The Early Edition: June 6, 2016

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian troops reached the “administrative border” of Raqqa province on Saturday afternoon, under cover of Russian airstrikes. The province is home to the Islamic State’s de facto capital city, Raqqa. Separately, US-backed mainly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces advanced closer to Manbij on Saturday, capturing 34 villages in the vicinity of the city. [AP]

Who is really taking the lead in the battle of Manbij? Reporting from the ground, Wladimir Van Wilgenburg says that Kurdish fighters of the YPG are dominating the fight, contrary to Turkey and the US’s position, which is that the Syrian Arabs are leading the operation, with over 2,000 fighters to the Kurds’ approximate 500. [The Daily Beast]

Iraqi forces reported that they had taken the southern edge of Fallujah from the Islamic State yesterday. [AP]  The leader of Badr Organization, the largest Shiite paramilitary group fighting to retake Fallujah criticized Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for a lack of “precise planning” in the operation. [Reuters’ Ahmed Rasheed and Maher Chmaytelli]

Civilians attempting to flee Fallujah are being shot by Islamic State, the Norwegian Refugee Council has reported. Up to 50,000 people remain inside the city. [BBC]

The Islamic State has killed “dozens” of its own members in a hunt for spies after a string of airstrikes killed various of its leaders, including Abu Hayjaa al-Tunsi, a senior commander killed while driving through northern Syria to join militants fighting there, whose death prompted a man-hunt which claimed the lives of 38 suspected informants. To deter others, the group reportedly displays the bodies of those killed, or employs particularly gruesome methods of execution. [AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue] 

The Islamic State is making money – though no-one seems to be able to agree how much – from archaeological artifacts it has dug up from the “Fertile Crescent,” in Iraq and Syria, where some of the earliest complex societies developed, writes University of Chicago postdoctoral research fellow, Fiona Rose-Greenland. [Washington Post]

Top Syrian Kurdish commander Abu Layla died of his wounds yesterday after he was shot by Islamic State during the campaign to remove the group from Raqqa. He was shot on the outskirts of Manbij, which lies on the supply route between Raqqa and the Turkish border. [AP]

At least 53 people have been killed in government air strikes in Aleppo, Syria, according to local activists. At least 40 airstrikes by the Syrian government and Russia reportedly hit the area yesterday. Rebels have also shelled regime-controlled areas of the city. [Al Jazeera]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

“Nothing of interest” emerged from the Middle East Peace Initiative hosted last Friday, reports Mouin Rabbani for Al Jazeera. In the face of “American disinterest and Israeli rejection,” the parties involved backtracked on considering and endorsing the proposals put forward by France.

The rise of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is “altering the security landscape” in the Gaza Strip, Israeli and Western officials have said. The militants have developed strong ties with Hamas, which extends to military training, the officials say. Hamas denies the connection. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Tamer el-Ghobashy]

AFGHANISTAN

NPR journalist David Gilkey and Afghan translator Zabihullah Tamanna have been killed in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. The two were travelling with the Afghan army when they came under Taliban fire and their vehicle was struck with a rocket propelled grenade. [AP’s Michele Salcedo; BBC]

The Taliban attacked a court in Pul-i-Alam in Afghanistan, killing seven, including prosecutors and judges, yesterday. This was believed to be part of a “spate of retaliatory attacks” for the execution of six Taliban insurgents last month. [CNN’s Masoud Popalzai et al]

The illegal mining of lapis lazuli is prompting the rise of the Taliban in a once-peaceful part of Afghanistan, Badakhshan, as “local strongmen” fight for control of the mines and create “conditions for insurgency to flourish.” [The Guardian’s Jon Boone]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The Pentagon has reached a seven year agreement with Globalfoundries Inc., an Abu-Dhabi-owned company, to supply the most advanced microchips used in US spy satellites, missiles and combat jets, reports Doug Cameron for the Wall Street Journal.

