The Early Edition: August 19, 2019

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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.  

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bombing in a packed wedding hall in Afghan’s capital Kabul late Saturday evening killed 63 people and wounded 182 others, according to spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry Nasrat Rahimi. The attack came as the Taliban and the U.S. try to reach an agreement on the pullout of U.S. forces in return for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.

The Islamic State group (I.S.)’s affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the wedding blast, issuing a statement online with an image of a young man with an assault rifle, Pamela Constable and Sharif Hassan report at the Washington Post.

A series of bombings hit restaurants and public squares today in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad — injuring at least 66 people, officials said, as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its independence. The AP reports.

U.S. President Trump met with top national security advisers Friday to review negotiations with the Taliban on a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the potential for a peace agreement between the warring sides. “Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan,” Trump stated in a message sent on Twitter, adding “many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal — if possible!” Michael Crowley reports at the New York Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the meeting centered on “the status of negotiations for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.” “Led by the president, we are working diligently on the path forward in Afghanistan,” Pompeo said, adding: “in continued close cooperation with the government of Afghanistan, we remain committed to achieving a comprehensive peace agreement, including a reduction in violence and a ceasefire, ensuring that Afghan soil is never again used to threaten the United States or her allies and bringing Afghans together to work towards peace,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

President Trump yesterday said Afghanistan “can’t be a laboratory for terror” as negotiations continue following 18 years of conflict. “Look we’re there for one reason, we don’t want that to be a laboratory … it can’t be a laboratory for terror … and we’ve stopped that we have a very, very good view,” the president told reporters before departing from New Jersey as he headed back to Washington, Paul LeBlanc, Kylie Atwood and Nick Paton Walsh report at CNN.

There are growing concerns that Afghan women will lose the gains they have made over nearly two decades as the Taliban and the U.S. move toward a preliminary peace agreement and the Taliban will be left to negotiate women’s rights. Officials do not anticipate the preliminary deal will include specific assurances that women will continue to have equal opportunities in education, employment and government, Lara Jakes writes at the New York Times.

“The Afghan wedding attack adds a tragic twist to peace talks,” Adam Taylor writes at the Washington Post, commenting “there are deep suspicions about the Taliban’s commitment to peace, and some initially suspected it was behind Saturday’s attack.”

An explainer to the draft Afghan peace deal presented Friday to Trump is provided by Pamela Constable at the Washington Post.

A detailed look at the Islamic State affiliate’s rise in Afghanistan is fielded by the AP, who note that “I.S. is seen as an even greater threat than the Taliban because of its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities and its strategy of targeting civilians, both in Afghanistan and abroad.”

PAKISTAN AND INDIA

A bomb exploded on Friday at a mosque near the Pakistani city of Quetta frequented by the Taliban’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada – killing his brother Hafiz Ahmadullah and at least three others, Afghan officials said. Police said more than 20 people were wounded and the death toll is expected to rise; there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack,  Sami Yousafzai and Shereena Qazi report at Al Jazeera.

Afghan Taliban officials said yesterday the killing of Ahmadullah “would not derail” talks with the U.S. aimed at securing the withdrawal of U.S. troops. “If someone thinks martyring our leaders would stop us from our goal they’re living in a fool’s paradise,” a Taliban leader said by telephone from an undisclosed location, Reuters reports.

A pro-government tribal elder was killed yesterday after a bomb planted in his vehicle exploded in the country’s northwest, near the Afghan border, according to senior officer of the Pakistani police Mian Naseeb Jan. Jan said the explosion killed four others and wounded six as they were traveling in the Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the bomb was likely detonated remotely; the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP reports.

U.S. President Trump told Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in a call on Friday that it was important that India and Pakistan reduce tensions in the disputed region of Kashmir and Jammu through “bilateral dialogue,” the White House said in a statement. “The two leaders further discussed how they will continue to build on the growing relationship between the United States and Pakistan and the momentum created during their recent meeting at the White House,” the statement continued, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

U.N. Security Council members consider India and Pakistan should “refrain from taking unilateral action” over Jammu and Kashmir, China’s U.N. envoy said on Friday after the council met on the issue for the first time in decades. India’s U.N. Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said the decision was an internal matter and that the country was committed to ensuring the situation remained “calm and peaceful,” Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

SYRIA

A joint Turkish-U.S. operation center to set up and manage a safe zone in northeast Syria will be fully operational next week, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday. The U.S. and Turkey last week agreed to create the center for a proposed zone along Syria’s northeast border. Reuters reports.

