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.
The Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa has been captured by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.), the S.D.F. claimed yesterday, a spokesperson adding that the military operations have halted and the city is being cleared of explosive devices and sleeper cells. Maria Abi-Habib reports at the Wall Street Journal.
A formal announcement of victory would not be made until the S.D.F. are sure that no pockets of Islamic State resistance remain in the city, the U.S. military said, with U.S.-led coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon saying in a briefing to reporters that the capture is a “momentous” occasion. Louisa Loveluck and Liz Sly report at the Washington Post.
The fall of Raqqa and the fall of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July mark a significant blow to the Islamic State and its self-styled caliphate, analysts have said that the militants are preparing for the next phase where they would revert to their insurgent roots. Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad report at the New York Times.
An influx of Islamic State fighters to Europe is not expected following the fall of Raqqa, European and U.S. officials said yesterday, noting that there was not an influx following the fall of the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Mosul in Iraq this year. Julian E. Barnes, Valentina Pop and Jenny Gross report at the Wall Street Journal.
Pro-Syrian government forces have captured a number of villages from the Islamic State group in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, the Syrian state S.A.N.A. news agency said yesterday, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting earlier that the government forces control more than 90 percent of the city of Deir al-Zour. The AP reports.
It is unacceptable for Israel to violate Syrian air space and land “any time it wants,” Iran’s military chief Gen. Mohammed Baqeri said today according to state media, adding that Iran would strengthen cooperation with the Syrian army to “confront our common enemies, the Zionists and terrorists.” Reuters reports.
The liberation of Raqqa may signal a wider struggle for the U.S. to forge a comprehensive strategy for Syria, the defeat of Islamic State posing serious questions about rebuilding and stability and the role the U.S. should play. Arshad Mohammed and Yara Bayoumy explain at Reuters.
New conflicts in the Middle East are emerging as the Islamic State’s territory diminishes, the fall of Raqqa and the wider gains against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq leading to changed aims and shifts in alliances and raising the potential for confrontation. Yaroslav Trofimov writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Raqqa faces an uncertain political future as two councils compete for control and the wider politics of the Middle East, the position of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, tribal differences and other issues loom over the city. Mariya Petkova explains at Al Jazeera.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out one airstrike against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 16. Separately, partner forces conducted two strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Iraqi government forces took control of a significant portion of territory in northern Iraq from Kurdish Peshmerga forces, pushing the Peshmerga out of Sinjar and other disputed areas where they fought Islamic State militants when Iraqi troops retreated in 2014. The Iraqi forces’ gains demonstrating the quickly shifting political map in Iraq as the Islamic State loses its territory. Isabel Coles and Ali A. Nabhan report at the Wall Street Journal.
The Iraqi forces’ campaign has advanced into areas that Kurds claimed after the 2003 war, and the central government’s offensive comes following last month’s controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum which led to an overwhelming vote in favor of independence – a plebiscite that was deemed unconstitutional by the Baghdad government and included the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk. Loveday Morris, Tamer El-Ghobashy and Aaso Ameen Shwan report at the Washington Post.
Iraqi government forces have taken more disputed areas previously held by Kurdish Peshmerga, including positions in the Nineveh province and the Mosul Dam. The BBC reports.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s hopes of independence seem to have been halted as Iraqi federal forces seized all disputed oil fields yesterday, marking a significant blow to the Kurdish Regional Government’s (K.R.G.) ability to raise revenue. David Zucchino reports at the New York Times.
“The U.S., Britain and western powers are not faithful allies,” the director of the K.R.G. finance ministry and senior officer Gen. Gazi Mala Salih said yesterday, lashing out at western powers for failing to support the Kurds particularly after their efforts to “protect the world” from the Islamic State group. Martin Chulov reports at the Guardian.
A lawsuit against three major U.S. companies was filed yesterday on behalf of members of the U.S. military injured or killed by attacks between 2005 and 2009 due to their alleged business dealings with the Iraqi government, who then used contracts from the companies to provide funding to a Shi’ite militia group that targeted U.S. soldiers. Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.
The TRAVEL BAN
A federal judge in Hawaii temporarily halted the implementation of President Trump’s new travel ban yesterday, a day before the policy would take full effect, Judge Derrick Watson saying that the new restrictions made improper assessments of the risk posed by certain travelers based on their nationality. Brent Kendall reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The new travel ban “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor,” Judge Watson said, adding that the latest version “plainly discriminates based on nationality” in a way that undercuts “the founding principles of this Nation.” Vivian Yee reports at the New York Times.
The Trump administration will appeal the judge’s order, a spokesperson for the Justice Department said yesterday, the White House also said in a statement yesterday that the order “undercuts the President’s efforts to keep the American people safe” and that the ban was “lawful and necessary.” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
The Trump administration is working with Chad to lift travel restrictions on the country by helping it to improve its vetting capabilities, the State Department said in a statement yesterday a few hours after the Hawaii court temporarily blocked the implementation of the latest version of the ban. Melanie Zanona reports at the Hill.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team interviewed former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday and, according a source familiar with the meeting, Spicer was asked a series of questions ranging from the firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey to Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Annie Karni and Josh Dawsey report at POLITICO.
