News Roundup and Notes: February 5, 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 Syrian government military has completely encircled the northern countryside of Aleppo province, according to the commander of a US-backed rebel group. [Reuters]

Moscow has increased the intensity of airstrikes around Aleppo, assisting the Syrian government’s offensive on the city and killing scores, according to local activists. [Al Jazeera]  Turkey’s prime minister said that Russia’s strikes are forcing tens of thousands of Syrians to flee Aleppo toward the Turkish border, speaking at the London donor conference held yesterday. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour et al]  Ben Hubbard provides an overview of the current dynamics in the Syrian conflict. [New York Times]

Saudi Arabia has offered to supply ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, sources saying that thousands of special forces could be deployed, likely in coordination with Turkey. [The Guardian’s Ian Black]  The Pentagon has said that Riyadh’s offer is “very welcome.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  The Saudi offer is expected to be discussed next week in Brussels when the US convenes a meeting of defense ministers from the global coalition against the Islamic State. [Al Jazeera]

Donor states committed $10.7bn in aid to Syrians over the next four years as representatives from over 60 countries convened in London to tackle the humanitarian crisis. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning]  The US pledged more than $900m in additional humanitarian and development aid to Syria and neighboring countries. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Karen DeYoung]  “Here’s where America’s aid for Syria is going,” from John Hudson at Foreign Policy.

The Syrian military and allied forces seized Ataman town, north of Deraa city in the west of the country today, according to Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

Moscow accused Ankara of preparing to invade Syria, as the two nations traded barbs yesterday, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suggesting that those who assist the Assad regime are guilty of war crimes. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

Evidence has emerged to suggest that US missiles are being used to kill Russian military officials, report Michael Weiss and Pierre Vaux, observing that a CIA-supported anti-Assad militia group was said to have killed at least one senior Russian official with an American TOW anti-tank missile. [The Daily Beast]

The German domestic intelligence agency says that ISIS fighters have entered Europe disguised as refugees; one day after authorities prevented a potential attack in Berlin. [Reuters]

Senior UN officials are concerned about the organization’s failure to deliver on humanitarian aid goals in Syria, with some worrying that the response to the Syrian conflict demonstrates a failure to learn from the mistakes made during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war, report Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen. [The Guardian]

Secular divisions in Iraq are undermining the country’s efforts to effectively tackle the Islamic State, reports the BBC.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition military forces carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 3. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 20 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The FBI has contacted former secretary of state Colin Powell concerning his use of personal email while in office, as a State Department inspector general concluded that both Powell and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice received sensitive information through private servers. The revelations provide Clinton with a fresh defense, report Josh Gerstin and Rachael Bade. [Politico]

A number of emails forwarded to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s private server contained indirect references to undercover CIA officers, including one who was killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan, says US officials. [NBC News’ Ken Dilanian]

“Hillary Clinton’s email habits: careless or criminal?” The New York Times “Room for Debate” considers the question, including contributions from Just Security’s own Steve Vladeck.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The US and UK are engaged in quiet negotiations on a deal that would enable the British government to serve wiretap orders directly on American communication firms, like Facebook or Google, for the online chats of British suspects in counterterrorism investigations. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Andrea Peterson]

China is investing billions of dollars on a major effort to build its own microchips, an ambition that has potential to bolster its military capabilities and homegrown tech industry. [New York Times’ Paul Mozur and Jane Perlez]

The Economist comments on the new “Safe Harbor” agreement, observing that “naivety and paranoia mark the European Union’s attitude to espionage.”

LIBYA

The Obama administration is being pushed to approve the use of US troops in Libya, in order to open another front against ISIS. The push comes from officials including Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

The Economist argues that “western military intervention will be needed sooner rather than later” in order to effectively counter the threat posed by ISIS in Libya, describing the militant group’s presence there as a “growing menace.”

IRAN

Three House Republicans have expressed an interest in visiting Iran later this month to observe the country’s elections and to inspect Iran’s nuclear sites. Julian Hattem reports. [The Hill]

The IAEA has “snazzy new tools” to help it evaluate whether Iran is violating the nuclear accord, however Tehran has a say in which of these tools the nuclear inspectors can use, reports Elias Groll. [Foreign Policy]

NORTH KOREA

America has deployed missile defense systems which will work alongside the Japanese and South Korean militaries to track a rocket North Korea says it plans to launch between February 8 and 25. [Reuters]

Differences of opinion between the US and China on how to handle North Korea have come into public view. Josh Chin and Farnaz Fassihi provide the details. [Wall Street Journal]

JULIAN ASSANGE INVESTIGATION

The report of the UN working group on arbitrary detention looking into the situation of Julian Assange has been officially released. In a statement by the group’s chairman, and as was indicated yesterday, it was confirmed that the group has concluded that “the various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange has been subjected constitute a form of arbitrary detention.” [Washington Post‘s Karla Adam]

