The Early Edition: September 29, 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

US talks with Russia on cooperation in Syria will end if Russia and the Assad regime continue to bomb Aleppo, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon] Kerry “made clear the US and its partners hold Russia responsible for this situation” in a telephone call to his Russian counterpart, Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

A tougher response to the Russia-backed Syrian government assault on Aleppo, including military options, is being weighed up at “staff level” in the Obama administration, officials said yesterday, though recommendations to the president have yet to be made. Jonathan Landay, John Walcott and Matt Spetalnick report at Reuters.

There is renewed debate on “Plan B,” centering on whether to authorize the CIA and its partners in the region to deliver weapons systems to vetted rebel units enabling them to strike Syrian and Russian artillery positions from longer distances, the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Felicia Schwartz report.

An “implicit understanding” within the Obama administration that there will be no major American response to the provocations Russia has carried out in Syria has begun to irk top national security officials, US officials reportedly told The Daily Beast’s Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris.

The US’s statement on Syria demonstrates America’s “de facto support for terrorism,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister said today, referring to State Department spokesperson John Kirby’s comments yesterday that Russia has an interest in stopping the violence in Syria because extremists there could exploit the vacuum to launch attacks against Russia. [Reuters]

What could motivate Russia’s “brutality” in Aleppo? The New York Times’ Max Fisher, citing analysts and observers, suggest it could be part of a calculated strategy aimed beyond Aleppo itself, designed to pressure the rebels to ally themselves with extremist groups.

The UN Security Council was criticized for failing to implement a resolution to protect medical facilities and staff in conflict zones from Syria to Yemen and Afghanistan yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Putin is making a mistake in supporting the Assad regime, with consequences for Syrians and Russia itself, which may pay a price in its relations with Europe in the Arab world, while finding it cannot control Assad and having to deal with a response from the US, Philip Gordon writes at the Washington Post.

Sanctions imposed by the US and Europe are affecting ordinary Syrians and preventing aid work in Syria, a UN assessment obtained by The Intercept’s Rania Khalek reveals. 

IRAQ

The US will send an additional 600 troops to Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in retaking Mosul from the Islamic State, Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.

Europe is bracing itself for a potential return of militants triggered by the offensive on Islamic State stronghold Mosul, US and European counterterrorism official said. Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 27. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SAUDI ARABIA and JASTA

Congress voted overwhelmingly to override President Obama’s veto of JASTA, passing into law an act that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the attack, Jennifer Steinhauer, Mark Mazzertti and Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.

President Obama accused Congress of making a “mistake” in overriding the bill, which would set a “dangerous precedent” for individuals worldwide to sue the US government. [BBC]

The veto was “the single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday, a comment Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons  at The Intercept call “hyperbolic,” recalling other Senate actions that were “profoundly” embarrassing, including greenlighting the invasion of Iraq.

Senators from both parties are already considering modifications to JASTA, reports the Hill’s Jordain Carney.

JASTA is part of a “potential sea change” in Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the west over its alleged connection to religious extremism and its conduct in Yemen, suggest Geoff Dyer and Simeon Kerr at the Financial Times.

Saudi Arabia has ways to retaliate against JASTA, warns Aya Batrawy at the AP, including curtailing official contacts, removing billions of dollars from the US economy, and persuading its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council to scale back counterterrorism cooperation.

It’s “too bad” that the first Congressional override of a veto by President Obama is for a bill that will “harm US interests,” writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, pointing out that there is no “hard proof” that Saudi Arabia’s government was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, and the fact that Americans can already sue nations that are officially designated as state sponsors of terror.

AFGHANISTAN

A US airstrike killed at least 15 civilians in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, according to local residents, while Afghan security officials are claiming it was militants who were targeted. Habib Khan Totakhil and Jessica Donati report at the Wall Street Journal.

A peace treaty was signed by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and “notorious” warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar today, with Ghani promising to lobby the US and the UN to remove Hekmatayar and his party from terrorist blacklists, reports the AP.

