News Roundup and Notes: February 9, 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

Fight for Aleppo. Shi’ite fighters, including forces led by Iran and Hezbollah, are pushing toward Aleppo, giving the Syrian government offensive the “greatest momentum” seen in years. [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Raja Abdulrahim]  The Syrian opposition needs assistance from Arab nations in order to avoid defeat in Aleppo, rebels have warned, saying that the “Russians will kill us all” if no help is sent. [The Guardian’s Martin Chulov]  And German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned Russian airstrikes in northwestern Syria during a visit to Ankara to discuss the refugee crisis. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

The offensive on Aleppo is challenging the Obama Administration’s “diplomacy-first approach,” reports Nahal Toosi, writing that some commentators believe Syrian peace talks will become irrelevant if Russia is not sent a “tough message.” [Politico]

Russia has conducted daily airstrikes using cluster bombs, which are internationally prohibited, in rebel-held areas throughout Syria, according to Human Rights Watch. [Al Jazeera]

Iraqi forces retook territory from ISIS today, reconnecting Ramadi to a major army base in the west of the country. [Reuters]

Canada will cease airstrikes against the Islamic State within two weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday. [National Post]  As Canada pulls out its fighter jets, it will triple its training mission of Iraqi forces and increase its military personnel from 650 to 830. [The Guardian’s Jessica Murphy]  And Defense Secretary Ash Carter “greatly appreciates” Trudeau’s decision to “step up” Canada’s involvement in the war against ISIS. [DoD News]

The Assad regime and other parties must uphold their duty to protect civilians and allow safe passage of aid, says the UN humanitarian relief chief, amid reports that 30,000 Syrians have been displaced due to heavy attacks on Aleppo. [UN News Centre]

Thousands of Syrians have been killed in detention over the past four and a half years, with warring parties committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, reported a UN commission yesterday. [UN News Centre]  The report accuses the Syrian government of “inhuman actions” on a scale that “amounts to extermination.”  Full text of the report is available here.

The US has filed criminal charges against Umm Sayyaf, the widow of deceased ISIS finance chief, Abu Sayyaf. The charges link Umm Sayyaf to the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller; the ISIS widow was captured in a US Special Operations raid last year. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett; BBC]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out one strike against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 7. Separately, partner forces conducted a further nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“Five reasons Putin backs Assad” Matthew Chance explores Russia’s agenda in Syria. [CNN]

“The troubling thing is that the Putin policy on Syria has become hard to distinguish from the Obama policy.” Roger Cohen criticizes the US approach to the Syrian conflict, opining that Aleppo’s plight is the “result of the fecklessness and purposelessness over almost five years of the Obama administration.” [New York Times]

NORTH KOREA

The US and South Korea have agreed that sanctions in addition to those imposed by the UN are needed to properly punish North Korea for its recent missile launch. [Reuters’ Jack Kim and David Brunnstrom]

“Modest advances” in its rocket technology: Choe Sang-Hun examines North Korea’s rocket launch on Sunday. [New York Times]  Aerospace engineer John Schilling answers questions on the launch and whether a similar rocket could be used to fire a nuclear weapon. [Al Jazeera’s Tarek Bazley]

Other analysts have warned that a missile that can be launched into orbit has the capability of targeting “more than half of the continental United States.” [The Daily Beast’s Gordon G Chang]

Meanwhile, GOP candidates have described how they would respond to the launch, which came just before Saturday night’s Republican debate. [Foreign Policy’s John Hudson]

China is “as unwilling as ever” to respond to North Korea’s latest test, and has failed to impose real sanctions or cuts supplies to its neighbor. That said, US leaders aren’t “all that serious,” either, opines the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

NIGERIA

A “ruthless Islamist terror campaign.” The New York Times editorial board discusses the increasing violence of Boko Haram’s campaign in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, separatists are once again jeopardizing the country’s “fragile national unity.” Max Siollun draws parallels between the start of the civil war, 50 years ago, and today’s climate. [Foreign Policy]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“Hundreds” more US troops are due to be deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand province to strengthen local resistance to the Taliban. The troops will not engage in combat, but will be “bolstering the performance” of the Afghan military through training and by providing extra security. There are currently 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]  US Special Forces advisers are being increasingly drawn into combat, with a Green Beret killed in January during a firefight with Taliban insurgents, despite NATO’s combat mission officially ending in 2014. [Reuters’ Josh Smith]

A hacker has published the details of 20,000 FBI employees as well as 9,000 DHS employees, reports Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai.

The FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server is “ongoing.” Formal confirmation was provided by way of a letter released Monday. No new details of the probe into the former secretary of state’s private emails have been released. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem; Politico’s Josh Gerstein]  As Republicans call for a special prosecutor to oversee the probe, the Obama administration has stated that Attorney General Loretta Lynch should not fill the role, on account of previous donations to the Democrats. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The UK Court of Appeal has upheld a gagging order against the media in the case of Erol Incedal who was cleared of terrorism-related charges last year. [BBC]

Somali authorities have identified the bomber responsible for the on-board blast on Feb. 2 as Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle, aged 55, and have suggested that his original target may have been Turkey, which has been helping Somalia to combat extremist groups. Borle was originally due to board a Turkish Airlines flight, which was canceled. [Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Vogt]

Egypt’s interior minister has dismissed allegations that Italian student, Giulio Regeni, was in the custody of Egyptian authorities before his death, calling them “unacceptable.” [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim and Nour Youssef; Al Jazeera]

Russia’s defense ministry is considered to have attempted to “unnerve neighbors” by ordering a surprise military drill in the south of the country. The drill saw troops and pilots ordered to full combat readiness. [New York Times’ Andrew E Kramer]  And suspected Islamic State affiliates have been detained in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on suspicion of planning large-scale attacks in Moscow and elsewhere. Explosives and firearms were recovered from the suspects’ homes. [New York Times’ Ivan Nechepurenko]

Israel is considering a package of economic measures designed to provide the Palestinian Authority with the “clout” to deter Palestinian violence against Israelis. Palestinian officials have insisted that peace talks are the true answer to the situation. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones]

The problem of “home-grown jihadists.” David Wise explores the phenomenon of US citizens performing or attempting acts of terror in their own country. [Reuters]  Home-grown extremists have been described as the “most significant” threat to the US by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The international community must act now to ensure the peace deal in Colombia has lasting results, opines Virginia M Bouvier. [The Daily Beast]

Regional cooperation is essential to the fight against terrorism in West Africa. Michael D Rettig examines recent terror attacks and the trans-border approach of terrorist groups. [The Hill]

“In the name of security, justice was forgotten.” Nations intervening in Yemen failed to consider the concerns of its citizens, writes Atiaf Alwazir considering how the Yemeni people’s “dream was sold.” [Al Jazeera]

Despite the “particularly heinous” attack on Bacha Khan University in January, Pakistan is well on its way to combating terrorism, opines Murtaza Hussain. [The Intercept]

The Pakistani-American man currently serving a 35-year sentence in the US for his role in plotting the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai has informed a court in India that he was in contact with the Pakistani military intelligence agency at the time. India intends to use the information to pressure Pakistan into taking proper action in relation to those conspirators who remain inside its borders. [New York Times’ Ellen Barry and Hari Kumar] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE