Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, August 11, 2016, 3:41 PM

Russia announced plans for a daily three-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, beginning Thursday, to allow aid convoys to enter the city safely. A Russian Defense Ministry official said Moscow would partner with the United Nations to deliver the aid. Though the United Nations will consider the proposal, U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien warned that three hours would be an insufficient window of time for humanitarian organizations to help the 250,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo, where food supplies, infrastructure, and medical supplies are all immensely strained. Rebel groups inside Aleppo are skeptical of Russia’s plan, fearing that Moscow will use the ceasefire time to bomb other rebel strongholds. Reuters has more.

Reuters also reports that, according to rebels, fighting persisted in Aleppo more than an hour into Thursday’s inaugural ceasefire as government forces tried to reverse last week’s opposition gains. One spokesman for the rebel group Jaish al-Nasr stated that he had actually seen an escalation in the number of Russian warplanes striking the city since the beginning of the ceasefire. The Associated Press adds that the Syrian government allegedly dropped barrel bombs that released chlorine gas into opposition-held parts of Aleppo, leading to the death of a mother and her two children.

According to the Guardian, 15 of the last 35 doctors in rebel-held eastern Aleppo wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to intervene to stop the bombardment of hospitals in the besieged city. The doctors wrote, “We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers: we desperately need a zone free from bombing over eastern Aleppo to stop the attacks, and international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again.” The letter states that the Syrian regime attacks one medical facility in the country every 17 hours.

CNN covers the celebrations that took place in eastern Aleppo after the rebels broke a month-long government siege. But civilians are very aware that credit for this success goes to Islamist groups, including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, rather than western-backed forces.

Karen DeYoung and Hugh Naylor write in the Washington Post that the rapidly changing situation in Aleppo is making the city the site of the most critical battle of the Syrian civil war. The crisis has become a major test of whether Washington and Moscow can collaborate in Syria, as the U.S. negotiates with Russia over a partnership to defeat extremist groups in Syria and over a humanitarian channel into Aleppo.

The Associated Press tells us that Russian airstrikes targeting the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa killed at least 20 civilians on Thursday. The bombardments come as Turkey offered to conduct joint strikes against the Islamic State with Russia. Ankara had suspended its operations against the so-called caliphate following a deterioration in ties with Moscow several months ago. Civilian activists in Raqqa said the strikes also hit critical infrastructure that is necessary to maintain the city’s water supply.

According to top U.S. commander Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, the military campaigns in Iraq and Syria have reduced the total number of ISIS fighters to as few as 15,000. But while U.S.-backed operations have vitiated the Islamic State’s military capabilities, MacFarland cautioned that it was difficult to provide precise numbers. MacFarland also said that the liberation of Manbij, a city in northern Syria under the terrorist organization’s control, was imminent, while the United States would continue providing logistical and tactical support for Iraqi forces as they close in on Mosul, the largest Islamic State stronghold in Iraq.

Pro-government Libyan militias backed by American air power asserted on Wednesday that they had seized the seaside city of Sirte, ISIS’s last stronghold in the country. Sirte’s liberation would strike a colossal blow to the Islamic State’s ambitions in North Africa. Sirte’s loss is the culmination of a summer-long campaign by militia forces aligned with the internationally recognized yet fragile Libyan government. The New York Times has more.

Another bomb has hit the Pakistani city of Quetta, wounding 13 people, Reuters reports. Days ago, the city was struck by a suicide bombing at a hospital that killed 74 people.

Yahoo tells us that Turkey has canceled the work permits of 27,424 people working in the education sector as part of its investigations into the supporters of Fetullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric that Ankara blames for a failed military coup.

The Washington Post’s editorial board opines that strongmen such as Erdogan look for enemies abroad because they are loath to admit that their problems may come from “inside the kingdom.” Erdogan has accused the CIA and the U.S. government of helping Gulen’s alleged orchestration of the botched coup in mid-July. Factions within the Turkish press, egged on by Erdogan, have charged Henri Barkey, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and General John Campbell, a former NATO commander in Afghanistan, as responsible for the coup.

NATO has issued a statement clarifying that “Turkey’s NATO membership is not in jeopardy” following a number of moves made by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Ankara’s relationship with Moscow. But Turkish officials have publicly criticized their NATO allies for not sufficiently supporting Turkey at its time of internal crisis, and a number of Western countries have expressed concern that Erdogan is using the failed coup as a means to clamp down on dissent.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kurdish insurgents killed at least eight people and wounded dozens of others in coordinated attacks in two southeastern Turkish cities on Wednesday. Turkish government officials quickly placed the blame on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, one of whose top leaders had threatened an uptick in operations earlier this month. The PKK has been waging an insurgency against Turkey for decades, but violence has spiked since a ceasefire and peace talks broke down last summer. Hours after the twin attacks occurred, Reuters reported that Turkish security officials detained 17 suspected militants in a sweep in Istanbul.

A 16-year-old French girl has been detained after authorities accused her of planning a jihadist attack using the Telegram messaging app, according to the BBC. The raid was the result of monitoring by security services of suspicious behaviour on social networks. Though the Telegram thread included ISIS videos and calls to carry out attacks, the teenager did not mention any particular targets.

A man suspected of planning an ISIS-inspired suicide bomb attack was killed in a confrontation with Canadian police earlier today. Aaron Driver, a Canadian citizen, was arrested last year after expressing online support for Islamic State and was released on a peace bond in February under conditions including that he notify police of any travel plans and not have any communication with members of Islamic State. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police neither provided any specifics about the threat nor disclosed whether any particular location or city was at risk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea and threatened a Russian response, announcing that “we will not let these things pass.” In remarks broadcast on state television, Putin said that two Russian servicemen had been killed while confronting alleged Ukrainian plotters. He claimed Kiev was funding espionage activities to destabilize Crimea as a means of distracting its people from Ukraine’s domestic economic woes. The New York Times has more.

Reuters adds that Ukrainian officials have observed an enhanced Russian military presence on Ukraine’s border with Crimea. A spokesman for the Ukrainian border guard said Moscow is sending more troops with more sophisticated equipment. But a spokesman for Ukraine’s General Staff said Kiev has the military resources to defend itself and would continue monitoring the border with Crimea carefully.

The Guardian suggests that Russia’s recent moves in Crimea may suggest that Putin is planning to invade Ukraine once again with the intention of carving out a land corridor between separatist Donetsk and Crimea.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay called on China on Thursday to respect maritime law and security, as well as the rule of law, to resolve disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Yasay met his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in the Philippines to discuss regional security and cooperation on maritime security. Tokyo pledged to support Manila by lending vessels and aircraft.

In the Financial Times, Jamil Anderli warns that China’s leaders may not be able to control the nationalist and xenophobic sentiments they are stoking in the Chinese public. He notes that the propaganda arms of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Communist Youth League launched several online videos that blame “western hostile forces” for a host of ills and supposed controversies in China. As economic growth slows, Anderli predicts that the Chinese public may force its government to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy.

The Australian government has moved to block the $7.7 billion sale of a controlling stake in the country’s largest electricity distribution network to two Chinese companies on national security grounds. Chinese investment in critical infrastructure has been a source of tension and unease in Australia. The Financial Times has more.

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has released an unclassified Pentagon report documenting the biographies and records of the men who have been cleared for release or transferred from the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay. Ayotte said the biographies should show voters that President Barack Obama’s proposals to close down Guantanamo are misguided. Much of the information in this report, which can be found here, was already publicly available.

The New York Times writes that the Russian cyberattack on the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may have extended even farther than previously believed, targeting email accounts belonging to officials of both the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. A number of party organizations, including the Democratic Governors’ association, may also have been breached.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump referred to President Obama as the “founder of ISIS” at a campaign rally yesterday, continuing what has been a controversial week for his campaign. Meanwhile, Trump’s vice presidential pick Governor Mike Pence weighed in on the nominee’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. Pence suggested that rather than barring Muslims, Trump might instead support a temporary suspension on all immigration from countries “compromised by terrorism.”

In the Times, former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden considers the newly fraught question of classified intelligence briefings for the presidential candidates, emphasizing his concerns over Donald Trump’s qualifications to serve as president. And on that note, Shane Harris of the Daily Beast takes a look at how a presidential campaign unlike any other has caused many current and former intelligence officials to cast aside past traditions regarding the apolitical nature of their work.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig flagged Project Sauron, a sophisticated malware program that has been discovered in the government and military systems of Russia, Iran, and Rwanda.

Sarah Yerkes underscored the tremendous challenges and public distrust that Tunisia’s new Prime Minister-designate must overcome when he takes office.

Cody Poplin offered a rundown of what has changed and what hasn’t after the Department of Defense released new procedures governing the conduct of its intelligence activities.

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