Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, August 12, 2016, 3:09 PM

U.S.-backed forces battling the Islamic State stated on Friday that they had launched a final assault to flush the remaining ISIS fighters out of the city of Manbij. The Syria Democratic Forces, buttressed by U.S. airpower, said that today’s assault would be the last operation in the campaign for the city in northern Syria. Located near the Turkish border, Manbij has been a critical gateway for prospective Islamic State fighters looking to join the so-called caliphate. Reuters has more.

According to Al Jazeera, fighting continues to rage in Aleppo between rebels and government forces, even during the daily three-hour ceasefires promised by Russia to allow humanitarian groups to access the war-torn city. Trucks carrying food were unable to enter Aleppo on Thursday because of intense bombardment. Russian warplanes continued to target Aleppo’s medical facilities, among other public spaces, despite the Kremlin’s promise of a three-hour daily ceasefire.

The Associated Press reports that Syrian government airstrikes hit the only hospital earmarked for women and children in rebel-occupied parts of Aleppo on Friday. A market and a village were also hit. The strikes killed at least 18 civilians, including activists, rescue workers, hospital staffers, and children. In response to the onslaught, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on the United Nations to supervise humanitarian access into Aleppo, arguing that Russia’s unilateral three-hour daily ceasefires are insufficient to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

The Associated Press also tells us that Russian airstrikes killed at least 20 civilians in an attack on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa on Thursday. Activists said the operation killed at least 20 civilians.

Meanwhile, discussions continue between Turkey and Russia regarding a proposed coordinated anti-ISIS bombing campaign. The two countries are working to strengthen their ties, which were frayed after Turkey downed a Russian plane that crossed into Turkish airspace last  year. The Hurriyet Daily has more on the prospective counterterrorism partnership.

The United Nations is investigating evidence of a toxic gas attack on a rebel-held area of the Syrian city of Aleppo. Rebels said the attack was carried out by government forces using chlorine gas, killing four people and leaving many injured. The BBC has more, including footage of people experiencing difficulties breathing while receiving treatment in a Syrian hospital. The Guardian reports that the act of dropping chlorine on Aleppo would be a war crime if confirmed, according to UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The New York Times takes a closer look at the Syrian regime’s use of chlorine gas. Because of its widespread use for a number of legal purposes, chlorine was not one of the substances destroyed by the international community in 2013 when Syrian President Bashar al Assad agreed to join the Chemical Weapon Convention.

The Hill reports that the Pentagon will not reveal how many U.S. soldiers are actually deployed in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. government will only disclose the number of full-time troops deployed—about 3,825 in Iraq and 300 in Syria—but the number of troops on the ground, including temporary deployments, is much higher. Republican lawmakers accused President Barack Obama of using temporary deployments and frequent personnel rotations as a means of circumventing the caps on troop levels implemented by the president.

In the New York Times, Nick Kristof writes that the United States’ failure to contain or end the ongoing civil war in Syria constitutes the gravest mistake of Obama’s presidency. Kristof likens the crisis in Syria to the atrocities committed in places such as Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, and predicts that the growing refugee problem will only feed further extremism.

As the Islamic State’s losses on the conventional battlefield pile up, the Washington Post looks beyond the possible demise of ISIS to warn that new conflicts may emerge in Iraq between current allies. While Sunni extremism has unified a broad coalition of groups—including Kurdish peshmerga, Iraqi armed forces, Shiite militias, and some moderate Sunni groups—analysts warn that deep-seated disagreements over the distribution of power, money, and territory have not been resolved.

The New York Times reports that Islamic State fighters are still lurking in their former stronghold of Sirte, despite the organization’s defeat by forces aligned with the internationally recognized Libyan government. But both city officials and military commanders said large swathes of the city have been secured by the government. Officials credited U.S. air support as a major factor in their swift victory but dismissed claims that British and U.S. special forces played a role on the ground as attempts to discredit the Libyan government as a puppet of foreign regimes.

According to Reuters, a U.N. envoy to Libya said support for the country’s embattled unity government is “crumbling” as public dissatisfaction swells over the regime’s inability to provide basic public goods. These grumblings have been exacerbated by an economy that is reeling from a weakening currency that is raising prices of needed imports.

