Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Quinta Jurecic
Monday, October 12, 2015, 3:51 PM

Two consecutive bomb blasts rocked a peace rally in Ankara on Saturday, leaving at least 95 killed and 246 injured in the largest terrorist attack in the history of modern Turkey. The protesters, mostly leftist and Kurdish activists, had gathered in Ankara to rally against the recent resumption of conflict between the Turkish government and the Kurdish PKK. The New York Times has the details on the attack, which occurred amid rising violence related to Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State, general political and economic instability, and regional tensions from the Syrian conflict and its refugees.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suggested that Turkish authorities believe the attack to have been carried out by ISIS suicide bombers, though ISIS has not yet claimed any responsibility for the bombing. Yet the Wall Street Journal also notes Davutoğlu’s refusal to rule out the possibility of involvement by the PKK or the DHKP-C, a Marxist-Leninist group that has been responsible for violent attacks in the past. Turkish authorities say they may be close to identifying one of the bombers.

While investigators puzzle over the question of ISIS responsibility, the AP points out that the Islamic State may have the most to gain from a government crackdown on Kurdish forces in the wake of the bombing. Increasing tensions following the attack in Ankara may lead to a more forceful domestic campaign against the PKK, which would draw Turkish military force away from ISIS in Syria.

With Turkey’s November 1st election approaching, Reuters writes that the attacks have already elevated tensions between Turkey’s rival political factions, with critics of the government condemning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “at best for intelligence failings [and] at worst for complicity in a bid to stir up nationalist sentiment” in the hopes of winning the election. Hurriyet has more on the political response to the attacks.

Police have used tear gas to prevent mourners, protesters, and pro-Kurdish politicians from approaching the site of the bombing, Al Jazeera writes. Immediately following the attacks, the government imposed a media ban on coverage of the bombing and blocked social media platforms across the country. Defense One and The Independent have more on what Defense One calls “the continued erosion of free speech within one of the world’s most important Muslim democracies.”

Hours after the attack, the PKK “announced a temporary ceasefire to allow the Nov. 1 elections to proceed in a secure environment.” The group has promised to hold to the ceasefire even after the Turkish government rejected its proposal, Reuters reports. Turkish airstrikes have continued against the PKK in the country’s southeast.

In Iraq, airstrikes have killed eight senior Islamic State figures--though Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was not among them, despite an announcement by the Iraqi military that the strikes had targeted Baghdadi’s convoy. According to Reuters, Iraq stated that Baghdadi had “been driven away from the convoy in unknown condition,” but U.S. officials said that there was no indication that the ISIS leader had been killed or wounded.

Russia has doubled its airstrikes over Syria to 60 a day, Russian state media announced this weekend. And with U.S.-backed rebels increasingly relying on American anti-tank missiles, the Times suggests that “a proxy war between the United States and Russia is joining the list of interlocking conflicts in Syria.” The Post agrees, pointing to the “dozens” of Youtube videos  “showing rebels firing the U.S.-made missiles at Russian-made tanks and armored vehicles belonging to the Syrian army.” The missiles were intended to precipitate negotiations for Assad’s exit and were “supplied mostly from stocks owned by Saudi Arabia, delivered across the Turkish border and stamped with CIA approval” in what one expert referred to as a “proxy war by happenstance.”

The Guardian reports that an unknown number of men were detained in Moscow after a raid yielded an IED with 5 kilograms of explosives. Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, alleged that “two men claimed they had been trained by ISIS militants and were plotting a terrorist attack on Moscow’s public transport.”

E.U. foreign ministers have issued a joint declaration calling for the departure of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, though they allowed that a transition away from the Assad regime was not immediately necessary. The foreign ministers also demanded that Russia halt its air campaign over Syria. Politico has more.

Meanwhile, Reuters reveals that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently reached out to one of the Assad regime’s fiercest opponents in a meeting with the Saudi Arabian defense minister. And the Times reports that Iraqi Shiites have hailed “Sheikh Putin” for Russia’s involvement in the conflict, viewing him “as a leader with the vision and determination to bring stability to Iraq” in their fight against the Islamic State.

On Sunday, President Obama sat down to address the situation in Syria on 60 Minutes. The Post gives us a rundown of his comments on the subject, with one big takeaway: the president “wants to keep the United States from becoming more deeply involved militarily in a place where he believes that the American force offers no viable, long-term solutions.”

Over the course of his 60 Minutes interview, Obama also confirmed that the administration knew of Putin’s impending involvement in Syria when the two leaders met at the United Nations. Over at the Daily Beast, Shane Harris also weighs in on the question of U.S. intelligence assessments on Russian activity in Syria. While a congressional inquiry is underway to investigate lawmakers’ claims that they did not receive adequate briefing on Russia’s military buildup in Syria, U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly maintained that “any suggestion that the intelligence community was surprised by Russia’s military support to the Assad regime is misleading.”

Confused about the network of alliances and enmities in Syria? The Guardian is here to help, with a handy diagram of the various parties and their level of support for different Syrian factions.

In the Atlantic, Dominic Tierney considers why the Islamic State continues to enjoy success despite its brutal tactics. His answer? The problem lies in the anti-ISIS coalition’s “disinterest,” its “disunity,” and its failure to seize the narrative from the extremist group.

