The Early Edition: August 15, 2016

IRAQ and SYRIA

US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces are preparing to defend Manbij in Syria from counterattacks from the Islamic State after its fighters were driven out of the city at the end of last week following months of fighting. Residents took to the streets to celebrate the city’s liberation over the weekend, reports Noam Raydan at the Wall Street Journal.

Intense fighting in Syria’s Aleppo continued over the weekend, Syrian government and Russian airstrikes killing dozens of civilians, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The New York Times’ Hwaida Saad and Rod Nordland report.

A suicide bombing on a bus in Syria’s Idlib province yesterday killed at least 25 people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The attack took place as the bus, carrying opposition fighters, was close to the Atmeh border crossing into Turkey. [Al Jazeera]

Mosul, Iraq: US-backed Kurdish forces retook villages east of the Islamic State stronghold yesterday, part of an operation which remains “ongoing,” according to Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Dedewan Khurshid Tofiq. [AP’s Balint Szlanko and Qassim Abdul-Zahra]

“There is no question that the Islamic State will be defeated in Mosul; the real question is what comes afterward.” In the Washington Post, ex-CIA director David Petraeus highlights the familiar issue of post-Islamic State effort “squabbling” among the numerous ethnic and religious groups in the region, reflecting on his own experiences commanding the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul in 2003 and helping  to establish governance there by establishing an interim council to help run the city. 

TURKEY

Turkish police raided three Istanbul courthouses today, following the issuing of detention warrants for 173 judicial personnel as the crackdown following last month’s failed coup attempt continues. [Reuters]

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Turkey later this month in an attempt to smooth over US relations with its NATO ally, Harper Neidig reports at the Hill. His visit will form part of a three-day trip that will also include visits to Latvia and Sweden. While in Ankara, Biden will meet with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey needs defense cooperation with non-NATO countries because Western partners are unwilling to sell it equipment or share information, Turkey’s foreign minster told Paul Ronzheimer at German newspaper Bild.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The Minsk deal must remain the focus of the Ukrainian peace process despite an increase in tensions in Crimera, Germany’s foreign minister told his Russian counterpart as the two officials met in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg today, reports Reuters.

“What’s going on in Crimea?” Recent events raise more questions than answers, reports Sarah Rainsford, who considers the various possible explanations for Russia’s behavior for the BBC.

The “Curse of August.” Russians perceive a pattern in their home country, reports Owen Matthews for POLITICO: August is Russia’s traditional season of disaster. The fall of Communism in 1991, the start of the second Chechen war in 1999, Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 – all happened in August. Coincidence or otherwise, this August is certainly “brimming with menace,” with a Kremlin purge, trouble in Ukraine, and wounded pride and belligerence over the Olympics.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has captured a key district in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan after days of fighting government troops, despite air support from US and Afghan warplanes, officials said today. [Reuters]

Afghanistan’s elite forces are trying to maintain their ground near the capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah, as Taliban fighters push toward it, reports Mujib Mashal at the New York Times. Intense battles have been raging near Lashkar Gah between the Taliban and Afghan forces backed by US airstrikes. On Saturday, officials did not think there was a danger that the city would fall to the Taliban, but large parts of Helmand have been under the insurgents’ control for months, their forces steadily moving toward the capital. [Washington Post’s Pamela Constable and Mohammed Sharif]

The Taliban has established a recruitment and training camp in a southern province of Afghanistan which borders Pakistan, say Afghan officials. A Pakistani military campaign to oust militants from Pakistan’s tribal regions in the north prompted hundreds of insurgents and around 400 families loyal to the Islamic State to flee into Afghanistan. They settled in Zabul province, and have now begun actively recruiting and training locals. Mirwais Khan and Lynne O’Donnell report for the AP.

A bomb attack close to the US Embassy and the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul today wounded at least two, according to the police. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]

Taliban attacks on police checkpoints in northern and eastern Afghanistan over the weekend have left at least 11 police officers dead, security officials said yesterday. At least nine were killed in attacks in the northern province of Baghlan, and another two in the eastern Nuristan province. [AP]

YEMEN

An airstrike on a school in Saada, Yemen purportedly carried out by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 10 children on Saturday, according to Yemeni officials and aid workers. [AP]

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said it would allow humanitarian flights into Sanaa from today. Sanaa’s international airport was closed last Tuesday when Saudi-led airstrikes resumed. [AFP]

Pro-government troops backed by Saudi-led airstrikes took two large towns east of the Yemeni port town of Aden from al-Qaeda on Sunday, according to officials. Al-Qaeda seized the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar last year amid the chaos of Yemen’s civil war. The group agreed to withdraw from the towns in May, but maintained a presence in both of them, reports the AP’s Ahmed Al-Haj.

