Today's Headlines and Commentary

David Hopen, Rishabh Bhandari
Thursday, July 14, 2016, 3:09 PM

The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Moscow today to hold talks with top Russian officials over a controversial U.S.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Moscow today to hold talks with top Russian officials over a controversial U.S. proposal to coordinate with Russia on military operations in Syria, in return for grounding Syria’s air force. According to a leaked draft of the proposal, which was posted by the Washington Post here, the U.S. plans to establish and maintain a joint command and control center in Amman, Jordan that would facilitate joint operations against the Syrian al Qaeda-affiliate, al Nusra Front. In the Washington Post, Josh Rogin notes that those opposed to the plan fear cooperating with the Russians will “spur terrorist recruiting, increase civilian casualties and put the United States firmly on the wrong side of the revolution in the eyes of the Syrian people." According to the Associated Press, U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups have already decried the U.S.’s proposed partnership with Russia, given the latter’s role in propping up the Syrian government.

From one leaked report, to another. According to a classified report obtained by NBC News, the number of foreign fighters in the ranks of the Islamic State has been cut in half in the past year. That number now stands at 12,000. While the decrease in foreign fighters is encouraging news, the report also notes that 30 percent of ISIS former fighters have returned to their home countries at an estimated rate of 3,000 per month.

The Islamic State acknowledged a senior leader known as Omar the Chechen is dead, months after the Pentagon and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said he was killed in Syria. The Pentagon claimed Omar the Chechen, who served as the Islamic State’s “minister of war,” had been killed in a March airstrike. Analysts said the Islamic State may have delayed admitting his death until a replacement had been determined. But instead of a admitting he was killed in U.S. drone strike, the Islamic State claimed he died in combat near Mosul. Anti-Islamic State forces have been closing in on Mosul since the Iraqi government’s victory in Fallujah. The Guardian has more.

The Associated Press reports that a series of airstrikes by the Syrian government claimed at least 12 lives, including seven women and children. The strikes were focused on rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo and come after government and allied troops closed off the Castello road, a lifeline to rebel-held areas.

In an interview with NBC News yesterday, a defiant Bashar al Assad described his confidence in the success of the Syrian civil war, his gratitude for Russia’s intervention, and his belief that the United States does not actually want to see ISIS defeated. The full interview can be found here.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that Khalifa Omar Mansour, the man responsible for a December 2014 attack on a Pakistani school that killed more than 130 children, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan. Mansour was a leader in the Pakistani Taliban and had been involved in several other attacks, including the Bacha Khan University attack that killed at least 20 and a separate attack on a Pakistani air base that killed dozens. The Washington Post has more.

Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, warned of escalating violence in Indian-ruled Kashmir yesterday. Saeed, who wants Kashmir to be united under Pakistani rule or declared an independent country, also insisted that he will pressure the Pakistani government to sever ties with the United States if the country does not intervene in the dispute. At least 31 civilians have been killed in violence in Kashmir following the Indian military's killing of a popular militant named Burhan Wani.

Afghan officials announced that they have no plans to revive peace talks with the Taliban. The announcement comes after efforts to work with China, Pakistan and the United States to spur peace failed. The announcement signals a widening gap between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The AP has more.

The Ugandan army is evacuating citizens from neighboring South Sudan, where fighting between forces loyal to the president and his rival has plunged the nascent nation into its worst crisis since the end of a two-year civil war in 2015 in which more than 2.5 million people were displaced. The United States sent 47 troops to Juba, the nation’s capital, to protect the embassy and U.S. citizens in South Sudan. Other nations, including Germany, have evacuated their citizens from the country. In a statement, the White House said these troops will stay in South Sudan until the security situation improves. Reuters and The Guardian have more.

Amnesty International accused Cameroonian security forces fighting Boko Haram in the far north of the country of unlawfully killing dozens of civilians and torturing and forcing disappearances of suspects, according to the AP. The human-rights organization claimed it interviewed over 160 victims, witnesses and military officers, who reported that Cameroonian troops were killing indiscriminately, looting property and subjecting detainees to malnutrition, disease and torture. Cameroon’s information minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary rejected the report, claiming it was biased.

Ivory Coast has arrested 2 soldiers suspected of belonging to an al Qaeda cell that killed 19 people in a March attack on Grand Bassam, a beach resort town in which gunmen shot swimmers and sunbathers before storming hotels. The soldiers, who are not believed to be direct participants in the attack, are accused of having kept information of the attack from their superiors, a “serious offense under the military code of justice.”

A gunman opened fire at a Kenyan police station, killing at least four police officers, Al Jazeera reports. The gunman, who was eventually shot dead by special forces after attempting to take hostages, is believed to be either a disgruntled police officer or a recruiter for al-Shabab, which just last week raided a police station in northeast Kenya in its campaign to drive Kenyan forces from Somalia.

Philippine soldiers battled against rebels of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters for hours on Mindanao island, resulting in the death of 11 rebels and a 15-year-old girl caught in the crossfire. Despite signing a peace deal in 2014 with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest of the Muslim rebel groups, the Philippine government still faces constant clashes with smaller guerrilla factions.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a 50-page report on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, decrying the sense of “pervasive impunity” that has allowed summary executions to go unpunished and calling for international criminal proceedings to be brought. The report also investigated the disappearances and deaths of at least 47 people in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists and 29 people in areas controlled by the government.

Su Bin, the Chinese national who admitted to helping Chinese military officers hack into the computer systems of U.S. defense contractors and steal information about Boeing’s C-17 military transport planes and other U.S. military fighter jets, was sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison, reports the Post. Bin’s sentence, which Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin claimed reinforced a “commitment” to holding hackers “accountable for their criminal conduct,” is part of federal prosecutors’ aggressive efforts to bring cybercrime cases against foreign nationals to U.S. courts.

In an address at the Brookings Institution yesterday, CIA Director John Brennan suggested that while he would resign if asked to resume waterboarding, the next president could order a different CIA director to resume the program of enhanced interrogation techniques. The Intercept breaks down Brennan’s comments as well as the current requirements for overseas drone usage, which Brennan also addressed, saying they necessitate a standard of “near certainty” before “lethal action is taken.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Kemal Kirisci reflected on recent shifts in Turkish foreign policy that suggest Ankara is prioritizing pragmatism in its statecraft once more.

Stewart Baker posted the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, wherein the gang discussed the new “Privacy Shield” agreement that will regulate the transfer of data between the European Union and the United States.

Ellen Scholl surveyed the globe to flag some of the most geopolitically sensitive developments in the global commodities market.

Will Todman examined how siege warfare has become a favorite tactic of the Syrian regime in the civil war.

Elena Chachko broke down the new counterterrorism laws that passed the Israeli Knesset.

Julian Ku considered the legal foundations for aggressive freedom of navigation operations by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.

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David Hopen is a national security intern at Lawfare. He is a rising senior at Yale University, where he majors in English Literature.
Rishabh Bhandari graduated from Yale College with degrees in History and Global Affairs. His senior thesis focused on the decision making of the Nixon administration in response to the 1971 Bengali Genocide. He is pursuing a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University.

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