News Roundup and Notes: May 7, 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

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has admitted to “setbacks” in the country’s civil war, his first public admission of defeat to rebel fighters following a series of recent defeats in northern Syria. [Al Jazeera]

President Obama is seeking to amend a measure in an early version of an annual defense bill which would require the Pentagon to commit at least a quarter of its budget for military assistance to Iraq to Kurdish peshmerga forces and Sunni tribal fighters. The measure has outraged the central Iraqi government. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

Defense Department officials are concerned that a key Iraqi oil refinery may fall to the Islamic State in the coming days; Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants have fought for control of the refinery outside the city of Beiji over recent weeks. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Ghassan Adnan]

There is growing evidence that Syria’s government is violating international law by dropping chlorine bombs on rebel-held areas, two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle the country’s chemical weapon stockpile. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard and Somini Sengupta]

Over 2.2 million Iraqis were internally displaced in 2014 and at least 1.1 million Syrians fled their homes last year, according to a study by the Norwegian Refugee Council Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. [AP]  Tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite communities in Iraq are aggravating the situation of internally displaced people, writes Shelly Kittleson. [Al-Monitor]

American intelligence officials are taking the threat posed to the U.S. seriously following Sunday’s Texas attack, but are cautious to jump to conclusions following the Islamic State’s online claim of responsibility for the incident. [VOA News’ Jeff Seldin]  The only thing that “ties together American militants drawn to the Syrian conflict is that they are active in online jihadist circles,” write Peter Bergen and David Sterman, profiling the group’s U.S. recruits. [CNN]

Turkish authorities arrested five people who tried to search Syria-bound trucks. The four prosecutors and a gendarme officer suspected the trucks, belonging to the state intelligence agency, of illegally carrying weapons for rebels fighting the Syrian government. [Reuters]

Edward Snowden’s leaks “played a role in the rise of ISIS,” says former deputy director of the CIA, Michael Morell, in his new memoir to be published next week. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

The Islamic State is winning the fight against the West, said freshman senator Tom Cotton, adding that the militant group is “actively trying to inspire attacks” on U.S. soil, underscoring the need for broad government surveillance programs. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

YEMEN

Yemen has called on the UN Security Council to authorize the use of foreign ground troops to push back Shi’ite Houthi rebels in the country; the insurgents have advanced in the cities of Aden and Taiz despite air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition. The letter from the Yemeni UN ambassador also calls on human rights organizations to document “barbaric” human rights violations committed by the Houthis. [BBC]

Saudi Arabia has said all options remain open to prevent attacks on its border towns, including ground operations, following a second night of raids in an effort to halt shelling by Houthi rebels. [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari and Lesley Wroughton]

Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Saudi capital, Riyadh to push for progress on a Saudi commitment to ending the air campaign against Houthi rebels. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]  Kerry described the humanitarian situation in the country as growing “more dire by the day” and said he was “convinced” of the Saudi-led coalition’s desire to implement a humanitarian pause. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

“Operation Decisive Storm has resulted in collective losses,” with the Saudis failing militarily and Iran politically, while the military capacities of both the Houthis and Saleh have dwindled, writes Maysaa Shuja al-Deen for Al-Monitor.

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

France’s new surveillance bill. Al Jazeera explores the concerns over the bill regarding personal freedoms and privacy.  Alissa J. Rubin and David E. Sanger note that this “familiar swing to security over privacy” in the wake of terrorist attacks highlights that Europe most objects to U.S. involvement in mass surveillance, “not the net itself.” [New York Times]

The House bill aimed at ending NSA bulk collection of metadata is “a deliberate effort to know less” and blocks access to potentially important intelligence, warns the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under growing pressure to clarify the extent of her knowledge of a spying agreement with the U.S. A private company, Airbus, is also filing a legal complaint over recent reports of German intelligence agency spying, following a similar move by the Austrian government earlier this week. [The Guardian’s Kate Connolly]

IRAN

Tehran will not negotiate “under the specter of threat,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in some of his toughest remarks yet, citing threats made by “two American officials” without providing further details. [Al-Monitor’s Arash Karami]

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh is meeting German Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel in Berlin today, a sign that Iran is courting European investment ahead of an emerging final nuclear accord. [Wall Street Journal’s Harriet Torry and Benoît Faucon]

The U.S. Navy will stop accompanying American and British-flagged vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, but will remain on patrol in the waters, officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Asa Fitch]  According to news agency ISNA, Tehran has now released the Marshall Islands-flagged ship detained last week. [Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Pro-Russian separatists “are preparing for another round of military action” in eastern Ukraine, in violation of the Minsk peace agreement, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee yesterday. [AFP]

Moscow is being forced to scale back its military modernization plan owing to the country’s weak economy, reports Thomas Grove. [Wall Street Journal]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The UN Security Council will put forward a draft resolution authorizing Europe to use military force to prevent migrant smuggling boats from Libya crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The measure raises a range of complex legal and diplomatic issues, and is indicative of the Continent’s commitment to stemming the flow of migrants fleeing the Middle East and North Africa, reports Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

The Air Force awarded three top valor awards yesterday to Special Ops troops who were caught in an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan last fall. Unusually, a video clip of the attack was shared after the awards ceremony. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

Three Democratic lawmakers are pushing President Obama to transfer more Guantanamo detainees. Sens. Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, and Dick Durbin have stressed that “time is of the essence” with only 20 months left of Obama’s presidency. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  And retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said this week that some of the captives who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay may be entitled to reparations. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Pentagon credit cards were used for gambling and to pay for “adult entertainment” in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, according to a Defense Department audit which is to be made public in coming weeks. [Politico’s Bryan Bender]

Military whistleblowers facing retaliation “confront a dysfunctional bureaucracy and long delays,” according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office. [McClatchy DC’s Marisa Taylor]

Kenya has retreated from its earlier threat to expel Somali refugees within three months. President Uhuru Kenyatta made the assurance that there would be no forced repatriations following meetings with the top UN refugee official. [New York Times’ Isma’il Kushkush]

Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account while serving as secretary of state was “not acceptable” and took place without officials’ knowledge, said a top State Department record-keeper yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

President Obama’s “true nuclear test” may be North Korea, his non-proliferation legacy “ultimately hing[ing]” on the insular nation, despite his rush to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, suggests Nahal Toosi. [Politico]

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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