News Roundup and Notes: June 17, 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.

U.S. STRIKES

A White House statement claimed that the killing of Nasir al-Wuyashi, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, “brings us closer to degrading and ultimately defeating” the terrorist network. Politico’s Michael Crowley assesses the implications of the separate strikes killing Wuyashi and al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

The “decapitation” strikes targeting al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen and Libya last week may have limited effect on the network’s expanding influence, and may prove to strengthen offshoots such as the Islamic State, according to experts and officials. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]

The “occasional killing of militant leaders” is likely the most that can be accomplished by the administration in the war-torn nations of Yemen and Libya. Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane report on the administration’s evolving strategy in these countries. [New York Times]

The latest strikes underscore America’s capacity to target remote militants, but the counterterrorism efforts in Yemen and Libya face significant challenges, including a lack of allies on the battlefield to build on the momentum of the airstrikes. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib]

Strikes taking out militants are not enough to counter the growing crises in countries like Somalia and Yemen, writes the Washington Post editorial board, calling, in particular, for a strong approach in Libya.

IRAQ and SYRIA

The U.S. is “absolutely certain” that the Syrian regime has carried out chlorine attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday, adding that he had discussed the reports with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and noting that “everybody’s patience is wearing thin.” [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

A group of Syrian doctors is due to testify before U.S. lawmakers on chlorine attacks launched by the al-Assad regime, and will be citing evidence relating to 31 separate attacks between March and June this year. [The Guardian’s Alice Ross and Shiv Malik]

Syrian Kurds are now shifting focus onto Raqqa, following on from their success against ISIS in the northern town of Tal Abyad, which could provide a template for reclaiming land from the Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas et al]

The Syrian government dropped so-called ‘elephant’ rockets in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, leaving at least 36 people dead yesterday, according to activists. [Al Jazeera]

A network of Syrian rebels has launched an offensive in southern Syria aimed at claiming territory held by Syrian troops in Quneitra province, close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The alliance does not involve the Nusra Front. [Reuters]

ISIS militants killed five police officers in a town near Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery, as the battle to retain control of the key refinery continues. [Reuters]

The Islamic State and “dirty bombs.” Matthew Moran and Christopher Hobbs explore the extent of the threat posed by ISIS acquiring radioactive materials. [CNN]

ISIS is embedding itself deeper into the territory it controls in both Iraq and Syria. The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard reports on how the terrorist group is ruling in these areas.

A 20-year old Queens student has been arrested on suspicion of planning a bomb attack in New York to demonstrate his devotion to the Islamic State. [NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston]

OPM HACK

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the OPM hack proved anticlimactic, after those testifying stated that the forum was unsuitable for discussing confidential information. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]  Office of Personnel Management chief Katherine Archuleta conceded that the cyberattacks were “decades in the making”, blaming “a lack of investment in federal IT systems.” [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu]  And Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz called for the firing of the OPM’s director and chief information officer. [Politico’s Tal Kopan and David Perera]

The OPM hackers made much greater headway into federal personnel systems than initially disclosed by the administration, Aliya Sternstein reports. [Nextgov]

The Washington Post editorial board calls the hacking a failure in leadership, suggesting that a “credible threat of retaliation” is “an essential aspect of deterrence.”

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russia will be acquiring 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles and begin testing a new, western-facing, long-range early warning radar, President Vladimir Putin has announced. [AP] Secretary of State Kerry expressed concern over the statements, and described the situation as nearing “a kind of a Cold War status.” [Reuters’ Maria Tsvetkova]

The U.S. could deploy military aircraft to Europe in response to Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Deborah James has suggested. [CNN’s Brad Lendon]

America’s use of YouTube to highlight Russian aggression is a new battleground in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as the likelihood of military confrontation escalates, reports Politico’s Philip Ewing.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is slowly descending into a modern arms race with the West, according to analysts, although Moscow is being constrained by its economic problems. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]

YEMEN

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition extended the scope of its bombing campaign in Yemen, even as UN peace talks began in Geneva, where opposition parties refused to meet face-to-face. [Reuters]

Tensions are high at the peace talks after the Houthi delegation accused President Hadi of manipulating UN neutrality. UN officials are hoping to obtain a ceasefire for the month of Ramadan. [Al Jazeera]

IRAN

Secretary of State Kerry has indicated that Iran may not have to account for its past nuclear research as part of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger]

Disagreement on a number of significant details is likely to result in an extension of the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, two diplomats have told the AP, reports George Jahn.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Fatah-Hamas consensus government of Palestine is due to resign, according to a senior Palestinian official and local reports. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]

Hamas and Israel are nearing a five-year truce agreement, following a fortnight of discussions between the sides, sources have informed Asharq Al-Awsat. Kifah Ziboun reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Taliban has ordered the Islamic State to stay out of Afghanistan, warning it would retaliate, after a series of clashes in the country between Taliban fighters and militants loyal to ISIS. [AFP]

The Senate voted in favor of the anti-torture measure, introduced as an amendment to the NDAA, which would limit all government entities to only using interrogation methods articulated in the Army Field Manuel. [New York Times’ Emmarie Huetteman]

The House Homeland Security Committee questioned TSA officials regarding airport security lapses, who in turn highlighted the agency’s efforts to improve the security workers’ vetting system. [The Hill’s Keith Laing]

The House approved an annual intelligence policy bill that focuses on federal intelligence agencies and counterterrorism efforts, and bans the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. or a “combat zone”. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The Pentagon intends to reduce America’s military presence at a base in Portugal, but is facing pushback from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as well as Portuguese officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

A UN report reviewing peacekeeping operations indicates significant gaps in resources, responsiveness and training, and suggests the organization of a United Nations “vanguard” force. [Al Jazeera; UN News Centre]

Hillary Clinton’s former adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, testified before the House Benghazi Committee yesterday, stating that the memos he sent Clinton were written by a previously high-ranking CIA officer. [New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt]  Rep. Elijah Cummings stated that the newly released emails from Blumenthal contained “no smoking gun” and advocated for their release to the public alongside the relevant testimony from the former Clinton aide. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The preeminent terrorist threat facing the U.S. is from right wing, anti-government groups, not Islamic extremism, write Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer in a New York Times op-ed.

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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).