Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters have captured more than a third of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, Reuters reports, citing the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But Kobani's slow-motion fall is being filmed by the media from across the nearby Turkish border, where Turkish tanks and infantry are also watching, doing nothing to intervene.
The U.S., which has conducted at least 19 airstrikes against ISIS forces outside Kobani, acknowledges that aerial bombardment won't roll back ISIS by itself. The White House wants Turkey, with NATO's second-largest army, to step in with ground forces, shelling, training Syria rebels, or at least letting Turkish Kurdish forces across to the border to help defend Kobani. But it's complicated.
First, Turkey is pretty open about wanting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deposed, so sending troops into Syria is tricky. Second, Ankara has said it will only start fighting ISIS if the U.S. helps set up a humanitarian buffer zone in northern Syria, an idea Secretary of State John Kerry says is "worth looking at very, very closely," but is considered too expensive and knotty for U.S. planners.
Third, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dislikes the Kurdish militias almost as much as ISIS. The Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani, known as the YPG, are allied with Turkey's Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), a militant group engaged in a long battle for autonomy. "Americans officials fear Turkey could simply choose to remain out of the fray, and let two of its enemies — the Islamic State group and Kurdish guerrillas — fight for Kobani," says The Associated Press. "That would give the militants an opportunity to do as much damage to the Kurdish fighters in Syria as possible."
Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman is more direct. "Erdogan and his [ruling Justice and Development Party] AKP disciples view Kobani as an opportunity rather than a threat," she writes at Al Monitor.
Erdogan has chosen to exploit Kobani's imminent fall to wrest maximum concessions from assorted Kurdish leaders.... But Turkey would probably be happy to see Kobani fall.... Kobani's fall would deal a humiliating blow to the PKK and weaken its support among Syria's Kurds. [Al Monitor]
Retired U.S. Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy on ISIS, is in Ankara on Thursday to discuss the situation with Turkey. Peter Weber
The United States has dropped to the 45th spot in the World Press Freedom Index, down two places due in part to President Trump, the organization writes. "A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as 'enemies of the people,' the term once used by Joseph Stalin," the organization responsible for the list, Reporters Without Borders, writes as part of its justification.
There are 180 countries evaluated annually on press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which notes a "growing animosity" worldwide towards journalists. "Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies," the World Press Freedom Index says in summary of 2017.
Norway is in first place on the list for the second year in a row, followed by Sweden. North Korea is in last place at 180th, with Russia (148), Turkey (157), and China (176) close behind.
"The U.S.'s decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level," adds Reporters Without Borders. "'Fake news' is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes." Read the full details of the findings via Politico here. Jeva Lange
North Korea's decision to cease nuclear tests may not have been wholly out of the benevolence of leader Kim Jong Un.
A major nuclear test facility in North Korea was damaged after the nation's latest detonation, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, leaving it largely unusable.
Researchers in China found that a test blast in September caused a cavity in a mountain in northeast North Korea to collapse. Within that mountain is the Punggye-ri test facility. The collapse left North Korea with no choice but to close the site's doors to avoid an "environmental catastrophe," the researchers said.
North Korea has launched six nuclear tests, and the last was the largest. Seismologists have estimated that the blast caused a 6.3-magnitude tremor that likely collapsed underground infrastructure, the Journal reports. No nuclear contamination has been detected as a result of the incident, Chinese officials said.
The research was made public just days after Kim announced that he would pause North Korea's nuclear testing. President Trump considered it a piece of good news ahead of his planned summit with Kim, but experts say Kim's pledge may be a less meaningful concession if his test infrastructure was destroyed anyway. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Summer Meza
A 72-year-old man was arrested overnight on the suspicion that he is the long-sought "Golden State Killer" responsible for at least 10 homicides and 50 rapes in California between 1976 and 1986, The Daily Beast reports. The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, has not yet been "confirmed" as the Golden State Killer, although because of ample DNA evidence from crime scenes, a scientific confirmation could be relatively quick to follow. The Sacramento police are expected to hold a news conference at noon local time.
Billy Jensen, who helped research and complete a new book about the Golden State Killer by the late crime writer Michelle McNamara, said DeAngelo "looks good" as a suspect. Read more about the decades of work that have gone into solving the mystery here at The Week. Jeva Lange
Danish submarine inventor Peter Madsen, 47, has been sentenced to life in prison for the torture and grisly murder of journalist Kim Wall, 30. Life imprisonment is the maximum sentence in Denmark, and it is rarely imposed, The New York Times reports.
Madsen was unanimously convicted of sexually assaulting and killing Wall last year, with prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen telling the court that it is "a case so heinous and repulsive that as a prosecutor, it renders you speechless." Wall, a freelance journalist, had met with Madsen for a trip on his submarine for a story she was working on in August 2017. The prosecutor argued Buch-Jepsen had plotted to assault and kill Wall on board.
The submarine, which was sunk by Madsen in an apparent attempt to hide the evidence, was ordered by the court to be seized and destroyed. Jeva Lange
Comcast has formally offered $31 billion for Britain's Sky PLC, putting it in a showdown with Rupert Murdoch's Fox, BBC reports. "We have long believed Sky is an outstanding company and a great fit with Comcast," said Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts. "Sky has a strong business, excellent customer loyalty, and a valued brand. It is led by a terrific management team who we look forward to working with to build and grow this business."
21st Century Fox owns 39 percent of Sky, but Murdoch has long wanted to purchase the 61 percent his company doesn't already own, making a $16.3 billion offer in December 2016. British regulators have raised objections to his bid.
Sky said Wednesday that it is withdrawing its recommendation of the earlier Fox bid "as a result of the announcement of this higher cash offer." Fox said in a statement that it is "considering its options," CNN reports. Jeva Lange
On Tuesday, President Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, to the White House, and "much affection was shared" — at least between presidents, Jimmy Kimmel said on Tuesday's Kimmel Live. Melania had on "her special Donald-proof sombrero," but the two presidents were very publicly affectionate.
"Donald Trump and Macron have an interesting relationship," Kimmel said. "Trump very much needs a friend — because, you know, most of his old ones are going to prison — and Macron is looking to improve his country's standing in the world, and the United States can help with that. So these two need each other, and Donald Trump really cannot keep his hands off this guy. ... He gave him the full Stormy Daniels there." And "a little touch of dandruff-shaming didn't put their love-fest to an end," either, he added.
The main event of the state visit, however, was Tuesday night's state dinner, and the first lady apparently put her imprimatur on every aspect of the meal — and then posted a video to prove it. "And you know, putting an event like this together is a lot of work, and it's tedious, and so, to spruce it up — since it is Avengers week — we took that video of Melania's dinner setup and we gave it the Marvel movie music treatment."
The first lady's staff includes only 10 people, and so there was worry that she would have trouble pulling the dinner all together, Kimmel said, but "she had no problem at all, thanks in part to a special new meal deal from one of her husband's favorite spots." You can watch that abomination below. Peter Weber
The Supreme Court will close out the session's oral arguments with a challenge to Trump's travel ban
The Supreme Court is hearing its final oral arguments of the session on Wednesday, and it's one of their highest-profile cases of the year: President Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries. Trump's third iteration of his travel ban has been in full effect since December, but the challengers, represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, will argue that the ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as North Korea and a limited number of Venezuelans, is an unconstitutional manifestation of Trump's promised Muslim travel ban. The Trump administration will say that the ban is a lawful exercise of the president's broad discretion over immigration and national security matters.
The line to get in to hear the oral arguments has been growing for days, and in a step the justices haven't taken since the same-sex marriage case in 2015, the Supreme Court will release audio of the arguments hours after they end. The justices are expected to hand down their decision in the case, Trump v. Hawaii, by late June. Peter Weber