Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Quinta Jurecic
Monday, October 5, 2015, 2:57 PM

After eight years of negotiations, the United States and 11 other nations have reached an accord on the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Times reports on the TPP, which would do away with restrictions on international trade between the U.S. and Pacific Rim nations in the largest regional trade agreement ever conducted. While the accord still must make its way through Congress, the achievement of international agreement on the TPP is a major coup for the White House’s long-maligned “pivot to Asia.” The White House has a rundown on the accord here.

The Times reports that Afghan forces have retaken most of Kunduz after the Taliban seized the city last week in “one of their biggest victories in the 14-year insurgency.” The Times also examines the military influence of the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Mansour, on the group’s military efforts.

On Saturday, U.S. airstrikes over Kunduz hit a hospital run by the international humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing a total of 22 patients and hospital staff. General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has stated that Afghan security forces requested the strike—denying the suggestion, made in earlier reports, that U.S. Special Forces had done so after taking Taliban fire from the area of the hospital. Meanwhile, Afghan officials in both Kabul and Kunduz defended the strikes on the grounds that “senior Taliban were also killed.” The Times has more.

Reuters tells us that MSF is now calling for an investigation of the incident, which it described as a “war crime.” The Pentagon has promised to hold the responsible parties accountable and plans to investigate the incident fully. Following the strikes, MSF announced that they would cease operating in Kunduz, leaving the region without desperately needed free trauma care.

Over at The Hill, Major General Charlie Dunlap argues that we should hold off on accusations that U.S. forces may have committed a war crime until all the facts are in place. At the moment, he says, there’s simply too much confusion over what happened, and whether Taliban fighters were present within the hospital, to make a clear determination one way or another.

Meanwhile, the Post remarked on the “surprisingly muted” Afghan response to the tragedy. Several Afghan politicians have spoken out in support of the U.S. attacks on the hospital, claiming that Taliban forces used the gardens to launch attacks. Though this account has been disputed by MSF personnel, the Post speculates that the Afghan response is influenced by the country’s fear that the lack of a U.S. military presence would leave the country susceptible to insurgent forces.  The AP writes that Afghan forces had requested the attack on the hospital.

For what it’s worth, the Economist suggests that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Syria have generally been more deliberate about avoiding civilian casualties than those of the Taliban or the Russian army.

And with that, we turn to Syria. The Post updates us on the latest rhetorical salvo from Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who “ruled out negotiations with the Western-backed groups opposing his government, saying that they are driven by foreign agendas and cannot be part of the solution to Syria’s crisis.” In comments broadcast on the Iranian TV channel Khabar, Assad also argued that there could be no resolution until “terrorists”—a term he has used to label any forces against his government—are defeated.

While criticizing the U.S.-led coalition forces for “fueling a massive exodus of Syrians,” Assad hailed Russian airstrikes—which have, for the most part, targeted areas not occupied by the Islamic State. He also denounced Western attempts to defeat the Islamic State “because the thief cannot be himself the policeman who protects the city from thieves.” The Guardian has more.

Egypt has expressed support for the Russian airstrikes, which, according to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, “will curtail the spread of terrorism and help deal a fatal blow to Islamic State in the war-torn country.” While Egypt has not traditionally supported the Assad regime, Reuters writes that this endorsement of the Russian role in Syria may illustrate a warming of relations between Cairo and Moscow.

Reuters also reports on Russian violations of Turkish airspace during the bombing campaign. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu discussed the infractions with Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, suggesting that Turkey would, in the future, respond if provoked. The ambassador assured Davutoglu that the incidents were “a mistake,” maintaining that Russian forces “respect Turkey's borders and this will not happen again.”

In response to the violation of Turkish airspace, NATO has also responded by calling on Russia to end air operations. The BBC describes the U.S. position that Turkey would be within its rights to fire upon the errant Russian aircraft despite what the Russians are calling a “navigational error.”

The Moscow Times tells us that, after flying over 60 sorties since commencing operations, the Kremlin plans to continue the air campaign and increase its intensity. The Post speculates on the Russian strategy in Syria, suggesting that “Moscow’s contribution is unlikely to be decisive in the war” given the poor state of Russian military equipment and low support within Russia for adventures abroad.

As the Kremlin’s bombs rain down, U.S.-supported rebels are appealing to the Obama administration for either antiaircraft missiles or an agreement with Russia to stop bombing the moderate opposition to Assad. And while the United States might not be ready to provide support against Russia, it’s at least helping out on another front: the Times reports that President Obama plans to bolster moderate rebel groups in Syria in preparation for opening a major campaign against the Islamic State. The Pentagon will “directly provide ammunition and perhaps some weapons to Syrian opposition forces.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State’s campaign of destruction continues through Palmyra. The BBC tells us that ISIS forces have blown up the ancient city’s Arch of Triumph, and the Journal warns of a dark fate for Palmyra, should the Islamic State continue its "systematic destruction of cultural symbols."

Spanish and Moroccan authorities arrested ten suspected ISIS recruiters on Sunday, Reuters writes. As efforts to stop recruits from joining the Islamic State have ramped up, Spanish authorities have arrested a total of 71 suspected recruits in 2015, a significant increase from the total of 46 arrests in 2014.

