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
Syrian rebel alliance the Army of Conquest has announced the start of an offensive to recapture the whole of Aleppo, the day after it managed to break government force’s siege on rebel-held parts of the city. The coalition includes Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – formerly the Nusra Front. [Al Jazeera] Rebels were able to open a pathway out of the city by Sunday, by which a few trucks carrying vegetables were able to enter, though the road remained too dangerous for significant aid shipments to arrive or for civilians to depart, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard and Maher Samaan]
Pro-government forces have responded to rebel gains with intense bombing of rebel-held areas of Aleppo today, reports the BBC.
As the first stages of the operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State progresses, thousands of displaced civilians are making their way to camps, with up to a million more expected to be forced to flee as the operation continues, according to the UN. [AP’s Susannah George and Balint Szlano]
Russia is the destination for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s first trip abroad since surviving last month’s coup attempt. He will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Thursday in an attempt to improve relations between the two nations after last year’s fallout over Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet fighter. The two leaders “could hardly send a stronger message,” say Kathrin Hille and Laura Pitel of the Financial Times.
Over a million Turks attended an anti-coup rally in Istanbul yesterday to mark the end of the nightly demonstrations that have taken place since the failed July 15 coup, reports the AP. Erdoğan arrived by helicopter to address the rally.
“I declare it in advance, I will approve the decision made by the parliament.” Erdoğan told those gathered for the rally on Sunday that he would back a decision by Turkey’s parliament to reintroduce the death penalty, a decision he said parliament would make if the people of Turkey wished it to. [BBC]
Almost 90 Turkish special forces personnel were arrested on Saturday after being identified by a commission established by the Special Forces Command after the July 15 coup attempt, reports Cinar Kiper for the Washington Post.
The EU’s migrant deal with Turkey may collapse if the EU does not keep its side of the deal on visa waivers – supposed to kick in on June 1 – Erdoğan has told France’s Le Monde newspaper. Erdoğan accused the EU of “not behaving in a sincere manner with Turkey.”
“A narrative of an Islamist defense of democracy.” Erdoğan is using the failed coup as an opportunity to celebrate what he has long called the “New Turkey,” a modern nation that emphasizes Islam and breaks from the country’s secular past, suggests Tim Arango at the New York Times. The post-coup narrative is one of heroic defiance in the name of Islam against foreign powers, including the US – but there is a “twist:” the enemy is not the old secular elite, but cleric Fethullah Gulen, leader of a rival Islamist movement.
The Islamic State and the Taliban have forged a cease-fire across most of eastern Afghanistan after over a year of fierce fighting, report Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil in the Wall Street Journal. The Islamic State only emerged in Afghanistan in 2014, with the larger Taliban seeking to stamp it out ever since – a conflict Afghan and US-led forces had taken advantage of to push the militants back on several fronts. The upshot of the new deal between the two groups, according to Afghan officials, is that the Islamic State has been able to focus on fighting US-backed Afghan forces in Nangarhar province and to move north into Kunar province, establishing new footholds.
Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan appear to have got hold of US soldiers’ weapons and equipment, according to photos released by the group on Saturday depicting an American portable rocket launcher, radio, grenades and other military gear not normally used by Afghan troops, reports Jessie Hellman for the Hill.
An American and an Australian were kidnapped at gunpoint last night near the Kabul campus of the American University of Afghanistan, according to police officials. Both are professors at the university, though neither has been publicly identified. The State Department has said it is aware of the kidnappings. Pamela Constable reports for the AP.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s machete attack on two police officers in Charleroi, Belgium, according to a statement issued by the group’s Amaq News Agency. The two officers received severe injuries to the face and neck at a security checkpoint at the entrance of a police station. The single assailant was shot and subsequently died, reports Aurelien Breeden for the New York Times.
Belgian authorities have launched a terrorism probe following the attack, and have identified the assailant as a 33-year-old Algerian man who had been living in Belgium illegally since 2012. He is not known to have had any terror links, and there are no indications of large-scale planning behind the attack or that there were any accomplices, federal authorities have said. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]
A member of the Islamic State was in contact with Mahammade Daleel shortly before he blew himself up outside a bar in Ansbach, Germany, last month, wounding 15 and killing himself, according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, which said yesterday that a Saudi phone line was used in the communication, but that the number was not registered to a Saudi national. [AP’s Aya Batrawy]
At least 52 people have been killed after a bomb exploded at a hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta today, which took place shortly after the body of a prominent lawyer – killed in a shooting attack earlier this morning – was brought to the facility, senior police official Zahoor Ahmed Afridi has said, though it is unclear whether the two events are connected. [NBC News] Dozens of lawyers had gathered at the hospital to protest the killing of Bilal Answar Kasi, president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, by unknown attackers. Neither has there been any immediate claim for the bombing, reports Salman Masood for the New York Times.
Over 15,000 new variants of fake “magic wand” bomb-detectors have been made in Pakistan for use guarding facilities such as airports and government installations, despite the original model being exposed as a global scam years ago, and despite officials conceding that they are ineffectual, reports AFP. They serve a “deterrence value,” a senior interior ministry official has said, adding that it is “good for police and security personnel to have something in their hands.”
An American was arrested in Islamabad for illegally reentering the country on Saturday after being deported from Pakistan in 2011 on charges of espionage, officials have said. Matthew Barrett was barred from returning to Pakistan after being found in the area of a “sensitive installation,” and charged with spying on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, Shaiq Hussain and Pamela Constable report for the Washington Post.
Pressure is mounting on the White House to respond to Russia’s alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee as more evidence in support of the allegation comes to light, reports Katie Bo Williams for the Hill. Ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee have all called for Obama to “seek justice.”
Russia’s military is apparently preparing to launch a new generation of high-tech spy satellites, reports David Axe for the Daily Beast. They could rival the US’ own satellites, though at the same time, the US is plotting a “technological sidestep:” combining its own spacecraft with for-hire, commercial satellites.
Yemeni peace talks will have entered a “new phase” focusing on “working with each side separately to crystalize precise technical details,” the UN envoy facilitating the talks said on Saturday. The UN departed the talks in Kuwait Saturday, but will continue to work with each party separately, as the discussions wind down for a one-month break. [UN News Centre]
A Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed nine civilians at a market in Odhar village outside Yemen’s capital Sanaa last night, part of a stepped up offensive in the area by forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled government. [Reuters]
The White House has declassified its procedures for approving drone strikes on terror suspects outside the US, reports Merrit Kennedy at NPR. The redacted document, dating from May 2013 and known as the Presidential Policy Guidance, was released following a court order as a result of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the procedures – or drone “playbook” – President Obama has to personally approve the killing of a US citizen targeted for a drone strike outside of combat areas. His approval is required in a narrow list of other circumstances, but in other cases he is simply “appraised” of targeting decisions. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]
Pro-government forces have yet to cross the front line in Libya’s Islamic State-held city of Sirte despite the support of US airstrikes since last Monday, Sudarsan Raghavan reports for the Washington Post. The intervention has given a much-needed boost to the morale of those fighting, but the densely-packed urban environment of Sirte still poses a formidable struggle, and highlights the limits of the US air campaign.
Prosecutors in the 9/11 trials at Guantánamo Bay asked the judge to empower prison staff to decide what communications by detainees can be read or heard beyond attorney-client privilege last month, reports Carol Rosenberg for the Miami Herald. Defense lawyers are calling it a gag order and an unconstitutional attempt by prosecutors to silence not the defendants but their lawyers, whereas chief prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins has called it a “necessary national security measure.”
A US Navy guided missile destroyer arrived in the Chinese port of Qingdao today, the first visit by a US warship to the country since the international arbitration panel’s ruling that its territorial claims in the South China Sea were unfounded. The USS Benfold held a signals exercise with the Chinese Navy, reports the AP.
Chinese government vessels intruded 14 times into what Tokyo considers its territorial waters close to disputed islands in the East China Sea over the weekend, Japan has said today, adding that it would continue to firmly and calmly urge China not to escalate the dispute over the region. [Reuters’ Kaori Kaneko]
Japan has issued multiple protests to China over its actions in the East China Sea over the past few days, its foreign ministry said yesterday, including what it described as the installation of radar on a Chinese offshore gas platform. Peter Landers and Jeremy Page report for the Wall Street Journal.
Iran has executed nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, accused of divulging state secrets to the US, its judiciary confirmed yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Aresu Eqbali] Amiri first came under the spotlight six years ago, when he appeared in a YouTube video claiming to have been kidnapped by the CIA, recalls David E. Sanger at the New York Times. He then released another video in which he said he’d come to the US voluntarily, to study, but wished to return to Iran to be with his son. Soon after his arrival there, he disappeared, possibly imprisoned.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Kenya this month to discuss regional security, according to Kenya’s presidential spokesperson. [AP’s Tom Odula]
President Obama recently made the positive decision to pursue a UN Security Council resolution calling on all nations to stop nuclear testing and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but there are other “legacy-building moves” he could make before leaving office, says the New York Times editorial board. A major one would be rolling back the Pentagon’s plans to modernize the entire nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years at an estimated $1 trillion.
“Can we trust Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?” Alex Gibney in the New York Times considers how the release of DNC. emails allegedly hacked by Russian intelligence last month raises questions about WikiLeaks’ role in bringing “secretive worlds” to light, and about founder Julian Assange’s “weaknesses:” his recklessness with personal data and his use of information to “settle scores and drive personal agendas.” Robert MacKey makes similar observations at the Intercept.
Errors by peacekeepers in South Sudan contributed to the massacre at a UN camp on February 17, an internal UN investigation has concluded. Violence escalated when government forces entered the camp after fighting broke at the UN Protection of Civilians Site in the city of Malakal out between young men from rival ethnic groups, peacekeepers failing to protect civilians through a “combination of inaction, abandonment of post and refusal to engage.” Kevin Sieff and Jennifer Amur report for the Washington Post.
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