News Roundup and Notes: May 22, 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

U.S. airstrikes “likely led to the deaths of two non-combatant children,” the U.S. Central Command acknowledged yesterday, following the investigation into the airstrikes targeting the Khorasan group last November.

The Islamic State has claimed the last Syria government-controlled border crossing with Iraq, forcing government troops to withdraw, according to a monitoring group. [BBC]

ISIS militants are ready to claim one of Syria’s largest weapons depots after their victory in the historic city of Palmyra, which has seen the group take over an airport, army bases, important oil fields and a prison. The capture of Palmyra will also facilitate the group’s efforts to make gains in state-held territory of Homs and Damascus, according to analysts. [VOA’s Jamie Dettmer]

The Islamic State is advancing eastward from Ramadi in an effort to counter the Iraqi troops and militias who are preparing a counteroffensive at Habbaniyah, effectively breaching this defense line. [Long War Journals’ Bill Roggio]

Sunni tribes in Iraq’s Anbar province are split over joining the fight against the Islamic State, with some concerned about working alongside the Shiite militias sent by the central government to the region. [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Ghassan Adnan] However, Sunni tribes have welcomed the U.S. decision to “accelerate” the support of local tribes to assist in the effort to retake Ramadi, reports Asharq Al-Awsat.

Some in Iraq are blaming the U.S. for the fall of Ramadi, stating that Iraq should not have delayed the deployment of Shiite militias to Anbar province under pressure from the U.S., reports Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

The Iraqi army has little control over the thousands of militiamen who have joined the battle against ISIS, with some accused of collecting extortion payments, looting and other atrocities. [Defense One’s Peter Schwartzstein]

Turkish intelligence helped deliver weapons to rebel-controlled Syrian territory during late 2013-early 2014, according to court testimony, thus indirectly contributing to the growth of the Islamic State, report Humeyra Pamuk and Nick Tattersall. [Reuters]

The New York Times explains the ISIS expansion strategy, noting that the group has operating cells in over a dozen countries, in a report from Hannah Fairfield et al.

Congress should act on President Obama’s AUMF request, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday, adding that “the ball is definitely in our court to take up this issue.” [The Hill’s Mike Lillis] And a group of Senate Democrats has asked the administration to resettle 6,000 Syrian refugees inside the United States. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The FBI has arrested two men in Southern California, suspected of attempting to travel overseas to join the Islamic State, law enforcement officials have told NBC News, reports Andrew Blankstein.

A schoolgirl from London has been prevented from travelling to Syria following a covert newspaper investigation, according to British police. [BBC]

A British man has been found guilty of assembling roadside bombs, one of which killed a U.S. soldier in Iraq in 2007. [AP]

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVIEW

The fall of Ramadi was a “tactical setback” but “I don’t think we’re losing,” President Obama said in an interview with the The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Obama also sought to defend the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, acknowledging his “personal interest” in addition to the national security imperative in “locking this down.” The president urged Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations not to develop their own nuclear programs and discussed his recent disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

NSA reform faces a “weekend showdown” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sets up Saturday votes on two competing measures—the USA Freedom Act and a bill granting a two-month extension of the relevant Patriot Act provisions. [Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Kate Tummarello] The White House refused to rule out the short-term extension of the Patriot Act, but urged senators to pass the House-approved USA Freedom Act. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

Sen. Rand Paul “did Americans a singular service” by drawing attention to the risk to their liberties as Congress contemplates renewing the Patriot Act, writes the New York Times editorial board.

The Justice Department failed to produce privacy rules for the use of an intelligence-collecting tool authorized by the Patriot Act, taking seven years to finally adopt the specific guidance required, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

The NSA and its allied counterparts planned to hijack Google and Samsung app stores to plant spyware on to smartphones—as part of a project code-named “Irritant Horn”—according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden. [CBC News’ Amber Hildebrandt and Dave Seglins; The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Moscow is deploying advanced drones to monitor the conflict in eastern Ukraine, said Ukrainian troops who claimed to have gunned down two such aircrafts this month. [The Guardian’s Christian Borys]

Two fighters recently captured by Ukrainian troops claimed to be members of the Russian armed forces on a reconnaissance mission in Ukraine, according to a report from the OSCE.

The U.S. “continues to send the wrong message to Russia,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, calling for progress on the implementation of the ceasefire as a first step. 

U.S. and CUBA

The U.S. and Cuba will continue to resolve their issues today at talks in Washington aimed at reinstating diplomatic ties between the countries; yesterday’s discussions did not lead to any breakthroughs. [New York Times’ Randal C. Archibold]

President Obama appears to be considering a Cuba visit in the “relatively [near] future,” according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes] And the president could delay appointing an ambassador to Cuba, putting off the “bitter fight” that is likely to be triggered by the confirmation process, reports Nahal Toosi. [Politico]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 19 people died when Saudi-led airstrikes hit a neighborhood south of Sana’a yesterday; five migrants were also killed in northern Yemen in a shell attack close to the Saudi border. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ali Kalfood]

A suicide bomber targeted a Shi’ite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia today, killing several people. [Reuters]

Al-Shabaab fighters attacked a Kenyan village in the northeast last night, but were driven back by Kenyan security forces, the interior ministry said. [Reuters]

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on an Iraqi airline, a Syrian businessman and a U.A.E.-based company for helping a blacklisted Iranian airline procure aircrafts.

National Archives officials were concerned about preserving Hillary Clinton’s records before her departure from the State Department, and were worried that official records could end up outside department control, according to newly released records. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

The new rules on military equipment for local police forces “may have little impact on the ground,” explain Eyder Peralta and David Eads. [NPR]

Israeli officials are worried about a potential Middle East nuclear conference and are concerned that the Obama administration will break a 2010 promise to protect Israel by preventing the UN-backed conference from convening. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

There has been “a worrying uptick in violence” against Hamas from Islamic State-linked groups in Gaza, warns The Economist. And the World Bank has warned in a new report that Gaza’s economy is on the “verge of collapse” owing to “blockades, war and poor governance.” [AP]

China’s island construction in the South China Sea, which has been followed by the building of military facilities on these outposts, is raising concerns in the region and the West, Mira Rapp-Hooper explains. [CNN]

At least 18 FARC rebels died in a bombing raid and ground assault by the Colombian army yesterday, one of the deadliest attacks since peace talks began over two years ago. [Reuters]

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).