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.
ANKARA BOMB ATTACK
Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said there is clear evidence that the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG was responsible for Wednesday’s suicide attack in Ankara that left 28 people dead. Davutoglu has vowed to retaliate in both Iraq and Syria. [Reuters’ Ercan Gurses and Humeyra Pamuk]
Officials identified the suicide bomber as Saleh Najjar, a Syrian refugee who registered in Turkey in mid-2014. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum et al] Turkish authorities have arrested 14 people in connection to the attack, as a YPG leader denied involvement. [NPR’s Bill Chappell]
Davutoglu also directed a warning at Russia, saying in a televised address that: “If these terror attacks continue, they will be as responsible as the YPG.” Moscow denies any link to terrorism related activities. [Financial Times’ Mehul Srivastava and Funja Guler]
The United States was quick to condemn the attack and express support for Turkey but cautioned against prematurely attributing responsibility to the Kurdish militia. [New York Times’ Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu]
Turkey’s foreign minister has today accused the US of making a “mistake” by relying on “groups like the YPG” in the fight against ISIS, saying that above all it is a “sign of weakness.” [Reuters]
IRAQ and SYRIA
Comments by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “do not chime with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is undertaking,” said Moscow’s envoy to the UN, commenting on a statement from Assad in which he said that he intended to re-establish control over all of Syria. [Reuters]
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are considering heightened intervention in Syria, though both are “deeply wary of acting without US consent” while at the same time are “angry at what they see as a US failure to take a more muscular stance” against Russia, report Sam Jones et al for the Financial Times.
Moscow agreed to an American request not to target US special operations forces in northern Syria, the Pentagon revealed yesterday, a previously undisclosed cooperation between the two nations. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
Tensions between the US and Turkey, heightened now in light of Wednesday’s attack in Ankara, threaten to “jeopardize their alliance in the Syria conflict,” writes Rick Gladstone, providing a Q&A on the dynamic between the US, Turkey and the Kurds. [New York Times]
More than 20 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives in two airstrikes targeting ISIS-held towns in Anbar province, sources say. It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were conducted by the US-led coalition. [Al Jazeera]
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 17. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 12 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
“In the Syrian nightmare, even small steps forward are notable.” David Ignatius explains why now is a “critical moment” in the civil conflict, concluding that it is “never too late for the United States to do the right thing – which is to build, carefully, the political and military framework for a new Syria.” [Washington Post]
The Economist writes: “Syria is a nasty complex of wars within a war,” describing the “perils of inaction” and setting out steps which the west ought to take now.
SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Facebook and Twitter have pledged to “stand with Apple” and “aggressively fight” attempts to weaken encryption, as the tech company’s battle with the FBI continues. [The Guardian’s Danny Yadron]
Apple’s decision to defy the court order to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters “was over a year in the making,” report Matt Apuzzo et al, citing a drug case in a Brooklyn federal court last year which marked a shift in the tech company’s policy on assisting law enforcement to unlock phones. [New York Times]
Further, Apple had for weeks been refusing the FBI’s requests that it unlock the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, with the Justice Department going as far as considering filing court papers against the tech giant. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett and Daisuke Wakabayashi]
Neither Democratic presidential candidate will pick a side between the FBI and Apple, both Sanders and Clinton attempting to occupy a middle ground, one which Jenna McLaughlin argues doesn’t really exist, at The Intercept.
“We are a country of laws, and this charade has gone on long enough,” writes Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr in an op-ed at USA Today expressing concern that they are not permitted to act above the law.
The media weighs in. The New York Times editorial board makes the case for “why Apple is right to challenge” the court ruling ordering it to assist the FBI, citing the “Constitution and the nation’s laws” which “limit how investigators and prosecutors can collect evidence.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggests that “the reality seems to be more complicated than either Mr Cook or the FBI allow,” concluding that a “mature democracy – if America still is one – ought to be able to work out these crucial matters of national security through legislative deliberation.” And the Washington Post editorial board expresses hope that “Apple will fight … hard to safeguard its users’ privacy from authoritarian abuse.”
“Crime, iPhones and encryption.” The New York Times “Room for Debate” asks whether tech companies should provide access to law enforcement where a crime has been committed.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Australia and New Zealand have urged China to avoid further exacerbating tensions among those countries disputing sovereignty in the South China Sea. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that “it is absolutely critical that we ensure that there is a lowering of tensions.” [Reuters’ Colin Packham]
The New York Times editorial board situates China’s decision to place missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea in the context of a “series of provocative acts that is fueling regional tensions.” While, in theory, defense of its naval bases 273 miles away on Hainan Island would be a legitimate reason for the missiles, the timing of the deployment, and the way it was done, makes it “impossible to blindly accept” this rationale.
