Today's Headlines and Commentary

Zachary Burdette
Thursday, November 3, 2016, 3:55 PM

The Taliban killed two American soldiers outside of Kunduz today, the Wall Street Journal reports. The two died, along with three Afghan government forces and roughly 30 civilians, in a raid on Taliban commanders. The U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire and called in air support in a residential area, killing the civilians.

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The Taliban killed two American soldiers outside of Kunduz today, the Wall Street Journal reports. The two died, along with three Afghan government forces and roughly 30 civilians, in a raid on Taliban commanders. The U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire and called in air support in a residential area, killing the civilians. The Washington Post notes that there are conflicting reports on how many civilians died in the airstrikes, which come a year after the errant American airstrike that hit a hospital in Kunduz. The raid succeeded in killing two Taliban commanders and 63 militants, the New York Times adds.

The renewed fighting in Kunduz is emblematic of the Taliban’s resurgence and the threat it poses to the Afghan government. As the Taliban expands its territorial control, the Afghan National Security Forces are struggling with higher casualties and lower recruitment. The fighting has also had a significant impact on the civilian population, with over a million displaced last year. The Post profiles this “looming humanitarian crisis.”

The history of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is coming under greater scrutiny. The ICC may investigate U.S. detention practices from the early years of the war, Foreign Policy reports. A recent report from the Afghan Analysts Network delivers withering criticism of U.S. detention practices, Reuters writes. The report scrutinizes eight Afghan detainees held at Guantanamo, arguing that the evidence against them is meager, often factually incorrect, and riddled with translation errors and a basic lack of understanding of Afghan politics.

Iraqi forces renewed their push into Mosul after delays from yesterday’s poor weather, CNN reports. Elite government counter-terrorism forces have moved into the al-Intisar neighborhood in eastern Mosul. Government soldiers are the only elements of the coalition to advance into Mosul proper, but the U.S. continues to provide air support for operations inside the city.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a rare appearance in the form of an audio recording, in which he urges Islamic State militants to fight to the death, Reuters writes. Interestingly, he did not mention Mosul by name but certainly seemed to be referring to the offensive with his proclamations that the Islamic State must holds its ground and never retreat. The man who would be caliph also called for greater attacks on Saudi Arabia and Turkey for their involvement in the counter-Islamic State coalition. The Journal has more.

An unmanned Iraqi combat vehicle has joined the coalition attacking Mosul, Popular Science tells us. The “Alrobot” provided fire support for government forces entering the city yesterday. The robot is remote-controlled and therefore not autonomous—a reassuring design feature given its deployment in an ambiguous urban combat environment packed with civilians.

As the assault on Mosul gears up, the United States continues to look ahead to the Raqqa offensive. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the assault on Raqqa would start only weeks after the operation against Mosul, but the Daily Beast reports that these claims may have been politically motivated to improve public opinion of the Obama administration’s counter-ISIS efforts in the midst of the election, and that the Raqqa offensive is likely still months away.

Nevertheless, the United States continues to make preparations. Defense officials are speaking with their Turkish counterparts to figure out how Turkey will factor into the offensive, Reuters notes. The United States has insisted that the Kurdish YPG will participate, but Turkey has sharply resisted and labeled the YPG as a Kurdish terror affiliate. Conversely, Syrian rebel forces have denounced the possibility of Turkey’s involvement, Reuters adds, following Turkish airstrikes on Kurdish forces in northwestern Syria.

Russian officials have accused Syrian rebels of sabotaging the planned “humanitarian pause” set for Aleppo tomorrow, the Journal observes. The Kremlin has accused the insurgents of targeting civilians trying to flee. In previous humanitarian pauses, both civilians and rebels have refused to leave the city, citing mistrust of the regime forces.

Syrian rebels are fighting each other in eastern Aleppo, Reuters tells us. The groups Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zinki, and Abu Amara collectively overwhelmed fighters from Fastaqim on Thursday. The infighting makes the rebels vulnerable to a renewed government offensive that is certain to follow the upcoming humanitarian pause.

Rebels outside of the encircled zone in eastern Aleppo continue to attack government positions west of the city, hoping to break the siege, the AP reports. Syrian government media claims 12 civilians died in rebel attacks on the regime’s forces. It does not appear that the counter-offensive has made significant ground.

Russia is using private contractors in ground combat operations in Syria, Reuters writes. Over 100 Russians have died in the civil war this year, but many of the dead have been contractors rather than soldiers. Nonetheless, the Kremlin is treating these contractors as de facto Russian combat troops. It transports them on military aircraft, directs them as it would units within the chain of command, treats them in military hospitals, and gives them state honors when they die. As in Ukraine, however, the Kremlin is trying to hide the extent of its involvement on the ground.

A former Israeli intelligence chief claims that Iran is directing up to 25,000 Shiite militia members fighting in Syria. These militants have been a vital supplement to the Syrian regime’s forces, which have been exhausted over the course of the civil war. Israel fears that these Iranian-backed militias will expand Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East.

A senior U.N. official announced that Saudi Arabia is open to the possibility of a diplomatic agreement to end the Yemeni civil war, Reuters notes. Both sides in the conflict dismissed a working proposal last week, but the diplomat claims that the Saudis are on board with the contours of the agreement. It is unclear, though, if the Hadi government or the Houthis will accept it.

Russia has resumed arms sale of advanced technology to China, the Financial Times reports. Moscow agreed to sell 24 Su-35 fighters to Beijing this week. The uptick in arms sales will bolster Chinese capabilities—particularly in air defense—as tensions rise over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

NATO is proceeding with plans to vote on Montenegro's integration into the Western alliance, ignoring Russian threats. The alliance members are expected to vote on the issue soon. Moscow fears that Montenegro’s NATO membership will cut off Russian military access to the Adriatic, as well as rob the Kremlin of its influence over yet another Slavic partner in the face of the ever-expanding NATO sphere of influence. The AP has more.

The United Kingdom’s High Court ruled on Thursday that Britain’s exit from the European Union can only proceed with the approval of Parliament, making it impossible for Prime Minister Theresa May to unilaterally declare Brexit. The court’s decision will likely slow the process of Brexit but not halt it completely, the Times tells us.

The leader of a militant Philippine rebel group has emerged from years of hiding to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte after a court temporarily suspended serving his arrest warrant, the AP reports. Duterte has promised to pursue peace with the group, the Moro National Liberation Front, along with another Islamist insurgent organization, Abu Sayyaf.

Weighing in on the controversy surrounding FBI Director Comey’s release of information on the Clinton email investigation and a related flurry of leaks from within the Bureau, the Guardian writes that “the FBI is Trumpland.” FBI sources indicated that strong support for Trump is likely behind the leaking in recent weeks and described an organization buffeted by internal disagreement over Director James Comey’s decision to recommend against indicting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in July.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Michael Sulmeyer and Ben Buchanan flagged a new paper they’ve written on cybersecurity threats to American elections.

Julian Ku and Chris Mirasola reassessed Chinese compliance with the SCS tribunal decision.

Sarah Yerkes argued that protests in Morocco are unlikely to escalate into a new Arab Spring.

Kenneth Propp examined how Brexit will shape Britain’s data privacy laws.

Amira Mikhail discussed Egypt’s crackdown on NGOs.

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Zachary Burdette was a National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution and is an M.A. candidate at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program concentrating in military operations.

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