Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, December 3, 2015, 5:32 PM

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon will open all combat roles to women without exception. The New York Times writes that “the groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women often found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The decision follows a three year review after which the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command joined in agreement that women were qualified to serve in combat roles. Secretary Carter overruled the Marine Corps’ reservations in order to preserve common standards across the military.

The FBI is treating the San Bernardino shooting as a counter-terrorism investigation, the New York Times reports. The decision was “based on materials the suspects stockpiled — including explosives — their Middle East travels and evidence that one of them had been in touch with people with Islamist extremist views, both in the United States and abroad.” The massacre in San Bernardino yesterday left 14 dead and at least 21 injured after the attackers opened fire on an office holiday party. The suspects were later shot and killed during a shootout with police in a nearby residential area. Authorities discovered “thousands of rounds of ammunition in their home as well as 12 pipe bombs” but maintained that the motive behind the attacks remained unclear.

British lawmakers voted 397-223 in favour of British airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria after hours of debate. President Barack Obama greeted the decision positively, stating that the United States looks “forward to having British forces flying with the coalition over Syria, and will work to integrate them into [the U.S.] coalition air-tasking orders as quickly as possible.” Just 57 minutes after the vote, four Royal Air Force jets took off from the British base in Cyprus. Britain’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the aircraft had carried out strikes and undertaken the “first offensive operation over Syria.”

Meanwhile, the fragmented Labour opposition suggested that British Prime Minister David Cameron lacked a clear strategy in pushing for air strikes. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed to “the absence of credible ground troops, the missing diplomatic plan for a Syrian settlement, [and] the failure to address the impact on the terrorist threat or the refugee crisis and civilian casualties” as evidence that Cameron’s strategy in Syria does “not stack up.” Many Labour MPs voted in favor of the strikes, causing some backlash from supporters and prompted Corbyn to warn party members against “bullying or harassing” Labour MPs and their families. The Guardian has more.

Syrian state media is unsurprsingly less than thrilled by the recent British vote, and is highlighting the British protests against the airstrikes. One paper accused Britain of "vaulting over international legitimacy as usual" and questioned why the U.S.-led coalition "does not target Islamic State leaders' bases, or the smugglers' oil pipelines to Turkey," while another alleged the coalition was violating the U.N. Charter.

As the U.S.-led coalition grows, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Islamic State could not be defeated through the exclusive use of airstrikes and stressed the importance of bolstering moderate Syrian and Arab rebel militias. To this end, the United States will send a special operations force made up of between 100-200 personnel to Iraq to aid the campaign against the Islamic State. In response to questions about the possibility of U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria, Obama maintained that any military force used in the fight against ISIS will not look like an “Iraq-style invasion.” Following Tuesday’s announcement that the U.S. would deploy forces to Iraq, the New York Times writes that “military planners at the Joint Special Operations Command headquarters [...] are scrambling to catch up with their boss’s unexpected announcement, and fill in details of the bare-bones proposal, such as what happens to any detainees American commandos seize in the raids.” Defense One’s Molly O’Toole asks what exactly the President plans to do with ISIS leaders captured by U.S. forces.

Amid U.S. plans to deploy a more special operations forces to Iraq, “Iraq's ruling alliance and powerful Shiite militias say Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi would be digging his own political grave and undermining the fight against Islamic State if he permits the deployment of a new U.S. special operations force in the country.”

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have surrounded Ramadi and will begin their campaign to clear ISIS fighters from the city. The Military Times reports that the “militants who have controlled the city for more than six months have set up a daunting defensive perimeter of mines, shooting positions and improvised explosive devices.” As they prepare to battle ISIS forces in the city, Iraqi Sunni fighters will play a critical role as a victory “will rally more Sunnis to fight Islamic State while also easing suspicions among Iraq’s predominantly Shiite leadership about their loyalty.” Sustained Sunni presence in the fight “will likewise give the government a chance to bolster its credibility with the Sunnis,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Syrian government announced that it has “agreed on a deal for opposition fighters to withdraw from the last insurgent-held area of the city of Homs with their weapons as part of a local ceasefire agreement.” While it is unclear whether opposition fighters participated in discussions, U.N. and Syrian officials have been meeting in the city to “finalize a deal following a ceasefire in the city's Waer district.” The Wall Street Journal has more.

In other ISIS-related news, a six member panel of experts cast doubt on the State Department’s messaging campaign against ISIS, questioning “the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda.” The panel questioned whether the government should pursue “overt messaging” as part of their strategy against jihadists.