In Afghanistan, two American troops were killed when a coalition helicopter crashed in Kabul on Sunday. The crash killed five and wounded five others in the “third mass-casualty event involving transport aircraft in the war-torn country in three months. Also in Kabul, a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of foreign troops and left an unknown number of civilian casualties.

The U.N. suggests that the Afghan Taliban’s reach is the largest it has been since 2001, according to the Times. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) “has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country” due to security concerns.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera highlights the Taliban’s growing insurgency as fighting increases around the provincial capital of Ghazni. Government officials in the area claimed to have repelled Taliban offenses from Ghazni though al Jazeera suggests that “government soldiers and police are struggling to cope with a string of Taliban gains in the aftermath of the withdrawal of most NATO forces last year.”

Escalating tensions in Israel left more casualties over the weekend and show no signs of easing. Reuters writes that “four Israelis and 24 Palestinians, including eight children, have died in 12 days of bloodshed.” The violence has been “fueled in part by Muslim anger over increasing Jewish access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and with Palestinians attacking Israelis with knives, rocks and, in at least one incident, guns.” The Israeli government has authorized emergency measures as well as a minimum four-year jail sentence for Palestinian “petrol bombers and rock throwers.” Two Palestinians were shot and another two were injured on Monday after they attacked Israelis, and according to the Journal, a retaliatory strike left a pregnant Palestinian woman and her young daughter dead. The strike came after rockets from Hamas facilities in the Gaza strip were fired on Saturday; the rockets were deflected by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Turning to Iran, the Post writes that reporter Jason Rezaian has been convicted in an espionage trial. Rezaian was arrested in July 2014 when he was charged with espionage, and his trial has been shrouded in secrecy. State Department spokesman John Kirby called on Iran "to drop all charges against Jason and release him immediately." The Times notes that “Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani, have raised the idea of a prisoner swap, suggesting that Mr. Rezaian, 39, could be exchanged for people that Tehran says are being held by or on the orders of the United States for violating sanctions.”

CNN describes the implications of Iran's successful testing of a new precision-guided, long-range missile. While these are the first Iranian long range missiles that can reach Israel, Iran maintains that the missiles are simply for deterrence purposes. The Times suggests that the testing may have violated the nuclear agreement reached with the P5+1.

The Post examines the ongoing effects of the refugee and migration crisis on Europe’s internal borders. Across the European Union, cross-border train service has halted as countries grapple with the arrival of refugees and migrants, and many Europeans are concerned by the potential impact of reinstating a border system that had largely melted away.

The results are in on the Belarusian presidential election, and President Alexander Lukashenko has cruised to a fifth term in power with a whopping 83.5% of the vote. The election has widely been understood as a “farce,” the Guardian tells us, though Lukashenko appears to be genuinely popular within Belarus. Meanwhile, the European Union has declared its intention to lift its sanctions on Belarus for a four-month period by October 31st if no violence follows in the election’s wake.

The Ugandan army has committed to withdrawing from South Sudan by the end of the week, the BBC reports. Uganda’s withdrawal was a key component in the peace deal reached in August, though foreign forces were originally required to withdraw by October 10th. The South Sudanese government has praised Uganda’s intervention as preventing further violence, though rebels have sharply criticized the Ugandan presence as evidence of imperialism.

On Saturday, at least five Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a Chadian village providing shelter to thousands of Nigerian refugees. The Guardian writes that reports conflict on whether or not the bombings directly targeted the Dar-es-Salaam refugee camp. The attack appears to be the most intricate yet staged by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region.

In a rare public appearance on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un announced that his country is “capable of fighting any kind of war provoked by the US.” AFP describes his statement as a “particularly pointed message of defiance,” even compared to the DPRK’s usual aggressions.

The Obama administration has decided not to pursue a controversial policy of mandating technology firms to build “backdoors” into encrypted technology, the Times reports. The White House had been weighing the policy change in order to ensure law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ access to potentially crucial information in the midst of government concerns over “going dark.” Bloomberg writes that tech firms are rejoicing over the decision, as many firms feared that a mandatory “backdoor” policy would seriously weaken data security.

Reuters tells us that cybersecurity insurance has skyrocketed in recent months, especially for health insurers. The rising rate of insurance--up an average of 32% since the beginning of this year--points to the sharp increase in cyberattacks on U.S. companies over the past few years.

Parting shot: Bearded hipsters, or ISIS recruits? This was the questioned posed to the Swedish police officers called to investigate after a nervous passerby saw 30 bearded men gathering in a field with a black flag. Turns out that the men were not ISIS followers, but rather members of what Foreign Policy identifies as an “international beard club.” Surely, a forgivable error.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Ben argued that, at this point, the most important thing the United States can and should do in Syria is protect civilians.

Wells shared the news that federal employees can now contribute to Lawfare through the 2015 Combined Federal Campaign.

Zack Bluestone explained what effects the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will likely have on China and updated us on the state of affairs in the South and East China Seas.

Timothy Edgar considered whether reforms to the NSA’s PRISM program would be sufficient to answer the European privacy concerns raised in the recent Schrems decision.

Cody posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring an interview with the Brookings Institution’s Chief Information Officer Helen Mohrmann on her experiences maintaining Brookings’ cybersecurity.

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Jacob Olidort examined the rise of Egyptian Salafis in the wake of a government crackdown on the rival Muslim Brotherhood.

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