Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Friday, October 14, 2016, 4:06 PM

The Syrian government negotiated an evacuation deal with 400 rebels entrenched outside Damascus, reports Reuters. The regime’s forces granted free passage to the insurgents and their families as they made their way to rebel-held territory in the north. The government and the rebels have negotiated a number of evacuation deals over the course of the war, usually following a regime ultimatum that the insurgents must evacuate or endure a brutal assault.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defended the assault on Aleppo as necessary “to push the terrorists to Turkey,” writes Reuters. The Syrian regime and Russian air forces have killed over 150 people in the city this week alone and have rejected U.N. requests to provide humanitarian aid to the thousands of civilians trapped in the combat zone. Western diplomatic sources are pushing back against al-Assad’s claim, arguing that the presence of the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group in eastern Aleppo is far lower than the Syrians, the Russians, and even the United Nations have portrayed.

Moscow continues to solidify its partnership with Syria, Reuters tells us. Russian President Vladimir Putin formally ratified a previously disclosed agreement granting Russia indefinite access to Hmeimim air base in Syria. Officials also announced plans for a permanent naval base at Tartus.

The United States and Russia will participate in a multilateral dialogue in Switzerland this weekend along with key regional stakeholders involved in the Syrian civil war. This is the latest diplomatic initiative since the collapse of the U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefire last month. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has kept expectations low, saying that the Kremlin will not advance new proposals to manage the crisis and that he has “no special expectations” of progress.

President Barack Obama is meeting with advisers today to discuss options for greater U.S. involvement in Syria, Reuters writes. Officials have expressed concern that the United States is close to losing its influence over moderate rebels if it does not act, but the administration has not articulated what form further intervention will take. Direct strikes against Syrian forces risk hitting Russian troops working alongside the Syrians, along with retaliation from advanced air defense systems recently deployed by the Kremlin. Yet arming the rebels with portable air defense systems would pose risks to Western commercial aircraft if the weapons fell into the hands of extremists.

Following a trio of U.S. cruise missile attacks against Houthi-controlled radar stations on Thursday, the United States is making it clear that it does not “seek a wider role in the conflict,reports the New York Times. The United States has long been providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition, but yesterday’s operation—a retaliation for a series of Houthi missile attacks against a U.S. warship off the Yemeni coast—was the first direct American action yet against Houthi fighters. If the U.S. operation reinforces Houthi sentiment that the United States is functionally a co-belligerent in the Saudi-led intervention, it could encourage further attacks against American assets in the future.

The United States is confident that the missiles fired at the USS Mason come from Houthi-controlled territory, but are unsure exactly who pulled the trigger, writes Military.com. The Houthis are allied with forces fighting for the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Saleh loyalists may have fired the missiles. Alternatively, local Houthi forces could have carried out the attack without authorization from the group’s central leadership. The Daily Beast has more on the technical details of the attacks and U.S. retaliation.

The timing of the attack comes at a critical juncture in Yemen’s war, notes the Wall Street Journal. It followed a controversial Saudi airstrike that killed 140 people attending a funeral, which fueled already-strong international condemnation of the intervention’s humanitarian consequences and prompted the United States to announce it was reviewing American support for Saudi-led operations. U.S. officials maintain that the missile exchange changes nothing, and have continued to call for a diplomatic solution to the war.

Turkish police continued their purge of the judicial system today, arresting 189 judges and prosecutors, writes Reuters. Those arrested had been suspended yesterday for their use of ByLock, a messaging app that the followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen—the alleged mastermind behind the coup—use to communicate.

Militants killed 12 Egyptian soldiers in northern Sinai, reports the Washington Post. The government believes the militants were members of the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate, the group responsible for downing a Russian commercial fight over Egypt last year.

Germany and Ukraine announced that they were not ready to hold another summit with Russia and France to discuss stabilizing eastern Ukraine, notes Reuters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for greater dialogue and preparation. The Minsk Protocol and its successor have failed to end the fighting in Donbass, and diplomats hope to find a new negotiated settlement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated her commitment to following through on the referendum decision to exit the European Union, Reuters tells us. Her comments were in response to European Council President Donald Tusk’s claim that Britain would not leave since it would not be able to secure agreeable exit terms with the other European states.

