Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Friday, August 26, 2016, 2:51 PM

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, are meeting in Geneva to hammer out final details of a cooperation agreement to partner against the Islamic State. Diplomats on both sides said they hoped a breakthrough would lead to a cessation of hostilities and restart talks on a political settlement in Syria. Talks of cooperation between Washington and Moscow began in July when Kerry proposed joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes against the Islamic State in return for the grounding of the Syrian air force. The Guardian has more.

Residents of Daraya, a rebel-held city in Syria, struck a deal to surrender to the Syrian government after four years of siege and bombardment. In exchange for political control, the government will evacuate the remaining 8,000 residents of the city, which was one of the first areas to stage peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2011. According to one rebel, negotiators on behalf of Assad’s regime warned that all the civilians would be killed if they did not surrender now.

The Daily Beast informs us that the United States is leaking conclusions from a UN Security Council report that highlight Syria’s continued possession of chemical weapons. U.S. diplomats say they intend to use this information to pressure the regime’s primary backer, Russia, at the United Nations Security Council into action. UN officials said many believed chemical weapons remained in Syria after 2013, despite Assad’s claim to have sent his entire arsenal to Russia, but few were willing to state their suspicions publicly. But despite these revelations, any tangible action such as sanctions remain unlikely unless Russian President Vladimir Putin changes his calculus.

The Economist tells us that the Syrian conflict only grew more complicated this week after Turkey sent tanks, warplanes, and special operations forces across the border on Wednesday. Turkey’s deepening involvement comes as the Kurds, another U.S. ally, are clashing directly with the Syrian regime. Syrian rebels worry that Turkey, which has recently improved its relations with Russia, will begin cutting off critical support and supply lines for besieged cities such as Aleppo.

The New York Times reveals that Turkey’s recent entry into the Syrian conflict is a sign of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing dominance over the army. The top commanders behind the failed coup attempt in July had been among the most formidable critics of Erdogan’s plans to move into Syria. In the aftermath of the coup, Erdogan purged thousands of military officers and has assumed more operational control over the army. The Washington Post adds that Turkey’s Syria offensive was also facilitated by improved relations between Ankara and Moscow, along with American military support.

The Associated Press reports that a Kurdish suicide bomber killed at least 11 police officers and wounded 78 others in southeast Turkey when he rammed an explosives-laden truck into a checkpoint near a police station on Friday. Rebels linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, claimed responsibility for the attack. This strike marks the latest in a string of bombings conducted by the PKK, and the attacks could enrage Turkey into taking harsher action against the Syrian Kurds as its military continues to push into northern Syria.

The Financial Times writes that Erdogan may be fighting on too many fronts at once. In addition to Turkey’s deep-seated conflict with a separatist Kurdish insurgency in the southeast and its offensive against the Islamic State and the Syrian Kurds, Erdogan must also reckon with the internal threat posed by followers of Fethullah Gülen. To compound the challenge, Turkey is also growing further apart from its western allies, who worry that Erdogan is using the botched coup as a pretext to tighten his grip on power.

The Washington Post reports that Iraq’s parliament voted to sack its defense minister on Thursday. Khaled al-Obeidi’s departure over allegations of corruption marks the second major security post open after Iraq’s interior minister resigned in July following a devastating suicide attack in Baghdad. The turmoil comes as Iraqi security forces are closing in on recapturing Mosul, the Islamic State’s largest stronghold in the country, though Iraqi military planners said al Obeidi’s departure will not affect the impending fight.

After meeting with top Persian Gulf and UN officials in Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled a new initiative aimed at ending Yemen’s bloody civil war and establishing a unity government. Kerry said political and security negotiations would be merged into a single comprehensive track and urged Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to withdraw from San’a and transfer their ballistic missiles and other heavy weapons to a third party. According to The Hill, Kerry reiterated U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, but also highlighted that the KSA recognizes it needs to do more to minimize civilian casualties during the war.

To help us make sense of the tangled network of alliances at work in Yemen, Al Jazeera offers a graphic breaking down which countries are involved in the civil war, which has often been viewed as a regional proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iranian naval ships made dangerous maneuvers around United States warships in the Persian Gulf area on at least four occasions this week, Pentagon officials said Thursday, including one episode in which the Americans fired warning shots from a 50-caliber deck gun to prevent a collision. A U.S. spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, accused the Iranians of violating international law and ignoring repeated warnings from the American vessels. The recent confrontations underscore the risk of an armed clash between Iran and the United States in an area that has been a perennial source of tension for the two countries. The New York Times has more.

The Wall Street Journal reveals that NSO, a little-known Israeli startup, exploited previously unknown bugs in Apple’s smartphone software to help foreign governments spy on their citizens. Researchers at Citizen Lab and the mobile-security firm Lookout said they discovered the software in a link sent earlier this month to the phone of Ahmed Mansoor, a human-rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. This revelation suggests that the iOS operating system behind Apple’s iPhones may not be as impregnable as it appeared earlier this year, when the FBI struggled for weeks to unlock a phone tied to the San Bernardino terror attack. The Associated Press notes that Apple boosted its iPhone security after the disclosure.

Visiting Sweden, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that he still expects the U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will close before President Barack Obama leaves office in January. As the administration has encountered congressional resistance to the president’s desire to close the prison, Obama has been steadily transferring detainees it concludes are not a threat to countries willing to take them. 61 prisoners remain at Guantanamo, including 20 that have been approved for transfer.

A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan said U.S. troops are accompanying Afghan special forces on roughly 10 percent of their missions. Earlier this week, one US service member was killed and one wounded by a bomb attack in which six Afghan troops were killed, underscoring the risk that U.S. troops still face in Afghanistan almost two years after President Barack Obama declared the U.S. combat mission there over.

Islamic militants aligned with Al Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack on a seaside restaurant in Mogadishu that killed at least seven people and wounded two others. Gunmen raided the building after setting off a car bomb outside. Somali security officials said a suicide bomber had survived the blast and was taken into custody and that two militants had been killed. The terrorist organization has carried out a series of deadly attacks to try to replace the Western-backed government with a puritanical Islamic state. The New York Times has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ellen Scholl scanned the globe to spotlight cases where energy is impacting geopolitics.

Benjamin Wittes posted the latest episode of Rational Security, in which the gang talks about the alleged Russian hacks of the New York Times.

Amanda Tyler recounted the remarkable story of Mitsuye Endo, an unsung hero in the fight to close down the Japanese internment camps during World War II.

Orin Kerr teased out the contrast between two approaches to delineating between metadata and content.

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