The Early Edition: April 12, 2016

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Shelling from Syria has hit Kilis, a Turkish border town, today for the second day in a row. On Monday, the Turkish army fired howitzers in retaliation after 12 people were injured. [Reuters’ Ayla Jean Yackley]  Turkey’s military have also hit back today, shelling Islamic State targets in Syria. [Reuters]

A Russian helicopter gunship has crashed in Syria today, killing two of its crew members. It was not shot down, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, though no alternative reason for the crash was provided. [Washington Post’s Andrew Roth]

Iran is concerned that the increase in breaches of the ceasefire in Syria will harm peace talks, the deputy foreign minister informed the UN special envoy for Syria today. [Reuters]

Efforts to stabilize liberated areas of Iraq are “lagging,” creating environments in which Islamic State are able to persist as “an underground network.” The US and the UN’s chief concerns are the lack of funding and relentless political infighting in Iraq’s government. [Reuters’ Jonathan Landay et al]

The US military’s “quietly expanding” role in Iraq: the death of a marine in northern Iraq three weeks ago has forced the US military to disclose details of its increasing presence and intensions in Iraq, reports Michael S Schmidt, despite President Obama’s promise that American troops would be kept away from combat there. [New York Times]

The insistence that special ops forces are not combat troops is “part of the larger Obama fable that ISIS can be knocked off with only a handful of American fighters.” William McGurn critiques President Obama’s policy as a “fiction” that is also supported by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and “largely unchallenged” by any of the Republican front runners. [Wall Street Journal]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 11. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

Two further suspects in the Brussels attacks have been charged by Belgian Federal Prosecutors. The men are identified as Smail F and Ibrahim F, and are charged with participation in a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempted terrorist murder. [Wall Street Journal’s Natalia Drozdiak]

The UK’s terror threat alert is now at “severe,” prompted by Islamic State’s “external operations unit” specifically targeting it for supporting the US-led coalition in Syria and Iraq, and the discovery that Mohamed Abrini, arrested in connection with the Brussels and Paris attacks, was able to make a trip to the UK last summer. Even so, some protection is provided by the UK’s “long experience in dealing with terrorist threats and relatively restrictive gun laws,” write Alexis Flynn and Jenny Gross. [Wall Street Journal]

Europe needs to take the cross-border nature of the terrorist threat more seriously, suggests the New York Times editorial board, identifying the failings including the refusal by most European nations to share intelligence with each other and among their own government departments.

AFGHANISTAN

The death toll following the bomb attack on a bus is Kabul, Afghanistan, yesterday has risen to at least 12, all of them army recruits. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal]

The Taliban in Afghanistan announced its “spring offensive” today, an operation involving “large-scale attacks” which it has called “Operation Omari” in honor of a dead Taliban founder. [AP’s Lynne O’Donnell and Rahim Faiez]

The US military will investigate the drone strikes in southeastern Afghanistan last week that resulted in the deaths of 17 people, spokesperson for the US-led coalition Brigadier General Charles Cleveland told reporters yesterday. The UN will also look into the deaths. [Al Jazeera]

YEMEN

At least four people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack in Aden, Yemen, which targeted a queue of young men waiting to sign up for the army, local witnesses have reported. [Al Jazeera]

Two incidents highlight the US’s “awkward role” in the conflict in Yemen, writes Ishaan Tharoor: the apparent use of US munitions in Saudi-led airstrikes on a market town in the northwest, as revealed by Human Rights Watch, and the report that the Yemeni wing of al-Qaeda, long-term target of US counterterrorism operations, has gained ground as the Saudi-led war has created a security vacuum. [Washington Post]  Carol Giacomo also examines the US’ “important, even indispensable” role in the conflict, despite not being a combatant, supplying arms and intelligence to Saudi Arabia. [New York Times]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The Guantánamo Bay parole board has decided that Yemeni detainee Suhayl al Sharabi is too dangerous to release and has essentially rebranded him a “forever prisoner,” reports Carol Rosenberg. He has been detained since May 2002 and was previously designated for possible trial, though he has never been charged with a crime. [Miami Herald]

The judge in Guantánamo Bay’s death penalty trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed has refused to accede the defense attorneys’ request to drop the case on the ground that the Pentagon official who authorized the trial was unlawfully influenced. The judge did rule that lawyers may question potential jurors more deeply, since remarks made by political leaders since 9/11 may potentially taint the trial, for which no date has yet been set. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A Congress version of the Senate bill that would stop transfers of Guantánamo Bay prisoners to the US and to foreign countries was introduced yesterday afternoon. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“There’s classified, and then there’s classified.” President Obama’s comments about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to store classified emails to Fox News over the weekend are a departure from his administration’s past treatment of news organizations, whistle-blowers and officials accused of leaking information, write David E Sanger and Mark Landler. [New York Times]  Obama’s comments have also drawn scorn from those who advocate for government transparency, including former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

China has responded angrily to statements by members of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies, meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, yesterday, saying that they are strongly opposed to “any intimidating coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions” in the South China Sea. [Reuters]

CIA Director John Brennan’s refusal to waterboard is “ridiculous,” Donald Trump said yesterday. He added that the reason the US has failed to defeat Islamic State thus far is that it is prevented from using “strong tactics.” [Politico’s Nick Gass]

Turkey has revised the death toll in relation to a bomb attack at a military police station in Hani, Diyarbakir province on Monday, increasing it to 47. The PKK has been blamed for the attack. [AP]

Boko Haram is increasingly using children to carry out its bomb attacks, with one in five attacks reportedly involving children, usually girls. [BBC]

A 12-year-old Palestinian girl imprisoned in Israel after confessing to planning a stabbing attack in the West Bank is to be released six weeks early, according to Israel’s prison service. Her case has attracted attention because it highlights the dual legal system in the region: while it is illegal to imprison Israeli children, Palestinians are subject to military law which allows the detention of those aged 12 and above. [AP]

The US must not ignore the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, urges Matthew Bryza, a previous US mediator of the conflict and the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan from 2010-2011. Of particular concern is the lack of cooperation between Russia and the US, with Russia’s President Putin “exploiting the situation through intensive diplomacy” while Obama “shows no interest.” [Washington Post] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE