Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commenary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 1:41 PM

A day after the Lebanese village of Qaa was hit by two waves of suicide bombers, Lebanese troops carried out massive security sweeps throughout the country, detaining 103 Syrians for illegal entry. The measure comes at a time of heightened government panic and fear over “the start of a new wave of terrorist operations in different areas of Lebanon,” and after Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk claimed Monday’s attackers had come from over the border in Syria, and not from Lebanese refugee camps.

In Syria, meanwhile, U.S.-backed rebels are approaching Boukamal, a town bordering on Iraq and controlled by Islamic State fighters, the Associated Press reports. The development comes after government forces seized over half of the Mallah farms on the northeast edge of Aleppo, deepening its control over rebel-held parts of the city. These gains underscore the Pentagon’s insistence that ISIS has not scored a “strategic victory” in over a year.

The Washington Post profiles the U.S. military’s attempt to revamp its Syrian rebel training program, which, despite its goal to create a Syrian army to battle the Islamic State, has trained fewer than 100 additional fighters. But officials said the relatively small numbers in the current program is not a sign of renewed difficulties but a more targeted approach that is designed to assist units that are already in the fight against the Islamic State.

After two years of investigation, the House Select Committee on Benghazi released its final 800-page report, faulting government agencies for failing to respond to security risks and maintaining outposts but finding no new evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton. The New York Times reports that, despite stinging criticism of the State Department and the Obama administration's withholding of evidence and witnesses, the report did not dispute the fact that military forces could not have reached Benghazi in time to rescue the personnel killed in the attack. The Republican-led report was issued a day after House Democrats released their own report, questioning the motive of the investigation in the first place.

In an effort to allow NATO allies to carry out more patrol flights along its Syrian border, Turkey has adjusted its military rules of engagement. An official told Reuters that the move came after “NATO countries, particularly Britain, complained that they could not perform enough patrol flights on Turkey’s Syrian border,” since engagement rules were “too strict.” Meanwhile, an explosion in the southeastern province of Turkey killed a police officer and wounded seven, the latest in the surge of attacks between the state and the PKK. The bombing occurred a day after the Turkish military carried out airstrikes against PKK targets in the mountains of northern Iraq.

In a move toward regional stability, Turkey signed a deal with Israel to normalize relations, ending a 6-year rift that began after Israeli marines raided a Turkish activist ship attempting to gain access through a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. According to Reuters, the deal, which was motivated by potential Mediterranean gas deals and mutual security concerns, allows for humanitarian aid to be transferred to Gaza via Israeli ports. On the heels of this diplomatic advancement, the BBC discloses that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has apologized for downing a Russian jet last November, an incident that sparked tension between the two countries.

At least 43 people were killed in clashes between Ali Tamin Fatan militants and government forces in South Sudan last week, Reuters reports. The world’s newest country has been rocked by constant violence in recent months, with about 12,000 people seeking refuge from the fighting. A government spokesman claimed Fatan is seeking to carve out an Islamist state, but added that his force includes personnel from the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, a nominally Christian group that is waging a fierce insurgency in neighboring Uganda and has launched attacks across the region.

The United Nations has urged Sri Lanka to drawn down its troops, prosecute the war crimes that were committed on both sides during the long civil war with Tamil rebels, and regain the trust of its Tamil minority. In an annual report, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said the country should include international judges as it moves into a transitional phase of justice. The U.N. said it is likely both the military and the Tamil Tiger rebels committed war crimes during the country’s 26-year conflict. Reuters has more.

The Associated Press tells us that the Russian Defense Ministry accused a U.S. Navy ship of sailing dangerously close to its vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. According to Russia, the destroyer USS Gravely passed a Russian combat ship dangerously close earlier this month in the eastern section of the Mediterranean and cut in front of a Russian frigate. The ministry insisted the Russian vessels were in international waters and did not perform any dangerous maneuvers regarding the American ship. Washington has made similar claims in the past about unprofessional and reckless behavior on the part of Russian ships and planes in the region.

Reuters reports that the German cabinet approved a package of reforms today that would rein in the country’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendiest (BND). Revelations in 2015 that the BND collaborated with the NSA to spy on European allies triggered public outrage and embarrassed German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German parliament will likely debate these proposals before the legislative break begins in July. The new reforms would prevent the BND from spying on any nation in the European Union and its citizens, as well as EU institutions, except in the case of suspected terrorist activity. The BND is also prevented from conducting economic espionage.

Patrick Cronin and Harry Krejsa outlined China’s ongoing preparations to delegitimize an imminent international tribunal verdict regarding its maritime claims in the South China Sea for War on the Rocks. They claim China is relying on a campaign of “might, money, and moxie” to force divisions within the ASEAN countries and garner international support for their interpretation of international law.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ingrid Wuerth traced the global downturn in human rights and what consequences this trend will hold for international law.

Kenneth Anderson reviewed Mary Thompson-Jones’ To the Secretary: Leaked Embassy Cables and the unique role State Department diplomats can play within the broader U.S. foreign policy apparatus.

Rishabh Bhandari compiled The Week That Will Be, summarizing Lawfare’s upcoming event announcements.

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