The Early Edition: October 18, 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

Kurdish forces backed by the US-led coalition closing in on the Iraqi city of Mosul secured 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first 24 hours of the operation to liberate it from the Islamic State, Maher Chmaytelli reports at Reuters.

A 200 sq. km. area around Mosul has been “liberated” from the Islamic State, Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani said yesterday, calling the offensive a “turning point in the war against terrorism” and “the first time Peshmerga forces and Iraqi army have cooperated and fought in the same area.” [Al Jazeera]

Kurdish forces are pausing in their advance after capturing villages to the east of Mosul as the Iraqi army presses ahead with the next step in the operation, Col. Khathar Sheikhan of the Kurdish forces said today. [AP]

The operation to retake Mosul is “ahead of schedule,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said yesterday, adding that the campaign could still “take some time.”

The Islamic State occasionally put up strong resistance, Kareem Fahim and Loveday Morris report at the Washington Post.  The Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers’ advance was slowed by heavy mortar fire and waves of suicide bombers, indications that the battle for the Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq could be fierce, Tamer el-Ghobashy, Ben Kesling and Paul Sonne write at the Wall Street Journal.

“Everyone is staying at home because we don’t know what else to do.” Fazel Hawramy, Mona Mahmood and Julian Borger at the Guardian speak to a resident about what is going on in Mosul now that the operation is underway.

What will happen to the Islamic State if the Mosul operation is a success? Jason Burke considers this eventuality at the Guardian.

There are really two battles for Mosul, suggests Nancy A. Youssef at The Daily Beast. One is being waged by soldiers on the battlefield, the other by officials in Baghdad, who are seeking to shape public understanding of the way the operation is unfolding.

Reasons why the battle to dislodge the Islamic State from Mosul is vital: population, relief , culture, demographics and resources, Douglas Schorzman explains at the New York Times.

It is too soon to tell what impact the Mosul operation will have on the number of European Islamic State fighters who try to return home, European counterterrorism officials said. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

Iraq and the US are taking a “calculated risk” in launching the Mosul operation without knowing how the volatile region will be governed once the Islamic State has been successfully removed, officials said, but the alternative – waiting to sort out Iraq’s sectarian politics – is unrealistic. [Reuters’ Warren Strobel, Yara Bayoumy and Jonathan Landay]

The way the battle for Mosul goes will help define President Obama’s legacy as the leader who tried to remove the US from the front lines of the counterterrorism war, write Mark Lander and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times.

President Obama and Italian President Matteo Renzi will discuss the shared fight against the Islamic State in Iraq when they meet in Washington today, Timothy Gardner reports for Reuters, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest telling reporters ahead of the meeting that Italy has made an “important contribution” to the fight, efforts that will come into play during the Mosul offensive.

SYRIA

Russian and Syrian forces will cease attacking eastern districts of Aleppo for eight hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Oct. 20, Russia’s military announced yesterday. Bassem Mroue reports at the AP

The halt is to allow civilians and rebels to leave the besieged city, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Such “humanitarian pauses” will be regular, senior Russian military official Lt. Gen. Sergei F. Rudskoi said. [New York Times’ Ivan Nechepurenko]

Russian and Syrian warplanes stopped their bombardment of Aleppo today in preparation for the temporary truce, the Russian defense minister reported. [AP]

The pause in fighting is “a bit too little, too late,” US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said.

“Aleppo will not be there any more” if a solution cannot be found in the next two months, warned UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura yesterday following a meeting with foreign ministers of the EU in Luxembourg. [UN News Centre]

EU foreign ministers pledged quick action to increase sanctions against the Assad regime and called on Russia to live up to its responsibilities to end the bombing of Aleppo immediately yesterday, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini announcing that she will begin a new outreach today to start talks on Syria’s political future with Saudi Arabia, Iran, turkey and other major regional players. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An Obama administration decision to strike Syrian government installations from the air is even less likely now that Russia has completed an integrated air defense system in Syria, observes Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

A 72-hour truce will take effect in Yemen just before midnight Wednesday, the UN envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said yesterday, adding that the cease-fire is “subject to renewal.” Asa Fitch reports at the Wall Street Journal.

