The Early Edition: August 10, 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

Rebels fighting in Syria’s Aleppo deny claims that government forces have retaken parts of the city they recently captured. They continue to fight to hang on to areas in the north of Aleppo as regime forces escalate attacks. [Al Jazeera]

The rebels’ “surprisingly well coordinated” counteroffensive in Aleppo this week appears to have been supported at least partly by Turkey, suggesting that Turkey’s support of rebels and opposition to the Assad regime has survived the failed July 15 coup attempt. Sarah El Deeb and Zeina Karam for the AP discuss the history of Turkey-Assad relations, and Turkey-Russia relations concerning Syria.

Turkey and Russia are to set up a joint military, intelligence and diplomacy mechanism on Syria, Turkey’s foreign minister announced today, according to the state Anadolu Agency.  A delegation of Turkish foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials will depart for Russia today for talks on building a “strong mechanism” to try to find a solution in Syria, reports Reuters.  The first bilateral meeting on the mechanism will then take place tomorrow, in St. Petersburg, Hürriyet Daily News reports

UN plans to resume Syrian peace talks in August have been shelved at least until a ceasefire in Aleppo has been agreed to, the UN decided following the UN Security Council’s briefing yesterday, Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.

The UN has supplies of “food rations, hospital supplies, ambulances, fuel for generators, water supplies and more” ready to dispatch to Aleppo but is being prevented from entering the city due to the declining security situation, UN Undersecretary-General Stephen O’Brien said yesterday. [AP’s Michael Astor]

French citizen Omar Omsen is responsible for recruiting about 80 per cent of French-speaking jihadists who travel to Iraq and Syria, according to French authorities. He came to Syria in 2013 to head a brigade of French-speaking fighters. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimated that between 25,000 and 30,000 foreigners, 21 per cent of them from Europe, traveled to Syria and Iraq between 2011 and 2015. [CNN

TURKEY

President Erdoğan’s meeting with Russian President Putin yesterday produced little beyond promises of cooperation and friendship, reports Neil MacFarquhar at the New York Times, Putin saying at a news conference after the meeting that the two leaders hoped to “overcome” the recent “complications” of their relationship, including Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet last November.

The meeting was not meant as a message to the West, Turkey’s foreign minister said today, but added that if the West “loses” Turkey it will be due to its own mistakes, not Turkey’s good relationship with Russia. [Reuters]

For now, Russia is the “main beneficiary” of Erdoğan’s “countercoup,” Lilia Shevtsova writes at the Financial Times, with the Russian regime looking “positively vegetarian” now compared with Turkey’s despotic post-coup crackdown – a particular challenge to Western principles given that Turkey is a member of NATO and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. The purge has weakened Turkey, which also benefits Russia: Erdoğan’s decimation of the Turkish army will impair his ability to participate in Syria, where he supports the Rebels and Russia supports the Assad regime.

It is too soon for the West to give up on Erdoğan, suggests the Financial Times. Although his trip to Moscow was a “calculated slight,” it also reveals Erdoğan’s “underlying pragmatism:” he cannot afford to pick fights with all his neighbors. While the West should make no concessions in dealing with Turkey, and condemn any abuse of the rule of law, it should also recognize the challenges it faces at home and on its borders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for strong continued ties with Turkey in the wake of the failed coup and to “keep the discussion going” over the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, reports Der Spiegel, but her – and other more “levelheaded” forces in Ankara and the EUs’ – words were drowned by the “bluster of ultimatums and counterultimatums” surrounding the EU’s ongoing relationship with Turkey.

The PKK are believed to be responsible for an attack in Turkey’s southeastern Sirnak province today that has left three soldiers dead and 10 others wounded. [Reuters]

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban is close to taking the capital city of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, officials said today, and more Afghan troops are being deployed to join the intense fighting there. The Taliban has reportedly completely surrounded the city, and army and police units have been pulled back from checkpoints to reinforce positions inside the city. The AP’s Mirwais Khan and Lynne O’Donnell report.

Afghan translators who helped the US on the promise of US visas are hiding from Taliban reprisals while Republican infighting in Congress is holding up a decision whether the special visa program will be renewed. If not, around 12,000 Afghans whose immigration applications are currently in limbo will be deserted, reports Emmarie Huetteman at the New York Times.

