Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Monday, February 1, 2016, 4:07 PM

The Associated Press reports that Boko Haram burned children alive and torched Dalori village and two nearby camps housing 25,000 refugees in Nigeria. 86 people were killed in the 4-hour assault. Charred corpses and bodies with bullet wounds from the shootings, burnings, and suicide explosions littered the streets of the attack site, according to survivors.

Reuters and USA Today tell us that the Islamic State claimed credit for yesterday’s triple suicide bombing in the southern district of Damascus killing at least 45-50 people and wounding 110 others. Two suicide bombers and a car bomb targeted locations near Syria’s holiest Shiite shrine. The attackers first detonated the car bomb at a bus stop, and the suicide bombers blew themselves up as first responders rushed to the area.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has new hopes for this year in regards to the fight against the Islamic State. Secretary Carter sat down with NPR and discussed U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and said that the Pentagon was looking at stepping up “the tempo” in Iraq and Syria. Stronger efforts include driving the Islamic State out of their own strongholds in Raqqa and Mosul. Read the rest and listen to the conversation here.

President Obama’s special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, Brett McGurk, made a rare visit to Syria in order to meet with Kurdish officials and fighters who are battling the Islamic State. The visit was the first by a senior U.S. official to the Syrian battlefield and came as the U.S. military increasingly directs its focus against Islamic militants on the front line and near the Islamic State’s self proclaimed capital, Raqqa, the Washington Post reports.

The Telegraph shares that the Islamic State may be planning to build a naval arm that could carry out attacks in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a NATO Naval officer. Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone stated that the march of Islamic State militants along the Libyan coast has cast an “uncomfortable shadow” and a growing concern that cruise liners and container ships could be targeted.

Human Rights Watch has issued a report alleging that member of Shia militias in Iraq may have committed war crimes. Members of two Shia militias, the Badr Brigades and the League of Righteous, sought revenge for the Islamic State’s assaults in Baghdad in January by attacking Sunnis as well as their homes and mosques. The Shia militia groups killed at least 26 people and perhaps many more according to local residents. The report states that the “deliberate killing of civilians and looting and unjustified destruction of civilian property when committed in the context of an armed conflict are serious violations of international humanitarian law, which is applicable to all parties fighting in Iraq, and may amount to war crimes.” Read the rest here.

Abu Mohamad al-Golani, leader of al-Nusra Front, unsuccessfully tried to convince rival Islamist factions to merge into one unit at a recent meeting, according to Reuters. Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, even offered to change its name if the other jihadist groups agreed to their proposal. However, the group made clear it had no plans to cut ties with al-Qaeda. Reuters writes that some rebels believed the merger would create a stronger rival to the Islamic State and attract much-needed military support and recognition from regional and international powers.

After stating that they would not meet in Geneva last week, the Syrian opposition delegates arrived in Geneva on Saturday raising hope that they will, at last, join the peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war, the Post shares. A spokesman for the High Negotiating Committee told reporters that the opposition did want to participate in the peace talks, but that it would only do so after receiving assurances that its demands, largely to halt bombing civilians and to deliver humanitarian aid to starving civilians, will be met. Reuters reports that the opposition party is considering a proposal by U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura that could clear the way for the delegation to proceed with the peace talks.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Russia has again violated Turkish airspace. Turkish radar operators repeatedly issued warnings to a Russian warplane that breached the country’s airspace on Friday. Turkey accused Moscow of wanting to escalate tensions between the two nations just two months after Turkey downed a Russian plane. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, “Russia will have to face the consequences if it continues these violations of Turkey’s sovereign rights.”

A Taliban suicide bomber killed at least nine and wounded 12 others in an attack on a police base in Kabul, Afghanistan today. According to the AP, Kabul’s police spokesman, Basir Mujahid, said the suicide bomber detonated himself after joining the line of people waiting to enter the police headquarters. The attack, the latest on Afghan police in the last couple of months, comes days before Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China are set to hold the third set of talks aimed at promoting peace between the Taliban and Afghanistan.

The Times tells us that the United States has carried out at least a dozen operations in the past three weeks targeting Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, mainly in Tora Bora region of the Nangarhar Province. The operations included commando raids and drone strikes which follow President Obama’s decision to broaden U.S. commander's authority to target the Islamic State’s new branch in Afghanistan.

Alongside of this broad new authority to target the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan, President Obama is rethinking troop numbers in Afghanistan. As the country deteriorates into increasing violence, with the Taliban staging new assaults and the Islamic State gaining a foothold, President Obama’s desire to end the never-ending war before leaving office does not appear to be coming true. The Associated Press has more on the story here.

The Associated Press reports that al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), took control of another town, setting up checkpoints and besieging government buildings. AQAP’s capture of Azzan marks the latest advance for the terrorist group which has been continuously exploiting Yemen’s civil war in order to expand its reach.

Saudi-led military coalition forces fighting in Yemen announced the formation of a “high-level independent committee” to investigate its rampant bombings in response to mounting criticism and allegations of war crimes. The Times tells us that the committee announced to Saudi news outlets that its objective is to develop measures to avoid killing civilians and violating international law.

