The U.S. military has deployed a secret task force to Jordan to help respond to the ongoing violence in Syria. The New York Times reports a contingent of more than 150 planners and other specialists is tasked with helping Jordanian forces handle incoming Syrian refugees, prepare for Syria’s potential loss of control over its chemical weapons, and respond should the turmoil in Syria spread more widely throughout the Middle East. The mission also reportedly has discussed contingency plans to insulate Jordan from the conflict, with talk of a U.S.-backed buffer zone along the Syria-Jordan border. The U.S. military presence in Jordan comes just as the Jordanian monarchy is facing its largest protests since the start of the “Arab Spring.” On Friday, thousands of Jordanians marched in the capital Amman demanding economic opportunities and democratic reforms.
Turkey forced a Syrian passenger plane to land Wednesday and then confiscated its cargo as tensions between the two countries continue to rise. The plane was traveling from Moscow to the Syrian city of Damascus, and there were unconfirmed reports that military supplies, including weapons parts, were found on board. Turkey has backed rebels opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been at odds with its neighbor since Syrian shelling killed five Turkish civilians last week. Turkey has fired artillery across the border and threatened to respond with more attacks if Syrian fire continues.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers clashed on Wednesday at a House hearing into the security failures before the killings of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Libya last month. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of failing to adequately protect the consulate, while Democrats have accused Republicans of cutting funding that would have paid for the absent security they now decry. On Wednesday, the State Department acknowledged rejecting appeals for more security at U.S. sites in Libya in the months before the deadly attack. A former U.S. official in Libya, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, said U.S. security operations in Libya had been “weak.”
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood: “The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there. The situation remained uncertain, and reports from some Libyans indicated it was getting worse. Diplomatic security remained weak. In April, there was only one U.S. diplomatic security agent stationed there. The RSO [regional security officer] struggled to obtain additional personnel, but there was never — but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with.”
The Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case challenging affirmative action in college admissions. A white student who says she was rejected from the University of Texas because of her ethnicity brought the case, alleging she is the victim of discrimination. The challenge threatens an earlier decision that allowed public colleges and universities to consider race in order to improve diversity. The 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger ruling banned the use of point systems but allowed for less direct methods of affirmative action. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case, leaving it in the hands of the remaining eight justices. A ruling is expected next year.
In Yemen, the Yemeni head of security at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a has been assassinated. Qassem Aqlani was killed by an unknown assailant earlier today on his way to work.
Rallies and vigils have been held across Pakistan in support of a 14-year-old activist for girls’ education who was left seriously wounded in a targeted shooting. Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school in an area of northwest Pakistan when militants stopped the vehicle she was traveling in. One man reportedly asked for Malala by name and then shot her in the head and neck. The Pakistani Taliban has since claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted her speaking out against them as well as against “Islam and sharia.” Malala has been celebrated worldwide for opposing the Taliban’s efforts to stop girls from attending school. On Wednesday, hundreds of people gathered in several Pakistani cities to condemn the attack.
Tahia Abdulla: “There’s nothing more cowardly than for grown men to be attacking a small little girl of 14 years old. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms, and I think there can be nothing more cowardly than this.”
Malala is said to be in stable condition after undergoing surgery to remove a bullet from her skull. The Pakistani government has offered a bounty of more than $100,000 for the capture of those who shot her.
In Russia, a court has freed one of three jailed members of the punk protest group Pussy Riot, but upheld prison sentences for the other two. In a case that has drawn international attention, the women were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after performing a “punk prayer” inside a cathedral, exhorting the Virgin Mary to get rid of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Yekaterina Samutsevich was released Wednesday after her lawyers argued she played less of a role in the protest because she was ejected from the cathedral before she could remove her guitar from its case. At a court hearing, jailed Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina apologized to church members offended by the action, saying the intended target had been Putin and Russian elites.
Maria Alyokhina: “Dear believers, we did not want to insult you. We never had such intentions. We went to the cathedral to voice our protest, our desperate protest against the merging of the religious elites and the political elites of our country.”
The two Pussy Riot members who remain behind bars will be jailed for another two years.
A federal appeals court has reinstated a Montana law limiting donations to political campaigns. The law was among several that have been struck down in Montana in decisions citing the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending on elections. But this week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier challenge, saying the judge who struck it down needs to provide his full reasoning for allowing unlimited money in political campaigns.