The Early Edition: May 13, 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

Hezbollah commander killed in Syria. Leading military commander, Mustafa Badreddine was killed last week in Syria, during what was reported by the militant group as a “major explosion” at Damascus airport. Badreddine was one of four people being tried in absentia for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. There was no immediate response from the Israeli government. [The Guardian’s Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen; AP]

Shooting and bomb attacks targeted a predominantly Shi’ite town north of Baghdad overnight, with at least 12 killed after three gunmen targeted a local café and a further four killed following a suicide attack on a vegetable market. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assaults which took place in an area overrun by ISIS in 2014. [Reuters’ Ghazwan Hassan]

Deadly ISIS attacks on the Turkish border town of Kilis have increased in recent weeks, a situation which is putting pressure on Ankara to bring to an end the cross-border assaults. Ayla Albayrak and Dion Nissenbaum provide the details at the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration should drop its demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as a precondition to peace negotiations aimed at ending the country’s civil conflict, according to former senior administration official, Phil Gordon, describing the demand as a “recipe for continuing the conflict.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

An airstrike struck a Nusra Front meeting in Syria’s northwest, killing 16 members of the al-Qaeda-linked group, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights today. It is as yet unclear whether the strike was conducted by Russian or American planes. [Reuters]

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

LIBYA

US special operations forces have been stationed at two Libyan outposts in the east and west of the country since late 2015, US officials have said. The troops are tasked with identifying potential allies among local armed groups and to gather intelligence on threats. Missy Ryan offers further details at the Washington Post.

Rival factions in Libya are struggling to hold the line against the Islamic State, with many “daunting challenges” faced in the fight against the militant group in that country, suggests Frederic Wehrey, citing locals who say that they “condemn the politicization of the anti-ISIS struggle by quarrelsome elites, and they welcome Western assistance.” [Wall Street Journal]

A European Union mission aimed at disrupting people smuggling in the Mediterranean is failing, according to a UK parliamentary committee, who said the operation does not “in any meaningful way” disrupt the flow of smuggling from Libya to Italy. [BBC]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton directed her then top aide to call her on her home phone after she couldn’t get a secure line to connect, new emails released by a conservative watchdog yesterday show. It is not known whether the call took place, reports Julian Hattem. [The Hill]

About 90 per cent of the information on Clinton’s private server is “routinely” circulated in unclassified channels, according to a May 2 letter from State Department legislative liaison Julia Frifield to the Senate. Frifield also insisted that diplomatic work often requires the use of ordinary communications systems to handle such data. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

CHINA

US and Chinese officials have said that they are ready to reach agreement on an “effective mechanism” for preventing confrontation in the South China Sea, the Chinese Chief of the General Staff Fang Fenghui and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford speaking during a video conference yesterday. [AP’s Christopher Bodeen; Reuters’ John Ruwitch and Ben Blanchard]

China’s “Guam killer” missile, capable of hitting targets 3,400 miles away, has prompted the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission to issue a report warning of the dangers it poses, particularly to the US territory of Guam, which lies well within the missile’s range. [CNN’s Brad Lendon]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“Protecting Europe from ballistic missiles.” Jonathan Beale takes a closer look at the US’ Aegis Ashore site which opened in Romania yesterday, as work begins to build a second base in northern Poland. [BBC]

A suicide bomber in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri has killed at least six people after being prevented from entering a government compound. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility. [New York Times’ Dionne Searcey and Sunday Isuwa]

Eight Turkish soldiers and 21 PKK militants have been killed today as violence in the south east escalates, Turkey’s military has confirmed.[AP; Reuters’ Seda Sezer]

British Royal Air Force fighter jets were scrambled to intercept three Russian planes approaching Baltic airspace. This was the first such intervention as part of new efforts to protect airspace in the region, according to the UK defense ministry. [The Guardian]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Russia in June, on an official visit. [Reuters]

“The ramifications of such rhetoric could be very harmful – and lasting.” Former CIA director David Petraeus argues that divisive, anti-Muslim rhetoric both in the US and abroad feeds directly into the hands of terrorist organizations, whose particular wish is to provoke “a clash of civilizations.” [Washington Post]

“Europe and America made mistakes, but the misery of the Arab world is caused mainly by its own failures,” suggests The Economist. Equally, the West cannot impose the transformation needed to resolve the crises in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, though it can use its influence to encourage Arab leaders to enact reforms, and help to contain the worst forces, such as Islamic State.

Too much US involvement “has only created more problems” in the Middle East, agrees Fareed Zakaria, citing Afghanistan as an example, and more recently, Iraq, which is “collapsing as a country” and “remains deeply unstable and violent” as the Obama administration grapples with battling Islamic State while trying to avoid occupying and controlling Iraqi lands. [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