The Early Edition: November 16, 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

Russia resumed large-scale airstrikes in Syria yesterday, hitting the provinces if Idlib and Homs, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirming that “we started a large operation to deliver massive fire strikes on ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions,” Amie Ferris-Rotman and Nour Alakraa report at the Wall Street Journal.

Opposition activists said that northern Aleppo has also been subjected to intensified bombing, though Moscow denied it was targeting the area, Nazih Osseiran and Kathrin Hille write at the Financial Times, emphasizing the fact that the strikes began just two hours after Russian President Putin discussed the Syria conflict with US President-elect Donald Trump yesterday.

The US is giving Russia the green light for atrocities in Syria, writes the Washington Post editorial board, also noting the fact that Russia’s renewed bombing campaign launched hours after Putin and Trump discussed “the need to work together in the struggle against the No. 1 common enemy – international terrorism and extremism,” which it says is “not likely” to have been just a coincidence.

Intense Assad regime airstrikes hit rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo for the first time in over two weeks, signaling the beginning of a major government offensive on the city, Al Jazeera reports.

The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee approved a resolution strongly condemning the attacks, which the AP reports is virtually certain to be adopted when the assembly votes next month.

Government forces and rebels are gathering on either side of the five-mile-long frontier that divides the city of Aleppo, girding for intensified fighting to take control of the city, Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Assad regime has failed to provide a route for civilians to exit besieged eastern Aleppo despite sending a text message to residents on Sunday with the ultimatum that they get out or face a major offensive, Al Jazeera’s Adam Lucente and Zouhir Al Shimale report.

The House passed a measure imposing new sanctions on anyone who provides the Syrian government with financial, material or technological support – which includes Russia and Iran – in what it said was an effort to “halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people,” Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces are close to taking the Syrian town of al-Bab from the Islamic State, despite facing fierce resistance, the AP reports.

President-elect Donald Trump could be a “natural ally” to the Syrian government, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, adding that his administration would have to see if the incoming US administration is “genuine” about fighting “terrorists” in Syria, the AP reports.

IRAQ

Iraqi troops have established a foothold in eastern Mosul and are pushing northward into the Tahrir neighborhood supported by artillery and airstrikes from the US-led coalition, Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports at the AP.

The Islamic State is turning to executions and paranoia under siege in Mosul, according to the picture of life inside the city painted in text messages sent to Reuters’ Samia Nakhoul and Michael Georgy by an informant who they report has contact with the Islamic State but who is not a member of it.

An Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary group is about to storm the Tal Afar airbase west of Mosul, it said today. [Reuters]

Photographs show the extent of the damage done by the Islamic State to the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud two days after it was retaken by Iraqi forces, the BBC reports.

The real danger in the war against the Islamic State is the lack of strategy to counter the group’s ideology, according to the Iraqi Kurdish intelligence chief Lahur Talabany. [Al Jazeera’s Tanya Goudsouzian]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Nov. 14. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

Yemen’s Houthi rebels want to stop fighting and join a national unity government, they said today, Reuters reporting.

The US-backed coalition in Yemen has often either deliberately or recklessly depended on faulty intelligence, failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets, and has disregarded the likelihood of civilian casualties, with some airstrikes amounting to war crimes, rights groups and UN officials say. Maggie Michael and Ahmed Al-Haj write at the AP.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

NATO and EU leaders cautioned Trump on his warming relationship with Russian President Putin yesterday, saying they welcome dialogue between Russia and the US but that America should not abandon its existing allies in favor of improved ties with Moscow, Michael Birnbaum reports at the Washington Post.

An extraordinary summit soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President was called for by two former NATO chiefs in order to reassure traditional American allies that the US will still come to their defense, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Trump’s election comes as the “spectre of nuclear war” with Russia is back 25 years after the Cold War, observe Neil Buckley, Sam Jones and Kathrin Hille at the Financial Times.

The Middle East is preparing itself for an incoming US president who seems likely to try to dramatically reorder the regional balance of power, though the vagueness of Donald Trump’s campaign pronouncements have left governments and analysts puzzling over which ones he intends to implement, observes Liz Sly at the Washington Post.

Donald Trump could do real damage in the Middle East even if most of his campaign rhetoric turns out to be bluster, the US now risking “discredit as the spiritual home of illiberal democracy, led by a champion of national populism,” David Gardner writes at the Financial Times.

US officials fear that a Trump administration could set back their efforts to refute terrorist propaganda and curb recruitment by the Islamic State, Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef write at The Daily Beast.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

A resolution condemning Russia’s “temporary occupation” of Crimea and reaffirming the UN’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty over the peninsula was approved by the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked US President-elect Donald Trump to help counter “Russian aggression” against Kiev, according to a statement from the Ukrainian government. Amie Ferris-Rotman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s election threatens the “tenuous” agreement between the US and the EU to ensure unity on sanctions against Russia for its ongoing aggression in the Ukraine by emboldening skeptical European nations with a credible argument against renewal, Eric Edelman and David J. Kramer write at POLITICO.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A “high-stakes game of cyber-brinkmanship” has been going on between Moscow and Washington this year, one of the biggest challenges being how to stablilize the relationship between the two nations without appearing to capitulate to Russian pressure tactics, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

Preinstalled software in some Andriod phones sends text messages and other data to China every 72 hours, according to security contractors, US authorities saying they are unsure whether the data is being mined for the purposes of advertising or intelligence, the New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt report.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The House voted overwhelmingly for legislation to extend US sanctions on Iran for a further 10 years yesterday, Rick Gladstone reports at the  New York Times.

A suicide bomber attacked a vehicle in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul today, killing at least four of the security forces members inside, the AP’s Rahim Faiez reports.

France’s President François Holland wants to extend the state of emergency in France until the presidential elections next spring to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks, Inti Landauro reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Pakistan’s prime minister and the country’s army chief left for a secret area bordering India today to witness a military exercise aimed at checking the readiness of the army to react to any hostile situations, officials said. The AP’s Munir Ahmed reports.

The Niger Delta Avengers claimed responsibility for the bombing of oil pipelines 60 miles apart, the fifth attack this month in response to a military campaign in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, the AP reports.

Deaths from terrorism in the world’s biggest economies increased by 650 per cent this year, the Global Terrorism Index 2016 reveals. [CNN’s Kara Fox and Dave Gilbert] 

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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