News Roundup and Notes: April 29, 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

Successive victories by “re-energized insurgents” in Syria raise “newly urgent” questions about the durability of the Assad regime, as Syrian troops struggle to replenish their ranks. The “erosion” of military capabilities is forcing the government to rely more heavily on militias, both Syrian and foreign, including Hezbollah. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard et al]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition and military forces carried out four airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am April 27 and 8am April 28. Separately, military forces conducted 16 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The “seeds of the Islamic State” are said to have been planted by Saddam Hussein in 1986, when he envisioned an “arranged marriage” between his secular Baath party and the leaders of Iraq’s more moderate Sunni community rather than “a steadfast alliance,” writes Mark Perry. [Politico Magazine]

Saudi Arabia has arrested 93 people suspected of having links to the Islamic State, including individuals believed to have plotted an attack on the U.S. Embassy, housing compounds and security officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed al-Omran]

The trial of British man Anis Abid Sardar has begun in London. Sardar is accused of building improvised explosive devices with “deadly intent” that were used in a campaign against U.S. troops in Iraq. One of the explosives is alleged to have killed U.K. Army Sergeant First Class Randy Johnson and to have seriously wounded American soldiers in 2007. [The Guardian]

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The Senate rejected an amendment to the Iran bill requiring any final accord to be treated as a treaty, with Sens. Bob Corker and Ben Cardin of the Foreign Relations Committee leading the effort against the proposed amendment. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

The EU’s foreign policy chief has expressed hope that a final deal with Tehran could pave the way for Iran to play “a major but positive role” in the Middle East conflicts, particularly in Syria. Federica Mogherini’s comments mark a shift away from the previous stance of world powers who have insisted the two issues remain separate. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Iranian navy vessels intercepted a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in Iranian territorial waters yesterday. U.S. Naval Forces responded to a distress call from the cargo ship, dispatching a destroyer and surveillance aircraft to monitor the situation. [DoD News; Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and William Branigin] The recent aggressive naval moves from Iran are offering skeptics of the Iran deal further ammunition ahead of the final stretch of negotiations, report Kristina Wong and Martin Matishak. [The Hill]

YEMEN

Houthi rebel advancement into the port city of Aden has left 12 civilians dead, according to local sources. [Reuters]

The Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes targeting the international airport in Sana’a in an effort to prevent an Iranian plane from landing, further damaging the airport and potentially shutting off aid shipments. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ali Kalfood and Kareem Fahim]

The Yemeni government has accused the UN’s former special envoy to the country, Jamal Benomar, of favoring the Houthis during the course of the UN-backed peace talks. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Nasser Al-Haqbani]

The Saudi king has named a new crown prince, elevating the position of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, globally known as the country’s counterterrorism czar, in a substantial rebalancing of power. [AP’s Aya Batrawy]

SURVEILLANCE

Lawmakers appear ready to place modest limitations on the NSA’s program for the bulk collection of data, in a “rare moment of leverage” over the agency. The USA Freedom Act would replace the program with a more selective approach, and requires greater disclosure for the FISC, reports Dan Froomkin. [The Intercept]

A U.K. tribunal is due to rule on a state surveillance case concerning the confidentiality of lawyer-client communications. The judgment from the tribunal—responsible for hearing complaints against British intelligence services—concerns Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan dissident abducted in 2004 in a U.K.-U.S. rendition operation. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The regional capital of the Afghan province of Kunduz has been surrounded by an aggressive Taliban offensive. The Afghan government has sent thousands of troops to Kunduz to assist; Taliban insurgents had reportedly surrounded an entire battalion of the Afghan National Army. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal and Jawad Sukhanyar]  The U.S. has sent military fighter jets to Kunduz, but declined to comment on why they had been deployed. [Reuters]

The Nigerian military claims to have rescued some 200 girls and 93 women during an operation to take back control of the Sambisa Forest from Boko Haram. The army spokesperson could not confirm whether the Chibok girls are among those rescued. [Reuters’ Bate Felix and Ardo Abdallah]

The White House has strongly criticized a proposed Republican defense budget plan of $604 billion which contradicts President Obama’s national security priorities on numerous issues. [AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn]

The U.S. defense industry is profiting from the instability spreading across the Middle East, writes Tim Mak, adding that “while the region is a disaster for the Gulf states, the recent chaos is a timely godsend for the American defense industrial base.” [The Daily Beast] 

A decision to abandon the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, would be “irresponsible folly,” according to a group of senior figures from the country’s military, in an open letter published in The Times.

UN peacekeeping forces came under fire near Timbuktu in northern Mali yesterday. The attack is thought to have been carried out by an element of the CMA, a coalition of separatist fighters who have been active in the area. [AP’s Baba Ahmed]

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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