The U.S. agreement to establish a safe zone in northeast Syria is “provocative and worrisome,” the Iranian foreign ministry has said in comments carried by the semi-official Fars news agency, Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

IRAN

An Iranian oil tanker detained on Jul. 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union (E.U.) sanctions left Gibraltar’s waters yesterday, shipping data showed, hours after the British territory rejected a U.S. request to detain the vessel further. Gibraltar had already decided to release the ship last week after receiving assurances from Iran that the ship’s oil would not go to Syria, Megan Specia reports at the New York Times.

Gibraltar yesterday refused a U.S. legal request to seize the Iranian tanker – saying it could not comply with the warrant issued Friday because it was bound by E.U. law. “The E.U. sanctions regime against Iran – which is applicable in Gibraltar – is much narrower than that applicable in the U.S.,” the British overseas territory’s justice ministry said in a statement, which continued: “The Gibraltar Central Authority is unable to seek an Order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required by the United States of America;” Washington had attempted to detain the Grace 1, now renamed the Adrian Darya 1, on the grounds that it had ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.), which it has designated a terrorist organization, Liz Sly reports at the Washington Post.

“By considering the potential for 150 Iranian casualties when determining the appropriateness of the response to the shootdown of the unmanned drone … the approach apparently taken by the United States President … those who advised him … and Retired Admiral McRaven is firmly grounded in law,” Kenneth Watkin comments at Just Security in a jus ad bellum proportionality analysis of President Trump’s decision last June to call off strikes against Iran.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

A drone attack on Saturday claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels sparked a fire in Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil and gas field but caused no casualties or disruption to production, state-owned energy company Saudi Aramco said. Saudi Aramco said the attack had caused a “limited fire” at a gas plant which had been contained and had not affected production; energy Minister Khalid al-Falih condemned the strike as “cowardly” sabotage, Sune Engel Rasmussen reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Southern Yemeni separatists over the weekend vacated key public buildings in Yemen’s port city of Aden that they seized last week from forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The supporters of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (S.T.C.) withdrew from the headquarters of Hadi’s government, the supreme court and the central bank, as well as Aden’s main hospital, Hadi’s information minister Muammar al-Iryani announced on Twitter on Saturday, Al Jazeera reports.

CHINA, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

China slammed Taiwan today over its offer of political asylum to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters; spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office Ma Xiaoguang said the self-ruled island’s asylum offer, made last month by Taiwan’s president, would “cover up the crimes of a small group of violent militants” and encourage their “audacity in harming Hong Kong and turn Taiwan into a “heaven for ducking the law.” Taiwan has previously granted residency to several opponents of the Chinese government, although the island lacks a formal legal mechanism for assessing and granting asylum requests, Kelvin Chan and Yanan Wang report at the AP.

U.S. President yesterday warned China that conducting a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protests would impair trade talks between the two countries. “I think it’d be very hard to deal if they do violence, I mean, if it’s another Tiananmen Square,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey, AFP reports.

Tens of thousands of people marched peacefully yesterday in Hong Kong, defying a police ban, in the latest massive demonstration in the Chinese territory. The rallies drew more than 1.7 million people — nearly one in four of the total population of more than seven million — making it the second-largest march of the movement, according to organizers estimates, Austin Ramzy and Raymond Zhong report at the New York Times.

Trump indicated yesterday that his administration is “not likely to grant another temporary reprieve” to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, dismissing reports that an extension was expected to come today. “At this moment, it looks much more like we’re not going to do business,” the president said of Huawei, citing national security concerns; the firm was placed on the Commerce Department’s “entity list” in May, Felicia Sonmez reports at the Washington Post.

“Will Hong Kong flare up or flame out?” Kathryn Salam at Foreign Policy provides a guide to the city’s demonstrations, including how the protests got here and where they are likely heading.

“Tiananmen is not a useful prism through which to analyze the current situation in Hong Kong … it may set up … observers … into believing that evermore violence cannot be avoided,” Ilaria Maria Sala argues at the New York Times, urging readers to “put aside” the 1989 demonstrations and “consider what this moment in Hong Kong really reveals: China’s political leaders still simply cannot understand freethinking people.”

SUDAN

Sudan’s main opposition coalition and the ruling military council formally signed a final power-sharing deal on Saturday, paving the way for a transition to a civilian-led government. In a speech at the signing ceremony, protest leader Mohammed Naji al-Assam said that the accord begins a “new page” in Sudan’s history after former President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s decades of “repression and corruption,” Max Bearak reports at the Washington Post.

