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The Early Edition: October 28, 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.

Just Security’s Three-Year Anniversary Event, “National Security and Transparency in this Administration and the Next,” is taking place on Nov.2. Join us for a wide-ranging discussion with panelists Amy Davidson (Staff Writer, The New Yorker), Jack Goldsmith (Henry L. Shattuck Professor, Harvard Law School), Jameel Jaffer (founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University; Former deputy legal director at the ACLU; Executive Editor, Just Security), and David McCraw (Assistant General Counsel, The New York Times). Details are available here.

IRAQ

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary groups are due to launch an offensive on Islamic State positions west of Mosul, a spokesperson said today. Reuters’ Saif Hameed reports.

Iraqi forces moving toward Mosul are avoiding pockets controlled by the Islamic State, leaving them free to launch counterattacks in other parts of Iraq, Ben Kesling and Ghassan Adnan report at the Wall Street Journal.

A network of tunnels and a bomb factory were discovered by Iraqi forces in a village near Mosul recently liberated from the Islamic State, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Joseph Krauss report at the AP.

Ending the Islamic State’s control over Mosul will not end their presence in Iraq, and the militants will likely grow more oppressive to civilians as they face increasing military pressure on their remaining stronghold, the head of US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told NBC News’ Courtney Kube,

The US does not know which troops will eventually enter Raqqa after it is surrounded, nor how the US-led coalition will choose which of its warring allies should be involved in the operation, despite saying it could begin in as soon as “to weeks,” Nancy A. Youssef writes at The Daily Beast.

SYRIA

Syrian rebels began a counterattack in Aleppo today, conducting heavy shelling of government-held areas and setting off several suicide bombs on the western edge of the city, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Ellen Francis and Angus McDowall report at Reuters.

Rebel shelling killed several children at a school in government-held western Aleppo today, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate investigation into an attack on a school in Syria’s Idlib province yesterday, which UNICEF called one of the deadliest of its kind in the war so far, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

Russia expressed support for a probe into the attack, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown calling on the UN Security Council to take the chance to act unanimously on Syria: “Now that Russia, for the first time, has urged such ‘an immediate investigation,’ the Security Council should ask the [ICC] Prosecutor for an investigation into what is happening in Syrian schools and in Syria as a whole.” [UN News Centre]

Either Russia or Syria was behind the Idlib school attack, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday.

Russia rejected the findings of a UN-led investigation that Syrian forces used chlorine bombs at least three times in the past two years, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

The UN has dozens of President Assad’s friends and political associates on its payroll as part of its relief operation in Syria, documents leaked to the Guardian’s Emma Beals and Nick Hopkins reveal.

Diplomacy, not military action, is “the most viable option we have” in Aleppo, the head of US Central Command Army Gen. Joseph Votel told NBC News’ Courtney Kube yesterday,

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reassertion of his country’s role in the Syrian offensive to President Obama yesterday highlights the “strategic conundrum” facing the US in Syria as it tries to defeat the Islamic State with both cooperation from Turkey and Syrian Kurdish militias being targeted by the Turks. [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Oct. 26. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

US airstrikes killed several al-Qaeda militants in eastern Afghanistan this week, though Afghan authorities are unable to definitively identify those killed due to the inaccessibility and remoteness of the location, Afghan officials said. [AP’s Amir Shah]

It is very likely that the Islamic State will grow in size, strength and influence in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, as the group suffers in its heartlands of Iraq and Syria, suggests CNN’s Rohan Gunaratna.

YEMEN

Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile toward the city of Mecca overnight, according to Saudi Arabia, the deepest strike so far into the kingdom, reports the AP.

Iran is believed to have supplied weapons to the Houthis in Yemen including coastal defense cruise missiles like the ones fired at US Navy ships earlier this month, US officials told NBC News’ Courtney Kube.

RUSSIA

Russia’s recent military deployments are intended to showcase its new capabilities and willingness to operate in several areas simultaneously, US and alliance officials said. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

NATO and Russia are playing a “dangerous game” with their military buildups along Russia’s border, Luke Harding writes at the Guardian.

NATO is not seeking confrontation with Russia, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC.

The military threat presented by Russia has been “exaggerated” by other nations to justify huge increases in their military spending, Russian President Putin said. [Al Jazeera]

THE PHILIPPINES

China has stopped chasing Filipino fisherman from the Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines said today, Emily Rauhala at the Washington Post suggesting it is an indication of a potential deal with China over the South China Sea.

We know Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dislikes the US, but what we don’t know is how far he intends to push his idea of a more independent foreign policy that is not tied to the objectives of his country’s most important ally, observes the New York Times editorial board.

COLOMBIA

The departure of Colombian government negotiators for Ecuador to inaugurate peace talks with the ELN was delayed by President Juan Manuel Santos, who said that the country’s second-largest rebel group must first free a former congressman it has held captive for six months, Cesar Garcia reports at the AP.

The ELN has begun the process of releasing former congressman Odin Shanchez, the BBC reports.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The guinea pig of the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program Abu Zubaydah was declared a “forever prisoner” by the Guantánamo Bay parole board, which rejected his plea for release in a decision dated Sept. 22, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Marine Col. Peter S. Rubin was assigned to preside over the case of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi accused of commanding forces that killed US and foreign allied troops in Afghanistan in 2002-2004 at Guantánamo Bay’s war court, replacing a Navy captain as of Nov. 1, The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reports.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Allegations that Russia interfered with the US presidential election were dismissed as “hysteria” by President Putin, Neil Buckley reports at the Financial Times.

We all should have been able to see the hacking of US political organizations coming, John Carlin, until recently the assistant attorney general for national security, said yesterday. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

Former FBI director Robert Mueller is conducting an investigation into Booze Allen Hamilton after former employee Harold Martin was arrested for removing classified information from its offices, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

Do the committees that oversee the US spying apparatus take intelligence community whistleblowers seriously? “No,” according to Patrick G. Eddington, writing at The Intercept.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

UN member states voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution calling for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons yesterday, Michael Astor reports at the AP.

Fethullah Gulen “means the same for Turkey” as Osama bin Laden does for the US, Turkey’s justice minister told reporters after meeting with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based cleric accused of orchestrating Turkey’s failed coup on Jul. 15. [Al Jazeera]

Two rival Palestinian leaders met yesterday in an attempt to reconcile a nine-years split that has complicated efforts to negotiate peace with Israel, Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

Gaps in the UK’s border security could provide access for terrorists to bring weapons into the country and stage a major attack on a British city, a report from London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned. Vikram Dodd reports at the Guardian.

Recent attacks in Nigeria and neighboring Niger by Boko Haram show that the group is far from exterminated, despite Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s claims that the group has been defeated, Dionne Searcey and Eric Schmitt write at the New York Times.

The perception that the International Criminal Court targets Africans, true or not, has left it vulnerable, the result being what appears to be a coordinated revolt that risks completely destroying its legitimacy, Simon Allison writes at the Guardian.

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About the Author

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE