The Early Edition: August 21, 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

The official death toll from Saturday’s Islamic State group suicide attack on a wedding party in the Afghan capital of Kabul has risen to 80, with the bombing taking place against the backdrop of ongoing talks in Qatar between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban to secure a peace deal. Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain report at Reuters.

The Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) poses a threat in Afghanistan despite the government’s claim that they have been defeated, and their continued presence raises problems for U.S.-Taliban peace talks. Pamela Constable and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

The Islamic State has positioned itself as a beneficiary from a peace deal between the U.S. and Taliban, with some Afghan security officials expressing concern that the terror group will use the situation to recruit disaffected Taliban members and take advantage of established support networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.

“As I’ve said, and I’ll say it any number of times – and this is not using nuclear – we could win that war in a week if we wanted to fight it, but I’m not looking to kill 10 million people,” President Donald Trump said during a meeting with reports in the Oval Office yesterday, reiterating the controversial comment he made in July about Afghanistan and the ongoing war. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

President Trump should reject a deal with the Taliban as it represents a capitulation and entrusts the Taliban with counterterrorism measures. House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) writes at the Washington Post.

IRAN

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison today said that his country would join the U.S.-led effort to protect against Iranian threats in the Strait of Hormuz, making it the third country to partake in the effort to ensure freedom of navigation. Jamie Tarabay reports at the New York Times.

“Failing to confront the Iranian regime’s malign activities will only grow the regime’s multi-continental body count spanning the last 40 years,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.N. Security Council yesterday, urging action to maintain a U.N. arms embargo on Iran and a travel ban against the leader of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani. Pompeo also lauded the Trump administration’s role in the Middle East and highlighted the efforts taken by the U.S. and Poland during February’s ‘Warsaw Process,’ Edith M. Lederer reports at the Washington Post.

The U.N. Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General, Maria Luiza Viotti, called for “restraint and genuine dialogue” in the Middle East during yesterday’s Security Council meeting, highlighting incidents in the Strait of Hormuz and emphasizing U.N. support for the Iran nuclear deal. The U.N. News Centre reports.

“Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos. President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable,” the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in speech today in Sweden. Reuters reports.

The U.S. State Department has warned Greece against facilitating the Iranian tanker released by Gibraltar. The U.S. has accused the tanker of assisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps by transporting oil to Syria, Benoit Faucon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Greece said today that it would not facilitate the Iranian tanker, with the Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis stating that no Greek port could accommodate a very large crude carrier. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

Syria government forces have closed in on the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province. Control of the town would mark a significant milestone for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his bid to reassert power over the country, Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad report at the New York Times.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the city of Maarat al-Numan in Idlib to the Turkish border in the last few days as the Russian-led campaign to capture the province increases in intensity. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

Airstrikes have hit a hospital in Idlib province today, according to Syrian opposition activists. The AP reports.

A feature on the grim reality of life in the Damascus suburb of Douma is provided by Vivian Yee at the New York Times.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Fighting broke out yesterday between U.A.E.-backed southern separatists and forces loyal to the Saudi-backed and internationally recognized government of Yemen, despite the two groups being nominal allies against the Houthi rebels. Al Jazeera reports.

The leader of the southern separatists arrived in Saudi Arabia today to discuss ending the standoff with government troops. Reuters reports.

“A continuation of this current situation is simply untenable,” the U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the Security Council yesterday, warning of a risk to the country’s social fabric and the spread of violence to “other southern governorates.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea is capable of miniaturizing nuclear warheads, a forthcoming Japanese government defense report is expected to say, claiming that Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missiles pose a “serious and imminent threat” to Japan’s security. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

The worsening relationship between Japan and South Korea is concerning, the U.S. Marines commandant Gen. David Berger said today, but added the two countries have common interests and he is “optimistic it will get worked out.” Yuri Kageyama reports at the AP.

China is today hosting the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea for talks on North Korea denuclearization and to support efforts to improve relations between the two countries, which have been strained by trade tensions and rows over wartime history. The AP reports.

The U.S. envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun today expressed full commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and said he would not put himself forward for consideration for the post of U.S. ambassador to Russia. Hyonhee Shin reports at Reuters.

U.S.-DENMARK RELATIONS

President Trump announced last night that he would postpone his meeting with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen after she said her country had no interest in Trump’s proposal to purchase Greenland, with Trump stating in message on Twitter that their meeting would be rescheduled for another date in the future. Betsy Klein reports at CNN.

