The Early Edition: June 10, 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

The Islamic State is experiencing further set-backs in Iraq and Syria: US-backed forces have taken control of the final route into Manbij this morning, completing their surrounding of the major target, a local monitoring group has said. [Reuters’ John Davison] If US-backed forces succeed in taking the city of Manbij, one of the largest Islamic State-held urban areas in northern Aleppo province, it will be “the biggest strategic defeat” for the Islamists since last July, when it lost the border town of Tal Abyad. Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces made further inroads into Fallujah, yesterday. [AP’s Zeina Karam and Susannah George]

As the Islamic State steadily loses ground in Iraq and Syria, the root cause behind the rise of the militant group – Sunni Arab grievances – remains. At the same time, Sunni towns like Fallujah are being devastated in the war effort. This risks the reemergence of extremism in the long run, even if the military campaign is going well, writes Yaroslav Trofimov in the Wall Street Journal.

Al Nusra militants are conducting mortar attacks on Syrian army and Kurdish militia positions, and civilian areas, in Syria’s Aleppo, according to Russian news agency RIA, which cited the Russian ceasefire monitoring center in Syria. [Reuters’ Jack Stubbs]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s “confident” recent address suggests that international diplomacy on Syria is failing, suggests Michele Kelemen. A Syria observer at the Atlantic Council in Washington agrees, saying “it is safe to say” that the peace effort – a diplomatic plan which relied on Russia and Iran using their influence to encourage Assad to agree on a transitional government and make peace with some of the more moderate rebels – “has failed.” [NPR]

Syria has finally given initial approval for humanitarian aid convoys to besieged areas, the UN confirmed yesterday, with all deliveries due to take place before the end of June. However, previous approvals have often been rescinded. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung] The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the UN have been able to deliver food to Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, for the first time since it came under siege in 2012, just hours after the government agreed to allow access. The delivery took place late last night, a week after a convoy delivered medical supplies and baby formula, but no much-needed food. [AP’s Bassem Mroue; BBC]

The UN warned that funds are running out for the relief operation underway to assist civilians fleeing Fallujah, Syria. More than 20,000 people have fled since May 22, while only 31 per cent of the money requested by the UN to provide emergency relief has been received. 

The death toll resulting from two car bombings in Baghdad yesterday has risen to at least 31, according to Iraqi officials. [AP]

Reports that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been wounded in an air strike in northern Iraq by an Iraqi TV channel cannot be confirmed by US and Iraqi officials “at this time.” [Reuters’ Maher Chmaytelli and Isabel Coles]

A Washington man who joined the Islamic State in Syria in December and pledged to become a suicide bomber was charged by federal prosecutors yesterday. Although Mohamad Jamal Khweis is one of almost 90 US citizens who have been charged in connection with Islamic State in the past two years, he is unusual in having actually made it to Syria to join the militant group. [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out sixteen airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 7. Separately, partner forces conducted 18 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

President Obama has granted US forces in Afghanistan new powers to support Afghan troops, including the authorization to accompany conventional forces onto the battlefield, whereas up to now they were only allowed to accompany elite Afghan forces. This could, report Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Missy Ryan, mean greater use of US air power to support those troops. Neither action will occur unless military leaders judge that it will have “strategic effect,” according to officials. [Washington Post]

Canada has been urged to launch a public inquiry into the alleged torture of hundreds of Afghans it detained during its 2001-2014 military mission in Afghanistan by human rights advocates, legal experts, politicians and diplomats in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. [Al Jazeera]

TURKEY

Kurdish rebel group the PKK has claimed responsibility for a car bombing at a police station in the southeastern town of Midyat, Turkey, yesterday, which killed three police officers and three civilians. [AP]

An off-shoot of the PKK, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Turkey’s capital Istanbul on Tuesday, which killed eleven people. [Reuters’ Sehymus Cakan et al]

Turkish jets have responded to the terror attacks with air strikes, killing “up to 10” Kurdish militants in the southeast of the country, according to military sources. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would promote the Pentagon’s top cyber unit into a standalone entity is unlikely to get a vote, according to congressional sources. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

Pakistani officials have told the US that any future drone strikes on their territory would be detrimental to the future relationship between the two nations during high-level talks with a visiting US delegation today, Mateen Haider reports in DAWN. Adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, reportedly told US officials that the May 21 drone strike on Balochistan, which killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, “was not only a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and breach of the principles of the UN’s Charter, but has also violated bilateral ties.”

UN-backed Libyan fighters have fought their way rapidly to the center of Surt, Islamic State’s coastal stronghold in Libya, upending Western calculations that a campaign of airstrikes would be required to remove the militants. It is possible that Islamic State will have lost all control in the country once the Libyans complete the operation, which, according to a spokesperson will be in “two or three days.” [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour and Chris Stephen; New York Times’ Declan Walsh and Suliman Ali Zway]

A Belgian court has approved France’s request for the transfer of terror suspect Mohamed Abrini, suspected of playing a role in the Brussels and Paris terror attacks, yesterday. No details were provided as to when the transfer will take place. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted that he removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen from the annual blacklist of armies that kill and injure children because he had been threatened by Saudi Arabia’s supporters with the withdrawal of funding for many UN programs. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta; AP’s Edith M. Lederer]  Despite this, the decision to remove the Saudi-led coalition will stand, the UN chief confirmed yesterday.

The UK’s prosecution service has declined to charge an MI6 officer over the rendition and torture of two Libyan dissidents, a decision the Guardian calls “disappointing,” arguing that the UK should be “setting an example” to the world.

Israel has imposed a three-day closure of the West Bank following a shooting attack on a café by two Palestinian men this week. [AP]

Emails between US diplomats in Islamabad and their Washington-based superiors relating to whether to oppose specific drone strikes in Pakistan have been found on the private email server used by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state and are now at the center of the criminal probe into her handling of classified information. [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett]

The State Department has refused to provide the House Oversight Committee with any email messages toward its investigation into eight deleted minutes from a 2013 press briefing video. The reason given was that they do not contain any useful information, reports Julian Hattem for The Hill.

A man who says he is a drone-camera operator with information about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, has been interviewed by the House Select Committee on Behghazi. The man, known only as “John from Iowa,” called in to a radio show three years ago. Now he has been identified, it has emerged that his name features on a list of drone personnel active on the night of the attack. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

South Korea dispatched military vessels to deter Chinese fishing boats which were illegally harvesting blue crabs close to the boundary between the two Koreas, the fishermen retreating today, according to South Korean officials. [AP]

Kazakh security forces have killed five suspected militants connected to attacks on a national guard base and several firearms shops in the Kazakh city of Aktobe earlier this week. [Reuters’ Olzhas Auyezov]

“Don’t lift Russia’s sanctions yet,” urge the Hudson Institute’s Benjamin Haddad and Hannah Thoburn. The European Council will meet later this month to debate whether to renew sanctions against Russia in response to its military aggression in eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea. The sanctions have been extended every six months since their introduction in July 2014, but some EU countries are pushing for a gradual withdrawal. This would be “a mistake,” say Haddad and Thoburn, as it “would send a dangerous signal of weakness and division in Europe.” [Wall Street Journal] 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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