News Roundup and Notes: June 12, 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 fight against ISIS has cost the U.S. more than $2.7 billion since the air campaign began last August, with an average daily cost of more than $9 million, the Pentagon revealed yesterday. [AP]

The administration is considering expanding its military bases in Iraq to boost the training and equipping of local forces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan; DoD News]

The wife of a senior ISIS operative remains in U.S. detention, raising questions about the administration’s strategy regarding ISIS fighters in custody. The wife of Abu Sayyaf, who was killed in the special operations raid last month, is being interrogated in Iraq. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef]

House lawmakers blocked an amendment requiring a vote on an AUMF against the Islamic State that was sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff. [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle]

Syrian troops and allied fighters pushed back rebels from parts of an air base captured in Sweida province today, according to a monitoring group. [Reuters]

Hundreds have fled from Syria into Turkey amid ongoing clashes, as moderate rebels and Kurdish troops attempted to retake control of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad from ISIS. [Al Jazeera]

Syria’s Druse minority is urgently evaluating its alliances, after a deadly assault on the group by al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard] The Wall Street Journal’s Dana Ballout offers more information on the little-known sect.

The Nusra Front is increasingly being viewed as the lesser evil in the Syria conflict by America’s regional allies, reports Yaroslav Trofimov. [Wall Street Journal]

Sexual violence is part of the Islamic State strategy, writes UN special representative on sexual violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura, detailing the group’s abhorrent tactics. [CNN]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

Chinese hackers likely stole the personnel data for every federal employee and retiree, the president of the American Federal of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, said yesterday. The scope of stolen information and precise number affected is unclear, but allegedly significantly higher than that earlier reported by the Office of Personal Management. [Washington Post’s Lisa Rein] Bloomberg Business’ Michael A. Riley and Chris Strohm assess Washington’s response.

A key cybersecurity bill has succumbed to bipartisan divisions in the Senate. Democrats voted against the measure—which would have required companies to share information with federal investigators—largely because of its attachment to a defense bill. [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer] The bill had attracted criticism from privacy advocates, who argued it would regress Congress’ decision to limit the NSA’s bulk data collection. [The Intercept’s Lee Fang]

Germany’s public prosecutor has closed the inquiry into U.S. spying on Chancellor Merkel, citing insufficient evidence that could be used in court. [Reuters]

GUANTANAMO BAY

Three Qurans were seized by a Guantanamo guard in Camp 7, who declared them contraband in February this year, court records disclose. The holy books were ultimately returned to the captives. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A former Guantanamo detainee was prevented from boarding a plane in France as the flight would be passing through American airspace. The former prisoner, Mourad Benchellali, addresses youth groups in Europe in an effort to prevent them from signing up to jihad. [AP’s Elaine Ganley]

IRAN

Karen DeYoung surveys Israeli and Jewish perspectives on a nuclear deal with Iran, as both supporters and opponents step up lobbying ahead of the June 30 deadline. [Washington Post]

DNI James Clapper confirmed that Iran and Hezbollah still pose significant threats to the Middle East and the U.S. in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, where he described Iran as the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism”. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]

Iran has increased its support for the Afghan Taliban, including arms and funding, in an effort to mitigate American influence and counter ISIS, according to officials in Afghanistan and Washington. The Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati explores views on how a nuclear deal could impact Tehran’s relationship with the Taliban.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Lawmakers are increasing pressure on the president to provide weapons to Ukrainian forces, as the conflict continues to escalate. The administration has so far resisted providing lethal military aid to Ukraine. [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer and David M. Herszenhorn]

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, reiterated American support for Ukraine against “Russian aggression,” following an official visit to the region yesterday. [CNN]

Russian groups are raising funds online to support military aid to Ukrainian rebels. Companies hosting information for solicitations, such as YouTube, could find themselves in a legal quagmire given the sanctions against certain Russian organizations. [New York Times’ Jo Becker and Steven Lee Myers]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE 

The Israeli military has closed its inquiry into the death of the four Palestinian boys after an IDF strike hit a Gaza beach during last summer’s war. According to the findings, no domestic or international laws were violated. Three new investigations into the 2014 conflict have been opened. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen; Reuters] 

Gaza militants launched a missile against southern Israel yesterday, but came short of the border, amid increased fire in the region. [Haaretz’s Shirly Seidler and Gili Cohen]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate held a hearing on government retaliation against whistleblowers.  Army Lt. Col. Jason Amerine testified about his alleged marginalization and subsequent criminal investigation after highlighting failures in U.S. hostage policy and rescue efforts in Pakistan. [ABC News’ James Gordon Week]

“Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars.” The Intercept’s Cora Currier reviews the new investigative book on American drone warfare by journalist Chris Woods.

The House passed a defense spending bill approving a $579 billion budget for the Pentagon. The Hill’s Martin Matishak and Kristina Wong provide more detail.

Rep. Elijah Cummings calls on Republicans to “stop derailing” the House Benghazi Committee tasked with investigating the 2012 attacks, in a Washington Post opinion piece.

American funding has been used to create a new Afghan Defense Ministry being dubbed the “mini-Pentagon,” amid a record number of Afghan troop deaths. The ministry is still lacking a defense minister. [AP]

Sarah Almukhtar charts the development of Boko Haram’s media presence and eventual links with ISIS. [New York Times]

Pakistani officials have closed the Save the Children office in Islamabad without providing reasons. The charity has previously faced scrutiny for facilitating the vaccination program used as a cover leading up to the Osama bin Laden raid. [AP; Dawn’s Irfan Haider]

Prospects for productive UN-sponsored talks on Yemen are bleak, writes The Economist, noting the ongoing bombing by the Saudi-led coalition in the country.

Tajikistan, jihad’s “new frontier.” Ahmed Rashid notes the increasing militancy along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, where militant groups have been forming alliances with the Islamic State to launch attacks in Central Asia. [New York Times]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Sarika Arya

Former Summer Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@sarika_arya).