Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, September 15, 2015, 2:31 PM

The Kremlin is unwilling to back down from its escalation in Syria. That’s the news from Reuters, which tells us that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that talks between Washington and Moscow would be vital in resolving the Syrian conflict.

Russia is establishing a forward operating base in Syria, the Pentagon confirms. The evidence: portable air traffic control stations, prefabricated housing, anti-aircraft missiles and the building of an airstrip, and, of course, the alleged presence of Russian military personnel in the country. Defense One's Molly O'Toole discusses what has been a steady escalation of personnel and equipment near the Syrian city of Latakia over the last week and a half.

The Guardian reports that Russia has also sent artillery units and tanks to Syria along with hundreds of troops, fueling U.S. concerns. The New York Times elaborates further, indicating that satellite photos have revealed shipments of “about half a dozen T-90 tanks, 15 howitzers, 35 armored personnel carriers, 200 marines and housing for as many as 1,500 personnel”--with more to come.

As Russia maintains that it is simply sending military advisors and aid as part of traditional support for its long time ally, the Washington Post brings us news of President Vladimir Putin’s comments on the matter: support for the regime of President Bashar al Assad is necessary to defeat “terrorist aggression.” This seems to be the Kremlin line, as Peskov explained that “no one can clearly explain what could be the alternative to the current legitimate Syrian government in terms of the country’s security, the struggle against the spread of the Islamic State, the unity of the country.” More on that from the Wall Street Journal.

Highlighting these same challenges that have prolonged the conflict, Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari suggests in the Guardian that Western powers did not adequately consider Russia's 2012 proposal to have Syria's president Bashar al Assad step down as part of a peace deal.

The Times reports that two car bombs have killed 26 people in a primarily Kurdish city of Hasaka, in northeastern Syria. Adding to a series of ISIS attacks in the region, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings, which targeted Kurdish cadets as well as a base for a pro-government militia.

France24 tells us that French President Francois Holland has announced his support for airstrikes in Syria, adding that sending ground forces would be “ineffective and unrealistic.” The French military has been conducting surveillance flights to determine the best course of action to limit the Islamic State’s growth.

While over four million Syrians have fled their homeland for the safety of Europe, the New York Times discusses the waking nightmare faced by those who remain within the country. Seven million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, many of whom may ultimately be planning their own escape across the border.

Hungary has declared a state of emergency as it struggles to deal with the influx of migrant and refugee populations, Al Jazeera writes. Hungarian military forces have been deployed to protect the country’s border with neighboring Serbia, and over 10,000 people have been detained for crossing the border illegally. Hungary has already constructed a 175 kilometer fence along its border with Serbia, Reuters tells us, and authorities are now discussing plans to extend this fence along the country’s border with Romania.

The Washington Post highlights the repercussions of Hungary’s declaration for the thousands of migrants and refugees stranded outside its borders. While the human cost of Hungary’s response is hard to ignore, the Post also points us to the security concerns of European leaders worried over the thousands of people who have already “reached the heart of Europe without showing anyone any documents.”

The Journal exposes the role that private companies play in shaping the movements of refugees. While some companies provide services and goods that governments are unwilling or unable to provide, others have been accused of profiting from human misery.

Yemen: The Times writes that United Nations high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein has demanded an inquiry into violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition and the opposing Houthi rebels. The crisis has killed at least 2,000 civilians and rendered over 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the Journal notes that the Saudi coalition has escalated its offensive in the Marib province following a Houthi attack that left 67 coalition troops dead.

The Journal also talks about the attack by Egyptian troops that killed 12 tourists and injured ten others yesterday, suggesting that Egyptian security forces mistakenly bombed tourist vehicles using planes and helicopters. The Egyptian tourism ministry blamed the group for entering a prohibited area and skirting proper procedure--though a representative from the tour company suggests otherwise.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General Yukiya Amano is expected to visit Iran later this week, VOA News reports. The organization, which is in charge of overseeing Iran's compliance with the July nuclear agreement, is set to deliver the findings of its investigations on the past military dimensions of Iranian nuclear activity by this December.

According to Reuters, the anticipated lifting of Western sanctions in light of the nuclear agreement will benefit one of the "most powerful and secretive organizations in Iran" as well as 40 related firms. The organization, known as “Setad,” has a close relationship with the Iranian government and has “built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to religious minorities, business people, and Iranians living abroad.”

