Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Friday, August 19, 2016, 1:36 PM

Violence between the Syrian regime and Kurdish forces escalated yesterday, with Syrian warships launching airstrikes against U.S.-backed Kurdish troops in the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh. The escalation adds yet another front in Syria’s already complicated battlefield and comes after the Syrian Democratic Force, a primarily ethnic Kurdish force, recaptured Manbij from the Islamic State last week. Though clashes lulled today, giving scores of civilians the opportunity to flee Hassakeh, such respite proved short-lived and fighting broke out anew shortly after. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that 16 people have already been killed on the Kurdish side, and that five pro-government fighters were killed as well.

New aerial photos have been released revealing Islamic State militants using civilians as human shields in the attempt to flee Manbij. In an effort to avoid civilian casualties, the Syrian Democratic Forces did not take aim at the militants, who were thought to have gone north toward Turkey. The BBC has more.

Al Jazeera reports that Russia has agreed to support a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, a move that would allow U.N. aid to reach the besieged area. Moscow’s interest in a “humanitarian pause” comes after images of a wounded Syrian child went viral, increasing pressure on Russia to take measures toward alleviating the civilian crisis in the city. Russia has denied responsibility for the attack on Aleppo in which the child was wounded, claiming that it never targets populated areas and that the rebels were to blame.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Aziz Ahmed, an assistant to the chancellor of the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, warns that U.S. allies could turn against each other and jeopardize the fragile global coalition against the Islamic State unless the U.S. displays better leadership in the region. The piece argues that, as the Islamic State loses ground and historical enmities resurface, the U.S. must re-engage politically in the Middle East. Read the full analysis here.

Turkey continued its post-coup crackdown, detaining dozens of auditors at a banking regulatory agency and academics at Istanbul University, all of whom were accused of “irregular probes” into the government. Amid the crackdown, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman argues in Politico that the coup attempt represents “the most serious attack against democracy in any candidate country” attempting to enter the European Union, criticizing what he sees as the EU’s “disappointing” response to the “bloody putsch” by a “Gulenist cult.”

The PPK, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for yesterday’s suicide car bomb in Turkey that targeted police stations in Elazig. The attack left three police officers dead and 217 people wounded, 85 of whom were police officers.

The Journal reports that Russia is bolstering its military presence on its western border, placing tens of thousands of troops within striking distance of Ukraine. The military moves are part of the Kremlin’s preemptive defense against perceived threats from NATO and come as Russian naval and land forces rehearse moving swiftly into Crimea.

A bill that would stymie a future president from easing up on Russian sanctions is quietly making its way through Congress, reports Buzzfeed. The bill—which would allow the president to remove certain sanctions established by a series of executive orders in 2014 only if Russia agrees to give up Crimea—is a defense measure in the event that Donald Trump, who has admitted to being open to removing the sanctions, is elected.

Japan aims to develop a new drone fighter jet within the next two decades, according to Reuters. The plan will be announced when the Defense Ministry unveils its budget request to the Japanese legislature next month. The budget will also look for increases to strengthen Japan’s coast guard and missile defense systems, both of which will likely be tested by China’s growing bellicosity in the region’s contested waters and North Korea’s ongoing ballistic missiles program.

A new study issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies asserts that the North Korean regime uses military exercises between South Korea and the United States as a means of bolstering its domestic support. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also resorts to missile tests and threats to pressure the United States into retreating from the Korean Peninsula. Analysts suggest that Pyongyang is looking to create a narrative in which the U.S. military presence in South Korea is perceived as the primary catalyst for regional instability.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected criticism from the United Nations about a surge in extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers, denying government responsibility. About 900 suspected drug traffickers have been killed since Duterte, who made the Phillipines’ drug problem a core plank of his presidential campaign, came to power in May. Critics say that Duterte’s brand of populist rhetoric and harsh justice has empowered vigilante groups and police to conduct extrajudicial killings, and one of Duterte’s leading critics in the legislature will soon begin a congressional inquiry into this uptick in violence. But Duterte warned that lawmakers who stood in his way may be killed: “Be careful with me...because I will do it even if I have to kill you.” Reuters has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Dave Aitel and Matt Tait discussed the flaws in the vulnerabilities equities process and their proposals for reforming the system.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.