The Early Edition: August 24, 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

Turkey launched an operation against both the Islamic State and Kurdish fighters in the Islamic State-held Jarablus area at dawn this morning. A dozen Turkish tanks have crossed the border into Syria following heavy cross-border shelling of the area, and the entry into the area by Turkish special forces. [AP; BBC]  The bombing is believed to be the first airstrikes by Turkey inside Syria since November 2015, when pilots shot down a Russian warplane that had strayed into Turkish airspace, report Dion Nissenbaum and Thomas Grove at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkey expects to swiftly eliminate the Islamic State from the area, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said today. Residents of the Turkish border town of Karkamiş and six other villages nearby have been evacuated as a precaution. [Reuters]  Karkamiş was hit by mortar rounds fired from Jarablus yesterday, in response to which Turkey fired around 60 artillery shells on positions in the area, Martin Chulov reports at the Guardian.

The US is providing air cover for Turkey’s operation, a senior US official saying that Washington is “in synch” with its NATO ally’s plans. [Reuters]

Live updates are being provided by the Hürriyet Daily News.

Kurdish militias signed a ceasefire with the Syrian government over the northeast province of Hasaka yesterday, a major step toward full control of the region, which will be the third to be lost by President Bashar al-Assad to the Kurds. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]

Over 65,000 people have fled Hasaka, according to the UN, which has urged government and Kurdish forces there to facilitate “permanent and unhindered” access for the delivery of humanitarian aid. [AP]

Jabhat Fath al-Sham – previously the Nusra Front – may seek to absorb other rebel factions involved in the successful offensive in east Aleppo in preparation for a push to retake the entire city, according to Hassan Hassan at the Washington-based think-tank the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. Such a plan could potentially backfire, however, by making it easier for the US to justify targeting other Syrian opposition groups such as Ahrar al-Sham. Murtaza Hussain reports for The Intercept.

Traces of deadly nerve agents found in laboratories in Syria prompt questions over whether Damascus has kept to its commitments to destroy its chemical weapons, according to a new report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. President Assad has insisted that chemical weapons have been largely eliminated from Syria, Colum Lynch and David Kenner report for Foreign Policy

TURKEY

Turkey has formally requested the extradition of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the State Department said yesterday, spokesperson Mark Toner saying, however, that he “wouldn’t characterize the request as relating to the coup attempt.”

The “demand” will be repeated by Turkey’s President in his meeting with Vice President Biden in Ankara today, he said today. [AP]

Turkish and American officials met to discuss the extradition of Gulen yesterday, ahead of Vice President Biden’s trip to Ankara, during which he will also discuss the extradition request and other matters. [AP]

A total of 586 colonels have been retired from the Turkish army following a meeting of Turkey’s Supreme Military Council yesterday. [Hürriyet Daily News]

The failed coup has united Turkey’s main political groups for the first time in decades, albeit over a single issue: Gulenists are responsible for orchestrating the putsch, Mustafa Akyol writes at the New York Times. Islamists, secularists, nationalists and Kurds all agree that “the state should be cleansed of the people who backed the coup attempt.”  This “rare period of unity” was demonstrated at an anti-coup rally this month, reports Ceylan Yeginsu at the New York Times.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russian, German and French leaders have agreed to meet at the G20 summit In China next month to address the situation in Ukraine, reports Andrey Ostroukh at the Wall Street Journal.

Putin is exploiting Western apathy to escalate the conflict in Ukraine, says the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Despite Russian rhetoric resonant of that employed before its 2008 invasion of Georgia, President Obama has refused to provide Ukraine with defensive arms to deter the Russians. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden has urged both Russia and Ukraine to show restraint – “as if Kiev is guilty of any provocation except self-defense.”

Ukraine put on a show of its military strength during independence day celebrations today, President Petro Poroshenko saying the country had to rely on its own military capabilities rather than international guarantees. [Reuters]

NIGERIA

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Nigeria’s army not to commit human rights abuses in its fight against Boko Haram yesterday. There is evidence that the Nigerian army has killed civilians, tortured prisoners, and detained those it liberated from capture by Boko Haram, Chris Stein and Dionne Searcey report at the New York Times.

Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau was wounded in airstrikes by the Nigerian Military on Friday, not killed, according to spokesperson Col. Sani Usman. Dionne Searcey reports for the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI is investigating whether Russian government hackers have breached the New York Times, a US official confirmed yesterday. The cyberattacks are thought to have targeted individual reporters, rather than the newspaper’s entire network. [AP]

WikiLeaks has published the sensitive personal data of hundreds of ordinary people, an investigation by the AP has revealed, a move at odds with the organization’s claim that it champions privacy even as it lays bare the workings of international statecraft, Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael report.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea fired a submarine-launched missile today, which traveled around 300 miles to land in Japan’s air defense identification zone, much further than previous similar tests, Alastair Gale reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Japan, China and South Korea were united in sharply criticizing the test, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida saying that it was a “provocation that simply cannot be tolerated.” [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

CIA-tortured Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah appeared at a long-postponed hearing yesterday to argue that he poses no threat and should be released, via a statement read by a uniformed soldier. No member of the public other than his lawyers had seen Zubayhdah since his March 2002 capture in Pakistan. The review panel will announce its decision as to whether he should be released in a month’s time, reports Scott Shane at the New York Times.

The death of a US service member and wounding of another while on an advisory mission in Afghanistan yesterday shows it is still a “dangerous place,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday. Six Afghan troops were also reportedly wounded when a roadside bomb exploded. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit the Saudi city of Jeddah today and tomorrow with the goal of getting the peace process for Yemen back on track, reports Nahal Toosi at POLITICO. Kerry has reportedly been “seized” with the issue of Yemen, and is hoping – along with other US officials – for a rare diplomatic success in the Middle East.

A British woman was stabbed to death in a backpackers’ hostel in Australia, and several others were injured, by a man who reportedly shouted “Allahu akbar” during the attack. Police have said they are investigating a number of possible motivations, including drugs misuse, mental health issues, and extremism, the BBC reports.

A 70-page plan detailing what should happen in the case of  a terrorist attack was approved by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet today. The “Hamsterkaeufe” plan involves citizens stocking up on water and food and the possibility of reintroducing conscription, reports Reuters.

The Philippine’s territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea has not affected its diplomatic ties with either the US or China, Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said today. [Reuters] 

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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