The United States continues to expand military operations in Iraq and Syria with new deployments and bombings. Overnight, U.S.-led warplanes hit grain silos and other targets in northern and eastern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the attacks killed a number of civilians, though the toll is unknown. Video has emerged of apparent civilian deaths in Idlib, Aleppo and Raqqa. In Aleppo, one witness claimed a bombing hit a residential neighborhood. The U.S.-led offensive also expanded to hit Islamic State positions around the town of Kobani, which has come under a relentless Islamic State assault. The ISIS shelling appeared to intensify over the weekend, forcing more residents to flee. More than 150,000 Syrian Kurds have sought refuge in Turkey over the past week.
In Iraq, the Pentagon has deployed a division headquarters unit for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. The 200 soldiers from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division headquarters will joins the estimated 1,200 U.S. troops already inside Iraq. Speaking at the Pentagon, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said he believes as many as 15,000 rebels will be needed to defeat ISIS in Syria. The United States is currently training around 5,000.
General Martin Dempsey: “There has to be a ground component to the campaign against ISIL in Syria, and we believe that the path to develop that is the Syrian moderate opposition. Five thousand has never been the end state. We’ve had estimates anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000, is what we believe they would need to recapture lost territory in eastern Syria. And I am confident that we can establish their training if we do it right.”
As the U.S.-led strikes continue, an al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria, the Nusra Front, has vowed for the first time to retaliate against the United States. In a video statement, the group’s leader said: “People of America, Muslims will not stand watching their children bombed and killed and you staying safe in your homes.” The Nusra Front had previously focused its efforts on the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Pro-democracy demonstrations have grown in Hong Kong after a police crackdown on student protesters. Thousands of college students launched a class boycott last week after the Chinese government rejected demands for free elections. After police forces moved in on the students, the crowds swelled to tens of thousands of people in the downtown area. Police responded with tear gas and pepper spray in their harshest crackdown since China took control of Hong Kong in 1997.
President Obama is hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House today for their first meeting since Modi’s election in May. On Sunday, Modi appeared before thousands of Indian Americans and dignitaries at New York City’s Madison Square Garden arena. Modi’s visit comes less than a decade after he was barred from the United States over his role in anti-Muslim riots that left more than 1,000 dead. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, where the killings occurred. He has never apologized for or explained his actions at the time. At a counter-protest outside the arena, Prachi Patankar of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative criticized Modi’s visit.
Prachi Patankar: “As South Asians concerned for advancing basic standards of democracy and human rights in India and universally, we believe that it is our moral responsibility to refuse to go along with the Modi euphoria and continue to voice our concerns and criticisms of bigotry and violence. Not doing so not only justifies this bigotry, but normalizes the acceptance of hateful ideologies and future repressive policies.”
On the eve of Modi’s visit, a lawsuit was filed in a U.S. court seeking to hold him to account for the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it would not interfere with the trip because of diplomatic immunity.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “Sitting heads of government enjoy immunity from lawsuits in American courts while in the United States. Sitting heads of government also enjoy personal inviability while in the United States, which means they cannot be personally handed or delivered papers to begin the process of a lawsuit. In addition, as a matter of treaty, the heads of delegations to the U.N. General Assembly enjoy immunity while in New York to attend U.N. events. So this means I don’t anticipate that it’s going to have any impact on his very important visit here to the U.S. and to the White House.”
On Saturday, Modi addressed tens of thousands of concertgoers attending the anti-poverty Global Citizen Concert in Central Park.
Cuba has denounced the Obama administration for extending the more than 50-year embargo. The White House authorized the trade embargo for another year in a little-noticed move earlier this month. Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said U.S. restrictions on Cuba have worsened under President Obama.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez: “The State Department has again included Cuba in its unilateral and arbitrary list of states that sponsor international terrorism. Its true purpose is to increase the persecution of our international financial transactions in the whole world and justify the blockade policy. Under the present administration, there has been an unprecedented tightening of extraterritorial character of the blockade, with a remarkable and unheard-of emphasis on financial transactions through the imposition of multi-million fines on banking institutions of third countries.”
The General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba each year for more than two decades.
Protests continue in Ferguson, Missouri, calling for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the officer who killed the unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. On Friday, officers dismantled an encampment where activists had been living in the weeks since Brown’s death. Some accused police of excessive force.
Tef Poe: “We witnessed the raids of peaceful encampments, officers with no badges.”
Taurean Russell: “I saw a woman hog-tied. I saw a young kid, Josh. He was choked.”
Tef Poe: “Police used detainees as a bargaining chip last night, promising their release if people would stop standing in the street.”
More protests took place over the weekend, including one outside the Ferguson Police Department Sunday night. Two officers were wounded in separate shootings, but police say they were unrelated. The Justice Department, meanwhile, has ordered local police to stop wearing bracelets in support of the officer who shot Michael Brown, which read “I Am Darren Wilson.” Ferguson officers have also been instructed to stop hiding their identity through obscured name tags or not wearing them at all, saying it conveys a message that “officers may seek to act with impunity.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a measure to end the practice of forced sterilizations in prisons. The move comes after the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed last year nearly 150 female prisoners were surgically sterilized without required state approvals between 2006 and 2010.
The Republican Governors Association has accidentally disclosed documents showing wealthy donors were able to pay for increased access to the governors’ mansion in several states. According to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, Republican documents outline how top companies have donated millions of dollars to the secretive Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, which is tax-exempt and not required to list its donors. The top group, known as the Statesmen, gave over $250,000 apiece, with members including Aetna, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Koch Companies Public Sector, Microsoft, Pfizer, UnitedHealth Group and Wal-Mart. In return, donors were given access to private meetings and gatherings with Republican governors to discuss policy. Despite the secrecy, The New York Times reports none of the practices were illegal.
Two Democratic senators are calling for hearings to probe new allegations the New York Federal Reserve Bank has grown too close to the institutions it is supposed to oversee. A report from ProPublica and This American Life discloses secret audiotapes made by Carmen Segarra, a former Fed employee now suing for wrongful termination. Segarra says she was fired for challenging her colleagues’ deferential treatment of the banks they are tasked with regulating. In one recording, a colleague says he worries the Fed is being too hard on Goldman Sachs.
Unidentified: “I think we don’t want to discourage Goldman from disclosing these types of things in the future. Therefore, maybe some comment that says, ’Don’t mistake our inquisitiveness, and our desire to understand more about the marketplace in general, as a criticism of you as a firm necessarily.’ Like, I don’t want to hit them on the bat with a head, and then they’re going to say, 'Screw it, we're not going to disclose it again. We don’t need to.’”
In response to the recordings, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are calling for Senate hearings when Congress returns in November.
Fifteen people were wounded over the weekend in a shooting at a Miami nightclub. The victims were as young as 11 years old.
Afghanistan has sworn in Ashraf Ghani as its new president. A former World Bank official, Ghani was declared the winner after a lengthy dispute with opponent Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani’s first vice president is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord whom Ghani himself once described as a “known killer.”