The Early Edition: October 17, 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

The long-awaited operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State has begun, Iraq’s prime minister announced early this morning. [AP]

Kurdish forces began advancing on villages east of Mosul this morning, officials said, with the US providing aerial support. Around 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga troops are involved in the campaign, Michael R. Gordon and Tim Arango report at the New York Times. Peshmerga officers said they expected to be joined by Iraqi forces in a couple of days, helping them to secure their gains and ultimately push toward Mosul itself.

Seven villages have been seized by Peshmerga forces so far, Bonnie Malkin and Damien Gayle report at the Guardian, providing live updates on the operation.

The Islamic State experienced fraying support and disarray ahead of the Mosul operation, residents and Iraqi intelligence officials observed. Tamer el-Ghobashy and Ali A. Nabhan report at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkish forces will not allow sectarian violence in Mosul, Turkey’s President Erdoğan said. [CNN Turk]

Questions about the future of Mosul are coming thick and fast now that the battle to liberate the city is underway, amid concerns that each faction involved in the fight holds opposing views about what happens next, Beverley Milton-Edwards writes at Al Jazeera.

A suicide bombing targeting security forces outside Baghdad killed at least nine people today, the AP reports.

Another suicide bomber killed at least 32 people at a crowded market in Baghdad Saturday, the Islamic State claiming responsibility, NPR’s Merrit Kennedy reports.

SYRIA

Syrian rebels backed by Turkey captured the symbolically important village of Dabiq from the Islamic State, reports Reuters.

The loss of Dabiq, prophesized location of an “apocalyptic battle,” is a “blow” to the Islamic State, but the more serious threat of Armageddon for the terrorist group comes in the form of the continued loss of territory it has experienced this year, writes James Denselow at Al Jazeera.

Support for military intervention in Syria is weak, Secretary of State John Kerry and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said yesterday following a meeting in London of 11 governments opposed to Syrian President Assad’s rule, though both men insisted that all options were still on the table. The AP’s Bradley Klapper reports.

Kerry and Johnson threatened fresh sanctions against Russia and other measures to pressure it to change its approach in Syria, saying the onus was on Russia to help to end the violence there, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Kerry resumed talks with Russia on Syria Saturday, meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Switzerland along with other countries involved in the Syrian war, though nothing concrete came from the talks, Barbara Surk reports at POLITICO.

EU foreign ministers debated whether to extend sanctions against the Assad regime today. [AP’s Raf Casert]  The meeting happened on the first day of an EU summit taking place thoughout this week in Brussels, the Wall Street Journal providing details of the main events to come.

The UK and France pushed for the EU to condemn Russia’s involvement in Syria, but the bloc remains split over strategy toward Russia, its biggest energy supplier, Robin Emmott reports at Reuters.

The key question in Syria now is how to stop the Russian military, Assad’s main backer, not how best to remove President Assad from power, Simon Tisdall writes at the Guardian.

A top aide to Syrian President Assad visited Cairo to seek help in the fight against “terrorism” in the region Sunday, Syria’s state news agency reported today. [AP]

An explosion went off at a checkpoint near a camp for displaced Syrians on the border with Jordan last night, Omar Akour reports at the AP.

The Obama administration is concerned that plans to oust the Islamic State from its Syrian capital Raqqa are outpacing the need to make sure the city does not descend into new chaos after the battle is over, military planners speeding up preparations now that the operation to retake Iraq’s Mosul has begun, Josh Rogin observes at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

The US and Britain called for a ceasefire in Yemen “within hours” Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry saying that if Yemen’s opposing sides accepted a ceasefire then the UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed would work through the details and announce how and when it would take effect. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour reports.

Saudi-led coalition jets “wrongly” bombed a funeral in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, killing over 100 people, an investigation led by Saudi Arabia has concluded. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan troops fought Taliban forces to a standstill outside the capital of Helmand province but the city remains surrounded, Zainullah Stanekzai reports for Reuters.

The US’s strategy in Afghanistan is doing “just enough to lose slowly,” according to a senior national-security-studies fellow at the New America Foundation. Thomas Gibbons-Neff at the Washington Post describes an Oct. 3 attack by the Taliban on a small district center south of US base Camp Shorab as a “microcosm” of what is happening across the country: Taliban fighters remaining resilient, the Afghan army struggling with leadership, equipment, etc, and the US military reduced to “pounding fields with its feared armaments.”

Two separate roadside bombings in southern Kandahar province wounded eight children yesterday, an official said. [Pajhwok Afghan News’ Bashir Ahmad Naadim]

RUSSIA

Are the Russians really preparing for war? David Filipov at the Washington Post ranks the signs to see how likely it is that Russia is getting ready to fight.

Russia is building fallout shelters in anticipation of a potential nuclear strike, The Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova submitting that it is not clear whether the motive is self-defense, an implied threat to the West, a means to mobilize public opinion, or all of the above.

To Moscow, its various foreign military engagements constitute one theater – the Russian “near abroad,” according to Robert D. Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security writing at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

A video showing a detained Iranian-American businessman was released by hard-liners in Iran today a year after his arrest, the AP describing it as a “taunting challenge to the US in the wake of the nuclear deal with Tehran.”

Iran conducted air defense drills today in the central province of Isfahan, aiming to display its ability to safeguard the country’s airspace, Reuters reports.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea is prepared to launch a preemptive strike on the US if US nuclear forces mobilize against it and may carry out further nuclear tests, a top North Korean official warned in an interview with NBC News’ Bill Neely.

Japan may accelerate around $1 billion of planned spending to improve its ballistic missile defenses in response to North Korea’s wave of rocket tests which it says suggests North Korea is close to fielding a more powerful medium-range missile, Japanese government forces told Reuters’ Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The Obama administration may launch a retaliatory cyber strike against Russia in response to what it believes was interference by Moscow in the presidential election campaign, Vice-President Joe Biden suggested in an interview yesterday – the clearest hint that the US will seek to use its own offensive cyber capabilities so far, suggests Geoff Dyer at the Financial Times.

Russia’s intervention in the 2016 US presidential election must be understood in the context of Putin’s obsession with “color revolutions” – resistances to rigged elections in autocracies across Eurasia – Jackson Diehl writes at the Washington Post. Putin is attempting to deliver to the US political elite what he believes is a “dose of its own medicine.”

A “quid pro quo” arrangement between the FBI and the State Department was revealed by new evidence overturned by the FBI and that is grounds for at least “four new hearings” before Congress on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Jazon Chaffetz said. [NPR’s Eyder Peralta]

The internet access of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has been cut by an unknown state actor, the AP reports.

WikiLeaks published another batch of over 800 emails it said were stolen from the archive of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta Saturday, Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Defense lawyers representing the alleged masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks at Guantánamo Bay’s war court are engineering heartless delays in bringing their clients to justice, according to the victims’ families, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Israel’s debate over Jewish settlement in the West Bank was reignited Sunday with a fierce exchange between the Israeli government and human rights organization B’Tselem, Isabel Kershner providing the details at the New York Times.

Pakistan is the “mother ship of terrorism,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a Brics summit yesterday, Niharika Mandhana and Corinne Abrams report at the Wall Street Journal.

No bargaining with territorial claims in the South China Sea, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said ahead of a visit to China. Christopher Bodeen provides this and other updates on recent developments in the South China Sea at the AP.

Suspected Islamic State militants attacked a military checkpoint in Egypt’s northern Sinai region, killing 12 Egyptian soldiers, Egypt’s military said. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

Kuwait’s parliament was dissolved yesterday over unspecified security concerns, the AP reporting that the rise of the Islamic State is causing growing concerns in the country.

Notorious warlord Arsen Pavlov was killed Sunday in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine when a bomb exploded in an elevator in his apartment building, the AP reports. 

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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