Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Monday, August 8, 2016, 3:51 PM

At least 70 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded on Monday after a suicide bomber in Pakistan targeted a hospital in Quetta. The crowd of lawyers and journalists had congregated to mourn the death of a prominent lawyer who had been shot dead earlier that day. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Islamist militant Pakistani Taliban group, claimed responsibility for the attack. Lawyers have been a major target in Pakistan because they represent a critical element of the country’s liberal civil society. Reuters has more.

A Syrian rebel alliance has announced the start of a battle to recapture all of Aleppo. The Army of Conquest, a coalition of rebel groups including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the group formerly known as al Nusra Front, announced this audacious pledge a day after breaking the government’s siege on the rebel-held eastern half of the city. Footage obtained by Al Jazeera showed rebel fighters at government checkpoints on Saturday after breaking the month-long siege on the rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods of the city in a major setback for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The New York Times revealed that the rebels named the offensive after Ibrahim al-Yousef, a member of a militant branch of the Muslim Brotherhood who shot and killed dozens of mostly Alawite soldiers in 1979 inside the artillery school that opposition forces seized—a reflection of the profoundly sectarian nature of the ongoing civil war. The Alawites, a religious minority which includes Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his inner circle, have long played a disproportionate role in Syria’s armed forces, while the rebels seeking Mr. Assad’s ouster belong to the country’s Sunni Muslim majority.

According to the BBC, the Syrian government has responded to the rebels’ efforts with a major bombing campaign in the south-west portions of Aleppo. Russian bombers also joined on Monday.

The Associated Press reported that camps for displaced Iraqis in the country’s north are overflowing as Iraqi forces push toward the Islamic State group-held city of Mosul, forcing thousands to flee. As the first stages of the operation to retake Mosul from IS progresses, up to a million people are expected to be forced from their homes by violence, according to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Already, local officials and aid groups are struggling to cope with the current, much smaller-scale influx.

The Financial Times disclosed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia this week, marking his first trip abroad since the failed coup attempt in mid-July. The move is a major sign of the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara since relations hit a nadir in November when Turkey shot down a Russian jet. It is also an implicit testament to the fraying relationship between Erdogan and his counterparts in NATO. One Turkish official in Moscow said “our relations with the U.S. are the worst in 50 years...and that definitely makes engaging Russia an attractive option.”

Erdogan also told a rally of more than a million people in Istanbul—an unprecedented show of support for his regime—that he would support the return of the death penalty if it was also backed by parliament and the public. He also promised that the state would be cleansed of all supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Leaders from two of Turkey’s three main opposition parties also attended the rally, a sign of Erdogan’s formidable support in the aftermath of the coup. EU officials have warned Istanbul that the reintroduction of the death penalty, which is prohibited in the European Union, would administer a fatal blow to Ankara’s hopes of joining the body.

A more pressing issue, however, already threatens to unravel EU-Turkish cooperation. In an interview with France’s Le Monde newspaper, Erdogan said Turkey’s migration agreement with the European Union would collapse if Brussels doesn’t keep up its side of the bargain on visa waivers. Erdogan noted that the visa waiver for Turkish citizens was supposed to kick in on June 1. Ankara agreed in March to stop migrants from crossing into Greece in exchange for financial aid being revived, the promise of visa-free travel to much of the EU and accelerated membership talks. But delays have kicked in as European diplomats have registered concerns over the scale of Erdogan’s crackdown since the failed coup attempt. Reuters has more.

The New York Times reported that Erdogan’s thinly-veiled ambitions of surpassing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk may be realized after the botched coup attempt. According to historians and other experts, Erdogan has used the coup as an opportunity to write a new chapter in Turkey’s history, one that dovetails with his vision of a “New Turkey” that emphasizes Islam and breaks away from the secular state Ataturk built.

The Islamic State and the Afghan Taliban have forged an informal alliance in eastern Afghanistan. The shrewd tactical move comes just months after the two insurgencies were at each other’s throats and is expected to help both organizations regroup and focus on fighting the U.S.-backed government. The Wall Street Journal has more.

Two foreign university professors, one American and one Australian, were kidnapped at gunpoint near the Kabul campus of the American University of Afghanistan on Sunday, according to the Washington Post. This was the first reported abduction related to the private co-ed university, which was opened in 2004 and has a number of foreign faculty. No group, including the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

A man carrying a machete and shouting “Allahu akbar” injured two police officers outside a police station in Charleroi, Belgium, on Saturday afternoon. The New York Times told us that the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its media arm, Amaq News Agency. The terrorist organization used near-identical language in its statement as similar claims of responsibility for other recent attacks in Europe including an ax attack by an Afghan refugee in Würzberg, Germany, and the killing of a Catholic priest in the Normandy region of France. The Journal added that the assailant in Charleroi was an illegal immigrant from Algeria.

The Journal also informed us that Iran executed a scientist for divulging sensitive information about the country’s nuclear program to the United States. Shahram Amiri’s story is filled with the drama befitting Washington’s volatile relationship with Tehran. He disappeared in 2009 during a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia before appearing in 2010 under bizarre circumstances with videos surfacing on YouTube and in Iranian state media showing him talking about his life and the circumstances of his alleged kidnapping by the CIA — a claim that U.S. authorities rejected. He ostensibly returned to Iran voluntarily though some sources told the Journal he did so only after authorities threatened his family in Iran.

Legislative pressure is building on President Barack Obama to retaliate to Russia’s alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) according to the Hill. The ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee have all issued calls for Obama to “seek justice” for the alleged attack. But Herb Lin, a Lawfare contributor and Stanford professor, said the administration is “really in between a rock and a hard place. Everything they do has a downside” because retaliation could expose sensitive U.S. secrets and sources or escalate tensions between the two major powers.

Peace talks in Yemen have moved to a new stage according to Ismail Ould Cheik Ahmed, the UN special envoy for Yemen. He said the process will enter a “new phase,” during which “the focus will be on working with each side separately to crystalize precise technical details.” The sides, which are backed by Iran and Saudi Arabia as a proxy for a broader regional conflict, have spent the last three months in negotiations in Kuwait. Ahmed said the economic situation continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate.

As talks continue, so does the bloodshed. Reuters shone a spotlight on a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that killed nine civilians outside the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. The strike hit the village of Odhar, which has been at the center of renewed fighting between supporters of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government and Houthi forces backed by Tehran. At least 6,400 people have died in Yemen’s 16-month civil war, half of them civilians, according to the United Nations.

The White House has declassified its procedures for approving operations against terror suspects outside of the United States pursuant to a court order resulting from a American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The heavily redacted document was issued in 2013 and can be found here. Charlie Savage analyzed the document for the New York Times.

The Japanese government said on Sunday it has repeatedly issued protests to China in recent days concerning Beijing’s actions in the East China Sea, including what Tokyo described as the installation of radar on a Chinese offshore gas platform. The flurry of Chinese incursions into the waters follows a period of sustained pressure on China about its activities in the South China Sea, and a Chinese criticism of what it saw as Japanese interference in that dispute. Japan and China have long clashed over territorial disputes in the East China Sea and Tokyo’s close military partnership with Washington is viewed with intense suspicion by Beijing as an attempt at containing its rise. Reuters also has more.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes flagged a recently declassified document from the White House that details its procedures for approving drone strikes on terrorists outside of the United States.

Quinta Jurecic posted the latest edition of the Lawfare Podcast, wherein John Brennan talked with Bruce Riedel on the CIA’s strategy in a rapidly changing world.

Seamus Hughes argued that counterterrorism officials have typically exaggerated the role of social media in explaining the Islamic State’s rise.

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