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
Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Iraq today to meet with senior US commanders and Iraqi officials. He said that the Qayyarah Air Base, recently seized from militants and close to the city of Mosul, will serve as a logistics and air hub for both US and Iraqi troops as they attempt to capture Mosul. It will form part of a “pincer” that traps Mosul between Iraqi security forces traveling from the south, and Peshmerga forces coming from the north, Dan Lamothe and Loveday Morris report for the Washington Post. The US will send advisers and other staff to the Qayyarah Air Base to help Iraqi forces to organize the push on Mosul, Carter also said. [Reuters’ Yeganeh Torbati]
“Will ISIS be pushed easily from Mosul?” Ben Wedeman considers the likelihood that Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid Al-Ubaidi’s assertion that “2016 will be the year of the liberation of Mosul and the rest if Iraq” will prove correct, for CNN.
Rebel groups launched an attack from inside Aleppo early this morning, shelling Syrian government held areas and engaging government-allied forces in ground fighting. [Reuters’ John Davison]
Syrian regime forces crushed an earlier attempt by opposition fighters to reopen their only supply route into Aleppo, which government forces closed off last Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 29 rebels were killed. [Al Jazeera]
The Islamic State has lost 12-percent if its territory in Iraq and Syria in the past six months, according to research by the IHS group, published yesterday. As at July 4 2016, the group controlled “roughly 68,300 square kilometers oin Iraq and Syria,” according to the group’s report. [AFP]
“The Islamic State is shifting tactics,” in Iraq and Syria and beyond, reverting to its pre-Mosul takeover insurgency tactic of multiple suicide attacks. Statistics released by the Islamic Sate show that the group was carrying out 50 to 60 attacks per month in Iraq and Syria last November. Nowadays, it is 80 to 100 per month – an average of two or three per day. Contrary to suggestions that this is a sign of the terrorists’ growing desperation and weakness, writes Hassan Hassan for the New York Times, it in fact “demonstrates its strength and long-term survival skills.”
American war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed at the direction of senior Syrian military officers in 2012, according to a civil lawsuit filed by her heirs on Saturday. The 32-page complaint alleges – on the basis of information from high-level defectors and intercepted government documents – that the Syrian military used a clandestine media center in Homs to intercept Colvin’s communications, using them to pinpoint her location and attack. It is alleged that the assault was part of a coordinated Assad regime campaign developed in 2011 to impose a media blackout of the war. [Washington Post’s Dana Priest; The Daily Beast’s Paul Wood]
NATO leaders face decisions on “placement” and “command” of the new deterrent force for the Baltic region, approved during last week’s summit in Warsaw, writes Julian E Barnes for the Wall Street Journal. They will also have to “explain its moves to Russia,” and are due to meet with Russia’s Ambassador to NATO this Wednesday.
NATO delivered on its main goal of shoring up the West’s defenses in Eastern Europe at the summit, observes the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The agreement was to form and dispatch four 1,000-troop battalions, one to each of the Baltic States and Poland. The UK is expected to lead the battalion in Estonia, Germany in Lithuania, Canada in Latvia and the US in Poland.
The summit was not “single-mindedly Russia-focused,” however, reports Mary Dejevsky. This may be partly due to the “unforeseen dominance of Brexit.” Another reason is Russia’s “generally restrained rhetoric.” Although Russia has made its objections to NATO’s Anaconda-2016 mission clear, its tone “seemed to change” just before the summit. NATO’s language also seemed “muted.” This may be due to the “growing recognition on both sides that all the talk of a new cold war risks being father to the fact.” [The Guardian]
Turkey has jailed another seven suspects on terrorism charges in relation to last month’s suicide bombing at Atatürk Airport. The number in custody is now at 37, according to local media, which also suggests that at least 11 of those detained are Russian. [Reuters’ Daren Butler]
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus was unable to confirm reports that senior PKK commander Bahoz Erdal has been killed in Syria, as was reported by Turkish media on Saturday. Gulsen Solaker and Daren Butler report for Reuters.
Turkey provides refuge to other extremists even while it fights the Islamic State, reports Joby Warrick for the Washington Post. Its permissive policies in relation to Hamas operatives, pro-al-Qaeda groups, etc, stand in contrast to President Erdogan’s recently assertive stance against the Islamic State, suspected of perpetrating last month’s attack on Atatürk Airport.
A Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainee has been transferred to Italy, the Obama administration announced yesterday. Prisoner Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman had been held in indefinite wartime detention for 14 and a half years. His transfer leaves the detainee population at Guantánamo Bay at no more than 78. [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]
A temporary restraining order preventing women guards from escorting the September 11 defendants to court or legal meetings at Guantánamo Bay has been lifted. Army Col. James L. Pohl’s ruling was that the women’s right to do the same jobs as their male counterparts trumped the cultural and religious objections of the five detainees concerned. It will now apparently be left to the chief of the guard force to decide if and when to return women to the task of escorting the prisoners. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
SOUTH CHINA SEA
China conducted live-fire military drills in disputed waters in the South China Sea on Sunday, ahead of the ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, expected on Tuesday. The ruling is anticipated to rule against China in the case, brought by the Philippines, which challenges China’s claims and activities in the region. [Financial Times’ James Kynge and Geoff Dyer]
What is this case important? Jane Perlez answers this and other questions about the ruling – which will be the first time an international tribunal has ruled on any of the disputes in the region – in the New York Times.
The most important aspect may be how China reacts, suggest Lynn Kuok in the Wall Street Journal. China’s reaction will be “an important test of whether it can accept a rules-based order.” It has maintained that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction since the case was first brought, in 2013. But, Kuok points out, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – which China ratified in 1996 – is clear that the ultimate determination of jurisdiction falls to the tribunal – and in this case, the tribunal carefully considered its jurisdiction. Disrespecting international law will undermine China’s goal of becoming a “responsible great power.”
North Korea has threatened “physical counteraction” when the US and South Korea decide on a site for the THAAD missile defense system today. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]
It also said today that it will close a diplomatic communication channel with the US, and gave hints that it would impose harsher punishment on US citizens currently detained in the country, in revenge for the sanctions imposed by the US on its leader, Kim Jong-un, reports Hyung-Jin Kim for the AP.
A series of executive actions designed to advance the nuclear agenda will be taken by the Obama administration in its final six months, as it makes a late push toward Obama’s goal – announced in his first major foreign policy speech in Prague in 2009 – to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and eventually rid the world of them. [Washington Post’s Josh Rogin]
Afghan security forces backed by US airstrikes have successfully contained the Islamic State inside a “handful” of districts close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to US and Afghan military officials. The Islamic State initially appeared in Afghanistan as US and other foreign troops began to withdraw in 2014, spreading out into over six districts, report Gordon Lubold and Jessica Donati for the Wall Street Journal.
President Obama stressed the need for deeper military defense ties between the US and Europe during a visit to a Spanish military base on Sunday afternoon, a bookend to his trip to Warsaw for the NATO summit at the end of last week. [Wall Street Journal’s Jeannette Neumann and Julian E Barnes]
Libya’s UN-backed unity government is threatened by the possibility that Misrata, one of the most powerful brigades fighting the Islamic State in the Libyan city of Sirte, will take control of the city. As Libyan forces come close to liberating Sirte, Misrata’s brigades remain supportive of Prime Minister Faaz Seraj, but discontent is growing: “We get nothing from the unity government,” one fighter told Patrick Markey, reporting for Reuters.
Egypt’s foreign minister spoke of the need for Israelis and Palestinians to take serious steps to resolve their decades-old opposition on Sunday, speaking in Jerusalem, where he is taking part in talks with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli and Palestinian officials have been putting pressure on Cairo to resume its role as mediator as they attempt to achieve peace. [Wall Street Journal’s Orr Hischauge]
An Iranian lawmaker and a local governor were attacked in their car in Iran’s Kurdish region yesterday, leaving both men and two others, including the driver, wounded. The lawmaker, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, is a member of a key foreign council in Iran’s Mizan news agency. The region has seen an upsurge in violence between Iranian security forces and the PKK in recent weeks. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]
Al-Shabaab fighters attacked an army base southwest of Mogadishu, Somalia, killing at least 10 soldiers this morning, reports Reuters.
The purported son of Osama bin Laden has threatened revenge against the US for the assassination of his father in 2011, al-Qaeda’s media arm releasing a video in which Hamza bin Laden informs Americans that they are accountable for the actions of their leaders. [AP]