The Early Edition: August 31, 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

Syrian rebels and Kurdish forces have reached a “loose agreement” to cease fire, according to US officials, though Turkey’s foreign ministry has insisted that Operation Euphrates Shield will continue “until the calamity of terror is not disturbing Turkish citizens.” [Al Jazeera]

The US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass was reportedly summoned to Ankara by the Turkish government over Washington’s statements that a loose agreement has been reached, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry saying the statements were “by no means acceptable” and did not “comply with the alliance relationship.” [Hürriyet Daily News]  State Department spokesperson John Kirby was unable to comment on this report yesterday.

The State Department denied the US is mediating the “period of calm,” but said it was aware that Turkish forces had moved to the west, while Kurdish forces had moved east of the Eurphrates River, as per the insistence of Turkey and the US. Sarah El Deeb and Dusan Stojanovic report at the AP.

The Turkey-Kurdish fight may delay the US military campaign to seize Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de-facto capital in Syria, suggests David Ignatius at the Washington Post. US strategy in Syria is built on the “treacherous fault line of Turkish-Kurdish enmity,” and although Turkey has allowed the US to launch missions from its Incirlik airbase in support of the Kurds, its patience has frayed following its July 15 coup attempt.

The absence of US leadership in Syria has debilitating consequences even for the immediate aim of ousting the Islamic State, as well as for devising a political settlement, says the Washington Post editorial board.

Senior Islamic State strategist and spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was killed in a US “precision strike” near Al Bab, northern Syria, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook has confirmed. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Anne Barnard]

Killing leaders of terrorist organizations like the Islamic State makes little difference, scholars have found, because of two features: popular support and bureaucracy. Max Fisher reports at the New York Times.

The UN Security Council failed to agree on whether to sanction Syria for its use of chemical weapons yesterday following inspectors’ determination that Assad regime forces had deployed them on at least two occasions over the past two years, reports Michael Astor at the AP. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin questioned the evidence, insisting it was too soon to implement a September 2013 council resolution authorizing sanctions that can be militarily enforced for any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The UN Security Council-mandated Joint Investigative Mechanism released its report Tuesday, finding what the panel described as  “sufficient evidence” of three cases of chemical weapons use, including one by the Islamic State. Investigation head Virgina Gamba said she fears the number of parties in Syria today with the ability to make and use chemical weapons is growing.

The UN is under pressure to launch an inquiry into its Syria aid program following a Guardian investigation that revealed that millions of dollars had been awarded to people close to President Assad, report Nick Hopkins and Emma Beals.

The growing use of remote-controlled weaponry by insurgents and terrorist groups in places like Syria and Iraq has been identified in a new US Army report released last week by its Foreign Military Studies Office. Thomas Gibbons-Neff discusses the history of tele-operated weaponry at the Washington Post.

The US has offered a reward of $3 million for information on an Islamic State leader who underwent US special forces training before joining the Islamist group, reports Rebecca Kheel at the Hill.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out nine airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 29. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

IRAN

The US will protect itself if a “situation” arises from “harassment” by Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf,  the top US commander in the Middle East Army Gen. Joseph Votel warned at a press briefing yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

President Obama’s “infinite patience with global rogues” will buy him a legacy of spreading nuclear threat, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, berating Obama for refusing to sanction Moscow over its transfer of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, which on Sunday moved them to its Fordow nuclear facility.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

FBI investigators want an “adult conversation” about encryption with manufacturers of digital devices, director James Comey told a cybersecurity symposium yesterday, as legal questions over FBI access to devices such as smartphones remain unanswered following the court case earlier this year over the iPhone of one of the San Bernadino shooters, dropped when the FBI got into the phone with the help of a third party. [The Guardian]

Around 30 emails related to the 2012 Benghazi attacks have been found among the 15,000 recovered by the FBI from Hillary Clinton’s private account as part of its investigation into whether she or her aides mishandled classified information, the State Department confirmed yesterday. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Dozens of notes from Hillary Clinton’s voluntary interview during the investigation are expected to be released in the coming days, as well as the FBI’s report to the Justice Department recommending no criminal charges against Clinton, reports CNN’s Evan Perez and Laura Koran.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa-el Dhiab has been deported back to Uruguay after going missing for weeks, later resurfacing in Venezuela, authorities said yesterday. [AP]

A federal appeals court has refused to halt the Guantánamo-based military commission trial of Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri after he sought to challenge the commission’s authority to hear his case. Nashiri, accused of orchestrating the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, argued that military commissions only have authority over offenses that took place during armed conflict. The court ordered that Nashiri must wait until the proceedings are over before raising the challenge, Sam Hananel reports at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US and India signed a landmark defense agreement yesterday that will increase military cooperation between the two nations, reports Rama Lakshmi at the Washington Post.

A video released by the Afghan Taliban depicting a US woman and her Canadian husband warning that their Taliban captors will kill them and their children unless the Kabul government halts its executions of Taliban prisoners is being evaluated by the State Department, Amir Shah reports at the AP.

German police are interrogating a suspect following a bomb threat at Frankfurt airport this morning, they have confirmed. No suspicious items were found in the departure area following the evacuation that took place, reports Reuters.

Violations of the ceasefire agreement between Lebanon and Israel may lead to a new conflict “that none of the parties or the region can afford,” the UN Security Council warned yesterday. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]

Turkey has banned 52,075 people from entering Turkey and detained 5,803 in its “fight against terrorism,” Turkey’s interior minister has said. [Reuters]

Nigeria’s army expects to take Boko Haram’s remaining strongholds in the northeast over the coming few weeks, the commander in charge of combating the jihadist group and its seven-year insurgency said today. [Reuters]

Clashes between the Philippine military and the militant group Abu Sayyaf have killed fifteen Philippine soldiers this week. The government plans to deploy thousands more soldiers to Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold in the south of the country, reports Felipe Villamore at the New York Times.

Tunisian police killed two people and seized arms and an explosive belt in a dawn raid on suspected al-Qaeda-linked hideouts in the central Kasserine province this morning, reports Reuters.

Three suspected Islamic State members have been arrested for planning to attack entertainment venues and a Hindu temple outside Kuala Lumpur, according to Malaysian police. [Wall Street Journal’s James Hookway]

Secretary of State John Kerry urged Pakistan to push harder against extremism within its borders today, during his second day of a visit to India, reports Reuters.

Japan’s government has requested another increase in military spending, with plans to extend missile defenses that would put pressure on the nation’s commitment to pacifism and on the regional arms race with China and North Korea, reports Motoko Rich at the New York Times.

China has charged US consultant Sandy Phan-Gillis with espionage after detaining her for over a year, a move that could complicate US-China ties ahead of the G-20 summit, suggests Emily Rauhala at the Washington Post. 

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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