The Early Edition: September 22, 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.

SYRIA

The US airstrikes on Syrian troops were “definitely intentional,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the AP, and the US is to blame for the collapse of the cease-fire brokered with Russia.

Meanwhile, there is “strong” evidence that Russia carried out the airstrike on a UN aid convoy in Syria Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]

Secretary of State John Kerry called for an immediate grounding of all military aircraft in “key areas” of Syria yesterday, in a last-ditch effort to preserve the ceasefire agreement. [Financial Times’ Geoff Dyer and Jack Farchy]

Kerry also accused Russia of inventing its “own facts” to explain Monday’s deadly attack on a UN aid convoy in Syria at a UN Security Council Meeting yesterday, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov first suggested it was perpetrated by terrorist ground forces in the area, and then implied it could have been the fault of a US drone, Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

Lavrov also sought to absolve the Syrian military of responsibility for the attack yesterday, saying it was not able to fly at night, when the attack took place. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]

While the US and Russia have previously butted heads over critical Syrian resolutions, the agenda for yesterday’s discussion did not even include a suggested course of action, instead paving the way for a meeting today in New York that will involve Kerry, Lavrov and their counterparts in over a dozen other European and Arab countries. [AP’s Bradley Klapper]

The international community’s credibility in upholding “our common humanity” is at risk of being destroyed by its failure to halt the war in Syria, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday as he called for full UN Security Council support for the Special Envoy working to convene formal peace talks.

The UN will resume aid deliveries suspended after the attack on the convoy, it said yesterday, the AP’s Philip Issa reports.  Deliveries to unspecified parts of Syria will begin as early as today, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.[Al Jazeera]

Airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Aleppo killed dozens of Syrians overnight in what residents described as some of the most intense bombardments in months, Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.

“Dark days lie ahead” unless John Kerry can convince his Russian counterpart to renew the ceasefire in Syria, observes the Economist.

“This is how Russia bombed the UN convoy.” Pierre Vaux at The Daily Beast lays out what he says is the “mounting body of evidence that “the Syrian regime and, in particular, the Russian military, hold responsibility for the atrocity.”

The evacuation of hundreds of Syrian rebels from their last foothold in the city of Homs began today, Reuters reports. The fighters and their families will head to the rebel-held Homs countryside.

Politics, not fighting, will bring the Syrian civil war to an end, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, whose country supports the Assad regime, said yesterday. [NBC News’ Jon Schuppe]

Russia will send its only aircraft carrier to waters off Syria’s coast, it announced yesterday. [CNN’s Tim Hume, Schams Elwazer and Bharati Naik]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 20. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

IRAQ

Shells fired at a US military base in northern Iraq by the Islamic State may have contained a chemical agent, military officials said yesterday, reports Helene Cooper at the New York Times.

Iraq’s military backed by US-coalition airstrikes took the centre of Shirqat, a northern town viewed as a stepping stone in the campaign to recapture the city of Mosul, today, Reuters reports.

The US military is requesting the deployment of up to 500 additional troops to Iraq ahead of the campaign to take back Mosul from the Islamic State, report Gordon Lubold and Paul Sonne at the Wall Street Journal.

The Islamic State is carrying out increasing numbers of arrests and executions in Mosul, a sign of desperation as it faces the prospect of losing the city, write Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim at the Washington Post, citing reports from inside the city.

USA ATTACKS

The travel history of suspected New York and New Jersey bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami  has become a focus for investigators, report Marc Santora, Rukmini Callimachi and Adam Goldman at the New York Times.

Rahami’s journal, which he had on him at the time he was apprehended by police, discloses a variety of terrorist “inspirations,” including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, authorities said yesterday. [Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horowitz, Mark Berman and Ellen Nakashima]

Rahami also praises radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in his journal, a reminder that this “icon of global jihad” continues to inspire terror attacks long after he was killed in a US drone strike, NBC News’ Josh Meyer observes.

A federal magistrate refused a request from Rahami’s lawyers that he be immediately arraigned on the federal charges he is facing since he is not currently in federal custody, in a two-page order released yesterday, reports Josh Gerstein at POLITICO.

 New Yorkers response to the bombings there over the weekend was not just “bold” or “courageous,” but, even better, marked by “cool, plain, dull indifference,” Adam Gopnik writes at the New Yorker.

 “It’s time to reopen the interrogation and surveillance debates,” says the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The case of suspected New York and New Jersey bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami raises troubling questions about whether US law enforcement and intelligence are gathering, analyzing and acting on the information they need to detect and disrupt threats.

SAUDI ARABIA

The EU urged President Obama to veto a bill facilitating families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia yesterday, saying it considers the adoption of the bill might have “unwanted consequences” as other States might seek to adopt similar legislation leading to a further erosion of the principle of State sovereign immunity, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

A bipartisan group of ex-top executive branch officials is urging lawmakers to uphold an expected veto of the bill, labelled the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), John Bresnahan reports at POLITICO.

The Senate rejected a motion to block the $1.15 billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.

Yesterday’s vote in the Senate on blocking an arms sale to Saudi Arabia made an important statement even though the resolution was easily defeated, human rights groups said. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

The fact that 27 senators supported the resolution is a sign of “growing unease about the number of civilians being killed with US weapons in Yemen,” suggests Alex Emmons at The Intercept.

The series of bills before Congress this month concerning Saudi Arabia is the “surest sign yet” that the Saudis can no longer claim the privileged status that it has held largely unchallenged for decades in Washington, Karoun Demirjian suggests at the Washington Post.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will challenge the UN on what he calls its double standard where terrorism is concerned, and try to head off any effort by President Obama to use the UN to dictate terms of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, when he takes the rostrum at the UN General assembly today. Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were able to end things on a harmonious note, at least publicly, at their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, Mark Lander writes at the New York Times.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Three former CIA captives were declared too dangerous to release by the Guantánamo Bay parole board in decisions released yesterday, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The demands of hunger-striking former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab exceed Uruguay’s ability to deliver, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez yesterday. [AP’s Leonardo Harberkorn]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A bill requiring the Treasury Department to publicly list the known assets of top Iranian political and military leaders was passed by the House yesterday, reports Cristina Marcos at the Hill.

Afghanistan’s government signed a draft peace deal with designated terrorist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar today, the AP’s Lynne O’Donnell reports.

Nigeria’s military backed by a multinational force has been involved in fierce clashes with Boko Haram for control of a town in the country’s northeast, Al Jazeera reports.

A teenage Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bomb attack was arrested by German police yesterday, Ruth Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Europe needs to toughen up. Nowhere is this truer than in our defense policy,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his “State of the Union” speech on Sep. 14. Most of his ideas are fairly old ones to enhance co-operation between willing EU members, including the establishment of a permanent military headquarters from which to launch missions. These proposals “mostly miss the point,” says the Economist.

 

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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