Today's Headlines and Commentary

Zachary Burdette
Thursday, November 17, 2016, 2:53 PM

Inclement weather has stalled the Mosul offensive, the AP reports. Cloud cover is obstructing U.S. aircraft from conducting reconnaissance and close air support, so Iraqi government forces are taking the time to consolidate control over neighborhoods they have already taken rather than pushing forward. The same thing happened earlier this month.

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Inclement weather has stalled the Mosul offensive, the AP reports. Cloud cover is obstructing U.S. aircraft from conducting reconnaissance and close air support, so Iraqi government forces are taking the time to consolidate control over neighborhoods they have already taken rather than pushing forward. The same thing happened earlier this month.

The AP provides a helpful status update on the Mosul offensive after its first month. Iraqi government forces have moved into the city from the east, facing heavy resistance, and now control four eastern neighborhoods that constitute less than ten percent of the overall city. The advance has slowed significantly in Mosul proper, where humanitarian concerns limit the use of airpower and the dense urban terrain favors the defending militants. Iraqi troops worry that civilians in areas they have retaken are acting as spotters for the Islamic State’s mortars and suicide bombers.

While Iraqi special forces advance in the east, coalition fighters in the north, south, and west are working to encircle and isolate the besieged city, though they have yet to sever the Islamic State’s lines of communication running from Mosul to Syria. To Mosul’s west, the PMF—an Iranian-backed Shiite militia—has captured the military air base near Tal Afar, which will serve as a launch pad for further operations west of Mosul. To Mosul’s south, Iraqi government forces have continued to move closer to the city, facing significant opposition and discovering numerous humanitarian abuses. They are now preparing to move on the airport at the southern end of Mosul. Reuters has more.

The Syrian regime continues its bloody air campaign against eastern Aleppo, CNN tells us. The White Helmets report that at least 21 deaths and over 40 airstrikes occurred today. This is the third day of renewed bombing after fruitless attempts to pressure rebels and civilians to flee the city during “humanitarian pauses.” The New York Times notes that the siege remains a humanitarian crisis: regime airstrikes hit eight hospitals this week, and the civilian population is rapidly running out of food.

Turkey announced plans to clear Islamic State and Kurdish forces in Syria from areas near its border, Reuters writes. Turkish officials hope that the border will be secured “in the first half of 2017” as a component of Operation Euphrates Shield, the military intervention into Syria that began in August. Turkey is now focused on backing rebel groups beginning an offensive to retake the city of al-Bab from the Islamic State.

The United States is investigating the death of three American soldiers in Jordan earlier this month as a possible terrorist attack, the Times reports. The special forces troops were training local fighters on behalf of the CIA when they were shot by a Jordanian soldier upon attempting to enter a Jordanian military base. Early media accounts claimed the soldiers had failed to stop at a checkpoint, prompting the Jordanian to fire, though the United States has rejected this interpretation. Some believe the Jordanian soldier deliberately targeted the U.S. trainers.

The IAEA has admonished Iran for twice going over “soft” limits in the nuclear deal regarding stockpiles of heavy water, the Wall Street Journal tells us. The nuclear watchdog stressed that Iran is still complying with the terms of the deal and that Tehran agreed both times to quickly export the excess material, but nonetheless argued that such behaviors threaten to undermine confidence in the agreement.

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are meeting in Berlin to discuss their countries’ transatlantic partnership following the election, the Journal writes. Germany will play a more important role than ever as a champion of the liberal international order as other states—the U.S. among them—appear increasingly disinterested in taking up that mantle. The Post notes that Obama and Merkel made a speech together that challenged many of President-elect Trump’s promises, arguing for accepting refugees, bolstering NATO, and championing progressive Western values.

Germany is also pressuring Britain to end its obstruction of efforts to strengthen European defense cooperation, Reuters reports. Following the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union, the country has challenged E.U. defense initiatives, instead calling for reforms to go through NATO. German officials stressed that Europe again faces threats from Russia and cannot afford to ignore glaring inefficiencies in how the continent structures its militaries now that America’s commitment to European defense is in question.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stated he might withdraw the country from the ICC, Reuters observes. The claim follows Russia’s announcement to do the same yesterday, as well as South Africa and Burundi's decisions earlier this year. The court has criticized extra-judicial killings in the Philippines’ war on drugs.

Duterte also suggested he would support a Russian and Chinese-led international system, saying “You know, if China and Russia would decide to create a new order, I will be the first to join.” This comment follows months of Duterte criticizing the United States and threatening to pivot the country’s foreign policy toward greater engagement with Russia and China. The Financial Times has more.

The Chinese government reminded President-elect Trump that it did not, in fact, invent the idea of climate change, the Daily Beast writes. Several years ago, Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Now that Trump will take the helm of American foreign policy, the Chinese are pushing back, pointing to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as starting the dialogue on climate change in the 1980s. The president-elect has yet to tweet his response.

China and Malaysia strengthened their economic ties this week with the finalization of new trade and investment agreements, the Financial Times tells us. This follows quickly behind Malaysia's announcement earlier this month that it will begin buying weapons from China—starting with four naval vessels. The moves raise questions over which direction Malaysia will swing in the growing competition between the United States and China for influence in Asia.

Vietnam has extended the length of a runway on Spratly Island in order to launch surveillance aircraft from the airbase, the Financial Times notes. The move is consistent with Vietnam’s overall efforts to improve its military capabilities in South China Sea in the face of territorial disputes—most importantly with China. The Chinese government has made similar use of islands as forward air bases, although the “islands” China is using are often artificial.

The United States government “contacted the Russian government directly regarding malicious cyberactivity” eight days before the presidential election, the Times reports. The Obama administration claims the absence of Russian interference represents successful deterrence, although it is difficult to assess whether the Kremlin would have acted differently without threats of retaliation. Experts note that the Russian intelligence operation prior to the election may have already achieved the country’s objectives by leaking hacked information from Democratic Party operatives; furthermore, there are no indications the United States followed through with its threats to retaliation against those actions.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has announced that he will retire when Trump comes to office, Reuters writes. Despite widespread media attention, there were no indications that Clapper had otherwise planned to stay on in the new administration. Possible candidates to replace him include Robert Cardillo, Ronald Burgess, and Pete Hoekstra.

The judge in the 9/11 military commission is unsure if Mustafa al-Hawsawi will be in good health for next month’s pretrial hearing, the Miami Herald tells us. The detainee is experiencing significant pain following a rectal reconstruction surgery in October. Al-Hawsawi’s health problems stem from his treatment at the hands of CIA interrogators at a black site abroad.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic urged our readers to fill out Lawfare’s survey on how to best structure our Today’s Headlines & Commentary feature.

Ashley Deeks and Benjamin Wittes asked how Trump’s victory will impact the Baltic states.

Ellen Scholl updated the Hot Commodities roundup.

Nancy Okail and Allison McManus commented on 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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