A Yemeni national accused of killing a Saudi police officer had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and may have been linked to a previous attack on security forces in the region, according to Saudi authorities. [AP]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Website DC Leaks has ties with the suspected Moscow-backed hackers responsible for targeting Democrats, and possibly some prominent Republicans, researchers looking into leaked emails published on the website say. Digital security firm ThreatConnect has said that it believes DC Leaks is “another Russian-backed influence outlet.” [POLITCO’s Cory Bennett]

Russia-linked hacker “Guccifer 2.0” released the personal cell phone numbers and email addresses of almost all Democrats in the House of Representatives late Friday, part of a dump of documents allegedly stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which acknowledged last month that it had been hacked. [POLITICO’s Cory Bennett]

NIGERIA

Boko Haram has released a video apparently showing the bodies of several of the over 250 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in Nigeria more than two years ago, the militants claiming they were killed by Nigerian airstrikes. There was no immediate comment from the Nigerian government, reports Dionne Searcey at the New York Times. A spokesperson for Bring Back Our Girls, a group campaigning for the girls’ return, said the families of those kidnapped had recognized eight of the bodies.

A journalist and two others are wanted for questioning by the Nigerian army after the release of the video. Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman said in a statement issued Sunday: “There is no doubt that these individuals have links with Boko Haram terrorists and have contacts with them,” and expressed the belief that they could “tell us where the group is keeping the Chibok Girls and other abducted persons to enable us to rescue them.” [Al Jazeera]

Boko Haram’s main focus now will be killing Christians, the Islamic State subsidiary’s new leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi has said, his first message since becoming the group’s leader. This focus on a single, easily-targeted enemy is useful to a “caliphate” feeling the pressure of trying to keep its troops in line, suggests Philip Obaji Jr. at The Daily Beast.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Islamic State fighters fleeing Libya’s Sirte are attempting to cross borders into neighboring countries and regroup, according to Western and local officials. Libya shares a “long, porous border” with Algeria and Niger, report Maria Abi-Habib and Hassan Morajea at the Wall Street Journal, borders so huge they require, according to one Western official, “ a degree of professionalism that these countries do not have in order to monitor them.”

The governments of Japan, South Korea, France and Britain have lobbied the Obama administration not to declare a “no first use” nuclear weapons policy, reports Josh Rogin at the Washington Post. Japan’s fear is that deterrence against countries like North Korea will suffer as a result, while European allies do not want the disparity between US nuclear policy and their own, particularly since Britain, France and the US are all members of the UN Security Council and such differences, in an emergency, could cause real problems.

End the first-use policy for nuclear weapons, argue retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, former commander of US Strategic Command, and Bruce G. Blair in the New York Times. US presidents have for a long time allowed their senior commanders to plan for the first use of nuclear weapons. But nowadays, with its nonnuclear strength including economic and diplomatic power, international alliances, conventional and cyber weaponry and technological advantages, the US simply does not need nuclear weapons to defend itself – as long as its adversaries refrain from their use.

Jordanian jihadists are speaking more openly these days in support of the Islamic State, reports Maria Abi-Habib at the Wall Street Journal. Mosques are too full of intelligence officials to safely solicit recruits, according to recruiter Abu Otaiba, who feels able to speak freely, so he takes likely-looking individuals to farms and private homes for discussions and soccer. The group most at risk of radicalization is unemployed and “bored youth,” according to officials.

New York City police were questioning a suspect early this morning in connection with the killings of a local imam and his assistant on Saturday afternoon in the Ozone Park section of Queens. The man has not been charged and the investigation in to the shooting is ongoing, report Jonathan Dienst and Tim Stelloh for NBC News.

Israeli troops have demolished the home of the family of 17-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Tarayreh who stabbed an Israeli girl to death while she slept in June. Tarayreh was killed at the scene. [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