Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Friday, October 10, 2014, 3:40 PM

Tragic news out of Yemen: a suicide bomber reportedly blew himself up in a crowd of protesters, killing approximately 70 people. The New York Times reports that the explosion heightens fears that “Sunni extremists were mobilizing new attacks against a Shiite rebel group” that took control of the capital, Sanaa, one month ago.

In Syria, the Associated Press writes that ISIS has captured 40% of Kobani, the latest development in the fast-evolving situation there. The Washington Post reports that ISIS today began shelling a Syrian border crossing with Turkey in an attempt to “close the noose” around Kobani. The crossing is the town’s only access point into Turkey and its loss would prevent any civilian refugees from fleeing. The Washington Post has more on the “street-by-street” battles between ISIS fighters and Kurdish militiamen in the sieged city.

The stakes are high: according to the UN, thousands of people ‘will most likely be massacred’ if ISIS forces are victorious in Kobani. Reuters goes on to report that the fighting has been conducted “in full view of Turkish tanks that have done nothing to intervene.”

Turkey’s relative inaction in the fight against ISIS continues to produce friction with the US, its NATO ally, and sources from both countries are looking to end the standoff by possibly implementing a “buffer zone” along Turkey’s frontier with Syria. According to the New York Times, the buffer would require a “no-fly zone and stepped up combat air patrols to take out Syrian air defense systems.”

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters that the key assistance the U.S. would like from Turkey would be permission to use Turkish air base Incirlik and an agreement to help arm and train moderate Syrian forces. The Washington Post has more on the Secretary’s remarks, which came as Special Presidential Envoy General John Allen met with Turkish officials in Ankara. A joint military planning team will visit Ankara next week to follow up in military-to-military channels.

Meanwhile, in Foreign Policy, Berivan Orucoglu argues that “it’s time for Turkey to stop denying that ISIS is a threat.

Finally, the Atlantic has 32 photos of the battle for Kobani.

Things do not look much better in the other front of the war against ISIS either. The Washington Post brings us news that Islamic State militants are close to overrunning Iraq’s Anbar province. The Post notes that over the last few weeks, ISIS has “systematically invaded towns and villages in Anbar, besieged army posts and police stations, and mounted attacks on Iraqi troops in Ramadi, the provincial capital.” The concerning development, if successful, would put Baghdad under serious threat by opening a supply line from Syria to valuable positions from which to launch attacks.

The air strikes last month against Khorasan operatives “failed to stop ongoing terror plots to blow up airplanes” in Europe or the US, according to US intelligence officials. The Associated Press reports that the strikes apparently killed only one or two key members of the group.

Using tactics resembling ISIS methods in Iraq and Syria, Sunni insurgents in Pakistan have “increased attacks” on border areas of Shiite-dominated Iran. The Times writes that multiple Iranian officers have been killed in car bombings and planned ambushes in the past week. Elsewhere, the Daily Beast reports that some in Iran are beginning to think that ISIS is attacking the country.

According to Pajhwok Afghan News, the governor of Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, Shujaul Mulk Jalala, reported that shelling of the province from Pakistan has slowed down since Afghanistan signed the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States.

Seeking to support efforts in unstable North Waziristan, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a rare visit to a military camp in the area. The New York Times notes that his tour comes three months after the military began a “sweeping offensive” against Taliban and al Qaeda activity there.

North Waziristan is not the only border region of Pakistan currently racked by instability; on the country’s disputed Himalayan border with India in Kashmir, fighting and “days of heavy shelling and gun battles” finally paused on Friday. Nine Pakistani civilians and eight Indian ones have been killed in the week-long spate of border violence, the worst “in more than a decade.” Livemint and the Nation have details here and here.

The New York Times reports that an explosion and fire ripped through the lower levels of Iran’s secretive Parchin military base outside of Tehran on Sunday night. Parchin is a key military installation in the country, and is where Iran “produces crucial elements of its missiles and other munitions.” According to official Iranian government reports, two people are missing and six buildings were ‘damaged or destroyed.’ While it is possible that the explosion was an accident, “the Iranians will almost certainly suspect foul play.” The report goes on to state that both the United States and Israel have been accused of sabotaging key aspects of the Iranian military in the past in the hopes of derailing Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Hong Kong protesters are regrouping after the semi-autonomous city’s government rejected a meeting with the demonstrators’ leaders, Reuters reports. The decision by the government on Thursday “came as democratic lawmakers demanded anti-graft officers investigate a $6.4 million business payout to the city’s pro-Beijing leader, Leung Chun-ying.”

