News Roundup and Notes: February 11, 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

A ceasefire for Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry will push for a ceasefire agreement in Syria and the immediate provision of humanitarian aid for civilians at an important meeting of major powers in Munich, Germany today. The meeting is being viewed as a “make-or-break moment” in the fraught peace process. [CNN’s Elise Labott]  Russia has proposed March 1 for a ceasefire, but America worries that in the three weeks until then, Moscow and Damascus will work to break the opposition. [BBC]  And the question of terrorist designation continues to plague peace negotiation efforts, with “fundamental disagreement” as to which groups fighting the Assad regime should be labeled terrorists, reports Nour Malas. [Wall Street Journal]

American allies have criticized the White House’s policy on Syria, the outgoing foreign minister describing it as “ambiguous” and Turkey’s president questioning the US view on Syrian Kurdish rebels. [New York Times’ Ceylan Yeginsu]  Further, German Ambassador Peter Wittig said: “The United States has been slow to recognize this is a much bigger thing than anything else we’ve experienced since the beginning of the European Union.” [Al Monitor’s Laura Rozen]

Moscow said that two American warplanes conducted airstrikes on Aleppo on Feb.  10, and that Russian jets had not been operating in the area. [Reuters]

The Russian-backed government offensive on Aleppo has killed at least 500 people since it began earlier this month, including 89 civilians, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al Jazeera]  Some 50,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, the International Committee for the Red Cross has warned. [BBC]  The American military has condemned Russia’s air campaign, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col Steve Warren describing it as “reckless,” “indiscriminate” and “strategically short-sighted.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The Guardian editorial board gives its view on the battle for Aleppo, opining that the humanitarian catastrophe there “ought to be enough to trigger a rethink anyway,”  adding that to “fix US policy at such a critical stage of the conflict may well be impossible, but some proper public accounting for Washington’s errors is essential.”

Moscow’s intervention in Syria has drastically reduced the options available to the US, reports David E. Sanger, commenting that Secretary of State John Kerry is now entering peace negotiations “with very little leverage.” [New York Times]

Syrian  Kurdish rebels have captured a rebel-held former government military airport close to the border with Turkey, assisted by Russian airstrikes against Syrian insurgents, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters] 

“How President Putin is getting what he wants in Syria,” reports Jonathan Marcus at the BBC.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 9. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 18 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI is asking for an additional $38.3 million to “develop and acquire” encryption-breaking technology, reports Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, funding intended to prevent “going dark.” [Motherboard]

President Obama has come under fire from Sen Steve Daines for failing to alert Congress to a recent breach of the Internal Revenue Service. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

A major FBI-led hacking operation targeted computers in countries including the US, Greece, Chile and the UK. Joseph Cox provides the details. [Motherboard]

The Senate Homeland Security Committee has approved three bills aimed at tackling the Islamic State’s significant propaganda branch, reports Cory Bennett. [The Hill]

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has cleared Beth Cobert for the role of permanent director of the Office of Personnel Management, on the back of the largest-ever government hack. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

NORTH KOREA

A video has been released by North Korea’s state-run television channel, showing the rocket launch on Sunday. The video is available on Reuters.

The recent rocket launch has “frayed” relations between South Korea and China, China angry at South Korea for inviting a US antimissile defense system into its territory in the wake of the launch. [New York Times’ Jane Perlez]

The Senate has unanimously backed new sanctions against North Korea, in a 96-0 vote. [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian; New York Times’ Emmarie Huetteman].

North Korea has called the shutdown of the Kaesong complex by South Korea a “dangerous declaration of war” and an “end to the last lifeline of the North-South relations.” It has vowed to deport all South Korean nationals working there and to freeze the assets of companies operating from the complex. [AP; Reuters]

GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio returned to Washington DC to vote for more stringent sanctions against North Korea. Normally eschewing Senate votes in favor of the campaign trail, their votes did not make a significant impact on the unanimous decision to pass the legislation, yet missing this vote would have exposed the candidates to accusations that they are not fit to be commander in chief, suggest Seung Min Kim and Nahal Toosi. [Politico]  Indeed, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders missed the vote, sparking criticism from rival Hillary Clinton. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

“An attack against one ally is an attack against all allies.” All 28 NATO countries have approved a plan to increase military presence in Central and Eastern Europe. The move is part of an effort to discourage Russian aggression. [New York Times’ Michael S Schmidt]  NATO ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday have yet to decide on the size of land and maritime military contributions by each participating nation. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes]

Fighting between Ukraine government forces and Russia-backed insurgents has been building, both sides employing tactics, such as landmines, that put civilians at risk. Alisa Sopova reports on a recent episode in which a minivan ran over and detonated a landmine, killing all on board. It is not clear which side was responsible. [New York Times]

Ukrainian officials are hopeful that falling oil prices will force oil-dependent Russia to relax its “muscular foreign policy” of supporting eastern Ukrainian separatists and instead focus on reaching a peace deal. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

British lawmakers say that the UK government’s proposed surveillance bill is in need of significant work before its contents could be justified. [Reuters]

The Senate report on the CIA’s former interrogation program at Guantánamo Bay is “accurate,” the chief military officer at the detention center has confirmed. CIA Director John Brennan, former senior agency officials and congressional Republicans have asserted that the report is filled with errors and draws flawed conclusions. [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman]

Three British Muslims have been found guilty of assisting a fourth man in travelling to Syria to join Islamic State. All three were sentenced to jail terms yesterday. The man they assisted is still believed to be in Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Alexis Flynn]

Two female suicide bombers have killed 56 people at a refugee camp in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. A third woman who, along with the bombers, had been welcomed into the camp the night before the attack, has been arrested and has provided officials with information relating to further planned bombings. [New York Times’ Usam Sadiq Al-Amin and Dionne Searcey; AP]

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike has killed two television journalists in Sana’a, Yemen, along with their children. The coalition has been accused of indiscriminate attacks which have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians since it began fighting the Houthis. [New York Times’ Shuaib Almosawa]

An Afghan policeman who attacked NATO soldiers at the Commerce Ministry in Kabul has been killed. Despite the incident, “insider violence” by Afghan forces has decreased of late. [New York Times’ David Jolly]

The French National Assembly’s “wafer-thin” majority in backing a measure that strips convicted terrorists of their French nationalities, yesterday, was followed by a vote in favor of the whole package of amendments proposed following the attacks in Paris last year. The generally weak support, however, has raised doubts as to whether the changes will be adopted. [Wall Street Journal’s William Horobin]

“Size matters.” John Hudson reports on Hillary Clinton’s vast network of foreign-police advisers, one of the Democratic presidential candidate’s most useful weapons against her rivals. [Foreign Policy]

“Trident: the British question.” Ian Jack comments on the ongoing debate surrounding the UK’s nuclear deterrent, concluding that “Trident may or may not keep us safe. The hope is, and always has been, that it will keep us important.” [The Guardian] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security