters who have declared loyalty to the Islamic State.”

Pakistan hanged four men who were sentenced to death by a military court for their involvement in last year’s massacre on a military school in Peshawar that left over 150 dead.

As violence continues in Israel, young Palestinian women have increasingly been involved in carrying out violent attacks. The New York Times writes that “young women have assumed an unfamiliar role in this uprising and the tensions leading up to it, confounding families and a society unaccustomed to women wanting to be killers and unfurling once-rare scenes across the West Bank.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration to pursue a criminal probe “to investigate 21 former U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, for potential criminal misconduct for their roles in the CIA's torture of terrorism suspects in detention.”

Running the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay may cost a lot of money, but the Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama recently decided a plan to close it was too expensive. According to the Journal, the Pentagon’s latest plan to close the facility would have cost over a half billion dollars, and the Obama administration rejected it and asked for a new plan. The Pentagon estimates that the detention facility currently costs $400 million per year to operate. A U.S. based-facility would cost $300 million per year following a one-time investment of roughly $600 million.  

Yesterday at Guantanamo, Mustafa al Shamiri, a Yemeni detainee held since 2002, appeared before the Periodic Review Board to appeal for release. Al Shamiri was initially characterized as an indefinite detainee, deemed too dangerous to release. However, a recently released intelligence assessment has now determined that al Shamiri was incorrectly identified, and that the activities ascribed to him “were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to” Shamiri’s. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has more.

Parting Shot: A Turkish court has appointed five Lord of the Rings “experts” to determine whether a Gollum, or Sméagol, meme is offensive, after it was used by a Turkish doctor to depict Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Why? Insulting the head of state is a crime punishable with jail time in Turkey.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben updated us on the latest happenings inside the cyber arm of the People’s Liberation Army, concluding that “maybe those Chinese cyber espionage indictments weren’t so dumb.”

Cody shared that the five amici curiae for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have been announced.

Aaron Zelin posted the latest Jihadology Podcast on the history, legacy, and relevance of Algerian jihadism today.

Jack provided the December 2015 supplement for his casebook with Curtis Bradley, Foreign Relations Law: Cases and Materials.

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