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February 5, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Saudi Arabia to Send Ground Troops to Syria

Saudi Arabia offered for the first time to send ground troops to Syria to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Saudi officials said they planned to send thousands of special forces (Guardian), and likely in coordination with Turkey. The Saudi offer is expected to be discussed when the United States convenes a meeting of defense ministers from coalition countries in Brussels next week (Al Jazeera). The kingdom was one of the first Arab countries to join the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition and mounted several air strikes (Al-Arabiya) on targets in Syria; those diminished last March, when it launched its intervention in Yemen. 


“Fear drives Saudi Arabia’s new militancy. Part of its challenge is domestic. The extremist terror epitomized by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS has its roots in Saudi Arabia. That terror, inevitably, has begun erupting inside the kingdom itself. Yet because the regime relies for its legitimacy on the blessing of militant clerics, any crackdown can be only half-hearted,” writes Stephen Kinzer for the Boston Globe.

“It is not required that the US send fighters on the ground. This is not what we want. What we want is for Assad to be prevented from targeting civilians and for the [supporters] of the Syrian revolution [i.e. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia] to be allowed to provide rebels with qualitative weapons. The US supports the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include al-Sanadid Army, one of the regime's militias,” says FSA legal advisor Osama Abu Zeid, to Al-Monitor.

“Mr. Carter will hold a meeting next month in Brussels with the 27 countries that have participated in the military efforts to defeat the Islamic State. Among those countries that have been invited to the meetings are several Arab ones that had initially participated in the campaign but have since contributed little. Mr. Carter has singled them out, saying that it is time for them to become more involved,” write Michael Schmidt and Helene Cooper for the New York Times.


China Confirms Detention of Hong Kong Book Sellers

Guangdong police confirmed for the first time that three Hong Kong booksellers who had been missing since October were being investigated and held in mainland China (SCMP). Observers say they are being detained for selling books critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

This CFR Backgrounder delves into censorship in China.

AUSTRALIA: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation obtained a leaked government document calling for sweeping changes (ABC) to the country's humanitarian settlement program, including changes to screening processes. The document also raised concerns over a federal government announcement made in September that the country would take in 12,000 additional Syrian refugees.


Afghan Taliban Closes Ranks Around New Leader

Afghanistan's Taliban are rallying around their new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, (AP) after months of infighting that followed the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Afghan government's announcement last year that Mullah Omar, the founder of the group, had died two years earlier in Pakistan had aggravated longtime rifts within the movement.

As it rethinks the U.S. role in Afghanistan beyond 2016, the Obama administration must exercise analytical rigor, writes expert Robert M. Hathaway in this blog post.

INDIA: The Indian military declined the Pakistani army’s offer to help rescue efforts (Dawn) for ten Indian soldiers who were missing after an avalanche hit their post on the Siachen Glacier. Military rescue operations continued for the second day on Thursday amid fears that the soldiers might be dead.


Russia Intensifies Air Strikes in Aleppo

Russia ramped up its air strikes in a bid to bolster the Syrian government's offensive in Aleppo (Al Jazeera), reportedly killing dozens. The reports come amid another breakdown of peace talks in Geneva and a donor conference in London where world leaders have pledged $10 billion to help displaced Syrians and prepare for new waves of refugees (NYT).


Zimbabwe Declares Drought

President Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster (BBC) in rural parts of the country that have been hit by a severe drought. The announcement comes days after the European Union urged Mugabe to declare the state of disaster so donors could raise money to provide food aid; an estimated 2.4 million people are in need of food.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: A Human Rights Watch report said that UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic raped or sexually exploited (HRW) at least eight women and girls last fall. The UN mission in the country says it has taken steps to address the findings.


France Debates Constitutional Reforms

French lawmakers began debating constitutional changes (France24) that would strip French-born nationals of their citizenship if convicted on terrorism charges. The amendment would also make it easier to enact emergency measures.

SPAIN:  A pregnant woman (FT) in Spain tested positive for the Zika virus, officials said. The regional health ministry in Catalonia said the woman is believed to have contracted the virus in Colombia; she is one ten confirmed cases across Spain, but the only one who acquired the virus during pregnancy. 


Obama Boosts Aid to Colombia

U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to increase U.S. aid to Colombia (Politico) to at least $450 million next year, a boost of more than $100 million. The money is aimed at helping the Colombian government implement a peace deal with the country's largest rebel group.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at the country's insurgency groups and peace talks.

ECUADOR: Police clashed with pro-Kurdish protesters in the capital of Quito on Thursday as protestors demonstrated against (euronews) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was in the country on a state visit. Erdogan is on a week-long trip to South America to boost diplomatic and trade relations.


Clinton Says She Supports Keeping More Troops in Afghanistan

Hillary Clinton said (MSNBC) in Thursday's Democratic debate that she supported President Obama’s decision to keep more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than he originally planned.

Track and compare Clinton’s and other candidates’ major foreign policy positions with CFR's new interactive, The Candidates and the World.