Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade, Cody M. Poplin
Friday, January 15, 2016, 4:15 PM

The Wall Street Journal writes that the Islamic State’s assault in Jakarta yesterday marked a new phase in its global expansion, as the self-proclaimed caliphate launched its first attack in Southeast Asia. The coordinated attack has renewed fears that Islamist-inspired violence may return to the region. The Associated Press reports that Indonesian police arrested three men on suspicion of links to the attack. Elsewhere, Reuters shares that the mastermind behind the Jakarta attack was an Indonesian named Bahrun Naim, who used to run an Internet cafe in the small Indonesian city of Solo. Naim had a history with extremists and joined ISIS a year ago, and has since repeatedly warned of an assault in Indonesia.

In a stunning new feature, the Military Times summarizes the Pentagon’s new strategy for defeating ISIS, and it looks a lot like old-school warfare. The plan, which treats ISIS as a conventional enemy, comes after last year’s plans were deemed ineffective when ISIS took control of the city of Ramadi. This new attempt aims to confront ISIS head on, targeting their strongholds and resources in Iraq and Syria simultaneously.

Speaking of war plans in Iraq: Happy Anniversary! As of Sunday, January 17th, the United States has been bombing Iraq for 25 years. The folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies provide a video looking back on the quarter-century Iraq and the United States have now shared, and just why all that air power has proven less than decisive.

Turkey has ordered a major offensive against ISIS in retaliation for the suicide bombing that rocked Istanbul and killed 10 German tourists earlier this week. The Times writes that an estimated 200 militants were killed by Turkish tank and artillery fire, which targeted almost 500 of the group’s strategic positions over the last 48 hours. However, it was not immediately clear how the Turkish government verified the number of militants killed and government sources did not clarify the locations of the ISIS targets.

Want to know where to get the latest on the Islamic State? Well, the Amaq News Agency receives tips directly from ISIS, says the New York Times. This has proven true for the recent ISIS terror attacks including yesterday’s Jakarta attack, the assault on a Baghdad mall earlier this week, and even the San Bernardino shootings. Every time a bomb goes off, Amaq News seems to get the scoop before anyone else. The jihadist-affiliated publication provides ISIS with a tool long used by tyrants: a news service with the “veneer of objectivity.”

From jihadist media to social media: Vocativ explains that ISIS has inspired other jihadist groups to create their own emojis, but not the kind of smiley faces and cute animals you are thinking of. These emojis detail beheadings and other violent themes. Don’t expect your next phone update to include these.

The Wall Street Journal writes that Russia’s intervention in Syria has emboldened the Syrian Kurds, these being the same Syrian Kurds who have become an indispensable ally for the United States in the fight against ISIS. Russian operations have given the Syrian Kurds leeway to disregard U.S. objections to its encroachment on traditionally Sunni territory, and gain new territory in controversial areas. Still, their partnership with the U.S. remains vital according to the Journal.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed that the U.S.sailors briefly detained in Iran on Tuesday made a navigational error and mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters, report the Times and the Wall Street Journal. Defense officials told the Journal that the sailors were continuing debriefing procedures and would not speculate as to what caused the incident. Some questioned whether the captured sailors were protected under the Geneva Conventions, but the U.S. State Department declared that they were not, stating that the Conventions apply only during a time of war between nations.

Israel is attempting to build closer ties with Gulf monarchies based on their shared tensions with Tehran. Director-General of Israel’s foreign ministry Dore Gold has stepped up efforts to heal and improve ties with countries in the region in attempts to curb Iranian influence and counter the threat of Islamic extremism, shares the Wall Street Journal.

Defense News reports that Army General Joseph Votel has been designated as the next head of U.S. Central Command. Defense Secretary Carter announced General Votel’s nomination during his speech in Tampa yesterday. If approved by the Senate, General Votel will command the fight against ISIS.

