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Daily Brief: Syrian Government Airstrikes Hit Kurds, Signaling Escalation

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August 19, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Syrian Government Airstrikes Hit Kurds, Signaling Escalation

Syrian planes bombed Kurdish positions in the country's northeast on Thursday, marking a potential escalation by the government (WSJ) against Kurdish forces. Syrian Kurds have not previously been targets of the Syrian regime. The Kurdish YPG militia is one of the primary allies of the United States against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria, and U.S. defense officials said (CNN) that the airstrikes occurred with U.S. military personnel "nearby." Elsewhere in Syria, the Russian government proposed (Al Jazeera) a two-day ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to reach the besieged city of Aleppo, but stopped short of supporting a broader pause in fighting.


"Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who are accused of embracing the ideology of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), managed to earn the international community’s trust after the 2014 battle for Kobani. This feat led to an international consensus, including the United States and NATO, to support them in the face of the Islamic State," writes Sardar Mlla Drwish in Al-Monitor.

"The international community must use its diplomatic heft to strive for real and unfettered humanitarian access for civilians inside Syria, not more talk as mothers, fathers, and children perish. A cessation of hostilities that is not tied to political imperatives should be the immediate goal. And the world must keep its eyes and its pressure on the warring parties to protect those most vulnerable: citizens who are not fighting in the war around them and who have absolutely no place to go to escape it," writes Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in Foreign Affairs.

"We're at a juncture in which the United States has been left with few choices. Through its regional allies, the United States should work toward the least-bad scenario, trying to push [rebel] groups to embrace moderation and empower the few remaining groups that are not ideological. This might push people [who belong to] groups like Nusra but do not adhere to Nusra’s ideology to see that they have a third option," says Chatham House's Lina Khatib in a interview.


China Conducts Naval Drill in Sea of Japan

The Chinese navy carried out (SCMP) a solo drill in the Sea of Japan on Thursday. The Chinese military said the drill was a routine training exercise, "not aimed at any specific country." China had previously conducted joint military drills in the area with the Russian navy in 2015.

This CFR InfoGuide explores China's ongoing maritime disputes with its neighbors.

NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-un's government has tightened surveillance (Yonhap) on diplomats in the wake of recent high profile defections. It has sent  teams abroad to monitor its diplomats and workers, recalling their family members, and executing officials Kim believes to be responsible for the defections, according to South Korean press reports.


UN Calls For India-Pakistan Dialogue Over Kashmir

The United Nations stands ready to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve the rising tensions (Dawn) over the disputed territory of Kashmir, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter to Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. At least seventy people have died in clashes in Kashmir since July.

AFGHANISTAN: The U.S. State Department said Thursday that it was monitoring the efforts of the self-proclaimed Islamic State to expand into Afghanistan (Tolo), as the group seeks to make alliances with factions of the Taliban insurgency.


Doctors Without Borders Withdraws From Northern Yemen

The aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced that it would evacuate staff (Al Jazeera) from six hospitals in Yemen's war-torn north days after an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition struck one of its facilities, killing nineteen people. MSF said that it had shared the coordinates of its facilities with the coalition, but the bombings continued. The coalition expressed regret over the incident, and vowed an investigation.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the humanitarian costs of the ongoing war in Yemen. 


Child Soldiers On the Rise In South Sudan

Nearly sixteen thousand children have been recruited (East African) to serve in armed groups in South Sudan since 2013, and that number could be set to rise, according to the United Nation's children's agency. Despite a 2015 peace deal between the country's warring factions, 650 children were newly recruited in 2016 as fighting renewed in July.

ANGOLA: The government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the country since 1979, created a new body (Guardian) with broad powers to regulate social media, including the authority to raid the home or office of anyone involved in online publishing.


Russia Builds up Military Presence on Ukraine Border

Russia has been bolstering its military presence (WSJ) along its border with Ukraine, building new facilities, moving tens of thousands of troops, and conducting hundreds of  drills in 2016, said security analysts. Russia said it is responding to NATO's April decision to send additional troops to Poland and the Baltic countries. In an interview Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said sanctions against Russia should continue (EUObserver) over its military involvement in Ukraine.

Relations between Russia and NATO have become a flashpoint in recent years, explains this Backgrounder.

GREECE: The coast guard rescued a boat (Kathimerini) carrying seventy migrants near a deserted island in Greece's southwest, far from the usual transit point from Turkey. Greece has reported an uptick in migrant arrivals in the past week.


U.S. State Dept: Iran Payment Delayed As 'Leverage'

The State Department said Thursday (NYT) that a $400 million payment made to Iran on the same day as the release of three U.S. hostages in January was delayed "to retain maximum leverage" in negotiations. The statement came after a series of press reports raised questions about the link between the payment and the hostage release, which administration officials had said were separate. Republicans have criticized the payment as "ransom," which the Obama administration denies.

Iran's hostage-taking shows the drawbacks of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, argues CFR's Elliott Abrams in this article.

MEXICO: A report by Mexico's human rights watchdog found (LAHT) that police executed twenty-two civilians during a raid on a suspected drug ranch in May 2015, and then tampered with the scene to create the appearance of a shootout. Police maintained that they were defending themselves from heavy gunfire.

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