News Roundup and Notes: June 15, 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.

LIBYA STRIKE

The U.S. launched an airstrike early Sunday in Libya targeting Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the militant accused of masterminding the 2013 Algerian gas plant attack that resulted in the deaths of 38 hostages. The internationally recognized Libyan government claimed that the strike killed Belmokhtar and other militants, but U.S. officials said they could not confirm Belmokhtar’s death. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

An Islamist militant has said the strike missed Belmokhtar, instead killing four fighters from a Libyan extremist group that has been tied to the 2012 Benghazi attacks. [AP’s Rami Musa and Lolita C. Baldor]

Tim Lister profiles Belmokhtar, a one-time leading operative in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. [CNN]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Kurdish fighters are advancing on to Tal Abyad, the strategic Syrian border town held by the Islamic State. Fierce fighting between the groups has led to thousands fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in Turkey. [AP]

Lawmakers are skeptical of the White House decision to send more advisers to Iraq, with both Republicans and Democrats critical of the plan. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Funding may be cut for the secret CIA training program for Syrian rebels, following from a unanimous House Intelligence Committee vote, indicating the growing skepticism of the administration’s strategy in the region. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung]

The CIA is undergoing reorganization to tackle ISIS and other global crises. New teams of spies, analysts, scientists and economists are being formed in an effort to more comprehensively address global threats. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]

The U.S. campaign is premised on Iraq and regional partners taking control of the fight against ISIS, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said, expressing support for a limited U.S. role in the battle. [AP]

U.S.-led strikes continue to target ISIS. Coalition forces carried out one airstrike in Syria and separately conducted 12 airstrikes in Iraq on Saturday. [DoD News]

A 17-year-old British boy reportedly carried out a suicide attack at the Baiji oil refinery, with Islamic State-linked social media outlets naming the boy as one of the attackers. [BBC]

Iraqi troops are “nowhere near ready” to retake Mosul, despite an Iraqi general’s plan to reclaim the key northern city from the Islamic State in the coming months, reports Jacob Siegel. [The Daily Beast]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

Russia and China have hacked into confidential U.S. government files taken by Edward Snowden, according to a Sunday Times report, leading to the withdrawal of British MI6 agents from operations in hostile foreign countries. While Snowden has repeatedly denied colluding with Russia or China himself, the U.K. government is facing increased pressure to respond to the claims. [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and Patrick Wintour] The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald questions the credibility of the report.

President Obama may be forced to respond to increasing calls for retaliation against the cyberattack targeting the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), believed to be carried out by China. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

Damian Paletta reports on alleged breaches of security clearance information during the OPM hack, following Friday’s revelation that the number of affected employees might be much higher than originally expected. [Wall Street JournalNPR interviewed Paletta regarding his findings. And The Intercept’s Farai Chideya profiles the potential long-term impact of a personal data breach.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The U.S. transferred six Yemeni detainees from Guantánamo to Oman on Friday, bringing the prison population down to 116. All six prisoners had been cleared for release for at least five years. [DoD News; Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A federal appeals court overturned the conspiracy conviction of a Guantanamo detainee in al Bahlul v. United States, holding that the charge was not a war crime under the military commission’s jurisdiction. [McClatchy DC’s Michael Doyle; Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Israeli Foreign Ministry released a report on Sunday defending Israeli adherence to international law in Gaza last summer, days before a UN report reviewing the events is expected to be published. Barak Ravid reports for Haaretz, and provides analysis of the move, calling it “ineffective PR.”

IRAN

Iranian President Rouhani has expressed hope that a nuclear deal will be achieved prior to the June 30 deadline, provided that participating countries do not “take the path of brinkmanship.” [NBC Ali Arouzi]

Jay Solomon assesses whether a deal would further President Obama’s non-proliferation objectives. [Wall Street Journal]  Meanwhile, in a critique of U.S. concessions during negotiations, the Wall Street Journal editorial board describes the emerging final agreement as “a gift to a dictatorship”.

The Iranian government would welcome the presence of American oil companies in the country provided sanctions were lifted, according to Iranian media. Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, President of the International American Council, analyzes the development at the Huffington Post.

A group allied with Iranian intelligence services is attempting to recruit Americans to participate in a conference on state terrorism targeting Iran. Reporter Shane Harris, who was targeted by the group, describes its mission for The Daily Beast.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The Polish government is in talks with the Pentagon regarding the placement of American military weapons in Poland, amid increased fighting in the region and growing Russian aggression. [Wall Street Journal’s Martin M. Sobczyk]  Moscow has said it would be forced to respond to any such move by boosting its presence in the region. [Reuters]

The Ukrainian finance minister highlighted the importance of encouraging economic stability to counter Russian aggression, in an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish.

YEMEN

Saudi-led strikes bombed Sana’a overnight, ahead of the UN peace talks that begin today in Geneva; representatives of opposing sides to the conflict will initially meet in separate rooms. [Reuters’ Angus McDowall]

Houthi rebels have secured the capital of a Yemeni province bordering Saudi Arabia, despite continuing airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition. [New York Times’ Saeed Al-Batati]  Amid the ongoing conflict with the Houthis, NPR’s Deborah Amos gauges the waning optimism and next move of exiled President Hadi and his cabinet in Riyadh.

UNESCO condemned the partial destruction of a World Heritage Site and death of at least six people, after an airstrike in Sana’a. [NBC’s Charlene Gubash and Alexander Smith]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Sudanese officials said that President Omar al-Bashir will return home today, despite a pending case before a South African High Court. The court ordered Bashir yesterday to remain in South Africa until it rules on whether the government should arrest him in compliance with the ICC warrant for the Sudanese president. [Al Jazeera]

Terrorism victims are requesting the DoJ to allocate funds for their compensation from the BNP settlement, after the company pled guilty last year to violating economic sanctions by serving clients located in alleged state sponsors of terror. The majority of victims are those who suffered in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. [Wall Street Journal’s Aruna Viswanatha and Nicole Hong]

The global military playing field is relatively even; The Economist explores the implications for the United States.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in Helmand province on Saturday that resulted in the death of 17 Afghan police officers and injury of two others. [CNN’s Masoud Popalzai and Greg Botelho]

Kenya said its troops killed an al-Shabaab commander responsible for a major attack in Kenya and possibly a British member of the group during weekend clashes with the militant organization. [Reuters]

Armed attackers seized 10 workers at the Tunisian embassy in Libya’s Tripoli on Friday. [ReutersAP]  Earlier today, Islamic militants killed three police officers in Tunisia. [Reuters]

The Washington Post editorial board highlights the human rights abuses committed by General Sissi in Egypt, arguing that renewed U.S. military aid to the regime is a “mistake”.

Tim Craig discusses the impact of Pakistan’s intense offensive against Islamic militants in its northwest region, one year on. [Washington Post]  Pakistan’s interior ministry has “held in abeyance” its order requiring the Save the Children NGO to close down its office in the country. [Dawn’s Ikram Junaida]

South Korean President Park Geun-hye discussed increasing tensions with North Korea and potential responses in an interview with the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth.

Christian Davenport assesses the system by which federal employees receive security clearance, reporting that companies continue to “sacrifice thoroughness” for speed. [Washington Post]

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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).