In Iraq, Baghdad’s (in)famous “green zone” has reopened to traffic for the first time in 12 years. But elsewhere in Baghdad, two ISIS suicide bombings detonated in majority-Shiite areas killed at least 24 people over the weekend. Al Jazeera reports.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria: why do U.S. efforts to train and equip foreign fighters so often seem to fail? The Times traces the history of U.S.-trained foreign fighters across the world, who time and again have run into the same three problems: “poor leadership, a lack of will and the need to function in the face of intractable political problems with little support.”

And over at Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks weighs in with the argument that U.S. train-and-equip efforts “consistently fail to understand that other people want to pursue what they see as their interests and objectives,” which might or might not coincide with U.S. interests and objectives.

Over at Defense One, Adam Chandler argues that “Yemen burns Washington’s blessing” as Saudi-led coalition attacks continue to wreak destruction across the country. The United States has rejected calls for a U.N. investigation of human rights abuses committed by the Saudis in their fight against Houthi rebels.

European officials are considering ways to manage the refugee influx, the Journal explains. Officials are attempting to separate economic migrants from those requiring international protection.

Reuters writes that the United States may have slipped in its implementation of sanctions against Iran during nuclear negotiations. In the past year, the U.S. government has pursued noticeably fewer violations of these sanctions, even as attempts to break the sanctions have not decreased. The drop in prosecutions may stem from uncertainty on the part of officials as to how the looming nuclear agreement would affect future litigation.

Following the murder of two Israelis, the Israeli government has increased security measures in Jerusalem’s Old City and banned non-resident Palestinians from entry. The attacker, a Palestinian man claimed to be a member of terrorist group Islamic Jihad, was shot dead following the attack.

The decision to tighten security measures was taken in the context of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refers to as an “all-out war against Palestinian terrorism,” according to the Post. Clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces have escalated in recent days, with over 450 Palestinians injured over the weekend. The Times and the Journal have more, and the LA Times reports on fears that the escalating violence may lead to a Third Intifada.

In Libya, the U.N. urged the fractured country's two rival governments to sign a peace deal, which “calls for a one-year united national government, with the current elected parliament as the legislature, and another chamber as a consultative body.”

In Nigeria, in a twitter message signed by Islamic State in West Africa Province (the name used by the group following its pledge to ISIS in March), Boko Haram claimed responsibility for two bombings just outside of Abuja.  

Following increasing threats against foreigners across Bangladesh, a group affiliated with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murder of a 65 year old Japanese man for being a national of a “member country of the crusader coalition” fighting against the Islamic State. Yet according to the Times, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressed skepticism that any Islamic State-affiliated group truly was behind the attacks. Hasina instead suggested that blame might lie with militants affiliated with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Foreign Policy says that “the US Navy will patrol near man-made islands constructed by Beijing” in the South China Sea, in order to pursue "freedom of navigation operations." China has claimed territorial waters in a twelve mile radius around its artificially created bases; meanwhile, Washington is “poised to send naval ships and aircraft to the South China Sea in a challenge to Beijing's territorial claims to its rapidly-built artificial islands.”

The Hill brings us the latest on the National Defense Authorization Act, writing that the Senate may be gearing up to pass legislation that the president has promised to veto. The White House has threatened the veto over provisions which would continue funding the military through the Overseas Contingency Operation fund, rather than addressing spending caps put in place by sequestration. The bill also includes controversial provisions that would substantially increase the difficulty of transferring detainees from Guantanamo.

Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) of the Senate Intelligence Committee released a statement excoriating critics of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, The Hill writes. The senators rejected an oft-made characterization of the legislation (which aims to increase information-sharing between private companies and the government), as a “surveillance bill." The pair instead noted that all sharing of information under CISA’s terms would be entirely voluntary.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence General Counsel Robert Litt has an op-ed in Financial Times, hitting back against recent statements on the PRISM program made by an advocate-general of the European Court of Justice. The advocate-general’s judgment, Litt argues, seriously misrepresents PRISM as an “indiscriminate” bulk collection program. The ECJ will soon reach a decision on a case which involves alleged NSA surveillance, and calls into question the "Safe Harbor framework" allowing U.S. companies to transfer data consistent with E.U. data protection laws. (For those without a subscription to the Financial Times, Litt’s op-ed is also available on ODNI’s official Tumblr page, “IC on the Record.”)

The hunt for “Guantanamo north” continues, with officials now setting their sights on… Colorado. The Times examines this latest in a string of government efforts to relocate the handful of detainees who may remain imprisoned for years to come. Colorado legislators immediately voiced opposition to the plan, which would place detainees either in a federal supermax prison now housing several convicted terrorists, or a nearby, empty state penitentiary. As always, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has more.

Parting Shot: Cloudy with a chance of airstrikes? Russian meteorologists have allegedly begun to include bomb trajectories in their weather reports as Russian airstrikes in Syria continue.

 

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Aurel Sari considered the legal implications of hybrid warfare.

Zack Bluestone updated us on the state of affairs in the South and East China Seas.

Ben posted Rational Security, the “It’s Putin’s World and We Just Live In It” Edition.

Bobby examined U.S. justifications for the use of air power over Afghanistan as self-defense.

David Ryan let us know that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had granted a partial summary judgment in a FOIA suit on the CIA’s interrogation program.

Cody posted the Lawfare Podcast. This week: Ben’s interview with Scott Shane on his new book Objective Troy and the life and death of Anwar al-Awlaki..

Barak Mendelsohn wrote this week’s Foreign Policy Essay on the U.N.’s 1267 Committee on counterterrorism.

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