The Early Edition: March 2, 2020

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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.

TURKEY-SYRIA

Tensions between Turkey and Syria threaten to break into all-out war as Turkey shot down two Syrian warplanes on Sunday and carried out drone strikes against targets in Syrian government-held territory. The Turkish counter-offensive was in retaliation for an alleged Syrian government airstrike on Thursday that killed 36 Turkish soldiers amid escalating conflict in the rebel-held northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, Liz Sly reporting at the Washington Post.

The Turkish offensive against Assad’s troops and backers killed at least 106 Syrian soldiers and dozens of militia members. The counter-offensive against Syria was carried out despite claims from Syrian rebel groups and diplomats in the region that Russia was responsible for the attack that killed Turkish troops last week, Martin Chulov reports at the Guardian.

Turkey does not want a confrontation with Russia – a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has supported the Idlib offensive – and is focused on preventing a massacre by the Syrian government, Turkish defense minister Hilisi Akar said Sunday. Carlotta Gall reports at the New York Times.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to discuss the situation in Syria, Erdogan said today, expressing hope that Putin “will take the necessary measure there [in Idlib], such as a ceasefire, and that we will find a solution to this affair.” Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. and Taliban signed an agreement Saturday to take steps to end the war in Afghanistan and pave the way for full U.S. troop withdrawal in 14 months upon the Taliban meeting commitments to prevent terrorism. Saphora Smith, Mushtaq Yusufzai, Dan De Luce and Ahmed Mengli report at NBC News.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the signing of the deal was “historic” however significant challenges remain before lasting peace can be achieved: including the presence of terrorist groups and factions not directly tied to the Taliban, control over the country, dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and the requirement for the Taliban to meet its obligations. The text of the agreement can be found here. Sarah Dadouch, Susannah George and Dan Lamothe report at the Washington Post.

“The request has been made by the United States for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations but it cannot be a precondition,” Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said yesterday, responding to the issue of prisoner swaps in the U.S.-Taliban deal. The AP reports.

“The people of Afghanistan need to believe that we’ve gone from war to peace, and not that the agreement will be either a Trojan horse or the beginning of a much worse phase of conflict,” Ghani said of the agreement’s call for 5,000 Taliban prisoners to be released in exchange for 1,000 Afghan government captives – stating that the U.S. does not have the authority to decide on prisoner swaps and can only be a “facilitator.” Abdul Qadir Sediqi reports at Reuters.

“Time will tell if reconciliation in Afghanistan can be accomplished with honor and security, but after more than 18 years of war, it is time to try,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee member and Trump ally, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said in a statement at the weekend. J. Edward Moreno reports at the Hill.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper sees the deal with the Taliban as an opportunity to shift the U.S. military’s focus to dealing with China and preparation for a potential future war. Robert Burns reports at the AP.

The signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal marks a new stage for the Afghan war as the agreement precipitates a change in U.S. military strategy in the country. Julian E. Barnes, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt explain at the New York Times.

The hard work to reach an agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government starts now and many are concerned about an escalation in violence and the impact of the agreement on civil society and women’s rights. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post, also giving an overview of the reaction in Washington.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement “is both truly momentous for happening at all and severely modest for what it contains,” Kathy Gilsinan writes at The Atlantic, providing an analysis of the U.S.’ changing expectations in Afghanistan over the course of 18 years of conflict.

A profile on the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and his role in negotiating with the Taliban is provided by Mujib Mashal and Lara Jakes at the New York Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean today fired two projectiles into waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to the South Korean military, adding the projectiles were likely short-range ballistic missiles. Timothy W. Martin reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The recent repeated launch of ballistic missiles by North Korea is a serious problem for the international community, including Japan,” the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a statement, but could not confirm if the projectiles landed in its territory. Yoonjung Seo and Joshua Berlinger report at CNN.

The firing of the projectiles appeared to be part of North Korean military drills that began Friday, South Korean officials said. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

China today reiterated its call for dialogue in response to the projectile launch, Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli citizens are voting today in the third national election since April in an effort to break the political deadlock which pits incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party against Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

Israeli Arab lawmakers angered at the U.S.’ Israel-Palestine peace plan have been urging their communities to turn out to vote and oust Netanyahu. Rami Ayyub reports at Reuters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Pentagon has been implementing measures to protect the U.S. military from the coronavirus outbreak, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The strategic northern Yemeni city of Hazm has been captured by the Iran-aligned Yemeni Houthi rebels, officials said yesterday. Al Jazeera reports.

Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi yesterday withdraw from his post, bringing further uncertainty for the future of Iraq. Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports at the AP. 

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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