The Early Edition: March 16, 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

Russia’s partial military withdrawal from Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry will next week travel to Moscow to discuss a political solution for the Syria crisis, as the US and others try to understand how Russia’s partial military withdrawal will impact the dynamics of the war and peace negotiations. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge et al]  Kerry said that Moscow’s withdrawal along with talks in Geneva may be the “best opportunity” to bring the conflict to an end. [BBC]

Russia’s withdrawal from Syria has been welcomed by the Arab League, who said today that it would assist the UN-mediated talks aiming to end the war. [Reuters]

Moscow is expected to put greater pressure on the Assad regime to accept losing power as part of peace talks aimed at ending the country’s conflict, say Western diplomats, in the wake of Russia’s announced withdrawal. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

Russia has undermined President Obama’s longstanding argument that the US “could intervene in Syria, alter the equation on the battlefield and avoid being sucked into a quagmire,” writes Mark Landler, commenting that Moscow’s announced withdrawal is a “reminder that since September … Mr Putin has consistently seemed a step ahead of the United States on Syria.” [New York Times]

Analysts have agreed that the Kremlin has succeeded in achieving most of its goals in Syria, reports Neil MacFarquhar, presenting a selection of those aims including restoring Russia as a major player in the Middle East and “as a global problem solver.” [New York Times]

Russia’s air campaign was always going to have a better chance than America’s, notes Alan Cullison, citing Moscow’s “large and reliable ally on the ground” in the Assad regime. [Wall Street Journal]

Another home-bound batch of Russian fighter jets has left Hmeimim airbase in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said today. [Reuters]

Iraqi government forces along with Kurdish Peshmerga and Iran-backed Shi’ite militia are preparing for an offensive intended to push ISIS fighters away from the Kirkuk oil region, a state newspaper today reported. [Reuters]

An extract from the resolution passed by the House of Representatives describing the Islamic State’s religious atrocities as genocide is available here. The State Department has until Thursday to decide whether to classify the group’s actions as such.

The use of children by the Islamic State is unique in the active involvement of the families, unlike in Liberia and Angola where they were abducted and forced to fight. Maajid Nawaz discusses the plight of some five million children living under ISIS rule. [The Daily Beast]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 14. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 14 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. FBI. The American founding fathers “would be appalled” by the Justice Department’s attempts to compel the tech giant into breaking into an encrypted iPhone, Apple said yesterday in its final briefing before the case appears in court next week. [Reuters]

“Big data” could offer a way to “protect our civil liberties, defend our digital information, and chase bad guys all at the same time,” said former CIA undercover agent turned lawmaker, Rep Will Hurd yesterday. Hurd added that the FBI’s request might be too invasive, reports Jenna McLaughlin. [The Intercept]

Senate passed a FOIA reform bill yesterday, expanding the public’s access to government records. Mario Trujillo provides the details at The Hill.

Snooper’s charter. UK Home Secretary Theresa May is facing calls from her own party and the opposition to improve the draft investigatory powers bill currently before Parliament, with lawmakers expressing concern about the levels of privacy protection in the bill. [The Guardian’s Rowena Mason et al]

The US and UK has marked the 75th anniversary of the start of “one of the world’s greatest intelligence-sharing relationships,” reports Stephen Castle, placing a WWII event in the context of today – with the intelligence relationship between the two nations coming under much scrutiny. [New York Times]

PAKISTAN

A bomb exploded on a bus carrying government employees in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan this morning. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 15 people. [Wall Street Journal’s Safdar Dawar and Qasim Nauman]

The family of an Italian al-Qaeda hostage killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in January last year is seeking the “full truth” from the US administration, filing a formal request for compensation and detailed documents on the operation that killed Giovanni Lo Porto and fellow aid worker, American Warren Weinstein. [Wall Street Journal’s Giada Zampano; The Intercept’s Cora Currier]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A police counterterrorism raid in Brussels connected to the Paris Attacks has left one suspect dead and four others wounded. [New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden and Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura; Wall Street Journal’s Matthias Verbergt and Laurence Norman]  The suspect killed in the attack has been identified as Mohammed Belkaid, an Algerian national. [BBC]  Belgian police continue to hunt for suspects thought to still be at large. [BBC]

The Taliban seized another district in Helmand, Afghanistan yesterday. Taliban fighters attacked the government center in Khan Neshin District on Monday night and took full control by early the following morning. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Taimoor Shah]  The fighting took place as NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg met with Afghan leaders in Kabul. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

Turkey says the PKK member it blames for the bomb attack in Istanbul this week was trained by the YPG, the PKK’s cross-border affiliate in Syria. A dozen others have been detained in connection with the attack, responsibility for which has still not been claimed by any group. [Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker]

A man has been charged in connection with a knife attack on a Canadian military recruitment center on Monday. Ayanle Hassan Ali has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and other charges. He may be suffering from some kind of mental disorder, according to a fellow at the George Washington University Program on Extremism, who has been speaking to a family member of the accused. [National Post’s Richard Warnica]

Iran collected information from the laptops, GPS devices and maps of ten US sailors detained earlier this year, in violation of international law, chief of naval operations Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

The UK government says it has no intention to send troops to support Libya’s newly-appointed national unity government, the GNA. Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee, had requested a statement from Defense Secretary Michael Fallon as to whether he would respond to “the GNA’s likely first formal action” which would be “to request that the UK and its allies conduct airstrikes against Isil [Islamic State] targets in Libya.” [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger]

Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been granted a hearing before the detention center’s Periodic Review Board. Slahi is the author of best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary.”  [The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain]

Suicide bombers have killed at least 22 people at a mosque in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. The attack took place during dawn prayers this morning. [AP]

Israel has seized a large plot of Palestinian land in occupied West Bank, according to Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now. [Al Jazeera]

The Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen is investigating reports of mass civilian casualties following air strikes on a market in the northwestern Mustaba district yesterday. [Al Jazeera]

Anti-Islamic State messages will be distributed online in the same way that Amazon or Google sends users targeted shopping suggestions, according to a plan the Obama administration revealed on Monday. [The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier]

The US is heading for “a dangerous showdown” with China. The confrontation between the two nations, fueled by China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, “could come to a head this spring” when it is anticipated that an arbitration panel in the Hague will rule that China is “making “excessive” claims about its maritime sovereignty,” reports David Ignatius. [Washington Post]

US student Otto Warmbier has been convicted of subversion and sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea, following a one-hour trial this morning in North Korea’s Supreme Court. [New York Times]  The trial comes a day after US diplomat Bill Richardson met with North Korean UN diplomats to urge the student’s release. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

Africa is increasingly the site of the fight against terror, observes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which considers that the risk – as with the Obama administration’s  “half-hearted antiterror fights in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – is that the US will keep playing catch up against a threat growing faster than we can destroy or even contain it.”

President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump are both “inadvertently helping the Islamic State” through rhetoric that is “either too cautious or too rash,” says Kathleen Parker for the Washington Post. 

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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