News Roundup and Notes: February 3, 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

Syria peace talks. The UN scrambled to sustain Syria peace negotiations today, put under pressure by a Syrian government offensive, backed by Russian airstrikes, around Aleppo. The opposition canceled a meeting with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura yesterday in response to what it considered an “unprecedented” bombing campaign. [Reuters]  Adding to tensions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that Moscow will not cease airstrikes in Syria until armed groups are defeated. [Reuters]  Meanwhile, an Islamist rebel leader, considered a terrorist by the Syrian regime and its allies, expressed a willingness to accept a political solution to bring the war to and end yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Sam Dagher]

The global coalition fighting ISIS has agreed to intensify its efforts, said Secretary of State John Kerry, noting that discussions were had on specific contributions from each state to stabilize Iraq and tackle the humanitarian crisis in Syria. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond accused Russia of trying to create an “Alawite mini-state” in Syria for the Assad regime. His comments are the latest in a back-and-forth between Russia and the UK, prompted by Hammond’s suggestion that Moscow was worsening the Syrian conflict by targeting rebel groups. [Reuters]

An Islamic State suicide bomb attack has killed at least 18 Iraqi soldiers north of Ramadi, the latest counterattack by the group there since they were pushed out of the city last month. [Al Jazeera]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carrier out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 1. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 20 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The most efficient way that the US can put pressure on the Syrian government? “Offer money and asylum to officers and officials who defect from the criminal regime of President Bashar al-Assad,” argues Mohammed Alaa Ghanem of the Syrian American Council. [New York Times]

“Inside the Kurdish fighting forces: the US’s proxy ground troops in the war against ISIS.” Thomas Gibbons-Neff describes the “deeply entwined” relationship between US troops and their peshmerga counterparts. [Washington Post]

The Washington Post editorial board castigates Secretary Kerry for his denouncement of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, opining that “[u]nfortunately the Obama administration’s handling of the Syrian crisis appears to be enabling those very war crimes.”

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

“Safe Harbor” data deal. The European Union and the United States has reached a new deal on the transfer of data across the Atlantic. Under the new agreement, a head American director of national intelligence will be required to sign a pledge committing that the US government will avoid “indiscriminate mass surveillance” of European citizens where their information is transferred from Europe to America. [Financial Times’ Duncan Robinson]

The agreement replaces the previous “Safe Harbor” deal which was struck down by Europe’s highest court in October. The new deal is the result of more than three months of “often tense negotiations,” reports Mark Scott. [New York Times]

The privacy advocate responsible for taking down the previous agreement has expressed skepticism as to the validity of the new deal. Katie Bo Williams reports. [The Hill]

“Bizarrely, it doesn’t seem there was any real motive behind the hack, other than the fact that the group could do it, and that they got curious about how far they could get inside NASA’s network.” Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai comments on a “mundane” recent hack of NASA computer systems. [Motherboard]

AFGHANISTAN

Airstrikes against the ISIS-affiliated group in Afghanistan have killed 29 militants and demolished a radio station, officials said yesterday. The airstrikes in the east of the country were conducted by the Afghan Air Force. [New York Times’ David Jolly and Khalid Alokozay]

The Taliban has assassinated a ten-year old boy who was last year declared a hero by the Afghan government for his role in leading a militia defense against the insurgent group. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah]

LIBYA

Secretary of State John Kerry has ruled out US military intervention in Libya following a meeting of the US-led coalition to discuss the fight against the Islamic State. The nations have agreed to a “very specific schedule” for supporting the formation of a national unity government in Libya. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]  Kerry told the meeting that it is vital to train security personnel to establish a “safe environment” in which the new government can operate, in order to ensure that it can prevent ISIS from re-establishing itself in Libya. [NBC’s Alastair Jamieson, Claudio Lavanga and Abigail Williams]

The man accused of heading the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, has been denied his request to be sent back to his home country. Instead, he will face charges including murder and destroying a US facility, and if convicted, the death penalty. His defense had claimed unlawful seizure and interrogation by US authorities. [Washington Post’s Spencer S. Hsu]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The IDF removed restrictions on access by Palestinians to the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday; the restrictions were put in place amid concerns over a possible Palestinian attack in Israel. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones]

