Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 3:29 PM

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a government-run security checkpoint in the central Syrian city of Homs today. The multiple bombs used in the attack killed at least 20 people and wounded over a hundred more.

The Hill reports that it’s possible that U.S. troops may advance closer to the battlefield alongside Iraqi forces as they make preparations to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Although he indicated that closer cooperation was on the table, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford told reporters on Sunday that he would make recommendations to President Obama only after discussions with top U.S. commanders in Iraq and with other Iraqi officials, stressing that he wants to wait until “the Iraqis tell us… what they believe is right for them.”

The message from the Pentagon is that, if Americans are going to do more, then their Middle Eastern allies are also going to be expected to step up their operation tempo. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that he wants Middle Eastern countries to do more against the Islamic State. Defense News reports that Secretary Carter told CNN, “This is one of the greatest ironies, which is that countries in the region have made the least contributions to the counter-Islamic State coalition, including the Gulf countries.”

Thailand and Australia are negotiating a new counterterrorism pact amidst concerns regarding the Islamic State’s growing presence in the Asia-Pacific region. After meeting with Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan to discuss transnational crime, narcotics, and terrorism, Thailand’s Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon announced that the two countries will begin working toward a “memorandum of understanding on anti-terrorism cooperation,” which will be signed soon, the Diplomat shares.

Rwandan police forces shot and killed a suspected Islamic State recruiter as he attempted to escape police custody on Monday. According to Reuters, the suspected Islamic State recruiter was Muhammad Mugemangango, a deputy imam at a mosque in Kigali, Rwanda. Mugemangango was under investigation for encouraging Rwandan youth to join the Islamic State. After hearing reports of Mugmangango’s death, Rwanda’s main Muslim association said it plans to spread messages condemning radicalization to all of Rwanda’s mosques.

Italian authorities arrested a Moroccan citizen living in southern Italy suspected of wanting to become a foreign fighter for the Islamic State, the Associated Press reports. According to Italian police, 25 year old Medhi Hamil had been under investigation since July when he was stopped at Rome’s airport after being denied entry into Turkey. After the incident at the airport, authorities monitored Hamil as he accessed extremist propaganda on the Internet and made plans to move to Belgium.

According to two U.S. think tanks, al Qaeda’s-affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, is a greater threat to the United States than the Islamic State. A new report issued by the Institute for the Study of War and American Enterprise Institute charges that the United States’ single minded focus on the Islamic State is misguided and that al Nusra poses the most significant long-term threat to the homeland.

The New York Times reports that the United Nations is aiming to start Syrian peace talks on Friday. Talks were initially delayed yesterday after a disagreement over who would represent the opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al Assad. News of the disagreement came as Syrian military forces, aided by Russian air power, made new gains on the battlefield. The renewed march of Syrian forces has raised concerns that the diplomatic negotiations set for Friday will bring little rest to the fighting, the Times shares.

Adding to Syrian peace talk tensions, Turkey reportedly plans to boycott the Geneva meeting if the Syrian Kurds, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), are invited to attend. The PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have become a key ally to the United States in the fight against the Islamic State. Agence France-Presse reports that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated, “We are categorically against the YPG and PYD, who oppress the Kurds, sitting at the table.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Libya’s parliament rejected a United Nations-sponsored unity government with rival authorities in Tripoli, delivering a major blow to a months-long effort to bridge the political divide and potentially undermining the fight against Islamic State militants once again. The parliament endorsed the political agreement forming the new government, but objected to an article that would dismiss General Khalifa Hifter, the military chief appointed by the current government.

With no sheriff in town, the Obama administration is drawing up a plan to open a third front against the Islamic State in Libya, the New York Times reports. The new strategy is expected to include airstrikes and raids by special operations forces. The Times calls this “troubling,” adding that a new intervention in Libya would “represent a significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent,” and would occur without the slightest debate in Congress, let alone its imprimatur.

On Monday, Egypt marked the fifth anniversary of the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak with muted displays and silenced street. The Times reports that thousands of police officers patrolled Cairo’s streets and public squares and security forces rounded up civil society activists, closed art houses, and detained administrators of opposition Facebook pages. The Times shares that a few dozen protesters took to the streets but were quickly dispersed by police forces.

Two Israeli women were stabbed by two Palestinian attackers in the West Bank on Monday. The attackers, severely wounded one of the women, and were shot dead by a security guard, the Times tells us. The attack was the latest in a set of three stabbing incidents in the West Bank in which all of the victims were women. Police also found three explosive devices near the stabbing scene, describing them as improvised pipe bombs.