Turkey’s government now searching for several military officers and diplomatic staff posted overseas, who fled their posts in the wake of the failed coup and may be seeking asylum abroad, according to the Wall Street Journal. Turkey’s pursuit of these exiles could further strain its already fractured relationships with its Western allies. At least one officer was based in Virginia and is already requesting asylum from U.S. authorities.

The Associated Press tells us that Ukraine put its troops on combat alert Thursday along the country’s eastern border amid an escalating war of words with Russia over Crimea. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued the order after Moscow accused his country of sending several groups of “saboteurs” to carry out attacks in Crimea, killing two Russians. Kiev has denied these claims as “fantasy” and “a provocation.” The BBC has more.

Reuters writes that the Kremlin has further ramped up the pressure by announcing war games in the Black Sea and convening President Vladimir Putin’s security council. In New York, the U.N. Security Council held a closed-door meeting at Ukraine's request to discuss the growing tensions.

The United States is weighing another round of sanctions against Russia to punish the Kremlin for its alleged role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the ongoing political season. Any commitment to increased sanctions would have to be paired with a public declaration that Russia was responsible for the attack. The Journal has more.

The Philippines wants formal negotiations with China to explore pathways to peace and cooperation, the Southeast Asian nation's special envoy, Fidel Ramos, said on Friday. Ramos, a former Filipino president, was speaking near the end of a trip to Hong Kong undertaken in a bid to rekindle his country’s ties with China, which have been soured by the ongoing maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

Reuters reports that the Philippines are also in the midst of talks with Japan to obtain two large coast guard ships to help patrol the contested waters. Although Japan does not have a territorial claim in the South China Sea, it is involved in a related dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea. Beijing has warned that Tokyo’s interference in the South China Sea will further destabilizing the region.  

The Guantánamo parole board has cleared for release an Algerian captive who was for a time considered for prosecution as part of a Pakistan-based bomb-making cell, the Pentagon announced Thursday. The man, who received a letter of endorsement from one of the guards, said he intended to run a pizza parlor near his mother’s home in Algiers. He is the 35th detainee approved for release among the 76 captives currently in the detention facilities.

The German government proposed a broad range of measures on Thursday to bolster security and combat terrorism, its strongest official response so far to two recent attacks by terrorists pledging loyalty to the Islamic State and a deadly shooting rampage in Munich. Many of the measures, which include closer monitoring of refugees and enhanced surveillance, seem likely to win legislative approval but have prompted concerns in a country that is deeply protective of privacy and civil liberties. A record 1.1 million foreigners migrated to Germany last year and the country received 442,000 asylum requests.

Police in Brazil have arrested two men suspected of supporting the Islamic State in the second phase of raids that earlier led to the detention of 12 people immediately preceding the Olympic Games. The men were arrested in Sao Paulo, the country’s second largest city.

Pakistani lawmakers approved a cybersecurity bill that grants regulators broad powers to remove or block content they deem offensive or dangerous. Security officials defended the legislation as a necessary tool to combat terrorism, but critics allege that its vague language could be exploited to suppress free speech and unfairly prosecute dissidents. Reuters has more.

CNN fills us on violence in Thailand, where 11 bombs went off in five different provinces across the country. At least four Thai nationals were killed and 36 others were injured, including ten foreigners. No group has yet claimed responsibility. Thailand, which has been plagued by political instability, is approaching the one-year anniversary of a devastating bombing at a Bangkok shrine. The BBC has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Michael Knapp drew our attention to Russia’s recent territorial claims in the Arctic.

Toby Levy assuaged our privacy concerns regarding the privacy threat Pokémon Go represents.

Benjamin Wittes flagged a first round legal victory for Twitter over the question of whether CDA §230 immunizes the company against civil lawsuits over its provision of services to terrorist groups.

Matthew Wein dissected and dismissed Donald Trump’s proposed blanket ban of Muslim immigrants as both immoral and unfeasible.

Paul Rosenzweig highlighted the work of two researchers who discovered a security key that protects Microsoft devices and may help restart the encryption debate.

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