Reuters shares that al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, attacked a remote Somali military base and invaded a nearby town close to the Kenyan border, killing dozens of Kenyan soldiers serving in AMISOM. The militant group stated that it took the military base after a suicide bomber breached its gates, and the group then overtook the town, capturing armored vehicles. AMISOM spokesman Paul Njuguna was quoted by Reuters stating “the fighting is still ongoing.”

Voice of America reports that officials in eastern Afghanistan have confirmed that ISIS’s top commander in the area, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was killed in a drone strike alongside at least eleven other militants. The drone attack occurred in a remote part of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province where ISIS allegedly set up its regional headquarters. It is unclear whether Khan survived to see the branch of the Islamic State in Khorasan be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department the same day he was killed.

The Times writes that Pakistani authorities have shut down several religious schools directed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the militant group accused of attacking an air base in India earlier this month. The closures in the Punjab province follow the arrest of JeM’s leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, and other members of the militant group.

Indian officials have welcomed the arrests, calling them an “important and positive first step” and announcing that they would reschedule diplomatic talks with Pakistan “in the very near future.”

A study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative has found that twenty nations with significant atomic stockpiles and nuclear power plants are vulnerable targets for cyberattacks. The Times reports that the findings raise new concerns that a cyberattack would be the easiest and most effective way to take control of or sabotage a nuclear power plant. Among the twenty nations are Argentina, China, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, and North Korea. Read the report here.

Commander of Air Force operations in Europe and Africa, General Frank Gorenc, told NPR about his concerns regarding Russia’s buildup of air missile defenses. Listen to his remarks here.

China is producing drones and selling them to Iraq and other countries in the Middle East. Foreign Policy provides some commentary on the subject.

The United States and South Korea are contemplating a military exercise designed to simulate a pre-emptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The Telegraph writes that the United States and South Korea agreed on a set of plans that would defend South Korea from missile, nuclear, chemical, and biological threats from Pyongyang.

Two United States Marine helicopters with twelve people aboard went missing off the coast of Hawaii earlier today following an apparent collision, CNN and CBS reports. The Coast Guard is now leading a search and rescue mission around Hawaii’s Oahu island.

The German Federal Court of Justice ruled yesterday that Facebook’s find-a-friend feature is an illegal and unacceptable violation of privacy, the Wall Street Journal reports. Under the ruling, Facebook will be required to disable the feature in Germany.

The Associated Press reports that a Portuguese court has ruled that former CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa should be turned over to Italy to serve a six-year sentence for her role in the 2003 rendition of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. De Sousa was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia in an Italian court on charges related to Nasr’s kidnapping in Milan. De Sousa’s attorney announced today that he will appeal the decision.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has sent the White House a plan for how to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility in Cuba, Defense One reports. The plan would transfer the remaining detainees (93 left as of yesterday), to an alternative facility within the United States. The Defense Department’s plan outlines a list of options on U.S. soil where the Pentagon would place the “worst of the worst” detainees, but does not mention a specific location.

Parting Shot: Are you, like some House Republicans, unable to get enough Benghazi? We've got the movie for you: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens in theatres today and “wastes no time setting up heroes and villains.” Read a bit on the movie and its examination of the modern network of private security contractors here in U.S. News, and a bit more on the controversial claim of a “stand down” order here, in the Washington Post.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben and Zoe Bedell flagged a recently filed lawsuit against Twitter that accuses it of providing material support to the Islamic State, noting that the case theory “is precisely the one that we hypothesized” a few months ago in regards to Apple providing end-to-end encryption to terrorists.

Susan concluded her three-part analysis of CISA by examining government use of shared information and what really matters for civil liberties.

Adam Klein explained whether Iran’s photographs of captured U.S. Navy sailors constituted a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Ben provided the latest edition of Rational Security, “The State of the Union is Pretty Chill” edition.

Finally, Jack linked to his essay in Time, which argues that the president is not going to close Guantanamo Bay, despite his many assertions to the contrary.

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