The Early Edition: June 30, 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 US-backed New Syrian Army has suffered a setback in its offensive on the Islamic State in the strategically-important Syrian town of Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border. The Islamic State forced the rebels to withdraw to their base at Tanf, 150 miles from Abu Kamal, reports Liz Sly for the Washington Post.

Turkish forces have killed two suspected Islamic State fighters at the border with Syria. [AFP via Twitter]

US-led coalition airstrikes have killed an estimated 250 Islamic State fighters around the city of Fallujah, Iraq. If the figures, provided by anonymous officials, are accurate, the strikes would be among the most deadly ever against the militants, reports Reuters’ Phil Stewart.

The Islamic State was too “invested” in Fallujah to blow it up, making it much easier for Iraqi forces to capture the city than expected. Fallujah was the “birthplace” of the Islamic State movement, and the first urban center the insurgents took when it began its occupation of a third of Iraq. The operation to retake the city has exposed “weaknesses,” say Iraqi officials, which they are hoping to exploit during the operation to liberate Mosul, the Islamic State’s last major base in Iraq. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy]

There is just not enough agreement to restart peace talks before the August 1 deadline for political transition, the UN special envoy for Syria said yesterday. [AP]

Russia will approve Syrian President Assad leaving office, but not until such a move no longer risks triggering the collapse of the Syrian government, sources to close to the Kremlin have said. [Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Christian Lowe]

Iran is secretly recruiting Afghan Shias in Afghanistan to fight for Syria’s President Assad, Sune Engel Rasmussen reveals in the Guardian. Iran’s recruitment of Afghan migrants inside its own borders has already been reported, but its targeting of often impoverished, religiously devout or ostracised Afghan fighters in their own country has gone undocumented until now. 

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 28. Separately, partner forces conducted 19 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ISTANBUL AIRPORT BOMBING

Istanbul police have detained at least 13 in a series of raids targeting Islamic State suspects following Tuesdays’ attack at Atatürk Airport, reports Erin Cunningham for the Washington Post.

President Obama held the Islamic State responsible for the attack, speaking at a North American leaders’ summit in Canada yesterday. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian; Politico]

The Islamic State hopes to carry out similar attacks in the US, CIA Director John Brennan is warning, reports Jesse Byrnes for The Hill.  With the intelligence community increasingly confident that the Istanbul airport bombing was the work of the Islamic State, officials are reportedly strengthening security at airports in the US, with particular concern over the possibility of plots to attack over the Fourth of July holiday. [NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and Andrew Blankstein]

Turkish intelligence units issued a “warning letter” to relevant state departments about a potential attack in Istanbul by the Islamic State about 20 days ago, according to “senior Turkish journalist” Hande Firat, who was speaking on Turkish media yesterday. Reportedly, Atatürk Airport featured on a list of potential targets detailed in the letter. [Hürriyet Daily News]

Turkey’s “twin terrorist threats:” the Islamic State, and the PKK. Max Fisher explains the important differences between the two, who are themselves enemies, but whose violent acts have become part of a “larger and overlapping set of problems, sharing roots in Syria’s civil war.” [New York Times]

That Turkey has been targeted by the Islamic State is “not a surprise,” says the New York Times editorial board. Turkey’s government has underestimated the threat posed by the group for too long, focusing on other groups attempting to overthrow President Assad in Syria, and allowing itself to be used as a thoroughfare for large quantities of arms and Islamic State fighters on their way to Syria.

Erdogan’s government “bears responsibility” for allowing the Islamic State to gain strength in Turkey, agrees the Wall Street Journal editorial board, accusing it of looking the other way while the militants used Turkey as a “staging ground and entry point for waging war against the Assad regime.”

