The Early Edition: July 12, 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 is to deploy 560 extra troops to Iraq to assist with retaking Mosul, the largest city still under Islamic State control. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement during his visit to Baghdad, yesterday. Many of the troops are to be based at the Qayyarah Air Base, recently reclaimed from the Islamic State by Iraqi soldiers. Their deployment will bring the official number of American troops in Iraq to 4,647 – as compared to the 130,000 US service personnel who were in the country a decade ago. [New York Times’ Michael S Schmidt and Mark Landler]

Rebels pushing to retake their Aleppo supply line were unable to advance yesterday because of the “heavy aerial bombardment the regime is carry out,” according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ chief Rami Abdel Rahman. Numerous civilians have reportedly been killed. [BBC; Al Jazeera]

A car bomb in a Shiite-dominated area of Baghdad has killed at least 11 today. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it “bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State,” reports the AP.

Russia may have lied about a key detail of an incident involving the deaths of two Russian pilots in Syria on Friday, reported by Russian state-run media to have been shot down by the Islamic State while flying a Syrian Mi-25 helicopter in a training exercise near the city of Palmyra. Footage of the incident has led some to conclude that the aircraft was actually a Russian Mi-35M helicopter. The distinction would shed light on the ongoing dispute over the nature of Russia’s intervention in Syria, suggest Andrew Roth and Thomas Gibbons-Neff in the Washington Post. If it was a Russian, as opposed to a Syrian, aircraft, it is likely the pilots were on a combat mission, not a training exercise, raising questions as to the extent of Russia’s continuing backing of Syria’s military.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 10. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying there was no evidence that China had historically had control over the region and its resources. [BBC] In the 497-page ruling welcomed by the Philippine government, judges found that China had interfered with Philippine petroleum exploration at Reed Bank, tried to stop Philippine fishing vessels within the Philippine’s own exclusive economic zone, and failed to stop Chinese fishermen from fishing within that zone. The AP is providing regular updates.The decision also found that China’s law enforcement patrols had risked colliding with Philippine fishing vessels, and that China had caused irreparable damage to coral reefs with construction work. [Reuters’ Thomas Escritt] 

China has rejected the ruling, its Foreign Ministry stating that China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, and that its position is consistent with international law and practice. [Reuters] Before the ruling was released this morning, Beijing released a final barrage of “defiance, propaganda and bravado,” dismissing the case as a “farce directed by Washington,” reports Tom Phillips for the Guardian.

 

AFGHANISTAN

Defense Secretary Ash Carter made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan today, where he is to meet with senior US military commanders and Afghan leaders, including the President. [Reuters’ Yeganeh Torbati]  His visit comes in the wake of the NATO pledge, made at the summit last week, to maintain troop levels in Afghanistan as the fight to overcome the Taliban continues, reports Lolita C. Baldor for the AP.

New Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada hasn’t made much of a mark so far, report Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah for the New York Times. Many within the Taliban reportedly view him as lacking the grip and influence of his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, killed in a US drone strike in May. Under Haibatullah, the Taliban’s decision-making power is returning to its senior council, based in Pakistan.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Two Guantánamo Bay detainees were transferred to Serbia on Monday, reducing the detention center’s population to 76, with 27 currently approved for transfer. [Reuters]

“Pleasant” Yemeni captive, “forever prisoner” Shawqi Awad Balzuhair was cleared for release by the Guantánamo parole board yesterday, which issued a brief statement concluding that Balzuhair has been reassessed to have been a “low-level fighter,” rather than an “al-Qaeda operative who planned to participate in terrorist operations targeting US forces,” as he was profiled in 2002 when he was captured. The board made no recommendations as to which country he should be transferred to. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The US ambassador in Uruguay is concerned about the lack of information about missing former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab, she has told a news conference, adding that “everything is being done to understand what are the threats and find ways to reduce them.” [AP’s Leonardo Haberkorn]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The GOP asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Clinton lied in her testimony to Congress last fall over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. In a letter sent Monday evening, House Republicans asked the Justice Department to determine whether Clinton had “committed perjury and made false statements.” [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Michael S Schmidt]

House Republicans also demanded that FBI Director James Comey answer questions about his decision not to recommend federal charges against Clinton on Monday, despite having had the benefit of an almost five-hour long hearing last week. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

House speaker Paul Ryan’s attempt to prevent Clinton from receiving classified briefings has failed, reports Cyra Master for The Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The NATO summit this weekend was a “ray of light” against the shadow cast by Britain’s Brexit decision, writes the Washington Post editorial board, which praises the decision to deploy new battalions to the Baltic States and Poland, as well as the commitment to extend NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. It concludes that NATO still has the power to “bind Britain, most European Union nations and the United States and Canada on key security issues.”

The US army is carrying out 78 separate “mission sets” across over 20 nations in Africa, according to documents obtained via a FOIA request made by the Intercept. A total of 1,700 Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets, and other army personnel are involved. Figuring out exactly what they’re doing is “complex,” reports Nick Turse.

A French parliamentary report examining intelligence failures over the November Paris attacks is due to be released today, and will explore some of the opportunities missed following an earlier attack by an al-Qaeda cell in Cairo in February 2009. Some of those suspected were determined to have also threatened to attack the Bataclan concert hall where 89 people were killed last November. One of the suspects was reportedly also closely linked to those who were involved in the November attack. [NBC News’ Ken Dilanian et al]

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ boats often maneuver dangerously close to US military vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, risking serious miscalculation, according to Gen. Joe Votel, head of US Central Command. One such incident occurred yesterday, he said. About 300 such incidents were reported last year. Most of these “interactions” are considered ultimately safe and are not considered harassment, but it is not the way most professional navies behave at sea, according to US Navy officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

South African authorities have filed terrorism-related charges against twin brothers accused of plotting an attack on the US Embassy in South Africa and attempting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State there. The brothers were arrested on Saturday, with two others, after investigators found ammunition and grenades in a home belonging to one of the suspects. Norimitsu Onishi reports for the New York Times.

Hamdi Alqudsi became the first person to be convicted in Australia for recruiting and sending fighters to join the Islamic State in Syria today. He was convicted of recruiting seven fighters. He will be sentenced next month, reports the AP.

Singapore sentenced four Bangladeshi workers in relation to a plan to perpetrate Islamic State-linked attacks in Bangladesh today. The men funded food, arms and weapons for those launching the attacks, reports Annabelle Liang for the AP.

The UN is to hold a high-level debate on how to ensure human rights in the face of rising terrorism, populism, state repression and other abuses of power, starting today. [AP]

The ISIS Defectors Interview Project may hold the key to countering the group’s recruitment appeal, suggests Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept. The project, conducted by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, interviews individuals who joined and then defected from the Islamic State, compiling videos and written testimony. They describe a reality under the terrorist organization which bears little resemblance to the utopia promised by its propagandists. 

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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