EUROPE

A Syrian asylum-seeker has been detained on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack during the opening of the national soccer league season by German special police, officials said yesterday. The 24-year-old was arrested on Friday in the city of Mutterstadt on a tip-off weeks beforehand, Melissa Eddy reports at the New York Times.

German police carried out several raids against suspected Islamic extremists across numerous towns in western Germany today, targeting preachers suspected of trying to recruit young men to fight in Syria and Iraq. [Reuters]

Germany will announce a raft of new security measures tomorrow in response to the string of attacks in July, which will include faster deportations and the waiving of doctor-patient confidentiality in some circumstances. [Reuters]

The man responsible for a machete attack on two police officers in Belgium was not a member of the Islamic State, Belgium’s Interior Minister said yesterday. Prosecutors opened a terror investigation into the incident, concluding it was an “isolated act.” [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

LIBYA

US Special Operations forces are providing on the ground support to Libyan fighters battling the Islamic State in Sirte, US and Libyan authorities have said. Missy Ryan and Sudarsan Raghavan report for the Washington Post.

The US, France, Britain and other Western nations issued a joint statement of concern over mounting tension around the Zueitina oil terminal in Libya today, reports Reuters. The terminal is one of three eastern ports currently blockaded by the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). The PFG has signed a deal with Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord, but forces loyal to a separate government in eastern Libya have threatened to block the resumption of oil exports.

YEMEN

Two ballistic missiles fired from within Yemen were intercepted by Saudi Arabia today, according to Saudi-owned media. The attack follows renewed Saudi airstrikes on Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, following the collapse of the UN-backed peace talks over the weekend. The Houthis have not yet claimed responsibility for the attack. [Reuters]

The internationally-recognized government of Yemen has taken the unusual step of appealing to the International Monetary Fund to help it stop the Houthis from withdrawing around $100 million a month from Sana’a’s central bank to pay its fighters’ salaries, leaving little behind for the salaries of government employees in areas outside Houthi control. The Houthis deny they have been misusing the bank, report Margherita Stancati and Asa Fitch for the Wall Street Journal.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Vietnam has fortified several of its islands in the South China Sea, instaling mobile rocket launchers capable of hitting China’s runways and military installations, according to Western officials. [Reuters]

China has taken several “destabilizing steps” in the South China Sea, including conducting air patrols and announcing joint drills with Russia, Commander of US naval forces in the Pacific Adm. Scott Swift has said. Jeremy Page reports at the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign policy challenges: the AP takes a look at China’s stance in the South China Sea, as well as its current relationships with South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan and the US as it prepares to host the annual G20 summit next month.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger hindered US efforts to stop mass killings by Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship through his close relationship with Argentina’s rulers, which jeapordized Jimmy Carter’s “carrot-and-stick” attempts to influence the regime, newly declassified state department files reveal. [The Guardian’s Uni Goñi]

Pakistani authorities are trying to establish whether the Islamic State was behind Tuesday’s bomb attack on a hospital in Quetta, claimed by both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah]

Israel has charged a Palestinian working for the UN in the Gaza Strip with providing material assistance to Hamas. The charges follow last Thursday’s accusations against a Palestinian employee of World Vision in Gaza that he had been a conduit for millions of dollars to Hamas. These two incidents raise questions about the huge network of humanitarian groups operating in Gaza, suggests Diaa Hadid at the New York Times.

The Islamic State was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of over 33,000 people between 2002 and 2015, and the wounding of 41,000 more, according to an analysis from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism. [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor]

WikiLeaks announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the killing on July 10 of DNC staffer Seth Rich via Twitter yesterday, report Peter Hermann and Clarence Williams at the Washington Post. The circumstances of Rich’s death – he was gunned down near his home in Washington in what DC police say was an attempted robbery – have prompted conspiracy theorists to suggest he was killed because he was responsible for handing over 20,000 hacked DNC emails to WikiLeaks, or even that he was working with the FBI to expose that wrongdoing.

About 1,000 Russian opposition supporters gathering in Moscow to protest controversial new security legislation, yesterday. The new laws give sweeping powers to security agencies, and among other things, introduces prison sentences for failure to report a grave crime and orders telecommunications companies to store customers’ data for months, reports the AP’s Francesca Ebel.

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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