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Daily Brief: U.S. Military Investigating Whether Hostages Were Killed in Kunduz Air Strike

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June 28, 2016

Daily News Brief

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U.S. Military Investigating Whether Hostages Were Killed in Kunduz Air Strike

The United States is working with its Afghan counterparts to investigate reports that U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan's Kunduz province Saturday killed at least seven hostages held in a Taliban prison (NYT), according to a U.S. military spokesman. A spokesman for the governor of Kunduz said the air strike killed at least sixteen Taliban members and that the militants retaliated by executing the hostages (Bloomberg); Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the air strikes led to the deaths of prisoners. The victims include an Afghan National Army soldier who was recognized by a relative. Earlier this month President Barack Obama authorized an expansion of U.S. forces (Al Jazeera) against suspected Taliban militants in Afghanistan, where the United States officially ended its combat mission in 2014. 


"The president’s decision to expand the military’s mission just seven months before he leaves office signaled just how far the United States remains from achieving his goal of ending the American military role in Afghanistan. Under the new rules, airstrikes will no longer have to be justified as necessary to defend American troops. United States commanders will now be allowed to use air power against the Taliban when they see fit, Pentagon and administration officials said. American forces will also be permitted to accompany regular Afghan troops into combat against the Taliban. The guidelines reflect what has been apparent for months: American troops, primarily Special Operations forces, have continued to actively fight the Taliban since the declared end of the American combat mission in 2014," Matthew Rosenberg writes for the New York Times.

"Obama also expressed the hope that the Taliban would 'seize the opportunity' of [Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad] Mansur’s death [in a May drone strike] 'to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict—joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.' So far, the Taliban do not seem to have interpreted the assassination of their leader as an outstretched hand for peace. Like other fighters, including ours, the Taliban respond to blows that fail to destroy them with determination to make their enemy pay the consequences," Barnett Rubin writes for the New Yorker.

"There are no palatable alternatives to a U.S.- and NATO-led security presence. A larger role for India would increase friction with Pakistan; a growing Pakistani role would worry Indian leaders and the large number of Afghans who distrust Islamabad; an increased Russian presence would open the old wounds of Moscow’s invasion in the 1980s; and a ramped-up Iranian role could further destabilize Afghanistan by increasing the influence of Shiites in the predominantly Sunni country. In fact, a steep U.S. drawdown and the invigorated insurgency that would likely follow would encourage all these countries to jockey for position in Kabul, contributing to regional instability," writes Seth G. Jones in Foreign Affairs.


Poll: Australia's Ruling Party Leading Ahead of Elections

A new poll shows the center-right coalition of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ahead of its Labour opponents, 51 percent to 49 percent, in July 2 elections (WSJ). Turnbull has pledged jobs and growth amid market instability following the United Kingdom's decision to exit the European Union.

CHINA: The deputy editor of a leading theoretical journal for China's communist party hung himself (AFP), according to local media reports, which quoted a friend saying the editor had become depressed over ideological tension between reformists and conservative academics.


Fatwa From Pakistani Clerics Permits Transgender Marriage

Activists in Pakistan welcomed a religious decree from fifty clerics based in Lahore that said marriage, inheritance, and funeral rights for transgender persons was allowed under Islamic law and that humiliating the transgendered population was a crime (BBC). The announcement follows violence against transgender activists (Telegraph), including two recent murders.

This CFR map looks at expanding LGBT rights across the world. 


Islamic State Claims Mukalla Attacks in Yemen

The self-proclaimed Islamic State claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in the Yemeni port city of Mukalla that killed at least forty-three people (AP). The attacks come as the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels indicate they will suspend peace negotiations in Kuwait.  

EGYPT: France's public prosecutor said the May crash of an EgyptAir plane into the Mediterranean (Middle East Eye) appears to have been an accident and that investigators found no links to terrorism.


U.S. Swears in First Ambassador to Somalia in Twenty-Five Years

Ambassador Stephen Schwartz, a senior foreign service officer previously posted to Zambia, was sworn in as the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in twenty-five years (VOA). The United States pulled its diplomatic staff from Somalia in 1993 after militiamen shot down a U.S. helicopter and killed eighteen soldiers.

TANZANIA: Scientists called the discovery of an estimated 54 billion cubic feet of helium deposits in Tanzania's East African Rift Valley a "game changer" (BBC) for securing the world's helium needs. The gas, used in hospital MRI scanners, telescopes, and spacecraft, is usually found in small quantities in oil and gas drilling.


Global Markets Lose Record $3 Trillion Following Brexit Vote

A rapid sell-off of equities following UK voters' decision to leave the EU caused global markets to lose $3 trillion in value (FT). Meanwhile European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in an address to the European Parliament that the UK government must clarify its position on exiting as swiftly as possible (Guardian).

CFR's President Richard A. Haass writes that the Brexit vote is a warning to other democracies in this Financial Times op-ed.

EU: The rates human smugglers charge have tripled since a March migration deal between the EU and Turkey closed down a main migration route (WSJ), according to a new report.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses Europe's migration crisis.


Nonpartisan Senate Analysts Give Mixed Report on Rousseff's Budget Handling

A three-member group of career budget technicians in Brazil's senate released a report (WSJ) saying that budget decrees by suspended President Dilma Rousseff led to fiscal rules being broken, but also found no evidence Rousseff was to blame for the delays associated with the transfer of funds. Alleged budget mishandling is the basis for impeachment proceedings against Rousseff.

CFR's Matthew Taylor writes about Michel Temer's first month as interim president in Brazil in this blog post.

CANADA: U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Ottawa Wednesday where they will discuss trade (Reuters).

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