Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, September 7, 2016, 4:19 PM

An alliance of moderate opposition groups has unveiled a detailed transition plan for Syria that commits the country to safeguarding both democratic and religious pluralism. The High Negotiation Committee (HNC), an umbrella body representing more than 30 political and military forces seeking to wrest power from Assad, unveiled its 25-page plan at a meeting in London. According to the HNC proposal, negotiations would span six months to set up a transitional administration made up of figures from the opposition, the government and civil society. The transitional government would lead for 18 months before elections began. According to The Guardian, the HNC’s blueprint may encourage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to invest political capital in resolving the Syrian crisis.

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, penned an editorial in The Times endorsing the HNC’s vision for a post-Assad Syria. Reuters relays a pledge by Riyad Hijab, the HNC’s general coordinator and a former Syrian prime minister, that Syrian President Bashar al Assad would step down at the end of the six-month negotiation period, along with “those who have committed crimes against the Syrian people.”

The BBC reports that Syrian government forces have been accused of dropping barrel bombs containing chlorine from helicopters on a suburb of Aleppo. 80 people were injured in the attack. A United Nations report last month concluded that that the government had used chlorine on at least two occasions, though the regime continues to reject these accusations as baseless.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed and four were wounded in an ISIS missile attack in northern Syria on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The seven victims marked the first casualties for the Turkish army since they crossed into Syria two weeks ago in order to expel ISIS from the Syrian-Turkish border.

Reuters tells us that Syrian civilians are returning to their homes after Turkey pushed the Islamic State out of its positions in northern Syria. 292 Syrians moved back to the town of Jarablus on Wednesday. The city had been a key stronghold for the so-called caliphate until it was liberated by Turkish forces on August 24. Turkey, which hosts 3 million Syrian refugees, has urged world powers to back plans for a "safe zone" in north Syria to stem the flow of migrants and to allow Syrians to return home.

Hürriyet Daily News reports that Ankara and Washington are discussing plans to partner in a military offensive against Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disclosed the plans to journalists as he was returning from a G20 summit in China, where he held a sideline meeting with President Barack Obama. Erdogan added that Turkey will not have the luxury of retreating from the Syrian crisis until all the terrorist groups in the region—including the Islamic State and Kurdish separatist groups—are defeated.

As the Islamic State inches closer to defeat, the Washington Post offers a profile of ten prospective conflicts that could increase the Islamic State’s chances of survival. Each of these possible wars, which reveal the region’s unparalleled complexity, may entangle the United States in the Middle East for years to come.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus announced that there are no signs the United States was complicit in a botched coup attempt in mid-July that nearly overthrew the Turkish government. Kurtulmus’ remarks were in stark contrast to the anger expressed by leading Turkish officials, many of whom said in the aftermath of the coup that they believed the United States was behind the plot; meanwhile, pro-government media outlets continue to circulate these rumors. But Kurtulmus said Ankara still expects Washington to hand over Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania who has been accused of orchestrating the coup.

A draft report authored by leading MPs in the United Kingdom urges the British government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia while Saudi actions in the ongoing Yemeni civil war are being investigated. The Committees on Arms Export Controls said that it was highly likely that the KSA government has used these weapons to violate international humanitarian and human rights laws and that it therefore seemed "inevitable" that such violations had involved arms supplied by the UK, placing the UK in violation of its own legal obligations. The BBC and The Guardian have more.

A Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said expanded U.S. sanctions on Russia are inconsistent with talks over possible cooperation between Washington and Moscow in other areas such as counterterrorism. Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama met on the sidelines of the G20 earlier this week to discuss a variety of issues, including their countries’ competing interests in Syria and Ukraine.

The Guardian reports that the Polish government is in the final stages of acquiring eight Patriot missile defense systems and will request formal U.S. approval for the purchase. Poland has recently expedited its military modernization program in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere in the region.

The notorious radical British preacher Anjem Choudary has been sentenced to five years and six months in prison for promoting the Islamic State. Choudary was arrested two years ago and was convicted of promoting ISIS in August. The Times has more.

Paris police discovered a car loaded with seven gas cylinders near the Notre-Dame Cathedral on Saturday night, Reuters tells us. The car’s owner, who was taken into custody but has since been released, is on a watchlist of individuals suspected of radicalization. The vehicle did not contain any detonating devices.

Kyrgyzstan state security has claimed that Uighur militants based in Syria were responsible for the suicide bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek last week. Kyrgyz officials said the assailant, Zoir Khalilov, was an ethnic Uighur who was a member of the East Turkestan Islamic movement. The attack was reportedly funded by emissaries from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the militant group that split from al Qaeda in July. The Financial Times has more.

