The Early Edition: November 3, 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.


Pro-Syrian government forces have “completely liberated” the city of Deir al-Zour from terrorism, Syrian state television reported today, the city in the eastern part of the country was the last remaining stronghold of Islamic State militants and was the headquarters of the terrorist group’s self-styled “caliphate.” The BBC reports.

The city was taken after a two-month campaign with the support of Russian air power, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the AFP reports.

“The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city,” a military source said today, Al Jazeera reports.

A Nusra Front car bomb killed at least nine and wounded 23 in a Syrian government-held village close to the Israeli-held Golan Heights. Reuters reports.

The U.S. and Russia have drafted rival U.N. Security Council resolutions in relation to the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (J.I.M.) and its work to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Russia recently blocked a resolution extending J.I.M.’s mandate through its veto power, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Civilians in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta have suffered as a consequence of a years-long government blockade and the humanitarian situation is desperate. Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria report at the Washington Post.


Iraqi forces have entered one of the last remaining Islamic State strongholds in the country, Iraq’s Joint Operations command said today, the offensive is taking place at al-Qaim near the border with Syria. Raya Jalabi reports at Reuters.

Iraqi troops have reached the border with Syria, according to an Iraqi officer, making the advance as part of the effort to recapture al-Qaim. The AP reports.

At least 741 civilians were executed by Islamic State militants during the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, the U.N. said in a report yesterday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the Mosul operations subjected thousands of civilians to human rights abuses and clear violations of international humanitarian law, adding that “those responsible must answer for their heinous crimes.” Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

The Kurds’ influence across Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran has diminished in light of the impending defeat of the Islamic State group and the aims of the four countries to stop any kind of independence movement. Yaroslav Trofimov explains at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on November 1. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]


Unsealed court documents appear to reveal that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions knew that Trump campaign associates had contacts with Russians during the 2016 election, a campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, spoke to Sessions and Trump in March 2016 about setting up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin – an idea that Trump listened to with interest but Sessions was strongly opposed to. Michael S. Schmidt, Matt Apuzzo and Scott Shane report at the New York Times.

The revelations from the court documents have led to demands by Senate Democrats that Sessions explain why he did not disclose the March 2016 meeting when testifying before congressional hearings, some Senators calling for the Attorney General to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to clarify his testimony. Karoun Demirjian, Sari Horwitz and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.

The Trump campaign’s former foreign policy adviser Carter Page testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a private session yesterday and claimed that he had informed Sessions about his planned trip to Russia in July 2016, raising further questions about Sessions testimony and the extent of his knowledge about connections between Trump campaign officials and Russia. Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

Page invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when asked why he had withheld documents from the committee relating to Russian interference, according to lawmakers. Following the testimony, Page was asked by reporters whether he had a relationship with Papadopoulos, to which he replied that he “had nothing to do with any of that.” Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

Sam Clovis, Trump’s pick for the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, has withdrawn has nomination amid the investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia and the revelation that he was the campaign supervisor to Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty of lying to the F.B.I.. Jordan Fabian, Timothy Cama and Brett Samuels report at the Hill.

The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has turned over documents to special counsel Robert Mueller in relation to any contacts with Russia, according to sources familiar with the matter, two separate sources have said that investigators have asked other witnesses about Kushner’s role in the firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz report at CNN.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been ordered by a U.S. judge to remain under house arrest and wear an electronic monitoring device as he awaits trial date for money-laundering and other offences, Manafort’s associate and Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates also remains under house arrest and the charges against him include money-laundering and conspiracy against the U.S.. The charges were made as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Sarah N. Lynch and Warren Strobel report at Reuters.

The Mueller indictment of Manafort reveals a connection with a notorious Russian organized crime leader, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said in an interview yesterday, saying that the investigations into Russian interference were “bad for our country” and that Congress has found “no collusion” so far, the president also dismissed the use of social media by Russian operatives to spread disinformation.  John Bowden reports at the Hill.

“We’re not a social network,” was the repeated reply of Google’s general counsel during this week’s congressional hearings about Russian election interference and use of online platforms to spread propaganda, the response highlighting the attempts by tech giants to distance themselves from being labeled as ‘social’ because of the associated problems. Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Isaac explain at the New York Times.

The Trump-Russia investigations are unveiling “Trump’s strange obsession with Russia” and the latest news from Mueller’s investigation “suggests that what has long been opaque will soon be clear.” Joe Scarborough writes at the Washington Post.

The Mueller indictments have shone a spotlight on the poor caliber of advisers surrounding Trump during the election and the inability of the campaign to properly vet individuals who sought to support the campaign. Scott Jennings writes at CNN.


The Islamic State group yesterday claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s terror attack in New York, calling the suspected attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, a “soldier of the caliphate,” but provided no evidence that they had prior knowledge of the attack being planned. Nicole Chavez and Hamdi Alkashali report at CNN.

