The Early Edition: September 21, 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

Russia was responsible for the bombing of an aid convoy heading for a town near Aleppo, Syria, US officials said yesterday. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt, Michael R. Gordon and Somini Sengupta]  Two Russian war planes were involved in the attack, US officials told the BBC. Russia strongly denies involvement and says the incident that left 12 aid workers and an unknown number of civilians dead was caused by fire on the ground and not by an air strike.

The Syria ceasefire is “not dead,” Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday as he emerged from a meeting of the Syria Support Group involving senior officials from 23 nations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, during which little more was agreed to other than to meet again this Friday, according to Reuters’ Jeff Mason and Michelle Nichols.

Kerry’s optimism “showed a shocking tolerance for atrocities committed by forces with which the United States is proposing to ally itself,” says the Washington Post editorial board.

UN officials went ahead with the doomed aid delivery despite warnings from other UN staff and Western-backed rebels that the area wasn’t safe, the Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib reports.

A plan to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters combating the Islamic State is under discussion at the National Security Council as a way of speeding up the offensive against the terrorist group. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

The US point of contact was not there to receive Russia’s message that US coalition airstrikes were hitting Syrian forces, coalition spokesperson for the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Air Force Col. J. T. Thomas said yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

An attack on a medical facility in rebel-held territory outside Aleppo killed four staff belonging to the International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations last night, reports the AP. The attack, by Russian or Syrian warplanes, also killed at least nine rebels, Reuters reports.

A Syrian warplane crashed north of Damascus today. Reuters reports that it was not clear if it was shot down or crashed due to a technical fault.

President Assad made his intentions clear as soon as the ceasefire started last Monday, Nick Hopkins observes at the Guardian, and his actions underline not just his confidence that he is unlikely to face any sanction but also the difficulties faced by aid groups in Syria.

“Powerful patrons” on both sides of the Syria conflict “have blood on their hands,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his final speech at the annual UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, Edith M. Lederer and Matthew Pennington report at the AP.

“That’s enough.” French President François Hollande urged world powers to end Syria’s civil war at the UN General Assembly yesterday, saying it would “go down in history as a shame for the international community if we do not quickly put an end to it.” [New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden]

Most mistaken US strikes over the years come down to two main reasons, according to military officers and experts: faulty intelligence and what military strategists call the “fog of war” – confusion on the battlefield, Matthew Rosenberg writes at the New York Times.

Iraqi forces launched an operation to retake the northern town of Sherqat from the Islamic State, 100 kilometers south of Mosul and a stepping stone in the campaign to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city from the insurgents, reports Al Jazeera.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will not allow an “industry of vexatious allegations” against UK troops over claims of abuse in Iraq, she said, as concerns have been raised over the “industrial scale” of claims lodged with the Iraq Historic Allegations Team relating to the 2003 invasion. [BBC]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out nine airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 19. Separately, partner forces conducted 20 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

USA ATTACKS

Alleged New York and New Jersey bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami was charged with using weapons of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use yesterday, reports the New York Times’ Marc Santora and Adam Goldman.

The FBI investigated Rahami more than two years before last weekend’s bombings after receiving reports that his father said he was a terrorist, a claim he later recanted, the FBI disclosed yesterday. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima, Mark Berman and William Wan]  The previous FBI “assessment” – the most basic FBI investigation – of Rahami did not uncover any links to extremism, the FBI said. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch]

The House Homeland Security Committee will look into whether the FBI properly handled the earlier inquiry into Rahami, Chairman Michael McCaul said yesterday. POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein reports.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Both Israel and Palestine would benefit if Israel recognizes it cannot occupy Palestinian land and Palestine accepted Israel’s legitimacy, President Obama told the UN General Assembly yesterday. [Reuters’ Jeff Mason]

