News Roundup and Notes: May 26, 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

ISIS has sent more fighters into Ramadi as Iraqi troops and Shi’ite militias prepared to retake the fallen city. Government forces have regained areas east and south of Ramadi, after launching a counteroffensive over the weekend. [Reuters]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Iraqi troops “just showed no will to fight” in Ramadi, in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, the strongest criticism of Iraq’s forces from any administration official since last week’s developments.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expressed “surprise” at Carter’s comments, in an interview with BBC.  And the head of Iraq’s defense and security committee said that Carter’s view was “unrealistic and baseless.” Iran similarly pushed back against U.S. criticism, blaming American forces of failing to halt the Islamic State’s advance. [NPR’s Krishnadev Calamur]

Vice President Biden spoke with the Iraqi prime minister on Monday, in an effort to reaffirm American support amid heightened tensions following Carter’s comments on Sunday. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

The Islamic State is growing in complexity, with the Ramadi capture highlighting the group’s increasingly sophisticated battle strategy—improvements that have not yet been accounted for by Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition, reports Margaret Coker. [Wall Street Journal]

An Iraqi soldier recalls the fight for Ramadi, telling CNN that the fault lies with the leadership and logistical shortcomings, not the troops, report Arwa Damon and Hamdi Alkhshali.  Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim also report on the Ramadi battle, describing the failings of the Iraqi security forces and the U.S. strategy. [Washington Post]  And Defense One’s Matt Schiavenza explores the numerous problems facing the Iraqi army.

Islamic State fighters have set the Beiji oil refinery on fire, in a move aimed at preventing Iraqi forces from advancing on to the country’s largest oil refinery. [Al Jazeera]

Syrian forces have launched airstrikes targeting ISIS in Palmyra, where the militant group has killed hundreds of people since gaining control last week. [Al Jazeera]

The Pentagon has identified four American service members who have died in the operation to defeat the Islamic State. [New York Times]

The U.S. is holding back from striking important and “obvious” ISIS targets in case of possible civilian deaths, which would risk alienating Sunni support while bolstering the terror group’s propaganda efforts. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

Gen. Martin Dempsey’s approach to ISIS has been marked by restraint and caution; Missy Ryan profiles the Joint Chiefs chairman who is due to step down later this year. [Washington Post]

The Islamic State views Saudi Arabia as a target, claiming its first attack inside the country on Friday, which could signal that the group is “again on an expansionary march,” writes The Economist.

The administrative difficulties surrounding Syrian refugees are “creating a generation of stateless people,” reports John Knefel. [Rolling Stone]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

The Senate voted on Saturday against measures to extend or reform provisions of the Patriot Act. An administration official confirmed that the wind-down process for the NSA’s surveillance program “has begun” given Congress’ inaction on the issue. [Politico’s Kate Tummarello and Alex Byers]  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has ordered senators to return from recess on Sunday, a day before the Patriot Act provisions are due to expire. [Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Hughes and Damian Paletta]

Senior lawmakers are engaging in uncommon recess negotiations this week to secure a deal on changes to the USA Freedom Act aimed at reforming the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records, reports Jonathan Weisman. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

A top Afghan peace envoy met former Taliban officials for secret talks in China last week. The discussions, aimed at speeding up the peace process, were facilitated by Pakistan’s intelligence agency “in an apparent show of goodwill,” reports Margherita Stancati. [Wall Street Journal]

NATO commanders aim to maintain a base in Kabul to assist in weapons sales and the continuing effort to train local security troops, said Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]

Afghan forces are struggling to counter Taliban fighters in the north, where the insurgent group has benefited from an influx of foreign fighters fleeing the military offensive in Pakistan. [AP’s Lynne O’Donnell]

The Afghan government is increasingly relying on local militias to counter the Taliban, as fighting spreads to the country’s north, far from the militant group’s traditional strongholds, reports Nathan Hodge. [Wall Street Journal]

President Obama emphasized the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan during his Memorial Day address in Arlington yesterday, calling it the first Memorial Day in over a decade that the U.S. “is not engaged in a major ground war.” [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

YEMEN

UN peace talks on the Yemen crisis have been postponed. There has been no official explanation for the delay. Yemeni President Hadi has reportedly said that his participation is contingent on Houthi compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and withdrawal from parts of the country, including the capital. [Ashraq Al-Awsat’s Asma Al-Ghabiri]

A German court will hear testimony from an individual whose relatives were killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. The trial of the bin Ali Jaber family, who were involved in an effort to persuade militants to pursue nonviolence, will likely expose Germany’s involvement with the U.S. drones program, which President Obama had previously denied. [Al Jazeera America’s Massoud Hayoun]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The Russian government has demanded Google, Twitter and Facebook relinquish information on Russian bloggers who are in potential violation of the country’s Internet security laws. [Reuters]

A new Russian law banning “undesirable” international NGOs may lead to punitive sanctions on rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have been investigating Russian military action in Ukraine. [Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove]  The Washington Post editorial board notes that the vague terminology of the law leaves Russian civil society vulnerable to government oppression.

