Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Friday, December 4, 2015, 3:14 PM

Tashfeen Malik, the female suspect in the San Bernardino shooting that killed fourteen people, reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS via Facebook. Yet instead of taking directions from the group, one official suggested that authorities believe the suspects were “self-radicalized” and “inspired” by the group’s propaganda. Investigators also said that the suspects had deleted data from their electronic devices in a possible attempt to cover their tracks in planning the attack.

The FBI is treating the shooting as a counterterrorism investigation. Earlier, authorities discovered “thousands of rounds of ammunition and a dozen homemade pipe bombs in their home.” During the attacks, the two suspects shot as many as 150 bullets, and the Daily Beast writes that the shooters had left behind a remote controlled explosive device potentially designed based on plans from al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine.

Germany will provide military support to the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. The New York Times writes that, in a 445 to 146 vote, “the German Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to send reconnaissance planes, a frigate and midair fueling capacity to the Middle East to support the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, although German forces will not be involved in direct combat like airstrikes.” The Associated Press has more.

After the U.K. began airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria following Wednesday’s vote, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Britain to coordinate with Damascus in order to respect the sovereignty of Syria. He pointed to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2249 which, he said “calls on all those who are able to cooperate in the fight against Islamic State on the basis of international law... and coordinate their actions.”

The Washington Post reports that the United States has killed “a mid- to high-level Islamic State figure every two days, on average,” a factor which has contributed “to President Obama’s decision to send a new Special Operations force to Iraq to intensify efforts to locate and kill militant leaders there and in Syria.” A senior official suggested that the force would undertake more raids in order to increase intelligence about the group’s movement. In considering what U.S. forces would do in the event U.S. special operators captured ISIS leaders, Defense Secretary Ash Carter suggested that captured militants could be turned over to U.S. law enforcement, Molly O’Toole writes at Defense One.

The Military Times tells us that U.S. forces have fired over 20,000 bombs and missiles since the beginning of the U.S. campaign against ISIS. The use of Hellfire missiles and bombs has depleted the Air Force’s “stocks of munitions and [has prompted] the service to scour depots around the world for more weapons and to find money to buy them.”

The Washington Post writes that the Islamic State "appears to be wrestling with money problems that could affect its ability to wage war while trying to govern millions of people in its self-declared caliphate." As U.S.-backed forces have reclaimed territory from the militant group, the Islamic State’s "lucrative spoils of war, including oil fields, properties to confiscate and captives to ransom off, have become scarcer." The New Yorker sheds light on another sounce of the group's revenue: the Islamic State’s antiquity trade.

In a video released last week, a Russian man “recruited by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the KGB, and infiltrated into [ISIS] before the group’s internal ‘security service’ allegedly unmasked him” was executed by a Russian-speaking member of the group. According to the Telegraph, the Russian speaking militant issued “a direct challenge to Vladimir Putin and the Russian people."

FSB officials said that ten Syrians connected to the Islamic State entered Thailand in October with intentions to attack Russian interests. The Guardian has more.

The Wall Street Journal writes that the “multisided war in Syria is moving into a critical phase in the province of Aleppo, as rebel groups and foreign powers, such as Iran, Russia and Turkey, try to strike a decisive blow.” Regime and allied forces have "have mobilized thousands of local and foreign Shiite fighters to capture” the city as Iranian troops have worked to cut off rebel supply lines. Aleppo, once a bustling economic hub, “reflects the tangled web of local and regional interests that are vying to control Syria’s future.”

Speaking at a news conference in Greece, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Syrian opposition needed to be reassured that Syrian President Bashar al Assad will leave power before joining talks to reach a political solution to the conflict. He also praised the Greek response to the refugee crisis and announced that the United States will donate nearly $24 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as he "urged other countries to make more contributions to the cash-strapped agency.”

Foreign Policy tells us that Russian President Vladimir Putin focused primarily on Russia’s War on Terror and fight against the Islamic State in his annual State of the Nation address. In the address, Putin also condemned Turkey over the shooting down of a Russian warplane, an incident which “highlights the entrenched differences between intervening parties in Syria.” Russia also has begun to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft defense missile systems to Iran. Russia had previously frozen the delivery in 2010, citing a U.N. sanction that was lifted this year with the July signing of the nuclear deal.

As Russia steps up its role in the Middle East, Israel has been testing “ways of defeating" advanced Russian air-defence system, including the S-300, which Moscow has deployed in the region. Israel fears these systms could limit its ability to strike Syria or Iran. Israel has held joint drills with the Greek air force, employing a Russian S-300 system on the Greek island of Crete to test how the system might be "blinded or bluffed" by nearby warplanes. Reuters has more.