Two Hamas fighters have been killed following the collapse of a tunnel in central Gaza. It is the second such incident in recent weeks. [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury]

Israel has razed 23 homes in the Hebron area to make space for an IDF training zone, reports Amira Hass. [Haaretz]

RUSSIA

President Obama will quadruple military spending in Europea response to unease about Russia’s advances into Ukraine. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said that the US wanted to make it clear that it will “stand firm with its allies in defending not just NATO territory but also shared principles of international law and order.” [CNN’s Kevin Liptak]  The announcement has been met positively by most Eastern European countries. [New York Times’ Rick Lyman]  Russia itself, however, has denounced the plan as “destabilizing and detrimental to the European security.”[Foreign Policy’s John Hudson]

“Open war” between Ukraine and Russia is a growing danger, warns Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday that Russia has failed to implement any of the Minsk accord and has been increasing its military presence at Ukraine’s border. [Reuters]

Putin’s “most ghoulish creation?” Anna Nemtsova discusses the “brutal tactics and threats to political opponents” increasingly meted out by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who styles himself “Putin’s warrior,” and considers whether his behavior is becoming embarrassing to the Russian president as he attempts to restore Russia’s relationship with the international community. [Politico]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea has announced plans to launch a rocket carrying a satellite, another ostensible breach of UN Security Council resolutions. The move has been denounced by the US, South Korea and Japan, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stating that it would constitute a “serious provocation.” [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun; The Guardian]

In a letter to the International Maritime Organization, North Korea stated that it intends to launch a satellite between February 8 and 25, and provided estimated coordinates for where the three parts of the rocket would fall into the sea. [Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale and Carol E. Lee]

The planned launch is viewed as a cover for long-range missile tests by the UN and other critics. [Fox News]  Japan has mobilized its defense systems in readiness, and an order has been issued to shoot down any part of the rocket that enters its territory. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least one email sent by Secretary of State John Kerry to Hillary Clinton on her private email server while he was a senator has now been classified, the State Department confirmed yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Islamic State has released a new video threatening US targets, which is available on Fox News.

The US is considering joint-patrols of the South China Sea with the Philippines, following a request from Manila. Foreign and defense ministers from both countries met last month in Washington to discuss the issue. [Reuters’ Karen Lema]

Democrats are split over whether the Senate should impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile program. While some believe the existing sanctions go far enough, others believe it is time for a “crackdown.” [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]  Meanwhile, Republican Senator Roy Blunt has demanded that the Obama administration explain its payment of over $1 billion to Iran, made around the same time that American hostages were released last month. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

 “What will the 2016 election mean for US foreign policy?” Stephen M Walt provides his views on each of the remaining contenders for the presidency, expressing fears about each candidate’s “worst instincts.” [Foreign Policy]

A commercial plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu, Somalia, after an on-board explosion ripped a hole in its side. The pilot has stated that he believes the cause of the explosion, in which no one was killed, was a bomb. Authorities are investigating the claims. [AP]

More than 40 Houthi fighters were killed by forces loyal to the government on Wednesday, near Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. [Al Jazeera]

Every “physically qualified” American should register for the draft, including women. Military leaders have argued that, since women are now allowed to apply for combat jobs, they should no longer be exempt from registering. [CNN’s Jennifer Rizzo]

DNA but no bodies. The 12 Marines who died in helicopter crashes off the coast of Hawaii in one of the “worst training mishaps in the US military” in the past decade have not been found, but traces of their DNA have been identified by those performing recovery and salvage operations. [Reuters]

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has been profiting from ties with South American drug cartels. In a joint operation with European agencies, the US Drug Enforcement Administration arrested several alleged leaders of the cartel. [Wall Street Journal]

The Obama administration will shift the focus of its foreign policy onto Latin America this week, President Obama meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday as the Colombian government is on the brink of a peace deal with the leftist FARC movement, reports Nahal Toosi. [Politico] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security