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Fall 2014

Europe: Whole and Free?

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India and Pakistan Face Off in Kashmir

Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire in Kashmir on Tuesday, for the second time this week. Soldiers from both countries shot small arms and mortar rounds across their disputed border, while accusing the other side of starting the violence.

Clashes initially started on Monday, quickly spreading to numerous points along the frontier separating Pakistan and the Indian-administered region of Jumma. The fighting reached northern mountainous areas normally monitored by the UN. According to the Indian government, the Pakistani military targeted 40 Indian army posts.

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By Michael Johnson  |  October 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Turkish Parliament Debates Military Authorization

The Turkish Parliament is expected to approve a proposal on Thursday that would authorize cross-border military operations to fight jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Ankara is also likely to vote on whether allied countries can use Turkish territory and army bases to fight the Islamic State.

Even after gaining approval for missions inside Syria, Turkey is unlikely to start offensive strikes immediately. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called U.S. airstrikes in Syria only a "temporary" solution to the bloodshed, saying "tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger" posed by jihadists. Erdogan nevertheless urged members of his ruling AK party to endorse for the proposal as just one step in a larger effort to ease the conflict.

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By Michael Johnson  |  October 2, 2014 at 1:26 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Kabul and Washington Sign Long Awaited Agreement

Afghanistan and the United States signed a long delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on Tuesday in Kabul, guaranteeing a Western presence in the country beyond 2014. The signing comes shortly after the inauguration of Ashraf Ghani as president and months of political infighting.

Under the BSA's wide-ranging terms, 12,000 foreign military personnel will remain in Afghanistan past December. The mission will comprise approximately 9,800 U.S. troops, with remaining positions being manned by other NATO allies. The residual force will not be limited to just training the Afghan Army, but will also engage in combat operations outside their bases. A separate Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is expected to be signed between the Afghan government and NATO soon.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

House Approves Plan to Aid Syrian Rebels

By a vote of 273 to 156, the House of Representatives approved President Obama's plan to train and arm Syrian rebels on Wednesday. With support from Congress, the White House hopes that assisting vetted opposition groups will help contain the spread of Islamic State (IS) fighters. The provision was attached to a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government through December. Until now, the CIA had been covertly assisting the rebels for months.

The resolution divided both parties, with more than 40% of Democrats opposing the measure for fear of leading the U.S. into another war in the Middle East. Most Republicans backed the bill, with one senior GOP leader suggesting that the White House should be given broader military authority to combat IS militants. Yet, other Republicans worried that supporting rebel groups would allow them to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad better, instead of IS terrorists.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 18, 2014 at 5:16 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Fatalities Rise as Migrants Cross the Mediterranean

Approximately 500 migrants to Europe are feared to have died after their ship sank in the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend. The incident highlights the increasing danger for many Middle Eastern and African migrants and refugees illegally crossing into the EU.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Geneva based organization, suspect human traffickers intentionality sank the ship. During an interview with IOM, four survivors from the vessel, including two Palestinians, one Egyptian, and a Syrian, described how the smugglers turned violent. Shortly after departing from Port of Damietta near Alexandria, Egypt, the traffickers rammed a vessel escorting hundreds of people after they refused to move to another, less seaworthy boat.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Islamists Free Fijian Peacekeepers in Golan

Jabat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group fighting in Syria, released 45 Fijian soldiers serving in the Golan on Thursday. The IDF confirmed that the UN peacekeepers safely arrived in Israel following approximately two weeks in captivity.

Al-Nusra originally took the Fijians prisoner following clashes between government forces and rebels on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. By the beginning of September, Islamist forces captured much of the border with Israel, including the Quneitra crossing. Syrian government forces bombed rebel-held facilities near UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) outposts, stationed in the area since the mid-1970s.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Kerry Visits Baghdad, Meets New Iraqi PM

The Iraqi parliament named Haider al-Abadi as the government's new prime minister earlier this week. Lawmakers also approved a number of cabinet posts during a late night session on Monday, but left other positions vacant after sectarian infighting.

Al-Abadi, a Shiite, reassigned some Kurdish and Sunni politicians to new posts leading the foreign and oil ministries. There are 37 cabinet level positions in total. Politicians were unable to reach consensus over who should lead the powerful Interior and Defense ministries. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal reported that "there was no significant increase in the number or importance of positions offered to the main minority groups." Al-Abadi remained confident that the spots could be filled within a week.

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By Michael Johnson  |  September 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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