In Yemen, Saudi-led coalition forces hit a Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, facility in the country’s southwest city of Taiz. MSF staff say that the coalition forces had been provided the coordinates for the hospital repeatedly and “had also contacted the coalition shortly before the attack, when airstrikes in a nearby park appeared to threaten the clinic.” Nine people were wounded in the attack which is the second Saudi-led strike on an MSF facility in Yemen in as many months.

In Tunisia, authorities arrested two suspects for their role in planning last week’s suicide attacks in the capital city which left twelve presidential guards dead. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Tunisia has suffered from three major militant attacks this year.

Taliban officials denied rumours that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was seriously wounded and possibly killed in a shootout in Pakistan, saying that they would release an audio recording of the leader to prove that he is alive. Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the Taliban has "already put efforts into sending our men to get a voice recording of the emir himself in order to avoid the growing confusion and assure the people about his well-being.” The New York Times said that Mujahid "also tacitly acknowledged the credibility problem faced by the group, which denied for years that its previous leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had died, then finally admitted it two years after the fact."

A growing number of commanders and accounts have suggested that the Mansour was among those injured when a gunfight broke out at a meeting of the senior Taliban leadership in Pakistan.

In an operation on Thursday night, U.S. and Afghan special forces liberated some 40 Afghan security personnel from a Taliban prison in the Helmand province. Among the liberated prisoners were members of the Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, and Afghan border guards.

Irek Hamidullin, a former Russian tank commander during the Soviet War in Afghanistan who later defected to the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, was sentenced to life in prison. Hamidullin led a charge against Afghan border police, firing upon supporting U.S. helicopters. His capture on the battlefield has “raised questions about whether he should be considered a prisoner of war, and prosecuted by a military tribunal instead of a civilian court.” Lawfare’s Bobby Chesney has more.

Though Pakistani officials have repeatedly downplayed the presence of the Islamic State in Pakistan, Voice of America reports that Pakistani media groups have been targeted by attackers who left ISIS related pamphlets at the scenes of their attack. Media outlets have said that the pamphlets contain “explicit threats” against them while some have asked why the Pakistani government is ignoring the threat posed by the group.

Following the release of an International Atomic Energy Agency report that highlighted the military aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, the New York Times writes that “Iran’s rulers are unwilling to give much more insight into evidence of their nuclear experimentation than they were before the historic nuclear deal was struck this summer.” The Times’s David Sanger notes that one senior IAEA official noted worries that the report would embolden other countries interested in nuclear weapons, saying “I worry we have created a poor precedent for the future” by conceding that “we have no way to force states to come clean, and we never have.”

The Department of Justice announced that the United States and China have agreed on guidelines for requesting assistance on "malicious cyber activities", Reuters writes.

China is accusing Communist Party members of “disloyalty to the Communist Party, of secretly participating in religious activities, sympathizing with the Dalai Lama or even supporting terrorist attacks,” the Washington Post tells us. The Post suggests that "the accusations form part of a hardening of the Party’s stance both in Buddhist Tibet and Muslim-majority Xinjiang" and reflect the party’s desire to crack down on “‘the three evils of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism’ in both regions." According to the Post, these moves have "not only alienated many ordinary ethnic Tibetan and Uighur people, but also provoked significant disquiet in its own ranks."

Foreign Policy sheds light on India’s restrictive policies on digital communications, highlighting the digital curfews that quell “free speech and even basic communication in a country that professes openness and digital access for all.”

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that there would be “no exceptions” to allowing women to serve in combat jobs in the U.S. military. In the announcement, Carter made clear that women will “be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.” The decision will open roughly 220,000 military jobs to women. The reaction from female members of Congress? “It’s about damn time.”

In light of the new policy, the Washington Post asks if the decision could subject women to a military draft, and explores whether the Selective Service Act will need to be updated.

Australia passed a law giving the government the authority to strip dual citizens suspected of participating in terrorism of their Australian citizenships even if those suspects had not been formally charged with a crime. While critics have called the move unconstitutional, supporters of the decision say that it will help the government prevent those who have travelled to and been radicalized in the Middle East from returning to the country.

Parting Shot: Intervention in Syria as deja vu? Michael S. Neiberg of the U.S. Army War College writing in War on the Rocks reminds us of the debates when the United States considered intervening in Syria during World War I.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack opined that the Obama administration only wants an AUMF for “troop morale,” and that reasoning is exactly why Congress will not pass one.

Zoe Bedell noted the irony in the fact that the British Parliament, unlike the U.S. Congress, actually debated and voted on the use of force in Syria, even though the British Prime Minister can legally deploy troops without Parliament’s approval.

Bobby shared the news that former Russian tank commander Irek Hamidullin received a life sentence for his involvement with the Haqqani Network.

Ben posted the “Slippery Slope” edition of Rational Security.

Ellen Scholl gave us the latest edition of Hot Commodities in which, among other topics, she takes a look at some of the extreme weather patterns around the world.

Herb Lin offers an approach to encryption which would distinguish between communications and other forms of data.

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