The Early Edition: March 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

Islamic State detainee in US custody. An ISIS chemical weapons expert, captured by American forces in a recent raid in northern Iraq, has provided important information following several weeks of interrogation, US officials said. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Gordon Lubold]  The information resulted in two coalition airstrikes targeting Islamic State weapons sites; two facilities related to the group’s chemical weapons program were destroyed. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt; The Daily Beast’s Nancy A Youssef and Shane Harris]

The detainee, thought to be named Sleiman Daoud Al-Bakkar, was captured during one of the first missions of the so-called Expeditionary Targeting Forces, a group of some 200 Special Operations troops deployed in northern Iraq. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]  ISIS operatives captured by the force and interrogated will only be detained for short periods and in coordination with the Iraqi authorities, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday.

Syria peace negotiations. “Substantive” peace talks mediated by the UN will begin on Monday, announced the UN Special Envoy to Syria yesterday. The envoy, Staffan de Mistura will hold “proximity” talks with parties over the coming days.  Mr de Mistura also said that he expects the partial ceasefire to continue after the two weeks originally agreed expires. [Wall Street Journal’s Dana Ballout]

The leading Syrian opposition group has expressed a willingness to attend the peace negotiations, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee saying that his group is “optimistic” and while he could not confirm attendance, said it was likely. [Foreign Policy’s John Hudson]

The Economist surveys the landscape ahead of talks, observing that a peace “deal is still distant. Turkey and Saudi Arabia still want Mr Assad out. The regime and opposition are no closer to any agreement than in previous fruitless talks.”

A cache of 22,000 documents has been obtained by German intelligence revealing the identities of Islamic State recruits, including 16 Britons and a number of Americans. Ewen MacAskill provides the details. [The Guardian]

A former US serviceman has been found guilty by a New York jury of attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS. The prosecution of Tairod Pugh is the first such case involving the militant group to reach a verdict in an American courtroom. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]

Omar al-Shishani has a “very different biography” to the majority of Chechens fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. The Guardian’s Shaun Walker profiles the Islamic State’s de facto “war minister,” targeted by a March 4 coalition airstrike.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have reported that the senior militant was not killed in the strike though is seriously wounded. [The Guardian‘s Shaun Walker and Kareem Shaheen]

“Five years of war in Syria: what happened and where are we now.” The Guardian presents an interactive guide to the “brutal and complex” civil conflict.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 8. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 11 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. the FBI. The FBI could one day force Apple to switch on the microphones and cameras on users’ devices to spy on them, if the federal agency succeeds in its encryption case against the tech giant, according to the company’s head of services Eddy Cue. [The Guardian‘s Samuel Gibbs]  The American public remains split over Apple’s encryption dispute with the FBI, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, with 42% of Americans believing Apple should comply with the FBI’s demand, while 47% believe the tech giant should refuse.

A long-awaited encryption bill may come before the Senate next week, according to Sen Richard Burr. The bill, drafted by Burr and Sen Dianne Feinstein, is expected to contain provisions requiring companies to comply with court orders seeking encrypted communications. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

“Jettisoning a reasonable replacement for Safe Harbor not only hurts business on both sides of the Atlantic, it doesn’t safeguard Europeans or their privacy.” Roslyn Layton accuses Europe’s privacy advocates of “unwittingly” endangering privacy and hindering prosperity. [Wall Street Journal]

The UK is setting a worrying precedent with proposed changes to its surveillance regime, the UN special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci has said. He has called on the government to show greater commitment to privacy and “to desist from setting a bad example to other states by continuing to propose measures, especially bulk interception and bulk hacking” which run counter to recent European court judgements and “undermine the spirit of the very right to privacy.” [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

“It’s not going to happen.” Hillary Clinton insisted that she will not be indicted as a result of the investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. She was speaking during yesterday night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate in Florida. [The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick]

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has advised anyone in government to avoid speaking about the investigation. She was being questioned by Senator Lindsey Graham yesterday. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein] 

