News Roundup and Notes: February 10, 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 fight against ISIS. The US is facing the challenge of convincing Arab allies to contribute more to the fight against the Islamic State, Defense Secretary Ash Carter convening a meeting in Brussels tomorrow in “one of his biggest leadership tests” since entering office, report Michael S. Schmidt and Helene Cooper. [New York Times] UN member states must adopt a “strategic response” to ISIS that “includes addressing the underlying political and socio-economic causes of conflicts,” particularly in Libya and Syria, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs told the Security Council yesterday. [UN News Centre]  And Saudi Arabia’s offer to send ground troops to Syria demonstrates that Riyadh considers the conflict there as a security issue. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Ahmed Al Omran]

ISIS has claimed responsibility for its first attack on the Syrian capital, Damascus yesterday. The group claimed a car bomb attack targeting a policy officers’ club in the north of the city. Several people were killed and dozens injured. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that ISIS has succeeded in making and using chemical agents in Syria and Iraq, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. [Fox News]

The battle for Aleppo may result in a new surge of refugees across the border into Turkey, warns the country’s leaders, Turkey’s foreign minister saying that the latest bout of fighting could force as many as 1 million Syrians to flee to Turkey. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum] And up to 300,000 civilians could be cut off from humanitarian assistance if Syrian government forces succeed in encircling parts of the city, the UN has warned. [Reuters]

There is “little hope of a diplomatic breakthrough” while Russian-backed forces loyal to President Assad continue to heavily bomb Syria. The UN has already halted an attempt to negotiate a peace, while Senator John Kerry pushes for a ceasefire. [Reuters’ John Irish and Louis Charbonneau]

Syrian opposition groups feel support from Washington fading, reports Anne Barnard, with many concerned that the US and allies “may actually let them lose” the fight against Assad. [New York Times]

An American-led attempt to reclaim Mosul from ISIS will not take place this year, according to Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Carol E. Lee]

Iraqi government forces have pushed into the last ISIS stronghold in the east of Ramadi, according to security sources. [Al Jazeera]

US ambassador, John Bass, was asked to account for US support of the Kurds by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday, after the State Department announced that it does not categorize Syrian Kurds as terrorists, a stance that has been causing tensions with Turkey. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]  Meanwhile, Turkish soldiers have been killed following an encounter with Kurdish militants entering Turkey from Syria. [Reuters’ Daren Butler]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition military forces carried out three airstrikes against Islamic State targets on Feb. 8. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 18 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“Kerry’s problem, skeptics would argue, is that his strategy has the same logical flaws that have scuttled three years of Syria diplomacy,” observes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

“The Moscow-Jerusalem axis over Syria,” from Geoffrey Aronson at Al Jazeera.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY 

President Obama has asked Congress for $19 billion for cyber security across the American government in his 2017 fiscal budget proposal; his request is an increase in $5 billion over this year. [Reuters’ Dustin Volz and Mark Hosenball]  Obama has also issued an executive order, mandating the creation of a new Federal Privacy Council, aimed at protecting citizen privacy. [NPR’s Aarti Shahani] 

The FBI has been unable to access the encrypted communications of one of the San Bernardino shooters, Director James Comey said yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams] Comey “sidestepped” questions about whether Congress should legislate to regulate encryption technology, reports Katie Bo Williams. [The Hill]

Sen Ron Wyden criticized CIA Director John Brennan yesterday for his refusal to acknowledge the agency’s spying on staffers at the Senate, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams] 

Facebook has been ordered to stop tracking non-members of its website without their consent by the French data protection body; a similar order was made by the Belgian Privacy Commission last year. [BBC]

The Sunlight Foundation tool, known as Politwoops is back online in the US, reports Mario Trujillo. The tool is used to save and catch deleted tweets from lawmakers and political candidates. [The Hill]

NORTH KOREA

While in “stable orbit,” North Korea’s satellite has not transmitted back to Earth, US officials have advised. [Reuters’ Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom]  The first images of debris from the rocket have been released by South Korea. [CNN’s Tiffany Ap and K J Kwon]

 North Korea has overtaken Iran as “the world’s most worrisome nuclear threat,” national intelligence director, James R Clapper, said yesterday. He warned that the country had increased its production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel. [New York Times’ Mark Landler; NBC News’ Jon Schuppe]

