Hundreds Evacuated from Besieged Cities in Syria

Under an arrangement reached with the factions in Syria, 500 people needing medical attention were evacuated by relief workers from besieged cities in Syria. The operation to withdraw the at-risk people, which U.N. Syria humanitarian official Jan Egeland called a “breakthrough,” is the largest of its kind to be carried out in the Syrian civil ...


Under an arrangement reached with the factions in Syria, 500 people needing medical attention were evacuated by relief workers from besieged cities in Syria. The operation to withdraw the at-risk people, which U.N. Syria humanitarian official Jan Egeland called a “breakthrough,” is the largest of its kind to be carried out in the Syrian civil war. Half of the people evacuated were from the towns of Zabadani and Madaya, which are besieged by Assad regime forces, and the other half were evacuated from Foua and Kefraya, which have been cut off by rebel groups.

The humanitarian evacuations, which were the result of long negotiations, Egeland said, come as the ceasefire that has reduced the violence in Syria for the past two months erodes further. Russia has reportedly begun shifting Russian-crewed artillery toward frontlines near Aleppo and in Latakia province. Russia has also increased the number of airstrikes it is conducting in Syria, though this remains well below its pre-ceasefire tempo. U.S. officials have said the conflict could escalate in dangerous ways, and CIA Director John Brennan has warned Russian officials that the United States and other nations that support the rebels have plans to supply groups with anti-artillery and antiaircraft weapons if the ceasefire collapses completely.

Obama and Carter Discuss Islamic State Fight as Gulf Summit Begins

President Obama began a day of meetings with Gulf leaders today with a discussion of the international coalition’s fight against the Islamic State. In particular, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called on Gulf states to do more to support the fight “politically and economically,” pointing to the need for “multisectarian governance and reconstruction” in Iraq. The talks will also include a discussion of the situation in Yemen. Yesterday, Gulf officials announced new joint patrols with the United States to block Iranian weapons shipments from reaching the Houthi rebels. King Salman said that his government is “keen to find a solution” to the conflict.


  • U.N.-brokered peace talks between the warring parties in Yemen will begin today in Kuwait; they were set to begin on Monday but were stalled by accusations of ceasefire violations.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-2 decision ruling that legislation passed by Congress that awarded nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets to U.S. victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks did not infringe on the powers of the U.S. judiciary.


  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized the country’s use of thousands of undercover police to report violations of the country’s strict religious code; his concerns on the religious aspect of law enforcement have conflicted with hardliners who oppose any relaxation of Iran’s social rules.


  • The U.S. Defense Department has granted greater latitude to the commander of U.S. counter-Islamic State operations to authorize strikes with greater risk of civilian casualties, though the “riskiest missions” still “require White House approval.”


  • As many as 500 refugees drowned when a ship attempting to transit from Libya to Europe sank, the deadliest single refugee ship disaster in a year, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; 41 survivors were rescued and taken to Kalamata, Greece.

Arguments and Analysis

The Saudi and Gulf Perspective on President Obama’s Visit” (Anthony Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies)

“The end result is several ironies in the meeting between President Obama, the Saudis, and the other GCC states. First, such meetings almost inevitably announce improved cooperation in areas like missile defense and common resolve, and downplay serious issues. Unlike previous meetings, however, Obama is to some extent a lame duck President, and one clearly operating without the support of a Congress that Saudi Arabia sees as uncertain and to some degree hostile. In a year where every major security issue involves critical uncertainties, this U.S. President brings little clear leverage to the negotiations. His success will consist largely of restoring the image of cooperation without having an impact on the substance. Second, the Saudi royal family is all too familiar with the constant outside obsession with Royal politics and succession issues. This time, however, the U.S. President’s succession issues involve three main populist candidates whose foreign and security policies are almost all rhetoric and no clear substance. If the U.S. delegation is worried about future Saudi leadership, imagine how the Saudi leaders feel about the United States! Third, and perhaps most ironic of all — regardless of what the Saudi Arabia can or cannot say publicly — the only competent U.S. Presidential candidate that serves the common Saudi and U.S. interests, and now now seems to have a serious chance of winning, is a woman.”


Reset, Negotiate, Institutionalize: A Phased Middle East Strategy for the Next President” (Ilan Goldenberg, Center for a New American Security)

“The greatest threat to all of these interests is the instability afflicting the region. Therefore, the primary objective of any U.S. regional strategy should be to pursue greater stability. This approach comes with a number of caveats. First, expectations have to be reasonable. The problems afflicting the region mean that any strategy will take time to show results and will lead not to a complete transformation but incremental improvement. Second, American investments need to be proportional to U.S. interests in the region. This means avoiding major land wars and resource-heavy policies that crowd out other national priorities. The United States must recognize that it does not have complete control over many of the actors and factors in the region and that there could be a number of unpredictable complications that the United States cannot control. Finally, this approach does not dive deeply into the internal governance and institutional challenges facing the region. The states of the region will also have to consider whether their own internal governance models can meet the needs of their people and lead to sustainable stability in the long term. This paper focuses primarily on the more immediate challenges of security relations between states and strategies to address situations in which the state has collapsed.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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