News Roundup and Notes: January 22, 2016

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.


Syria peace talks will be delayed by a day or two, says Secretary of State John Kerry, amid ongoing disagreements over the arrangements, including the invite list. The talks are still hoped to begin before a UN-imposed deadline of January 30. [The Guardian’s Ian Black and Angelique Chrisafis] “Assessing the road to the Syrian peace talks,” from Somini Sengupta at the New York Times. 

Russian warships have made a display off the coast of Syria, “reminiscent of the Soviet era,” reports the AP, bringing Moscow-based journalists on board the Vice Admiral Kulakov destroyer. Both Russia and the US have been “jockeying for position” on the ground in Syria, a situation that will likely continue regardless of any peace agreement. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard and Eric Schmitt]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has quietly moved on an open-ended war authorization measure written by Sen Lindsey Graham, which contains no limits on ground troops or geographic scope in the fight against ISIS. The move is likely intended to pressure the Obama administration into drafting an AUMF more to the liking of the GOP, reports Seung Min Kim. [Politico]

Three Islamic groups closely linked to Iran are suspected of being behind the kidnapping of three US citizens in Baghdad, Iraq last week. US government sources say the groups are the focus of investigations. [Reuters] 

The American military will admit to killing or wounding civilians on at least 14 occasions in Syria and Iraq, reports Nancy A. Youssef at The Daily Beast; the figure constitutes a seven-fold increase in civilian casualties so far acknowledged since the start of the air campaign against ISIS 17 months ago.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out one airstrike against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 20. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 15 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The president of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq has called on international leaders to recognize that the Sykes-Picot pact has failed and to negotiate a new agreement opening the way for an independent Kurdish state. [The Guardian’s Martin Chulov]


Money received by Iran due to sanctions relief may be used to fund terrorist activities, Secretary of State John Kerry conceded yesterday, adding that the White House does not believe it will add to the threat posed to the US in the Middle East. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

GOP lawmakers wasted no time in criticizing Kerry for his comments, Sen Lindsey Graham suggesting that the administration may “as well have written the check to Assad” or Hezbollah. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]

The US Treasury Department wired $1.7 billion to Iran around the time that the five US prisoners were released on Sunday, providing fuel to claims that the transaction amounted to a ransom payment. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has backed Saudi Arabia in Riyadh’s diplomatic dispute with Tehran in a statement released yesterday; OIC, the world’s largest Muslim organization, accused Iran of funding terrorism. [Reuters]


The UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May has described as a “blatant and unacceptable breach” of international law, the findings of an inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko which concluded that President Vladimir Putin likely approved the assassination. [New York Times’ Alan Cowell]

The New York Times editorial board comments on the findings of the UK’s inquiry, noting the likely damage to relations between the two nations and opining that the inquiry “should serve as a caution to the Russian leader to repair his reputation for notorious intrigues abroad.”


The leader of the Taliban splinter group that killed 21 people at a university this week has threatened to carry out more attacks on schools and universities across the country, in a video released today. [AP]

The video also contained footage of four men who the faction’s leader, Umar Mansoor claims were responsible for the attack. [Reuters] 

Wednesday’s Taliban attack on a university in Charsadda highlights the limits of Pakistan’s military crackdown in the year since the massacre at a school in Peshawar. Declan Walsh reports. [New York Times]


The US has rolled out new visa restrictions, prompted by the Paris terrorist attacks, making it more difficult for visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and some European countries to travel to the US. [The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas]

The new rules will have some exceptions for people who have traveled to those countries for a limited list of reasons, including special exemptions for Iran, a concession which has prompted furious outcries from Republicans. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem; Politico’s Nahal Toosi]


A criminal charge against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is justified, opines Michael B Mukasey, a former district judge and advisor to Jeb Bush, as the number of classified messages identified by the State Department reaches over 1300. [Wall Street Journal] 

