The Early Edition: August 9, 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 Syrian government deployed more than 3,000 extra troops and militia fighters to Aleppo to reinforce the counterattack after the rebels’ advances two days ago, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Government forces were joined by Hezbollah fighters. [Al Jazeera]

The rebels’ advances in Aleppo were led by “jihadists and hardline Salafists,” mainly Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, write Michael Weiss and Roy Gutman for the Daily Beast. Suicide bombers were used to terrorize Assad’s forces, according to a military spokeperson for Ahrar al-Sham. The advances in Aleppo lend jihadists a “major reputational boost” in the eyes of Syrians, according to Faysal Itani, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, showing Syrians that they need not – and should not – rely on the US for support or rescue.

An informal UN Security Council meeting on Aleppo was organized yesterday by the US, Britain, France, New Zealand and Ukraine, hearing briefings by a White Helmet rescue worker and two US-based doctors recently returned from Aleppo. Syrian government forces are responsible for almost 80 per cent of the besieged areas throughout Syria, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said afterward, citing UN figures. She urged Russia to “stop facilitating these sieges and to use its influence to press the regime to end its sieges across Syria once and for all.” In response, the Russian Deputy UN Ambassador accused the US and its Western allies of politicizing a humanitarian issue, reports Michelle Nichols for Reuters.

“Insane airstrikes of unprecedented ferociousness” on rebel-held parts of Aleppo by regime forces continued unabated yesterday, reports Kareem Shaheen for the Guardian.

The UN has called for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in Aleppo today, where two million residents are left without access to running water or electricity. [Reuters]

Private military contractors will be working inside Syria alongside the roughly 300 US troops already there, the Pentagon’s daily list of contracts for July 27 reveals. Kate Brannen at the Daily Beast reports that the contract announcement confirmed Six3 Intelligence Solutions won a $10 million no-bid Army contract to provide “intelligence analysis services,” including in Syria.

British special forces have been photographed on the ground in Syria for the first time, the BBC revealed yesterday. The pictures date from June, showing heavily-armed patrol vehicles apparently securing the perimeter of the New Syrian Army base of Al Tanaf on the Syria-Iraq border following an attack by the Islamic State.  The UK Ministry of Defence – which yesterday released information about British airstrikes in Iraq and Syria – has refused to comment on the pictures, reports the Guardian.

Two years of US-led coalition airstrikes have “redrawn the Iraqi map,” leveling entire neighborhoods and displacing millions of civilians, reports Susannah George for the AP. The Islamic State has lost over 40 per cent of its territory in Iraq since airstrikes began, the coalition estimates, but returning Iraqi and Kurdish forces are often left with a “ruined prize.”

The US delivered 50 armored vehicles, 40 artillery pieces and 50 grenade launchers to the Lebanese army today, as part of an effort to bolster Lebanon against the threat from military groups in neighboring Syria. [Reuters

Bosnian shepherd Ibrahim Delic has been charged with aiding the Islamic State in Syria, alongside seven other men, all eight currently on trial in Sarajevo. Delic travelled to Syria in 2013, telling Al Jazeera he felt outrage and solidarity with the Syrian people. He claims all he did was deliver lectures urging Syrians to defend themselves against President Bashar al-Assad, reports Mersiha Gadzo.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 5. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg today, Erdoğan saying he wishes to “reset” ties with Russia after Turkey downed a Russian warplane last November. Talks are expected to focus on restarting trade and investment, and finding common ground in resolving the conflict in Syria, reports the BBC.  The visit is “draped in symbolism” since Turkey’s relationships with the US and the EU have eroded significantly in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, report Neil MacFarquhar and Tim Arango for the New York Times.

A thaw in relations between Turkey and Russia would be a good thing, think some senior German officials, who see no danger in Turkey turning its back on NATO. There is a European interest in Turkey and Russia getting along because it will aid progress in resolving conflicts in Syria and the Caucasus, according to Germany’s coordinator for relations with Russia, Gernot Erler. [AP]

Turkey has formally arrested and remanded in custody 16,000 people in connection with the July 15 failed coup, with another 6,000 being processed, Turkey’s Justice Minister said today. Another 7,688 are under investigation but not currently detained. Tens of thousands of people have been detained, removed or suspended among the judiciary, military, police and public services. [Reuters]

LIBYA

The US ramped up its air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya’s Sirte over the weekend, according to a US defense official, targeting snipers positioned in buildings around the city in nine airstrikes, a marked increase compared to the 11 airstrikes over the previous five-day period, reports the Daily Beast’s Alexa Corse.