Two lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act requesting former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s emails and records were filed by the Republican National Committee yesterday. “The Obama administration has failed to comply with records requests in a timely manner as required by law,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus stated. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch and Julian Hattem]

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government buildings in Helmand province yesterday. A ten hour battle with security forces ensued, in which ten insurgents were killed, as well as three officers. Helmand has been the site of the Taliban’s biggest gains in Afghanistan in the last year. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah]

An undated viral video appears to show Afghan security forces torturing a man by tying him to the back of a truck and dragging him along, biting him, and shoving him in the back of a police van. The footage was reportedly taken in the Kandahar province. Afghan’s Interior Ministry says those featured have not been identified, but that the Kandahar police have been ordered to investigate. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

IRAN

Iran is adamant that its recent missile tests do not violate UN Security Council resolutions. A spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, Hossein Ansari, reportedly stated this morning that the missiles were “conventional defensive instruments and they were merely for legitimate defense.” [AP]

All nuclear programs that transgress the scope of the nuclear deal will be investigated and the US “will act” if Iran violates the resolution, Vice President Biden said from Israel yesterday. [Washington Post’s William Booth]  Meanwhile, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for further sanctions against Iran. [Reuters’ Sam Wilkin and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin]

LIBYA

Italy is wary of military intervention in Libya, the country’s foreign minister said, saying that Rome will only intervene “upon the request of a legitimate government” there and with the approval of the Italian parliament. Italy’s government is under mounting pressure to intervene in light of the worsening security situation there. [Wall Street Journal’s Giada Zampano]

Obama’s nominee to head the US Special Operations Command supports deploying commandos to Libya, to contribute to efforts to tackle the Islamic State there. Lt. Gen Raymond Thomas made the comments during his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

SOMALIA

A “high-profile target” has been killed in a raid on a house by US special forces in Somalia, in which ten other al-Shabaab insurgents were killed. Plans to capture the target were undermined by the “stiff resistance” of the militants. The location of the raid has yet to be disclosed. [AP]

US special operations forces also played a supporting role in a raid by the Somali military on an al-Shabaab base in the village of Awdhegle, in the Shabelle region of Somalia, in which 19 insurgents were killed. US helicopters flew the commanders to within a few miles of the village, who then advanced, though Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis said yesterday that US military personnel did not go “all the way to the objective.” [New York Times’ Mohammed Ibrahim; Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Seven Yemeni prisoners have been released by Saudi Arabia in exchange for one of its own soldiers, A Saudi news agency reported on Wednesday. No details were provided as to when or where the exchange took place. Nevertheless, it has been greeted by analysts as an important step toward resolving the civil war in Yemen. [Al Jazeera]

Vice President Biden met with Palestine’s President Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday. President Abbas offered his condolences for the killing of a US citizen by a Palestinian man but added that around 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in recent months. He said that “restoring hope and providing a political horizon was the key to security, peace and stability,” and blamed Israel’s settlement construction and occupation for the recent violence. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

Post-Cold War military cooperation between the US and Russia was initially undermined by the US, former US defense secretary William Perry said at a “Guardian Live” event in London. The US’ first mistake was “when NATO started to expand, bringing in eastern European nations, some of them bordering Russia,” which made Russia “uncomfortable.” He did stress though that the deterioration in relations between the two nations has since been driven by Russia’s military interventions in countries like Ukraine and Syria. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]

The CIA was predicting the worldwide proliferation of drones back in 1986, a recently declassified report, “Remotely Piloted Vehicles in the Third World: A New Military Capability,” has disclosed. The report suggests that Israel’s use of drones in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon had served especially to pique Third World interest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. [The Daily Beast’s Adam Rawnsley]

China is “gearing up to compete with the US” as a global military superpower, according to Yvonne Chiu. Its recent modernization of its military, and its plans to establish an overseas military base in Djibouti are indicative of this, she argues. [CNN]

North Korea launched another two ballistic missiles yesterday, aimed at the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to the South Korean military. The missiles, believed to be Scud-C missiles, flew around 310 miles. The launches are a further breach of UN resolutions. [New York Times; Washington Post’s Anna Fifield] 

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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