Today's Headlines and Commentary

Sebastian Brady
Friday, January 30, 2015, 2:11 PM
Hezbollah asked for a ceasefire with Israel through UN intermediaries yesterday. The request came after several days of fighting and heightened tensions between the two sides. The Wall Street Journal reports that, while some Israeli officials are still calling for more retaliation, the request may serve to defuse the situation.

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Hezbollah asked for a ceasefire with Israel through UN intermediaries yesterday. The request came after several days of fighting and heightened tensions between the two sides. The Wall Street Journal reports that, while some Israeli officials are still calling for more retaliation, the request may serve to defuse the situation. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliberates over the proper response to the recent violence, he is also seeking to ease tensions with Democratic members of Congress in the United States. The New York Times reveals that Prime Minister Netanyahu called the Democratic majority leaders in both houses to explain his recent decision to speak before Congress without first consulting with the White House. The calls appear to have had little effect. Since Houthi rebels forced Yemen’s president from power last week, US intelligence gathering in the region has faltered, according to Reuters. These growing gaps in intelligence are infringing on the US drone program that plays a critical role in the US’s counterterrorism operations in the country. At the same time, however, the Houthi rebels have begun engaging the United States on security matters, as well as some political issues, the Times notes. The Wall Street Journal divulges that US officials are in talks with the rebels regarding a stable political transition, and notes that, yet again, recent developments in the Middle East have put the United States in the awkward position of supporting the same side as Iran. Another deadline for the planned prisoner swap between ISIS and Jordan has passed. It remains unclear what has happened to the Jordanian pilot and Japanese journalist held by ISIS, the Associated Press reports. A Reuters report adds that governments in both Jordan and Japan continue to search for any clues as to the whereabouts and wellbeing of their respective captured citizens, and that Jordan has demanded proof that its pilot is still alive before any prisoner swap can proceed. The US-led coalition battling ISIS continued operations against the group, launching 18 airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, Reuters shares. In a battle between Kurdish peshmerga and ISIS near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, the AP reports, a senior Kurdish commander has been killed, along with several Kurdish soldiers. In Syria, the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, has broadened its attacks on Western-backed rebel groups, seizing positions from the Hazzm movement located just west of Aleppo. The terrorist group now threatens one of the last zones beyond jihadi control in the area. Reuters details the group’s advance. The Wall Street Journal describes the underground terror network that funnels would-be jihadists out of Europe and into Syria; this network helped Hayat Boumeddiene, the wife of the gunman who attacked a Kosher grocery in Paris earlier this month, escape France. ISIS' bridge, it appears, runs both directions. Buzzfeed details the route ISIS uses to transport fighters to Europe. In the Sinai Peninsula, an ISIS affiliate conducted a series of attacks on the Egyptian military, the BBC notes. The attacks, a mixture of rocket fire and car bombs, killed at least 26 people, mostly Egyptian military personnel. And, in Belgium, police raids have netted four people suspected of recruiting fighters to travel to Syria to fight with jihadist groups. Reuters covers the raids. An article in Politico Magazine details the rise of ISIS in Libya, which, the piece argues, is more and more deserving of serious US attention. As the terrorist group’s influence spreads beyond Iraq and Syria, questions of allegiance and membership are increasing. In online forums populated by ISIS supporters, Vocativ reports, posters are asking: Is Boko Haram part of us? Hours after the African Union issued a call for a multinational force of 7,500 to turn back the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, an operation by the military of Chad has liberated the city of Mallam Fatori from Boko Haram control, according to the Wall Street Journal. Three US contractors were killed in Afghanistan in what the Taliban is claiming was an “insider” attack, Reuters reports. The attack on Kabul’s military airport, which also left another US contractor wounded, is the latest in a string of attacks carried out by militants who infiltrated the Afghan security forces. As the US military continues its planned drawdown in the country, a new poll reveals that many Afghans want the United States to maintain or even increase troop levels in the country. Nearly half of respondents said that they wanted a larger commitment of US troops, and less than a third favored fewer US troops in the country. The Washington Post covers the new poll. A bomb was detonated inside a Shiite mosque in southeastern Pakistan on Friday, killing at least 49 people and injuring 55 more, Dawn reports. This is the