News Roundup and Notes: May 14, 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 Islamic State’s second-in-command has been killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in northern Iraq, according to Iraq’s defense ministry. [BBC]  The U.S. military has denied that the coalition carried out a strike on a mosque where Alaa al-Afri was said to have been killed. [Al Jazeera]  Nancy A. Youssef writes that this is not the first time Iraq has made “dubious” claims about killing members of ISIS leadership, and questions the practice. [The Daily Beast] 

Pressure on President Obama mounts as the discovery of traces of chemical weapons in Syria may once again force him to decide on enforcing his “red line.” [New York Times’ Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt]  The Economist highlights the challenges faced by the international community in preventing the use of chlorine gas as a weapon in Syria and concludes that President Assad “may well get away with saying one thing and doing another.”

Hezbollah and the Syrian military made significant gains against Syrian opposition fighters in the Qalamoun region, north of Damascus, yesterday. [Al Jazeera] 

YEMEN

A five-day humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen was “under significant strain” in its first 24 hours yesterday as some fighting continued. A Saudi-led coalition airstrike, fighting in a southwestern province, and shelling by coalition warships west of Aden all took place despite the truce. [Washington Post’s Ahmed al-Haj]

Aid groups began deliveries of much needed humanitarian supplies yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Karen Leigh]

AFGHANISTAN

An attack on a popular Kabul guesthouse has left at least 11 people dead, including at least one U.S. citizen and two Indian nationals. Two gunmen were said to be among the dead, and were reportedly killed before they could carry out a suicide attack. The Afghan Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. [BBCReuters’ Hamid Shalizi and Kay Johnson]

Gunmen also attacked a gathering of Muslim clerics in Helmand province, killing seven people yesterday. The Taliban was reported to have been behind the assault. [Reuters]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

The House overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act yesterday but the measure, which would end the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata collection, is likely to face opposition in the Senate. [The Verge’s Colin Lecher] The vote adds new pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who aims to extend the Patriot Act without amendments. [Politico’s Alex Byers and Kate Tummarello]

A Russian hacking group was set to target U.S. and international banks in a cyberattack, but may have dropped plans after they were uncovered, according to a security firm assessment. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

U.S.-GULF TIES

President Obama opened talks with his Gulf allies yesterday, ahead of the Camp David summit on security cooperation aimed at reassuring Arab leaders over an emerging nuclear deal with Iran. The crises in Yemen and Syria and the threat of the Islamic State will also be discussed. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee]

The U.S. will not conclude a military pact with the Arab Gulf countries, but will provide “clear assurances that [it] will come to their defense,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told Al Jazeera yesterday.

Nahal Toosi outlines the five key issues likely to dominate the summit with the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries. [Politico] Jamal Abdullah explores what the Gulf nations expect from the summit. [Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia is moving away from “cautious diplomacy” and toward “hard power.” Glen Carey explores the country’s efforts to assert its position as a military power. [Bloomberg Business]

France is in an opportune position, taking advantage of the U.S.-Gulf split by advancing deals for its arms industry, reports Alissa J. Rubin. [New York Times]

The Economist questions whether Obama has been snubbed by his Gulf partners, with only two of the six heads of state attending the summit, but notes that the Saudi delegates in attendance “are arguably better interlocutors than the king himself.”

Saudi Arabia is looking to match Iran’s nuclear capability as set under a nearing comprehensive deal, presenting “a new dilemma” for a president who initiated talks with Tehran to secure the elimination of nuclear weapons, reports David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The search mission for a missing U.S. Marine helicopter expanded yesterday in Nepal, with American and Nepali aerial reconnaissance teams sweeping over the earthquake-damaged regions. [Washington Post’s Annie Gowen]

In light of the sentencing of convicted CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling, it is “worth considering the degree to which this White House seems to value secrecy over accountability,” writes the New York Times editorial board.

The Czech Republic prevented a purchase by Iran of a large shipment of technology that could be used for nuclear enrichment earlier this year, according to UN experts and others sources. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau and Robert Muller]

The Guantánamo nurse who refused to force-feed detainees on hunger strike will not face action by the Navy, the department confirmed yesterday. [Al Jazeera America’s Phillip J. Victor]

Sen. Marco Rubio gave a “hawkish” foreign policy address yesterday in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, during which he claimed to be the Republican’s toughest and most qualified candidate on national security. [Politico’s Michael Crowley and Katie Glueck; Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook]

Two Secret Service agents were “more likely than not” under the influence of alcohol when they drove through the scene of an investigation outside the White House in March, according to a report by the DHS’ inspector general. [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman]  One of the agents involved notified the agency this week that he intends to retire, according to sources familiar with the subject. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the nominations for Army chief of staff and the next chief of naval operations, Gen. Mark Milley and Adm. John Richardson respectively. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

A posthumously completed report from assassinated Russian politician Boris Nemtsov is his “parting shot,” writes The Economist, commenting on the the report which expresses in “clear and convincing” language both the causes and the effects of the conflict in Ukraine.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has improperly spent at least $6 billion a year for medical care and supplies, in violation of federal contracting rules and wasting taxpayer money, according to an internal memo. [Washington Post’s Lisa Rein and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux]

A Vatican treaty reaffirming Palestinian statehood has sparked controversy, drawing criticism from Israel that Pope Francis is pushing a Palestinian agenda at Israel’s expense. [Washington Post’s William Booth and Michelle Boorstein]

The Nigerian military has repelled Boko Haram after the militant group launched an offensive on the country’s northeastern city of Maiduguri. [Al Jazeera]  And Cameroon is blaming “the weak and corrupt Nigerian military for allowing Boko Haram to flourish in the border state of Borno,” writes Lindsey Hilsum, detailing Cameroon’s struggle to push back the militants from their territory. [The Guardian]

Al-Shabaab has kidnapped 14 Iranian fishermen off the coast of Somalia, according to Iranian state television. The terrorist group did not immediately claim responsibility. [AP]

Heavy gunfire and clashes erupted in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, after an army chief’s attempted coup following weeks of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term. The military announced this morning that the coup had failed. [Al Jazeera]

Tensions are mounting between the U.S. and China over man-made islands in the South China Sea. China is “deeply concerned” by reports that the U.S. is considering sending naval ships and aircraft to the region, while President Obama has accused China of using its “muscle” to bully smaller nations. [Washington Post’s Simon Denyer]

North Korea fired artillery shells near the disputed sea border with South Korea yesterday, the South Korean military announced. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun] Meanwhile, North Korea has publicly executed its defense minister by an anti-aircraft gun for treason, according to reports from the South Korean intelligence agency. [CNN’s KJ Kwon and Hilary Whiteman]

Countering violent extremism. Join former senior UN counterterrorism official, Richard Barrett, and Just Security’s Faiza Patel for a discussion on countering violent extremism on May 29, 2015. Details here.

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