News Roundup and Notes: June 11, 2014

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 fall of Mosul

Tens of thousands have been forced to flee Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, after fighters from the extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) took control of the city yesterday [Al Jazeera; CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter et al.]. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has urged parliament to declare a state of emergency. The group has since advanced 110 miles south, targeting the oil refining town of Baiji, according to security officials and residents [New York Times’ Suadad Al-Salhy and Alan Cowell].

The White House [The Hill’s Justin Sink] and the State Department condemned the assault and pledged U.S. assistance, calling ISIL “a threat to the entire region.”

Reacting to the development in Iraq, Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte said:

“This growing threat to our national security interests is the cost of President Obama’s decision to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq in 2011, against the advice of our commanders and regardless of conditions on the ground.

Unfortunately, the President is now making the same disastrous mistake in Afghanistan, increasing the risk that Al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies will return there just as they are in Iraq.”

On a similar note, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that the Obama administration’s “policy of strategic neglect toward Iraq has created [this] situation” and notes that “this should serve as a warning to what we can expect in Afghanistan as the Administration replays its Iraq strategy of full withdrawal after 2016.”

The New York Times details how insurgent fighters in Mosul have inherited U.S.-supplied arms and equipment, abandoned by Iraqi soldiers as they fled, highlighting the problem with the U.S.’s shifting counter-terrorism strategy that relies on arming and training allied or indigenous forces.

Dan Lamothe [Washington Post] considers whether the U.S.’s delivery of heavy-duty equipment to Iraq, including F-16 fighter jets, is “too late.”

Jacob Siegel [The Daily Beast] notes that while Mosul is ISIS’ “signature victory so far,” it could also mark the moment that regional and international powers decide to intervene to counter the group’s growing presence.

The Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley) reports that while ISIS is no longer an official branch of al-Qaeda, experts believe that the group has surpassed al-Qaeda in violence and strength. The Washington Post (Anne Gearan and Dan Lamothe) also covers how the increasing reach of splinter groups is posing a bigger threat than what remains of the core al-Qaeda organization.

Michael Rubin [AEIdeas] outlines how the West should respond to the fall of Mosul, and calls on the administration to partner with Maliki and provide Iraq with the assistance it requires.

In a separate development, the federal criminal trial into whether four American security contractors are responsible for the deaths of Iraqi civilians in a 2007 Baghdad shooting incident is set to begin today [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman].

American prisoner exchange

The Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman) reports that a classified intelligence assessment predicted that two of the five freed Taliban detainees would return to senior positions within the group and two others would return to fighting. Only one of the five former Guantanamo detainees was unlikely to return to the organization, according to officials briefed on the assessment.

In the latest effort to defend the prisoner swap that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, administration officials delivered a classified briefing to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Politico (Burgess Everett and Jeremy Herb) reports that Senate Democrats subsequently mounted their “strongest defense yet” of the administration’s deal with the Taliban, while the New York Times (Jonathan Weismen) covers how the briefing “fail[ed] to allay senators’ doubts.”

House Speaker John Boehner added to the criticisms of the prisoner exchange, stating that “there are going to be … lost lives associated with what came out of this” [Politico’s Jake Sherman].

Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest denied reports that 80-90 officials knew about the prisoner swap and said that “a smaller number of individuals” were told in advance about the operation [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

And Russell Berman [The Hill] reports on the steps being taken by Republican lawmakers to rein in Obama over his decision to conclude the prisoner exchange with the Taliban.

Surveillance, privacy, & technology

Timothy B. Lee [Vox] notes that the surprising primary loss for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has previously defended NSA surveillance, is “bad news” for the agency’s surveillance program. Dave Brat, who beat Cantor, has advocated a different position on the issue, recently arguing that “[t]he NSA’s indiscriminate collection of data on all Americans is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy.”

Microsoft is challenging a government search warrant that forces the company to hand over customer data stored in a data center in Ireland [New York Times’ Steve Lohr; Washington Post’s  Ellen Nakashima]. In a court filing, Microsoft argues that if the judicial order is upheld, it “would violate international law and treaties, and reduce the privacy protection of everyone on the planet.”

Weighing in on the Edward Snowden traitor-hero question, former Vice President Al Gore said that what Snowden “revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the Constitution that were way more serious than the crimes he committed” [PandoDaily’s David Sirota].

Ukraine

Ukraine’s cease-fire talks with Russia, Poland and Germany have made some progress, although the foreign ministers said no agreement had been reached [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer et al.].

Ukraine’s health minister said that 210 people, including 14 children, had been killed over the course of the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine [Interfax-Ukraine].

Kiev has rejected a Russian proposal that would reduce the price for natural gas by more than 20 percent, stating instead that it would only sign a contract for market price [Reuters’ Natalia Zinets].

The Wall Street Journal (Anton Troianovski) covers how public distrust of the U.S. in Germany is putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to adopt a less confrontational tone with Russia over Ukraine.

Syria

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford makes a case for “ramp[ing] up sharply the training and material aid provided to the moderates in the armed opposition” and argues that the U.S. does not have “good choices on Syria anymore.”

Reuters (Stephanie Nebehay) reports that an expert group has drafted and handed to the ICC a list of 20 war crimes suspects in Syria, on behalf of the Syria Accountability Project. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tops the list, which also names members of Islamist rebel groups ISIS and al-Nusra Front.

Other developments

The CIA and Georgetown University are hosting a joint public conference on national security today, with a live webcast on CIA.gov at 8:30am EST.

Dawn’s Mateen Haider reports that in the wake of the recent attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani army has decided to intensify air strikes against militant hideouts.

In a recent order, military judge Col. James Pohl said that the government’s explanation as to why the FBI contacted members of the defense team for the alleged 9/11 conspirators did “not adequately” address a number of issues raised by the defense [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Pohl said he intends to spend two days of the pre-trial hearing next week to explore the issue.

Addressing the nuclear negotiations with Iran, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that the parties “are still hitting a wall” on the “absolutely fundamental point” of how many uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran would be allowed [Reuters’ Stephanie Nebehay and John Irish].

The House passed a bill yesterday that would enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the delays in access to medical care, allowing veterans to seek care outside the government network after a 30 day wait [Washington Post’s Josh Hicks and Ed O’Keefe].

Libyan forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar have launched air strikes against three areas in Benghazi, despite reports of a ceasefire deal between the forces and a government committee [Al Jazeera].

The UN has said it will mediate in the territorial dispute between China and Vietnam, after both sides sent the UN documents outlining their claims over the South China Sea [BBC].

Al Jazeera reports that South Sudan’s president and rebel leader have agreed to form a transitional government within 60 days and bring an end to the six months of fighting.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).