News Roundup and Notes: May 6, 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 State Department is offering millions of dollars in reward for information on four key leaders of the Islamic State.

Hezbollah will attack Sunni militants from the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front along the Lebanon-Syria frontier, according to the Shi’ite group leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who described the jihadist group as an unacceptable threat. [BBC]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition military forces carried out one airstrike on Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am May 4 and 8am May 5. Separately, military forces conducted a further 12 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“[N]o side is heading toward military victory in Syria.” Noah Bonsey suggests that while there will be no winners, there can be an end to the country’s civil conflict, writing that the opposition’s Western and regional backers should “offer incentives for pragmatic political engagement and respect for local civil society.” [Reuters]

YEMEN

Yemeni rebels fired mortars and long-range missiles across the Saudi border, striking the southern city of Najran. It was not immediately clear which group was responsible for the attack. [Wall Street Journal’s Hakim Almasmari and Asa Fitch]  The strikes killed at least three people and insurgents reportedly captured five soldiers. [AP]

The Saudi-led coalition has responded to the Najran attacks, targeting Houthi rebels through more than 30 airstrikes on the Yemeni provinces of Saada and Hajja. Houthi sources reported that 43 civilians were killed and 100 wounded by the air raids. [Al Jazeera]

Yemen’s Houthi rebels “show little sign of collapse” despite over a month of ongoing airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Hamza Hendawi and Ahmed Al-Haj survey the territory held by the rebels and consider the “few options” left for Saudi Arabia and its allies. [AP]

TEXAS ATTACK

The White House said it is “too early” to link the Islamic State to the Texas attack targeting a “Draw Muhammad” contest on Sunday, after the terror group sought to claim responsibility for the attack yesterday. [AFP]

The shooters were likely inspired by ISIS, according to American officials, who said they have not yet seen any signs that the organization was directly involved in the attack. Enforcement officials are continuing to analyze the incident and the electronic devices of the gunmen. [Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz and Adam Goldman]

One of the gunmen has left a trail of extremism on Twitter. Scott Shane offers more details of Elton Simpson’s “long history of extremism,” as documented in his Twitter exchanges. [New York Times]

A new ISIS posting claims that the Sunday attack is “only the beginning,” stating that the group has trained 71 soldiers in 15 American states.

NEW JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN

President Obama named Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and Gen. Paul J. Selva as his nominees for the new chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Reuters]

Outgoing chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey leaves a “legacy of caution,” and much like Dempsey, Dunford has “been unconvinced of the utility of many long-term deployments of American troops,” write Julian E. Barnes and Adam Entous. [Wall Street Journal]

Gen. Dunford’s experience in ground combat was likely a strong influence on Obama’s decision, reports Richard Sisk, providing a detailed profile of the Marine Commandant. [Military News]  Dunford’s time as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, including the fight against the Taliban, will shape his advice as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, suggest Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe. [Washington Post]  And the AP’s Lolita C. Baldor offers five things to know about Gen. Dunford.

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

A federal appeals court has reversed last year’s ruling in U.S. vs. Davis, finding that Davis could not have an expectation of privacy in his location data as it was the property of his phone carrier and thus, the government did not need a warrant to obtain the data. The reversal opens up phones to warrantless tracking and is a significant setback for privacy advocates, reports Andy Greenberg. [Wired]

The NSA can automatically convert the content of phone calls into searchable transcripts, according to secret documents obtained from Edward Snowden, effectively allowing the agency to “bulk listen,” reports Dan Froomkin. [The Intercept]

Austria has filed a legal complaint over reports that Germany’s intelligence agency may have assisted the NSA in spying on Austrian officials and companies, the interior minister has said. [Reuters]

A new French intelligence bill was overwhelmingly supported by lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament and will now go before the French Senate. The bill, granting broad surveillance powers, is being strongly opposed by rights groups. [France 24]

The Senate has not made progress on the NSA reform issue, with only three legislative weeks left before key provisions of the Patriot Act expire, reports Julian Hattem. [The Hill]

Is the threat of cyberwarfare significant? The BBC talks to four experts to explore the scale of the problem.

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to end debate on the Iran bill that would allow congressional review of a final nuclear deal, bringing the measure to a final vote later this week. [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Jordain Carney]  The move, which blocks senators from debating any more amendments, is a “major win” for Sens. Bob Corker and Ben Cardin of the Foreign Relations Committee who secured the bipartisan compromise measure, reports Burgess Everett. [Politico]

The U.S. is seeking to ensure that the option of restoring UN sanctions if Iran fails to abide by a final accord will not be undermined by vetoes by Moscow or Beijing, a senior American official has said. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Taliban expressed a willingness to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government yesterday, but on the condition that all international forces withdraw from the country and key Taliban members are delisted from a UN terrorism blacklist. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

A Canadian judge has delayed her decision on whether to release on bail a former Guantanamo detainee while he appeals his war crimes conviction in the U.S. The Canadian government is seeking an emergency stay of the decision made by a lower court to grant Omar Khadr bail. [AP]

French President Francois Hollande met with Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia to discuss security; the meeting was said to be a “subtle snub” of Washington by Riyadh and their allies, just days before a U.S.-Arab summit in D.C. during which Obama will attempt to win over skeptics of the Iran deal, write Ahmed Al Omran and Jay Solomon. [Wall Street Journal]  President Obama is expected to renew an American push to assist Gulf allies in establishing a region-wide defense system designed to guard against Iranian missiles, as he tries to quell concerns over the outcome of any nuclear accord with Tehran. [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick and Andrea Shalal]

Secretary of State John Kerry made an unexpected visit to Somalia yesterday, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in over 20 years. Kerry did not leave the heavily-guarded airport in Mogadishu, speaking with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke during his brief visit. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

The Obama administration has approved of licenses granted to at least two U.S. companies to reinstate ferry services between America and Cuba. [Reuters’ David Adams]

Boko Haram is in decline. Reuters graphic shows how the Islamist group has been “systematically contained” since the launch of a counter-attack by the Nigerian army and some 8,700 allied troops. [Reuters’ Mike Corones]

Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 12 wounded over the past 24 hours in eastern rebel-controlled territories, according to a Ukrainian military spokesman. [Reuters]

Two UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in the Democratic Republic of Congo in an area where government troops are fighting Ugandan rebels, according to the DRC’s UN mission. [Reuters]

A coalition separatist group attacked a central Malian town yesterday, killing 11 people in a retaliatory act following the violation of a ceasefire agreement by groups allied with the country’s government last week. [AP’s Baba Ahmed]

Almost 40,000 refugees have fled Burundi in the last month, following protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, according to the UN refugee agency today. [Reuters]

A UN dispute tribunal has ordered the agency to immediately lift the suspension of Anders Kompass—a whistleblower who disclosed the document alleging sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers in the CAR to French prosecutors. [The Guardian’s Sandra Laville]

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
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