Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Thursday, January 28, 2016, 3:47 PM

Reuters reports that Syrian opposition forces will not attend the Geneva peace meeting unless the United Nations responds to their demands to halt attacks on civilian areas. Although invitations for the Geneva talks have been sent, according to the Associated Press, it is still unclear who will even attend.

Adding to the frustrations and confusion surrounding the peace talks, the New York Times shares that two top United Nations relief officials expressed growing frustration over their organization’s inability to provide aid to deprived Syrians trapped in the midst of the war. The officials, Stephen O’Brien and Ertharin Cousin, warned the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, just three days before the rescheduled peace talks in Geneva are set to occur.

After more than a year of reluctance to target the Islamic State’s main infrastructure because of civilian casualties and risking U.S. troops’ lives, the Obama administration is “taking the gloves off against the pseudo-state, according to the Daily Beast. President Obama told his military commanders “Don’t hold back. Show us your ideas,” in regards to the fight. Two recent drone strikes against Islamic State cash locations are some examples of the administration’s willingness to embrace these “don’t hold back” ideas. With President Obama’s term coming to an end and the Islamic State brand staying strong, the administration is giving the green light on more aggressive strategies.

Apparently, the Islamic State’s messaging app for its Android users doesn’t work. The Ghost Security Group, a hacktivist group that splintered from the infamous Anonymous, are backtracking on their previous claims. Defense One has the update here, though not the kind of app update that might make it work.

Speaking of hacktivists, The Washington Post reports that a man from Kosovo accused of hacking into a U.S. company’s server and providing personal information on American service members to the Islamic State appeared in a U.S. court for the first time yesterday. Ardit Ferizi was detained in Malaysia last year on a U.S. provisional arrest warrant and extradited to the United States a few days ago. Ferizi allegedly forwarded the stolen information on U.S. service members to Junaid Hussain, the Islamic State’s main propaganda aficionado.

The Times shares the story of Nader Modanlo, one of the seven people released by the United States in the high-profile prisoner exchange with Iran. Mr. Modanlo, among the other six prisoners, reportedly saw themselves as “unfairly prosecuted pawns in the hostilities between Iran and the United States.”

According to the Navy Times, a large consensus of U.S. legal experts believe that Iran’s provocative act of detaining ten U.S. Navy sailors earlier this month was a dangerous violation of international law. Read the full report here.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid a similar incident, the Iranian military warned a U.S. Navy ship today saying that it was too close to a naval exercise in the Persian Gulf. The Hill shares that the U.S. warship turned around after receiving the warning.

Iran is currently training volunteer “advisers” to serve alongside of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, the Associated Press reports. General Mosen Kazemeini of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said that Iran “feels an ‘obligation’ to send ‘military advisers’ to Syria to protect Shiite shrines at the request of the Assad government.” Iran continues to act as a key ally to Assad by providing military support and financial assistance throughout the five-year civil war.

The ongoing U.S. operation in Afghanistan will soon have a new leader. The Pentagon nominated General John W. Nicholson as its new commander of Operation Resolute Support. If confirmed, General Nicholson would replace General John Campbell. Nicholson is currently commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command in Turkey.

The Times tell us that Chinese officials are urging Afghanistan’s government to restart peace talks with the Taliban after the last set of talks collapsed. The statement by China signifies a sign of the country’s commitment to play a larger role in the peace process between the Taliban and Afghanistan. The next round of talks are set to occur next month in Islamabad.

Voice of America shares that the Islamic State group in Afghanistan has added a new radio program that the Afghan government has failed to remove from airwaves. “Voice of the Caliphate,” the Islamic State’s FM radio station, broadcasts from a remote mobile transmitter on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The program now airs in Pashto and Dari, Afghanistan’s two official languages.

Al Jazeera America details the story of a couple of ex-GTMO detainees repatriated to Afghanistan. The once-forever prisoners traveling back to Afghanistan find their country still rife with conflict and threatened by collapse. Some take up arms, while others seek to rebuild their lives. Read the story here.

