The Early Edition: November 29, 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.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Trae Stephens, a principal at billionaire Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm Founders Fund, has been appointed by Trump to help lead the transition at the Defense Department, Lee Fang at The Intercept noting that Stephens was an early employee of highly controversial data analysis firm Palantir.

Despite the public revolt by some of his top advisers over the possible choice of Mitt Romney as secretary of state, Donald Trump continues to view him as a serious contender, Philip Rucker and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

Will Trump actually be the decider on US foreign policy?  Daniel W. Drezner at the Washington Post suggests that the test will be America’s relationship with Russia, one of the few areas where Trump was perfectly consistent throughout his campaign.

“The Trump effect” is already influencing events around the world, observes Peter Baker at the New York Times, with governments recalibrating defense and other policies in anticipation of him taking office next January.

Bringing back torture will “not be easy” if President-elect Donald Trump decides to move ahead with his campaign promise to reinstate waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” write Matt Apuzzo and James Risen at the New York Times.

If Trump returns to a posture of implacable US hostility, he will discourage millions of Cubans while strengthening the hand of Raúl Castro, who will be “all too happy to play David to Trump’s Goliath,” according to Eugene Robinson writing at the Washington Post.

Rolling back the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with Cuba would be extremely shortsighted, even though Cuba is hardly the most pressing foreign policy challenge Trump will face in January, writes the New York Times editorial board.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is seeking the support of Donald Trump in freeing Sri Lankan troops from war crime allegations dating from the country’s civil war, Bharatha Mallawarachi reports at the AP.

SYRIA

Defeat in eastern Aleppo would not mean the end of the fight against President Assad, the Syrian opposition’s senior negotiator told the BBC.

Assad is starting to look like he may survive the uprising, defying his staunchest opponents, though a victory for the Syrian President may well be Pyrrhic, leaving him the ruler of an economic wasteland hampered by a low-level insurgency with no resolution in sight, observes Alissa J. Rubin at the New York Times.

“Assad strikes back in Aleppo.” Michael Weiss and Alex Rowell at The Daily Beast describe the situation in the besieged city where rebel forces have suffered their worst defeat in four years.

An airstrike in rebel-held Bab al-Nairab district in Aleppo killed at least 10 civilians, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. [AP]

Nearly 16,000 people have fled the fighting in Aleppo, according to the UN, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien calling the situation “alarming and chilling.” [AFP]

France called for an immediate UN Security Council meeting to discuss Aleppo today, John Irish reports at Reuters.

Assad is also winning in Damascus, where regime forces have intensified their attacks on rebel-held areas backed by increasingly ferocious Russian airstrikes, Nancy A. Youssef reports at The Daily Beast.

US officials are speaking more openly about what they say is an increasingly successful campaign to track and kill the Islamic State’s senior operators, including number 2 Muhammad al-Adnani, who was struck and killed in Syria in late August, Joby Warrick writes at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

Islamic State fighters lack the courage to put up long-term resistance in Mosul, which is now completely encircled by Iraqi troops, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has told the AP, Ian Phillips and Qassim Abdul-Zahra reporting.

Al-Abadi said he fully expects the incoming Trump administration to grant Iraq a greater degree of logistical support in its war on terror, and dismissed suggestions that “pragmatic” Donald  Trump would “take the oil” from Iraq by way of “reimbursement” for US efforts there, as he promised to do during his presidential election campaign. The full AP interview is available here.

Civilian and military casualties are mounting in Mosul six weeks after the Iraq army launched its offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State, the almost 600 civilians killed so far making it the deadliest battle yet in Iraq’s two-year fight to eradicate the extremists, Kareem Fahim, Missy Ryan and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.

The fight to retake Mosul is highlighting the Iraqi military and security forces’ limitations, suggesting they have failed to fully recover from the damage suffered when the Islamic State rose to prominence in northern and western Iraq two years ago, Hamza Hendwani and Qassim Abdul-Zahra write at the AP.

The uncomfortable truth is, America is still at war in Iraq, a fact implied by the appearance of retired Army general and former CIA chief David Petraeus at Trump Tower to meet with the President-elect yesterday, raising the possibility that he would serve as secretary of state for the incoming administration, William McGurn suggests at the Wall Street Journal.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Nov. 27. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAN

An Iranian boat pointed a weapon at a US Navy helicopter in international waters as the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier transited the Strait of Hormuz on its way to the Persian Gulf Saturday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill, citing unnamed defense officials.

US military presence in the Gulf poses the main risk of conflict in the region, an Iranian military official said today following what US defense officials called Iran’s “provocative” behavior in training a weapon on the American helicopter. [Reuters]

THE PHILIPPINES

A convoy of President Duterte’s security team were targeted in an explosion on the southern island of Mindanao today, a day before the president was scheduled to visit troops battling an Islamist terror group there, Cris Larano reports at the Wall Street Journal. Seven people were injured.

Duterte will proceed with the visit despite the attack, the AP reports.

Moscow is discussing a partnership and friendship with Manilla that would see it supplying arms and transfer technology to the Philippines, rather than a military alliance, Russia’s ambassador to the Philippines said today. [AP]

INDIA and PAKISTAN

Indian border forces exchanged fire with three suspected militants who had allegedly crossed the border with Pakistan into Kashmir this morning, while the Indian army engaged in fierce fighting with rebels – which India accuses Pakistan of helping – at an Indian army base in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. [AP’s Aijaz Hussain]

Tensions with India along their frontier will ease soon, the new head of Pakistan’s army Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said, the AP’s Munir Ahmed reporting.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

WikiLeaks released over half a million diplomatic cables from the President Jimmy Carter’s administration yesterday, all of which were sent by State Department officials in 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution, the Hill’s Julian Hattem reports.

Even asking if Russia hacked the election gives Moscow what it wanted: to weaken Americans’ trust in democracy, Paul Musgrave writes at the Washington Post.

The Kremlin and China have joined forces to bring greater filtering and control to Russia’s internet in an act of unprecedented cyber collaboration between the two countries, the Guardian’s Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan report.

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill creates a “security nightmare,” according to inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, while 130,000 people have signed a petition calling for the legislation – which is to receive royal assent today – to be scrapped. [BBC]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Who’s still held at Guantánamo Bay? The Miami Herald reports on those detainees who remain at the detention center, and their current status.

A new counterterrorism center at an undisclosed location in the Middle East is being launched by US special operations chiefs to fight the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, Kimberly Dozier reports at The Daily Beast.

The Houthis in Yemen and its allies formed a new government on Monday in a surprise move that angered Saudi Arabia-backed rivals and complicates UN efforts to reach a peace deal in the country, Shuaib Almosawa and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

The Taliban in Afghanistan is facing a financial crisis as donors shy away from supporting an insurgency which increasingly targets civilians instead of foreign troops, Jon Boone and Sami Yousafzai report at the Guardian.

The UN is set to adopt a US-led resolution aimed at cutting North Korea’s coal export revenue by 60 per cent in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test in September, according to US officials. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkey has not yet “closed the book” on European Union membership but always has alternatives, President Erdoğan said today. [Reuters]

The current administration must grant American recognition to the state of Palestine before its term expires on Jan. 20, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve UN membership, argues Jimmy Carter writing at the New York Times. 

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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