The Early Edition: July 18, 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.

TURKEY

Turkish warplanes are still patrolling the skies days after a failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Friday, a sign authorities fear the government is still under threat, the AP suggests.

Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters yesterday that Turkey is assembling evidence of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen’s supposed role in plotting the coup, but had yet to make a formal request for his extradition. Kerry promised to “immediately” evaluate the facts once they are submitted, adding that “Turkey is a friend. Turkey is an ally.” Gulen denies the accusations. [Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt] Gulen is a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who later broke from Erdogan over the latter’s increasingly autocratic ways. Erdogan will likely use cooperation against the Islamic State as a card to get him back, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s labor minister accused the United States of being behind the coup. Kerry, speaking to the Turkish foreign minister on Saturday by phone, urged him to resist public insinuations or accusations of a US role in the coup, calling them “utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations.” Speaking to the press, subsequently, Kerry said it was “irresponsible to have accusations of American involvement.” [New York Times’ Gardiner Harris]

As many as 6,000 military personnel have been detained following the failed coup, including a commander of the Incirlik air base used by US warplanes to launch attacks against the Islamic State, report Hugh Naylor and Erin Cunningham for the Washington Post.

EU foreign ministers appealed today for restraint following the arrests, wary of President Erdogan’s increasingly authoritative bent following the attempted coup and signs that he is using it as an opportunity to crack down on his perceived enemies. [New York Times’ James Kanter]

The coup will create only minor delays in the campaign against the Islamic State, and will not diminish Turkey’s role, Kerry said yesterday. He had spoken three times to Turkey’s Foreign Minister on Saturday, and was reassured that counterterrorism efforts based in Turkey will not be interrupted. Carol Morello reports for the Washington Post.

Turkey has allowed US warplanes to resume missions from its Incirlik air base against Islamic State targets following a temporary shutdown in the hours after the coup, Defense Department officials announced yesterday. US-led operations “at all air bases in Turkey have resumed,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said yesterday. The New York Times provides the details.

Despite the US’s resumed use of Incirlik, it is not clear what the failed coup might mean for US-Turkish ties in the fight against the Islamic State, writes Martin Chulov for the Guardian. While President Obama spoke out in support of Erdogan as the coup unfolded on Friday, subsequent dialogue has “underlined a mistrust” that has grown between the two nations over the fight against the Islamic State.

Authorities have removed 8,000 police across the country due to alleged links with the coup attempt, according to a senior security official. [Reuters’ Orhan Coskun et al]

Russia has said it is taking “appropriate security measures” over concerns about instability along its borders following the failed coup attempt. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today that Russia “would like to see our neighbors as prosperous, stable and predictable nations,” reports Dmitry Solovyov for Reuters.

Eight Turkish military personnel who flew to Greece in a helicopter during the coup are to appear in a Greek court today, on charges of illegally entering the country. Turkey is seeking their return, while all eight have claimed asylum in Greece. [AP]

Turkey’s Iran 1979 moment. The “powerful eruption” of Islamic support for Erdogan over the weekend “may prove too tempting,” suggests Soner Cagaptay in the Wall Street Journal. The failed coup has given Erdogan fresh legitimacy, and a new ally: religious fervor in the streets. Now, he can chose either to become an executive-style president, or to “encourage the forces of religion to take over the country, crowning himself as an Islamic leader.”

Hopes raised by the fact that much of the country – including those bitterly opposed to Erdogan’s government –stood up against a military coup as a violation of democracy are being eroded as it becomes clearer that, for Erdogan and his religiously conservative followers, the moment was more a triumph for political Islam, write Tim Arango and Ceylan in the New York Times

IRAQ and SYRIA

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad backed by Russian airstrikes closed off the only road in and out of rebel-held parts of Aleppo yesterday, one of the biggest successes for government forces thus far, reports the Washington Post. An eventual victory in Aleppo – Syria’s largest city and former commercial center – would be a major turning point for Assad.  The Castello Road serves as the only supply route into the city, whose residents are largely dependent on outside aid. Now it has been cut off, residents are under increasing pressure, write Adam Lucente and Zouhir Al Shimale for Al Jazeera.

“Nothing we talked about is based on trust.” Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the new deal with Russia yesterday, discussed during his recent trip to Moscow. He would not reveal details of the new partnership, because he didn’t wish to “raise expectations,” he told NBC’s “meet the press.” What he did say was that they had “laid out a series of steps concretely. Each step is the preclude to something else happening. If it doesn’t happen, then there won’t be that progress.” The Hill’s Jessie Hellmann provides the full “Meet the Press” interview.

