Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Tuesday, August 9, 2016, 4:06 PM

Al Jazeera reports that the Syrian government has sent thousands of reinforcements to mount a counterattack in Aleppo after rebels broke through government lines two days earlier. The Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement and the government have mobilized more than 3,000 troops and fighters in an attempt to recapture the areas where the rebels made their breakthrough. Hezbollah's battle-hardened fighters have provided crucial support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's overstretched and exhausted army.

Michael Weiss writes in the Daily Beast that while Western politicians have sat on the sidelines, hardline Islamists have seized control of the rebel coalition that is fighting the Syrian government and its Russian backers. He adds that the Salafist factions’ prominence within the rebel army that regained territory in Aleppo is a testament to how marginal the United States has become to major developments in the war.

Reuters reveals that tensions flared between Russia and the United States in an ad hoc UN Security Council meeting prompted by the fighting in Aleppo. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power urged Russia to stop facilitating the Syrian regime’s sieges of rebel strongholds such as eastern Aleppo and to use its influence to press the regime to pursue peace. Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov hit back by accusing the United States and its western colleagues of politicizing a humanitarian crisis.

Reuters also relays the United Nations’ request that all parties in the Syrian conflict agree to a ceasefire in Aleppo, where it says roughly two million people lack access to clean running water. Aid workers and technicians need access to deliver food and medical supplies and to repair electricity networks that drive water pumping stations. Huge swathes of the city’s critical infrastructure has been damaged by ongoing Syrian and Russian airstrikes.

The Daily Beast points out that the Pentagon disclosed on July 27 for the first time that military contractors are working in Syria alongside U.S. forces. The Pentagon awarded a $10 million contract to provide “intelligence analysis services” for work in Germany, Italy, and Syria.

For the first time, the BBC also finds evidence of British special forces operating in Syria, when photos emerged of forces operating in the Thalab long range patrol vehicles that the British army have favored for campaigns in harsh terrain. The photos were dated from June. A New Syrian Army spokesman confirmed that rebels have received training from British and American special forces.

The Associated Press recaps what has happened since the United States began its airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq two years ago. Since the campaign began, the U.S. military has launched more than 9,400 airstrikes that have supported the Iraqi military in clawing back cities, towns, supply lines and infrastructure; the so-called caliphate has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq.

The leaders of Russia and Turkey have mended their countries’ fraying ties according to the BBC. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited St. Petersburg to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for his first visit to a foreign nation since he successfully thwarted a coup attempt in mid-July. The two men pledged to rebuild their countries’ relationship, which had suffered drastically after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in November. Putin pledged to reverse Russian sanctions gradually.

The New York Times interprets the summit between Erdogan and Putin as an implicit rebuke to the United States and other Western powers. Turkish officials are disappointed that the West has criticized Erdogan for his purge of tens of thousands of civil servants, journalists, and soldiers in the aftermath of the coup rather than offered solidarity.

Senior officials in Germany said they welcome a thaw in relations between Turkey and Russia. The German government’s coordinator for relations with Russia, Gernot Erler, told Deutschlandfunk radio there is “a European interest in this ice age between Turkey and Russia being ended, because it also hinders progress in resolving conflicts” in Syria and the Caucasus. The Washington Post has more.

An anti-American campaign has also erupted in Turkey after Washington appears steadfast in refusing Ankara’s requests to extradite Fettullah Gulen, a cleric who is considered by Erdogan to have orchestrated the coup from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. More than 16,000 people in Turkey are now awaiting trial and another 6,000 detained citizens are still being processed according to the Turkish Justice Minister.

One U.S. defense official told the Daily Beast that the United States is ramping up its air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya. The U.S. military is targeting jihadist snipers positioned in buildings around the crucial Islamic State stronghold of Sirte. The air assaults began on August 1 and coincide with a ground offensive by Libyan security forces to reclaim Sirte. Al Jazeera added that the Libyan government has made gains in recent weeks but progress has slowed as they move into a city that the Islamic State has fortified with mines.

Afghan forces tell the New York Times that they are struggling to head off an intensified Taliban offensive in Helmand Province in recent weeks even with U.S. support. The insurgents have again tightened the noose around Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, according to officials and residents. One former Afghan official, Abdul Jabar Qahraman, said the recent setbacks are a sign of the local army’s corruption and unpopularity with the population. He also added that U.S. airstrikes are an unsustainable solution to an on-the-ground guerilla insurgency.

Both the Islamic State and the Pakistani Taliban have claimed credit for the suicide attack near a hospital in Quetta that claimed at least 70 lives and wounded dozens of others. Monday’s attack targeted Quetta’s legal community as more than 200 lawyers and journalists had congregated to mourn a murdered colleague. Al Jazeera has more.

The Wall Street Journal reports on India’s ongoing fight with drug smugglers. Indian counterterrorism officials claim drug traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan are collaborating with extremist groups to also move weapons and Islamic terrorists across the border and into India.

David Sanger and Rick Gladstone reveal in the New York Times that the Chinese government may be militarizing the contested Spratly Islands. The Center for Strategic and International Studies analyzed recent satellite photographs to conclude that Beijing appears to be building reinforced aircraft hangars large enough to accommodate any plane in the Chinese Air Force. This revelation would run counter to a pledge President Xi Jinping made to President Barack Obama that China would not militarize the Spratly Islands. When Reuters asked Chinese officials for comment, Beijing responded tersely: “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands and nearby waters," China's Defence Ministry said in a faxed response to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Japan’s foreign minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged that his country’s ties with China are “deteriorating” after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered disputed waters in the East China Sea. On Friday, about 230 Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels sailed near islands claimed by both countries. Beijing has been increasingly assertive about waters it believes are Chinese. The Japan-controlled, uninhabited Senkaku Islands are the source of a long-running dispute. The BBC has more.

As China intensifies pressure on Japan over the disputed islands, Beijing is also diplomatically confronting South Korea and the United States over a new U.S.-controlled missile defense system on the Korean peninsula. Reuters reports that these two moves are a sign that China is willing to stand its ground on two prominent regional fronts. Analysts in China said there is little chance for tensions to ease in the short run as a rising China is keen to show its confidence and growing capabilities to project power in a variety of ways.

But the USS Benfold, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, visited the northern Chinese port of Qingdao to perform signals exercises with Chinese counterparts as a sign that both nations’ militaries wish to build trust amidst an uptick in regional instability. The Benfold is the first U.S. ship to visit China since an international tribunal decisively rejected China’s maritime claims over the South China Sea, a ruling that Beijing has rejected as illegitimate. The Associated Press dissects the Benfold’s itinerary to analyze what this might mean for U.S.-Sino relations.

According to Reuters, the Australian government announced on Tuesday the creation of a new cyber-intelligence unit to identify terrorism financing, money laundering and financial fraud online. The government cited “unprecedented” threats to national security as a reason for the move. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the head of Australia’s conservative party, won election in part by pledging to bolster Australia’s cybersecurity capabilities and transform its economy into a tech-savvy business hub.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Rishabh Bhandari examined the media firestorm that has surrounded the resolution of an outstanding financial settlement between Iran and the United States.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged some major developments in the cyber world that haven’t yet received the attention they warrant.

Nicholas Weaver proposed a series of recommendations that could strengthen the perceived legitimacy of our electronic voting system.

John Bellinger posted a public statement wherein he and 49 other high ranking former national security officials who have worked closely with Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush declare that their party’s nominee, Donald Trump, lacks the temperament, values, and judgment to become president.

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