News Roundup and Notes: August 12, 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

In a “burst of diplomatic activity,” diplomats from the US, Russia and several Middle Eastern powers are trying to avoid an even greater crisis in Syria that could benefit the Islamic State, as Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad faces military setbacks. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard]  Moscow and Riyadh have agreed on steps to assist Syria’s government renew dialogue with all opposition groups, though Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister maintained the kingdom’s stance that Assad is not part of the conflict’s solution. [Al Jazeera; Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove] 

A 48-hour ceasefire came into effect between pro-government forces and rebel groups in three Syrian towns, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Local ceasefires have on occasion been held to allow for food and medical aid to reach besieged areas. [BBC]

Dozens of rebel-fired rockets hit Damascus today, ahead of a planned visit by Iran’s foreign minister later on Wednesday. [Reuters]

ISIS released 22 Assyrian Christians, abducted by the group from villages in northeastern Syria this year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday. [Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has postponed a visit to Ankara, Turkey where talks were to be held on the Syrian conflict with his Turkish counterpart. Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency said a scheduling conflict was behind the postponement. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Emre Peker] 

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 10. Separately, forces conducted 20 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The Iraqi offensive against ISIS is slowing down, argues Michael Knights, noting that no one “even talks about liberating” Mosul anymore. [Foreign Policy]  US military response against the Islamic State can “only go as fast as [the] partners on the ground;” Helene Cooper discusses the challenges posed by working with an inexperienced Iraqi security force. [New York Times]

The PKK claimed responsibility for an attack on a police station in Istanbul on Monday, saying the attack was to avenge the death of one of their fighters in a July 24 Turkish air raid. [Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker]

Purported ISIS members on social media claim to have hacked US military computers, stealing information including photographs, addresses and credit card information of army, navy and state department figures. [Daily Express]

A Mississippi couple arrested on suspicion of traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State from a US airport were ordered held without bail yesterday, the Justice Department said. [New York Times’ Timothy Williams]

IRAN

Secretary of State John Kerry comments on Iran deal. Appearing at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York, Kerry expressed confidence that “Plan A” on the Iran nuclear agreement would succeed, refusing to discuss what would happen if Congress managed to kill the deal. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong] Kerry also suggested that the dollar would suffer if the deal doesn’t pass, and rejected claims that the Obama administration was seeking to make out that critics of the deal are warmongers. [Reuters’ Warren Strobel; The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Sen Chuck Schumer is reaching out to colleagues to explain his stance on the Iran deal and to assure them that he would not be whipping opposition to the deal, Democratic senators and aides have said. [Politico’s John Bresnahan]  Despite his stance, Democratic senators will still support Schumer as their next leader, Alexander Bolton reports. [The Hill]  And the Obama administration has countered Iran deal critics with “certitude and ad hominem attacks,” suggests the Washington Post editorial board, arguing the situation has become “all about winning.”

A group of retired generals and admirals expressed their support of the Iran nuclear accord in an open letter yesterday in which Congress is urged to do the same, reports Karen DeYoung. [Washington Post] 

The head of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) has stepped down, citing the group’s decision to mobilize opposition against the accord. Gary Samore, a former nuclear adviser to President Obama, had himself concluded that the deal was in America’s best interests. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]  Former Sen Joe Lieberman is taking over as chairman of the UANI, a statement from the group announced.

Sen John McCain said he is “confident” the Senate will have the 60 votes needed to reject the Iran accord, in an interview Monday on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Sen Claire McCaskill is still undecided about her vote on the Iran nuclear accord, saying she is trying to establish what would happen were the US to pull out of the deal. [Politico’s Eliza Collins]

War, in reality, is an alternative to the deal, opines Philip Gordon, suggesting that critics’ calls for a “better deal” are “implausible to the point of fantasy.” [Politico Magazine]

CYBERSECURITY 

It is “very likely” that China and Russia are reading Secretary of State John Kerry’s emails, and he writes them with that awareness, he said during an interview with “CBS Evening News.”

The White House has asked for a $242 million boost to cybersecurity funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), representing a 72% increase. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

LIBYA 

The internationally recognized prime minister of Libya said he would resign during a television interview. Following the broadcast, Abdullah al-Thinni’s spokesperson denied his resignation. [Al Jazeera]  Thinni has been based in the east of the country since Tripoli was seized by an armed group a year ago, forcing the government to flee. [Reuters’ Ahmed Elumami And Ayman Al-Warfalli]

The UN’s special envoy for Libya said parties could wrap up the “very difficult process” of peace talks on a comprehensive settlement and unity government by the end of August. [UN News Centre]

The US wants to position drones at bases in North African countries to be used to increase surveillance of the Islamic State in Libya, eliminating what officials describe as a “blind spot” facing US and Western spy agencies. [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous Gordon Lubold]

Supporters of the Qaddafi regime are “re-emerg[ing] in a disillusioned Libya.” Mohamed Eljarh provides further details. [Foreign Policy]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton will provide the FBI with the private email server she used while in office; the FBI has been investigating the security of Clinton’s system. Clinton’s attorney will also hand over a thumb drive containing copies of emails. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig et al; BBC]

A bomb attack in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state yesterday killed roughly 50 people when it targeted a busy market in the town of Sabon Gari. Boko Haram are suspected of responsibility for the attack. [Reuters]

A US military helicopter crashed into the sea off Okinawa, Japan today, local officials said. Three crew members have been rescued but two are missing. [AP]

UN peacekeepers killed a 16-year old boy and raped a 12-year old girl in Central African Republic, Amnesty International alleges, calling on those implicated to be immediately suspended and the claims urgently investigated. [The Guardian’s David Smith and Paul Lewis]

The US, China and Russia are engaged in a secret arms race aimed at designing hypersonic weapons intended to attack targets many times faster than the speed of sound, reports Philip Ewing. [Politico]

Israeli teens waging “Jewish jihad” pose a growing threat, with recent attacks “neither so new nor so isolated” as they may seem, writes Shira Rubin. [The Daily Beast]

As the first two women approach completion of the final phase of Ranger School, Dan Lamothe explores whether the Army will allow the women to try out for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, currently completing closed to women. [Washington Post]

“Europe is again becoming a region of high military drama.” Both Russia and NATO are conducting an increasing number of military exercises, heightening the risk of accidental confrontation, experts have said. [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security