Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Thursday, August 20, 2015, 1:05 PM

We begin today in Yemen, where U.S. officials have confirmed after months of investigation that Saudi-led coalition forces are using indiscriminate cluster bombs in their fight against the Houthis. According to a US News report, the Pentagon is aware of Saudi Arabia’s use of cluster bombs but has not revealed whether it plans to discuss the issue with Riyadh. International human rights groups have decried climbing civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict, and news of the use of cluster bombs adds to multiple other reports of Saudi Arabia’s dangerously indiscriminate tactics---including reports of a Saudi-led bombing of a port in northern Yemen, which has cut off sorely needed humanitarian aid. The Guardian has more.

Turkey has detained over 40 members of a Marxist group responsible for an attack outside a government building in Istanbul yesterday, AFP writes. In recent weeks, Turkish authorities have detained roughly 2,500 people as part of Turkey’s escalation of conflict against ISIS and the PKK.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal examines the resurgence of urban warfare in southeastern Turkey, as Turkish forces battle against the PKK. Renewed Turkish hostilities against the PKK have shattered a tentative peace and resulted in what one Turkish official called “unprecedented” levels of violence in Kurdish cities within Turkey’s borders. Turkey has accused the PKK of “deliberately moving the warfare to the cities” in order to use civilians as human shields, while the PKK maintains that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the anti-PKK military campaign as a means of rolling back recent Kurdish political gains.

Over at Politico, William McCants of the Brookings Institution takes a look at how ISIS has become the leader in international terror. “The U.S. invasion of Iraq and the stupendous violence that followed,” he argues, “dramatically increased the Sunni public’s appetite for apocalyptic explanations of a world turned upside down.” And this, in turn, paved the way for the “urgent apocalypticism” of ISIS rather than al Qaeda’s somewhat less urgent version.

Two gunmen have attacked a group of Tunisian policemen in the same city where the June terrorist attack on a beach resort occurred, the Telegraph writes. One of the policemen was killed. Tunisia, often considered the Arab Spring’s most successful democracies, has continued to struggle with the problem of extremist violence.

The ISIS-affiliated group Sinai Province has claimed responsibility for an enormous car bomb that wounded roughly 30 people in central Cairo. The bomb exploded near a state security building. Reuters tells us that, in a statement posted online, Sinai Province declared the bombing to be retaliation for the recent execution of several of its members by the Egyptian government.

Reuters also reports that four members of Hamas’ armed wing have been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula. The Hamas members had been traveling to Cairo by bus when they were abducted. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

Palestinian villagers in the West Bank are keeping careful watch after the recent arson attack on a Palestinian home by suspected Jewish extremists. The Washington Post studies Palestinian efforts to mount patrols and set up checkpoints to protect themselves against the threat of further violence, in what they insist is an “exclusively defensive operation.”

Yesterday, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled to allow the release of a Palestinian hunger striker from administrative detention, on the grounds that his increasingly failing health no longer necessitated further detention---without charge or trial. Today, Haaretz informs us that the IDF has deployed the Iron Dome defense system to a town in southern Israel, fearing rocket attacks from Gaza in possible retaliation for the hunger striker’s poor medical condition and possible brain damage.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has agreed to sign a peace deal to end the country’s year-long internal conflict, Deutsche Welle writes. Kiir had refused to sign the agreement as recently as Monday, following which the United States threatened to implement U.N. sanctions against those individuals who delayed the peace process in South Sudan.

Allegations continue to flow in of sex abuse by U.N. peacekeepers stationed in the Central African Republic. A U.N. spokeswoman confirmed that three young women have accused peacekeepers of repeated rape, bringing the total count of accusations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in the C.A.R. up to 13. There are also 48 cases of other misconduct, including indiscriminate killings of civilians. France 24 has the story.

Foreign Policy informs us that the extensive proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran may have spread to Mali, where both countries are expanding efforts to shore up support on their respective sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide. Iran-sponsored programs to educate Shiite youth within both Mali and Iran have sparked Saudi anxiety over a potential “rising tide of Shiism.” Saudi cables released by Wikileaks recommend funding counter-programs and promoting the image of Saudi Arabia, rather than Iran, as “the protector of the noble Islamic faith.”

Finagling over the nuclear deal with Iran continues, as Defense One reports on the struggle of many congressional Democrats to juggle both party loyalty and the perception of many voters that the deal may damage Israel. The White House, however, has apparently decided not to wait until Congress votes on the deal to appoint a lead coordinator for the agreement’s implementation.

Former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden has weighed in with his own thoughts on the deal with Iran, telling CNN that at this point, backing the deal is better than tossing it aside---though he wouldn’t support it “in an ideal world.” Yet he also argued that Congress should augment its approval of the agreement with an authorization for the use of military force against Iran in the event of Iranian noncompliance.

Also in news on the nuclear deal with Iran, the IAEA has hit back over yesterday’s AP story on the IAEA’s apparently lax requirements for inspection of the Parchin military site. According to the IAEA’s Director-General Yukiya Amano, the story’s claim that Iranian inspectors would be allowed to investigate Parchin on their own was a “misrepresentation.” The system for inspection at Parchin, Amano said, is “technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices.” Reuters has more.

