The Early Edition: August 12, 2016

IRAQ and SYRIA

US backed forces launched a final assault on the Syrian city of Manbij, close to the Turkish border in Syria, today. [Reuters]

There was no sign of Russia’s promised “humanitarian window” in Syria’s Aleppo yesterday as fighting between government and rebel forces continued, reports Al Jazeera. Trucks carrying aid were unable to enter the city due to heavy bombardment.

Germany’s foreign minister called for UN-supervised humanitarian aid delivery in Aleppo, saying today that humanitarian access cannot be under the single-handed control of one side in the conflict. [AP]

Russia sent long-range bombers to hit several Islamic State targets in Syria, including the terrorists’ de facto capital of Raqqa, yesterday, report the AP’s Zeina Karam and Philip Issa.

Turkish warplanes will actively participate in operations against the Islamic State in Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said yesterday, as a Turkish delegation conducted talks in Russia aimed at coordinating actions on Syria and other bilateral issues. Çavuşoğlu also called on Russia to “carry out anti-Daesh operations together” with Turkey. [Hürriyet Daily News]

The UN is investigating reports of a chlorine gas attack on a rebel-held part of Aleppo, reports the BBC, UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura saying that, if confirmed, the attack would amount to a “war crime.”

Chlorine was not included in the US and Russia-brokered deal for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013, because of its widespread use for legal purposes, reports Russell Goldman at the New York Times.  Aid groups and doctors on the ground in Syria say the attack, which left left a woman and two children dead and dozens injured, is one of numerous chlorine gas attacks in Syria since the 2013 sarin gas assault on a Damascus suburb, after which the Assad regime agreed to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile.

Experts warn that the frequent use of chemical weapons risks normalizing war crimes. [The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison]

US Central Command reports about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were “consistently more optimistic” than those of analysts on the ground, a report published yesterday by a House task force into alleged intelligence manipulation at the command has found. The Obama administration “wanted a good news story,” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan), one of the three GOP lawmakers leading the task force, told the Hill’s Julian Hattem.

The Pentagon has refused to confirm the number of US troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, a sticking point over which critics are pressing the DOD for more transparency, reports Kristina Wong for the Hill. While the military does disclose the total number of full-time troops deployed – currently about 3,825 in Iraq and 300 in Syria – aside from knowing the figure is “much higher,” it is unclear how many ground troops, including temporary deployments, there are inside the two countries. 

British schoolgirl Kadiza Sultana who left London last year to join the Islamic State in Syria is believed to have been killed in a Russian airstrike on Raqqa. The BBC reports that Kadiza’s family heard reports of her death a few weeks ago, but had not been able to independently confirm it. Then-16-year-old Kadiza flew to Turkey from London on February 17 last year, along with two other girls, both 15, who are still in Syria.

Allowing Syria’s civil war to drag on unchallenged has been President Obama’s “worst mistake,” Nicholas Kristof writes at the New York Times. While Obama is right to be cautious about military involvement, says Kristof, he is wrong when he says there is nothing the US can do about the “horrible” situation in Syria.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on the front line in the Iraqi town of Tus Khurmatu are now looking across it at Shiite militias, ostensibly their allies when the Islamic State controlled a village less than a mile away, reports Liz Sly for the Washington Post. If the upcoming offensive on Mosul goes well, that will likely be the end of the terrorists’ self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq. But new conflicts – between the Peshmerga, Iraqi Army forces, Shiite militias and a few Sunni ones – may erupt instead.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 10. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

Several overseas military officers and diplomats who left their posts after the failed coup on July 15 are being sought by the Turkish government, report Dion Nissenbaum and Emre Peker at the Wall Street Journal, including some who have reportedly requested asylum in the US. The manner in which Turkey deals with these individuals could have significant impact on Turkey’s relationship with the US and European Union capitals.

Two military attaches who escaped to Greece after the coup fled to Italy, Turkey’s foreign minister said yesterday, while a naval officer based in the US has also gone missing. [AP’s Suzan Fraser]  Turkey’s defense minister has said he believes there are 33 military attaches in total still missing, all likely to be in Italy. [Reuters]

Turkey is working on a decree to meet demand for new air force pilots, Defense Minister Fikri Isik said today, to make up for the shortage now that tens of thousands of soldiers, officials and bureaucrats have been dismissed or arrested following the coup attempt. [Reuters]

LIBYA

Islamic State fighters are still lurking in Libya’s Sirte, Libyan officials warn, adding that they are unaware of exact numbers. The New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Nour Youssef report.

Support for the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Libya is “crumbling” due to increasing power outages and a weakening currency, and its struggle to impose its authority in the face of the political and armed rivalries riving the nation, the UN envoy to Libya has said. [Reuters]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Ukraine put its troops on combat alert along the border with Crimea yesterday as the “war of words” with Russia over Crimea escalated. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports for the AP.