Russia’s next strike could be “anywhere in the world.” Poland’s foreign affairs adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski, has warned. He told Patrick Wintour that Russia’s intervention in Syria demonstrates that it has the capability of transporting large amounts of military equipment at speed while remaining undetected, allowing it to set “new challenging fronts around the world.” [The Guardian]
Islamic State is focusing activity in the Northern Caucases, reports Anna Nemtsova, recruiting from the local population and “exacting retribution for what happens on the faraway battlefields of Syria.” [The Daily Beast]
Confirmation that video footage depicting a senior Belgian nuclear official was recovered from a Paris suspect has sparked uproar among lawmakers, who are protesting that they and the rest of the country have been misled about the extent of the threat to nuclear facilities and the ambitions of those responsible for the attacks. [New York Times]
A main suspect wanted in connection with the Paris attacks successfully hid inside an apartment in Brussels for three weeks, those investigating have reportedly confirmed. [Reuters]
Encryption assisted the Paris attackers to hide from authorities in the run-up to their November assault, director of the NSA, Michael Rogers has said. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]
Afghan security forces raided a hospital in Wardak province, Afghanistan on Wednesday night, killing three. There are reports that NATO advisers may have taken part in the attack, which is being presented as a violation of humanitarian law. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal; Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Sayed Salahuddin]
Five Red Cross staff members have been kidnapped by an armed group while travelling in the Afghan province of Ghazni. The Red Cross has confirmed that it has halted operations there and is working to secure the release of its employees. [Reuters]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Two teenage Palestinians have fatally stabbed an Israeli soldier and wounded another man in an Israeli supermarket in the West Bank. Civilians subsequently shot the attackers, wounding them. The incident comes just after Israel’s top general addressed Israeli students on the issue of the appropriate degree of force to use in confrontations with Palestinian attackers. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]
Violence between Israel and Palestine is showing “no sign of relenting,” according to the UN, urging both sides to act to shape the future of their relations. [UN News Centre]
Bill Clinton has lent his voice to his wife’s promise to give “even greater support” to Israel if she is elected, meeting secretly with leaders of South Florida’s Jewish community on Monday. [The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald]
President Obama has approved new sanctions against North Korea after the Senate’s unanimous approval of the bill last week. The new measures are supposed to cut off money that North Korea needs to develop its nuclear weapons technology. [AP; BBC]
US and South Korean fighter jets flew alongside each other on Thursday, in what the Department of Defense said was a show of the nations’ collective capability to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula in the face of recent provocations by North Korea. The importance of US-South Korea coordination in responding to North Korea was reaffirmed during the discussions between Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken and North Korea’s Deputy National Security Advisor, in Washington, said the Department of State.
More than 30 Islamic State militants have been killed in a US air strike near Sabratha, west of Tripoli, Libya. Many of those killed are believed to have been involved in two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year, including Noureddine Chouchane, a “major facilitator” for the Islamic State, although reports of his death are yet to be confirmed. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Declan Walsh]
Scenes from the Hollywood movie “Zero Dark Thirty” have been screened at the 9/11 pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp Justice. Defense lawyers are arguing that the CIA gave more access to evidence to filmmakers than it did to lawyers involved in the case. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
“Significant breakthroughs.” The head of the House Benghazi Committee reports “enormous progress” in its investigation into the terrorist attacks on a US Compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, following interviews with top governmental officials this month. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The US Marines has placed tanks, artillery and logistic equipment inside caves in Norway as it stations itself close to the NATO-Russia frontier. Colonel William Bentley has stated that the intention in doing this is to reduce cost and speed up the Marines’ “ability to support operations in crisis, so we’re able to fall in on gear that is ready-to-go and respond to whatever that crisis may be.” [CNN’s Ryan Browne]
A UN Mission in South Sudan has been burned to the ground following an eruption of violence there on Wednesday evening, which continued overnight and has resulted in the deaths of at least 18 people. [The Daily Beast’s Justin Lynch; CNN’s Catherine E Shoichet and Pierre Meilhan] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack and urged all parties to abstain from any actions or comments which could cause the situation to escalate. [UN News Centre]
Kenya’s military claims to have killed the head of intelligence of al-Shabaab in an airstrike in Nadris camp in south Somalia, ten days ago. Al-Shabaab denies the death. [AP]
Egyptian human rights organization, the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, is to challenge the government’s “politically motivated” decision to shut it down, intending to begin its resistance with “a lawsuit in the administrative court.” [Wall Street Journal’s Dahlia Kholaif]
Cultivating “a generation of school-age militants.” Islamic State’s newest “shock tactic” is to use children on suicide missions, reports Greg Miller. [Washington Post] At least 89 children were killed in the year up to January 2016, a report published by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point’s CTC Sentinel has confirmed. [The Daily Beast’s Katie Zavaski]
“Terror disruptions.” Jenna McLaughlin reports on the FBI’s new categorization of its own performance measures, which she suggests is vague, lacks transparency and appears to be an attempt to wrongly suggest that the FBI is exceeding expectations in the fight against terror. [The Intercept]
Following the release of the National Commission on the Future of the US Army’s report on Jan 29, Andrew F Krepinevich mourns the Army’s “declining ability to wage the kind of protracted irregular wars that America’s enemies increasingly prefer to fight,” a problem he says has its origins in the post-Vietnam war decision to drop the draft. [Wall Street Journal]