President Trump repeated calls for Saipov to face the death penalty in a tweet last night, his remarks potentially jeopardizing a fair trial. The BBC reports.

An analysis of the clues left by Saipov and his connections with the Islamic State group is provided by Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times.

The U.S. should be prepared for a new type of Islamist extremism in the wake of the New York terror attack, and the U.S. “must focus on defeating radical Islamist ideology,” Husain Haqqani writes at the Wall Street Journal.


The U.S., Japan and South Korea flew bombers and jet fighters near North Korea yesterday, according to the U.S. Pacific Command the drill was planned in advance, but North Korea state media said it was a stealth mission demonstrating that the U.S. was “aggravating the situation of the Korean Peninsula and seeking to ignite a nuclear war.” Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The joint exercises simulated attacks on land targets but did not involve live weapons, according to an anonymous South Korean military official, Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.

The drills took place before Trump’s trip to Asia beginning on Sunday, and the North Korean threat is set to feature prominently in discussions with Asian leaders. Soyoung Kim and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.

The U.S. Treasury severed ties with a small Chinese bank on the border with North Korea yesterday, accusing the bank of acting “as a conduit for illicit North Korean financial activity.” Don Weinland reports at the Financial Times.


The world is “running out of time” to deal with the threat posed by North Korea, Trump is set to tell leaders on his Asia trip, the national security adviser H.R. McMaster said yesterday, Ali Vitali reporting at NBC News.

Putin and Trump may meet at the A.P.E.C. summit in Vietnam next week, Russia’s Kremlin said today, Reuters reporting.

Trump plans to draw attention to Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea during his trip, an issue that has a deep emotional resonance in Japan. Motoko Rich explains at the New York Times.

Trump’s Asia trip will begin in Japan on Sunday and the tour will continue to South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Ishaan Tharoor sets out what to look for during the visit at the Washington Post.

Trump’s “erratic statecraft” and the specter of the Russia investigations have the potential to undermine the president’s agenda during his Asia trip, in addition, the intense schedule and the problem of promoting new initiatives in the region add further complications. Mark Landler explains at the New York Times.

Trump’s ‘America First’ policy undermines the U.S.’s ability to make an impact on human rights in Asia as the Trump administration has deployed differing human rights narratives based on a nation’s relationship with the U.S., in contrast to the Obama administration which responded quickly to abuses and political strife. Matt Spetalnick and Prak Chan Thul write at Reuters.


A federal judge in Washington may intervene in the case of defense chief Brig. Gen. John Baker who has been confined to his quarters in Guantánamo Bay for contempt of court for defying his orders and refusing to testify in the U.S.S. Cole case. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The three civilian defense lawyers who left the U.S.S. Cole case are set to defy the military judge’s orders again and refuse to appear in court at Guantánamo due to a secret ethical dilemma. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.


Russian hackers targeted Putin’s detractors and those of interest to the Kremlin, a digital hit list reveals. Raphael Satter, Jeff Donn and Justin Myers report at the AP.

Attorney General Jeff Session yesterday castigated technology companies for stopping investigators from accessing encrypted information for ongoing terror investigations, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.


“We’ll see,” Trump replied when asked by an interviewer yesterday whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would remain in the administration for the duration of the president’s term, once again throwing doubt on the future of Tillerson’s position. Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

The Trump administration asked the French President Emmanuel Macron to set up a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Iran replied unequivocally that they would not meet with President Trump. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

Tillerson is scheduled to visit Myanmar this month to discuss the “humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State,” the State Department announced yesterday, referring to the human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Laura Koran reports at CNN.

Russia has been taking advantage of the lack of U.S. policy in the Middle East to increase its influence, Zeina Karam writes at the AP.

Key positions in the Pentagon will finally be filled, the vacancies, which have lasted 10 months, have had an impact on U.S. operations, including in Afghanistan. Paul McLeary explains at Foreign Policy.

The U.S. pledge for $60m for a U.N.-backed counterterrorism force in Africa’s Sahel region comes following increased extremist activity. Azad Essa explains the details of the new force at Al Jazeera.


The U.S. has been “deliberately lying” about the mysterious sonic attacks the U.S. has alleged Cuba has been carrying out against its diplomats in Havana, the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said yesterday, Luis Alonso Lugo reporting at the AP.

“We hope that as an external party, the United States can plant more flowers and fewer thorns,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said today in relation to the dispute over the South China Sea, making the comments ahead of Trump’s visit to Beijing next week. Michael Martina reports at Reuters.

Serbia rejected calls from the U.S. to choose between the West or Russia, the Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic saying that “what is important is to see what is in our own best interests.” Aleksandar Vasovic reports at Reuters. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK