Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Friday, September 5, 2014, 2:43 PM

Today has been characterized as “Decision Day” at the NATO Summit in Wales, and so far, the moment appears to be living up to its appellation.

The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatist forces have agreed to a cease-firereports the New York Times. According to negotiators from both sides, the cease-fire will begin today. However, fighting around the Ukrainian city of Mariupol had escalated dramatically just before the ceasefire, calling into question the strength of the agreement. The Guardian suggests that the shelling has since died down and may have been part of a strategy to push Ukraine to sign the agreement. The agreement comes after Russia intervened in the conflict in order to prevent the defeat of the rebels. The Washington Post has more on the story.

Even as the cease-fire begins, President Obama and European leaders are finalizing a new round of sanctions on Russia’s financial, defense, and energy sectorswrites the Wall Street Journal. President Obama expressed skepticism that the separatists will uphold their end of the agreement or that Russia will stop violating Ukrainian sovereignty, proposing that it might be better to impose sanctions, and then lift them if there is progress. The sanctions could be imposed as early as todayrelays the Times.

According to the Associated Press, NATO leaders approved the creation of a 4000-troop rapid response force with a headquarters in Eastern Europe. While NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasumussen seemed reticent to name any specific threat the force was intended to deter, it is widely seen as a response to recent Russian aggression in the region. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the new force would be able to deploy anywhere in the world within two to five days.

Writing in Christian Science Monitor, Howard LaFranchi explains how after a decade of sitting adrift, Russian President Vladimir Putin has breathed new life into an alliance many people thought outdated. In Foreign Policy, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright calls for a “united front,” arguing that only a strong NATO can stop Russian aggression.

The Guardian has live updates on the NATO Summit as it happens.

Turning our attention to Iraq and Syria: A coalition appears to be emerging that will take the fight to ISIS. This morning, Secretary of State John Kerry identified a “core coalition” of ten countries that would support U.S.-led efforts to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State, reports Politico. Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland, and Denmark have all agreed to join the United States, although officials have offered few details of the commitments.

In many ways, it also appears that a strategy, however limited, is developing. Philip Ewing in Politico writes, “The overall message so far is that if the U.S. does most of the flying and attacking in a potential campaign against ISIL in Syria, it will at least have assistance and diplomatic cover from as many allies as possible.”

In a joint statement from Secretary Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, specific U.S. goals appeared for the first time: military support for Iraq, curbing the flow of foreign fighters into the region, cutting off ISIS’s financing and funding, assisting with the region’s humanitarian crisis, and “delegitimizing” ISIS’s ideology.

However, the Secretary of State told the assembled leaders, “Obviously I think that’s a redline for everybody here: no boots on the ground.

While concrete actions have yet to be announced, the Daily Beast reports that Britain is preparing for strikes against ISIS. The Financial Times has more on the potential UK military operations in Iraq.

Far away from Wales, a most unlikely coalition partner has signaled its willingness to coordinate with the United States against ISIS. The BBC reports that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has authorized his top commander to coordinate with the U.S., Iraqi, and Kurdish forces. While the Iranian government immediately denied the report, such coordination would not be unprecedented – Iran cooperated with the U.S. in Afghanistan by arming the Northern Alliance in 2001. Indeed, the BBC notes that this cooperation may have already started as General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the elite Qud’s Force, was pictured in Northern Iraq near Amerli at the time of the breaking of the siege.

Even so, those hoping that the United States will expand its operations into Syria are likely to be disappointed in the immediate term. The Washington Post adds that as the U.S. has sought commitments for the fight against the Islamic State, it has focused “tightly” on Iraq.

In Iraq itself, sectarian violence continued yesterday, with two bombs killing at least 20 people in Baghdad. The BBC also carries the story.

On Thursday, an air strike in the ISIS-held city of Mosul killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s top aideaccording to the Iraqi defense ministry. In Syria, an Assad-government air raid has killed eighteen ISIS militants – many of whom were foreign fighters. Among the dead was an American jihadist. Reuters reports that a second raid on Thursday targeted a former intelligence headquarters in Abu Kamal that was used by the Islamic State. It is unknown how many militants were killed.

Reuters also has an exclusive report detailing a troubling new level of cooperation between ISIS militants and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a militant group in Egypt that has killed hundred of government security forces over the last year.

Following a briefing from Sigrid Kaag, the head of the United Nations' effort to remove chemical weapons in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power noted discrepancies in Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons and those actually destroyed. The differences, according to Power, have sparked concerns that ISIS may get a hold of chemical weapons left in Syria. The Associated Press has more.

Al-Monitor has coverage of a depressing new turn in the conversation regarding a potential U.S. mission in Syria. Citing a Lebanese source close to the Syrian government, they report that Assad’s forces may be deliberately focusing on defeating moderate rebel groups other than ISIS in order to eliminate possible alternatives to for Western military collaboration against ISIS.

And because American forces in Syria would either benefit Assad or ISIS, writing in the Daily Beast, Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, argues that American airstrikes in Syria against ISIS would do more harm than good.

Finally, the Washington Post has an excellent new interactive graphic that tracks the rise of the Islamic State.

The New York Times sheds new light on Hamas’s role in the murder of three Israeli teenagers that sparked the latest Gaza war. According to new documents released from the ongoing investigation, the kidnapper was indeed associated with Hamas, but there is no evidence that top Hamas leaders directed the plot.

NATO leaders breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday as Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates signaled that they would form a government of national unity and sign an agreement permitting foreign troops to stay in the country. The announcement comes as the Independent Election Commission spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that election officials have completed the U.N. supervised audit of votes. However, it remains unclear when the final results of the audit will be announced. Reuters has more coverage on the political crisis that has taken a back seat to Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria in recent weeks.

Now to Africa: Following the apparent capture of the town of Bama on Thursday, Reuters reports that Nigerian warplanes have initiated strikes against Boko Haram bases in Borno, a state in the northeast of the country. The New York Times reports that amid fears that the major city of Maiduguri may also be overrun, hundreds of residents have fled. This comes as the United States announced plans to launch a major border security program to help Nigeria combat the extremists.

Today, the White House confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia, was killed last weekend in a targeted U.S. military strike.

Across the Atlantic, Vice News covers the upcoming hearing wherein a federal judge will rule on the possible release of 2,100 photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Afghan and Iraqi prisoners. The hearing is on September 8th, when the government will be given the opportunity to provide additional evidence to justify withholding the images. Judge Alvin Hellerstein has already stated in a 21-page ruling that he believes the “government has failed to submit to this Court evidence supporting the Secretary of Defense’s determination that there is a risk of harm” to U.S. national security should the photos be released. The hearing follows this week’s federal court ruling that the U.S. government can withhold photographs and videotapes of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.

The BBC reports that the British High Court has approved the extradition of Haroon Aswat to the United States. Aswat is accused of conspiring with radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

Finally, in Politico’s 50, Editor Michael Hirsh examines the future for Gleen Greenwald’s Brazilian-based journalistic enterpriseasking, “Has Greenwald, Inc. Peaked?”

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