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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Syrian Rebels Work to Counter Recent Regime Gains

After weeks of losing ground to government forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, opposition brigades launched an offensive in Assad’s mountainous homeland, capturing a half dozen villages in the region. Armed with anti-tank weapons, the rebel groups, including a number of links to al-Qaeda, pushed toward Qardaha, Assad’s hometown. Monitoring groups have reported that dozens of government troops have been killed in clashes, alongside at least a dozen rebels.

Elsewhere in Syria, rebels captured a military airport near the border with Turkey, strengthening their grip on a supply route north of Aleppo. Minning Military Airport had been under siege by rebels for more than eight months, and remaining government forces were reportedly driven out after a suicide bomber drove an armored personnel carrier into their command center.

Both victories may help bolster the opposition, after a number of recent defeats at the hands of government forces and Hezbollah fighters. Assad’s troops have seen success in recent weeks, particularly in and around the capital of Damascus, leading the Syrian president to publicly declare his confidence in defeating opposition “terrorists” and maintaining control of the country.

The Much-Maligned TSA Expands Role Beyond Airports

The much maligned Transportation Security Administration (TSA), best known for their controversial (and questionably ineffectual) airport screening programs has expanded their security apparatus with VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) squads. The program moves TSA agents out of airports and into train terminals, sporting events, music festivals, and more. VIPR teams perform random security sweeps in select areas, intended to prevent terrorist attacks. John S. Pistole, the agency’s administrator, told the New York Times “Our mandate is to provide security and counterterrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation. The VIPR teams are a big part of that.”

Some members of Congress, along with auditors from the Department of Homeland Security (which administers the TSA), have raised questions about the efficacy of the VIPR program, and whether or not agents are properly trained for their roles. Civil liberties groups are also lining up in opposition, arguing that VIPR’s random searches are being conducted without probable cause. Though the VIPR program is now drawing increased scrutiny, in the wake of a wave of recent government surveillance revelations, it has been in place since 2005. The program was created in part as a reaction to the 2004 train bombing in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people.

35 Dead After Clashes Between Boko Haram and Nigerian Troops

The Nigerian military is claiming success in its latest offensive against Boko Haram (BH) insurgents in the north of the country, as clashes over the past two days have left 35 dead (the majority BH members). The fighting was centered in the state of Borno, BH’s home territory and a region of Nigeria that has seen waves of insurgent violence in recent years. The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in Borno recently, and more than 3,600 have been killed in violence in the region over the last four years. Just last week, a bomb blast in the largely Christian town of Kano killed two dozen, and BH has claimed responsibility for a number of recent, brutal attacks on schools. Last month, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, called for more attacks on schools and students, claiming that western-style education was a “plot against Islam.”

Young Girl Dies in India After Being Set on Fire in Rape Attempt

An 11-year-old girl in India has died after being doused with kerosene and lit on fire following an attempted rape. The Times of India reports that the attack happened last Wednesday . According to reports from her family, the girl was approached on the street and threatened by two young men; after indicating that she recognized them and would alert her parents, the two poured kerosene on her and set her ablaze. An 18-year-old suspect was arrested Sunday and charged with attempted rape and attempted murder. Though charges will be elevated, now that the victim has died.

This was the third such attack in India in the last month; two other young women were burned in assaults in July . This latest wave of violence against women follows a series of attacks and gang rapes across India over the past year.

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