RUSSIA

Russia’s transfer of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad is an aggressive move against Europe, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said today. [Reuters]

US relations with Russia are “pretty bad,” Russia’s longtime ambassador to the UN Vitaly I. Chirkin said recently, prompting Somini Sengupta at the New York Times to reflect on recent developments in that relationship.

UKRAINE

A meeting with the Russian, Ukrainian and French presidents to discuss peace efforts in eastern Ukraine will be hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday, her office said. [AP]

The heads of state have agreed to a “Normandy format” meeting to put pressure on Russia to fulfil its obligations under the Minsk agreements, according to a statement released by Ukraine today. [Reuters]

THE PHILIPPINES and CHINA

The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte wants to reduce US military influence in his country and build closer ties with China, he said yesterday. How far he is willing to go with this will be tested when he arrives in China for talks today, Jane Perlez anticipates at the New York Times.

Duterte’s visit to China is a move toward a restoration of trust between the two nations following recent tensions over the South China Sea, China’s official news agency said today. Christopher Bodeen and Jim Gomez report at the AP.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Retired Marine Corps general James E. Cartwright pleaded guilty yesterday to lying to the FBI about his discussion with reporters about Iran’s nuclear program while he served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.

Cartwright had known for over three years that he was the target of an investigation into who leaked details of the so-called Stuxnet computer virus, used by the US to destroy centrifuges inside an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in 2009 and 2009, Shane Harris writes at The Daily Beast.

Intense disagreement between the State Department and the FBI over whether some of Hillary Clinton’s emails should be labeled classified was revealed in documents relating to the investigation into Clinton’s private server released yesterday, Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers report at the New York Times.

There was no “quid pro quo” deal between the FBI and the State Department over the classification of Clinton’s emails, both agencies said following the release of an FBI document indicating that an FBI employee claimed a colleague had discussed such a deal in 2015 with a top State Department official. [NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and Josh Meyer]

One State official pressed the FBI not to mark one email classified, and senior State officials exerted pressure within their own agency not to mark emails as classified, the released documents disclose. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett]

The Ecuadorian government refused to say whether it had cut off internet access for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last night, adding that it will continue providing him asylum at its embassy in London. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Ryan Dube]

“Censorship is never the answer.” Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said critics of WikiLeaks should not try to silence it or its founder Julian Assange, Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.

NSA contractor Harold Martin is seeking pre-trail release while legal proceedings against him in relation to his alleged felony theft of government information and misdemeanor unauthorized retention of classified information continue. [POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein]

Israeli tech firms with ties to intelligence are using their expertise to market themselves internationally, writes Alex Kane at the Intercept, explaining how Israel became a “hub” for surveillance technology.

British spies unlawfully maintained huge databases of people’s private data without adequate safeguards against misuse, the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal held yesterday. Ryan Gallagher reports at the Intercept.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi was transferred to his native Mauritania after his prosecution collapsed because the government obtained evidence through torture, the Defense Department confirmed yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin]

Slahi is the author of the memoir Guantánamo Diary, which detailed allegations of beatings, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation, frigid rooms, shackling and threats against him and his family, Rebecca Kheel writes at the Hill.

The release of Afghan Haji Wali Muhammad was approved by the Guantánamo parole board, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday, meaning that 20 of the last 60 detainees are now approved for release. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Afghan government and the Taliban restarted secret peace talks in September and have so far held two rounds of discussions in Qatar, senior Taliban sources and the Kabul government have told the Guardian’s Sami Yousafzai, Jon Boone and Sune Engel Rasmussen.

A failed ballistic missile launch by North Korea on Sep. 9 has been condemned by the UN Security Council as a “grave violation” of its sanctions banning such tests, the AP reports.

The USS Sampson will visit New Zealand next month, the first time a US Navy warship has done so since the 1980s, Nick Perry reports at the AP.

An Iraqi refugee living in Houston pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support or resources to the Islamic State yesterday, CBS News reports.

Belgium police are considering adopting US-style tactics to address mass-shooting scenarios in the face of the rising threat of well-armed terrorists in Europe, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

 

Yesterday’s Early Edition mistakenly labelled the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa as the Syrian Capital. Just Security regrets the error. 

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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