News Roundup and Notes: July 8, 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

Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Counter-ISIL strategy. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey gave testimony yesterday before the Committee. Despite planning to train 15,000 moderate Syrian opposition fighters, the Pentagon has begun training only 60, Carter revealed during the “heated” hearing, conceding that it is an “awfully small number.” [Defense One’s Molly O’Toole; Foreign Policy’s Paul McCleary]  Dempsey described the global security picture as “uncertain as I’ve ever seen it,” reiterating that military power alone is insufficient to ensure order in the Middle East. [Central Command]

Chairman of the Committee, John McCain accused President Obama of a “disturbing degree of self-delusion,” concluding that there is no evidence to support the suggestion that enough is being done to eventually degrade and destroy the Islamic State. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart and David Alexander]

Iraqi security forces will launch a counteroffensive in the coming weeks to retake the strategic western city of Ramadi from the Islamic State, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt]

“Obama’s narrative is wearing thin.” Kevin Baron argues that, despite White House rhetoric to the contrary, the U.S. remains heavily involved in the war on terrorism through military, intelligence and private military forces. [Defense One]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board accuses Obama of “underrat[ing] the threat of Islamic radicalism,” and failing to concede his mistakes in the Middle East.

The Washington Post editorial board castigates the Obama administration for the “pitiful result” of the program to train moderate Syrian opposition rebels, calling for a “more decisive commitment” to supporting U.S.-allied forces.

“Mapped: the Islamic State’s territorial losses and the beginning of a united Kurdistan.” Elias Groll provides visual guides representing the conflict in Iraq and Syria. [Foreign Policy]

IRAN

Iran nuclear talks deadline passed. Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 announced a second extension on the June 30 deadline for achieving an accord on Iran’s nuclear program yesterday. Officials avoided commenting on a firm date for reaching a final agreement, saying instead that they would continue to negotiate for the next couple of days. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger; Reuters’ John Irish and Arshad Mohammed]

The White House is considering extending the November 2013 interim pact and continuing the negotiations until an agreement can be reached, report Jay Solomon et al. White House press secretary Josh Earnest claimed there to be some bipartisan willingness to consider this approach as beneficial to the U.S. and partner nations. [Wall Street Journal]

Iran has presented “constructive solutions” to resolving the remaining disputes in nuclear talks, a senior Iranian official said today on news agency ISNA. [Reuters]

Senate Democrats are putting increasing pressure on President Obama, pushing hard-line demands for the nuclear agreement,  illustrative of the challenges ahead for the administration in getting a deal through Congress. [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton]  John Hudson discusses the “bloc of staunchly pro-Israel Democrats” which the White House will have to “woo.” [Foreign Policy]

Former Iranian president, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said agreement on lifting sanctions against Iran would be a “huge step” after decades of hostility by the U.S., during a rare interview with the The Guardian’s Ian Black.

The Obama administration is concerned over the financing of terror groups by Iran using the financial windfall resulting from any nuclear accord; the U.S. sees Iran as the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, according to a State Department official. [The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The U.S. and U.K. governments cannot demand special access to encrypted communications without placing the world’s most confidential data and infrastructure under threat, according to a new paper from an elite group of security technologists. Encryption has become a central issue in the privacy debate since the Edward Snowden revelations, writes Nicole Perlroth. [New York Times]

Hacking Team has commented on the security breach which left over 400 GB of information exposed; the company spokesperson Eric Rabe said that the Italian surveillance tech company does not believe it was the “work of just some random guy,” and instead suspect it was more likely to have been an “organization,” whether a criminal group or a government. [Motherboard’s Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai]  The Intercept has a detailed look at Hacking Team’s emails relating to their controversial clients.

AFGHANISTAN

Senior Afghan and Taliban officials met for direct peace talks in Pakistan, demonstrating a significant effort towards a framework for further discussion despite evident ambivalence from the Taliban. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein and Mujib Mashal]  The two sides agreed to meet again after Ramadan, with American and Pakistani leaders lauding the development as a breakthrough. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri]

U.S. troops must continue to defend Afghanistan from security threats after President Obama leaves office, according to Michael O’Hanlon and former Army general, David Petraeus in an op-ed for the Washington Post.

ISIS is cultivating a stronger presence in Afghanistan, causing concern among American officials that the withdrawal of troops may be ill-timed. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Two car bombs exploded in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a and another city yesterday, killing at least ten people. The Islamic State in Yemen claimed responsibility for the Sana’a attack. [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari]

Explosives including 180 detonators and about 40 grenades were stolen from a French military base, despite heightened security measures in place following a recent terrorist attack. [France 24]

Three Saudi nationals have been arrested for their suspected involvement in a suicide bomb attack on a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait last month. [Reuters]

At least 20 people died in the eighth day of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, following two separate attacks by female suicide bombers. [Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw and Gbenga Akingbule]

Islamic combatants from Chechnya are fighting alongside Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer]

Armed groups have stolen large numbers of weapons and ammunition from peacekeeping forces in South Sudan, according to a new report. The UN has questioned the accuracy of the findings. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff]

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to delete emails violated her duty to preserve public records, according to the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The Army will downsize by 40,000 troops, following post-war withdrawals and defense budget cuts. The impacted bases will be announced this week. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Sarika Arya

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