Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, June 23, 2015, 1:53 PM

The Defense Department announced today that a U.S. airstrike in Mosul, Iraq has killed Ali Awni al Harzi, a “person of interest” in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Harzi worked “closely” with Islamic State militants and had previously been questioned by the FBI regarding his role in the Benghazi assault.

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The Defense Department announced today that a U.S. airstrike in Mosul, Iraq has killed Ali Awni al Harzi, a “person of interest” in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Harzi worked “closely” with Islamic State militants and had previously been questioned by the FBI regarding his role in the Benghazi assault. Long War Journal shares details.

In Syria, the Islamic State appears to be taking a beating from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG). Last night, YPG took control of the Islamic State’s Brigade 93 military base, and this morning, YPG captured the town of Ein Issa, putting them within thirty miles of the militant group’s stronghold in Raqqa. Agence France-Presse reports that YPG is now sweeping the area “to clear mines laid by the jihadists.” These victories come just a week after YPG captured Tal Abyad, a city near the Syrian-Turkish border. YPG hopes to gain control over a highway connecting the northern Syrian city of Aleppo with northeastern city of Hassakeh. But before any plans are made to attack Raqqa, YPG intends to consolidate and strengthen its current gains.

According to the Associated Press, “the United States has found a reliable partner in the YPG, which has been the main force in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria. The Kurds are moderate, mostly secular fighters, driven by revolutionary fervor and deep conviction in their cause. They are backed by Arab tribesmen, Assyrian Christian gunmen and members of the rebel faction known as Burkan al-Furat.”

It is unknown when the Afghan Parliament will resume its consideration of Masoom Stanekzai’s nomination to serve as Defense Minister. Debate was interrupted yesterday when seven Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan Parliament in Kabul. The assault began with a car bomb, detonated just outside the gates of the Parliament building. Reports differ as to what happened next. Afghan security forces prevented the terrorists from entering Parliament, but it is unclear whether the gunmen then “entered a nearby building and began firing from that position” on the legislature. The New York Times reports that the “[p]arliament attack was an embarrassment to the [Afghan] government.”

The Council on Foreign Relations explains how the Taliban has managed to survive defeat, despite the thirteen-year U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue began in Washington yesterday, and some 400 Chinese officials have flown in to participate. The Wall Street Journal reports that two major topics under discussion include state-sponsored cyber theft and land reclamation in the South China Sea. According to a senior State Department official, “What we’re trying to do is to show that we can effectively manage areas of ongoing differences and work to narrow those differences over time.”

IHS Jane’s informs us that some of Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea will be completed shortly.

NATO needs a “new playbook,” according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. “We are looking at NATO responses that are much more mobile, much more agile, able to respond on short timelines because that’s how events today unfold, unlike a quarter, let alone a half, century ago,” he said in advance of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Berlin. Defense One shares two graphs detailing NATO defense spending over the past year. Unsurprisingly, given Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine, “the Baltic states have some of the fastest-growing defense budgets in the alliance.”

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has released a new report outlining its recommendations for U.S. nuclear strategy in the 2025 to 2050 era. The paper - entitled Project Atom: A Competitive Strategies Approach to Defining U.S. Nuclear Strategy and Posture for 2025-2050 - argues that the U.S. should manufacture “low-yield, accurate, special-effects options” in order to better and more proportionately respond to international nuclear armament and attacks. Moreover, it contends that the U.S. should station more nuclear missiles abroad. Defense One shares a synopsis of the report. Check out the full paper here.

Wired reports that a security vulnerability, which grounded a number of Polish airplanes over the weekend, is a flaw universal to the airline industry. The problem lies with the flight-plan delivery protocol, which does not require authentication. This loophole could allow hackers to deliver fake flight plans to pilots, although thankfully “there are checks in place to ensure that pilots don’t follow incorrect flight paths that take them into the course of other plane.” Wired speculates that United Airlines’ mysterious grounding last month could be related to this issue.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced yesterday that unauthorized activity has been detected on three of its desktops, and indicators point to a hack similar to the one recently perpetrated against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). According to Nextgov, there is no evidence that intruders managed to gain control of NARA “systems” or “applications,” but “files were found in places they did not belong.”

Looking back now, the 1998 warnings of a group of hackers seem to be prescient. In May of that year, they provided testimony before a bipartisan panel of U.S. senators, arguing, “Your computers... are not safe - not the software, not the hardware, not the networks that link them together. [And] the companies that build these things don’t care.” Nothing happened in response to the group’s call to arms, something the Washington Post calls “a tragedy of missed opportunity, [which]... 17 years later, the world is still paying the price in rampant insecurity.”

The Post informs us that the National Security Council (NSC) is downsizing. After many successive years of personnel growth, the Obama administration hopes to “gradually” right-size the NSC “to align... staffing with... strategic priorities.” The changes “are designed to result in fewer, more focused meetings, less paper to produce and consume, and more communication that yields better policymaking.” The decrease in personnel will largely come through attrition.

Although Defense Secretary Ash Carter has only a short time to implement his reform agenda, Defense News notes that the Pentagon leader has the ability to influence an “unusually large number” of top military leadership positions - including all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These personnel openings give Secretary Carter a significant role in determining the future of the department.

Business Insider shares a compilation of photos of the USS Gerald Ford, the leader of the Navy’s new Ford-class aircraft carrier series and the most expensive warship in American history. Ringing in at $13 billion, the USS Gerald Ford “will be the largest carrier to ply the seas,” once deployed.

The Pentagon has just announced a deal with Malloy Aeronautics to develop a hoverbike for the military. The vehicle has much of the functionality of a helicopter, but is more maneuverable and is significantly cheaper. Reuters shares video footage.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Yishai analyzed legislation approved by the Iranian Parliament that would disallow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from accessing Tehran’s military sites.

Ben posted the U.N. Human Rights Council’s report on last summer’s conflict in Gaza.

Paul discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in City of Los Angeles v. Patel, in which a five justice majority ruled that a city ordinance, requiring hotels to submit guest lists to police officers without a warrant, was unconstitutional.

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Tara Hofbauer previously was an intern with Lawfare. She is majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, with a minor in Legal Studies and History.

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