Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Tuesday, August 2, 2016, 3:31 PM

The U.S. expanded its war against the Islamic State into Libya yesterday, using both manned warplanes and drones to conduct airstrikes in the coastal city of Surt. The strikes, which seek to weaken the Islamic State’s stronghold in North Africa and free Libyan militias cornered by ISIS fighters, come after weeks of negotiation between the Obama administration and the UN-backed Libyan government on how best to strike precisely and reduce civilian casualties. The Libyan government requested the strikes as assistance in its fight against the Islamic State. Though officials estimate that there are fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters in Surt, they also predict that these ISIS forces are prepared to fight to the death in a grinding urban battle. The New York Times has more.

Conditions in Aleppo are worsening as the Syria regime and its Russian allies continue bombing rebel-controlled parts of the city, including hospitals, markets and warehouses, in an effort to force rebels into a quick surrender. In the words of a hospital administrator in rebel-held Aleppo, the bombings are “targeting the infrastructure in order to create a feeling of defeat and surrender." The siege has created a humanitarian crisis for the over 300,ooo people living in the city's east.

SANA, Syria’s state news agency, reports that 9 civilians have been killed by rebel fire in the government-controlled part of northern Aleppo amid the intensified fighting. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, estimates that the number is closer to 30, including children. According to the Washington Post, supporters of Sunday’s offensive burned tires across the city in an effort to create an artificial no-fly zone limiting government planes from locating targets.

The Times reports that toxic gas was dropped last night on Saraqeb, a town in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused President Bashar al Assad of responsibility for the attack, which affected 33 people, most of whom were women and children. Saraqeb is located near where Syrian rebel fighters shot down a Russian military helicopter yesterday, killing all five people on board.

Speaking about Russia at a rally last night, Donald Trump called for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin, insisting that the ability to “get along with Russia” and have them “help us get rid of ISIS” would be “a good thing.” Trump’s comments arrive in the midst of sharp criticism regarding his friendliness with Putin and after his public invitation for Russian hackers to infiltrate Hillary Clinton’s email.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again blasted Western countries for supporting the attempted coup, insisting that “the West,” unhappy with Turkey’s rise as a regional power, is “supporting terrorism and taking sides with coups.” Erdogan specifically criticized Germany for a recent court decision prohibiting him from addressing a rally of German supporters by video link over the weekend and for failing to take action after Turkey sent more than 4,000 files on what Erdogan claimed were wanted terrorists. The Journal examines the latest diplomatic rift between Turkey and Germany and its implications for the troubled relationship between Turkey and the E.U.

Erdogan, in the meantime, continued his post-coup crackdown, seizing military factories and shipyards. But Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the restructuring of Turkey’s armed forces would not make its military weaker. Instead, he claimed that it would help ensure the military is focused on combatting the country’s most pressing challenges.

Despite tensions with Germany, Turkey is pushing for closer ties with the U.S., according to Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who met yesterday with Turkey’s prime minister and top military officer. Despite public anti-American statements indicating suspicions that the United States aided in the coup, Turkish officials privately expressed their desire for a good relationship with the US and their continued commitment to a strategic partnership against ISIS. Reuters has more on Dunford’s visit to Turkey.

Reuters reports that the Chinese Supreme Court issued a warning that people caught illegally fishing in Chinese waters could be jailed for up to a year. The country’s highest court did not mention a recent arbitration ruling by the Hague that dismissed Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea, which Chinese officials have rejected as illegitimate. Though the Court did not explicitly mention the South China Sea, it said that the “people’s courts will actively exercise jurisdiction over China's territorial waters, support administrative departments to legally perform maritime management duties...and safeguard Chinese territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.”

A new white paper issued by the Japanese Defense Ministry slammed China’s behavior in the region by characterizing Beijing’s actions over the South China Sea as “heavy-handed.” The authors of the white paper warned that Beijing is “making steady efforts to turn these coercive changes to the status quo into a fait accompli.” The white paper also expressed concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions, including that nation’s nuclear test in January 2016.

Kun Shan Chun, an FBI employee who worked in the Bureau’s New York office as an electronics technician with a top-secret clearance, pleaded guilty on Monday to acting as an agent for the Chinese government and sending sensitive information about the U.S. government to Chinese officials. Chun allegedly provided details about sensitive FBI surveillance technologies and the FBI’s internal structure. His verdict comes as U.S. officials are becoming increasingly vigilant against Chinese economic espionage. The Wall Street Journal has more.

The Associated Press told us roughly 60,000 people have fled South Sudan in the past month since fighting broke out between rival army factions. Though 52,000 of these refugees have traveled to Uganda, people fleeing South Sudan for Uganda this month have reported being turned back by armed groups on the way into the country. Nearly 900,000 South Sudanese citizens have left the country of 11 million people since civil war broke out in December 2013.

Al Jazeera notes that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen rejected a U.N. draft peace proposal that aimed to end the country’s bloody civil war. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN envoy, proposed that the Houthi insurgency relinquish the three major cities they hold, including the capital city of Sanaa. The proposal calls for a political settlement that would include Houthi participation in the next Yemeni government.

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg highlights a Guantanamo milestone: half of the 66 long-held, uncharged detainees are now approved by the parole board for release. The detention center hit this halfway mark following the Guantanamo parole board’s clearing of Yemeni captive, Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani, for release to resettlement outside his homeland on Monday. 17 detainees not facing charges are still awaiting their parole board verdicts.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Helen Klein Murillo continued Lawfare’s coverage of the ongoing trials in Guantanamo Bay of the five men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

Elizabeth McElvein broke down some of the latest national security polling that will help shape the 2016 presidential campaign.

Quinta Jurecic previewed the week ahead with the latest edition of the Week That Will Be.

David Hoffman proposed the creation of an Internet Obscurity Center to shift the burden of complying with EU law away from private companies such as Google.

Jennifer Daskal and Andrew Keane Woods favorably evaluated newly proposed legislation by the Obama administration that aims to streamline the process by which U.S. law enforcement agents can access digital information across the border.

Nicholas Weaver offered advice for political campaigns as to how they can enhance their security with a few simple steps.

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