Speaking of possible violations of international law, according to the Tasnim News Agency, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) Commander, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, stated that the forces extracted a lot of information from the captured U.S. sailors’ cell phones and laptops. He said that the information might be made public, but no decision has been made yet. It is unclear what kind of “information” was extracted.

During a ceremony in the Iranian parliament on Monday, IRGC Commander Fadavi and other commanders and members of the naval wing were awarded certificates of appreciation acknowledging their efforts in the capturing of the 10 U.S. Navy sailors earlier this year. PressTV has more on the story.

Also on Monday, Tehran stated that it now had access to more than $100 billion worth of frozen assets following the nuclear deal’s implementation earlier this year. The Associated Press reports that government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said that much of the money was collecting in banks in China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey since sanctions were tightened in 2012.

The Times shares that a Palestinian police officer shot three Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint on Sunday before being killed by soldiers. The attacker, identified as Amjad Abu Amar, worked as a bodyguard and driver for the Palestinian attorney general. Hours before he shot the Israeli soldiers, he posted to Facebook stating, “There is nothing worth living for on this earth as long as the occupation oppresses our souls and kills our brothers and sisters.” It is the latest in the spree of attacks featuring Palestinians targeting Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Gaza-ruling Hamas that Israel will retaliate with “greater force” than deployed in the 2014 Gaza war if cross border tunnels are used to attack Israel. Last week, a number of Hamas members were killed when one of the tunnels collapsed. Hamas has been building a sophisticated network of tunnels in order to carry out attacks against Israel, the AP writes.

CNN reports that the U.S. Navy sent a ship to the disputed waters of the South China Sea near the contested Triton Island on Saturday, in order to challenge “excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others,” according to an official from the Department of Defense. Triton Island, part of the Paracel Islands, is claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. CNN has more here.

Today, Myanmar swore hundreds of lawmakers into its first freely-elected government after more than five decades under military rule. USA Today writes that the inaugural session marked the start of a new era for Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, which has been under military rule since 1962. However, Myanmar still faces a long road to a full democracy. USA Today has more.

The New York Times shares that a new study concludes the “going dark” crisis that will keep the FBI and intelligence agencies from tracking terrorists and kidnappers is widely overblown. The study, which included current and former intelligence officials, signifies that a raft of new technologies such as television sets with microphones and web-connected cars are creating new opportunities for the government to track suspects.

Two federal judges have deemed that the government’s use of software in a mass hacking of child-porn websites in order to identify users is constitutional, the Post tell us. The rulings are the first in a relatively uncharted territory of complex law. Both cases involved the child-porn site, Playpen, which was only reachable through the a special software called Tor. Tor is the world’s most widely used tool for online anonymity.

The Pentagon’s top expert on space stated the United States must recognize that space is no longer a benign environment and should take necessary steps in order to protect its critical infrastructure. The Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space also mentioned that “the secret is out that the American way of life, as well as the way of conducting warfare depends very heavily on space capabilities for global reach, command and control, precision timing and navigation, and folks have figured it out." Read more from the Air Force Times here.

The Washington Post shares that senior CIA officials have been intentionally deceiving parts of the agency’s workforce by transmitting internal memos that contain false information about operations and sources overseas. According to current and former U.S. officials, this practice is known by the term “eyewash.” In the infrequent, but important, security measure, agency personnel insert fake communications into routine traffic while using other channels to convey accurate information to cleared recipients. We can neither confirm nor deny that we are “eyewashing” you with this news roundup.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus, possibly someone who should have been “eyewashed,” will not be demoted or face disciplinary action for his decision to disclose classified information to his mistress. Foreign Policy and the Post have the latest.

USA Today tells us that Boston Bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s lawyers have asked that his conviction and death sentence be overturned. A previous request for a new trial for the terrorist was denied earlier this year.

Today, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus, suspected to cause severe birth defects, an international public health emergency. The “official” emergency declaration can trigger actions from governments and nonprofits around the world, the Times writes. A Zika virus outbreak was detected in Brazil last May and has since spread to 20 countries in Latin America.

Parting Shot: The Marine Corps Times reports that the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is teaming up with three acclaimed science fiction writers and other service members to come up with compelling and credible narratives of what the world might look like in 30 years. Check out the story here and give us some of your predictions.

Science fiction not your jam? Last Friday, The Atlantic shared a great piece on westerners who volunteer to fight against the Islamic State. It is worth the read, so check it out here.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Steve Slick and Robert Chesney shared the latest Intelligence Studies Essay featuring Philip Nichols’ paper: Measuring the Effectiveness of Counterterrorism Strategies: Leadership Decapitation vs. Mid-Tier Degradation.

In Sunday’s Foreign Policy Essay, Thomas Juneau commented on Canada’s policy to confront the Islamic State.

Paul Rosenzweig provided us a roundup of some stories related to drones and surveillance.

Cody shared the latest edition of the Lawfare Podcast featuring Justice Stephen Breyer on his new book, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities.

Alex summed up last week’s activities on Lawfare in The Week That Was. It was a short week as we tried to recuperate from Snowzilla.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.