Afghan forces arrested 8 members of the Haqqani Network after the militants carried out a suicide attack on journalists working for the country’s most watched television channel. The Haqqani Network, which operates out of Pakistan’s border areas, has been blamed for the deadliest and most sophisticated attacks on Afghan and U.S. troops, Reuters tells us. The Haqqani members were apparently arrested in southeast Kabul, but no other information was provided by Afghan officials.

The BBC shares that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has promised to “bury” the Islamic State, which he says have “confronted the wrong people.” President Ghani also called for more anti-Islamic State action at the regional and international levels.

The Associated Press reports that three border policemen were killed and three others wounded in a suicide attack at a border crossing in southern Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Kandahar province police spokesman Zia Durrani stated that the attack took place when five suicide bombers stormed the border police headquarters at Spin Boldak on the border of Pakistan. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility.

In a tragic Green-on-Green attack, Afghan police forces suffered another blow when ten officers in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan were poisoned by one of their own. The poisoned officers were then shot in the head by Taliban fighters working with the rogue police colleague. This marks the second insider attack on police in the province in two weeks.

Long live the Forever War: the Washington Post reports that top U.S. military commanders are quietly discussing an American commitment in Afghanistan that would keep thousands of troops in the country for decades. The changed plans, made possible by President Obama’s decision to cancel withdrawal plans last fall, reflects the Afghan government’s vulnerability to continued militant assaults and terror groups such as al Qaeda.

General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s most powerful and popular man, announced yesterday that he would step down from his post as army chief this November. The move signifies a positive step for Pakistan’s “historically unstable democracy” — his two most recent predecessors had extended their appointments, with one leading a coup — but also creates a “new uncertainty about the battle against Islamist militants,” which General Sharif has greatly expanded, the Post writes.

On Monday, the European Union launched the European Counter Terrorism Center, a new agency within Europol whose 50-person staff will “deal in intelligence-sharing, tracking foreign fighters and sources of illegal financing and firearms, and assisting EU countries in counterterrorism investigations.” In a report released yesterday, Europol said that the continent faces the most significant terrorist threat in over 10 years, and that “there is every reason to expect that IS, IS-inspired terrorists, or another religiously inspired terrorist group will undertake a terrorist attack somewhere in Europe again.” The Associated Press has more.

Less than two weeks after Germany’s highest court ruled that Facebook’s voluntary Find-a-Friend feature is a deceptive marketing practice in violation of German data protection laws, another German court has declared that Amazon’s “Share” feature amounts to “unsolicited advertising and unreasonable harassment.” For the uninitiated, Amazon’s “Share” feature allows customers to share a product via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Customers can craft their own message regarding the item and determine whether they endorse it or not. The case against Amazon was brought by a market competitor. We'd urge our German readers to think twice because using Lawfare’s share feature, as well.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House will overhaul the government’s security clearance process, “creating a new division to handle screenings and directing the Pentagon to protect data.” The new center, the National Background Investigations Bureau, will be a division of the Office of Personnel Management, but its information and cyber security systems will be handled by the Department of Defense.

Approps of security clearances, the Washington Post has all the details on how four-star General David Petraeus avoided felony charges and prison time. The story examines internal Justice Department and FBI wrangling over the strength of the case against Petraeus and the appropriateness of a deal, which the Post argues made nobody happy. Take a look.

New reports out of the Associated Press today suggest that the San Bernardino attackers planned to detonate a homemade bomb at the California social services center that they attacked, but the explosive device failed to detonate because it was “poorly constructed.” The device’s failure to discharge caused the couple to drive around the area in an attempt to set off the bomb remotely. Investigators believe their goal was to kill emergency responders who rushed to the scene where they killed 14 people.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is pushing back against reports that Pentagon officials have attempted to slow walk and even undermine efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Sunday on Fareed Zakaria GPS, Carter argued that he had submitted to the president a plan to close the facility and that he hoped Congress would “support a reasonable plan.”

The Hill also reports that the detainee transfers to Ghana are disrupting that country’s political eco-system in perhaps unsurprising ways. An opposition party leader in Ghana accused Ghanan President John Mahama of taking money from the United States in exchange for the transfer and warned that the two GTMO detainees transferred to his country will “vanish” if his party comes to power.

Parting Shot: Would Clinton be Obama 2.0? Molly O’Toole takes the question head on in Defense One, arguing that “the Obama Doctrine has no heir in Hillary Clinton.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Helen Klein wrote on al Nashiri’s reply brief, released on Friday, asking whether his habeas petition sounds in habeas.

Cody shared the Week That Will Be, Lawfare’s weekly roundup of of events and employment announcements.

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