After a series of cross-border counterterror raids into Pakistan, Indian officials announced that the country wants to limit tensions and focus on its economy, writes Reuters. India is trying to close the book on the past month of cross-border fire and raids that followed a terrorist attack on an Indian military base, which India alleges was orchestrated by Pakistan.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will visit China for the first time next week, and he is prepared to accept Chinese control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in exchange for “a bonanza of loans and trade deals,” argues Defense One. President Duterte has publically stated that the Philippines would fail to win a dispute with China over the territory, and instead is pivoting from the country’s military alliance with the United States toward appeasing the Chinese.

The move allows China to gain control over a “strategic triangle”—the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and the Scarborough Shoal—that will facilitate China’s military control over the area. In return, President Duterte will avoid a dispute with a rising power and gain diplomatic and economic backing from Beijing. In the most recent example, China expressed support for Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which the international community has widely lambasted and which the ICC may investigate for Duterte’s use of extrajudicial killings.

Beijing is also using economic agreements to curry favor with Bangladesh, Reuters notes. President Xi Jinping announced 27 new bilateral agreements with Bangladesh worth billions, representing an attempt to strengthen China’s position in what has traditionally been India’s sphere of influence.

After 27 years, China announced that it will release the last protestor still in prison for participating in Tiananmen Square. The prisoner, Miao Deshun, has spent half his life in jail. The Post has more.

Japan scrambled its fighter jets in response to Chinese military flights a record number of times over the past six months—nearly twice as many times during that period as during the same period last year. Tensions have been high between the two countries over Chinese territorial aggression in the South and East China Seas. Reuters has more.

In another demonstration of the rocky relations between Tokyo and Beijing, Reuters also reports that Japan is suspending its 2016 funding for UNESCO in response to the organization’s choice to display documents submitted by China to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre of 1937. Japanese officials expressed doubt over the authenticity of the documents when China supplied them last year.

Signs of Japan’s increased comfort with military force were visible at an aerospace show in Tokyo this week as foreign military delegations met with Japanese defense contractors. Faced with regional hostility from both China and North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has encountered decreasing domestic resistance in his turn away from the country’s post-World War II pacifist tradition.

The Colombian government has extended its ceasefire with the FARC guerrilla group through the end of December, the Journal writes. Following the surprise defeat of the government’s peace deal with FARC in a referendum two weeks ago, President Juan Manuel Santos initially implemented a ceasefire through October 31. Santos announced that the extended ceasefire should be seen as neither “an ultimatum nor as an deadline” on the peace talks that are currently taking place. Meanwhile, the Post takes a look at the modifications to the peace deal proposed by former president Álvaro Uribe, which appear comparatively minor—a relief to proponents of the deal who worried that Uribe’s criticisms would derail the peace process entirely.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald brings us two new pieces of news from Guantanamo Bay. First, she reports that the detention center’s parole board has added another detainee to the list of “forever prisoners”: Hassan Bin Attash, the younger brother of one of the defendants in the 9/11 case. Seven remaining detainees are up for status determinations before the board.

Second, Rosenberg notes that one of the 9/11 defendants is set to undergo surgery to fix complications from his reported “sodomy” while in CIA custody. Mustafa al Hawsawi, who is accused involvement in organizing the 9/11 attacks, has experienced prolonged medical difficulties following his treatment at a black site after his capture in 2003.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

 

Elinor Fry examined the line between freedom of expression and criminal incitement under Dutch law.

Helen Klein Murillo commented on an upcoming FCC vote on consumer privacy rules.

Susan Hennessey outlined a strategic approach to deal with the “Going Dark” debate that emphasizes lawful hacking rather than legislative mandates.

Ed Stein flagged an important bill that would give victims of narcoterrorism access to frozen terrorist assets that the Treasury Department controls.

Matthew Waxman posted the link to a new working paper that examines the role of World War I on constitutional war powers.

 

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