News Roundup and Notes: June 22, 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.

AFGHANISTAN

Six gunmen and a suicide bomber attacked the Afghan parliament this morning. At least 19 people were wounded, and the six attackers killed, following a lengthy gun battle with security forces. [Reuters’ Hamid Shalizi]  The Taliban claimed responsibility, stating it launched the assault to coincide with a vote on the new defence minister. [BBC]

A second district in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province has been seized by the Taliban, an Afghan official said. [AP]

The Taliban is engaging with numerous stakeholders as part of its peace efforts, but has refrained from any formal meetings with the government. Mujib Mashal explores the group’s strategy. [New York Times]

Cracks within the Taliban are increasingly apparent, especially since the spread of the Islamic State to Afghanistan, although some analysts do not view the divisions as a new phenomenon. [NBC News’ Fazul Rahim et al]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The EU has officially extended economic sanctions against Russia, in response to its role in the Ukrainian conflict, until the end of January 2016. [Reuters]

Russia is prepared to retaliate with “anti-sanctions,” but only to maintain the “status quo” rather than aggravate tensions. The Wall Street Journal’s Andrey Ostroukh analyzes the implications.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has suggested NATO abandons its Cold War-era strategy in light of the “new security situation in Europe,” just as the U.S. considers whether to place military equipment in Poland. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff]

An American military training exercise overseen by NATO took place in Bulgaria, close to the Russian Black Sea, for the first time. [NBC’s Andy Eckardt]

NPR interviews a VICE news reporter who traced the footsteps of a Russian soldier for a new documentary, helping to confirm Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

IRAQ and SYRIA

ISIS fighters have planted explosives around heritage sites in Palmyra, the historic Syrian city that fell to the militants in May, according to a monitoring group. Syrian government forces targeted the city with airstrikes in the last three days, leaving at least 11 people dead. [Al Jazeera]

Israel may be drawn into the Syrian war, as the Israeli Druze community grows increasingly concerned about the fate of their Syrian counterparts, whose towns are being encircled by extremist rebels. [Washington Post’s William Booth]

IRAN

Iranian lawmakers are attempting to prevent inspections of the country’s military sites under any nuclear agreement, approving draft legislation to that effect. The Wall Street Journal’s Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch assess whether the P5+1 countries are likely to compromise on this outstanding issue.

A fatwa from Iran’s supreme leader is complicating the nuclear talks. The ruling that declares the development or use of nuclear weapons as anti-Islamic is a key barrier to the western demand for full disclosure into Tehran’s previous nuclear activity. Politico’s Michael Crowley reports.

Iran is continuing to engage in “terrorist-related” activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and is “unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qaeda members,” according to the State Department’s annual terrorism report. [Al Arabiya News]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A UN report has found “serious violations of international humanitarian law” that “may amount to war crimes” by both sides in the Gaza conflict last summer. [New York Times‘ Jodi Rudoren]

Israeli and Palestinian officials are not enthusiastic about a French diplomatic effort aimed at restarting the Middle East peace process and which involves a greater role for France. [Washington Post’s William Booth]  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Israel “strongly rejects attempts to force international diktat on us,” while Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki simply stated that they would try to help the French. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]  Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that U.S. officials are “more open than ever before” to the French proposal for a UN Security Council resolution. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury]

Diaa Hadid reports on the temporary relief in Gaza in the past week. The developments highlight how Hamas “has staked out its own path” in the region, despite ongoing calls for a Palestinian unity government. [New York Times]

YEMEN

The UN-backed Geneva peace talks concluded Friday without any breakthroughs or a ceasefire, amid a $1.6 billion UN appeal for emergency aid. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]  The foreign minister of Yemen’s internationally recognized government told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis’ lack of commitment led to the talks failure, reports Nasser Al-Haqbani.

Saudi-led airstrikes on Houthi-controlled areas continued during the weekend. [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari]

Houthis remain in control despite the bombing campaign, with some analysts suggesting the group is inciting Saudi Arabia, through recent cross-border attacks, to launch a ground invasion. [Washington Post’s Ali al-Mujahed and Hugh Naylor]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The FISC is setting the foundation for the temporary renewal of the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records, based on a new order released by the Court on Friday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The DoJ compelled Google to submit over a year’s worth of data from the account of a security developer who volunteered for WikiLeaks, newly obtained documents reveal–part of the department’s long-running investigation of the organization. [The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher]

SAUDI CABLES

WikiLeaks released over 60,000 Saudi diplomatic documents on Friday, promising to post more than half a million in total. [AP’s Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael]

The cables showcase “Saudis’ checkbook diplomacy,” but contain no “shocking revelations;” Ben Hubbard provides details. [New York Times]  The documents reveal how the kingdom attempted to fuel unrest in Iran and undermine Tehran’s regional influence. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The number of terrorist assaults in 2014 around the world was up by 35%, while the number of fatalities increased by 81%, according to the annual State Department report. The growth of ISIS and Boko Haram contributed to the sharp increase in figures. [ABC News’ Alexander Mallin]

FBI Director James Comey refused to call the Charleston killings “terrorism.” [The Hill’s Kevin Cirilli]  However, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes argued it is “easily … domestic terrorism,” even if it does not fit the legal definition. [CBS’ “Face the Nation”]  BBC analyzes the legal distinction between a hate crime and terrorist attack, following debate on how to classify last week’s killings.  And The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald argues that the latest controversy highlights the problems with the “meaningless propaganda term” of “terrorism.”

The Bureau of Prisons says it has no records of its own visit to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2002, which is detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA practices released last year. [The Crime Report’s Graham Kates]

The U.S. should build smaller nuclear weapons to deter countries from developing their own nuclear programs, according to a report from CSIS. [Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber]

The Air Force is reducing the number of available Predator “combat air patrols” in response to low morale and gaps in training of drone operators. The Daily Beast’s David Axe investigates the “truly desperate measures.”  Meanwhile, the Pentagon has stepped up research on anti-drone defenses, in light of America’s enemies coming close to acquiring drone technology. [The Baltimore Sun’s Ian Duncan]

The Army’s deputy commander for operations in the Middle East has been reprimanded for steering a defense contract to former classmates, becoming yet another high-ranking official to face scrutiny for personal misconduct. [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock]

The Conflict Research Records Center has closed due to a lack of funding; the center housed documents and audio recordings captured by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan, utilized by scholars around the world, reports the New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on an intelligence training site in Mogadishu, resulting in the deaths of a Somali soldier and four militants. [AP]

The EU has launched a naval response to combat traffickers transporting migrants across the Mediterranean, amid criticism from refugee groups. [AP’s Jamey Keaten]

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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).