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 targeted military convoys in Iraq’s Fallujah earlier today in a series of suicide attacks, killing at least 55 people, reports Al Jazeera.
Iraqi forces have launched a counteroffensive to reclaim Ramadi, which fell to the Islamic State last week. The operation is aimed at cutting off a supply line to the city and securing areas in neighboring Salahuddin province, including the Baiji oil refinery. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris]
Iraq’s Shi’ite militias are leading the Ramadi counteroffensive, using a sectarian codename for the campaign that is likely to worsen factional tensions in the region. [Reuters]
The White House cautiously backed Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s statement on Iraqi troops lacking the “will to fight.” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the comments were “consistent” with analysis received from the battlefield, while also praising the bravery of Iraq’s forces in many cases. [Politico’s Sarah Wheaton] The Pentagon offered greater backing, saying local troops “chose to withdraw” even though they “vastly outnumbered their enemy.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
Iraqi soldiers had a 10-to-1 advantage over ISIS in Ramadi last week, Pentagon sources have told Al Jazeera America.
ISIS is likely to use the tactics used in Ramadi to capture Baghdad. Former CIA officer Kevin Carroll suggests what the U.S. can do to prevent the Iraqi capital from falling to the militants. [Wall Street Journal]
Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front is employing a different tactic in Syria from the Islamic State, showing constraint by accommodating local residents in the areas under the group’s control. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]
Palmyra’s historic sites have so far been unharmed, but fears remain that Islamic State militants will seek to destroy the Syrian city’s treasures. [Reuters]
U.S. officials are struggling to keep up with the pro-Islamic State social media flow, with the latest threats aimed at American military posts and events, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Fox News.
A 20-year-old Texas man has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State; the man is accused of assisting a friend to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group. [Justice Department]
SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY
President Obama urged senators to pass legislation to renew the NSA’s surveillance programs ahead of the June 1 deadline. [McClatchy DC’s Sean Cockerham and Lesley Clark]
Sen. Rand Paul maintained his opposition to the USA Freedom Act in its current form, which is backed by the president, saying the House-approved measure does not go far enough in curtailing the NSA’s controversial programs. [CBS News’ Rebecca Kaplan]
Supporters of the USA Freedom Act will likely have the “upper hand” going into the rare Sunday vote, only hours before key provisions of the Patriot Act are due to expire. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim]
Senators must “preserve the painstakingly negotiated compromise embodied in the USA Freedom Act,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to rein in Sen. Paul and secure an acceptable reform bill.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing criticism from Palestinian diplomats for proposing talks focused on the scope of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian leaders said any new negotiations must include all issues. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]
Hamas committed “war crimes” during the Gaza war last summer, including torturing political rivals and carrying out a number of extrajudicial killings, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont provides an in depth analysis of the report’s conclusions.
Rocket fire from Gaza yesterday provoked a response from Israel, which carried out four airstrikes on targets in the southern Gaza Strip. [Al Jazeera] Israel warned Palestinian groups in Gaza of severe retaliation if the attacks continued. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen et al.]
The Taliban attacked a guesthouse in Kabul’s diplomatic quarters. Afghan forces killed four militants and seized their weapons; no civilian casualties were reported. [Al Jazeera] Later reports confirmed the Taliban targeted Rabbani Guesthouse, which it had previously attacked in 2009. [BBC]
Afghanistan is failing to effectively harness its mineral resources, depriving it of economic development. The New York Times editorial board opines on the U.S. role in the effort.
Arab planes bombed a Houthi-held military port in the Yemeni city of Hodaida, damaging the base and two warships. [Reuters]
A Houthi stronghold, Al-Dalea province, was recaptured by forces loyal to President Hadi. The volunteer force claimed it had seized military equipment from the Houthis and loyalists to former President Saleh. [Asharq Al-Awsat]
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.
A Yemeni al-Qaeda member pleaded guilty to four terrorism counts in a Brooklyn court, including plotting to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and providing material support to the terrorist organization. [New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford; Justice Department]
The State Department is seeking to release Hillary Clinton’s emails on a rolling basis. Under the proposal, emails from the former secretary’s private server will be made public every 60 days, culminating at the end of January 2016. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]
Nuclear negotiators on Tehran’s program are unlikely to meet the end June deadline, according to the French ambassador involved in the discussions. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]
Reporter Jason Rezaian’s closed trial in Tehran on espionage and other charges was adjourned shortly after it began, with no indication of when proceedings would resume. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello] The New York Times editorial board comments on the “unjust persecution.”
An assassination attempt against the Libyan prime minister failed. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni avoided gunfire, as he left a parliamentary questioning in Tobruk yesterday. [CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh and Michael Martinez]
A 14-year-old Austrian boy has been found guilty by an Austrian court of planning a bomb plot and seeking to join extremist fighters in the Middle East. [AP]
The top nuclear diplomats from the U.S., South Korea and Japan met in Seoul to discuss North Korea’s growing nuclear program and called on Pyongyang to consider serious discussions. [AP]
The U.S. has attempted to shine a spotlight on Chinese expansion into the South China Sea, drawing condemnation from Chinese officials. The Washington Post editorial board praises the U.S. Navy’s efforts as “legal and appropriate.”
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