Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, December 29, 2015, 4:11 PM

Breaking news from the Pentagon today as it announced that the U.S.-led coalition has killed 10 ISIS leaders in the past month, including individuals associated with last month’s attacks in Paris. One of the individuals killed was Abdul Qader Hakim, who U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren said facilitated the militants group's external operations. Another was Charaffe al Mouadan, “a Syria-based Islamic State member with a direct link to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader” of the Paris attacks. Warren said that al Mouadan was actively planning additional attacks against the West.

Back in Europe, the counterintelligence battle against ISIS networks continues. Today, Belgian authorities arrested two suspects over suspicions that they were planning a New Year’s terror attack in Brussels in “the same style as those perpetrated in Paris”, according to Belgian state security services. Searches of the suspects homes “turned up military-style training uniforms and ISIS propaganda but no weapons or explosives.” Belgian authorities have yet to release the names of the suspects.

In Iraq, celebrations of the partial liberation of Ramadi continue. Reuters reports that on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi raised the national flag in the city, a crucial symbolic victory for an army in desperate need of one. Even so, the newswire points out that security forces still face the daunting challenge of clearing a city full of booby-traps and improvised explosive devices as well as dislodging the remaining ISIS militants from neighborhoods to the north and south of the city. As evidence of the work that remains, Reuters notes that Abadi’s convoy came under mortar fire while in Ramadi, although the shells landed 500 meters away from his location and Iraqi security forces said the prime minister was never in danger.

Yet the victory is cause for optimism, and not just for the immediate future of Ramadi. Foreign Policy suggests that the success of the Iraqi army in a fight in which it did not rely on extensive American air power or a rescue from Shiite militias—elements that were central in the retaking of Tikrit and Baiji—could signal a turning point for the country's beleaguered security forces. Foreign Policy also details how a floating bridge may have been the most important weapon in the entire battle for the city.

The Iraqi government intends for local Sunni fighters to comprise the main holding force for the city, a good thing since Ramadi itself is a primarily Sunni city and the capital of the mostly Sunni Anbar province. The U.S. military has put the number of Iraqi security forces casualties in the low double digits while Iraqi officials have estimated that ISIS casualties number in the hundreds. The Institute for the Study of War maps the battle while the Washington Post depicts the fight for Ramadi in pictures.

Up next? Mosul. The city is the reported aim of the Iraqi army. Iraq’s Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters that in order to accomplish that goal, the Iraqi army needs the assistance of the Kurdish Peshmerga, saying that “you cannot do Mosul without Peshmerga.” Yet U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, tempered expectations, saying that Mosul “is a big, big, big city and it’s going to take a lot of effort. It’s going to take more training. It’s going to take more equipment, and it’s going to take patience.”

More gruesome details today from the cache of documents seized in the Abu Sayyaf raid as Reuters reports that ISIS “theologians have issued an extremely detailed ruling on when ‘owners’ of women enslaved by the extremist group can have sex with them.” Reuters notes that in September 2014, in response to ISIS’s campaign of enslavement, 120 Islamic scholars from around the world condemned the group’s religious arguments saying that the “reintroduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam.” You can read the full fatwa with all 15 regulations relating to sex slaves here.

Reuters shares that a Kuwaiti daily newspaper, al-Qabas, has reported this morning that Kuwait will send troops to assist Saudi Arabia in its fight against the Yemeni Houthis. While nominally a member of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis, the decision, if confirmed, would mark the first time that Kuwait has deployed ground forces in the conflict.

The Associated Press reports that Afghan police are refusing to fight the Taliban in Sangin district of Helmand province, instead choosing to stay inside their base. The director of the Helmand provincial council, Karim Atal, told the AP that, contrary to some reports, government reinforcements have yet to arrive in the district, and that keeping police hunkered inside the base is “the only way they can claim that the district has not fallen.”

With all focus on the Islamic State’s emergence and the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, another terrorist group is rising under the radar: al Qaeda. The New York Times reports that al Qaeda training camps have once again started popping up across Afghanistan as Pakistan flushes militants from its northwestern provinces across the border. No longer sitting at the top of the target list, they are now considered just one of many threats undermining the stability of Afghanistan.

In northwestern Pakistan, a suicide bomber attacked a government office killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 70, Reuters reports. Jamaat ur Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iran shipped almost all of its low-enriched uranium to Russia yesterday, fulfilling a key provision of the P5+1 nuclear accord reached last summer. The Times notes that the shipment is intended to leave Iran with “too little fuel to manufacture a nuclear weapon.” American officials have indicated that it may only be a few weeks until the deal takes effect, when roughly $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets will be released and Tehran will once again be able to sell oil on world markets and freely participate in the global financial system. Secretary of State John Kerry said the removal of the fuel pushed Iran’s “breakout time” — the time it would take the country to get enough nuclear material one bomb — to between six and nine months.

According to the New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration are moving to enforce a ten-year-old law under which airport screeners would only accept driver’s licenses from states that comply with a set of federal standards when issuing the licenses. The standards were the result of recommendations from the 9/11 commission, but many privacy advocates worry that the IDs would create the equivalent of a national identification card. More than a dozen states have passed laws preventing their motor vehicle departments from complying with the law. The Department of Homeland Security said that by the end of this year it will provide a schedule for when the change will take effect.

The Hill reports that the Department of Defense has submitted the first comprehensive military justice reform package in more than 30 years to Congress. The reforms include new offenses, replacing the current sentencing standards with a system of judicial discretion that would have set parameters and criteria, and recommendations to establish selection criteria for military judges.

Parting Shot: 'Tis the time for resolutions as we approach the New Year and over at CSIS, Anthony Cordesman shares four of his “New Year’s Resolutions on Terrorism,” each of which are worth keeping in mind as we turn yet another calendar page.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack flagged his and Oona Hathaway’s op-ed in the Washington Post, which argues that the U.S. government’s pre-publication review process is broken and results in “pervasive and unjustifiable harms to freedom of speech.” Later they highlighted two further problems with the pre-publication review process and explained how we got here.

Ammar Abdulhamid outlined his theory for why the Islamic State is staying, "why it is expanding", and “why no one is really fighting it.”

Finally, John Bellinger pointed out a provision in the omnibus bill that creates a one billion dollar fund for victims of terrorism.

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