News Roundup and Notes: March 19, 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.

TUNISIA MUSEUM ATTACK

Gunmen in military uniforms attacked Tunisia’s national museum in Tunis on Wednesday, killing 17 foreign tourists and two Tunisians. Security forces killed two gunmen during the operation to free hostages. [Reuters’ Tarek Amara and Mohamed Argoubi]

There is an ongoing hunt for three suspects believed to be linked to the deadly attack. The Interior Ministry said the attackers were Islamists, but no group has claimed responsibility so far. [CNN’s Jethro Mullen and Greg Botelho]  One of the gunmen was known to intelligence authorities, the country’s prime minister said today. [AP]

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi pledged to wage a “merciless war against terrorism” in the aftermath of the attack, which also left more than 40 people wounded. [Al Jazeera]  World leaders condemned the attack in the strongest terms, with the UN Security Council stressing that “no terrorist attack can reverse the path of Tunisia toward democracy.” [AFP’s Antoine Lambroschini]

The country’s worst terrorist attack in more than a decade is raising concerns about the stability of the North African country that is considered to be the “lone success” of the Arab Spring, reports Erin Cunningham. [Washington Post]  And The Economist notes how the political disorder and violence affecting much of North Africa is “creep[ing] across Tunisian borders.”

IRAQ and SYRIA

U.S. military forces bombed an Islamic State drone aircraft being used for battlefield surveillance in Iraq. The drone was a small unarmed hand-held type that can be purchased commercially. [AP]  Nancy A. Youssef asks whether ISIS is building a drone army, as experts express concern that the group could convert the technology into something lethal. [The Daily Beast]

Congress has stalled in its effort to pass an AUMF against the Islamic State, barely touching upon the subject yesterday during House Armed Services Committee testimony with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Martin Dempsey. [Politico’s Austin Wright and Bryan Bender]

The Islamic State may have committed genocide against the Yazidi minority community in Iraq, according to the UN human rights office, urging the Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC. [Reuters’ Stephanie Nebehay]

Iraqi air force planes dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets over the city of Mosul yesterday promising liberation and calling on citizens to collaborate against the Islamic State. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris]

The New York Times hosts graphics showing the level of destruction caused by retaliation from Shi’ite militia groups after pushing back the Islamic State in Iraq.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. military forces conducted two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am on March 17 and 8am on March 18. Separately, the U.S. and coalition military forces carried out a further 11 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Lawmakers on both sides are calling on President Obama to mend ties with Benjamin Netanyahu following his victory in the Israeli election. [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton]  However, repairing ties may be an “impossible” task given the continuing differences over an Iran nuclear deal and Palestinian statehood, report Helene Cooper and Michael D. Shear. [New York Times]

The U.S. “will evaluate [its] approach” to the Middle East peace process in light of the Israeli leader’s comments backtracking on a two-state solution, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday, while also criticizing Netanyahu’s “divisive” campaign rhetoric toward Israel’s Arab minority. [Reuters’ Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle]

American officials are reconsidering the U.S. position at the UN on Palestine, following Netanyahu’s recent comment, in a move that could reverse the longstanding expectation that the U.S. will shield Israel against international hostility. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]

Netanyahu’s rejection of Palestinian statehood is serving to validate the Palestinian approach to securing statehood and ending occupation, with a PLO member saying the only choice left is to continue with their “diplomatic intifada.” [New York Times’ Diaa Hadid]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on the Israeli election, noting that the results reflect Israeli consensus on peace with Palestine and an Iran nuclear deal, even if that contradicts the White House position.  And the Washington Post editorial board writes that the price of Netanyahu’s recent comments could be “further degradation” of ties with Europe and the White House, and a “dangerous standoff with the Palestinian Authority.”

GUANTANAMO BAY

The Periodic Review Board has cleared for release another Guantanamo Bay “forever prisoner,” 36-year old Yemeni man Saeed Sarem Jarabh. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A senior Pentagon official overseeing Guantanamo military tribunals has stepped down following the controversy over a now reversed order that would have required judges to relocate permanently to the Naval base for the period of their trials. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

President Obama said that he should have taken a more immediate approach to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and should have acted before bipartisan support for the facility’s closure dissipated. [Politico’s Sarah Wheaton]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin led a celebration of the first anniversary of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea yesterday. [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn]

British military troops have begun training Ukrainian forces engaged in conflict with Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country. [BBC]

Russia signed a treaty with Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia yesterday, marking almost full integration and a potential threat to regional security; the agreement was described as a clear violation of Georgian sovereignty by the European Union. [Wall Street Journal’s Olga Razumovskaya]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

The negotiating parties were working yesterday to fill the gaps blocking agreement on an Iran nuclear deal, with less than one week until the deadline for a framework agreement. [AP]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was unlikely that agreement will be made on Iran’s nuclear program this week, saying that discussions have not reached the point where the presence of all involved foreign ministers was necessary. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A militant leader of Somalia-based al-Shabaab, Adan Garar, was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week, the Pentagon confirmed yesterday; Garar was involved in the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Kenya. The strike was announced last week but the Defense Department refused to publicly confirm the identity of the target. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

Two U.S. bases in Afghanistan are likely to remain open beyond 2015, as Washington looks into slowing down its military withdrawal from the country to assist the new government combat the Taliban. [Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed et al]

Boko Haram militants were pushed out of Damasak, Nigeria by troops from Niger and Chad yesterday, the latest victory in the regional campaign to claim back territory in northeast Nigeria from the terrorist group. [AP]

Forces loyal to Yemeni President Hadi seized Aden’s international airport today amid fierce clashes with rival forces that left six people dead, according to local officials. [Reuters’ Mohammed Mukhashaf]

GOP defense hawks expect to support the House budget, giving Republican leaders the space to pass another fiscal framework; senior Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee had refused to endorse Rep. Tom Price’s first budget due to concerns over offsetting spending for overseas wars. [The Hill’s Bernie Becker et al]

The U.S. will temporarily shut its embassy in Djibouti to the public for the remainder of the week to review the security situation in light of ongoing threats. [AP]

China has formally acknowledged the existence of specialized military and intelligence units for waging cyber-war in an official document for the first time; Shane Harris explores the breath of and risk posed by the secret cyber-warfare forces. [The Daily Beast]

Drones will “revolutionize how nations and nonstate actors threaten the use of violence,” writes Amy Zegart, noting that as “robotic warfare technologies proliferate and evolve, the U.S. is in a strategy race with other countries engaged in drone programs.” [Wall Street Journal]

The New York Times editorial board argues that by “supporting [Egypt’s] increasingly authoritarian government without question, the United States is pursuing an unprincipled and dangerous policy.”

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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