News Roundup and Notes: May 28, 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 Nusra Front is not using Syria “as a launching pad to attack the U.S. or Europe,” the rebel group’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, said in an interview with Al Jazeera. However, Golani did not rule out the right to defend if the U.S. continued to target the group. He also accused Washington of fabricating the “Khorasan” group, which the U.S. says is a secret faction within Nusra Front tasked with targeting the West.

The Islamic State has released new footage showing Palmyra’s ruins unharmed, but the humanitarian toll of the conflict in Syria continues to rise as the group gains new territory, reports Kareem Shaheen. [The Guardian] The Islamic State has shot dead at least 20 men in the historic Syrian city, according to a monitoring group. [Al Jazeera]

The Pentagon plans to equip Iraq’s Sunni tribal fighters in the wake of the Ramadi defeat, according to a defense spokesperson, a change from the current policy of providing military equipment only through Baghdad. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition forces conducted seven airstrikes in Syria against ISIS targets on May 25. Separately coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq. [U.S. Central Command]

The loss of Ramadi has sparked criticisms of “a growing credibility gap” between White House rhetoric and the situation on the battlefield, reports Spencer Ackerman. [The Guardian]

The number of internally displaced Iraqi Sunnis is rising, with sectarian tensions deteriorating as Shi’ite authorities seek to restrict where Sunnis can seek refuge. [New York Times’ Tim Arango]

Could the Islamic State win? Former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin considers the “unthinkable” question in a Washington Post opinion piece. And Peter Van Buren explores what lies ahead for Iraq, writing that the country “will never be whole again” given recent setbacks. [Reuters]

The definition of “material support” for terrorism is getting “blurrier,” especially owing to the increased role of social media in the rise of groups like the Islamic State, reports Nicole Hong. [Wall Street Journal]

Three British schoolgirls who traveled to Syria in February have reportedly made contact with their families, indicating they do not intend to return home. [ITV News]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

The White House stepped up efforts to pressure senators to act on NSA reform before surveillance powers sunset at midnight on Sunday. Administration officials accused lawmakers of playing “national security Russian roulette” and warned that a lapse would bring upon “unnecessary risk.” [McClatchy DC’s Lesley Clark]  Politico’s Sarah Wheaton writes that aside from the “Russian roulette” reference, the administration adopted a more “muted, cautious” approach at yesterday’s briefing, “largely resist[ing] dire warnings” about the possible consequences of Senate inaction.

AG Loretta Lynch also warned that a failure to act on the expiring provisions authorizing government surveillance would result in “a serious lapse in our ability to protect the American people.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

A weakened NSA is unlikely to prevent the next terror attack, and any laws that follow will put an end to “the reasonable, negotiated balance that exists now,” warns Daniel Henninger. [Wall Street Journal]

Germany’s federal intelligence agency is facing domestic criticism, following revelations made by Edward Snowden. Josef Joffe discusses how this development benefits Russian foreign policy in the Wall Street Journal.

YEMEN

At least 80 people died in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen yesterday that targeted areas near the Saudi border and the capital, Sana’a. [The Daily Star]

The Saudi-led attack is one of the deadliest since the air campaign against Houthi rebels began in March, and has spurred the need for urgent medical assistance. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ali Kalfood and Kareem Fahim]

A German court dismissed Yemenis’ claims that the government should be prohibited from allowing the U.S. to use an airbase on German territory to carry out drone strikes. The court ruled that the government had “leeway in its assessment, evaluation and actions” regarding foreign policy. [AFP]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Vice President Biden has voiced support for debating the arming of Ukrainian troops. Biden criticized Russian President Putin’s domestic policy and actions in Ukraine, while also noting American-Russian collaboration on an Iran nuclear deal, in a speech yesterday. [CNN’s Kevin Liptak]

The U.S. has accused Russia of concealing war casualties in Ukraine by using mobile crematoriums in an effort to hide the country’s involvement in the eastern Ukraine crisis. [Bloomberg News’ Josh Rogin]

Unmarked military vehicles and servicemen are amassing on the Russian-Ukrainian border, and will likely ultimately enter Ukraine in the effort to aid separatists, according to a Reuters report from Khutor Chkalova and Maria Tsvetkova.

Independent researchers have exposed further Russian military incursions into Ukraine, using open sources and social media networks; the findings have been published by the Atlantic Council. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

The NATO secretary general has criticized Russia’s proposed nuclear weapons expansion, which includes plans to move missiles near the Polish border and Crimea. [AFPNATO]

IRAN

The top American negotiator on the Iran talks will leave the administration after the end June deadline for a nuclear accord. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman’s decision adds to the departure of other top officials involved in the negotiations, raising concerns over who will oversee the implementation of any final agreement, reports David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

The nuclear talks could extend beyond the June 30 deadline, according to a senior Iranian negotiator, who said that the parties were not “bound to a specific time.” [Washington Post’s Brian Murphy]

France has rejected the Iranian supreme leader’s position on nuclear checks, stating that all installations, including military sites, must be open to inspection under a final deal. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

North Korean nuclear experts visited a military site in Iran in April, according to an exiled Iranian opposition group, although the dissident group has a mixed track record on previous allegations. [Reuters’ John Irish]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

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.

The Defense Department mistakenly shipped live anthrax to at least nine labs and a military base in South Korea. More than 20 people are receiving medical treatment after possible exposure, but none have shown symptoms. An investigation is underway. [BBC]

Travel bans could be lifted for five former Guantanamo inmates, released last year in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The U.S. is considering further extension of the bans which expire at the end of the month with Qatar, where the detainees currently reside. [AP’s Deb Riechmann]

Saudi officials blacklisted two Hezbollah commanders, allegedly involved in plotting regional terrorist attacks, signalling increased counterterrorism collaboration between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

A district judge has ordered the release of former Secretary of State Clinton’s emails every 30 days, a shorter time period than the 60-day interval requested by the State Department. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch]  The State Department has handed around 1,200 pages of Clinton’s emails to the House Benghazi panel, in response to a March subpoena from the committee. [Bloomberg News’ Billy House]

The Pentagon has been urged to take more control over the training of drone pilots by the Senate Armed Services Committee, after a report from the Government Accountability Office revealed shortcomings in the training programs. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered a “forceful” response to China’s expansion strategy in the South China Sea, stating that the country “is out of step” with international norms. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]  The secretary also highlighted the effect of China’s proposals on uniting alienated Asian-Pacific countries, while promising continued American engagement. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg]

The EU is asking member states to take in 40,000 asylum seekers, currently limited to Syrians and Eritreans, but the resettlement proposals have been met with opposition from several countries. [Al Jazeera America]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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