After NATO invited Montenegro to join the alliance, the New York Times writes that “NATO no longer regards Russia as a ‘strategic partner’ but as a country seeking to undermine the post-Cold War order and restore its sway over the old Soviet empire.” The recent tensions between NATO countries and Russia could undermine efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict and defeat the Islamic State.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Western countries of creating a "zone of chaos and anarchy threatening the entire world" by supporting regime change in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The Associated Press writes that “Putin didn't address efforts to start a peace process in Syria in his speech, focusing on the need to pool global efforts in the fight against terrorism.” Putin called for “one powerful fist” to crush terrorism. He also issued strong condemnation of current Turkish leadership following the Turkish shoot down of a Russian warplane. In response to the incident, Russia has issued “sweeping economic sanctions targeting $30 billion in trade between Russia and Turkey.” Russia also alleged that Turkey was benefitting from ISIS oil trade, pointing to satellite images as evidence.

Turkey has called Russia's accusations of its involvement with the Islamic State’s oil trade “slander.” With relations between the two countries at an all-time low, Turkey is looking to diversify its gas supply. Russia has enacted sanctions against Turkey; banning Turkish food imports and leaving “trucks carrying Turkish exports stranded at its borders.” The moves have prompted Turkish officials to fear that Russia might cut off critical energy supply.

As the state of emergency in France continues following last month’s Paris attacks, French authorities shut down “three mosques and four informal Muslim prayer rooms out of concern that they were contributing to Islamic radicalization.”

The BBC tells us that “Israeli authorities have arrested several youths in connection with a fatal arson attack on a Palestinian family's home in the West Bank.” The July attack killed a mother, father, and their infant son and left their other son critically injured. Painted on the wall of the destroyed house were Hebrew phrases including the Hebrew word for “revenge” and a star of David. Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, urged Israel to "move swiftly in bringing the perpetrators of this terrible crime to justice."

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters have seized two towns more in Southern Yemen. Reuters reports that “in an early morning surprise attack on the capital of Abyan province, Zinjibar, and the neighbouring town of Jaar, the militants overcame local forces and announced their takeover over loudspeakers after dawn prayers.” As violence rages across Yemen, the Long War Journal writes that “[a]l Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken advantage of the chaos,” seizing additional territory along the southern part of the country near the sea. In light of al Qaeda’s advances over the course of the conflict, Bloomberg News tells us that the Saudis are fighting the wrong war, with one expert suggesting that the Saudis "prioritize the fight against what they see as Iranian allies over the fight against Salafi jihadists." The New York Times has more.

An International Atomic Energy Agency report has "concluded that Iran carried out a coordinated effort to develop a nuclear bomb until 2003 and conducted sporadic weapons-related experiments until 2009, when the effort was finally abandoned." The report has sparked anger among critics of the Iran deal. The Washington Post writes that “no previous IAEA report has so clearly linked Iran’s past nuclear work to weapons development.” The New York Times has more.

Afghan officials declared that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour had been shot in Pakistan, suggesting that the leader was either critically injured or deceased. Yet Taliban spokesmen have denied that Mansour was even in Pakistan, suggesting that the reports were propaganda promoted by the Afghan government. The New York Times reports that a series of civilian deaths following raids by a CIA-trained Afghan counterterrorism group are raising questions about the force’s accountability to the Afghan government. The Washington Post asks if the group, known as the Khost Protection Force, is still working for the CIA despite reports “that the CIA was dismantling its Afghan paramilitary units.”

Following NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove’s warning that Russia would not meet the deadline for a Ukraine peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine, calling for “concrete steps to end this disastrous and unnecessary conflict.”

Texas has sued the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the International Rescue Committee, and other government officials over plans to resettle six Syrian refugees. Politico has more.

Cameroon's defense minister announced that its troops had freed some 900 Boko Haram hostages and killed over 100 militants. The Wall Street Journal has more on Boko Haram’s expansion beyond Nigeria.

As President Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo Bay faces challenges, the Administration is pursuing steps to reduce the number of detainees held in the facility in order to “make closing the prison politically and logistically easier.” The Administration hopes to cut the 59 “forever prisoners” that remain in the facility by more than half through prosecutions and plea deals in civilian courts and transfers for trial in other countries.

Parting Shot: The Washington Post provides a short history of conspiracy theories about the U.S. military in the Middle East. Our favorite is the man-eating badgers the U.S. military reportedly released in Basra.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody shared the news that Chinese officials claimed that the OPM hack was “a criminal case,” and have arrested the supposed hackers.

Stewart Baker provided the latest edition of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast wherein Jason Healey and the Steptoe gang debate whether the Internet is really worth it.

Aurel Sari responded to Butch Bracknell’s post on the necessity to warn ISIL oil transport truck drivers before attacks on those trucks commence.

David Bosco highlighted the United Kingdom’s parliament debate over what UN Security Council Resolution 2249 actually says.

Paul Rosenzweig updated us on the Email Privacy Bill, which now has 300 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

Paul also posted a letter from several former high-level national security officials to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in opposition to proposals to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States.

Ben linked to the D.C. Circuit’s en banc oral argument in al Bahlul.

Ben also posted a reminder for the third Hoover Book Soiree, which featured Edward Lucas on Cyberphobia at the Hoover Institution last night.

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