Up to 800,000 migrants may seek asylum in Germany this year, the Times reports. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizere called for “European solutions” to deal with the growing migration crisis and to relieve Germany from having to absorb around 40% of those entering Europe. Meanwhile, France and the United Kingdom will collaborate to enhance border security and contain the migration crisis that has gripped the French port of Calais.

An enormous gathering of religious scholars linked to the Taliban is taking place in northwestern Pakistan as part of efforts to resolve disputes over the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Stars and Stripes tells us that the meeting will likely be cause for concern for Mansour, who has struggled to establish his legitimacy as a leader in the wake of confirmations of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death.

The Department of Defense has refused to confirm the effectiveness of Pakistan’s efforts against the Haqqani network, Dawn writes. Pakistani authorities have been informed of DOD’s decision, which may halt the flow of cash to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund. Pakistani authorities insisted that Haqqani militants have been hard hit as part of Pakistan’s recent offensive against extremism in the country’s northwestern regions.

India appears to be struggling to craft a response to a proposed meeting between Pakistani authorities and leaders of the Kashmiri separatist movement. According to the Hindustan Times, three leading Kashmiri separatists were placed under house arrest today, explicitly to prevent them from meeting with Pakistan’s national security advisor, only for two of them to be released hours later. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardline separatist, remains under house arrest.

A senior Indian police officer critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been fired, the BBC tells us. Sanjiv Batt has been consistently critical of Prime Minister Modi’s handling of violent riots that occurred under his watch in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Batt’s departure follows hot on the heels of yesterday’s Times story on the Modi government’s systematic harassment of Teesta Setalvad, an activist attempting to bring a case against Modi for his involvement in the riots.

Al Jazeera reports that Thai police are now seeking Interpol’s help in investigating the bombing that struck a Bangkok shrine on Monday---though they maintain that the attack was “unlikely to be linked to international terrorism.” Hours earlier, the military government had rejected the United Kingdom’s offer of help in the investigation as a “breach of sovereignty.”

North and South Korea exchanged fire across the Demilitarized Zone this morning, the Journal tells us. Tensions have spiked after two South Korean soldiers were seriously injured by land mines planted by the North along the South Korean side of the border.

NATO forces have begun their biggest airborne drills in Europe since the end of the Cold War, some of which will take place in the former Eastern Bloc countries of Romania and Bulgaria. The drills take place at a time of high tensions between Russia and the West over the still-raging conflict in Ukraine. 

As part of those tensions, the Kremlin is stepping up efforts to crack down on Western goods smuggled around the embargo, the Journal writes. The anti-smuggling campaign has involved widely-disseminated video of Russian police bulldozing cheese, frozen geeze, and 25 metric tons of produce. And if you’re looking for a patriotic Russian summer holiday, you might want to check out Crimea: the Times tells us that the Kremlin’s efforts to keep the peninsula’s famous beach resorts humming in the midst of the war in Ukraine are facing difficulties, despite a pitch aimed at “patriotically minded” Russian tourists.

Defense One reveals that the Pentagon has hired General Atomics, maker of the Predator and Reaper UAVs, to fly spy missions. The U.S. military plans to boost its drone presence by 50 percent in four years. Currently, Air Force crews fly 60 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols, but the Pentagon would like to increase the number to 90 by 2019. This is not the first time that the military is recruiting drone builders to fly them as well. The story emphasizes, however, that government contractors would not engage in any strike missions.

The cheaters of the world are reeling a day after data from Ashley Madison hack was posted online for everyone to see. In a desperate attempt to protect its users’ privacy, Ashley Madison is sending copyright takedown notices to social networks and file-sharing sites. The Guardian describes “the arms race between hackers and hacked that has escalated to include the use of technology such as peer-to-peer file sharing protocol bittorrent and the anonymous browsing service Tor.” Major social networking services such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have been timely in taking down any links or screenshots containing the leaked data.

While the company launches an investigation to determine “the origin, nature, and scope of this attack,” Foreign Policy presents the breakdown of email addresses associated with U.S. government departments and military branches. The dump includes just over 15,000 users with email addresses with a .gov or .mil domain, but it is important to note that “large numbers of those addresses will likely be bogus.” Defense One suggests that while the affair website may not be OPM, the government is likely keeping a close eye on the fiasco nontheless.

United States Investigations Services (USIS), the private security firm that cleared Edward Snowden, has agreed to a $30m fraud settlement. The Guardian reports that the U.S. Department of Justice said yesterday that the settlement with USIS and its parent company, Altegrity Inc, “will resolve claims that the firm failed to perform quality control reviews in connection with its background investigations.” USIS has been the U.S. government’s largest private provider of background investigations.

Parting shot: World War I has long been the only 20th-century war without a federal memorial in Washington, D.C.---but that will soon change. Politico provides a fascinating photo essay of various proposals for memorializing the Great War.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Paul called for help from Lawfare readers to uncover the truth behind a puzzling encryption story.

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