News Roundup and Notes: May 20, 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

Iraqi troops defeated an overnight Islamic State attack near the city of Ramadi. [Reuters]  ISIS militants are seeking to strengthen their hold on Ramadi, as Shia militias are regrouping around the city for an expected counteroffensive, reports Al Jazeera. The Iraqi government has made a plea for volunteer fighters to help reclaim the fallen city. [BBC]  Meanwhile, an estimated 25,000 people have fled the Iraqi city. [UN News Centre]

The fall of Ramadi is raising new concerns about the U.S. strategy in Iraq. White House Press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged the “setback,” but said the situation did not mean that the administration’s strategy should be “discarded.” [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

The administration is likely to speed up the training and arming of Sunni tribal fighters, following the defeat in Ramadi, and focus efforts on Anbar province, moving away from the plan to immediately retake Mosul, according to officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee and Dion Nissenbaum]

A “failure of leadership and tactics” on part of the Iraqi troops contributed to the fall of Ramadi, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said yesterday. [NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube]  The Iraqi army’s decision not to fight undermined the U.S. plan to defeat the Islamic State, according to defense officials, although there were notable differences between how soldiers acted in Mosul and Ramadi, reports Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]  Analysts are also pointing toward the shortcomings in Iraq’s strategy, including slow progress on shaping up a strong Sunni fighting force. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

House Speaker John Boehner and the White House sparred over a stalled AUMF yesterday. Boehner called on President Obama to abandon the proposed measure and “start over,” while the White House accused Congress of being “AWOL when it comes to the AUMF.” [ABC News’ John Parkinson]

Islamist rebel groups continued to advance in Syria’s Idlib province yesterday, maintaining pressure on government troops who have faced considerable losses in recent weeks. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition forces conducted seven airstrikes targeting the Islamic State in Syria on May 18 and separately carried out 14 strikes in Iraq. [U.S. Central Command]

The U.S. raid in Syria killed two ISIS figures in addition to Abu Sayyaf, the declared target, according to jihadist sources. The operation, carried out last weekend, is serving as a lesson for the militant group which is now debating strengthening recruitment methods to keep out spies, according to sources. [Reuters’ Mariam Karouny]

The U.S. has identified Abu Sayyaf by his real name. [CNN’s Barbara Starr and Kevin Conlon]  Intelligence officials believe the ISIS militant may have held American Kayla Mueller hostage at some point before her death. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Ten Canadian youths were arrested at Montreal’s international airport last weekend on suspicion of attempting to join the Islamic State fight in Iraq and Syria. [AP’s Rob Gillies]

YEMEN

Saudi-led coalition planes carried out a series of airstrikes in Sanaa on Tuesday night in the most sustained attack on the Yemeni capital since the start of the air campaign. [Reuters]

The Houthi rebel group is urging the new UN envoy to include Iran in any UN-sponsored peace talks. The group has boycotted the three-day conference on the crisis in Riyadh, which entered its final day yesterday. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Arafat Madabish]

The U.S. may face new tensions with Iran in the Gulf of Aden over an Iranian vessel—said to be carrying humanitarian aid—that has linked up with two Iranian warships off Yemen’s coast.  [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Asa Fitch]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow a vote on the USA Freedom Act this week. Republican leaders do not expect the measure will pass, which could bolster McConnell’s preferred option of a short-term renewal of the Patriot Act. [Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett]  Meanwhile, a coalition of tech companies has urged senators against a simple extension of the Patriot Act provisions, backing the USA Freedom Act instead. [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo]

Tech firms and security experts have called on President Obama to reject any measures that would allow law enforcement access to encrypted data on smartphones and other devices. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN

The Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies have signed a landmark accord to improve cooperation in an effort to combat terrorism. [Dawn’s Baqir Sajjad Syed]  The deal is facing resistance from many in Afghanistan who have long accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate of supporting the Taliban insurgency. [The Guardian’s Jon Boone and Sune Engel Rasmussen]

Pakistani military jets killed at least 13 suspected militants and destroyed five militant hideouts during airstrikes in North Waziristan earlier today. [Dawn’s Mateen Haider]

A suicide bombing in Kabul targeting a government building yesterday killed at least five people and wounded dozens others in the Afghan capital. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Mohammed Sharif]

Dan Lamothe explores the war-crimes investigation of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret war hero who served in Afghanistan. [Washington Post]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel is suspending the program to separate Israeli and Palestinian bus travelers in the West Bank, a day after the program was announced. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid and Chaim Levinson]

Israel is facing a vote on suspension from the governing body of world soccer over Palestinian claims of discrimination, a further development in the so-called “diplomatic intifada” by the Palestinians. [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash]

Henry Siegman writes that the victory of Israel’s far right is reason to reconsider the administration’s Middle East peace strategy, calling on Obama to turn to the UN Security Council in a New York Times op-ed.

HILLARY CLINTON

A federal judge rejected the State Department proposal to release Hillary Clinton’s emails by mid-January 2016, instead demanding release on a rolling basis. [Vice News’ Jason Leopold]  Clinton said she supported the public release of her emails from her tenure as secretary of state, during a rare exchange with reporters. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Gabriel Debenedetti]  And Laura Meckler reports that Clinton’s State Department aides maintained a “tight reign” on documents, occasionally blocking the release of politically sensitive records. [Wall Street Journal]

The House Benghazi panel has subpoenaed Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton White House aide. [Reuters’ Mark Hosenball]  The Wall Street Journal editorial board profiles Blumenthal, exploring “the many roles of Hillary’s secret diplomatic adviser.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Jason Leopold offers new details on the Panetta Review, based on documents obtained by Vice News in response to a FOIA lawsuit and interviews with relevant officials. The report details a CIA employee’s investigation into the interrogation program, which revealed significant falsehoods in the agency’s official account.

A PBS “Frontline” documentary examines the CIA interrogation program, exploring the problems with the narrative that CIA torture was key to countering terrorism—an angle portrayed in the film Zero Dark Thirty on which the agency secretly liaised with the filmmakers.

Secretary of State John Kerry facilitated the release of two American aid workers being held in secret by separatists in Ukraine’s east, pressing his Russian counterpart  Sergei Lavrov to use Moscow’s influence over the rebels to secure the Americans’ release. [Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake]

The Defense Department’s drone pilots are under-trained owing to, among other reasons, being assigned additional duties such as lawn care, according to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office. [Washington Post’s Brian Fung]

The ban on exporting U.S. crude oil could hamper America’s national security goals, which are equally contingent on nonlethal and economic tools, write former defense secretary Leon E. Panetta and former national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. [Wall Street Journal]

The EU plan to tackle migrant-smuggling is “a risky experiment born of increasing political panic,” warns The Economist.  Meanwhile, stranded migrants off the coast of Thailand have been rescued, and Indonesia and Malaysia have offered temporary shelter in an effort to tackle the humanitarian crisis. [BBC]

Algerian forces have killed at least 21 fighters allied with the Islamic State in an ambush targeting a meeting of the fighters, according to the country’s defense ministry and security sources. [Al Jazeera]

U.S. reporter Jason Rezaian will go on trial in Iran next week, following his months-long detention in Tehran on “espionage” and other charges. [Washington Post’s Brian Murphy]

The U.S. has signaled a readiness to alter pro-democracy programs it organizes in Cuba, which are strongly opposed by Havana, a move that would remove a significant obstacle to reinstating ties between the countries. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s scheduled North Korea visit has been canceled last-minute by Pyongyang. [CNN’s Steve Almasy]

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.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).