The UN report also states that Assange should be paid compensation by the UK and Swedish authorities. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott; Reuters]

This “changes nothing.” The UK Foreign Office has stated that it plans to contest the report’s findings. A spokesman asserted that Assange has in fact been “voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy.” Nor is the report legally binding, which means that the UK is still obliged to extradite Assange if he leaves the embassy’s protection, officials say. [BBC]

AFGHANISTAN

A new rule requiring visa applicants to have been working for the US for at least two years, rather than one, is being retrospectively applied to those whose applications are already pending. The New York Times editorial board condemns the move as an example of the “callous disregard” Congress has shown for Afghan interpreters, who “risked their lives” working for the US.

The ten-year-old soldier killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan on Monday was a member of a US-backed government militia, the Afghan Local Police, drawing renewed attention to “the practice by US allies of turning children into fighters.” [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman and Sune Engel Rasmussen]

“Emboldened by the US withdrawal and the concomitant reduction in close air support.” Army General John Campbell has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US’s current plan to reduce the number of service members in Afghanistan is detrimental to the long-term effort to combat the Taliban there. [DoD News]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Pentagon decision to redact large sections of a transcript containing testimony from two soldiers who worked at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp 7 is the subject of a decision to retroactively censor information that was originally given at a public hearing. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A “string of new cases” have been unearthed by those investigating alleged sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The UN mission has been “plagued” by reports of sexual violence since it began in 2014. The troops responsible, from Congo Republic, have been confined to their barracks pending dismissal. [New York Times’ Dionne Searcey; Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff]

A woman claims to have tipped off French authorities as to the whereabouts of the Paris attackers. She has since revealed the details of what she told them in an interview with the television station, BFM-TV. [New York Times’ Alissa J Rubin]  The woman said that the leader had boasted to her that he had been able to get into Europe among Syrian refugees, and was part of “a team of dozens of militants.” [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton and Inti Landauro]    

Italian authorities have called for an investigation into the death and apparent torture of PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo. The student’s body was discovered yesterday, bearing “telltale signs of torture” of a sort known to be “frequently associated with the Egyptian security forces.” [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]

Possible “residue from explosives” has been found in the plane that was forced to land in Somalia following an explosion on-board this week. [AP]  Those investigating the explosion have theorized that a passenger who boarded the plane in a wheelchair, and who was the only casualty of the blast, detonated the bomb. [Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Vogt]

Despite a report which found that Russian spies, on orders from President Putin, were responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent’s widow says that justice is yet to be done. The report has been “dismissed, denied and ridiculed” by the Kremlin and the two men it accuses. Alan Cowell reports on Marina Litvinenko’s plan of action. [New York Times]

An American drone has killed an al-Qaeda commander in Yemen. He had been wanted by the US for “planning attacks on Western diplomatic officials and facilities.” [New York Times’ Saeed Al-Batati]

Experts monitoring sanctions in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reported that the Rwandan government is recruiting and secretly training rebels to overthrow Burundi’s president. [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman]

A German shipbuilder says it is still a viable contender in the bid for “one of the world’s biggest current defense contracts” with Australia, countering recent claims in Japanese media that they had been “effectively ruled out.” [Wall Street Journal’s Rob Taylor]

Boko Haram is back, and this time it’s better organized and even more brutal. The recent attack by the Islamist militant group on the village of Dalori, northern Nigeria, signals the group’s resurgence. The Nigerian army’s response, by contrast, was “particularly feeble.” [The Economist]

President Obama will seek $450 million in fresh aid funds for Plan Colombia, which is to be renamed “Peace Colombia,” an increase on the $300 million that has been provided annually so far. He stated that Colombia is now “on the brink of peace.” [New York Times’ Mark Landler; Wall Street Journal’s Juan Forero]

A bill requiring women to register for the draft was introduced on Thursday by Reps Duncan Hunter and Ryan Zinke. Hunter has been a “vocal opponent” of the decision to open all combat jobs to women and says he introduced the bill “to force Congress to consider the ramifications” of that move. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

No presidential candidate will bring “a new and glorious age in US-Israeli relations,” opines Aaron David Miller, despite the “pro-Israel rhetoric” common to all of them. [Foreign Policy]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board describes as a “breakthrough” the Pentagon’s plans to “outfit and deploy a brigade-size force” across NATO’s frontline, including the Baltics and Poland, in response to the mounting threat posed by Russia.

Turkish foreign policy “lies in ruins.” Henri J Barkey discusses the factors which have led to the demise of a policy once defined as “zero problems with the neighbors.” [Foreign Policy]

  

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security