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October 2, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Coalition Urges Russia to Cease Strikes on Syrian Opposition

The U.S.-led coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State issued a joint statement on Thursday calling on Russia to cease (Bloomberg) its aerial campaign on armed Syrian opposition groups and to shift its focus to Islamic State positions. The coalition, which includes France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UK, claimed that Russian strikes are also hitting civilians (Al Jazeera) and risk fueling extremism. The Russian defense ministry said its bombardments destroyed (WSJ) Islamic State command posts, a communications hub, and a weapons cache. Moscow says its air strikes in Syria could last three to four months. Separately, Lebanese sources said that hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived (Reuters) in Syria to back a Syrian government ground offensive.


"Given the diminution of Russian influence in the Middle East with the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin sees an interest in reestablishing such influence wherever possible in the region. Syria is a case in point. But Putin should be wary of what he hopes for. Russian military intervention in Syria could have the unintended consequence of making radical Islamist groups focus on Russia as a prime enemy and target of retaliation," says Edward P. Djerejian in a CFR Interview.

"The Middle East today is indeed undergoing an unprecedented transition beset by collapse of state power, rise of extremist ideologies, and the probable proliferation of nuclear technologies. Iran is in many ways contributing to all of the region’s maladies. Just because Iran is part of the problem does not mean it can contribute to a solution," writes CFR's Ray Takeyh in an Expert Brief.

"It will be Moscow and Tehran, Assad’s sole outside protectors, that manage this transition, if there is one—and there won’t be transition unless these same managers determine that the ‘new leader’ can protect their interests more securely than Assad can. Syria represents Russia’s only toehold in the Middle East and Iran’s gateway to interests further westward in the region (especially Hezbollah). Both powers regard ISIS as a threat not because it unleashes chaos on the Syrian people (Assad does plenty of that) but because it threatens their own interests in the region," writes Fred Kaplan in Slate.


Auto Deal Advances TPP Talks

Representatives from Japan, Canada, Mexico, and the United States overcame a major stumbling block (Japan Times) in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday, agreeing to require auto manufacturers to source 45 percent of materials in-country. Negotiators extended talks on the twelve-nation free trade agreement until Saturday to address other sticking points.

INDONESIA: Forest fires in Indonesia that have generated a dense haze throughout Southeast Asia are on track to become the worst on record (AFP), according to NASA. Flights have been grounded, schools closed, and tens of thousands have sought medical treatment for respiratory problems.


India Unveils Climate Plan

India, the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter, pledged (Reuters) to reduce carbon emissions 35 percent by 2030. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar also said that at least 40 percent of India's energy would be generated by renewable resources by that time. India was the last major economy to submit (Guardian) a climate plan ahead of a UN climate summit in Paris in December.

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting down (Al Jazeera) a U.S. military helicopter in Nangarhar province, killing six U.S. security personnel and five civilian contractors. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said Taliban fighters carried out (Amnesty International) mass murders, gang rapes, and house-to-house searches during the assault on the northern city of Kunduz earlier this week.

This CFR InfoGuide chronicles the reemergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


Loyalist Yemeni Forces Retake Bab el-Mandeb Strait

Forces loyal to the Yemeni government and members of the Saudi-led coalition retook (Daily Star) the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which links the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, from rebel Houthi control on Thursday. Coalition air strikes continue to hit Houthi positions as loyalist forces push to seize the capital of Sana'a.


Series of Suicide Bombings Hit Nigeria's Northeast

Five girls are believed to have carried out suicide bombings (Vanguard) in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Thursday evening, killing at least fourteen and injuring thirty-nine others, according to the Nigerian Army. Elsewhere in Borno state, more than eighty alleged Boko Haram militants surrendered (Daily Trust). Separately, Boko Haram fighters stormed (THIS DAY) villages in Adamawa state, south of Borno, destroying several buildings and killing eleven people.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency.

BURKINA FASO: The leader of Burkina Faso's short-lived coup, General Gilbert Diendere, was taken into custody (AFP) on Thursday after turning himself in. Diendere, the former chief of staff to ousted President Blaise Compaore, will be tried in the military justice system, a military source said.


UN: 1.4 Million Migrants Expected in Europe

The UN refugee agency said on Thursday that at least 1.4 million migrants are expected to reach (VOA) Europe via the Mediterranean Sea over the next two years, nearly double its previous estimates. Meanwhile, Hungary said that it was consulting (AP) with Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia about cooperating on border controls.

The challenge of caring for and integrating the influx of migrants in Europe will soon run up against physical and financial limits as well as public tolerance, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

UKRAINE: French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Paris on Friday in a bid to broker a lasting peace agreement (EU Observer) to the conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists agreed on Thursday to withdraw (Telegraph) remaining heavy weaponry and combat equipment from frontline.


White House Calls for Tighter Gun Control

U.S. President Barack Obama made a plea for a "change of politics" (FT) on gun control on Thursday after a community college shooting in Oregon left at least ten people dead. The White House said passing tough legislation (Hill) to stem gun violence in the country is still a high priority for the Obama administration.

MERCOSUR: Representatives from the EU and Mercosur—a sub-regional bloc comprising Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela—are meeting (Merco Press) in Asuncion, Paraguay, to measure the "level of ambition" ahead of formal talks on tariff proposals slated for November that could pave the way for a free trade agreement.