A commander of an eastern Ukraine separatist battalion was killed in Luhansk region. Officials of Luhansk People’s Republic confirmed the bomb attack, for which pro-Ukrainian guerrilla group, Shadows, took responsibility. [CNN’s Radina Gigova]

Russia has begun a large scale air defense military exercise, intended to last four days. Amid rising tension with the West, the drill began the same day as a NATO training exercise in Norway, Sweden and Finland. [BBC News]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed resuming peace talks with Palestine, with a focus first on the scope of Jewish settlements, according to an Israeli official. [Reuters’ Maayan Lubell]

Israel thanked the Obama administration for blocking the proposed UN conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East, a move that could ease recently strained ties between the two governments. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The FBI is investigating at least ten threats against flights over the long weekend. Two U.S. fighter jets escorted an Air France plane to New York yesterday after Maryland police reported a threat about the Paris flight. [CNN’s Tom Foreman et al]

Al Shabaab launched attacks against Kenyan police officers in Yumbis village, killing 25. The group’s spokesperson said that fighters had seized weapons after targeting the village and bombing a vehicle. [Al Jazeera] Following the incident, 13 Kenyan police were also reported missing. [AP]

Boko Haram killed 10 residents in a village in northeast Nigeria. [CNN’s Aminu Abubakar]  Following a military operation on Saturday, the Nigerian government killed “scores” of Boko Haram terrorists, and rescued 20 women and children. The total count of freed women hostages is now more than 700, but most of the Chibok schoolgirls remain missing. [Reuters]

Militants killed one UN peacekeeper in Mali’s capital, Bamako, and wounded another, according to security sources. [France 24]

A Tunisian soldier was killed after opening fire against fellow troops in army barracks in Tunis; the shooting resulted in 7 deaths and has been described as an “isolated act, not a terrorist act” by the Defense Ministry. [AP]

South Sudan wrested control from rebels of the oil town of Malakal. The fierce fighting has had humanitarian consequences, with 650,000 people prevented from receiving aid. [Al Jazeera]

The State Department released nearly 900 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time in office on Friday. Politico’s Lauren French offers a look at some of the exchanges, including those dealing with the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell seeks to “debunk… the Benghazi myths” in a Politico Magazine piece.

Marginalization of female soldiers in the American military persists. The New York Times’ Benedict Carey profiles Lieutenant Courtney Wilson who was harassed by fellow male troops, and suffered from depression and panic attacks.

A delegation of British lawmakers visited Washington last week to urge the release of the last remaining British detainee at Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. [Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin]

The trial of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian began today, following more than ten months in detention, and will be closed to the public. [AP]

Australia will pass legislation with citizenship stripping powers aimed at dual nationals suspected of terrorism, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today. [AP]

The allegations against French peacekeepers of sexual abuse highlight the enduring problem of how foreign troops are to be held accountable in the course of international peacekeeping, reports Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

The Libyan government has sought for years to reclaim Gaddafi’s assets deposited by the former dictator outside the country. Shane Harris details the efforts of a man who claims to have been tasked with the job by the Libyan government. [The Daily Beast]

China, Iran and Russia are consolidating regional power, “taking advantage of American retreat to assert political and (perhaps eventually) military dominance over their corners of the globe,” warns the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

China is expanding its controversial maritime presence, beginning construction on two new lighthouses in disputed South China Sea waters. [Reuters’ Megha Rajagopalan]  Gordon G. Chang analyzes the aggressive contentious expansion of China into the South China Sea, calling it the “next great war zone.”  [The Daily Beast]  Meanwhile, Chinese officials have described its incursions into the area as unsurprising and part of ordinary rejuvenation of the country’s infrastructure. [Washington Post]

The 2016 military spending plan has been plagued by “budget gimmickry, political chicanery and a refusal to make the right choices,” writes the New York Times editorial board, calling on President Obama to follow through with his veto threat if changes are not made.

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).