Today's Headlines and Commentary

Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, April 19, 2016, 4:02 PM

Major bombings in both Jerusalem and Kabul lead headlines today, with more than 20 people injured in Israel, while in Afghanistan, at least 28 people were killed and more than were 325 injured.

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Major bombings in both Jerusalem and Kabul lead headlines today, with more than 20 people injured in Israel, while in Afghanistan, at least 28 people were killed and more than were 325 injured.

The Washington Post reports that in Jerusalem, “two buses burst into flames during Monday afternoon’s rush hour after an explosive device detonated in one of the vehicles.” Israeli officials have labelled the bombing a terrorist attack, but no group has yet claimed responsibility. The attack comes just as a wave of Palestinian attacks was subsiding; the Post notes that the nature of the attack immediately brought back memories of the second intifada, when bus bombings were common.

In Kabul, the suicide blast targeted the gates of the main training ground for an Afghan intelligence unit charged with protecting senior officials, shredding part of the compound and shattering windows up for two miles away. Following the explosion, Taliban fighters opened fire on what the Post calls “Afghanistan’s equivalent of the Secret Service,” beginning a gun battle that would last for three hours. The assault, which Reuters characterizes as “the deadliest single attack in the Afghan capital since 2011,” took place less than a mile from the presidential palace and “represented a direct strike against the Western-aided government.”

The assault comes just days afer the Taliban announced the beginning of its spring offensive. The Institute for the Study of War has updated its “Afghanistan Partial Threat Assessment,” where you can catch up on the facts on the ground.

In a speech in Baghdad yesterday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the United States will send additional American military advisers to the front lines against the Islamic State in Iraq as part of “a series of measures that will escalate the United States military campaign to defeat the extremist group.” In addition to dispatching 217 additional advisers—there are now over 5,000 U.S. troops operating in Iraq—the new measures will move American forces from the divisional level to the battalion level, putting them closer to the fight and allowing American enablers to have more impact on the daily tactical decisions in the fight. The Pentagon also plans to deploy Apache helicopters and long-range artillery. The plan includes a $415 million USD gift to the Kurdish regional government, which is expected to go towards paying and feeding Kurdish troops.

Speaking of Kurdish fighters, the Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. and Peshmerga forces have killed ISIS commander Salman Abu Shabib al Jebouri, who went by the nom de guerre, Abu Saif, and his two deputies. The Journal notes that al Jebouri had been a member of ISIS’s military council and was “responsible for acts of terrorism in Mosul.”

The announcement of enhanced American presence on the battlefield comes as peace talks in Syria unravel. Yesterday, the High Negotiations Committee, the chief diplomatic arm of the mainstream rebel groups, suspended participation in the peace talks in Geneva. Today, a senior opposition official told Reuters that the postponement of talks is “indefinite” and that any resumption is dependent on “correcting the path of the negotiations.” Even so, U.N. Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that he would continue “technical” conversations with the parties by phone or off-site discussions with the goal of firming up a blueprint for a political transition. The chief negotiator for the HNC said that the cease-fire had “effectively been ended by the regime.” Rebel groups claimed that both the suspension of talks and the renewed offensives by rebel forces were in retaliation for violations of the cease-fire by the Syrian regime.

The Washington Post describes the newly intensified fighting in the country, as government forces fight to repel the rebel offensive in Latakia. According to the Post, Syrian government warplanes “bombed areas in central Homs and Hama provinces and in northern Idlib province.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the airstrikes, the deadliest since the cease-fire began in February, killed at least 44 civilians.

Curious about exactly who ISIS recruits and why people choose the join the organization? NBC News and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point have processed a database of more than 4,000 foreign fighters from 71 countries that provides “new insight into the terror group’s grand ambitions and diverse recruits.” According to the report, NBC News received the documents from a Syrian man who claimed to have stolen the information from a senior ISIS commander. Counterterrorism analysts with West Point believe that the documents are genuine.

CNN reports that the Pentagon is not very happy with China’s decision to dispatch a military aircraft to the Fiery Cross Reef over the weekend. While Beijing said the aircraft was conducting a humanitarian mission to provide emergency assistance to three injured construction workers on the island, Pentagon Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that “it is unclear why the Chinese used a military aircraft, as opposed to a civilian one,” and called on China to “reaffirm that it has no plans to deploy or rotate military aircraft at its outposts in the Spratlys, in keeping with China’s prior assurances.”

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton repeated her support for a bipartisan bill currently before Congress that would allow the families of victims of terrorist attacks to hold foreign governments accountable in American courts, potentially allowing Americans to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role its officials may have played in the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Both she and Senator Bernie Sanders released statements supporting the bill, putting them on the opposite side of the Obama administration. For its part, the Hill shares that the White House signalled yesterday President Obama would veto the legislation, with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying the bill puts “the whole notion of sovereign immunity at stake.” Saudi officials warned President Obama that they would sell off $750 billion in U.S. assets if the bill become U.S. law—an unlikely to be executed threat, but one that demonstrates the seriousness with which the Kingdom views the legislation.

Yet while the president offered the Saudis an olive branch before his meeting with King Salman this week, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes accused the Saudi government of paying “insufficient attention” to money being sent to the terror groups that fueled the rise of al Qaeda. On a podcast with David Axelrod, Rhodes suggested that wealthy Saudis provided the “seed money” for what would become al Qaeda. Politico has more on his remarks.

In the Washington Post, Greg Jaffe and Griff Witte write that as Obama leaves for the Persian Gulf, “the president’s tough, and unprecedented, critique of longtime Arab allies” and his “cold-eyed view” of the world has left him with few friends overseas. They write that on his farewell trip to the region, “one big challenge for Obama will be squaring the careful diplomatic rhetoric that’s a standard, and frequently stultifying, part of all presidential visits with his tougher, more honest language from interviews back home.”

Congress will hold no fewer than five hearings this week on encryption, and Benjamin Sasso of the National Journal tells us that both “the technology industry and the law enforcement community are mobilizing for a major lobbying battle over” the Feinstein-Burr encryption legislation. At a press conference in Manhattan yesterday, several key law enforcement groups, including the FBI Agents Association, National District Attorneys Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, among others, announced their support for the bill. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. framed the issue as one of victims’ rights. But lobbyists for the tech industry are actively working against the bill, pressuring members of Congress while Internet activists attempt to “rally grassroots pressure.”

Parting Shot: What happens if you—perhaps, while under the influence of a bit of alcohol—jokingly wire your friend money for “ISIS Beer Funds!!!”? According to one unfortunate writer, his not-so-funny joke resulted in his Venmo transfer being frozen, and quite a few aggressive inquiries from the app and Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

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

Paul Rosenzweig asked “what if Feinstein-Burr passes?”

Adam Klein published the first in a series of posts about how and when wars against terrorists groups end.

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.

Cody Poplin is a student at Yale Law School. Prior to law school, Cody worked at the Brookings Institution and served as an editor of Lawfare. He graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012 with degrees in Political Science & Peace, War, and Defense.

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