Prime Minister Frederiksen had called Trump’s proposal “absurd” in remarks to reporters on Sunday, emphasizing that Greenland is “not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic.” Brett Samuels and Brandon Conradis report at the Hill.

The Danish royal palace has been taken by surprise by Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel the visit. There has not yet been a response from the Danish government, Jan M. Olsen reports at the AP.

Danish lawmakers have reacted angrily to Trump’s postponement and his comments on Greenland, calling the president’s actions disrespectful and undiplomatic. Rick Noack reports at the Washington Post.

CHINA and HONG KONG

Hong Kong protestors have arranged a sit-in at the site of a mob attack at a subway station, and the weeks of unrest – triggered by a bill allowing for extradition of Hong Kong criminal suspects to mainland China – have led to a major bank warning of a significant impact on Hong Kong’s and China’s economy. Felix Tam and Alun John report at Reuters.

China today confirmed that an employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong has been detained in mainland China, with the foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang stating that Simon Cheng “is a Hong Kong citizen, not a U.K. citizen. So he is Chinese and this is a purely internal Chinese affair.” Julia Hollingsworth and Ezra Cheung report at CNN.

Britain has said it is “extremely concerned” by reports of Simon Cheng’s detention, leading the Chinese foreign ministry to call on Britain to stop “fanning the flames” and refrain from interfering in China’s internal affairs. Reuters reports.

China has hit back against the social media companies Twitter and Facebook for their decision to suspend accounts targeting Hong Kong protestors. Wall Street Journal staff report.

PAKISTAN AND INDIA

India’s crackdown on Indian-administered Kashmir has led to the detention of at least 2,300 people, according to police sources and a review of statistics by the Associated Press. India’s security lockdown in the disputed territory began on Aug. 5 shortly before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, the AP reports.

Separatist leaders in Indian Kashmir have called for mass protests at Friday prayers this week in defiance of India’s ban. Devjyot Ghoshal and Fayaz Bukhari report at Reuters.

Pakistan has decided to take the Kashmir dispute to the International Court of Justice, the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said yesterday, adding that the case would focus on India’s alleged human rights violations in the Muslim-majority territory, which it also claims in full but rules in part. The BBC reports.

Clashes today erupted in a Kashmiri district, killing a police official and an armed rebel. Al Jazeera reports.

RUSSIA

Russia has criticized the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization for its reporting on an explosion on Aug. 8 at a Russian missile-test site, attacking the report for using “quite absurd” wording and claiming that Russia is not legally bound to share data with the organization. Georgi Kantchev and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “could very well be” the first choice to take over as the ambassador to Russia, President Trump said yesterday, adding that Sullivan is being considered and is very much respected. Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

President Trump yesterday said it would be “much more appropriate” to have Russia re-join as a member of the G-7 industrialized nations, stating that he would be disposed to think about their membership “very favorably.” Felicia Sonmez reports at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Senior Venezuelan officials and senior Trump administration officials have been in contact for months through various channels, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said last night, adding that the communication has been with his “express and direct permission.” Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.

The Trump administration will officially launch the new Space Command on Aug. 29, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford stating that the combatant command will be responsible for planning and executing space operations. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S. State Department yesterday approved a possible $8bn sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan; a move that was welcomed by the Taiwanese President in a post on Facebook. Reuters reports.

The bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission is set to issue recommendations early next year on protecting the U.S. against cyberattacks, according to a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security. Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Lawyers for Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou have argued that Canadian efforts to extradite her to the U.S. should be stayed due to an abuse of process by Canadian and U.S. authorities. Meng and Huawei have been charged by the U.S. for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Vipal Monga and Kim Mackrael report at the Wall Street Journal.

Airstrikes, indiscriminate rocket attacks and shelling, and fighting on the ground have caused casualties on all sides in Libya, the U.N. spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, said yesterday; adding that civilians, including children, were amongst those killed in the southern outskirts of the capital. The U.N. News Centre reports.

An explosion north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad was caused by a strike on an Iranian-backed paramilitary arms depot, marking the latest mysterious attack on bases and warehouses operated by the militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Forces. Al Jazeera reports.

The Trump administration is spending vast sums of money to expand its military base in Qatar, a move that is at odds with claims that the administration seeks to draw down its presence in the region and end “endless wars.” Adam Taylor provides an analysis of the base at the Washington Post.

An 11-member military-civilian body has been announced in Sudan and Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan has been sworn in as its leader, with the ruling body set to lead the country for a little over three years. The AP reports. 

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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