The Early Edition: August 3, 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

Another round of US airstrikes on Tuesday has aided Libyan forces’ advance on Surt, according to US officials. This time, armed drones were used to strike Islamic State targets in the coastal city, which for the first time were launched from Jordan, report Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt for the New York Times.

Despite US airstrikes on Surt, the battle to remove the Islamic State from Libya is likely to be long and difficult, Hassan Moraje, Maria Abi-Habib, and Paul Sonne report in the Wall Street Journal. The Islamists are entrenched in pockets throughout the country, including in Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, and the fight is further complicated by the competing militias and centers of power that have fueled Libya’s civil war.

The US “has compelling reasons” to engage militarily in Libya, but “the long-term effects of this latest escalation in the war against ISIS … are uncertain,” writes the New York Times editorial board.  Stabilizing Libya will require a long-term commitment, and will require dismantling militias, establishing legitimate security forces, and helping the new government to assert greater authority – a “viable goal” as Libya is “an oil-rich nation of only six million people.”

A suicide car bomb in Benghazi killed 23 and wounded dozens more yesterday. The explosion struck the al-Guwarsh area in the west of the city, an area that has seen fighting between Islamist militias and troops loyal to Libya’s eastern government. Islamist group the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries has said it was behind the explosion in a statement posted to its Twitter account. [AP; BBC]

With U.S. airstrikes in Libya representing an expansion of US military operations against the Islamic State, NBC News has obtained a map showing the global expansion of the terror group. The “heat map” is part of a classified briefing document prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center. 

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian opposition groups are planning to escalate their offensive against government forces in Aleppo, a fighter telling Al Jazeera that a coalition of armed groups will launch shells and car bomb attacks on government-held neighborhoods in the hope of advancing and reopening a supply route into the city.

At the same time, Russian jets are intensifying their bombing, according to a rebel commander. [BBC]

Dozens of people in Syria’s northern town of Saraqeb have been affected by a suspected chemical attack, gas cylinders filled with what is suspected to have been chlorine having been dropped by – according to locals – a helicopter, which would fit with the modus operandi of previous chemical attacks that were blamed on the Assad regime. This latest attack comes almost a year after a UN Security Council resolution setting a 12-month deadline to identify those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria, reports Kareem Shaheen for the Guardian.

“Once again, the Obama administration appears to have been blindsided by Mr. Putin.” Just as it was when Russia dispatched its forces to Syria last September, Russia has taken advantage of America’s “trust” in turning from the US-Russia proposal for cooperation in Syria and opting instead to join Assad in a new campaign to drive all anti-regime forces from Aleppo, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution and with disregard for the ongoing UN-sponsored political process. As usual, the US has responded “not with consequences but with new appeals for cooperation and more US concessions,” says the Washington Post editorial board.

A Czech man has been charged with trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, authorities calling it the first known case of an individual from the Czech Republic attempting to do so. [New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky and Jan Richter]

British RAF jets have bombed an Islamic State training center in Mosul, Iraq, located in a palace formerly belonging to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, part of a coordinated coalition attack on the compound, the UK’s Ministry of Defense has said, adding that initial indications suggest that the mission was successful. [BBC; The Guardian]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 1. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

“The West is supporting terrorism and taking sides with coups,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday during a speech before foreign investors in Ankara, once more accusing Western countries of supporting the July 15 failed coup attempt. [AP’s Suzan Fraser and Elena Becatoros; Hürriyet Daily News]

Turkey’s pro-government media seems certain that the US was responsible for the coup: Yeni Şafa News claims it is “evident that the CIA was playing a huge role behind the July 15 coup attempt,” and even accuses the US of attempting to assassinate President Erdoğan on the night of the coup. In a deeply polarized country, the one thing Turks across all sections of society seem to unite around is that the US is somehow implicated in the coup, report Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu for the New York Times.

The head of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland arrived in Turkey today for talks with leaders and opposition officials. He is the first high-ranking European official to visit Turkey since the coup. [AP]

The offices of the national science research council were raided by Turkish police today, widening the post-coup purge of so-called Gulenists yet further, reports Reuters. Many were detained, according to local news.

The scale of Turkey’s purge is “nearly unprecedented,” report Josh Keller et al for the New York Times, who demonstrate its size by making comparison with how it would look if Americans were targeted on a similar scale.

DNC HACK

The FBI failed to inform the Democratic National Committee it suspected it was the target of a Russian government-backed cyberattack when it first contacted the party last fall, or warn party officials that the attack was being investigated as potential Russian espionage, sources close to the issue tell Reuters. They added that the lack of disclosure prevented staffers from taking measures to reduce the amount of confidential material that was stolen.

“Prove it:” this is the Kremlin’s typical response to accusations of cyberattacks from its geopolitical foes, writes Andrew Roth in the Washington Post, pointing out that plausible deniability is one of cyberespionage’s key attractions, including for the U.S. government.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Accusations by Japan that China’s military is upsetting the military balance in the East and South China Seas have been roundly rejected by China’s defense ministry. Japan’s annual defense report makes “irresponsible remarks on China’s normal and legal national defense and military development [and] hypes up the East and South China Sea issues,” China’s defense ministry said yesterday. [AP]

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s status in relation to a UN blacklist for violating children’s rights was discussed during a UN Security Council meeting Tuesday. Reports of the outcome of the meeting are conflicting: Edith M. Lederer for the AP suggests that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated that the coalition’s removal from the list in June would be permanent, despite his “strong concerns” about the protection of children in Yemen.  Rick Gladstone at the New York Times, however, reports that Mr. Ban insisted that the review of Saudi Arabia’s original inclusion in the report was still incomplete, leaving the matter uncertain.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters near Japan today, the South Korean military has stated. A midrange Rodong missile was fired from Eunyul, in the North’s southwest, at 7:50 am. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]  Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the missile “poses a serious threat to Japan’s security and it is an unforgivable act of violence toward Japan’s security.” [NBC News’ Phil Helsel]

Bangladeshi authorities have offered cash bounties for two men suspected of planning recent Islamist terror attacks on the city, including Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, believed to have planned the July 1 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery. Maher Sattar and Ellen Barry report for the New York Times.

There is little to prevent governments from purchasing so-called “lawful intercept” tools – commercial spyware – to track their citizens, report Frank Bajak and Jack Gillum for the AP. A prime example is the purchase from Israeli-American company Verint Systems by the Peruvian spy service of the “Pisco” program – capable of intercepting voice calls, text messages and emails – even after a national scandal following revelations that the service had collected data on hundreds of influential Peruvians.

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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