Ukraine’s envoy to the UN has asked Russia to provide evidence to support its accusations that Ukraine is carrying out armed incursions into Crimea, telling the UN Security Council that some 40,000 Russian troops have amassed on the Crimea-Ukraine border. [BBC]

Russia’s President Putin summoned his security council while Russia’s Navy announced war games in the Black Sea the day after the accusations were made. Putin vowed to take counter-measures against Ukraine for the alleged attacks. [Reuters’s Andrew Osborn]

What has caused the latest spat and what will happen next? CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh discusses the timing of the renewed tension, what is being done about it, and the likely outcomes.

There are various reasons why alleging terrorism by Ukraine may serve Russia well, reports Adrian Karatnycky at POLITICO, who points out that it took Russia four days to make a public statement about the alleged attacks by Ukrainian special forces. Conversely, Ukraine has no strategic or economic interests in launching a violent attack on Crimea.

It seems unlikely that Putin will really want to risk a fresh conflict in Crimea for now, suggests the Financial Times. While his standoff with the West is moving in his favor in some areas, he may have decided that some “military theatrics” are needed to distract attention from a failing economy as parliamentary elections approach next month.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY HACK

US officials are considering imposing economic sanctions on Russia in response to the hacking of Democratic Party organizations, but hadn’t reached a decision on how to proceed as of yesterday, reports Damian Paletta at the Wall Street Journal.

Top members of Congress have been aware that Russian hackers were targeting the Democratic Party for over a year, reports Joe Uchill for the Hill. Members of both parties in the House and Senate met with intelligence officials last summer, but were barred from disclosing the attack to its victims in case intelligence gathering methods were compromised.

The DNC is to form a Cybersecurity Advisory Board to prevent future attacks on its network. It will be composed of “distinguished experts in the field,” acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile wrote in a memo. [the Hill]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The Philippines is seeking formal discussions with China to consider options for peace and cooperation in the South China Sea, the Philippines’ special envoy to China, Fidel Ramos, said today.  He was speaking as his trip to Hong Kong to attempt to restore ties with China soured over a maritime dispute in the South China Sea drew to a close. Reuters’ Venus Wu reports.

Japan and the Philippines are in talks for the transfer of two large Japanese coastguard ships to Manila to help patrol the disputed South China Sea, Japan’s foreign ministry has said today. The ships form part of a deal on defense equipment. [Reuters’ Manuel Mogato]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Pakistani captive Sufiyan Barhoumi has been cleared for release by the Guantánamo parole board, Carol Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald. In a short decision, the board said his release “presents some level of threat in light of his past activities” – he was for a time considered to be part of a Pakistan-based bomb-making cell – but that he had behaved well in prison, lacks “extremist views,” and was able to offer a detailed plan for his future in Algiers.

The US announced an extra $1.15 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia this week, as the ceasefire in Yemen collapsed and the Saudi-led coalition resumed its bombing campaign of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. Alex Emmons at The Intercept reports that America has already sold over $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015.

Canadian Aaron Driver who was killed by police on Wednesday after he detonated an explosive device in a taxi in southern Ontario prepared a martyrdom video before he attempted to carry out a terrorist attack, reports Rob Gillies for the AP. Canadian police say they were tipped off by US authorities at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, after which it was a “race against time” to identify and locate Driver.

Driver had been in contact with the British teenager convicted of inciting terrorism over the 2015 Anzac Day plot to behead a police officer in Melbourne, Australia, Canadian police have said. They did not reveal the nature of the communications, reports Ben Doherty at the Guardian.

Over a dozen lawmakers have written to President Obama to urge a UN arms embargo on South Sudan following the fighting in its capital last month, Jason Patinkin reports for the AP. A draft UN Security Council resolution calls for a vote on an arms embargo if it emerges that South Sudan’s authorities have blocked the deployment of a regional force to try to restore calm.

Germany revealed its new range of antiterrorism measures yesterday, including closer monitoring of refugees and enhanced surveillance. It is the German government’s most comprehensive response to the terror attacks recently targeting Europe, reports Alison Smale at the New York Times.

The measures may mean that refugees moving to Germany will now have to give police permission to search their social media accounts, Germany’s interior minister announced yesterday. A pilot scheme will see border police taking the smartphones of those refugees who do not have passports, report Philip Oltermann and Jon Henley for the Guardian.

A Saudi Arabian woman and her three children have been stopped in Lebanon from entering Syria to join the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said today. A number of Saudis have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reports the AP. This incident was a rare moment of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Police in Rio De Janeiro arrested two alleged Islamic State sympathizers Thursday in the second of two phases of raids, the first of which led to the detention of 12 people in the days leading up to the start of the Olympic Games. The arrestees have not been identified. [AP]

Pakistan passed the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill late last night, a measure aimed at ensuring security against the growing threat of terrorism, among other things. The bill’s vague language risks curtailing free speech and may lead to unfair prosecutions, human rights and pro-democracy activists have argued. [Reuters]

A Palestinian teenager stabbed and wounded an Israeli teenager with a screwdriver in east Jerusalem yesterday before running away, Israeli police have said. [AP]

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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