Reuters also reports Iran’s interest in working with China to resolve tensions in the Middle East. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif cited the countries’ “complementary” economies, presumably a reference to China’s role as the largest international consumer of Iranian oil.

The Times describes the third day of clashes in Jerusalem’s al Aqsa Mosque compound. Responding to the stones and fireworks thrown at them, Israeli security forces entered the mosque with stun guns and tear gas. The inside of the mosque has reportedly been damaged; it remains unclear who exactly is responsible for the destruction.

The Wall Street Journal sheds light on the Nigerian government’s response to former fighters within and victims of Boko Haram. While the government is attempting to provide rehabilitation programs to former militants, it is also helping Boko Haram’s traumatized victims. The question for the government, the Journal says, is “what to do with this mass of young people who have either been failed by the state, or at war with it.”

Though no group has claimed responsibility for the August bombings at the Erawan Shrine, police are now speculating that the attacks were in retaliation to Thailand's crackdown on the trafficking of China’s Uighur Muslims. Thailand’s police chief Somyot Poompanmoung has blamed the attack on Uighur militants involved in trafficking Uighurs, the Times reports: one suspect had a Chinese passport indicating his origins in China’s western regions, where the Uighur population is concentrated.

Following a meeting on Friday between senior U.S. and Chinese officials regarding cybersecurity, the Post reports that the United States will not implement economic sanctions against China in advance of President Xi Jinping's visit to Washington next week. While sanctions are still possible, this decision has deflated tensions that had been surrounding the Chinese president’s visit. The Times also reports on the White House’s response to the increasing concerns over the cyberthreat posed by China and Iran.

Photographs taken by the Center for Strategic and International Studies reveal what appears to be construction of a third airstrip in the contested South China Sea. This discovery raises fears amongst neighboring countries as China continues to flex its muscles and expand its influence over the disputed area. There has been no lack of clarity from China, however, Defense One reports. Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai, commander of the North Sea Fleet for the PLA’s Navy, says that the South China Sea “belongs to China.” China maintains that their activity in the region “does not target any other country or affect freedom of navigation by sea or air,” CNN adds.

Elsewhere in the region, Japan has announced that it will provide Vietnam with used boats and other equipment, in a move designed to boost the southeast Asian country’s maritime security capabilities. The sum of the military aid is relatively small---just $1.7 million USD---but is nevertheless meant to signal the “serious concerns” that both countries share over China’s attempts to change the status quo in the South China Sea. The two states agreed to continue strengthening security and defense cooperation. The Times has more.

North Korea declared today that it would be upgrading and restarting all of its atomic plants with the intention of improving its nuclear arsenal in both “quality and quantity.” The announcement follows a separate decision to put a new satellite into orbit using a rocket that many analysts see as an “intercontinental ballistic missile in the making,” according to the New York Times. Even so, the Associated Press notes that the statement mirrors previous North Korean efforts designed to push for talks with the United States in an attempt to ease sanctions.

In the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Bruce Schneier asks the question: “When the NSA---or any government agency---discovers a vulnerability in a popular computer system, should it disclose it or not?” Schneier uses the case of Hacking Team a recently released NSA document outlining the “vulnerability equities process” to argue that the NSA should actively seek to disclose and patch the vulnerabilities, prioritizing defense over offence in the cyber domain.

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian reports that the U.S. government has provided the United States District Court for the District of Columbia with redacted copies of the eight videotapes showing the forced feeding of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The Justice Department was still seeking to prevent the release of the tapes as recently as late July, in response to an October 2014 court order requiring the government to hand them over.

Over at the Journal, Justice Stephen Breyer writes on the rise in cases that require the Court to examine the law and practice of other nations. The reality of an increasingly interdependent world, he argues, requires domestic courts to look beyond U.S. borders in interpreting the law.

Parting shot: Remember Jade Helm? Well, today the Post informs us that the surprisingly controversial military exercise has come to an end, and the freedom of Texas stands assured.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Jack analyzed the “non-trivial but probably losing argument that the Iran Review Act bars the president from lifting U.S. sanctions against Iran.”

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