The council will be made up of equal numbers from the military and civilian sides, although paramilitary commander Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has led the country since just after Bashir’s ouster in April, will lead it for the first 21 months. Street celebrations, with music, poetry and fireworks, were held across the country over the weekend, Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.

Sudan’s ruling military council revealed today the country’s pro-democracy movement requested a delay on the announcement of a joint ruling body because of last-minute, internal disputes over appointees. The 11-member sovereign council, created under a power-sharing deal between the military and the protesters, was to be announced yesterday but the military council’s spokesman Shams el-Din Kabashi said that “the movement withdrew its appointees to the council and would hold more consultations among its factions,” the AP reports.

Al-Bashir arrived in court today on corruption allegations which brought down his 30-year rule. The ousted leader, whose trial begins today, faces charges related to “possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally,” Jason Burke and Zeinab Mohammed Salih report at the Guardian.

RUSSIA 

“Moscow has no plans to deploy new missiles as long as the U.S. does not,” despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly said yesterday. “We still stick to that … unless there are such systems in Europe [deployed by Washington,] we won’t do anything there,” Shoigu told the Rossiya-24 TV channel, Reuters reports.

Two Russian monitoring stations designed to detect nuclear radiation “went silent” soon after the Aug. 8 explosion in Russia’s Nonoksa missile testing facility that left seven dead and caused a brief radiation spike in a nearby town, fueling concerns among observers that the Russian government is trying to restrict evidence of the accident. Two days after the blast, two monitoring stations nearest the site of the accident stopped transmitting data, Head of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization Lassina Zerbo told reporters, Michael R. Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The nuclear arms race is back … and ever more dangerous now,” Simon Tisdall argues at the Guardian, commenting that “Trump has increased spending on America’s arsenal while ripping up cold war treaties [and] Russia and China are following suit.” 

A guide to 5 things you need to know about the Aug. 8 explosion in Russia is provided by at Dmitry Gorenburg and Michael Kofman at the Washington Post.

IMMIGRATION

A U.S. appeals court on Friday ruled that President Trump can begin blocking some Central American migrants from applying for asylum in the U.S. –  but only along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, in a partial victory to the Trump administration attempt to bar almost all asylum applications at the border. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said migrants who seek asylum in New Mexico and Texas can be subjected to the administration’s new rules, which require most asylum-seekers to first seek safe haven in a third country, Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

President Trump’s senior adviser and leading aide on immigration White House Stephen Miller “is writing the central plot of [Trump’s] presidency,”  Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey write at the Washington Post, commenting that “two and a half years into Trump’s term, Miller’s power in the White House is at its peak” and “his influence in the West Wing is rivaled only by [Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser] Jared Kushner.”

A look at how Trump’s policies are leaving thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico is fielded by Jason Kao and Denise Lu at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday cautioned in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that “illegal” proposed cuts to foreign aid already apportioned by Congress could jeopardize a budget deal with the White House. “I request that you work within the Administration to stop this proposed rescission, which G.A.O. [Government Accountability Office] states is illegal, which violates the good faith of our budget negotiations, which important Republicans say is ill-advised, and which overrides Congress’ most fundamental Constitutional power,” the Speaker wrote; Pelosi also included a bipartisan letter warning against a new rescission package signed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jim Risch (R-Idaho,) amongst other representatives, Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced Friday his panel would return to Capitol Hill before the summer recess is finished to vote on gun violence legislation, following two deadly shootings earlier this month that reignited the debate over gun reform. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) yesterday unveiled a sweeping plan intended to remake the nation’s prisons, police departments and courts and aimed at freeing the criminal justice system from “institutional racism and corporate profiteering.” Sanders’ nearly 6,000-word proposal pledges the attorney general will investigate every instance a person is killed in police custody as well as the establishment of a “Prisoner Bill of Rights” and a “civilian corps of unarmed first responders” to deal with mental health emergencies, Holly Otterbein reports at POLITICO.

At least 20 local government entities across Texas were targeted in a ransomware cyber attack, authorities revealed Friday, without releasing the identifies of the affected agencies. John Bowden reports at the Hill.

The U.S. needs to develop a clearer and more rigorous framework for the use of force across the range of non-traditional battlefields if it is to develop a sustainable counterterrorism strategy that takes the country off a permanent war footing while keeping the pressure on international terrorist organizations, Luke Hartig and Stephen Tankel at Just Security propose the pillars of such a framework, in the third of three articles on the disappearing lines in U.S. military operating procedures and how the executive branch and Congress might better govern operations going forward.

Sri Lanka’s president today appointed Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva – a general accused of serious human rights abuses in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s long civil war – as the country’s new army chief, the AP reports. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).