News Roundup and Notes: September 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

Two British members of the Islamic State were killed in a Royal Air Force drone strike in Syria on August 21, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday. Cameron called the strike an “act of self defense.” [BBC] The Guardian’s Ewan MacAskill asks whether the strike signals mission creep on the part of the UK military in Syria, while Simon Jenkins also in The Guardian and our own John Reed in Just Security both raised questions about Cameron’s use of vague language to describe the threat he claimed the men posed.

The Pentagon is planning to significantly revamp its program to train moderate rebels to fight the Islamic State by putting larger numbers of fighters into safer zones, providing better intelligence, and improving the rebels’ combat skills. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard]

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has killed nearly seven times more people in Syria than the Islamic State has this year, reports indicate. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor] Many experts on Syria believe there is no end in sight, particularly given the refugee crisis and recent diplomacy failures. [Reuters’ Tom Perry and Gabriela Baczynska]

Even when families convince individuals not to join the Islamic State, they may not be able to stop stiff prison sentences in the US. After almost joining the Islamic State, 19 year old Asher Amnran Khan decided against it, yet he has still been charged by the FBI with conspiracy and attempt to provide material support and faces the possibility of up to 30 years in prison, reports Adam Goldman. [Washington Post]

The US likely killed five civilians in a March airstrike targeting the Islamic State in Iraq according to an initial report. To date, the US has acknowledged only two civilian deaths as a result of the thousands of airstrikes against the Islamic State. [Daily Beast’s Nancy A. Youssef]

More countries launch airstrikes against the Islamic State. Iraq carried has out 15 attacks against the group within its borders using F-16s acquired from the US. [Agence France-Presse] Meanwhile, President Francois Hollande of France has ordered preparations for airstrikes on the Islamic State in Syria, with reconnaissance flights set to begin on Tuesday. [BBC]

Russia is expanding its military presence in Syria. News emerged over the weekend that in recent weeks, Russia has sent prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people, as well as a portable air traffic control station, seemingly in a show of support for Assad’s regime. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt] The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss reports that Russia’s military buildup may be even more advanced.

Islamic State fighters have seized the Jazal oilfield, the last major oilfield under Syrian government control. [Reuters]

YEMEN

The Saudi-led coalition launched heavy airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, in retaliation for the killing of 60 Gulf soldiers in an attack by Houthi rebels. [Agence France-Presse] Early reports indicate at least 20 people were killed in the bombing. [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari]

Qatar has deployed 1,000 soldiers to Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels, along with more than 200 armored vehicles and 30 Apache helicopters. [Al Jazeera]

AFGHANISTAN

A US airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed at least 11 Afghan policemen in one of the deadliest friendly-fire incidents in the country in recent years. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri]

“[I]f history is any indication, there is bad news ahead; turmoil is fertile soil for extremists.” Barbara Elias warns that it may not be as easy to defeat the Taliban, despite Mullah Omar’s death two years ago. While Omar’s death has seemingly fractured the Taliban, that may mean less stability is on the horizon in Afghanistan. [Foreign Affairs]

Many women in Afghanistan who have been incarcerated for “moral crimes” are badly mistreated, according to a profile by National Public Radio’s Rena Silverman. The number of women in prison for moral crimes jumped by 50 percent between October 2011 and May 2013.

IRAN

Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that Democrats will not block a final vote on the Iran nuclear deal if Republicans agree to a 60-vote threshold for passage, the same number of votes that would be needed to stop a filibuster. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he will oppose the deal. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi and Seung Min Kim] Meanwhile, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), head of the Democratic National Committee, has said she will support the agreement. [Wall Street Journal’s Kate Davidson and Andrew Ackerman]

SURVEILLANCE and PRIVACY

On both encryption and access to data overseas, some US technology companies are increasingly pushing back against government demands, despite the government’s law enforcement concerns. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo, David E. Sanger, and Michael S. Schmidt]

Microsoft will be in a Second Circuit courtroom on Wednesday appealing a previous decision upholding a search warrant for data stored overseas. [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo] Our own Jennifer Daskal will have more analysis of the case later today on Just Security.

GUANTÁNAMO

The military has stopped honoring security clearances for an attorney representing the only detainee who has agreed to serve as a cooperating witness against the 9/11 defendants. [Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman]

A fiber-optic cable link between Florida and the naval base at Guantánamo Bay should be completed by February, improving both Internet access at the base and communications with the military court’s headquarters in Virginia. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

ISRAEL

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said over the weekend that Israel would not accept refugees from Syria and that the country would move forward with plans to construct a fence along its eastern border with Jordan. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

Israel has plans to demolish up to 13,000 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. [Guardian’s Kate Shuttleworth]

The missing Intifada. Neri Zilber examines why there has been no third intifada, despite rising tensions in Israel. [Foreign Affairs]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Pakistani drone killed three suspected terrorists on the battlefield, a first time for the country’s military. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]

Kurdish PKK militants killed 15 Turkish soldiers in an ambush in southeast Turkey on Sunday. In response, Turkey bombed a number of PKK targets. [Reuters’ Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay]

New research indicates that most “lone wolf” terrorists broadcast their plans to commit violence, and are usually older, less educated, and more prone to mental illness than members of extremist groups. [Guardian’s Michael Safi]

African Union Forces left the vicininty of Buqda, Somalia, over the weekend, allowing Al-Shabaab to peacefully seize the sizeable town in the center of the country, on Sunday. [Reuters’ Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar]

Just as nuclear weapons are changing, so is the technology by which scientists detect their development, points out The Economist.

A group of five Chinese vessels passed within 12 nautical miles of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands after a joint Russian-Chinese military exercise last week underscoring the potential for increased friction between the US and China at sea. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe]

The Hughes Glomar Explorer is headed for a scrap yard. The ship is perhaps best known to Just Security readers as the namesake of the court case that created the Glomar exception to Freedom of Information Act requests, allowing government agencies, with reason, to neither confirm nor deny the existence of responsive records. [Reuters’ John Miller]

Thirty cadets were injured in West Point’s annual end-of-summer pillow fight as a result of hard objects inserted in some pillow cases. [New York Times’ Dave Philipps] 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).

John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).