The Early Edition: July 14, 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 has signed a deal with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq to provide members of its Peshmerga units with $415 million for ammunition, food, pay, and other things. The agreement was signed on Tuesday, and comes ahead of the push to retake the Islamic State’s largest remaining stronghold in Iraq, Mosul. The deal requires the Iraqi government to support the US’s efforts to boost the Peshmerga, reports Al Jazeera.

The siege on rebel-held Aleppo is taking the US-Russia-brokered ceasefire in Syria to breaking point, Erica Solomon and Geoff Dyer report for the Financial Times, and is undermining the US’s attempts to reach an agreement with Russia to end the Syria conflict as the August 1 deadline for doing so fast approaches. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to fly to Moscow Friday to discuss the conflict.  Meanwhile, the UN has called on all parties to the hostilities in Aleppo to end indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and respect international humanitarian law.

The Obama administration’s proposal to Russia would entail deep cooperation between US and Russian military and intelligence services, and coordinated attacks on Syrian rebels considered to be terrorists, reports Josh Rogin for the Washington Post, who has obtained the text of the proposal. The proposal would fundamentally shift the US’s policy in Syria, directing more US military power against Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting the Assad regime, and away from the Islamic State.  The Kremlin has declined to comment on the proposal, which will be presented by Secretary of State John Kerry today. [Reuters’ Dmitry Solovyov]

The US is “not serious” about defeating the Islamic State, whereas Russia’s support of the Syrian army was a “crucial factor” in tipping the scales against the “terrorists,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told NBC News in an exclusive interview yesterday, reports Bill Neely.  The full interview is available here.

Assad also said that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has never spoken to him about relinquishing power, a move the US is putting pressure on him to make. [Reuters’ Eric Beech] 

The idea that “judicious” airstrikes could disempower Assad’s government, sap Russian resolve and improve prospects for a negotiated solution to the Syria crisis is misinformed, write Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson in the New York Times. Although US covert intervention has weakened Assad, the losses it has inflicted on the Syrian president have been key factors in Russia’s decision to get involved. Overt military intervention on the part of the US would only inspire even stronger retaliation from Moscow.

Turkey’s hints that it may normalize diplomatic relations with Syria may signal the end of the rebellion against President Assad, report Kareem Shaheen and Martin Chulov for the Guardian. Turkey has been the country that has most supported the rebellion over Syria’s five-year civil war. Turkish officials have since claimed that their prime minister’s remarks were made merely in hope, but rebels have inferred a softening of Turkey’s rhetoric ahead of a shift in policy as regards Assad.

Airstrikes in northern and central Syria killed 12 at a market in the town of Ariha and 16 in the town of Rastan yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Which side was responsible has not been reported. [AP]

The Islamic State has finally admitted that Omar the Chechen is dead. The Pentagon and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State’s “minister for war” was killed in Syria months ago, reports the Guardian.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 12. Separately, partner forces conducted 17 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China sent two civilian planes to artificial islands it occupies in the South China Sea yesterday, in order to demonstrate its control following the release of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. However, it stopped short of sending military vessels to the area, reports Jane Perlez for the New York Times.

The Philippines has said China should respect the international tribunal’s rejection of its claims in the South China Sea in a statement. [BBC]

The US is using “quiet diplomacy” to try to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other nations in the region not to move aggressively to capitalize on the ruling, according to an anonymous official. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton and John Walcott]

Taiwan, often overlooked party to the debate over sovereignty in the South China Sea, denied the findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration soon after they were released on Tuesday, and then sent a warship to patrol the contested region. On paper, Taiwan makes the same claims to the region as China, both basing their claims on the so-called “nine-dash line,” which is based on a map issued in the 1940s by China’s then-Nationalist government, which escaped to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war. [New York Times’ Austin Ramzy]

China’s defeat against the Philippines could inspire other states to file lawsuits against it if Beijing refuses to compromise on access to the South China Sea, suggest Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling for Reuters. There are several legal avenues open to other states to pursue, which may be preferable to taking military action at sea which could raise tensions, according to legal and security experts.

SOUTH SUDAN

The US sent 47 troops to South Sudan on Tuesday to protect the US embassy amid the deadly outbreak in violence in the country. They are to remain there “until the security situation becomes such that their presence is no longer needed,” the White House has said. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, South Sudan’s vice-president has withdrawn government forces from the capital, Juba, where recent violence has left hundreds of people dead, and will not return unless foreign troops arrive to support him. East African foreign ministers have also called for foreign military intervention, preferably under the UN. However, the minister of cabinet affairs, Martin Lomoro, has rejected the call, saying that recent improvements in the security situation in Juba mean assistance is not required. The Financial Times’ John Aglionby reports.

The UN Under-Secretary-Gneral for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous proposed yesterday that the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan be extended to allow for rapid assessment of the need for a stronger mandate there.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

How the US trains the world’s security forces. A joint investigation by The Intercept and 100Reporters exposes a “chaotic” and “vast” network of “global exercises, operations, facilities and schools” that every year instructs some 200,000 foreign soldiers, police and other personnel and which is subject to little oversight. Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse and Moiz Syed report.

NATO is to consider a Kremlin proposal for reducing the risk of air accidents over the Baltic Sea, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, during which NATO also conveyed the decisions made during the July 8-9 summit in Warsaw. [AP’s John-Thor Dalhburg; Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes and James Marson]

Chinese hacker Su Bin has been given nearly four years’ jail for his part in a years-long scheme by Chinese military officers to obtain US defense secrets by targeting projects including the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets and Boeing’s C-17 military transport aircraft, reports the Guardian.

The initial contracts between the CIA and the psychologists it hired to design its torturous interrogation regimen including waterboarding and sleep deprivation were released by the agency for the first time last month. The program, dismantled by Obama in 2009, is described in the contracts with vague understatement: a research project “in the area of counter-terrorism and special operations.” [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]

The next President could remove Obama’s restrictions on the use of drones overseas, in which case it will be the CIA’s responsibility to comply, Director John Brennan said on Wednesday at a Brookings Institute event. At the moment, policy guidelines require “near certainty” on the part of the government that “the terrorist target is present” before “lethal action is taken.” The Intercept’s Alex Emmons reports.

The CIA head also suggested he will quit if the next president demanded the CIA return to the use of waterboarding, expanding on his previous comments in opposition to the torture technique. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The mastermind of a Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in 2014 that left over 130 children dead has been killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan, the US government and Pakistani military confirmed yesterday. The details of Khalifa Omar Mansoor’s death have not been provided. [Wall Street Journal’s Qasim Mauman]

Despite sticking to the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran has defied the US in other ways, with Tehran still sending its forces to support President Assad in Syria and to gain influence in Iraq, and keeping up a steady stream of missile tests under a newly-worded UN resolution which merely “calls upon” it to limit tests. [New York Times’ David E Sanger]

The UK will be cut off from EU police agency Europol in May unless it explicitly adopts a new EU law. The agency’s new legal status comes into force on May 1, 2017. The main changes – which the UK opposed when they were negotiated in May – are that the agency will come under the scrutiny of the European Parliament, and it will be easier to set up specialized units to fight terrorism and organized crime. The recent Brexit decision puts new Prime Minister Theresa May in the awkward position of having to decide whether to opt into a piece of EU legislation while preparing to leave the EU. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop]

A suspected al-Shabaab recruiter has shot and killed at least four Kenyan policemen inside the station he was being held in today, and is now holding other prisoners hostage, according to police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet. [Reuters’ George Obulutsa et al]

Sole-surviving November Paris terror attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has requested that two live video cameras be removed from his cell at France’s high-security Fleury-Merogis prison, on the basis that the constant surveillance is risking his psychological health. [AP’s Raphael Satter]

The State Department will make public the thousands of work-related emails the FBI uncovered during its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server while serving as secretary of state, according to a spokesperson. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

Is our understanding of North Korea fundamentally wrong? This is the fear among many North Korea watchers after the country’s test launch of two medium-range ballistic missiles in late June, and its failed launch on Saturday of a submarine-based missile, none of which should have happened under traditional understandings of North Korea, reports Max Fisher for the New York Times.

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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