The UK’s MI5 was “allowed to escape regular scrutiny” by the watchdog responsible for monitoring email and phone call interception by the UK intelligence services, letters dating from 2004 published by Privacy International reveal. The correspondence was disclosed in the course of ongoing legal action between Privacy International and the British government in relation to the bulk collection of data relating to people who are not suspected of terrorism or any crime. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The Strategic and Economic Dialogue is due to begin today in Beijing, where US and Chinese officials are meeting to attempt to “find common ground.” The US side is being led by Secretary of State John Kerry, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and the Chinese side by Councilor Yang JIechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang. China is reportedly “already on the defensive,” over objections to its efforts to claim territory in the South China Sea. [Wall Street Journal’s Chun Han Wong]

The US and India have been brought closer together over growing concern over China’s activity in the South China Sea, reports Annie Gowen. However, “years of mistrust” will be hard to overcome, as shown by India’s defense minister’s affronted response to a speech by commander of the Pacific Command Adm. Harry B Harris Jr in which he said that “in the not too distant future, American and Indian Navy vessels steaming together will become a common and welcome sight throughout Indo-Asia-Pacific waters.” [Washington Post]

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Washington today to attempt to forge closer ties with the US. Mr Modi will address Congress during his three-day visit, which India’s Foreign Ministry has described as a “consolidation visit” after two years of diplomacy between the two nations, and deepening relations between the two leaders. [Wall Street Journal’s Niharika Mandhana and Carol E Lee]

EUROPE

A French citizen detained by Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) was planning a string of attacks in France to coincide with soccer tournament Euro 2016 the SBU has said. The individual was detained in late May on the Ukranian-Polish border. [Reuters’ Pavel Polityuk and Alessandra Prentice; AP]

“Superjihadiste” Omar Diaby, aka Omar Omsen, France’s number one recruiter of jihadists, is not dead, as was reported last year. The Daily Beast spoke to Diaby on Saturday via Skype, when he told them he had lied about his death so that he could get to Turkey for a medical operation. He is currently in Syria close to the Turkish border.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Thirty of Guantánamo Bay’s detainees have now been approved for release following an interagency parole board’s announcement on Friday that Bostan Karim, an Afghan “forever prisoner,” has been approved for transfer to security arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Saudi Arabia has “rejected” a UN report which criticizes its military coalition in Yemen, saying the information in was based on was mainly sourced from its adversaries. The UN added Saudi Arabia to an annual blacklist of states and groups which violate children’s rights during conflicts last Thursday, where it joined the Houthis, which have featured on the list for the past 5 years. [Reuters’ Angus McDowall]

Secretary of State John Kerry has also disagreed with the UN report – which stated that 60 per cent of the civilians killed or wounded in the conflict through September 2015 were victims of coalition airstrikes – instead blaming the Houthis during an interview last week, reports Alex Emmons for The Intercept.

The Pentagon has insisted that budget and security risks will abound if it “abruptly” stops using Russian-built RD-180 engines to power many of its rockets. Sen. John McCain, leading the fight to cut off the use of the engines, has accused the Treasury Department of pursuing “selective enforcement of sanctions” by failing to pursue some of the Russian companies connected to the production or marketing of the engines. The Senate Arms Services Committee will discuss this further when it takes up the 2017 defense authorization bill in the next few days. [Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor]

NATO is launching its largest ever exercise in Poland today. The Anaconda-16 exercise will launch in Warsaw and will involve around 31,000 troops from Poland, the US and 17 other member nations and five partner nations. [AP]

A “rare” attack on a local office of the national intelligence agency in Jordan this morning has killed five, Jordan’s government spokesperson suggesting that Islamic militants were involved. [AP’s Omar Akour] The incident took place close to a refugee camp near Jordan’s capital, Amman. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont]

Turkey’s military says it has killed 27 PKK fighters close to the border with Iraq and Iran in a statement issued yesterday. Turkey also sent war planes over the border of Iraq on Saturday to target the PKK in the Gara area and in Diyarbakir province. [AP]

Up to 300 British troops are to be sent to join the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, the UK Ministry of Defense has confirmed. [BBC]

Suspected Islamist militants killed six in an attack on a national guard base and two stores in the Kazakh city of Aktobe on Sunday, according to the Kazakh Interior Ministry. [Washington Post]  Five gunmen were also killed, and overnight two others have been detained. [Reuters’ Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva]

Bryan Pagliano has refused to answer questions about his work on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s private email server during his deposition with conservative watchdog Judicial Watch, which has been delayed until further notice. Judges in civil cases are allowed to draw inferences as to guilt from a witness’s decision to plead the 5th Amendment, Julian Hattem reminds readers, which means, he says, that Pagliano’s decision to stay quiet “could be seen as an implicit confirmation that he or the State Department has done something wrong.” [The Hill] 

About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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