The Early Edition: July 29, 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 “deeply concerned” by Russia’s plans to open corridors for civilians to exit Syria’s Aleppo in partnership with the Syrian government, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said yesterday. “Without further clarification,” he said, “this appears to be a demand for the surrender of opposition groups and the evacuation of Syrian civilians from Aleppo.” He added that he was unaware of any consultation with Washington over the issue, which would be inconsistent with the U.S.’s understanding with Russia, as well as with “the spirit and the letter” of U.N. resolutions. [NBC News’ Abigail Williams and Alexey Eremenko]

It is critical that the security of any such corridors is guaranteed by all parties and that civilians are able to use them voluntarily, Stephen O’Brien, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said yesterday, reiterating his proposal for 48-hour humanitarian pauses in Aleppo. [UN News Centre]

The Syria-Russia plan was presented yesterday via coordinated announcements in Moscow and Damascus, accompanied by airdrops over Aleppo of food packets and maps showing the intended escape routes, report Ben Hubbard and Anne Barnard for the New York Times. Syria’s President Assad also issued a three-month amnesty for insurgents who turn themselves in, relinquish their weapons and release any captives.

Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch the Nusra Front has split from the rest of the international terrorist organization, its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, confirmed yesterday. The Nusra Front will be disbanded, he said, and rebranded the Syria Conquest Front, which will have no foreign affiliations. He claimed the decision had been made to remove any “pretext” for the US and Russia to conduct airstrikes on the wider rebel movement while claiming to be targeting the Nusra Front. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called it an unconvincing “PR move.” Raja Abdulrahim reports for the Wall Street Journal.  The AP provides a detailed explanation for the split, and the impact it will have on the US.

The US says it may have killed more civilians in another airstrike on Syrian city Manbij, a day after announcing a formal inquiry into a previous airstrike on the city that observers are calling the worst civilian casualty incident in the US’s fight against the Islamic State. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to integrate the Popular Mobilization Units – or Shia militias – into Iraq’s national armed forces. Despite accusations of widespread human rights abuses, the units have become a vital component of the Iraqi government’s strategy against the Islamic State. This latest move would require them to be subject to military law and relinquish any political ties. Can the state control them? This question is discussed on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 27. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

Turkish officials are due to travel to the US to demand the extradition of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey’s President Erdoğan of orchestrating this month’s failed coup attempt. Turkish officials say they consider the evidence against Gulen to be overwhelming, and that any refusal by the US to cooperate with the extradition will have long-term consequences for US-Turkey diplomatic relations. They will be required to present a list of the criminal charges against Gulen, proof that similar charges exist in US law, and evidence that amounts to more than surmise or hearsay. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour reports.

Turkey’s top military commanders are to be kept in place, the Supreme Military Council decided yesterday. President Erdoğan quickly approved the move, which signals the government’s intention to work with the military chiefs – who were taken hostage by the plotters of this month’s failed coup – to overhaul Turkey’s military, suggests Emre Peker in the Wall Street Journal.

The Council also promoted 99 colonels to the rank of general or admiral and put 48 generals into retirement, the military confirmed today. [Reuters]

Now divided and discredited, Turkey’s military has long served as a “unifying force” for the nation, Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu write in the New York Times. With this “main pillar” broken, Turkey will no longer be able to control its divided society or counter security threats effectively. It is also a blow to NATO, of which Turkey is a crucial ally.

AFGHANISTAN

Five US special operations troops have been wounded in fighting with the Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan which began Saturday, the first reported instance of US troops being wounded in fighting against the Islamic State in Afghanistan. [AP]

Afghan forces are losing ground to the Taliban despite the US halting its withdrawal of troops, according to the latest report from US military command. The report found that the NATO-backed Afghan government currently controls 65.6 per cent of districts, a drop from the 70.5 per cent it held this January. This helps explain why current US Commander Army General John Nicholson pressured President Obama to delay his long-scheduled troop drawdown, suggest Mazin Sidahmed and Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian.  Details of the situation in the various districts of Afghanistan have been provided by Najim Rahim and Mujib Mashal in the New York Times.

The number of battlefield casualties has also risen for Afghan soldiers over the last year, according to Gen. Nicholson, who said the increase was 20 per cent on last year, without disclosing exact figures. [NBC News’ Courtney Kube and Eric Ortiz]

The exact number of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan is disputed, but their ranks remain consistently small, reports the Economist. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the July 23 bombing of Shiite protesters in Kabul that left 81 dead, suggesting it would attack again if Afghan Shias continued to travel to Syria to fight against it there. Despite appearances, the jihadists are unlikely to gain more of a foothold in the country, suggest the Economist, since the group is opposed by the Taliban.

EUROPE

Turkish authorities provided the French security services with a photograph but not the name of Abdel Malik Nabil Petitjean four days before he attacked the Église-St-Étienne in Normandy on Tuesday, reports Kim Willsher in the Guardian. As a result, the French could not make the link between the photo and the individual who had been on France’s Fiche S since June 29, less than a month after he attempted to travel to Syria. French authorities have also said that Turkey did not inform them of Petitjean’s detention in Istanbul on June 10, while heading for Syria, for fifteen days. France then alerted border authorities to arrest him when he re-entered France, but by that time, he had already slipped through unnoticed.

According to Turkish authorities, they immediately notified France about Petitjean’s departure for France and added him to their own watch list on June 18. Terrorists have often been able to stay a step ahead of authorities by moving across borders quicker than intelligence services can share information, write Noemie Bisserbe and Emre Peker for the Wall Street Journal.

France’s Prime Minister has said he is “open” to a temporary ban on the foreign financing of mosques, according to AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted yesterday that Germany would continue its “historic” task of integrating thousands of migrants, despite the recent spate of attacks, setting out a nine-point plan she said would strike the right balance between security and freedom. [New York Times’ Melissa Eddy]

The surge in small-scale terror attacks around Europe allows the Islamic State to keep people on edge without having to invest in training and equipment to pull off highly sophisticated operations, write Julian E. Barnes and Benoit Faucon for the Wall Street Journal. Some US officials are of the opinion that some of the recent simple, soft-target attacks were actually directed by the Islamic State, not just inspired by them: “we know there is a command and control structure behind some of these attacks,” one US official has said.

“ISIS seeks not to spark a World War, but to ignite a World Civil War.” Writing in the Daily Beast, Maajid Nawaz says there is “jihadist method to this madness” of spreading chaos through small-scale attacks throughout Europe and the Middle East, described in the Islamic State’s playbook “Idarat al-Tawahhush” as a way of getting states to turn against Sunni Muslims and create religious civil wars worldwide.

Binary explanations of recent attacks in Europe are wrong, Nicolas Hénin argues in the Guardian: it is possible to be both a terrorist and mentally unstable. What’s more, they serve to divide public opinion, encourage populism, and ultimately weaken society. We need intelligence and understanding now, not opinions, Hénin writes.

D.C.C.C. HACK

The FBI is investigating a second cyberattack on a Democratic Party group following the earlier D.N.C. hack, this time on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The incident was previously unreported, and may have been intended to steal information about donors rather than money, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters’ Joseph Menn et al.

The attack appears to have been carried out by the same Russian intelligence service that hacked the D.N.C., the sources said, one, a cybersecurity expert, adding that it is “definitely part of a much, much broader campaign that is yet to fully be publicly revealed.” [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

D.N.C. HACK

It’s too soon to blame Russia for the hack on the Democratic National Committee’s emails, despite US intelligence services facing a “version of war” with Russia, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said yesterday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. There are “just a few usual suspects out there,” he said, also insisting that not enough is yet known to ascribe motivation to whoever is responsible. [Politico’s Tim Starks and Eric Geller]

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has criticized WikiLeaks for failing to redact sensitive personal information from the hacked D.N.C. emails it published, reports Politico’s Josh Gerstein.

JAPAN

The US is preparing for the biggest land return in key Asian military base Okinawa since 1972, the military said today. The move comes as opposition to its presence rises in the wake of the arrest of a civilian contractor for the murder of a local woman. Okinawa currently hosts 30,000 US military personnel. [Reuters’ Tim Kelly]

Japan plans to spend $120 million to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts in Africa, AP reports. Japan’s foreign minister told the UN Security Council that his country will use the money to strengthen information and data collection in Africa, improve border controls with cutting-edge technology and improve criminal justice enforcement among other things.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russia and China’s joint naval exercises in the South China Sea will be held in September, according to a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense. The operation will be called “Joint-Sea 2016” and will “enhance the capacities of the two navies to jointly respond to maritime security threats.” [New York Times’ Chris Buckley; Financial Times’ Tom Mitchell]

The State Department has heavily criticized of Israel’s building of housing units on occupied territory in East Jerusalem, spokesperson John Kirby calling it “corrosive to the cause of peace.” [New York Times’ Diaa Hadid]

Boko Haram has ambushed a humanitarian convoy in northeast Nigeria, wounding three civilians and two workers, Haruna Umar of AP reports. The attack comes as aid agencies warn that children are dying of starvation daily in recently liberated areas that are still dangerous to reach. Boko Haram, which joined the Islamic State last year, has instigated a seven-year uprising that has killed more than 20,000 people and forced two million people from their homes.

A Singaporean man has been arrested in connection with “terrorism-related activities” including supporting the Islamic State, the Singapore government said today. Singapore has yet to see an attack by Islamist terrorists, though a plot to bomb several embassies was foiled by authorities shortly after the 9/11 attacks. [Reuters’ Fathin Ungku]

An explosion at a military installation in northern Ukraine has killed three people including a NATO representative, reports Reuters. The explosion occurred while a missile was being unloaded from a vehicle. Ukraine inherited thousands of tonnes of obsoleted ammunition and weapons from the Soviet Union, which is due to be destroyed.

Brazil’s security apparatus has engaged in a series of actions aimed at neutralizing suspected terrorists in preparation for the start of the Olympic Games. Reed Johnson and Rogerio Jelmayer of The Wall Street Journal  report that Brazil is attempting to reassure the public that Rio de Janeiro’s streets will be safe. Brazil is under international pressure to pull off an incident-free Games, in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S.

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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

George Kadifa

Intern with JUSTICE