second major attack on a Shiite religious center in Pakistan this year. In northwestern Pakistan, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has referred the cases of 423 suspected terrorists for trial by military court. Over 100 of these cases come from the provincial capital of Peshawar, where last month militants from the Pakistani Taliban attacked a military school and killed over 100 people. Dawn reports on the developments in the court cases. EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday decided to continue the current Russian sanctions through at least September, according to the BBC. Despite also agreeing to discuss adding Russian individuals to the EU travel ban list, the ministers could not settle on imposing new sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukrainian crisis. Al Jazeera notes that the decision to extend sanctions on Russia may overshadow peace talks between EU, Ukrainian, and Russian officials scheduled for today. At the same time, Reuters reveals that Russia and the United States are discussing a possible visit to Moscow by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Talks about the visit, which would be Kerry’s first trip to the country since the conflict began, apparently began weeks ago. The talks are expected to focus on ending the Ukrainian conflict. The United States has signaled that it would welcome an extension of Japanese air patrols into the South China Sea, Reuters reports. In an interview, the US Navy’s top officer in Asia, Admiral Robert Thomas, said that increased Japanese activity could help stabilize the region. The CIA has named a new leader for its National Clandestine Service. And, consistent with general agency practice, the leader will remain anonymous. The AP notes that, during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the new director saved Hamid Karzai’s life and that his first name is Greg. Over at the Daily Beast, Shane Harris and Nancy Yousef describe how, five months after the Obama administration promised to overhaul its hostage rescue program, little change has materialized. The proposed reform promised to increase engagement with the family members of the hostages, but, according to many of those families, they continue to be left in the dark. Time reports that a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill ending the Cuban travel ban. Eight senators--four Republicans and four Democrats--led by Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the legislation, which is the first congressional move toward normalizing relations with Cuba since President Barack Obama’s announcement on the matter in December. At the same time, however, the White House said that it would not acquiesce to Raul Castro’s demand that the United States cede Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to Cuba, Agence France-Presse notes. One Guantanamo defendant may be tried separately from the 9/11 case in order to speed up that trial. The case of Ramzi Binalshibh, one of five suspects accused of carrying out the 9/11 attacks, has slowed the 9/11 trial proceedings for several reasons, including questions about his mental competence and the fact that the FBI interrogated one of his defense lawyers. Now, a military judge has decided to reconsider whether Binalshibh should be tried separately from his co-defendants. The AP has more. The Pentagon is moving toward more rapid implementation of cloud-computing capabilities, Nextgov reports. The Defense Department, which has been slow to adopt the technology because of security concerns, has increased its interaction with the cloud-computing industry and expressed interest in employing the technology in its unclassified, public-facing operations. Parting Shot: “American Sniper” was released in Baghdad to sold out crowds. But, how did they react?

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Sebastian and Cody brought us this week’s Throwback Thursday piece, which looked at the system through which the United States offers rewards and bounties for information on terrorists, war criminals, and the like. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held two days of confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. Alex Ely gave us a rundown of the first day’s hearings, noting the sections where Lynch spoke on matters of interest to Lawfare readers. Matt Danzer updated us on the second day of proceedings in the al Hadi case at Guantanamo. Ben shared a new feature on The Intercept’s website that helps would-be leakers share confidential documents with the paper. The whole process, Ben noted, begs for penetration by foreign intelligence services. Paul Rosenzweig apprised us of the newest developments in the cyber world. Cody shared an excerpt of a new assessment released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that evaluated the status of that Board’s 22 recommendations for the Section 215 and Section 702 programs. In this week’s episode of the Rational Security podcast, Ben, Tamara Cofman Wittes, and Shane Harris discuss Russian spies and drones at the White House. 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.

Sebastian Brady was a National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a major in political science and a minor in philosophy. He previously edited Prospect Journal of International Affairs.

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