Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, October 9, 2014, 1:42 PM

We start with a tweet from Jenan Moussa, a reporter on the ground just across from Kobani in Turkish territory:

The battle for Kobani rages on.

U.S. Central Command reports that yesterday the U.S.-led coalition conducted nine strikes in Syria, eight of which were around Kobani, with another three conducted in Iraq. According to the Command, the “eight strikes near Kobani destroyed five ISIL armed vehicles, an ISIL supply depot, an ISIL command and control compound, an ISIL logistics compound, and eight ISIL occupied barracks, plus damaged another.” The report also notes that “Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against ISIL.”

However, the success yesterday may have been overcome in recent hours. According to Ms. Moussa, there have been at least five airstrikes around the city today. Yet, according to a breaking Reuters update, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that Islamic State fighters have seized more than a third of the town. The report notes that the commander of the Kurdish forces confirmed that ISIS had made significant gains, but put the area under ISIS control about a quarter of the city.

Yesterday, even as the Pentagon said that coalition airstrikes had forced some ISIS militants out of the town, they cautioned that it might still fall, with Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby saying, “Kobani could be taken. We recognize that.”

While almost everyone has acknowledged that airstrikes alone cannot save Kobani, a complicated web of alliances, political grievances, and competing interests has kept capable parties from intervening. The New York Times covers the divisions, noting that Kurds insist that Turkey allow Kurdish fighters and weapons to flow into the encircled town, but Turkey has refused to do so unless the beleaguered fighters distance themselves from an an outlawed Kurdish separatist party in Turkey. While Kurdish fighters in the region have suggested they do not want Turkish military intervention, the Washington Post reports that the United States is becoming increasingly frustrated with Turkish inaction to prevent what some fear will be a massacre. One senior White House official said, “Of course they could do more,” adding, “they want the U.S. to come in and take care of the problem.”

However, Turkey’s foreign minister said that “it is not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own.” Instead, Turkey has called for a no-fly zone and for the coalition to establish a buffer zone for refugees, and for the active effort of the coalition to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. The BBC has more on the road blocks, which are certain to be discussed when President Obama’s emissary to the international coalition, U.S. General John Allen, holds high-level talks in Ankara today.

In the wake of U.S.-led coalition’s fight against ISIS, Assad has turned his guns exclusively on other rebel groups, reports the New York Times. Some in Syria have suggested that the U.S. laser-like focus on the Islamic State has given cover to Assad, allowing him to tackle less extreme and more moderate forces - those same forces the United States may eventually need to employ to defeat ISIS. The Times notes that the attacks, which occur from the same airspace that the U.S. now occupies, have triggered resentment from Syrians who feel betrayed. Many view the White House’s decision to focus on ISIS as playing into Assad’s strategy of eliminating moderate opposition, and forcing the international community to choose between him or the extremists.

Strikes also continue in Iraq, with U.S. aircraft hitting targets inside Mosul yesterday. However, while Pentagon officials continue to assert that they have partners on the ground in Iraq - partners they argue they do not have in Syria - the Daily Beast reports that Iraqi soldiers are bribing officers in order to avoid having to fight ISIS. One officer laments that the “phenomenon is destroying the Iraqi army.”

Finally, in Foreign Policy, Shane Harris dives into the murky efforts to free Americans held hostage in Syria, where uncoordinated and inconsistent policy means that “no one’s really in charge.”

Violence surged again in Kashmir today, with Indian and Pakistani defense ministers trading warnings. BBC notes that 19 civilians have been killed since fighting resumed last Friday. The BBC also has on-the-ground reporting, visiting both sides of the border to find out how people are coping with this latest round of violence. Yet, even as the situation continues to devolve, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted saying, “everything will be fine soon.” The newly elected leader gave no further explanation. The sparing continued online, as #CowardModi trended on Twitter in Pakistan, while #BuzdilPakistan (coward Pakistan), trended in India.

The U.S. conducted another drone strike in Pakistan today, Reuters reports. At least three people were killed and two wounded in the fourth strike in as many days.

In an unprecedented move, sitting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif became the first Pakistani prime minister to visit the restive tribal region of North Waziristan, a trip designed to boost morale of security forces in the ongoing military operation in the province. Pakistan’s Dawn has more.

Instability continues rocking eastern Ukraine. According to the United Nations’ human rights office in Geneva, approximately 331 people have died since a ceasefire was announced in the conflict last month. That brings the total number of fatalities to at least 3,660, in addition to 8,756 wounded. The New York Times reports that “most civilian deaths had been caused by indiscriminate shelling of residential areas” by both sides. These totals do not include alleged mass graves by separatist groups, which have not been independently corroborated.

The Times also writes that the sanctions “tit for tat” continues between Western nations and Russia. In the saga’s latest development, the Russian Duma on Wednesday passed a law through first-round reading that would authorize the Kremlin to “seize foreign assets and use them to compensate individuals and businesses being hurt by Western sanctions.” The sanctions are causing jitters among large multinational corporations with billions of dollars at stake in Russia, including Pepsi, McDonald’s, and ExxonMobil. The legislation still requires two more readings and the signature of the President to become law.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald publicizes the recent reveal in Obama v. Dhiab that Guantanamo staff this year offered six hunger-striking detainees comfy seats, communal force-feedings, and television distraction “as a way to get them to stop their food protest.” Wells Bennett and Ben Bissell have also been tracking the details of this case for Lawfare in a three-part readout, which you can peruse here and here and here.

Speaking of Guantanamo, the Associated Press reports that on Wednesday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said he would have to consult with his successor “about whether Uruguay should let six prisoners...resettle in the...country.” Growing public opposition to the “humanitarian gesture” has put the plan under new scrutiny.

In the latest development in the Anas al Libi trial, al Libi’s lawyer told a federal judge yesterday that his client, “grilled for six days on a Navy warship by the CIA, should “not be held to what he later told the FBI.” His lawyer claims he was held under “extraordinary circumstances.” While al Libi signed a form that waived his Miranda rights, he later revoked it and pleaded not guilty to charges that “he assisted in the attacks on two US Embassies in 1998.” Courthouse News has more.

According to the Associated Press, a government lawyer argued in a case before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that national security efforts would be endangered if the FBI was “barred from sending secretive demands for customer data,” known as national security letters, “to telecommunication companies, banks and other businesses.” The case is examining whether or not gag orders barring said recipients of national security letters are free speech violations.

In a round-table in Silicon Valley that examined “The Impact of Mass Surveillance on the Digital Economy,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said surveillance fears are going to end up “breaking the Internet.” The Washington Post reports that Schmidt was joined at the event by US Senator and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), as well as the heads of other major technology/Internet companies. According to the Associated Press, Senator Wyden also sounded the alarm, saying NSA spying could imperil the US digital economy.

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