Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Caitlin Gilligan
Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 2:57 PM

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania, orchestrated last week’s failed coup. Erdogan has promised to request Gulen’s extradition from the United States. Though the White House acknowledged on Tuesday that it had received information from Turkey on the matter, but it is not yet clear whether a formal extradition request has been submitted.

Some in Turkey have gone so far as to suggest that the United States played a role in the coup. According to the Washington Post, the editor-in-chief of an influential pro-government publication published a front page story alleging that the United States tried to kill Erdogan, though U.S. officials sharply rejected the suggestion as counterproductive to bilateral relations.

As of this morning, more than 50,000 people have been sacked, suspended, or detained in relation to the coup. The Post adds that Ankara issued a blanket travel ban on all academics and opened a top-to-bottom investigation into military courts.

Michael Weiss of the Daily Beast questions whether Turkey can stay a trusted member of the NATO alliance when its army is at war with itself. Though U.S. military operations against the Islamic State from Turkish bases have resumed, Turkey remains an unreliable ally. Incirlik Air Base remains without power and the base, which is widely believed to house U.S. nuclear weapons is relying on backup generators. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, the vaults beneath the base have about 50 B-61 hydrogen bombs, more than 25 percent of NATO’s nuclear weapons stockpile. In Foreign Policy, Jeffery Lewis argues that “America’s nukes aren’t sage in Turkey anymore.”

The Daily Beast also reports that a group of Syrian rebels that formerly received U.S. backing have released an execution video featuring a young boy’s beheading. Footage surfaced on Tuesday morning of members of Harakat Nour al Din al Zenki executing the boy on the back of a pickup truck near Aleppo. Although the group’s leadership condemned the video, the footage underscores questions about whether groups the United States has supported during the ongoing Syrian civil war can be trusted.

At least 56 civilians were killed on Tuesday in airstrikes north of the Islamic State-stronghold of Manbij, Syria. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 children had been killed by the strikes, which the Observatory suggests were likely carried out by the U.S.-led air coalition. Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. airpower, have surrounded Manbij, which is one of the last major territories held by the Islamic State on Syria’s frontier with Turkey.

Reuters reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi is aiming to seize the ISIS stronghold of Mosul by October, instead of the close of 2016, as was expected. The revised timeline is a reflection of the Iraq’s renewed confidence in its security forces after a string of recent military victories against ISIS. President Barack Obama has also expressed his desire to conclude the campaign for Mosul before the end of his time in office.

French military commanders are working with their U.S. counterparts to launch coordinated strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, the French government has confirmed. The confirmation comes on the same day that President Francois Hollande acknowledged the death of three French special forces soldiers in a helicopter crash in Libya. Hollande’s statement is the first explicit confirmation that France has a military presence in Libya for counterterrorism purposes, the Wall Street Journal writes.

A group of more than 30 defense and foreign ministers have gathered in Washington to plan next steps in the fight against ISIS, including the possible acceleration of the military campaign. The Associated Press has more on the summit.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said ISIS fighters in Libya are facing the “distinct” possibility of defeat. The United Nations estimates that the group has roughly 2,000-7,000 troops in Libya currently. According to one diplomat who was briefed by Ban, dozens of Tunisian fighters for the Islamic State in Libya have already returned home, but many have the intention of launching strikes within Tunisia.

Reuters notes that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in the Yemeni city of Aden that killed four soldiers and wounded six others. Witnesses said that the attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber.

David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post that with ISIS closer than ever to defeat, U.S. officials are already beginning to focus on Jabhat al Nusra as a more dangerous long-term threat to the United States. Nusra has aligned itself with moderate opposition to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and thereby has escaped the lionshare of targeting by U.S. forces. But Nusra, like its parent organization al Qaeda, still harbors ambitions of attacking both Europe and the United States.

The recent attack on a German train by a Pakistani teenager seeking asylum has put renewed pressure on the German government regarding its refugee policy. In response, Germany’s interior minister downplayed the role of the government’s refugee policy, but admitted that the country is “likely to face more Islamist attacks.” The anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany, has taken the opportunity to criticize Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migrant policy, which allowed 1.1 million people to enter the country last year. Reuters has more here.

German officials are concerned that solitary teenagers may especially susceptible to extremist ideology or recruitment by criminal gangs. Minor migrants must be given a legal guardian before they can apply for asylum in Germany, a drawn-out process that leads many young migrants to become isolated drifters. The Wall Street Journal reports that some 52,232 unaccompanied minor refugees currently reside in Germany.

Two explosions rocked a Syrian city in the Golan Heights earlier today, with at least one explosion striking near a government building. Syrian rebels and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have blamed Israel for the attack, while Hezbollah has suggested that rocket fire from Jahbat al Nusra may be to blame. Reuters reports that information on casualties is limited, though Hezbollah claims that civilian deaths resulted from the explosions.

North Korea claimed today that its launch of three ballistic missiles yesterday was practice for blowing up South Korean ports and airports with nuclear warheads. The Korean Central News Agency claimed the launches were a rehearsal for targeting the South Korean operational theater, “where the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear war hardware is to be hurled,” referencing the South Korea’s decision to deploy the THAAD system with the U.S., according to the Washington Post. In response to the decision to deploy the missile defense system, South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was pelted with eggs last week by locals when he visited the area where the battery is to be positioned, 130 miles southeast of Seoul.

The United Kingdom has designated the Chinese militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist organization, bolstering China’s quest for Western support in its battle against what it considers a dangerous separatist organization. Yet while the United States and United Nations has also labelled ETIM as a terrorist organization, there is a dispute over whether it is the same entity as the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), as China claims and the United Kingdom agreed. And while China has claimed that separatists are to blame for recent violence in Xinjiang, human rights groups has suggested that the unrest is instead “a reaction to repressive Chinese policies,” which include restricting religious expression for the Muslim population, like banning veils for women. Reuters has more here.

In roughly a dozen cities, Chinese citizens angered about the recent South China Sea arbitral tribunal ruling boycotted KFC on account of its affiliation with the United States. Yet in an effort to control the protests, the Chinese government and state-run news outlets warned protesters to avoid illegal behavior. Phrases like “South China Sea” and “KFC” are being censored on social media and China Daily warned that boycotts could harm Chinese citizens, since restaurants like KFC “have been localized and mostly employ local people and purchase raw materials from China.” The New York Times has more on the unusual protests here. Earlier today the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, John Richardson, said that U.S. military forces will continue their operations in the South China Sea, according to Reuters.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Julian Ku discussed how the United States is using diplomatic tactics dubbed “shamefare” to force China into compliance with the South China sea arbitration, but with limited success.

Nora Ellingsen provided an update on Joseph Hassan Farrokh and his sentence for attempting to travel to Syria and join ISIS.

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