In a clash with the South Korean coast guard about 90 miles to the west of Wangdeung-do, “an island off western South Korea,” a Chinese fishing boat captain was shot and killed. South Korean authorities accuse the ship of “illegally fishing in South Korean waters.” The confrontation is the latest incident in the increasingly-fraught maritime relations between China and its neighbors. The New York Times has more.

According to Reuters, Putin is trying to convince members of the Commonwealth of Independent States to join the Eurasian Economic Union, the Russian-backed economic group that already commands a population of 170 million and an annual GDP of $2.7 trillion. Yet faultlines over the Ukrainian crisis, suspected Russian designs in its traditional sphere of influence, as well as other long-simmering disputes together “pose questions” as to the club's implicit goal of “rival[ing] the economic might of the European Union.”

More bad news out of Western Africa: the World Health Organization warned on Thursday that Ebola is now ‘entrenched’ in the capital cities of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and is “accelerating in almost all settings.” The BBC has more. ABC News writes that in response to calls for more international aid to combat the epidemic, six US military planes holding 100 Marines landed outside of the Liberian capital of Monrovia, increasing the total amount of American troops in the “Ebola hot zone” to over 300.

On Thursday, Estonia announced that it acceeded to a US request to resettle one detainee from Guantanamo Bay, “as long as that person has not been convicted of a crime.” Fox News notes that Estonia reserved the right to choose the prisoner itself, which will be selected from the ~80 inmates that are approved for release but denied repatriation to their home country.

Where in the world is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un?  Many analysts are asking, as the Hermit Kingdom’s head continues his month-long public absence. According to the New York Times, Kim Jong-Un was not seen at an “important annual ritual” celebrating the 69th anniversary of the establishment of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on Friday, spurring new speculation as to his health and hold on power. However, Reuters quotes an unnamed source “with access to the secretive North’s leadership” that says that the 31-year-old leader is in “firm control of his government” but “hurt his leg taking part in a military drill.”

State attorneys general from across the US are discussing whether or not to form a multistate group to examine the cyberattack on JP Morgan this summer. Dow Jones Business News reports that the officials intend to examine whether JP Morgan, as well as other financial institutions, “followed state disclosure laws on data breaches.” The recent spate of cyberattacks on US companies is also spurring calls for “going on the offensive.” The Washington Post has more on the merits and drawbacks of “hacking back.” The New York Times writes that in the wake of the JP Morgan hack, President Obama and his top national security advisers have begun “receiving periodic briefings” on the topic. Despite the scrutiny, the motive behind the attacks remains unclear.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has quietly begun investigating nearly every US intelligence program. In April, the Committee assigned staffers to the project, which have already sent “information requests to US spy agencies and...expect to complete the review by next September.” The Daily Beast reports that the new investigation, which comes on the heels of the Snowden revelations and reports of US spying on foreign government officials, is meant to find out about “intelligence collection activities that may have been kept from the committee.”

According to Politico, the White House is vexed on how to replace retiring Attorney General Eric Holder. The Obama administration is reportedly considering waiting until after the midterm elections to announce his replacement, in order to “avoid creating a new political problem for vulnerable Senate Democrats.”

The Wall Street Journal writes that President Obama is considering “overriding a congressional ban” on bringing Guantanamo detainees to the US in order to close the controversial detention facility. Such a move would likely “provoke a sharp reaction from lawmakers,” who have consistently voted to disallow the transfer of inmates to the US. Indeed, according to the Hill, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) vowed on Friday to filibuster all legislation in the upper chamber if President Obama goes through with this plan. On that note, Ben writes here at Lawfare that he will believe Obama’s serious “the day it happens, and not a moment before.” Maybe so: a spokesperson for the White House seemed to dismiss the Journal article, as Vice's Jason Leopold reports.

Apropos of Guantanamo, US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to comply with an October 17th deadline for redacting and releasing “dozens of videos of a Guantanamo captive being tackled, shackled, and forced-fed at the prison camps.” The Miami Herald has more on the Obama v. Dhiab case, as does Lawfare: here, here, and here.

A federal judge delayed on Thursday the detention hearing for 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan, who is accused of attempting to join ISIS. The Chicago Tribune writes that the decision comes amid concerns that prosecutors in the case wanted to “close the courtroom to the public and media.”

On Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its 2014 peace prize to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India. Malala is famous worldwide for her work to extend female education in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, as well as the Taliban’s attack on her at the age of 15, when she was shot in the head by the organization’s militants. At 17, she is the youngest ever recipient of the prize, and joins 60-year-old Sathyarthi, who is a veteran Indian activist for ending child labor and trafficking. The New York Times has more on both of the honorees.

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