Today's Headlines and Commentary

Garrett Hinck
Tuesday, August 29, 2017, 3:13 PM

North Korea launched an intermediate range ballistic missile that flew over northern Japan early Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported.

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North Korea launched an intermediate range ballistic missile that flew over northern Japan early Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported. Although the missile did not hit the Japanese mainland, it prompted the Japanese government to warn civilians to take cover and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call the launch “an unprecedented, serious, and grave threat.” Japan has called for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The launch, only the third time that North Korea has fired missiles over Japanese territory, comes in the midst of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

North Korea appears to have carefully calculated the missile launch, the Washington Post reported. The Hwasong-12 is the intermediate range missile North Korea has threatened to launch at the waters near Guam, but instead North Korea fired it over Japan. The launch both avoids directly provoking the United States and also drives a wedge between North Korea’s neighbors, China and Japan. Analysts suggested that this launch may be a trial run for a future long-distance test of the Hwasong-14, North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile.

In response, the South Korean military conducted a bombing raid drill with four F-15 fighter jets at a shooting range near the North Korean border, according to the South Korean state-affiliated Yonhap News Agency. South Korea’s foreign minister spoke with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and agreed to push for additional sanctions on North Korea at the Security Council.

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a bank in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 5 people, the Post reported. The Taliban took responsibility and said the bomber targeted Afghan security forces withdrawing cash there. Meanwhile, the Afghan government says that it hit a Taliban command post in Herat, in the western part of the country, killing 16 fighters, but local officials said that numerous civilians were also killed. The bombing and the airstrike come after an Islamic State attack on a mosque in Kabul killed 30 civilians last week. The Islamic State and Taliban continue to conduct separate insurgencies against the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Secretary of State Tillerson plans to eliminate at least 30 special envoy positions at the State Department, Politico reported.Tillerson proposes cutting the envoys tasked with addressing climate change, cyber issues, the closure of the Guantanamo military detention facility, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and international disabilities rights, among others. Politico also reported that Tillerson is shrinking the size of the U.S. delegation to next month’s U. N. General Assembly, cutting several hundred slots for U.S. officials to attend the summit in New York. Since taking office,Tillerson has faced criticism for his ongoing effort to cut the State Department’s budget, size, and reach.

Two Iranian-American lawyers lost an appeal in an Iranian court and remain imprisoned in Iran for their ties to the United States, according to the AP. Siamak Namazi and his father are dual Iranian-American nationals accused by Iranian hardliners of being a “Western effort to infiltrate Iran.” The Namazis were sentenced to 10 years inprisonment in the Evin prison, which notoriously houses political dissidents. Iran does not recognize dual nationality, and the Namazis are among several dual nationals held by Iran for their ties to the West.

India and China agreed to withdraw troops from a disputed border region in the Himalayas, the Post reported on Monday. Indian troops moved into the region of Doklam to prevent the Chinese military from building a road into territory that Bhutan, a close ally of India, contests with China. Both sides say that they have resolved the dispute successfully. Analysts suggested that China may have agreed to cease road construction in exchange for the withdrawal of Indian troops. The resolution comes in advance of a BRICS meeting in Xiamen, China. The rise in tension along the border is the latest in in a long history of disputes in the region.

Hamas’ new leader says the group has restored its ties with Iran and is receiving financial and military supplies for its struggle against Israel, according to the Post. Hamas ended ties with Iran after refusing to support the Iranian-backed Syrian regime in 2012. Yehiyeh Sinawar, Hamas’ newly-elected president, said in a meeting with reporters on Monday that Hamas’ ties with Iran are, “excellent, or very excellent.” Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis with missile strikes and suicide bombings since it seized control of of Gaza in 2007 and is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

Lebanon began to free hundreds of Islamic State fighters on Monday in exchange for the bodies of eight Lebanese soldiers as part of a larger deal with the Islamic State, the Times reported. The Lebanese Army, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State declared a ceasefire on Sunday to facilitate the exchange. The exchange is one part of a larger deal for the Islamic State to give up territory near the Lebanese border and Syrian government to reduce its pressure on the Islamic State militants in that region. As many as 400 fighters are being freed and transferred to Deir al-Zour Province, an area dominated by the Islamic State.

The Iraqi military retook the town of Tal Afar from the Islamic State over the weekend, the Post reported on Sunday. Iraqi security forces successfully used heavy weaponry to regain control over the city in only eight days with the assistance of Shiite militias. However, Reuters reported on Monday that the remaining Islamic State forces are putting up tough resistance in the nearby town of al-’Ayadiya with snipers and roadside bombs. Iraqi forces are waiting for the capture of al-’Ayadiya to declare total victory in the easier-than-expected campaign for Tal Afar. Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that a top-ranking Kurdish official in Syria says that the U.S.-orchestrated battle to take Raqqa should end in two months. Nowruz Ahmed, a Kurdish military leader on the council of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, heads the all-female wing of the Kurdish YPG militia. The SDF has now pushed into the center of Raqqa and encircled the remaining Islamic State militants there.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jane Chong and Benjamin Wittes argued that the time has come for Congress to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

John Sipher suggested key questions for policymakers as they consider what would define victory in Afghanistan.

Lucas Kello reviewed Ben Buchanan’s book The Cybersecurity Dilemma: Hacking, Trust, and Fear Between Nations.

Jack Goldsmith highlighted Richard Danzig’s upcoming Lawfare Working Paper on “The Technology Tsunami and the Liberal World Order.”

Susan Hennessey flagged the nomination of Adam Klein to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Russell Spivak examined President Trump’s memo on banning transgender personnel from military service.

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Garrett Hinck is a PhD student in political science at Columbia University, studying international relations and the political economy of security. He was previously a research assistant with the Technology and International Affairs and Nuclear Policy programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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