RUSSIA and FLIGHT MH17

Russia is facing the prospect of an acrimonious legal standoff with the west after an international investigation concluded that a Buk missile brought across the border from Russia into Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airways flight MH17 in July 2014, Luke Harding and Alec Luhn envisage at the Guardian.

The investigation confirms Russia’s “already widely documented” role in the deployment of the missile system and in the subsequent and ongoing cover-up, observes the New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Andrew E. Kramer.

Russian hackers harassed journalists investigating the downing of flight MH17, the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports.

PAKISTAN and INDIA

India’s army carried out “surgical strikes” on what it said were terrorist bases across the border with Pakistan today, a move likely to increase tensions between the two neighbors, Niharika Mandhana suggests at the Wall Street Journal.

India’s Lt. Gen. Ranvir Singh said the strikes inflicted “significant casualties” on what he described as “launch pads” for terrorism in response to “specific and credible” information that terrorist had positioned themselves with the aim of carrying out strikes in India, Amy Kazmin and Farhan Bokhari report at the Financial Times.

Two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the “unprovoked” attack, government officials there said. [AP]

CHINA

China repeated its warning that it may employ countermeasures against the planned deployment of a US THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea today, reports Reuters.

Japan is “playing with fire” if it steps up activity in the South China Sea by engaging in joint training patrols with the US, China’s Defense Ministry said today. [Reuters]

PHILIPPINES

Joint military exercises between the Philippines and the US next month will be the last for the allies, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday, as he hopes to avoid upsetting China with which he intends to build stronger trade and investment ties. [Wall Street Journal’s Cris Larano]

Duterte met with Vietnam’s leadership today, hoping to strengthen an alliance in the face of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, but Duterte’s “almost daily jibes” against the US and his positive rhetoric concerning China may not sit well with Vietnam, according to Martin Petty at Reuters.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Were the Russians behind the Yahoo hack? The hacking of over 500 million Yahoo customers’ email accounts was motivated by espionage, not profit, according to an independent cybersecurity report released yesterday, which is consistent with Yahoo’s claims that a state sponsored actor was behind the attack. NBC News’ Chris Francescani reports.

Syrian Electronic Army affiliate Peter Romar pleaded guilty in Virginia federal court to conspiring to receive extortion proceeds and conspiring to unlawfully access computers over his defacing of media and government websites he considered were overly critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [The Hill’s Joe Uchill]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL INVESTIGATION

There is no evidence Hillary Clinton ordered the deletion of an email archive that was under congressional subpoena according to the FBI, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The State Department will process 3,000 pages of Clinton’s emails for public release before the election, part of what Josh Gerstein at POLITICO calls the “drip, drip, drip” of information about the investigation into Clinton’s private email server.

A vote on holding former State Department staffer Bryan Pagliano responsible for setting up Clinton’s private email server has been pushed back to after the presidential elections by the House, Kristina Marcos reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Part of Guantánamo Bay’s Camp 5 prison complex is to be demolished and transformed into a medical facility for “low-value” detainees in a $8.4 million plan the Obama administration has already begun implementing, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Two men who found an unexploded bomb in Manhattan a few blocks from where a bomb exploded on Sep. 17 have been identified by investigators, Eli Rosenberg and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

The US has been accused of killing up to 22 Somali soldiers in an airstrike by an official from the region, Al Jazeera reports.

A three-month extension of Turkey’s state of emergency imposed following the July 15 coup attempt has been recommended by Turkey’s national security council, the AP reports.

The National Liberation Army in Colombia says it is ready to overcome outstanding differences with Bogotá and initiate stalled peace talks, it announced via Twitter yesterday, days after the peace deal between the government and the FARC rebels was signed. [AP]

A draft text calling for a the UN General Assembly to work toward a “legally-binding” nuclear weapons ban was sent by six non-nuclear countries to diplomats yesterday, Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.

Arguments against adopting a “no-first-use” policy regarding nuclear weapons are unconvincing, writes Bruce Blair at POLITICO Magazine.

President Putin is turning Russia into an outlaw state, says the New York Times editorial board, his behavior in Ukraine and Syria a violation of the rules intended to promote peace and of “common human decency.” 

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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