The Early Edition: August 23, 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 Pentagon warned Assad regime forces to keep clear of areas in northern Syria where US forces are operating yesterday, following last week’s bombing by the Syrian air force on Hasaka, where US special operations forces are assisting Kurdish YPG fighters against the Islamic State. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The YPG – the Kurdish People’s Protection Units – are now “very clearly” fighting both the Islamic State and the Assad regime, reports Wladimir Van Wilgenberg at The Daily Beast, raising the possibility that the US will be drawn into direct conflict with the Syrian regime.

Turkey swore to “cleanse” the Islamic State from its borders following the suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding on Saturday. The Islamic State has not claimed responsibility for the attack as yet, but Turkish officials have said it appeared to be the work of the militant group. [AP’s Suzan Fraser]

Turkish artillery appears to have attacked a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia as well as Islamic State positions north of Manbij, Syria, yesterday, according to Turkish media. [AP]

Some 1,500 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are reportedly in the Turkish town of Gaziantep waiting to launch an offensive against the Islamic State in Syria. Gaziantep is the location of Saturday’s wedding attack. [BBC]

Iraqi forces are moving closer to Islamic State-held Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest metropolitan area, Arwa Damon reports for CNN.

The Islamic State is increasingly turning to children to carry out its suicide attacks, a consequence of the terror group’s campaign of indoctrination and the fact that an estimated 45,000 of its adult fighters have been killed in US and coalition airstrikes, reports Loveday Morris at the Washington Post.

Children are also being used to patrol smaller communities in Iraq as the Islamic State’s more veteran militants redeploy to Mosul or to Syria, reports the AP’s Balint Szlanko. Desertions are also increasing, while recruitment falls off, according to Kurdish officials.

No humanitarian aid deliveries have been made to Aleppo this month, the UN Security Council heard yesterday, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien saying that, while he welcomed Russia’s support last week for a 48-hour ceasefire to facilitate deliveries, there had been no assurances from other combatants. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 21. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

TURKEY

Authorities are in no position to verify whether the person responsible for the suicide bombing of a wedding in Gaziantep in Turkey on Saturday was a child, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said yesterday, contrary to the earlier assertions of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. [Al Jazeera]

Turkey condemned Israel’s strikes on the Gaza Strip Sunday as “disproportionate” yesterday, despite the fact that the two countries have recently signed a reconciliation pact, reports the AP. Israel responded later that Turkey’s condemnation was “baseless.”

Turkey’s Supreme Military Council will meet for the second time this month on Aug. 23 to consider the status of hundreds of colonels and other ranking military personnel in light of the ongoing post-coup purge of so-called Gulenists from the army, reports the Hürriyet Daily News.

The EU’s migrant deal with Turkey is nearing collapse in the wake of Turkey’s failed coup and subsequent crackdown on alleged perpetrators, report Michael Birnbaum and Erin Cunningham at the Washington Post. Leaders from both sides are threatening to abandon the deal – the Europeans because they are worried about widespread human rights abuses in Turkey, and the Turks because of European reluctance to fulfill a promise to lift visa restrictions for Turkish nationals.

The Turkish Ambassador to Austria has been recalled to Turkey. Austrian authorities’ decision to allow alleged PKK members to hold a demonstration in Vienna over the weekend was the reason for the move, according to Turkey’s foreign minister, who added that “the ground for our bilateral relations and cooperation to continue as normal has disappeared.” [AP]

Vice President Biden will need to give Erdoğan some “tough counsel” when they meet in Ankara this week, says the Washington Post editorial board. Mr. Biden should not hesitate to reiterate that the US and Turkey share vital interests, and that the US does not wish to destabilize Turkey, but he should also make it clear that the US did not instigate the July 15 coup and will not relinquish US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen to a “witchhunt.”

HILLARY CLINTON EMIAL INVESTIGATION

A federal judge has ordered the State Department to review a batch of 14,900 emails recently discovered during the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. The review, to determine which emails contain sensitive government information, is to be completed by September 22. [Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Devlin Barrett]  The emails, discovered in July, were not included in the initial trove of 55,000 pages Clinton’s lawyers handed to the State Department last year, but FBI Director James Comey has said previously he did not believe they had been “intentionally deleted.” [New York Times’ Mark Landler and Steven Lee Myers]

“Her people have been trying to pin it on me.” Speaking at an event over the weekend, former secretary of state Colin Powell rebuffed Clinton’s comments to the FBI last week that he had suggested she use a private server. “The truth is she was using [her email setup] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did,” he said. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

RUSSIA

Russia announced its operations from an Iranian airbase had finished anyway, yesterday, after Iran abruptly annulled its permission for Russia to use the base to launch attacks on Syria, Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch report for the Wall Street Journal.

Iran’s sudden withdrawal of permission after less than a week yesterday appears to reflect the deep and longstanding Iranian suspicion of Russia despite the two nations’ tactical alliance in Syria, suggest Anne Barnard and Andrew E. Kramer at the New York Times. It also shows that Russia, in trumpeting the deal as a sign of its deepening partnership with Iran, seems to have seriously misread how such an announcement would be met by Iranians.

This was the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that a foreign military has used Iran as a staging ground for military operations, reports the AP’s Nasser Karimi. Iran’s parliament complained today that the military had dismissed civilian oversight in allowing Russia to use the airbase.

Formally neutral Finland is close to concluding a defense cooperation agreement with the US over concerns over increasing Russian military activity, reports Julian Borger at the Guardian. The deal includes joint military training and information and research sharing, but would not involve any commitment for either country to come to the defense of the other. Finland signed a similar agreement with the UK in July, and Sweden –another non-NATO country – signed a defense cooperation agreement with the US in June this year.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Peddling the idea that the $400 million payment to Iran this January was a ransom is another attempt to discredit the “remarkable” nuclear deal, argues the New York Times editorial board. Withholding the payment to ensure Iran didn’t renege on its promise to release three American detainees was “pragmatic diplomacy,” while the nuclear deal managed to put a stop to a program that “put Iran within striking distance of producing a nuclear weapon.”

Libya’s parliament has refused to approve the UN-backed Government of National Accord, another setback to efforts to bring stability to the country, reports the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan. The no-confidence vote took place during a rare session of the parliament, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

The FBI is investigating the possibility that a stabbing attack in Roanoke, Virginia, at the weekend, may have been inspired by the Islamic State, reports Mike Levine at ABC News.

Nigeria’s air force says it has killed a number of senior Boko Haram fighters and possibly the group’s leader during an attack on Friday. [Reuters]

Secretary of State John Kerry warned South Sudan that the US will withdraw funding if its leaders fail to stop the escalating violence there, during his visit to Nairobi for talks with regional allies, reports Matina Stevis for the Wall Street Journal.

Measures that would limit the use of encrypted communications across the EU will be discussed by Germany and France’s interior ministers today when they meet in Berlin, report Sam Jones et al at the Financial Times. Encryption is “a central issue in the fight against terrorism,” France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters last week.

“Is China’s aggressiveness in its long-term interests?” The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” considers China’s stance in the South China Sea, which has antagonized its neighbors, provided an incentive for a counter-China coalition, and is opposed by the US. 

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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