The Associated Press reports that a bomb struck an armored personnel carrier north of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday. The blast killed an army colonel, three soldiers, and wounded twelve others, according to Egyptian officials. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

At least thirteen people were killed and more than 30 others were injured when three suicide bombers detonated themselves in the eastern Nigerian town of Chibok, the BBC reports. Witnesses said that some of the attackers were women. Although authorities do not know who was behind the suicide bombing, suspicion falls upon Boko Haram, who in 2014, abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that South Korea is leaning more towards adopting an advanced U.S. missile defense system in order to guard against threats from North Korea, amid heightened caution after Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test earlier this month. However, China strongly opposes the proposed defense system. One American official hinted that there was a strong chance that the United States and South Korea could announce the defense system, dubbed the “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system,” in the next week or so.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou visited a disputed island in the South China Sea today to reaffirm Taipei’s sovereignty and said that the trip was an attempt at promoting peace. Reuters reports that the United States called Ma’s trip “extremely unhelpful” and suggested that the visit would do little to resolve tensions in the South China Sea.

Just hours after the jailed leader of the occupation at the remote Oregon wildlife refuge called on his followers to “stand down,” three more occupiers were arrested after turning themselves in, the Post reports. The three men face the same felony charges as those brought against the occupiers arrested Tuesday. Five others surrendered themselves to the authorities at one of the checkpoints set up around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but were not arrested. Read the Post’s account of the chaos in Oregon here.

However, even with the call for a “stand down,” some members of the militia still inside the refuge facility say that they are preparing for a battle with the federal authorities who now have them surrounded. The militiamen posted a video to social media yesterday with one of them saying, “You want some militiamen? Come get some.” Vice News has the video here.

Foreign Policy has the latest with SOCOM Commander General Joseph Votel’s memo to Defense Secretary Carter demanding the Pentagon stop talking about what special operations are up to in Iraq or elsewhere. In the memo, General Votel writes, “I am concerned with increased public exposure of SOF activities and operations, and I assess that it is time to get our forces back into the shadows.”

The Post shares that the Navy’s intelligence chief, Vice Admiral Ted Branch, has not possessed a security clearance to know any military secrets for the last two years. Branch has been barred from accessing classified information since November 2013 when the Navy learned from the Justice Department that his name surfaced in a huge corruption investigation between a foreign defense contractor and other Navy personnel. And you thought your job was hard.

Speaking of access to government secrets, earlier this month, Defense Secretary Carter was reportedly considering demoting four star general and former CIA Director David Petraeus for possessing so many secrets that he could not keep them secret anymore. Now, the Daily Beast shares that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that the retroactive demotion of General Petraeus may be illegal.

Adding to drama on the Hill, the Hill tells us that Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) wants a full accounting of exactly how much it would cost the United States to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. In her letter to the Congressional Budget Office, Rep. Jenkins writes, “This cost estimate on closing the detention center...will help members of Congress better evaluate the President’s plan and inform our constituents.”

Late last year, hackers attacked four sections of Ukraine’s power grid with malware exploiting basic security lapses. According to a consultant to government investigators, the hackers would have easily taken down other industrial facilities. The consultant, Oleh Sych, stated, “This is the scariest thing — were living on a powder keg. We don’t know where else has been compromised. We can protect everything, we can teach administrators never to open emails, but the system is already infected.” Reuters shares the rest here.

The FBI arrested 23 year-old Samy Mohamed Hamzeh on Tuesday, foiling his plan to murder two dozen people at a Masonic temple in Milwaukee and “become an international extremist superstar,” the Post shares. Hamzeh reportedly told two FBI sources that mujahideen all over the world would be proud of his planned massacre and that “we are marching at the front of war.” Take a look at all of the other disturbing things Hamzeh said and planned.

Defense One shares that IBM might have the key tool to help governments separate real refugees from imposter terrorists. Read Defense One’s full report on IBM’s i2 Enterprise Insight Analysis here.

On Tuesday, President Obama called for the rapid development of tests, vaccines, and treatments in order to fight the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus. According to Reuters, the virus, which has been linked to birth defects, could potentially spread to the United States in warmer months. The virus currently has no vaccine or treatment and an estimated 80 percent of people infected never show any symptoms. On Monday, the World Health Organization predicted the virus will spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile.

Parting Shot:  In a galaxy not so far away, we may see our own Star Wars saga play out. A new report released by the Center for a New American Security highlights the Pentagon’s vulnerabilities in space, and calls for a strategy to prepare for space conflict in the future. The Washington Post has the full story here, so grab your lightsabers and starfighters and get reading, and may the Force be with you, always.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Lieutenant Colonel Shane Reeves outlined what is next for the Golan Heights after a ceased deal between Israel and Syria amid the Syrian civil war in the latest Omphalos.

Stewart Baker debuted the newest edition of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, interviewing Melanie Teplinsky on crypto news from Davos to the New York legislature.

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