Turkey has the motivation and the capability to “knock out ISIS” now – “but will it?” Roy Gutman and Nancy A Youssef suggest that one response to Tuesday’s suicide bomb attack is to “take direct action” against the Islamic State in Syria, Turkey’s neighbor. Turkey’s army of around 400,000, with NATO support, could “deliver a knockout blow” to the Caliphate.  Yet Turkey is “reluctant” to intervene. Why? “Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey’s own disputed role in the rise of ISIS.” [The Daily Beast]

BREXIT

The US is facing its “most daunting security challenge in a generation” as a result of Brexit, which has drawn the focus of the EU away from the fight against terrorism and put the bloc under “serious stress,” CIA Director John Brennan has said. The US-UK intelligence partnership will not be affected, however, he said – and an EU-free UK may even offer a greater commitment to the US on security matters. [The Guardian’s David Smith]

Brexit has revealed the “very real vulnerability” at “the heart” of the UK, which Russia would “only be too happy to exploit:” With no UK input, the EU would be “marginally” less effective as a security institution. A major voice backing action against Russia over Ukraine – and opposing what Keir Giles calls the EU’s “vanity project,” a parallel armed force overlapping with NATO’s tasks in the region – would be lost. Then again, the UK would be free to take “firmer action alone.” [Wall Street Journal]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China’s military activity in the South China Sea is increasing, Japan’s chief military commander said in Tokyo today. The fear s that the escalation is a response to Japan’s pledge to support Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines and Vietnam in their opposition to China’s territorial claims in the area. [Reuters’ Tim Kelly]

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will announce its ruling on the case between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea on July 12, a ruling China has insisted it will ignore. The case concerns the Philippine government’s contention that China’s claims over the region are illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, among other issues. It was started in 2013, after China took Philippines-administered Scarborough Shoal, a popular Filipino fishing ground. [New York Times’ Jane Perlez; Reuters’ Ben Blanchard and Anthony Deutsch]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US military has accused a Russian naval warship of interfering with two of its own ships in the Mediterranean Sea on June 17, in response to which Russia has claimed that an American destroyer sailed in an unsafe manner close to a Russian patrol boat.  Recently, the US and Russia have traded numerous accusations of unsafe behavior and interceptions involving planes and naval ships. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes]

The CIA paid Romania “millions of dollars” to host secret prisons in which the agency tortured terror suspects as part of a secret renditions program authorized by President George W Bush, a rights attorney told the European Court of Human Rights yesterday. Amrit Singh was speaking on the first day of a case that will examine whether CIA prisons were in Romania from 2003-2005 with the Romanian government’s “acquiescence and connivance,” which it denies. [AP’s Alison Mutler]

An Israeli teenage girl was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian assailant as she slept in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank this morning, officials have said. The attacker was shot and killed by police. [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash]

A suicide bomber has attacked police trainees on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, this morning, killing at least 27 cadets. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP news agency reported. [Washington Post’s Sayed Salahuddin and Erin Cunningham]

Eleven men suspected of planning a terror attack and making bombs on instructions from an Islamic State fighter abroad have been detained in India, according to senior officials in India’s National Investigation Agency. Investigators also seized chemicals that could be an ingredient in explosives, pistols, and $22,000 worth of Indian rupees, it was confirmed yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Niharika Mandhana]

A roadside bomb in Somalia’s Lafole town, southwest of the capital, has killed at least 18 civilians riding in a minibus today, police have said.  There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, report Reuters’ Abdi Sheikh and Duncan Miriri.

An Australian teenager has pleaded guilty to plotting an Islamic State-inspired attack involving running over and beheading a police officer during an Australian Veterans’ Day ceremony last year, today, reports the AP.

Armed riot police will patrol French tourist resorts this summer, as the country steps up its security measures over the holiday season. [The Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan]

Where are the drone casualty figures the White House has repeatedly promised? Asks Alex Emmons in The Intercept. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco announced in March that an “assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties” from US drone strikes since 2009 would be released “in the coming weeks,” a promise she then reinforced a few weeks later.

Saudi Arabia should be removed from the UN Human Rights Council for its killing of civilians in Yemen, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International demanded jointly yesterday. The chances of this extraordinary move taking place are “slim to none,” reports Somini Sengupta in the New York Times.

Hillary Clinton’s private email system slowed communications and interfered with her diplomatic work while serving as Secretary of State, to the frustration of her top aides, according to the deposition of former aide Huma Abedin, released yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas]

New analysis of recent disclosures – mainly in relation to public-records lawsuits brought by conservative group Judicial Watch – has disclosed that at least 160 emails were not included in the 55,000 pages of correspondence handed over by Clinton to the State Department in 2014. This raises questions about the process used by Clinton and her lawyers to decide which emails to pass to the department, suggests Rosalind S Helderman in the Washington Post. 

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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