The Early Edition: January 20, 2017

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.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

A slew of senior positions throughout the federal government including the State and Defense departments will remain empty when Donald Trump takes the oath of office today, observe Matthew Nussbaum and Eli Stokols at POLITICO.

Trump is keeping around 50 senior Obama administration officials, including key national security figures, to “ensure the continuity of government,” spokesperson Sean Spicer said yesterday. The Hill’s Jordan Fabian and Ben Kamisar report.

The Trump team has, however, reportedly demanded that many of Obama’s national security choices leave their posts immediately, the Pentagon, the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security all having interim successors to run things until Trump’s permanent appointments are confirmed, Mattathias Schwartz reports at The Intercept.

Senators will take up at least two of Trump’s national security nominees today, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.

Donald Trump takes office today having promised to enact policies that would threaten rights at home and abroad if implemented, Human Rights Watch said today.

“You know, I’m not a person who breaks promises.” Trump gave what Ian Fisher and Isabel Kershner at the New York Times suggest was his strongest statement on the issue of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem yesterday to a conservative Israeli news outlet.

An announcement on moving the US Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is “coming soon,” press secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday. Amir Tibon reports at Haaretz.

If Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner can’t bring peace to the Middle East, “no-one can.” Trump said he is counting on Kushner to bring peace to the region last night, CNN reports.

EU leaders called for an official complaint over Trump’s fatalistic view of the bloc at the European Parliament’s plenary session Wednesday, DW reports.

Trump is tweeting the US into war with North Korea, but can he cut a deal to prevent it? Jeffrey Lewis writes at Foreign Policy.

Turkey anticipates significant improvements in its relations with the US under Trump, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said yesterday, Karen DeYoung reporting at the Washington Post.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made three demands of the incoming Trump administration Wednesday night: the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen, ceasing support for Syrian Kurdish troops, and taking steps to counter anti-American feelings in Turkey, Hande Firat reports at the Hürriyet Daily News.

The US-Japan alliance is an “unchanging principle,” Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe said today, stating that he plans to visit the US to meet the Trump administration as soon as possible. Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP.

Billionaire owner of the New York Jets Woody Johnson is Trump’s pick for US ambassador to the UK, Demetri Sevastopulo and Gary Silverman report at the Financial Times.

Top Obama administration diplomat for Latin America Mari Carmen Aponte gives her advice for the Trump administration on relations with Latin America, speaking to Ernesto Londoño at the New York Times.

Some of the actions Trump might take in Iraq and Syria come with toxic side-effects, including a potential decline in already shaky ties with NATO ally Turkey and an increase in US and civilian casualties, writes Missy Ryan at the Washington Post.

Irked intelligence chiefs are one of the seven “biggest threats” to Donald Trump’s presidency, suggests James Reinl at Al Jazeera.

What made Trump an attractive vehicle for Russia through which to attempt to weaken the liberal democratic order? Thomas B. Edsall considers this question at the New York Times.

Trump will be given control of the US’ nuclear arsenal – close to 1,400 active nuclear warheads – today, a terrifying proposition for his critics, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

Trump will undergo the classified briefing explaining how he can order a nuclear attack given to every incoming president before he is sworn in today, writes Michael Crowley at POLITICO.

Trump has embraced a breakup of the old world order, but in exchange for what? David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

INVESTIGATION INTO TRUMP ASSOCIATES

Intercepted Russian communications and financial transactions are part of the counterintelligence probe into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald Trump, Michael S. Schmidt, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo report at the New York Times.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is a focus of the investigation examining the business dealings he and other of Trump’s closest operatives have had in Russia, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reporting that Manafort is already the subject of an FBI inquiry into his dealings in Russia and Ukraine.

SYRIA

The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura will attend the upcoming peace talks in Kazakhstan, UN Senior Advisor on Syria Jan Egeland told reporters yesterday, also stating that aid workers are still unable to reach many people in Syria despite the cessation of hostilities. [UN News Centre]

One of the most famous monuments in the ancient city of Palmyra was destroyed by the Islamic State, Reuters reports.

Rep. Tusli Gabbard’s office refuses to disclose who paid for her trip to Syria, which has been called a “fact-finding” mission, or confirm whether she is meeting with President Assad, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.

IRAQ

A new Kurdish frontline demarcating what commanders say is more land than they have ever had in Iraq is taking shape north and east of Mosul, where mounds of earth have been heaped alongside a 650 mile trench running from Sinjar in the northwest to Khanaqin close to the Iranian border, Martin Chulov reports at the Guardian.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 18. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

More than 30,000 names of suspected ghost Afghan soldiers have been removed from the US military’s payroll, Jessica Donati and Ehsanullah Amiri report at the Wall Street Journal.

A blitz of terrorist attacks in Kabul and other Afghan cities on Jan. 10 has eclipsed hopes that the peace process was gaining pace prompted by the fact that Taliban leaders had welcomed delegations from Kabul to their offices and other promising signs, Pamela Constable writes at the Washington Post.

Four Taliban were killed and two insurgents with suspected ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan group were arrested in a raid in northern Afghanistan overnight, the AP reports.

GAMBIA

Defeated Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh has been ordered to cede power by midday today or be forced out by regional troops who are already in the country, the AP reports.

West African leaders arrived in Gambia today in an attempt to persuade Jammeh to step down, David Pilling reports at the Financial Times.

The UN adopted a resolution backing Gambia’s new President Adama Barrow yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

GUANTANAMO BAY

One Guantánamo Bay detainee was transferred home to Saudi Arabia and three others were sent to the UAE, President Obama’s last transfers before leaving office, the Pentagon confirmed yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reporting.

On the last full day of President Obama’s presidency yesterday, 41 captives remained at Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Newly disclosed documents about the CIA’s defunct torture program are revealing fresh details about the practices it employed, including slamming terror suspects into walls, Sheri Fink, James Rise and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

US bombers targeted Islamic State training camps in Libya on Wednesday evening, killing dozens of militants, Pentagon officials confirmed, Gordon Lubold reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration made a final legal move to block a judge from revealing further details of the US drone killing program this week, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stands by his offer to be extradited to the US if Chelsea Manning’s sentence was commuted, but it’s not going to be commuted until May, he said yesterday. Steven Erlanger reports at the New York Times.

North Korea may be preparing for a new missile test launch in the coming days or weeks, US officials said yesterday, James Pearson and Phil Stewart reporting at Reuters.

Reports that a large proportion of al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia are children have alarmed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, he said yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

Ukraine is increasing production at a Soviet-era tank factory close to Europe’s frontline with Russia as it tries to anticipate what the Trump administration will mean for the country, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The death toll following the accidental bombing of a camp for displaced persons in Nigeria by the country’s military has risen to 90, and could reach as much as 170, Doctors Without Borders said today. [Reuters] 

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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