For the first time since operations began, South Korea has announced that it will suspend work at an industrial complex it shares with North Korea. The intention is to stop North Korea funneling the earnings cultivated there into nuclear technology. [AP]

Sanctions and “scolding” rhetoric will do little to stop North Korea from developing its nuclear weapons program while China refuses to come onboard, opines Anna Fifield. [Washington Post] 

RUSSIA

A leading political figure has been attacked in Moscow. Mikhail M Kasyanov, whom Chechen leader Ramzan A Kadyrov recently depicted in the cross hairs of a sniper rifle, was set upon by around 12 men, who proceeded to smear cake over his head. [New York Times’ Andrew E Kramer] 

A “desire for revenge.” President Putin’s heavy-handed approach to combating terrorism in Syria and at home is, conversely, pushing Russian citizens to join Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove]

Britain will contribute to “a more muscular approach” to Russia by providing five additional ships and a “sizeable contingent” of troops to the NATO-orchestrated effort to deter President Putin through a show of strength. [The Guardian’s Ewan MacAskill]

Russia has presented its claim to territory and mineral rights in a part of the Arctic to the UN. Canada, Norway and Denmark have also presented claims, at the same time increasing military activity in the region. Whoever succeeds will have the right to drill for oil in the region. [New York Times’ Andres E Kramer]

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

American official Jane Holl Lute has been appointed by the UN to oversee efforts to put a stop to sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. [UN News Centre]

The UN is increasing the number of corrections officers on the ground in the Central African Republic, having decided that the situation in that country still poses a threat to international peace and security. [UN News Centre]

LIBYA 

“On the verge of taking action.” Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has told reporters that the Obama administration is seriously considering action against Islamic State in Libya. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

Libya must form a coherent government if military intervention by the West is to have any genuine effect. Former national security adviser to UK Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken about the “very remote” chance the UK will deploy forces to Libya. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A “litany of doom.” National Intelligence Director James Clapper has delivered a summary of his annual assessment of the threats facing the US, including cyber-security and Islamic State, concluding that “unpredictable instability has become the new normal.” [NPR’s Merrit Kennedy]

The Pentagon’s $582.7 billion budget, unveiled yesterday, increases spending on “combat readiness” but takes funds away from military construction. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  This shift in priorities signals an intention on the part of the US to exert greater influence in Europe, reversing a trend of leaving Europe to its own devices, suggests Mary Dejevsky. [The Guardian]

The US and India are considering joint naval patrols, possibly encompassing the South China Sea. While the two nations have increased military ties in the past few years, India has never embarked on joint patrols with another country before. [Reuters’ Sanjeev Miglani]

No “bullying” by China. President Obama will deliver a “tough” message to China at the upcoming ASEAN summit in California. China will not be represented at the summit, but its construction of buildings, suspected to be military, on islands in the South China Sea will be a central topic of discussion. [Al Jazeera]

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans to “surround all of Israel with a fence” in order to protect it from the “predators” or “wild beasts” living in surrounding Arab states. During a tour of the south of the country, he revealed that he intends to build a wall along the border with Jordan, extending the wall that is already running along the border with Egypt. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont; Al Jazeera]

Constitutional reform in France. Today, French MPs are to vote on a “package” of reforms that, if passed, will alter the status of the state of emergency the country has been under since the attacks in Paris, last November. [BBC]  A proposal to remove French citizenship from those convicted of terrorist offences has been “narrowly” approved by French MPs in the last few hours.  [BBC]

“These statements must not go unanswered.” Senator John McCain has criticized statements from GOP presidential candidates supporting waterboarding. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney] 

Indonesia has sentenced seven men for violations of the country’s antiterrorism laws. All seven men will spend time in prison, the first time Indonesia has meted out custodial sentences for these types of offence. [AP]

In almost as rare a move, Egypt has sentenced a police officer to eight years in prison for beating to death a man who was in his custody. Local human rights commentators say that police brutality there is “widespread.” [Reuters]

The UN has told Sri Lanka it must “confront the demons of its past” and make a concerted effort to overhaul its judicial process, following an assessment visit on the country’s progress in investigating potential war crimes committed during the three-decade long civil war. [Wall Street Journal’s Uditha Jayasinghe] 

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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