The Early Edition: July 13, 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

Many in the US military are resisting the Obama administration’s plans to work with Russia in Syria, following a Russian proposal to allow US forces to coordinate with the Kremlin in fighting the Islamic State. The US has reportedly sent a proposal to Russia to share information about specific targets to strike in Syria, something which Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Some defense officials are saying that, should the agreement go ahead, they will lobby to share as little with the Russians as possible, in the belief that Moscow would eventually exploit the agreement to bolster the regime and weaken Syria’s rebel fighters. [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A Youssef]

What are believed to have been Russian jets bombed a Syrian refugee camp yesterday, according to activists, killing at least eight people, reportedly family members of a rebel group known as the Eastern Lions. [BBC]

 “Now it’s a question whether the US is willing to stand by and watch Aleppo fall.” As Assad regime forces close down on the city of rebel-held Aleppo, the international community has remained silent, writes Roy Gutman for the Daily Beast. Defeat in Aleppo would “devastate” the rebellion, but without foreign support, the rebels are unlikely to be able to lift the siege.

Turkey intends to boost diplomatic relations with Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has announced. His televised speech appears to indicate a U-turn by his government, suggests the BBC. Diplomatic ties between Syria and Turkey were severed when the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

The Islamic State is preparing its followers for the collapse of the caliphate, report Joby Warwich and Souad Mekhennet for the Washington Post, and gradually evolving from a “quasi-state” with territory to a “shadowy and diffuse network with branches and cells on at least three continents.”

A suicide car bomber has killed at least seven people at a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, this morning. There was no immediate claim for the attack. [Reuters’ Kareem Raheem and Stephen Kalin]

British journalist John Cantlie, who was captured by the Islamic State in 2012, features in the group’s latest video. He is pictured discussing the bombing of Mosul University – his skills as a journalist being exploited by the terrorists to lend credibility to its propaganda films. Cantlie was captured alongside US journalist James Foley, who was later killed on camera by the Islamic State, reports the Guardian’s Ben Quinn.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 11. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China has issued a white paper saying the islands in the South China Sea are its “inherent territory” the day after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague released its ruling, which found against China. The paper refers to other countries’ “illegal claims and occupation,” reports the AP

Beijing warned other countries today that it could declare an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea if it felt threatened. However, it has also extended an olive branch to the Philippines, saying it would benefit from cooperation with China. [AP]

Six GOP Senators called on China to halt its reclamation efforts in the South China Sea following the international court’s ruling, introducing a resolution yesterday. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

Meanwhile, 17 Democrats from the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees are urging the Senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to protect US interests. The Convention was the basis for the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling. It sets the rights and responsibilities of nations’ use of the world’s oceans and their resources. Currently, 167 countries and the EU are party to it. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

The White House was more reserved in its reaction to the ruling, Press Secretary Josh Earnest telling reporters yesterday that “we certainly would encourage all parties to acknowledge the final and binding nature of this tribunal” and reiterating that the US does not have a claim in the South China Sea.

The ruling puts Beijing in a tight corner, observe Jeremy Page and Trefor Moss: it either ignores international law, or yields ground to its neighbors and the US. Unfortunately, accepting any part of the ruling would be politically risky for President Xi Jinping, who has vowed not to compromise China’s territorial claims. [Wall Street Journal]

The ruling’s effect will depend on how China’s neighbors and the US respond, says the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The ruling comes with no enforcement measures and has been rejected by China. A best outcome would be a united front of South China Sea claimants – the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei – negotiating jointly with China. The US, the “only real enforcement authority,” should increase its freedom-of-navigation operations.

Law alone cannot solve all the conflicts in the South China Sea, Tuesday’s ruling underscoring its limits in resolving the disputes over the region in practice, as well as highlighting the need to move ahead with negotiations. [Washington Post’s Paul Gewirtz]

GUANTANAMO BAY

An Iraqi detainee accused of commanding al-Qaeda’s army in Afghanistan after 9/11 appeared in Guantánamo Bay’s war court yesterday seeking a freeze in proceedings on account of the fact that four of his civilian counsel are missing. The only civilian prosecutor has also left, leaving the prisoner, Nashwan al Tamir, to face an all-military prosecution team, reports the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg.

The Guantánamo parole board cleared Abdul Latif Nasir, the last Moroccan captive at the detention center, for release to Casablanca, it disclosed yesterday, following a recommendation from the Periodic Review Board that Nasir be returned to his native land, because he had family and employment prospects there. He had been held at Guantánamo Bay since May 3, 2002, [Miami Herald]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

Attorney General Loretta Lynch refused to answer a House committee’s questions about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server yesterday, insisting that it would be improper for her to make public comments about the evidence gathered during the investigation or the legal basis for the investigation’s recommendation not to prosecute. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

Clinton’s lawyers and the Obama administration filed two separate motions yesterday to block the former secretary of state from being deposed in the ongoing open records case about her emails. Weighing in on the matter for the first time, Clinton’s lawyers insisted she “has no personal knowledge to provide” beyond what has already been established, reports Julian Hattem for the Hill.

Two lawmakers are putting pressure on the companies that managed Clinton’s private email system to provide information that would “offer better insight into the security and data backup capabilities” of the server and “what potential vulnerabilities to federal records and sensitive information needs to be mitigated.”  Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Lamar Smith sent letters to the three companies concerned, reiterating previously asked questions which they said have now grown in importance, given the findings of the FBI probe. [Politico’s Eric Geller]

The FBI is to return the thousands of deleted work-related emails it uncovered as part of its investigation to the State Department, now that the investigation has ended. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the decision to give US commanders more authority to work with Afghan forces will maximize the effectiveness of American forces in the warzone, speaking in Afghanistan yesterday. Carter was scheduled to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as well as the country’s chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah, and the top US commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson. [AP’s Lolita C. Baldor]

South Korea has announced the location for the THAAD missile defense system, a rural farming town in southwestern South Korea called Seongju. Locals have already voiced their anger and fears of potential heath hazards, report Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung for the AP.

The US military has released photographs of Iranian boats that approached two Navy warships on Monday in the Strait of Hormuz, with Gen. Joe Votel, head of US Central Command, onboard. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

The former Virginia National Guardsman arrested last week on suspicion of plotting to provide material support to the Islamic State was “set up” by a government informant, according to his family, who says that Mohamed Bailor Jalloh’s words were “twisted” to make him sound like an aspiring terrorist. A criminal complaint unsealed last week showed that he had been speaking with a government informant for months, who also solicited Jalloh’s help in procuring money and weapons for the Islamic State. The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain reports.

Attempts to import transparency into the UN Secretary-General selection process will not extend to the Security Council selection process, reports Michelle Nichols for Reuters. Although the UN General Assembly required public nominations and campaign-style town hall events this time around, the results of the Security Council ballots will not be made public.

There is still no consensus on “what makes a terrorist,” writes Tom Burgis for the Financial Times, looking at the paradoxical characters of Omar Mateen, Amedy Coulibaly – who shot customers at a Jewish supermarket in Paris last year – and others.


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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