News Roundup and Notes: March 18, 2015

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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

The U.S. has lost contact with a surveillance drone over Syria. Syria’s state news agency said government air forces shot down the unarmed Predator drone over the coastal province of Latakia, but U.S. officials did not corroborate this claim, stating that the reason for losing contact is as yet undetermined. [Reuters]

The U.S. wants a negotiated political settlement in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad, and America’s position on the Assad regime has not changed, U.S. top envoy John Allen said in response to Turkish concern over comments made by Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. would have to negotiate with Syria. [Reuters]

UN investigators tasked with monitoring Syria will release details on suspected war criminals, sharing them with judicial authorities in countries preparing to prosecute them. The chairman of the panel cited a policy of “targeted disclosure,” aimed at breaking the “intractable cycle of impunity.” [UN News CentreNew York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

Three Iraqis have been killed close to the Kuwaiti border after an explosive-laden truck detonated, according to a Kuwaiti news agency. [Reuters]

Iraqi government forces and allied Shi’ite militias set fire to and looted dozens of villages in the aftermath of a U.S.-supported operation against the Islamic State last year, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

A U.S. Air Force veteran has been charged with trying to support the Islamic State by attempting to join the group. [New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford]  Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh’s attorney has said he will plead not guilty to the terrorism charges. [AP’s Colleen Long and Jennifer Peltz]

ISRAELI ELECTION

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has obtained a clear victory in the Israeli election. [Haaretz

Netanyahu’s victory and his rejection of a two-state solution during his campaign have potentially crushed hopes for a renewed Middle East peace process, as his relations with the White House “appear to reach a new low,” reports Michael Crowley. [Politico]  Republicans can be expected to follow Netanyahu’s rejection of Palestinian statehood, “destroying a rare point of unity with Democrats,” writes Michael Tomasky. [The Daily Beast]

The New York Times editorial board comments on the election race, noting Netanyahu’s “fear-mongering and anti-Arab attacks.”

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

The U.S. and Iran issued conflicting accounts on the progress made toward a nuclear agreement following yesterday’s talks. An Iranian official said 90 percent of technical matters had been resolved, while an American official offered a more cautious assessment. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

The White House “is moving aggressively” to limit the number of Democrats signing onto an Iran bill, with President Obama speaking directly with some Democratic senators to persuade them to hold off until the nuclear negotiations are concluded. [Politico’s Manu Raju and Burgess Everett]  Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker is confident of the passage of his Iran bill next week that will allow Congress to weigh in on any deal with Iran. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Ninety percent of Iran’s members of parliament have signed a statement calling for all sanctions on Iran to be removed as part of a nuclear agreement. [Al-Monitor’s Arash Karami]

Congress must be allowed to review any deal with Tehran, argues former senator Joseph I. Lieberman, citing the “Constitution and history [and] common sense.” [Wall Street Journal]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The final language of the CISA bill, aimed at enhancing information sharing on cybersecurity between the public and private sector, has been released by the Senate Intelligence Committee. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

NSA general counsel Rajesh De has stepped down from his post and is set to join a law firm; De defended the controversial surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden during his tenure. [Washington Post’s Catherine Ho]

Britain needs independent scrutiny of its intelligence agencies, a former MI6 head has said. [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The Pentagon is delaying training for Ukrainian troops in order to avoid giving Russia a reason to ditch the shaky peace agreement concluded last month, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army in Europe, said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Philip Shishkin]

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has argued against sending lethal arms to Kiev on the basis that “a military victory of Ukraine over Russian is impossible” and that the move could prompt further aggression from Moscow. [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum]

International pressure on the Kremlin is required to support the people of Crimea, which has “faded from the headlines” a year after its annexation, write Mark P. Lagon and Alina Polyakova. [Wall Street Journal]  The Washington Post editorial board also calls for greater Western support for the ongoing economic and military crisis in Ukraine.

PAKISTAN

The lawyer who represented the doctor that assisted the U.S. locate Osama bin Laden has been shot dead. Samiullah Afridi was shot dead in Peshawar yesterday by members of a Pakistani Taliban breakaway faction, Jamaatul Ahrar. [Express Tribune’s Shamim Shahid; New York Times]

Pakistan’s air force killed 34 militants in the Khyber tribal region today in “precise” strikes, according to the country’s military. [Reuters’ Jibran Ahmad]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Pentagon cannot account for over $500 million in U.S. lethal aid to Yemen, amid concerns that the arsenal, aircraft and other equipment risks falling into the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels or al-Qaeda, say U.S. officials. [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock]

Militants of the Islamic State affiliate in Libya controlling Surt are engaged in clashes with a brigade from the neighboring city of Misurata–the first reports of military efforts against the group in Surt since it established itself there earlier in the year, writes David D. Kirkpatrick. [New York Times]  Libyan army general Khalifa Hafter has promised that his troops would seize Benghazi from Islamic militants within one month, urging the international community to provide further support. [AFP]

Seven people were killed and 43 wounded in Helmand province, Afghanistan after a car bomb exploded on the governor’s compound, said officials. [AP]  Joseph Goldstein profiles local Afghan militias, who have been empowered as part of the U.S. exit strategy out of the country and are mandated with fighting the Taliban. [New York Times]

The U.S. had a secret but key role in a failed commando operation in the Philippines in January which left dozens dead and sparked a political scandal, according to a government investigation published yesterday in Manila. [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock]

An Egyptian police officer will stand trial on charges of killing an activist during a protest in Cairo in January, said the state prosecutor. [BBC]

Serbia has made its first arrests in connection to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, a “milestone in healing the wounds” of Europe’s worst slaughter since WWII, reports the AP.

A letter bound for the White House has tested positive for cyanide, the Secret Service revealed yesterday. The envelope was received at a screening facility on Monday and is undergoing further testing. [CNN’s Alexandra Jaffe]

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy has expressed frustration over the delay in being informed about the latest allegations of misconduct in the agency, during his first grilling on Capitol Hill since being named director. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

Australia and Vietnam will strengthen security ties after talks during which the leaders of both countries expressed concern over China’s “muscle flexing” in the South China Sea. [Wall Street Journal’s Rob Taylor]

Two Dutch UN peacekeepers were killed in Mali after their Apache attack helicopter crashed during a drill, the Dutch military said. [Al Jazeera]

James Bruno explores the implications of a stronger Cuban military in the wake of normalized relations between Havana and the U.S. for Politico Magazine.

Blocking websites considered to be advocating terrorism is a growing trend in Europe and the West; Glenn Greenwald considers the futility of this approach adopted earlier this week by the French Interior Ministry. [The Intercept]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security