Mueller interviewed cybersecurity researcher Matt Tait who was recruited to “collude with the Russians,” the interview taking place several weeks ago and a few months after Tait published an account of his interactions with Republican Party operative Peter Smith. Natasha Bertrand reports at the Business Insider.
Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner may have reason to be worried about former chief of staff Reince Priebus’s testimony which was provided to Mueller’s team on Friday, and the hiring of Charles Harder to his legal team suggests that Kushner is nervous about his proximity to the decision fire Comey. Gabriel Sherman reports at Vanity Fair.
The former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign Carter Page has been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to sources familiar with the matter, Page drew scrutiny for meeting with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at last year’s Republic National Convention and it is expected that he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights during his testimony. Marianna Sotomayor and Kasie Hunt report at NBC News.
The son of Trump’s former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn has been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee in relation to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, according to a source familiar with the matter, the son Michael G. Flynn Jr. was a close aide to his father and worked at the Flynn Intel Group consultancy. Mark Hosenball and Nathan Layne report at Reuters.
Russian operatives paid U.S. activists to fund protest movements as part of a “troll factory,” according to Russian media outlet R.B.C., which reported its findings yesterday, saying that it had identified 118 social media accounts linked to the troll factory. Shaun Walker reports at the Guardian.
A profile of the Russian oligarch behind the Russian “troll factory” and his connections to the “Internet Research Agency” technology firm is provided by Tim Lister, Jim Sciutto and Mary Ilyushina at CNN.
“I am almost convinced that Putin’s people have tried to influence the U.S. election in some way,” the exiled Russian oligarch and rival to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said yesterday. Ari Melber, Meredith Mandell and Mirjam Lablans report at NBC News.
Senior U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats reaffirmed their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to the North Korea threat in a meeting today, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan saying after the meeting that the objective would be to “bring North Korea to the negotiating table without preconditions.” Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
North Korea plans to launch many more satellites but the U.S. is “going frantic to illegalize our development of outer space,” North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. Kim In Ryong told a U.N. General Assembly committee yesterday, the U.N., U.S. and other countries share concerns that the program would be a cover for tests of missile technology. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
“There is no need for us to be bellicose and aggressive” in relation to North Korea, former presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today, warning against “cavalier” threats to start war and urging the U.S. to step up diplomatic efforts. Christine Kim reports at Reuters.
North Korea praised China for its 19th Community Party Congress today amid an increasingly strained relationship between the two countries and China’s implementation of sanctions against Pyongyang. Reuters reports.
A recent string of Taliban attacks on Afghan security units have killed over 70 people, officials said yesterday, demonstrating the security issues the country faces and the resilience of the Taliban despite the efforts of Afghanistan and its allies to combat the militants. Antonio Olivo and Sayed Salahuddin report at the Washington Post.
A series of drone strikes killed 35 Taliban fighters near the border with Pakistan yesterday, the AP reports.
Iran would “shred” the 2015 nuclear deal if the U.S. decided to withdraw from the agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today, adding that the Iran would stick to the accord if the other signatories respect it. Reuters reports.
A U.S. delegation set out four conditions to resolve the U.S.-Turkey visa crisis, including information to be provided about a Turkish employee arrested at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul – the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying today that Turkey would not submit to U.S. “impositions.” Reuters reports.
“The Israeli government will not hold political talks with a Palestinian government that is supported by Hamas,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement yesterday, referring to the recent reconciliation agreement between the Islamist Hamas group, which controlled the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank-based Fatah Party. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.
The attacker who killed more than 300 people in a bomb explosion in the Somali capital of Mogadishu was a former Somalian army soldier who was motivated in part by a desire for revenge following a controversial local and U.S. special forces operation in his home town in August, according to officials. Jason Burke reports at the Guardian.
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have demanded more information on the attack against U.S. troops in Niger earlier this month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) castigated the Trump administration for a lack of communication about the incident. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Saudi Arabia has been “promoting regime change” in Qatar and seeks to bring “back the dark ages of tribes,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Adbulrahman al-Thani said in an interview yesterday, making the comments amid the fourth-month blockade instituted by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain against Qatar for its alleged support for terrorism and its close ties to Iran. David Reid and Nancy Hungerford report at CNBC.
The U.S. Navy Seals were prepared to launch a raid in Pakistan to free an American-Canadian family if Pakistan did not take action. Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt explain the circumstances surrounding the family who were taken hostage by militants and freed last week at the New York Times.
An investigation into a Russian nuclear bribery case during the Obama administration has been launched by the Senate Judiciary Committee, John Solomon reports at the Hill.
An analysis of the importance of China’s 19th Communist Party Congress and the implications the congress has for the world and Chinese President Xi Jinping is provided by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.
The liberation of the Philippine city of Marawi does not spell the end of Islamist insurgency in the country and the militants are likely to adapt to the new scenario. Euan McKirdy explains at CNN.
What should foreign leaders know about Trump ahead of his trip to Asia next month? David Ignatius sets out the key points about his foreign policy approach at the Washington Post.