The Early Edition: June 24, 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

Kurdish-led forces backed by US-led coalition airstrikes entered the city of Manbij, Syria, on Wednesday, and yesterday began advancing slowing toward the center, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which added that progress was likely to be slow owing to the booby-traps left behind by the Islamic State. [Al Jazeera; Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

The Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee has accused Russia of repeatedly using air-delivered incendiary weapons and cluster munitions on Syrian civilians, asking the UN to launch an investigation. State Department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the US is not in a position to confirm the truthfulness of the claims, but that it was taking them “very, very seriously.” [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols et al]

The Islamic State remains a “formidable enemy” despite progress against it on the battlefield, CIA Director John Brennan told Congress recently. He estimated that the terrorist group still has around 18,000 – 22,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria. CNN’s Euan McKirdy and Paul Armstrong provide the latest picture across the region.

“Get ready for another Iraq war,” cautions Seth Moulton in the Washington Post, reporting on his recent visit to Iraq during which he observed a “recurring theme:” while the US has a military plan to defeat the Islamic State, it “has yet to articulate a political plan to ensure Iraq’s long-term stability.”

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 22. Separately, partner forces conducted 22 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

UK EU REFERENDUM

The UK’s vote to leave the European Union “plunges the 28-nation bloc” – the US’s closest ally – into an “existential crisis,” write Anthony Faiola and Michael Birnbaum, which in turn may “embolden Russia” while “diluting the power and influence of the West.” The UK’s decision deprives the bloc of its largest military power. [Washington Post]

What happens next? Patrick Wintour sets out the political, constitutional, diplomatic and economic consequences of Britain’s exit, in the Guardian.

The UK’s position within NATO “will remain unchanged” following its vote to leave the European Union, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said this morning. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate narrowly rejected an attempt to discard a bill banning firearms sales to people suspected of terrorism proposed by Republican Senator Susan Collins in a procedural vote yesterday, though probably failed to provide the support the bill will need to get through the chamber. The bipartisan measure follows last week’s failure by the Senate to pass bills aimed a closing the so-called “terror loophole.” This compromise bill would empower the attorney general to block suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from legally buying firearms. [Reuters’ Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell]  Former CIA director David Petraeus has backed the bill in a letter co-signed by other retired high-ranking military officials. [The Hill’s Tim Devaney]

The decision to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainee Abdel Malik Wahab al Rahabi to Montenegro shows Obama is placing political agenda above national security, Republicans have complained, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee stating that the move was part of a “troubling trend” in which “dangerous jihadists are being released to foreign countries that are ill-equipped to handle them.” [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

The Middle East Quartet is expected to use “unusually tough language” against Israel’s settlements policy in a forthcoming report, which is to be discussed when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Rome, Italy, on Sunday for the start of three days of “intense diplomacy” involving US Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Also under discussion will be the need to conclude negotiations on a 10-year defense agreement between Israel and Washington, and the “looming” French-organized peace conference. [Al Jazeera]

The White House is seeking to cement the nuclear agreement with Iran by paving the way for companies to complete deals with Iran, making it hard for future administrations to undo the agreement, according to US officials. This week’s $17.6-billion deal between Iran and Boeing Co. for the sale of commercial jets was a huge boost to this approach, report Carol E Lee and Jay Solomon in the Wall Street Journal.

Member states have the primary responsibility for the defense of their countries, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee said yesterday, referring to Article 3 of the treaty, which states the need for every country to do everything it can to provide for its own defense, while NATO’s multinational forces will be “secondary to respond.” [AP’s Monika Scislowska]

The trial of the suspected mastermind behind the 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya, has been set for September 2017. The US District Court for the District of Columbia has released an order setting out a timeline for the trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala, accused of killing four American citizens. The Justice Department announced last month it would not seek the death penalty, reports Julian Hattem for The Hill.

Former Clinton aide Bryan Pagliano answered “virtually no questions” during a 90-minute deposition as part of an open records lawsuit this week, speaking only to plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. His refusal to answer questions may increase the prospect that Hillary Clinton herself will be interviewed as part of the investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, suggests Julian Hattem. [The Hill]

The parents of a British man believed to have joined the Islamic State in Syria have been charged with funding terrorism, having allegedly sent payments to their son, Jack Letts – dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the media – since his 2014 departure. [AP] 

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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