The Early Edition: March 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

Abu Omar al-Shishani, the Islamic State’s defense secretary, was likely killed by coalition airstrikes near the Syrian town of al-Shadadi last week, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff]

America will need to use more military resources in order to reclaim important parts of Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State, said the head of US Central Command, Gen Lloyd Austin before Congress yesterday, adding that he has made recommendations to top Pentagon officials, the details of which he declined to disclose. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]

US B-52 bombers are “ready and able” to target the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, according to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, speaking at a Pentagon press briefing. [CNN’s Ryan Browne]

The US and to a certain extent Russia have “seized the opportunity afforded to it by the aerial free-for-all over Iraq and Syria” and other combat zones to carry out live trials of military equipment, reports David Axe. [The Daily Beast]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and partner military forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets on March 7. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further 17 strikes against targets in Syria. [Central Command]

The Washington Post editorial board comments on the partial Syria ceasefire, opining that while it has saved lives, “the price of the deal has been high,” leaving Russian President Vladimir Putin “in command in Syria, able to chip away at Western-backed forces while ensuring that the genocidal dictatorship he backs remains in place.

ISIS is “gradually being degraded” however it still retains control of large parts of Syria, Iraq and now Libya – “and it maintains a global terror network and a demonstrated willingness to use chemical weapons,” opines David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

“The Islamic State group: the full story,” from Jim Muir at the BBC.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden described as “horses—” the FBI’s suggestion that only Apple is capable of breaking into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, at a conference hosted by liberal advocacy group Common Cause. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates “stuck solidly to the same neutral position” on the ongoing dispute between Apple and the FBI during a Reddit “As My Anything” yesterday. Gates said: “I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information.” [NBC News’ Matthew Deluca]

Windows 10 will be deployed throughout the Department of Defense by January, with the hope of strengthening cybersecurity and streamlining the information technology operating environment, according to a memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work. [DoD News]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A US citizen has been killed by a Palestinian man who embarked on a stabbing “spree” near Tel Aviv. The victim has been identified as Taylor Force a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. He had been on a trip with 29 other students to learn about global entrepreneurship. Several others were injured, including Force’s wife, in a series of attacks carried out over 20 minutes until the attacker was shot dead by police. [New York Times’ Diaa Hadid; The Daily Beast]

“There is no justification for such acts of terror.” Vice President Biden, speaking at a meeting with former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Tel Aviv, condemned the attack. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]  Biden also criticized Palestinians for a “failure to condemn” the attack. [AP]  Back in the US, State Department spokesperson John Kirby stated yesterday that the US condemns the attack, adding that all parties should take steps to “reduce tensions and restore calm.”

The attacks took place just as Vice President Biden began his two-day trip to Israel to try to salvage relations with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the “very public” and “deeply partisan” quarrel over last year’s Iran nuclear deal – as well as the clash over Netanyahu’s recent last-minute cancellation of a visit to the White House. It is not known whether the attack was timed to draw attention to Biden’s visit. [Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash; Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Carol E Lee]

It would have been “good manners” for Israel to inform the White House directly that Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled his trip, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a press briefing. The White House originally learned that Israel’s Prime Minister no longer intended to meet with President Obama via Israeli media. [Politico’s Eliza Collins]

President Obama is considering a UN Security Council resolution to enshrine a “two-state solution” in relations between Israel and Palestine. Having accepted defeat over a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, he is debating whether to pave the way for his successor to pursue the proposals originally tabled by Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. The deliberations have reportedly “rattled” Israel’s prime minister, and may have been one factor that led him to cancel his planned meeting with Obama on March 18. [New York Times’ Mark Landler]

And two Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police in Jerusalem, having allegedly attacked a bus and then open-fired at a bus stop. [Al Jazeera]

IRAN

Iran has launched two further ballistic missiles today, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. [BBC]  Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which carried out the tests, said that the missiles had been designed to “be able to hit our enemy the Zionist regime [Israel] from a safe distance.” [Reuters]

Iran accused the US of “threats” against its missile program as it broadcast its ballistic missile tests yesterday. [AP]  Following the tests, it repeated its threat to walk away from the UN nuclear agreement that was reached last year. [Fox News’ Adam Kredo]

SOMALIA

Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded in the vicinity of a police building in Mogadishu, Somalia, today. At least three police officers were killed, though al-Shabaab has told reporters that the death count is ten. [Reuters]

Washington’s “mounting concerns” over the strength of al-Shabaab is revealed by the “surprisingly large-scale” US airstrike on a training camp in Somalia on Saturday, which resulted in the deaths of over 150 fighters, says Heidi Vogt. [Wall Street Journal]

