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
Russian troops have joined combat operations in Syria in support of government forces, according to three Lebanese sources familiar with the situation. [Reuters’ Gabriela Baczynska et al] Moscow has defended its military presence in Syria, saying it is part of a longstanding agreement to provide military aid to the Assad regime. [New York Times’ Neil Macfarquhar] The troops deployed by Russia are said to include elite units, some of which were involved in the annexation of Crimea 18 months ago. [The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss and Ben Nimmo]
Dozens have been killed during fighting between the Islamic State and Syrian government forces in eastern Syria around a government-held air base, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]
The Nusra Front and other groups captured the last remaining Syrian army base in Idlib province, a development said to effectively expel the Assad regime’s military from the province, reports Bassem Mroue. [AP]
The UK government is putting together a new strategy for Syria, including airstrikes against ISIS and a renewed diplomatic push for a transition of power. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt] And the UK Labour Party will support the government in its plans to extend airstrikes against the Islamic State to Syria, according to research conducted by the BBC’s Newsnight program.
The Islamic State claimed to be holding foreign hostages yesterday, demanding ransom payments for the release of a Norwegian man and a Chinese consultant. [AP] Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed the kidnapping at a news conference in Oslo, saying “Norway doesn’t pay ransoms.” [Wall Street Journal’s Kjetil Malkenes Hovland]
More than 50 intelligence analysts have complained about the inappropriate alteration of their assessments of the Islamic State and Nusra Front in Syria by US Central Command, The Daily Beast has learned, report Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris.
American hostage Kayla Mueller was killed by ISIS, not a Jordanian airstrike, according to the testimony of two escaped Yazidi girls held as slaves by the militant group. [BBC]
“Inspired by the daily sacrifices of our countrymen on the front lines in the fight against the terrorists of ISIS … the protesters have convincingly challenged three views commonly held by outsiders.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi writes about the government response to demonstrations against corruption, promising “far reaching reforms,” at the Wall Street Journal.
“The dead children washing up on Turkey’s shores are a direct result of the Obama administration’s failure to stop Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine,” writes Frederic C. Hof. [Foreign Policy] And ISIS has been using an image of drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi to suggest that refugees from the conflict in the country deserve their fate, reports Spencer Ackerman. [The Guardian]
Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers that he is in favor of a steep increase in the number of refugees accepted by the US, during a closed-door session yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon] Presidential candidate Michael Walker rejected such proposals, saying the US does more than any country to help those affected by the Syrian conflict. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch]
“There is no disaster in the Arab and Muslim world … for which the west’s answer is not to drop bombs on it.” Seumas Milne comments on the growing willingness of western states to engage in the air campaign against ISIS in Syria, opining that such plans will fail as “only a wider peace deal can draw [the Islamic State’s] poison.” [The Guardian]
A New Jersey man pleaded guilty to planning to travel overseas to join ISIS. [New York Times’ Benjamin Mueller]
GOP lawmakers disagreed over how to proceed with voting on the Iran nuclear deal yesterday, with House Republican leaders forced to delay and quickly reorganize their approach following rebuke from some representatives. Issues arose due to concerns raised that the White House hasn’t fully complied with the legislation Congress passed on the review of the deal, lawmakers pointing to the Obama administration’s failure to submit two confidential side deals between the IAEA and Iran. [Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson] The House approach “all but” ensures that no legislation will emerge from Congress this month, reports David M. Herszenhorn. [New York Times]
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on a resolution of disapproval of the Iran nuclear agreement yesterday, in addition to the House-approved shell bill which the Senate is using for the agreement. McConnell expressed optimism that agreement would be reached to have the vote this afternoon. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]
The “squabble” between GOP lawmakers potentially gives President Obama the upper hand as they may squander the opportunity to stop the agreement going ahead, reports the Guardian. Jack Sherman and Anna Palmer add that the lack of unity between GOP lawmakers “may end up diluting their message of opposition to the accord,” at Politico.
Senate Democrats are growing in confidence that they can effectively block a Republican resolution scuttling the nuclear accord; Burgess Everett provides the details at Politico.
How Congress proceeds this week will have a “huge impact” on Iran’s nuclear program, reports Dan Roberts, noting that as executive actions are not binding on future presidents, a vote of disapproval by the last Congress would be useful for a Republican president. [The Guardian]
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed the Iran nuclear deal in a speech at the Brookings Institute yesterday. Clinton expressed support for the Obama administration’s agreement, but took on a more “hawkish tone” than the president, describing her approach as “distrust and verify” and saying she would not hesitate to take military action against the Islamic Republic. [The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak]
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid expressed support for the nuclear accord during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. [AP]
MICROSOFT ‘CLOUD’ CASE
The case was before a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit yesterday, the court asked to consider whether the 1968 Stored Communications Act permits an American law enforcement agency to obtain emails stored abroad, in the cloud. A Microsoft attorney told the court that an “international firestorm” could result if the government succeeds in its attempt to have the tech giant turn over emails stored in Ireland. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]
The DOJ argued that the US government has the right to demand the emails of anyone in the world provided the email server was headquartered in the United States. Microsoft – along with a number of organizations which have filed amicus briefs – say that the case could set a dangerous international precedent. [The Guardian’s Sam Thielman]
Hillary Clinton set out a tougher foreign policy stance than President Obama during a speech yesterday in which she repeatedly pointed to situations abroad where she would have taken more assertive action than the president, reports Anne Gearan. [Washington Post] Clinton also promised to strengthen the United States’ relationship with Israel, including inviting the country’s prime minister to Washington during her first month in office. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes hit Yemen’s capital, Sana’a today, in what is reported to be the most powerful attack on the city since the conflict began five months ago. [Reuters] The Saudi-led coalition’s intensified campaign against Houthi rebels is potentially causing the country’s descent into a “prolonged, uncontrollable war,” writes The Economist.
US General John F. Campbell wields strong influence within the Afghan government, to the extent that he is known as the “minister of defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” by many Afghans, report Rod Nordland and Mujib Mashal. [New York Times]
Sudanese security forces have carried out two campaigns of mass killings and rape in Darfur since early last year, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. [The Guardian’s Clár Ní Chonghaile]
The United Nations is 70 years old. Chris McGreal explores the international organization’s successes and failures; pointing out that while it has saved millions of lives it is also “bloated, undemocratic – and very expensive.” [The Guardian]
Women should be empowered to help counter the prevalence of terrorism and violent extremism globally, according to the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) at the UN. [UN News Centre]
The makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty consulted CIA officers during the production of the movie which deals with the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The revelations emerged from over 100 pages of internal CIA documents obtained in response to an FOIA lawsuit. [VICE News’ Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson]