Today's Headlines and Commentary

Zachary Burdette, Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, September 29, 2016, 3:26 PM

The United States is threatening to suspend cooperation in Syria with Russia, including on counterterrorism strikes, unless the Kremlin acts to halt the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo, the Washington Post reports.

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The United States is threatening to suspend cooperation in Syria with Russia, including on counterterrorism strikes, unless the Kremlin acts to halt the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo, the Washington Post reports. But it seems that the Obama administration is reluctant to step up its involvement in Syria, which may be necessary to force Russia and Syria to back off from the offensive on the besieged city.

Russia remains committed to the siege of Aleppo, refusing Western demands to moderate the offensive and revive the ceasefire, the New York Times notes. Russian officials report that they have offered a 48-hour “pause,” but Americans insist that any ceasefire short of a week is not a meaningful agreement. The Kremlin has countered that such a week-long pause in violence would give rebels time to reorganize and prepare themselves for renewed fighting.

Despite Western attempts to condemn Russia diplomatically, Moscow seems completely undeterred. The Times argues that the Russian and Syrian governments are orchestrating the civilian destruction for strategic reasons: “to pressure rebels to ally themselves with extremists, eroding the rebels’ legitimacy; give Russia veto power over any high-level diplomacy; and exhaust Syrian civilians who might otherwise support the opposition.”

Civilians in rebel-held Aleppo are struggling to cope with the intensity of the air campaign. The city is suffering from serious shortages in food, rescue equipment, and medical supplies and workers, according to Reuters. The Times provides videos of rescue operations that offer insight into what conditions on the ground are like, and the Post chronicles the humanitarian costs of the siege.

Syrian government forces have recaptured the Handarat refugee camp just north of Aleppo, reports Reuters. The government had secured the camp earlier in this week’s operation, but subsequently lost it to rebel forces.

The renewal of fighting in Syria has further eroded whatever working relationship is left between Moscow and Washington, Reuters observes. When the United States admonished Russia for actions that may benefit extremists, a Russian official accused the United States of “de facto support for terrorism” and “invitations to use terrorism as a weapon against Russia.”

The Obama administration approved the military’s request to deploy 600 additional troops to Iraq in preparation for the impending Mosul offensive, the Times writes. The troops will not engage the Islamic State directly but will provide intelligence and logistical support to Iraqi forces.

As the anti-ISIS coalition readies for its attack on Mosul, the international community is beginning to think about the potential consequences of the offensive. The United Nations warns that over a million civilians may be displaced, while Sunni countries are considering how the success of Iran’s shiite militias in rolling back the Islamic State may impact the sectarian balance of power in the region. Reuters reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned Kurdish groups not to leverage the opportunity to expand their territorial control in Iraq. Finally, the European Union is preparing for the influx of foreign fighters returning to Europe as the caliphate collapses, writes the Journal.

Congress voted overwhelmingly to override President Obama’s veto of JASTA, the legislation that now allows families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabian officials for potential connections to the attacks, the Financial Times writes. The Obama administration has warned that the law would make American officials vulnerable to similar lawsuits in other countries. The new legislation comes amid growing “anti-Saudi sentiment in Washington,” as Americans are becoming more vocal in criticizing the kingdom’s human rights record, its financing of efforts to spread extremist interpretations of Islam, and its conduct in the GCC’s military intervention in Yemen.

The AP outlines Saudi Arabia’s options for retaliating against the United States in response to JASTA’s passage. Possibilities include “curtailing official contacts, pulling billions of dollars from the U.S. economy, and persuading its close allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council to scale back counterterrorism cooperation, investments and U.S. access to important regional air bases.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council decided not to establish an investigation into alleged humanitarian abuses in Yemen, Reuters reports. The announcement is controversial given the widespread international criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention, which is responsible for over half of roughly 3,800 civilian deaths in the past year.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested he will extend his emergency powers beyond the 90-day state of emergency he established after July’s coup attempt, the Financial Times notes. President Erdogan has made extensive use of this powers thus far, detaining and firing tens of thousands of Turkish citizens and government employees with alleged links to the coup, which he accuses Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating. Meanwhile, Gulen recently told a German newspaper the coup was, in fact, a false flag operation conducted by President Erdogan in order to consolidate power, writes Reuters.

The Afghan government signed its previously tentative agreement to incorporate the notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into the political process. While Hekmatyar’s organization, Hezb-i-Islami, no longer wields the power and influence it once did in the 1980s and 1990s, Afghan officials hope that the agreement will create momentum for a peace process with the Taliban. Reuters has more.

The Indian military conducted cross-border strikes into Pakistan against “launch pads” on Wednesday night, writes the Wall Street Journal. Indian officials claimed Indian forces crossed the line of control and caused “significant casualties,” while Pakistan argues that the Indian army merely fired from its side of the border, killing two Pakistani soldiers. The operation is the latest retaliatory measure after India blamed Pakistan for a terrorist attack against an Indian military base earlier this month. Notably, it is the first Indian use of force in the dispute. Reuters has more.

China is denouncing American military activity in Asia, with Chinese officials warning Japan that it was “playing with fire” for holding bilateral exercises with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, Reuters comments. The rebuke comes amid territorial disputes following a recent Hague ruling that generally sided against Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

The Chinese government also criticized the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea, Reuters notes. China voiced concerns that the system could threaten China’s military capabilities and warned that it may develop countermeasures.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened this month to end future military exercises with the United States and to eject American forces from the country, including a contingent of special forces assisting with counterrorism operations. Foreign Policy traces the history of the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the Philippines and the potential implications of American withdrawal.

Nigeria continues to struggle with extensive internal violence. The United Nations is warning that Boko Haram is putting the lives of 75,000 children at risk by creating “famine-like conditions,” remarks the Times. Additionally, there was yet another attack on an oil pipeline by a militant group that opposes multinational corporations’ extraction of Nigerian resources, Reuters adds.

A regional Somali commander accused the United States of striking his forces instead of the intended al-Shabaab targets, Reuters notes. A Pentagon official described the operation as a “self-defense airstrike” that killed nine al-Shabaab fighters, but he added that the military is investigating whether there were other casualties.

Amnesty International accused the Sudanese government of “scorched earth” tactics targeting civilians, writes the Times. The operations are part of the government’s counterinsurgency efforts in Darfur. The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, but has been unable to garner needed support from major powers to arrest him.

In response to recent Russian recent aggression, the Swedish government is considering establishing a requirement for compulsory military service. Sweden has “consistently fallen short of targets” for the all-volunteer force, and the country is not a member of NATO. The Journal has more.

A cybersecurity firm has released a report alleging that Russia may have been behind the hacks on Yahoo email accounts, writes NBC. The hack may have been part of an effort to infiltrate email accounts belonging to U.S. government officials—an effort of which Russia has recently been accused in connection with the recent hacking and leaking of Democratic Party information. Yahoo has indicated its belief that a state-sponsored actor was behind the massive hack, but did not suggest which state it held responsible.

The Obama administration announced plans to transform a now-vacant section of the Guantanamo Bay detention center into a medical facility for the remaining low-value detainees at the base, the Miami Herald reports. The area to be renovated includes a block of cells where one detainee, Adnan Latif, died of a drug overdose in what a military investigation deemed a suicide, and hunger-striking detainees were held and force-fed.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Susan Landau discussed exceptional access systems.

Ben Wittes posted the latest episode of the Rational Security Podcast, which covers the first presidential debate.

Adam Klein analyzes the implications of a U.S. decryption mandate.

Stewart Baker provided a link to the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, as well as a summary of the episode’s content.

Natan Sachs commented on the accomplishments of the late Shimon Peres.

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Zachary Burdette was a National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution and is an M.A. candidate at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program concentrating in military operations.
Quinta Jurecic is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare. She previously served as Lawfare's managing editor and as an editorial writer for the Washington Post.

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