“Huge numbers of people today who have absolutely no idea who was killed are certain that they all deserved it.” There is “no evidence” that the 150 killed in the US airstrike on Saturday were terrorists, yet US media was content to relay quotes from officials “uncritically and with no skepticism of their accuracy,” says Glenn Greenwald. [The Intercept]

GUANTANAMO BAY

A resolution of opposition to President Obama’s Guantánamo Bay closure plans was formally introduced by GOP senators yesterday. In a written statement, Senator Kelly Ayotte made reference to the latest Director of National intelligence report, which stated that a number of those recently released were likely to reengage with terrorists. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Indonesia will “find a way to ensure” Guantánamo Bay detainee Riduan Isomuddin, an Indonesian known as “Hambali,” does not return to Indonesia if President Obama’s plans to close the detention center go ahead. Indonesian officials have stated that they would rather he remained in US custody. Hambali has yet to be charged with anything. [Miami Herald’s Niniek Karmini]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea has developed miniaturized nuclear warheads capable of fitting on the tips of ballistic missiles, a North Korean news agency has quoted leader Kim Jong-un as saying. North Korea has made similar claims on previous occasions, and it is not clear whether this latest announcement is true. [Washington Post’s Anna Fifield; Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale]

Russia has responded to North Korea’s threat to “annihilate” the US and South Korea with a warning that it could justify the use of military force against it. At the same time, Russia criticized the US and South Korea for carrying out their largest ever military drills recently, which it said put “unprecedented … military and political pressure on Pyongyang.” [NK News’ Chad O’Carroll]

SAUDI ARABIA and YEMEN

The US has urged Saudi Arabia to stop punishing Lebanon economically for the growing presence of Hezbollah there; Riyadh has suspended military aid and restricts its citizens from visiting Lebanon. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Dana Ballout]

Houthi group delegates are in Saudi Arabia discussing ending the conflict in Yemen, according to Yemeni officials. This is the first visit since the war between Iran-allied Houthi forces and the Saudi Arabia-assembled Arab military coalition began in March 2014. [Al Jazeera]  The conflict has forcibly displaced over 2.4 million people so far, and the UN has warned that the “situation is likely to get worse” while there is “no political settlement in sight.” [UN News Centre]

AFGHANISTAN

China has offered to increase military aid to Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials. Previously “wary of publicly supporting the Afghan military against the Taliban,” it has been prompted to take a more active role by the deterioration of Afghanistan’s security under the threat of Islamic State, report Jessica Donati and Ehsanullah Amiri. [Wall Street Journal]

As Afghanistan enters its 15th year of Taliban insurgency, US and Afghan officials consider that Afghan commando and special forces units, such as Hazara, will be able to reassure the country that the Taliban will not succeed in regaining power. The Afghan army’s reliance on its “elite but strained” commandos is “controversial,” however, reports Tim Craig. [Washington Post]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The NYPD and the FBI are recognizing the benefits of “working together” after years of friction. NYPD Commissioner William J Bratton, who took over in late 2013, is succeeding in diffusing tensions and improving a relationship that deteriorated sharply after 9/11, when the NYPD expanded its counterterrorism operations well beyond the city itself and in doing so “brushed up against” the FBI’s prerogatives. [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman]

President Obama and Canadian President Justin Trudeau will meet today to discuss, among other things, Russia’s strategy in the Arctic. Scott Borgerson and Michael Byers suggest that rising tensions with Russia will be an incentive for the US to settle the Northwest Passage dispute with Canada. [Wall Street Journal]

The UN has warned that the EU-Turkey migrant deal  may be illegal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi informing the European Parliament that he is “deeply concerned” about the “blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.” [Reuters’ Stephanie Nebehay and Gabriela Baczynska]

An Islamic State plot to kidnap Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and two other officials has been foiled, according to the deputy prime minister, one of the alleged intended targets. Plans for several attacks throughout the country were also detected and stopped, he said, the planners receiving instructions from the Islamic State in Syria. [CNN’s Euan McKirdy]

It is “extraordinarily unlikely” that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be prosecuted for her handling of classified emails, says Ruth Marcus, which she dismisses as “political idiocy.” On the facts there is not much” clear evidence of criminality”, she writes, quoting Just Security‘s Steve Vladeck. [Washington Post]

China’s “distinctly Chinese approach” to national security has caused “unease” among Western nations.  The US, Canada, Germany and Japan signed a letter dated Jan. 27 expressing concern over cybersecurity laws that give the Chinese government “sweeping powers” and “heightened control” over technology as well as counterterrorism legislation that potentially draws non-violent dissidents into its definition of terrorism. [Reuters]

  

Filed under:
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