A summit of Southeast Asian countries issued a tepid rebuke to China over its belligerent activities in the disputed South China Sea. ASEAN’s inability to criticize China in harsher terms is both a victory for Beijing and a testament to how the regional body has been hampered by its requirement that all statements be forged through consensus. Both Cambodia and Laos are major recipients of Chinese aid and investment, and their leaders have routinely worked to block or dilute regional criticism of China.

Reuters flags research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies that China’s increasingly assertive coast guard ships risk triggering a crisis in the Asia-Pacific’s contested waters. CSIS researchers documented roughly 45 clashes and standoffs in the South China Sea since 2010, and some two-thirds of these incidents have involved China’s coast guard. China’s coast guard is the world’s largest.

President Barack Obama vowed to reporters that his administration would work closely with the United Nations to implement another round of sanctions against North Korea after Pyongyang launched another series of missile tests. After meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the ASEAN summit in Laos, Obama signaled that Washington would redouble its efforts to choke off the Hermit Kingdom’s access to international currency and technology by tightening loopholes in the existing sanctions regime.

The Associated Press reports that Japan, the United States, and South Korea called the UN Security Council to convene for an emergency meeting after North Korea’s latest missile launch. The Security Council threatened that “further significant measures” could be taken by the international community if North Korea does not stop its ballistic and nuclear tests. Pyongyang has routinely flouted UN Security Council resolutions but patience in both Beijing and Moscow, its closest allies, is wearing thin.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to discuss the threat of terrorism at the ASEAN summit in Laos, the BBC writes. Turnbull has indicated that Australia will seek to increase coordination with Southeast Asian countries on counterterrorism efforts.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration followed up a planeload of $400 million in cash sent to Iran in January with two more such shipments in the next 19 days, totaling another $1.3 billion. The payments settled a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal dating back to 1979. U.S. officials have acknowledged the payment of the first $400 million coincided with Iran’s release of American prisoners and was used as leverage to ensure they were flown out of Tehran on January 17. The Washington Post has more on the reaction of the GOP, many of whose leaders have claimed that the White House paid a ransom for the release of U.S. detainees.

The U.S. military conducted two strikes in southern Somalia early this week that killed four al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants involved in attacks on Somali government troops. While African Union troops have pushed al Shabaab out of Mogadishu, the terrorist group remains a potent threat that has launched a number of strikes in recent weeks in hopes of destabilizing the fragile Western-backed regime.

Brazilian authorities in the state of Sao Paolo arrested two people for pledging allegiance to ISIS on social media, the AP writes. The Paralympic Games are soon set to begin in Rio de Janeiro, following the conclusion of the Olympic Games, which proceeded without disruption from terrorism despite concerns to the contrary.

Carol Rosenberg writes in the Miami Herald that pre-trial hearings in the case of Guantanamo detainee Abd al Rahim al Nashiri began again in Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday. The resumption of hearings comes after Nashiri, the mastermind behind the USS Cole attack in 2000, appealed to the federal courts to hear his case rather than the military commission system. But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled last week that Nashiri cannot avail himself of the federal judicial system until the military commission process is finished.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who resettled in Uruguay, was briefly hospitalized after becoming weak from a hunger strike. Though Dhiab has been released from the hospital, he plans to continue his hunger strike as a protest against the Uruguayan government, which he says has provided insufficient support for him and the other Guantanamo transfers in the country. Dhiab is demanding that he be allowed to leave South America and rejoin his family in Turkey.

The Times reports on the Hong Kong residents who helped hide Edward Snowden before he fled the city to arrive in Moscow. After leaving the Hong Kong hotel where he revealed his identity to the world through the Guardian, Snowden found shelter with political asylum seekers living in a poor district of the city, who were clients of Snowden’s lawyers in Hong Kong. The asylum seekers have reportedly chosen to come forward in order to pressure Hong Kong to move forward on their applications for refugee status.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes invited readers to attend the next Hoover Book Soiree on September 28, when Ben interviews Rosa Brooks on her latest book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything.

Herb Lin asked readers to imagine scenarios where it would be appropriate for the United States to deploy “loud” cyber weapons.

Shannon Togawa Mercer offered an insight into what will happen after the United Kingdom invokes Article 50 to leave the European Union.

Paul Rosenzweig dismissed fears that the Department of Homeland Security is using our political infrastructure’s vulnerability to cyberattacks as a pretext for taking over our entire electoral system.

Paul also concluded that transparency is unlikely to significantly help consumers purchase secure devices such as Apple iPhones instead of leakier Android devices.

Kenneth Anderson endorsed a recent Stanford Law and Public Policy Review article by Adam Pearlman, a Defense Department lawyer, that considers why Guantanamo Bay continues to be a moral and legal controversy.

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