Russia, China and Iran “may have hacked” Clinton’s server, says former defense secretary Robert Gates, basing his assertions on the fact that the Pentagon gets attacked “about 100,000 times a day,” which makes the odds that foreign countries have been able to gain access “pretty high.” [The Hill’s Harper Neidig]


CIA Director John Brennan must apologize for the CIA’s spying on Senate staff, a group of Senate Democrats have demanded, the latest episode in a battle between the Senate and the CIA which began in March 2014, when Senator Diane Feinstein revealed that CIA staff had broken into the Senate and search files relating to its report on the CIA’s former torture methods. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney] 

Palestinians are to renew their push at the UN Security Council for a resolution declaring the Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal, officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones]

A Guantánamo Bay detainee has declined release. A cleared Yemeni prisoner, one of three captives set for release, is reported to be afraid of going to the country that has offered him sanctuary, because he “didn’t have family” there. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The case of US Naval Officer Daniel Layug shows how straightforward stealing naval secrets is. Craig Whitlock describes the ease with which foreign defense contractor, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, bribed the Officer with “cheap gifts.” [Washington Post]

Beneficiaries of violence in the Middle East were among those who signed a letter released by Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign this week, criticizing opponent Bernie Sanders for calling for closer engagement with Iran. Half of the former State Department officials who signed the letter are involved in the military contracting establishment, reports Lee Fang. [The Intercept] 

Both security and privacy are “paramount.” National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers set out his pro-encryption position to the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, on Thursday, potentially marking a split on the issue between the intelligence community and domestic law enforcement. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin] 

A fatal al-Shabaab attack on a beachfront hotel and restaurant has left more than 20 dead in Mogadishu, Somalia. Security forces took back control of the restaurant just before dawn, reports the AP. The attack began yesterday evening, as a car filled with explosives was driven into the hotel and detonated. [Al Jazeera] 

“Abhorrent practices” in South Sudan, including indiscriminate attacks on entire villages, killings and sexual violence have been reported by the UN. The country has been in turmoil since December 2013, though current regional and international peace efforts “offer some hope.” [UN News Centre] 

An attack on “democracy” and “freedom of expression.” Yesterday’s Taliban suicide attack, which left eight dead and 24 injured in Kabul, Afghanistan, has been condemned by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The attack specifically targeted staff of the Tolo media organization. [UN News Centre] 

18 people, including hospital workers and their patients, have been killed in multiple airstrikes in northern Yemen. [New York Times’ Shuaib Almosawa]

A “security raid” in Cairo has killed at least nine people, including police officers. Booby traps at a militant cell close to the Pyramids exploded as bomb technicians attempted to defuse them. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim and Amina Ismail]

A “pre-emptive crackdown” ahead of the anniversary of the Arab Spring is underway as Egyptian authorities adopt increased measures to curb popular unrest as January 25 approaches, reports Tamer El-Ghobashy. [Wall Street Journal]

Prosecutors at the Hague are arguing for the trial of Dominic Ongwen, former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which perpetrated a campaign against Uganda’s government. He is accused of numerous war crimes including turning children into sex slaves and soldiers, and even ordering cannibalism. [Reuters]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the “large number of spurious claims” made against members of the UK armed forces, announcing his intention to implement a number of measures designed to prevent people bringing claims against soldiers for alleged abuses overseas. These measures include fast-tracking a planned residence test for eligibility for state funding of legal costs, which will require claimants to have been resident in the UK for at least 12 months. [BBC]

Chad is West Africa’s only “surprisingly effective fighting force” against Islamic State. Yaroslav Trofimov reports on its staunch efforts in combating the spread of Islamist militants. [Wall Street Journal]

A student of the University of Virginia has been arrested in North Korea, accused of “hostile acts orchestrated by the US government,” reports the AP and the BBC. This arrest comes as the US and its allies push to impose sanctions on North Korea for its recent nuclear test. [Washington Post’s Anna Fifield] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security