The Early Edition: September 12, 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

A 10-day cessation of hostilities is due to start in Syria at sunset today, followed by coordinated US-Russian airstrikes against jihadist militants after a deal was reached between the US and Russia in Geneva late Friday. [BBC]

Syrian rebels will “cooperate positively” with the ceasefire, they wrote to the US Sunday, despite deep concerns about details of the US-Russian plan. [Reuters]  One rebel leader had called the deal a “trap,” while another called it a “half-solution,” Philip Issa reports for the AP.

The Syria Conquest Front – formerly the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front – is trying to rally other rebel factions to continue the fight against the Assad regime, Maria Abi-Habib and Noam Raydan report at the Wall Street Journal. The US-Russia agreement requires rebels to separate themselves from the Syria Conquest Front – designated terrorists by the US and Russia – during the ceasefire or risk being targeted in the subsequent US-Russian airstrikes.

Russian and Syrian government airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Syria intensified after the deal was struck, killing at least 91 – mainly in Idlib and Aleppo – and deepening mistrust of the deal among Syrians, writes Anne Barnard at the New York Times.

Could the plan agreed between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart work? The Guardian’s Mary Dejevsky writes that, although success is not guaranteed, the US and Russia both have major investment in making it work, and cooperation between the two nations would be “progress” at least.

It is “unlikely” that the deal will mark the beginning of the end of the Syria conflict, writes Samer Abboud at Al Jazeera. The agreement shows only a commitment to a military strategy, and fails to set in motion any political mechanisms for bringing an end to the civil war.

Turkey intends to send over 30 aid trucks to the Syrian city of Aleppo today once the ceasefire comes into effect, according to officials. [Reuters]

Turkish warplanes killed 20 Islamic State fighters in northern Syria, its military said yesterday. [AP’s Menelaos Hadjicostis]

FRANCE

A woman was charged over a failed terrorist attack near Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral where a car containing gas canisters was found last weekend, on Saturday. [France 24]

The Islamic State guided the women alleged to have gathered the materials for the car bomb, French prosecutors said Friday. The women allegedly had ties with other jihadists operating in France, suggesting the Islamic State has managed to cultivate a homegrown network of radicals capable of hiding from French intelligence for months, Matthew Dalton and Noemie Bisserbe write at the Wall Street Journal.

French security services are foiling terror plots “every day,” France’s prime minister said yesterday. [BBC]

New operational discipline and technical savvy by the Islamic State is revealed by recent terror attacks in Europe, the jihadists drawing from a growing bag of tricks including “WhatsApp, and Telegram, face-to-face meetings, written notes, stretches of silence and misdirection,” Sam Schechner and Benoit Faucon write at the Wall Street Journal.

RUSSIA

Russia and China launched joint naval war games in the South China sea today, a sign of growing cooperation between the nations’ armed forces, reports the AP’s Christopher Bodeen.

The US should be wary of Russia’s hacking capabilities, CIA Director John Brennan said yesterday, calling Russia’ “exceptionally capable” and “sophisticated,” reports the Hill’s Jessie Hellmann.

“We should be uncertain about how to think about our relationship with Russia,” suggests Ross Douthat at the New York Times: it isn’t clear at all where the US’s national interest in relation to the Russians lies – because neither nation is sure about what kind of power it intends to be, including in the Middle East.

IRAN

Iran denied its vessels harassed American warships around the Persian Gulf, calling US claims that Iranian boats veered dangerously close to its warships exaggerated Sunday, report Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch at the Wall Street Journal.

Iran had stepped up its harassment of US Navy ships in the region since the nuclear deal was implemented in January, the US military and members of Congress said. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

 

TURKEY

Suspected PKK militants car bombed local government offices in Turkey’s southeastern city of Van today, wounding dozens, reports Reuters.

The attack comes a day after Turkey replaced 28 elected municipal and district mayors in several predominantly Kurdish towns on suspicion of colluding with “terrorist” organizations, reports the AP’s Cinar Kiper. Turkish police dispersed crowds protesting the replacements with water cannons and teargas Sunday.

The suspensions were long overdue, T urkey’s President Erdoğan said today, defending the move. Twenty-four of the dismissed officials were accused of links to the PKK, and the other four of links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating July 15’s failed coup. [Hürriyet Daily News]

AFGHANISTAN

A Taliban bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province left experienced Afghan police Chief Zarawar Zahid dead Sunday, reports the New York Times’ Mujib Mashal.

Gunmen attacked a hospital in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, today, officials said. It was not immediately clear whether they were affiliated with any insurgent group, Reuters reports.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea could be ready to conduct another nuclear test at any time, South Korean officials have said. The BBC reports that there is still an unused tunnel at the Punggye-ri test site that could be utlized at any time.

North Korea will pose the greatest danger for the next US president, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte predicted Sunday. [The Hill’s Harper Neidig]

The “window to prevent the North from becoming a global nuclear menace is closing while the proliferation risks are growing,” warns the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

American officials are truly to blame for inciting conflict in the Korean Peninsula, China said today, responding to calls that it needs to do more to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, the AP reports.

Few expect China to punish North Korea for last week’s test, which was conducted less than 50 miles from China’s border, Jane Perlez writes at the New York Times, suggesting that China prefers having a Communist-ruled nuclear-armed state as its neighbor to the chaos of that neighbor’s collapse.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The first Guantánamo court hearing in the USS Cole bombing case wrapped up Friday with a series of unresolved pretrial defense team challenges to the war court system and no trial date, reports Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald.

Hunger-striking ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s health is worsening, according to activists and officials. [AP]

All Guantánamo Bay detainees eligible for a Periodic Review Board hearing have had one as of Friday. Cora Currier and Margot Williams take the opportunity to look at the 61 prisoners left at the detention center, and what the Obama administration proposes to do with them, at the Intercept.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Gulf Cooperation Council condemned a law allowing families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia’s government for damages Monday. The Saudi-dominated Council said the law – passed by Congress last week – was “contrary to the foundations and principles of relations between states and the principle of sovereign immunity,” Reuters reports.

The White House is reluctant to sign a landmark military aid deal with Israel because one leading lawmaker, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), won’t go along with it, reports Josh Rogin at the Washington Post. The deal would raise Israel’s annual military aid package from $3.1 billion to $3.3 billion starting 2018.

Saudi air defense forces shot down a ballistic missile fired at the kingdom from Yemen today, the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said. [AP]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duerte called for the withdrawal of US military from its southern island today, saying he fears US troops could complicate offensives against Islamic militants who see them as high-value targets. [Reuters’ Manuel Mogato]

Fighters loyal to powerful eastern military commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter fought a rival UN-backed militia for control of Libya’s petroleum facilities Sunday. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan] Gen. Hifter’s forces were eventually successful in seizing the oil terminals, officials have said. Suliman Ali Zway and Declan Walsh report at the New York Times.

Three women allegedly armed with bombs were shot dead after walking into a police station in Mobmassa, Kenya, yesterday, Rael Ombuor reports at the Washington Post.

A man has been charged with committing a terrorist act and attempted murder after stabbing a man in Sydney, Austratlia, Saturday, reports Rhiannon Hoyle at the Wall Street  Journal.

“An attack on one nation is an attack on all.” September 12 2001 was the first and only time the US’s NATO allies invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, Douglas Lute recalls at the New York Times. 

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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