Forces loyal to Libya’s Government of National Accord have seized a sector of Sirte near to the Islamic State’s command center, they said yesterday. They originally entered Sirte in June, having launched the military operation to oust the Islamic State from the city on May 12, but their progress has been marred by sniper fire, suicide attacks and car bombings. [Al Jazeera]

EUROPE

Saudi authorities are offering to assist Berlin in investigating two Islamic State-claimed attacks in Germany last month, officials from both countries confirmed yesterday. Investigators found that the terrorist organization not only inspired the attacks but appears to have helped in their execution. An Islamic State member used a Saudi phone line to communicate with Mahammade Daleel shortly before he blew himself up outside a bar in Ansbach, information gleaned from a probe of the perpetrator’s electronic devices. Andrea Thomas reports for the Wall Street Journal.

A 16-year-old French girl is charged with supporting the Islamic State by using a social media app, of which she was the administrator, to spread calls by the group to commit terrorist acts, Paris prosecutors said yesterday. Investigators said the girl, who is “extremely radicalized,” was placed in custody. [AP]

PAKISTAN

Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for the bombing of a hospital in Quetta, southwestern Pakistan, yesterday, which targeted a group of lawyers gathering to accompany the body of a murdered colleague which had been brought to the hospital. [Al Jazeera] The death toll from yesterday’s bombing has risen to at least 70, reports Gul Yousafzai for Reuters. There are also 112 wounded, meaning the death toll could rise, the provincial health minister warned.

Overlapping groups of drug traffickers, criminals and Islamist fighters in Pakistan are ferrying anti-India Muslim extremists, fake currency and weapons across the border to India, according to Indian anti-narcotics and intelligence officials, who also suspect that sales from heroin are financing jihadist attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s Niharika Mandhana]

CHINA

China appears to have built reinforced aircraft hangars on its holdings in the disputed South China Sea, according to satellite images taken in late July studied by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, which added that there is no evidence that China has deployed military aircraft to these outposts. [Reuters] The photos cast doubt on China’s promise not to militarize disputed islands in the South China Sea, suggest David E. Sanger and Rick Gladstone in the New York Times.

Japan’s ties with China are “significantly deteriorating” over China’s incursions in the East China Sea, warned Japan’s foreign minister. Chinese vessels have repeatedly entered waters close to the Japan-controlled Senkaku islands – or the Diaoyu islands, as China calls them. [BBC]

China is saying it has the ability to fight two regional conflicts at once through its diplomatic confrontations of the US and South Korea over missile defenses and its increasing pressure on Japan over disputed islets in the East China Sea, Michael Martina and Tim Kelly write at Reuters.

The USS Benfold’s visit to the northern Chinese port of Qingdao this week is the latest development in a long-term effort to build trust between the two nations amid tensions and rivalries in Asia, reports the AP, which takes a look at some of the other steps the two sides have taken in recent times.

IRAN

The $400 million cash payment by the US to Iran early this year had nothing to do with nuclear diplomacy happening around the same time, according to a senior Iranian official. The payment, which came to light last week, was apparently part of a $1.7 billion settlement over a failed arms deal which predated the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch report for the Wall Street Journal.

Former Iranian President and potential future runner for the post Mahoud Ahmadinejad has asked President Obama to release nearly $2 million in Iranian assets frozen in a New York bank account. Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Obama in which he said that withholding the money could deepen the “historical distrust” between the US and Iran, reports Julian Hattem for the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen’s capital Sanaa resumed today for the first time in five months after UN-backed peace talks broke down over the weekend, reports Reuters.

Afghan security forces are struggling to fend off the Taliban offensive in Helmand Province, relying heavily on US airstrikes around the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, according to officials and residents, who describe the city as almost besieged. Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah report for the New York Times.

A specialist cyber-intelligence unit to identify terrorism financing and other financial crimes has been set up in Australia, the Australian government said today, in response to “unprecedented threats to national security.” [Reuters]

The tension between the US’s desire to push human rights and worries that cutting off aid and trade with Argentina’s ruling military junta would push it closer to the Soviet Union was revealed in declassified Carter administration documents relating to US policy toward Argentina’s “dirty war” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, released by the Obama administration Monday, reports Karen DeYoung for the Washington Post.

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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