News Roundup and Notes: February 2, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Syria peace talks in Geneva have been declared open by the UN mediator, special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura. Mr de Mistura emphasized that his “immediate objective” is to ensure that all the parties keep talking, adding that it is “crucial that no one should be feeling excluded.” [UN News Centre; New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Anne Bernard]

Mr de Mistura said yesterday that discussions on a ceasefire should begin immediately, an insistence which “could pose a major obstacle for what is already a tenuous process in Geneva,” report Sam Dagher and Asa Fitch. [Wall Street Journal]

Secretary of State John Kerry called on rival factions in Syria to take advantage of the Geneva peace talks, in a “forceful” videotaped message released on Sunday. Kerry emphasized that “while battlefield dynamics can affect negotiating leverage, in the end there is no military solution to this conflict,” urging parties to engage in a political process. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

The talks began against the backdrop of a Syrian government offensive backed by Russian airstrikes; the offensive north of Aleppo is the biggest by the regime there in a year. [Reuters]

Twenty-three members of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL will meet tonight in Rome to discuss tactics in the ongoing fight against Islamic State, including the possible expansion of the Islamic militant group into Libya. [Reuters]

The White House will ask for a significant increase in funding for the war against ISIS as part of the 2017 defense budget request, officials say, a further sign that the administration to working to intensify its campaign. [Reuters]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out five strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 31. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 13 airstrikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The Pentagon will not reveal the number of American troops fighting the Islamic State, with the official figure significantly lower than the reality, report Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris. [The Daily Beast]

The US general heading up the campaign against ISIS has rejected calls from GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz to carpet bomb the militant group, Army Lt. Gen Sean Macfarland saying that “we are bound by the laws of armed conflict.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  Macfarland also commented that the US may offer close air support and permit troops to accompany Iraqi forces in the offensive to reclaim Mosul. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Russia is “undermining” efforts to bring to an end the Syrian conflict, said UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday, commenting that the “Russians say let’s talk and then they talk and they talk and they talk” and “while they are talking they are bombing, and they are supporting Assad.” [Reuters’ Guy Faulconbridge]

Iraqis trapped in the ISIS-held city of Fallujah are going hungry, residents have said, as government forces tighten a siege on the city. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris]  A senior Iraqi official has called on the American-led coalition to airdrop supplies to citizens trapped there. [Reuters]

AFGHANISTAN

New rules of engagement in Afghanistan have come under fire from Afghan and coalition officials due to the limits they place on the ability of US troops to effectively tackle the Taliban. [Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil]

Pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to keep American forces in Afghanistan following a string of setbacks suffered there. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

RUSSIA

America is upping the levels of heavy weaponry, armed vehicles and other equipment deployed to NATO member states in Central and Eastern Europe, part of efforts to deter Russia from further aggression there. [New York Times’ Mark Landler and Helene Cooper]

The leader of Chechnya caused fear and outrage yesterday after he posted a video to his Instagram account appearing to show a Kremlin critic in the cross hairs of a sniper’s rifle. The leader Ramzan Kadyrov is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson]  The EU ambassador to Russia described the threat as “disgusting” and called on Russian authorities to respond immediately. [Reuters]

ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

Israel has closed the West Bank city of Ramallah to non-residents, following the shooting of three Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian policeman, yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones]

“Unacceptable levels of violence and a polarized public discourse.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discusses what he describes as the inevitable effects of long-term occupation on Israel-Palestine relations. [New York Times]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The State Department’s “slow and occasionally incomplete efforts” to respond to requests for information about Hillary Clinton’s email accounts have been criticized by the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Republican Senator John Cornyn has renewed his call for the Justice Department to name a special counsel to investigate Clinton’s email server and counter what he claims is “the inability of the White House to resist the temptation to try to influence or at worse obstruct the current investigation.” [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Hillary Clinton has accused people of “selectively leaking” stories about the inquiry into her email usage. [Politico’s Eliza Collins]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Iran has gained access to more than $100 billion in unfrozen assets and has rejoined SWIFT, the international banking network, two “financial milestones” as global sanctions are rolled back following the conclusion of the nuclear accord. [Washington Post’s Brian Murphy]

China’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs arrived in Pyongyang today, amid efforts by the US and South Korea to impose greater sanctions on the North following its fourth nuclear test. [Reuters]

EU Parliament members have expressed “deep skepticism” over a new Safe Harbor agreement, though EU Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourova, has stated that there has been substantial progress in the negotiations. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

Law enforcers don’t need to be concerned about unbreakable encryption, according to technologists and members of the intelligence community. The technology, which thwarts standard surveillance of digital communications, does not have blanket marketability and there are many other surveillance options available, a report by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has stated. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

Countering “higher-end” threats of technological and military advances by Russia and China will be the subject of increased spending, according to the Pentagon’s latest budget proposal. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

A law that “enshrines discrimination based on nationality, ancestry, and parentage.” Sixty-five organizations have sent a letter to lawmakers, asking them to pass legislation to end the visa restrictions on people with dual-citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

A North Carolina man has been charged with terrorism related offenses, including attempting to provide material support to Islamic State. The 19-year-old is accused of acquiring weapons and planning an attack on US soil. [Department of Justice]

Investigate reports of shootings of unarmed civilians. The UN has urged Turkish authorities to open an independent investigation into the shootings, by members of the armed forces, in Cizre, a town in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

A “particularly brutal raid” from a “familiar foe:” Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of 65 people in northeastern Nigeria over the weekend following an attack on the village of Dalori. [New York Times’ Iliya Kure and Dionne Searcey]

A report on the civil war in South Sudan, addressed to the African Union, has concluded that “there is limited consolidation of peace, a worrying economic decline and violence ongoing.” [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman]

Recent terror attacks in Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangkok may signal the spread of Islamic State and its affiliates into Asia, warns Victor Mallet. [Financial Times]

France has agreed to increase intelligence sharing and police cooperation with Belgium, in an effort to make a more “united stand” against terror. [France 24]

Treatments for gender dysphoria are to be covered by the military’s healthcare system, although gender reassignment surgery will not. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

  

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security