The Early Edition, April 26, 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

Sending 250 additional troops to Syria does not mean the US mission there has changed, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters yesterday, responding to criticism of President Obama’s announcement that  the troops would be deployed there but would not engage directly in the ground war against Islamic State. Cook insisted that the troops will be “enabling and supporting local forces.” [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

There is “good reason to be concerned about this expanding mission,” says the New York Times editorial board, which increases America’s involvement in Syria and raises questions about how the civil war there will end.

Air strikes and a rocket attack near Aleppo have killed five rescue workers at a Syrian Civil Defense center overnight, observers claiming that the attacks appeared to deliberately target the center which hosts the much-lauded Syrian aid group known as the White Helmets. [Reuters’ John Davison]

US officials are worried militant groups in Syria will seek more shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles if the ceasefire there collapses. Rebel groups in Syria have obtained these missiles in the past, known as man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADs, and used them to shoot down aircraft in Syria. American officials and outside experts fear fresh supplies of the missiles could fall into the hands of Islamic State, increasing an “unpredictable and hard-to-defend” against threat to the battlefield in Syria and elsewhere, report Nancy A Youssef and Shane Harris in The Daily Beast 

US-backed military victories in Iraq need to be followed up by political reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Arabs, writes Tim Arango in the New York Times. This pits the US against Iran, whose objectives in Iraq involve supporting Shiite militias in their attacks on Sunni civilians.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition nations carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 25. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

National Intelligence Director James Clapper is considering “several options” in relation to making public the number of US citizens whose personal data has been incidentally gathered during the government’s online surveillance of foreign targets, he said yesterday, responding to a letter that was sent last week by members of the House Judiciary Committee. [NPR’s Lauren Hodges; The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is calling for the government to “exercise some adult supervision” at the Justice Department thanks to the “Encryption Farce.” The “FBI-Justice method” involves the FBI claiming it is incapable of unlocking a suspect’s iPhone while Justice backs it up, even arguing that the FBI need not exhaust every available method before compelling a private company to assist it. These assertions as to its technological capabilities are then proved “false” when the FBI comes up with a last-minute solution and drops the case, writes editorial board.

The FBI is seeking to expand its “hacking powers” via an amendment to “Rule 41” of the federal rules of criminal procedure which the Justice department is calling a “modest tweak” but which critics have warned will allow magistrate judges to approve remote searches of computers worldwide. [Financial Times’ David J Lynch]

Edward Snowden advanced encryption by “about seven years.” National Intelligence Director James Clapper, speaking yesterday, said that the former NSA contractor was responsible for an increase in the sophistication of commercially available software that has been a “major inhibitor” to the government’s ability to collect data on terrorists. [NBC News’ Tim Stelloh]

Over half of the apps launched for the US presidential nomination campaigns are sending data unencrypted, exposing private information including phone numbers and political opinion to hackers, according to cyber-security company Symantec. [Financial Times’ Hannah Kuchler]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan will now “execute” the Taliban rather than continue to attempt to engage it in peace talks, President Ashraf Ghani said yesterday, though he said he was still willing to participate in dialogue with Taliban members who put down their weapons write the Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Sayed Salahuddin.

Ghani also called on Pakistan, from which the Taliban operates in its insurgency in Afghanistan, to take military action against the terrorist group, threatening to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council if it does not do so. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal]

Ghani has refused to join peace talks in Pakistan today, despite being aware that a delegation from the Afghan Taliban has arrived there. A spokesperson for the president has said that Afghanistan will not go to Pakistan until it “fulfils the promises” it made. A Taliban leader reportedly stated that “we don’t care if Kabul participates in the meeting, as we already launched our spring offensive and are getting success against them.” [Reuters’ Asad Hashim]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Obama in Europe. The President’s speech in Germany yesterday was more “measured” than his speech there eight years ago in which he outlined his plans for “a new dawn” for the Middle East, reports Michael D Shear. Speaking at the conclusion of his trip to the Middle East and Europe, Obama recognized the limitations in realising that goal. [New York Times]

Obama also set out his vision for US-EU relations, involving a unified Europe and a more active role for European countries in the fight against Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Colleen McCain Nelson]

The speech paved the way for Obama’s meeting with the G5 group yesterday afternoon, during which the possibility of US warships joining EU ships in patrolling the coast of Libya as part of the NATO-led effort to curb the flow of refugees from Africa into Europe was discussed. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

The 28-pages of the US’s report on 9/11 that may detail Saudi involvement in the attacks could be made public by June, director of national intelligence James Clapper said yesterday. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

Iran will seek a lawsuit against the US at the ICJ to prevent $2 billion impounded from its central bank being distributed to US victims of terrorist attacks following a decision by the US Supreme Court last week, reports Rick Gladstone. [New York Times]

A Canadian hostage has been beheaded by Islamist militants the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed. [Wall Street Journal’s Trefor Moss; New York Times’ Ian Austen]

Parties involved in the Yemen peace talks have been asked by the UN Security Council to develop a “road map” for the implementation of interim security measures while they negotiate a permanent end to the political crisis.

Al-Shabaab has attacked a military base in northwest Somalia, killing five soldiers. [Reuters’ Abdi Sheikh et al]

North Korea has put a new mid-range missile on standby for launch, according to a news report by South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing an unidentified Seoul official, though South Korea’s Defense Ministry stated it had no such intelligence. [AP] 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE