The Early Edition: August 2, 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.

LIBYA

The US expanded its campaign against the Islamic State into Libya yesterday by conducting airstrikes on the coastal city of Surt. President Obama approved the strikes after Libya’s UN-backed unity government requested US help in combating the Islamic State, last week, according to officials. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

The bombing campaign does not have “an end point at this particular moment in time,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said yesterday. However, he was unable to provide basic details about the airstrikes, including the rough number of casualties. Intervention in Libya has been on the cards at least since January when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters the US was preparing to take “decisive military action against ISIL” in Libya. A “handful” of individual military strikes on Islamic State targets in Libya have been already conducted by the US over the past year, reports Alex Emmons for the Intercept.

“It’s about time” Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State expanded to Libya, says the Wall Street Journal editorial board – a campaign that has been “marked by hesitation and gradual escalation,” including a “hard to understand” reluctance to respond to the Libyan government’s request for US military assistance, which the board suggests may be due to the fact that Obama did not want to publicly acknowledge that the terror organization has expanded its reach outside Iraq and Syria. 

IRAQ and SYRIA

At least 30 civilians have been killed by rebel shelling in besieged parts of Syria’s Aleppo over two nights, starting Sunday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Rebel groups announced Sunday night that they were launching an offensive on some neighborhoods in an attempt to combat government forces’ siege on the city, Angela Dewan reports for CNN.

The Syrian government backed by Russia is also heavily bombarding rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo, focusing on hospitals, markets and aid warehouses, Raja Abdulrahim reports for the Wall Street Journal. Opposition officials and aid workers have reportedly said that the bombing is being intensified in a concerted effort to force rebels and residents to surrender.

Rebel supporters attempted to make their own no-fly zone over eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo on Sunday, by burning tires to create a dense smoke, in an effort to stop the often indiscriminate bombing by the Assad regime. No major power operating in Syria has been able to implement a no-fly zone over the city. [Washington Post’s Max Bearak]

A helicopter dropped containers of toxic gas overnight on a town close to where a Russian military helicopter was shot down yesterday, according to the Syria’s volunteer rescue service, Syria Civil Defense, commonly known as the White Helmets. [Reuters]

Why did Russia send a Mil Mi8-AMTSh “Terminator” helicopter on a humanitarian mission? The Russian helicopter downed over Aleppo yesterday was an assault craft rigged with rocket pods, a “strange model to use” for delivering humanitarian aid, as Russia has reported, suggest Michael Weiss and Pierre Vaux in the Daily Beast.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 31. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

Turkey’s government has taken over factories and shipyards previously under the control of the military, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said today. [Reuters]

Turkey’s top military officer and its Prime Minister Binali Yildirim both wish Turkey’s close relationship with the US to continue, they told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. during a meeting in Ankara yesterday. Neither Turkish official brought up the issue of possible US involvement in the July 15 failed coup attempt –an accusation that has been touted by Turkey’s pro-government media in the past few weeks, report Michael S. Schmidt and Tim Arango for the New York Times, who point out that it is a “common tactic” among Turkish officials to denounce the US to the Turkish public while reassuring US officials of their commitment to a strategic partnership.

Gen. Dunford’s visit was a show of solidarity and to demonstrate that the US supports Turkish democracy, a statement from Prime Minister Yildirim’s office quotes him as saying. It was an effort to soothe strained ties with Turkey, reports Reuters’ Nick Tatersall and Gareth Jones. NATO ally Turkey has been angered by a perceived reluctance on the part of the US to hand over cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey-German relations have reached their “lowest point” following Germany’s handling of a pro-Erdoğan demonstration on Monday, which Erdoğan was barred from addressing via videolink. The tensions between these “two major players” in Europe’s migrant crisis reflect the high stakes for the EU as it tries to strike a balance between condemning Turkey’s post-coup purges and keeping up good relations with a major partner in tackling terrorism and migration, Ruth Bender writes in the Wall Street Journal.

PKK rebels have been blamed for a car bomb in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish province of Bingol yesterday, which has killed five police officers traveling in a passing police vehicle. [AP]

YEMEN

Houthi rebels have rejected the UN’s peace proposal, prompting Yemeni government negotiators to leave the peace talks in Kuwait. Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi said the government was not abandoning the peace process altogether, and would only resume talks if the Houthis lifted their objections to the UN’s plan. [Al Jazeera]

Al-Mekhlafi gave the Houthis a deadline of August 8 to approve the UN proposal, telling reporters that the ball was now in their court. The deal would force the Houthis to surrender their weapons and withdraw from Yemen’s cities within 45 days of signing the deal, reports the AP’s Ahmed Al-Haj.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China’s Supreme Court said today that people caught illegally fishing in Chinese waters could face up to a year in jail, defining those waters as including China’s 200-mile “exclusive economic zone,” which the recent ruling of an arbitration court in The Hague said it was not entitled to. [Reuters]

Japan has heavily criticized China’s South China Sea strategy in its annual defense white paper, published amid rising tensions in the region, calling its behavior “highhanded.” [Wall Street Journal’s Chieko Tsuneoka]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Half of Guantánamo Bay’s uncharged detainees are cleared for release, this milestone reached Monday when the Guantánamo parole board cleared Yemeni Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani for resettlement outside his homeland. Seventeen further captives are awaiting their parole board hearings, or decisions from them, reports Carol Rosenberg for the Miami Herald.

An FBI employee has pleaded guilty to acting as an agent for the Chinese government and passing it sensitive information about the US government, reports Nicole Hong for the Wall Street Journal. China-born naturalized US citizen Kun Shan Chun worked in the FBI’s New York field office as an electronics technician. He had been granted top-secret security clearance for almost two decades.

Brazil’s government is working closely with US law enforcement and intelligence services to identify threats and prevent potential disasters at the Rio Olympic Games over concerns about possible terrorist attacks. Brazil has mainly avoided the terror attacks that have shaken much of the rest of the world in recent years, report Simon Romero and Michael S. Schmidt for the New York Times.  Now, however, the Islamic State is calling on its followers to commit acts of violence at the Games.

The DNC hack is “a fresh reminder that the United States needs a more robust and open debate about cyber-conflict that it has had to date.” The theft of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, believed to have been committed by Russia, deserves a strong response from the US, writes the Washington Post editorial board. However, a strong response may not be easy, due to the fact that knowing who to retaliate against, and how, is often complicated in the digital realm.

It is “unrealistic” that Russia would attack any NATO member, Hungary’s foreign minister said today, a point-of-view that contrasts with that of other NATO members in the region, who see Russia as a real threat. [Reuters]

The UK’s former ambassador to France is to take up a newly-created European Union security portfolio, taking on responsibility for the bloc’s fight against terrorism, organized crime and radicalization. Julian King was nominated by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker. [AP]

Iran’s senior leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused the US of failing to honor pledges in the nuclear agreement and complained of “the futility of negotiations with the Americans,” comments that were widely broadcast on Iran’s state news media. He said that the talks leading up to the deal, reached in July 2015, were a useful lesson on the dangers presented by interactions with governments he considers enemies. Khamenei “has the final word on Iran’s national security and other vital issues,” reports the New York Times’ Rick Gladstone.

Soldiers involved in the killing of over 300 Shiite Muslims in northern Nigeria last year should be prosecuted, according to a report issued by a 13-member judicial commission yesterday. The commission determined that members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria had set up a roadblock to control traffic for a flag ceremony at their national headquarters, which stopped a military convoy. When the sect refused to let them pass, they shot their way through the blockade. One soldier was killed. [New York Times’ Dionne Searcey; AP’s Michelle Faul]

Islamic State-sympathizer Muhaydin Mire received a life sentence for attempted murder for a knife attack at a London subway station in December last year, during which he slashed a commuter’s throat and attempted to stab four others. He will be detained in a high-security psychiatric hospital, the judge accepting that his extremist leanings were due to mental illness. Alexis Flynn reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Just Security is hiring. Click here for details. 

About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE