Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Caitlin Gilligan
Wednesday, August 24, 2016, 3:20 PM

Turkish forces crossed the border into Syria today in Turkey’s largest yet military involvement in the Syrian conflict, coordinating with US forces to push the Islamic State out of the group’s stronghold in the town of Jarablus. Rebel troops have announced that the operation was successful. While Turkey and the US hope to deprive ISIS of a smuggling route by pushing it away from the Turkish border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also indicated that the operation aimed to prevent Syrian Kurdish militia fighters from gaining control of Jarablus. Hurriyet Daily News has a timeline of the operation.

The Associated Press writes that today’s operation could lead to a confrontation between Turkey and US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom Turkey claims are linked to insurgent Kurdish groups in southeastern Turkey. The US has maintained that Kurdish forces will leave border towns after liberating them from ISIS. The Wall Street Journal reports on Turkish concerns over possible Kurdish plans to seize Jarablus independently, despite a warning from Vice President Joe Biden—who is now visiting Turkey—that Kurdish fighters would not receive US support “if they do not keep that commitment” to leave the town.

Also during his visit to Turkey, Biden requested that Turkish officials be patient in seeking the extradition of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of masterminding the failed coup. Biden reaffirmed that, while the US had no interest in protecting Gulen, American courts must be presented with the necessary evidence to fulfill legal extradition requirements. Meanwhile, Reuters examines how tensions over Gulen could affect US-Turkey relations.

Yesterday Kurdish militias signed a ceasefire with the Syrian government giving Kurdish forces control over most of Hasaka city and the surrounding province. While the agreement represents a major setback for the Syrian government, the regime’s new willingness to attack Kurdish forces during the battle for Hasaka may indicate potential for a rapprochement between the Syrian regime and Turkey. The New York Times has more here.

The ceasefire in Hasaka was brokered by Russia, which has offered military support to Kurds against opposition rebels in Syria for months. The Syrian regime had previously avoided hostility with the Kurdish forces and tacitly allowed the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region, but has begun to shift toward more aggressive anti-Kurdish rhetoric and policy similar to that of Turkey, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Intercept has published an interview with Mostafa Mahamed, the director of foreign media relations for the group formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, on the extremist group’s split from al Qaeda and rebranding as Jabhat Fatah al Sham. Mahamed discusses the split from al Qaeda as an opportunity to “work toward a more pragmatic option that will allow accommodation of a wider audience.”

Traces of deadly nerve agents have been discovered in Syrian regime laboratories that the government has denied were used for their chemical weapons program, a new report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons indicates. These discrepancies limit inspectors’ abilities to verify that Syria has abandoned its chemical weapons program as it agreed to do in 2013. Foreign Policy has more on the report here.

Russian, German and French leaders agreed to meet next month on the sidelines of G-20 Summit in China to address the crisis in Ukraine and the recent increase in cease-fire violations. The Russian government denies directly aiding the separatists in Eastern Ukraine, but has continued supporting The Wall Street Journal has more.

Today marked Ukraine’s 25th year of independence from the Soviet Union, Politico notes. The country’s independence day arrives amidst renewed tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which conducted military exercises in Crimea earlier this week. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned last week of the possibility of a “full-scale invasion on all fronts.”

Earlier today, North Korea test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew 310 miles toward Japan, marking a significant increase in abilities after many previously failed attempts of similar launches. While previous tests were thought to be conducted from a submerged barge to exaggerate capabilities, South Korea has confirmed this missile originated from a submarine. Reuters adds that this capability could help Pyongyang thwart the THAAD anti-missile system soon to be deployed in South Korea.

The test came two days after the US and South Korea began their annual joint military exercises and only hours before foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and China were continuing talks about the North’s growing threats. The New York Times includes that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considered the test “a grave threat” to Japan’s security.

According to Philippines’ foreign minister Perfecto Yasay, the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea has not caused Manila to shift its diplomatic orientation towards either Washington or Beijing. The Philippines announced that it will not raise a recent international tribunal’s verdict in favor of Manila next month at a summit in Laos of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). China welcomed the news. Reuters has more.

Reuters also writes that a Filipino police report on an anti-drug campaign that has killed 1,900 people in seven weeks has deeply unsettled human rights activists and the Philippines’ allies. According to the country’s top police chief, 756 people have been killed by the police during the “Double Barrel” operation, with an additional 1,160 people killed by what police have suggested are vigilantes. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said on Monday it was "deeply concerned" by the killings and urged the government to abide by human rights norms. The humanitarian group Human Rights Watch accused Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte of inciting violence and "steamrolling the rule of law.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Nigeria’s generals against committing human rights abuses during its ongoing campaign against the Islamic group Boko Haram. Human rights watchdogs have accused Nigeria’s military of numerous violations of international law, including killing civilians, torturing prisoners, and detaining women and children who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram.

A strong earthquake in central Italy reduced three towns to rubble as people slept early Wednesday, killing at least 73 people and injuring hundreds more as rescue crews raced to dig out survivors with bulldozers and their bare hands. Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed that the country would not leave “no family, no city, no hamlet” behind. The Associated Press has more.

The AP also follows up on CNN’s reporting yesterday that the FBI is investigating whether Russian intelligence agencies hacked the accounts of individual New York Times’ reporters, in addition to hacking the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic entities. But according to the Times, though hackers did target the paper’s Moscow bureau earlier this month, there is no evidence that the attack was successful.

Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to meet with U.N. special envoy on Yemen and other senior officials from Arab governments this week as he looks to score a rare U.S. victory in the Middle East by accelerating the peace process over the Yemeni civil war. A shaky ceasefire implemented in April fell apart earlier this month. Saudi Arabia and Iran have viewed the civil war as a proxy contest for influence in the region, but the United Nations has criticized both sides for committing human rights violations. Politico has more.

A British woman was killed and two men were injured in a stabbing attack at a backpackers’ hostel in Queensland, Australia. A French suspect, who allegedly yelled “Allahu Akbar” during and after the attack, was arrested by police. Local authorities are examining whether this was a case of extremism or motivated by other factors such as drugs or mental illness. The suspect did not know the victims. The BBC and The Australian have more.

Norway is erecting a steel fence at a remote Arctic border with Russia in response to an influx of 5,500 migrants across the border last year, sparking outcries both from refugee rights’ groups and those who fear the fence signals a further deterioration of Norweigian relations with Russia. The government said a new gate and fence were necessary to tighten security at a northern outpost of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

The Associated Press tells us that Wikileaks has released the personal information of hundreds of ordinary people, including sick children, rape victims, mental health patients, and, in one case, the name of a Saudi citizen who had previously been arrested for being gay. The radical transparency group’s disclosures have brought it under fire even from its traditional allies, who see Wikileaks’ publication of personal information as unrelated or even harmful to its stated mission of increasing government transparency.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Bruce Ackerman flagged the latest brief filed by U.S. Army Captain Nathan Smith in his suit charging that U.S. military operations against the Islamic State are illegal absent a tailored AUMF.

Susan Hennessey compiled a growing list of female technology policy experts who can be cited, interviewed, or invited as panel experts.

Suzanne Maloney critiqued the White House’s handling of the Iran airlift scandal whereby the United States sent $400 million to Tehran at the same time that the two countries agreed on a detainee swap.

Charles Kels offered an alternative view of the Presidential Policy Guidance on direct actions against terrorist targets.

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