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August 27, 2015

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Taliban Captures Strategic District in Afghanistan

Taliban militants took control (RFE/RL) of Helmand province's Musa Qala district headquarters in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, despite a series of NATO air strikes. A reported thirty-five Afghan security forces were killed (TOLO), with another sixty injured in the attack. Musa Qala, a former strategic NATO position, is the second town in to fall to the Taliban in recent weeks. Elsewhere in Helmand, a gunman in an Afghan military uniform fired (USA Today) on a security base, killing two U.S. military personnel. The Taliban's recent advances come amid the a leadership transition, as Mullah Akhtar Mansour consolidates power after replacing Mullah Omar as the head of the insurgent group.

ANALYSIS

"Unavoidable delays and the intensity of the violence in Afghanistan raise serious doubts over the staying power of Afghanistan's National Security Forces (ANSF) and National Unity Government (NUG). Their premature collapse would signal a dangerous failure in Afghanistan, not entirely different from what the United States has suffered in Iraq, opening the door not only to a resurgent Taliban but also to international terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS," writes CFR's Daniel Markey in the Cipher Brief.

"Peace in Afghanistan is possible, but it will require a concerted push beyond the region, as much of what concerns the Taliban rests in international hands. The United States, for its part, should clarify its role—it can no longer play the role of both mediator and co-belligerent—and encourage a third-party to step into the mediator role while it focuses on supporting the Afghan government and an Afghan-led peace process," writes Jeff Eggers in Foreign Policy.

"Perhaps the worst outcome for Afghanistan would be if the break down in Taliban unity meant that one part of the movement kept the Afghan government busy in peace talks, while other Taliban factions try to outdo each other in intensifying the conflict. Tough times are ahead for Afghanistan and the Unity Government needs to strengthen the understanding between its component parts to be ready to face the violence and tricky politics we can expect from the heirs to Mullah Omar," writes Hussain Yasa in TOLO News

PACIFIC RIM

Chinese Authorities Arrest 12 Over Tianjin Blast

Twelve company executives have been arrested two weeks after an explosion at an industrial hub in China's northeastern port city of Tianjin killed nearly 150 people. China has also accused eleven senior officials and port officials of negligence (SCMP) in connection to the blast. Separately, Chinese stocks rose (Bloomberg) sharply on Thursday following a government intervention to end a five-day rout.

THAILAND: Police said that they are investigating more than twenty Turkish nationals who arrived in Thailand two weeks before last week's bombing (Bangkok Post) at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Kazakhstan to Host First Nuclear Bank

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed (RFE/RL) a deal with Kazakhstan in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Thursday to establish the world's first internationally managed bank for low-enriched uranium. The nuclear bank is intended to secure energy supplies to power stations and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Saudi Arabia Captures Khobar Towers Suspect

Ahmed al-Mughassil, the main suspect in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed nineteen U.S. servicemen, has been captured (AP), according to U.S. and Saudi officials. Mughassil, allegedly head of the military branch of Saudi Hezbollah, had been one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists.  

LIBYA: The UN special envoy to Libya expressed optimism that the country's warring factions would be ready to secure an agreement to form a unity government (Reuters) by mid-September, ahead of a new round of peace talks slated for Thursday in Morocco. A day before the fresh negotiations, the top negotiator from the Tripoli-based faction quit the UN-led talks.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

South Sudan's Leader Inks Peace Deal

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signed (RFI) a peace agreement with rebels on Wednesday in the capital of Juba, despite concerns of an "imposed peace," amid threats of UN sanctions. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council said that Kiir has until September 1 to lift (AFP) his reservations over the agreement or face a potential arms embargo.

SOMALIA: At least seven people, including a regional official and a local police commander, were killed in an al-Shabab attack (Reuters) on a government compound in southern Somalia on Wednesday.

This CFR Backgrounder tracks the presence of the Somali-based al-Shabab militant group.

EUROPE

Ukraine Reaches Debt Relief Deal

Ukraine reached a deal with its creditors to restructure (Bloomberg) its debt, according to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry. At least $18 billion of debt will be written off, and the remainder of Ukraine's debt payments will be pushed back to 2019. Meanwhile, Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists vowed (Deutsche Welle) to stop fighting in violation of the cease-fire agreement reached in February by September 1.

EU: German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet western Balkan leaders in Austria on Thursday to discuss (AFP) the deepening migrant crisis in Europe. The meeting comes a day after Merkel pledged zero tolerance for anti-migrant violence. Separately, the Italian coastguard said that more than fifty bodies were found (CNN) on a boat off the Libyan coast; more than three thousand other migrants were rescued from the ship.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at the drivers of Europe's migration crisis.

AMERICAS

Obama Honors Katrina Anniversary

U.S. President Barack Obama travels (NYT) to New Orleans, Louisiana, on Thursday to visit neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina ahead of the disaster's tenth anniversary.

The havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina should remind policymakers of the costs of neglecting critical infrastructure, writes expert Stephen E. Flynn in this blog post.

UNITED STATES: Central bankers gather (WSJ) on Thursday at the annual Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This year's meeting follows significant global market volatility amid speculation about whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this fall. Fed chair Janet Yellen is not slated to attend.