The additional 560 US troops due to head for Iraq would a “target” for his supporters, powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has said. Al-Sadr’s militia, known as the Peace Brigades, is one of the largest government-sanctioned Shiite armed groups currently battling the Islamic State. Following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, it fought major battles against American troops. [AP]

NICE

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the July 14 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, calling the attacker – identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel – “a soldier.” French police are not disputing the claim, but have yet to find concrete evidence of a connection. [France 24]  Speaking on Saturday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that Bouhlel appeared to have “radicalized his views very rapidly,” and that “we are now facing individuals who are responding positively to the messages issued by the Islamic State without having had any special training and without having access to weapons that allow them to commit mass murder.” [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and James McAuley]

Three people were detained by French police for questioning on Sunday in connection with the Bastille Day attack. The estranged wife of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was released on Sunday having been arrested previously. [New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden and the Wall Street Journal’s William Horobin]  It later emerged that two of those arrested – an Albanian man and woman – are suspected of supplying weapons to the attacker. The third was arrested after it emerged that Bouhlel sent them a text message saying “Bring more weapons,” and that they had visited the scene of the attack in the days before it happened, according to French authorities, Sudarsan Raghavan reports for the Washington Post.  Investigators are working on identifying the recipients of further text messages sent by Bouhlel before the attack, discussing his weapons supply, French police have confirmed. [The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis]

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has blamed the current government for failing to provide sufficient security, calling for foreign nationals with links to radical Islam to be expelled from France, and for those suspected to be at risk of radicalization to be electronically tagged. [BBC]

“Who’s a terrorist, and who’s simply deranged?” In “the age of Islamic State,” the tools of terrorism are increasingly haphazard and crude, and jihadism has become a sort of refuge for unstable individuals, possibly searching for redemption, write Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt for the New York Times. This has required a “reimagining of the common notion of who is and who is not a terrorist.”

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China will close of parts of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, the government has announced today. An area southeast of the Hainan island province will be closed from today until Thursday. Details of the exercises were not provided. [AP]

Freedom of navigation patrols could end “in disaster,” a senior Chinese admiral has warned, reports Reuters’ Ben Blanchard. Adm. Sun Jianguo said that the freedom of navigation issue was a bogus one that certain countries repeatedly hyped up.

The US, as well as the Philippines, would be threatened by China’s presence on Scarborough Shoal, senior associate justice of the Philippines Supreme Court Antonio Carpio has said. Some in the Philippines fear that China will go ahead with plans to build on the Scarborough Shoal, a section of rocks and reef it seized in 2012, ignoring the ruling of an international tribunal in The Hague delivered last week. [NPR’s Michael Sullivan]

IRAN

Russia has delivered the missile part of the highly-capable S-300 surface-to-air defense system to Iran, local media reported today, aiming to complete delivery of all components by the end of the year. [Reuters’ Bozorgmehr Sharafedin]

The closed trial of 21 suspects in the storming of Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran earlier this year begins today. Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and a consulate in Mashhad at the start of the year after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric and dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Sunni-ruled Saudi and Iran, which views itself as “the defender of the world’s Shiites,” subsequently severed diplomatic ties. The countries back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Guantánamo Bay chief war crimes prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins has offered to postpone his retirement past late 2017 to remain in the post to provide some continuity to the 9/11 death-penalty case. He previously received a three-year extension, having been due to retire in November 2014. The judge has not yet set a start day for the 9/11 trial. Hearings for the five accused are set to resume today. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A new US-Afghan strategy to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan seems to be working, reports Tim Craig for the Washington Post. Afghan forces have killed over three dozen senior and mid-level Taliban commanders in targeted airstrikes over the past four months, part of a US-backed plan to treat the Taliban more as a foreign enemy than as a domestic insurgent group warranting some military restraint.

British MPs are due to vote on whether to renew the UK’s Scotland-based Trident nuclear weapons system later today. New Prime Minister Theresa May has said it would be a “gross irresponsibility” for the UK to abandon its nuclear weapons, whereas the prominent Scottish National Party opposes Trident renewal and has called for the vote to be delayed to allow “proper scrutiny.” [BBC]

Two car bombs at checkpoints in former al-Qaeda stronghold Mukalla in Yemen have killed several security personnel today. The attack has been blamed on “terrorists,” reports Al Jazeera.

A gunman has killed three police officers and a civilian in Almaty, Kazakhstan, reports the BBC. The government has raised the terror threat level, but has provided no indication of which group was behind the attack. The 27-year-old attacker – who is also suspected of committing another murder last weekend – has been detained. Authorities have launched an anti-terrorist operation. [Reuters] 

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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