The Early Edition: October 19, 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

Allied forces’ advance on Mosul entered its third day today, Iraqi commanders saying that their forces are pushing against the Islamic State from two main fronts amid intensifying shelling from the insurgents. [Al Jazeera]

The battle for Mosul could take two months, and Iraqi forces advancing on the city could take two weeks to get there, Sirwan Barzani, a brigadier general of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces told CNN’s Arwa Damon, Nick Paton Walsh, Tim Hume and Euan McKirdy.

Tensions among the Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting to retake Mosul emerged yesterday, Peshmerga Gen. Barzani saying that the Iraqi army “hasn’t moved one bit” despite a plan for them to take some villages while the Peshmerga fighters paused. Ben Kesling and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.

Shi’ite paramilitary force the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) said it will support the offensive on Mosul, increasing the risk of sectarian fighting in the mainly Sunni region, Maher Chmaytelli and Babak Dehghanpisheh report at Reuters.

The Islamic State is killing suspected spies, blocking roads and planting bombs in anticipation of the showdown with Iraqi forces inside Mosul, Sinan Salaheddin and Joseph Krauss report at the AP.

Aid groups are braced for a humanitarian crisis following the Mosul operation, NPR’s Camila Domonoske reports.

The Islamic State will lose its caliphate when it loses Mosul, the US ground force commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky told NBC News’ Richard Engel.

Networks of tunnels in villages wrested from the Islamic State near Mosul reveal the terrorist group has been increasingly forced to operate underground due to air campaigns, Susannah George and Bram Janssen report at the AP.

The battle for Mosul is the greatest challenge the Iraqi army has faced, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. Jessica Elgot reports at the Guardian.

Is Turkey complicating the battle plans for Mosul? Al Jazeera discusses why the Mosul fight matters to Turkey.

The future of both Iraq and Syria will be shaped by the outcome of the battle of Mosul, Rami G. Khouri writes at Al Jazeera, an outcome that depends on several critical military, demographic and political developments.

Mosul could be left “in smoldering ruins” by the Islamic State, warn Tim Arango and Rick Gladstone at the New York Times, revisiting other cities captured from the Islamic State which suffered this fate: Ramadi, Tikrit and Fallujah.

Simultaneous attacks on Iraqi cities Mosul and Raqqa would “make military sense,” writes Sarah El Deeb at the AP, yet there is no sign of an imminent campaign against Raqqa despite US officials’ saying the pushes against the two cities would happen at almost the same time.

SYRIA

Russian and Syrian forces paused their bombing of Aleppo yesterday morning, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu saying that humanitarian corridors would be established to allow rebels to leave the city. [Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove]

The US and the UK rejected Russia and Syria’s offer of a temporary halt on airstrikes on Syria’s besieged Aleppo as the basis for reopening talks, insisting there must be a credible and durable ceasefire, initially for 48 hours. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

Syrian government forces must rid Aleppo of rebel “terrorists” under their constitutional mandate to protect the civilian population, President Assad said. [Reuters]

Russia called on countries with stakes in the Syrian civil war to increase efforts to separate moderate rebel forces from terrorists in eastern Aleppo in a draft statement to the UN Security Council yesterday, Michael Astor reports at the AP.

The Islamic State has “switched rhetorical gears” following its loss of the city of Dabiq where an apocalyptic battle was supposed to take place, saying the real Dabiq battle will come another time, Anne Barnard at the New York Times observing that this is part of a larger repositioning as the terrorist group loses ground in Syria and Iraq.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Oct. 17. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

Houthi rebels in Yemen’s capital Sana’a said they would stop fighting if the Saudi-led coalition stopped attacking and lifted its blockade of Houthi territory, their first official reaction to the 72-hour ceasefire that is supposed to start this evening. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard]

AFGHANISTAN

Australia was asked to send 150 troops and helicopter gunships back to southern Afghanistan by the governor of Uruzgan province Mohammad Nazir last month, Peter Lloyd reports at ABC News.

The July 23 attack on a peaceful demonstration in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, claimed by the Islamic State, may amount to a war crime, a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has found. [UN New Centre]

Afghan troops are responsible for a growing number of civilian casualties as fighting increases in populated areas around the country, the UN reported today. [Reuters]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A Russian hacker suspected of cyberattacks in the US has been arrested by Czech police after an international warrant was issued by Interpol, officers coordinating with the FBI on the case. [AP]

Ecuador has temporarily cut off internet access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange because it said it feared he was interfering in the US presidential election, Nicky Woolf reports at the Guardian.

The State Department denied it asked the Ecuadorian Embassy to disconnect Assange, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Julian Assange is alienating former supporters and undermining WikiLeaks’ relevance after four years confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy, some former supporters say. [Wall Street Journal’s Robert McMillan & Jennifer Valentino-Devries]

Former FBI International Operations chief Brian McCauley discussed the classification of one of Hillary Clinton’s emails and a longstanding FBI request for additional staffing in US embassies abroad with top State Department official Patrick Kennedy but there was never any “quid pro quo” deal linking the two issues, McCauley said. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

McCauley acknowledged that he agreed to do a favor in exchange for another favor, but that as soon as he realized the email he was being asked to mark as not classified was to do with the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, he told Kennedy he could not help him. [Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky]

The US also hacks foreign political parties, former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden implied yesterday, adding that the difference between the US and Russia was that once Russia got hold of the information “they weaponized it.” [The Hill‘s Joe Uchill]

GUANTANAMO BAY

A witness who refused to testify during pretrial proceedings at the Guantánamo Bay war court was seized by US Marshals yesterday after the military judge in the USS Cole case ordered enforcement of a subpoena to testify. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The UN special representative on torture does not expect to visit Guantánamo Bay before he ends his six-year term after refusing an invitation to visit in 2012 because he could not agree to the terms he was offered, the AP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An Iranian-American businessman and his father were handed 10-year sentences by an Iranain court on allegations they cooperated with a hostile US government, Aresu Eqbali, Farnaz Fassihi and Asa Fitch at the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the move is the latest sign of a pushback by Iran’s hard-line establishment against warming relations between Iran and the West.

Russian President Putin’s decree on suspending a plutonium accord with the US was approved by the Russian parliament’s lower house today, Reuters reports.

Norway may soon host a rotational force of US Marines, CNN’s Jamie Crawford reports, observing that the move comes amid rising tensions between the US and Russia over Syria and accusations that Russia was involved in cyber attacks on US political organizations.

No breakthroughs are expected at the Ukrainian peace talks between the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin today, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. [Reuters]

At least 11 people have been killed in an al-Shabaab suicide car bomb and gun attack in the Somali town of Afgoye, Reuters reports.

A suspected Islamic State militant believed to be planning a suicide bomb attack was fatally shot by Turkish police on the outskirts of Ankara following a raid on an apartment block, the AP reports.

The negotiations to free 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 show how complicated the war against the terror group has become, Philip Obaji Jr. writes at The Daily Beast.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are no barrier to warming ties with China, the Philippine’s foreign secretary said today. [Reuters]

Fear of imminent terrorist attack is one of the top concerns for people worldwide according to a poll commissioned by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Carol Morello reports at the 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