Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Tuesday, August 16, 2016, 1:58 PM

For the first time, Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants, allowing its pilots to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads. The move, which underscores the increasingly close alliance between the two countries, marks the first instance in which Iran has permitted another nation to use territory for military operations since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. According to Syrian opposition groups, the wave of airstrikes killed at least 15 civilians. The AP has more.

Meanwhile, Russia also suggested it was close to an agreement on a military collaboration with the U.S. in Aleppo. The New York Times reports that the agreement would mark a new level of cooperation between Washington and Moscow, who essentially support opposite sides in the conflict. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also admitted that Russia’s daily three-hour unilateral ceasefires in Aleppo have been insufficient in addressing the city’s ongoing humanitarian crisis, but expressed concern that longer ceasefires would be strategically damaging.

Having expelled Islamic State militants from Manbij, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces signaled that the town of Al-Bab will be their next target in their campaign against the Islamic State, despite American preference to first prioritize an advance on Raqqa. Overtaking Al-Bab would prove an important victory, as it would cut off the Islamic State’s ability to funnel fighters through the Turkish border. The Wall Street Journal has more.

China is seeking closer military ties with Syria, Reuters writes. Though China typically avoids Middle Eastern diplomacy, it plans to send envoys to push for diplomatic resolutions to violence and host Syrian leaders on both sides of the conflict. China relies heavily on oil from the Middle East and may also be motivated by security concerns over reports that Uighurs have been traveling illegally via Southeast Asia and Turkey to join militant groups in Syria.

A new report from Human Rights Watch claims that the Russian and Syrian militaries violated international law by dropping incendiary munitions on areas heavily populated by civilians during recent airstrikes in Idlib and Aleppo. The incendiary munitions—alleged to have been dropped at least 18 times in the past 9 weeks—are designed to explode and burn, inflicting “horrible injuries and excruciating pain” and violating the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons. The Washington Post has more.

Turkish police raided offices of a national retail chain and a healthcare and technology company, marking the largest raids on private businesses in Turkey’s post-coup crackdown. The dozens arrested are accused of being followers of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. who has been charged by Turkish prosecutors as the mastermind behind the coup. NBC News profiles Turkey’s crackdown, warning that Turkish history foreshadows that such strategies breed resentment and future unrest.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that Russia has no intention of breaking diplomatic ties with Ukraine, saying that the Kremlin is organizing joint talks with Ukraine, France and Germany to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Lavrov’s comments come after President Putin blamed Ukraine last week for incidents in Crimea in which two Russians were killed. The Journal has more.

U.S. Army chief of staff General Mark A. Milley told Chinese officials on a recent visit that America's decision to deploy an advanced anti-missile defense system with South Korea is a measure of protection against North Korea and not a threat to China, which claims the move will destabilize security balance in the region. Chinese state media has published daily missives against the United States and South Korea regarding the missile defense system. Beijing also appears to be withholding its support from UN Security Council resolutions condemning the North Korean nuclear program.

Further complicating matters are the persistent tensions between China and the U.S. over the South China Sea. The Journal warns that the risks of an inadvertent conflict between China and the United States will grow as Beijing flexes its muscles in the disputed waters, and points to a new RAND study arguing that strategists in China are increasingly confident that they could win a short and limited war against the United States.

The Guardian tells us that China has launched the world’s first quantum satellite. Beijing hopes that the quantum satellite will enable it to build a coveted “hack-proof” communications system that offers potentially significant military and commercial opportunities. The Wall Street Journal reports on the important military and security implications of the project.

A report released by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development writes that al Shabaab is posing a rising threat to governments across East Africa. The report noted that the Somali-based insurgency is proving capable of recruiting young men and women from countries outside its primary power base. It also urged a concerted international response to al Shabab. The Washington Post has more.

Politico reports that the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike will conduct a complete "restructuring and rebranding" of the Democratic National Committee’s management systems in response to a recent breach by suspected Russian hackers. DNC interim chair Donna Brazile said that CrowdStrike’s investigation had conclusively pointed to the Russian government as the perpetrator responsible for the high-profile hack of Democratic party information.

The Department of Defense announced on Monday that 15 Guantanamo Bay detainees have been transferred to the United Arab Emirates. With this single stroke—the largest single transfer during President Barack Obama’s tenure—the Pentagon eliminated a fifth of the wartime prison’s remaining population. 61 detainees remain at Guantanamo, of whom 20 have been approved for transfer.

Anjem Choudary, an infamous hate preacher in Britain, is facing jail after he was found guilty of supporting the Islamic State. Choudary—who has avoided prosecution for years despite his apparent sympathy for extremism—was convicted after jurors heard he had sworn an oath to the Islamic State. The Guardian has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes dissected Trump’s national security speech to reveal the disturbing novelties that form the focus of his foreign policy.

Laura Dean interviewed refugees in the infamous migrant camps in Calais, France.

Nicholas Weaver analyzed the code behind a rumored NSA malware program known as “Sauron” and what we can learn about the NSA from Sauron’s contents.

Carrie Cordero flagged an editorial she wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that urged policymakers to act now to enhance our electoral system’s resilience to cyberattacks.

Quinta Jurecic previewed The Week That Will Be for Lawfare readers.

Phil Walter offered recommendations for how the United States can adapt to an environment where competitors such as China and Russia engage in “Below Established Threshold Activities” rather than conventional acts of clear aggression.

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