The credibility of Israel’s inquiries into possible military misconduct during the 2014 war in Gaza has been questioned by Israeli and Palestinian rights organizations, reports the New York Times’ Isabel Kerschner.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi-led coalition planes bombed a security compound in Yemen’s capital Sanaa where suspected al-Qaeda militants and foreigners accused of spying – including Americans – are held, according to the Houthis. [Reuters]

President Obama has rebuffed Republicans’ attempts to work with the White House to secure changes to a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in US courts, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Obama is expected to veto the bill this Friday, report Alexander Bolton and Jordain Carney at the Hill. The Senate will stay in session next week to deal with the issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said yesterday.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would create a new exception to sovereign immunity, would be noticed by other countries besides Saudi Arabia, who would “retaliate,” and would allow plaintiffs and defendants to use discovery as a “judicial WikiLeaks” to force disclosure of US intelligence and other sensitive information, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

IRAN

Iran paraded its latest ships and missiles and told the US not to meddle in the Gulf to mark the anniversary of its 1980 invasion by Iraq, reports Babak Dehghanpisheh at Reuters.

Iranian military officials say the US’s new $38 billion military aid deal with Israel makes them more determined to strengthen Iran’s military. [AP]

TURKEY

An assailant with a knife was shot by Turkish police as he attempted to attack the Israeli Embassy in Ankara today, Reuters’ Umit Bektas and Jeffrey Heller reporting that the attacker shouted “Allahu akbar” as he approached and citing eyewitness accounts that suggest he was carrying a bomb.

US relations with Turkey – the West’s most important Muslim-majority ally – are likely to hit new lows should the Justice Department or the federal court tasked with deciding whether to accede to Turkey’s demand of the extradition of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen be unconvinced, predict Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.

NORTH KOREA

The US and South Korea will conduct a mock attack on a nuclear facility next month, an official with the South Korean Defense Department told CNN’s Jungeun Kim, Paula Hancocks and Joshua Berlinger.

Two US bombers flew over South Korea in a show of force and US commitment to preserve the security of the region today, the second flight since North Korea’s Sep. 9 nuclear test, Reuters reports.

North Korea’s repeated flouting of UN Security Council resolutions calls into question its suitability for membership of the world body, South Korea’s Foreign Minister has told the AP’s Matthew Pennington.

Chinese police have announced an investigation into a conglomerate that trades extensively with North Korea which South Korean and US researchers say includes materials that can be used in the production of nuclear weapons, Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley report at the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Russia has conducted exercises similar to the DNC hack since the 1960s targeting the US, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday, his most explicit comments about the DNC to date, the Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta reports.

A subpoena to FBI Director James Comey for documents related to Hillary Clinton’s personal email server was issued by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), reports Katie Bo Williams at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The “forever prisoner” status of detainee Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani has been upheld by the Guantánamo Bay parole board, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Brexit does not mean the UK will turn away from its international allies in fighting global extremism, UK Prime Minister Theresa May sought to reassure world leaders at the UN General Assembly yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop and Jenny Gross]

The EU agreed to impose sanctions on those linked to or supportive of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda yesterday, Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Germany’s economy minister said he favors lifting EU sanctions on Russia but that it would require progress being made on peace in Ukraine as he headed to Moscow today for talks with President Putin. [Reuters]

Taiwan asked Google to blur satellite images showing apparent new military installations on Itu Aba, Taipei’s only holding in the disputed South China Sea. [Reuters]

The Indian army killed at least 10 suspected militants as they tried to cross India’s border with Pakistan yesterday, an incident expected to increase the tension between the two nations further after the attack on an Indian military base two days previously. [Wall Street Journal’s Niharika Mandhana]

The fourth attack in three days by Boko Haram in Nigeria has left more than 40 troops from a multinational force in the northeast dead, reports Michelle Faul at the AP.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem keen to discuss the Afghanistan war, now in its 15th year and still costing American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, observes Max Fisher at the New York Times.

Three North Koreans captured over a year ago in Libya by the Islamic State have been freed, Libyan authorities said, also confirming that they are searching for two Italians and a Canadian abducted at gunpoint near the Algerian border. [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