The Early Edition: September 15, 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

Syria government forces and rebels had still not withdrawn from a road to be used to deliver aid to the besieged city of Aleppo this morning, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]  The withdrawal is supposed to happen today, according to one rebel official, with aid entering Aleppo on Friday. [Reuters] Humanitarian aid trucks were still waiting at the Turkish border yesterday while the UN tried to negotiate safe passage into Aleppo, with UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura blaming the Syrian government and some opposition forces for the delay. [Wall Street Journal’s Noam Raydan and Laurence Norman]

This ceasefire “may be different,” suggests the AP. While a truce earlier this year soon broke down, this time, a closer look at the landscape reveals that there is a “glimmer of hope” amid the reasons to be pessimistic.

Separating Syrian rebels from “terrorists” is a “key task” to ensure the US-Russia-brokered ceasefire continues to hold in Syria, Russia said yesterday. [AP’s Saral El Deeb and Nataliya Vasilyeva]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he supported the State Department’s deal with Russia in Syria following reports that the Pentagon opposed it, reports Kristina Wong at the Hill.

The chief of the Russian army’s general staff will visit Ankara today to discuss military cooperation in Syria with Turkey, Reuters reports, citing Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov.

Why is Syria’s war concentrated in the north? The Economist explains why over 95 percent of the fighting is in the north, due more to external rather than local factors.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is too often pigeonholed simply as a “bloodthirsty dictator,” James Denselow writes at Al Jazeera. By doing so, actors in the Syrian civil war fail to understand his motivations, actions and the decisions he makes.

Iraqi Kurds have pushed to take more territory from the Islamic State in the past few weeks, reports Ben Kesling at the Wall Street Journal, including a number of villages around and some strategic access points into Mosul. The maneuvering has angered Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who says the city’s Sunni Arab majority citizenry could resist a Kurdish incursion.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 13. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Both sides in the Ukraine conflict have reported violations of a ceasefire that was meant to begin in the east at midnight last night, reports the AP.

French and German foreign ministers visited Ukraine yesterday to discuss ways to secure a durable ceasefire and implement the Minsk agreement with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, reports the AP.

Russia accepts the unilateral seven-day ceasefire on behalf of the separatist leaders it has been backing for the last two years, Germany’s foreign minister announced yesterday in Kiev. [Al Jazeera]

SAUDI ARABIA

“We misled you.” former senior US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad recounts his last trip to Saudi Arabia for POLITICO, arranged by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, when one top Saudi official admitted Saudi Arabia’s ongoing support for Islamic extremism was a way of resisting the Soviet Union, and later Iranian-supported Shiite movements.

The well-documented enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia has produced the “recurring theme” of Iran blaming Saudi Arabia for Islamist terrorism – while avoiding any mention of its own role in fomenting religious violence in the region, Ishaan Tharoor observes at the Washington Post.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab was in a coma this morning after a hunger strike to protests his resettlement in Uruguay, report Ben Fox and Leonardo Haberkorn at the AP.

Two more ex-Guantánamo Bay prisoners joined militant groups in the first six months of this year, the US government confirmed, bringing the total people freed from the detention center who ended up on the battlefield during President Obama’s tenure to nine, reports the Guardian.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Spying operations against Russia are being expanded on a larger scale by US intelligence agencies than at any time since the Cold War ended, US officials have said. Greg Miller reports at the Washington Post.

Some of these operations are outside of the public eye, FBI Director James Comey intimated yesterday in response to claims that the US is not doing enough to fend off Russian hackers. [The Hill’s Joe Uchill]

Pardon Edward Snowden, write Kenneth Roth and Salil Shetty in a New York Times editorial. The former NSA contractor’s whistle-blowing prompted courts to find the government wrong to use Section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify mass phone data collection, and Congress replaced that law with the USA Freedom Act. Meanwhile, newspapers that published Snowden’s revelations won the Pulitzer Prize, and the UN issued resolutions protecting digital privacy.

Snowden will not likely get a pardon any time soon, writes Nick Gass at POLITICO, based on comments by White House press secretary Josh Earnest that Snowden is “not a whistleblower” and should return to the US to face charges.

ISRAEL

Three Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip have been struck by the Israeli military in response to rocket fire toward southern Israel, the AP reports.

President Obama renewed his call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, taking advantage of an opportunity created by the signing of a new US-Israeli agreement to provide Israel with $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years, reports Julie Hirschfeld Davis at the New York Times.

LIBYA

Unlike the 2003 Iraq war, the UK did have a UN Security Council resolution to intervene in Libya, and it did not put its forces on the ground, former UK prime minister told MPs following the release by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of a scathing report on the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya on Sept. 9.  However, there are more parallels between the two conflicts that Mr. Cameron might like to admit, writes Rupert Stone at Al Jazeera.

While there are parallels, it is important to note the differences between a “gratuitous, proactive invasion” – Iraq – and “a response to a direct threat to the citizens of Banghazi, triggered by the spontaneous uprising of the Libyan people,” says the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Iran’s foreign minister will meet with international counterparts to discuss “some differences” over the landmark nuclear deal on Sep. 22 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, according to Iranian media, the AP reports.

Giving the US military greater freedom to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan is a further erosion of the country’s sovereignty, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said, his comments at odds with his successor’s government, which welcomes US political and military support, report James Mackenzie and Rupam Jain at Reuters.

Al-Qaeda is more dangerous than ever, despite having seemingly been eclipsed by the Islamic State, according to experts on the organization. The BBC explains the strategy used by al-Qaeda to turn things around after being crushed by US and Pakistani operations ten years ago.

A suspected US drone struck a car in the southern Bayda province of Yemen, killing five suspected al-Qaeda fighters, according to Yemeni security officials. [AP’s Ahmed Al-Haj]

Three minors have been arrested in France on this week on suspicion of planning separate terrorist attacks, with officials investigating whether the suspects have a common connection in Rachid Kassim, believed to be an Islamic State member tied to at least four plots to attack France since June, the AP’s Thomas Adamson and Elaine Ganley report.

Boko Haram threatened to kill Nigeria’s president and army chief in a new video released by the terrorist group, which has not mounted a major attack in Nigeria for months, the AP reports.

The House Oversight Committee threatened to subpoena the IT firm that managed Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Platte River Networks, if it does not turn over related documents and specific information about the 2015 deletion of an email archive, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent anti-American outbursts have left both the US and Beijing wary, raising doubts about Duterte’s commitment to a US-led military alliance seeking to counter an increasingly assertive China while worrying Chinese authorities that he could change direction at any point, Trefor Moss writes at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests have created unprecedented tension in the Korean Peninsula, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a news conference yesterday. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Kenyan police have found evidence that three women killed while attempting to attack a police station in Mombasa last week had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, reports Joseph Akwiri at 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