News Roundup and Notes: June 19, 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

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb denied reports of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s death in a U.S. airstrike in Libya earlier this week. The terror network’s North African branch issued a statement saying the jihadist leader “is still alive and well.” [Reuters]

Another al-Qaeda branch has posted photographs of Warren Weinstein, the American hostage who was accidentally killed in a U.S. strike in northwestern Pakistan targeting the deputy leader of the terror group in the region. [New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Russia and the U.S. are holding talks on the chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including a draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at creating an accountability mechanism. [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols]

Syrian rebels have pushed into a second regime-held district in Aleppo, according to activists, but the reports are being denied by state media. [Al Jazeera]

The U.S. is currently training under 200 Syrian fighters; Pentagon officials acknowledged the slow start but stressed that the focus is “more on quality than quantity at the moment.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

ISIS militants are blocking fuel shipments to rebel-held parts in northern Syria, leading to serious shortages in medical centers, which are also being targeted by government troops in opposition areas. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard]

U.S. and coalition military forces continued to attack ISIS targets, with six airstrikes in Syria and a separate 16 airstrikes in Iraq on Wednesday. [DoD News]

Israel is closely monitoring the evolving conflict between Syrian rebel groups, especially those bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. [The Guardian’s Ian Black]

Resettling residents in Iraq’s Tikrit remains a challenge. Loveday Morris reports on the numerous difficulties more than two months after ISIS was pushed out of the city. [Washington Post]

The Islamic State is gaining popularity in South Asia at the expense of al-Qaeda’s regional branch, particularly among social media outlets and other propaganda websites. [Reuters’ Katharine Houreld]

A New Jersey 21-year-old man has been charged with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State, the latest ISIS-related arrest in the New York area.  [DoJ News; New York Times’ Benjamin Mueller]

IRAN

There is a high likelihood of the P5+1 concluding a historic nuclear agreement with Iran, especially due to the mounting political pressure facing American and Iranian delegates, report Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau et al.

Animosity toward Iran offers unusual common ground between Saudi Arabia and Israel, particularly in relation to the emerging nuclear agreement. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov analyzes the development.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban infiltrated a key district in Helmand Province that is a source of the opium poppy, relied upon by the militants for revenue. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein and Taimoor Shah]

Reports that Iran is supporting the Taliban were denied by the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Ehsanullah Amiri]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Senate passed a $612 billion NDAA on Thursday, which calls for lethal aid for Ukraine and restricts the administration’s efforts to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  However, Senate Democrats voted immediately after to block the military appropriations bill that provides the actual funds for the Defense Department. [AP’s Deb Riechmann]

The Office of Personnel Management’s security clearance system was breached a year ago, but its relatively recent discovery suggests that the hackers had access to the data for around 12 months, according to new information. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is preparing a plan to close the Guantanamo prison, Sen. John McCain said following a conversation with the Pentagon chief yesterday. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

A Senate committee advanced a $47.1 billion bill to fund the DHS and other federal agencies in 2016. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]

Peter Maass profiles former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who “took on the [agency]—and lost everything.”  [The Intercept]

The UN-backed Geneva peace talks have had a difficult start, with disagreement over the size of the delegations. [Al Jazeera]

Boko Haram attacks in Niger have killed at least 38 people in two villages. [BBC]

Ten Tunisian diplomatic staff held by gunmen in Tripoli have been released; their release follows the decision of a Tunisian court to extradite a suspected Libyan militant to the country. [AFP]

Bahrain said it had seized weapons similar to those used in attacks by Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, believed to be used for attacks in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. [Reuters]

An anti-blockade flotilla is preparing to sail to Gaza, with at least three boats carrying activists and some aid. [Al Jazeera’s Hassan Ghani]

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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).