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
Syria conflict resolution. America and Russia have agreed to increase coordination aimed at achieving a resolution to the conflict in Syria, officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Andrey Ostroukh and Felicia Schwartz] Negotiations are taking place with the hope of extending a fragile ceasefire agreement to the northern city of Aleppo, where violence has surged over recent weeks. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard and Sewell Chan] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned all fighting parties in the Syrian conflict to immediately recommit to a truce yesterday. [UN News Centre]
Moscow and Washington “must find a way to work together” in Syria, writes Gideon Rachman, noting that despite differences, “their views of the Syrian conflict have been converging, laying the basis for a joint approach to defeating ISIS and ending the war.” [Financial Times]
Another hospital in Aleppo, Syria, has been hit during a shelling attack today, apparently by rebel factions, Syrian media has reported. Dozens of people have been killed or injured. [Washington Post’s Brian Murphy]
Following the shelling, “terrorists” launched a wide-scale attack on Aleppo, according to the Syrian military, which says it is “repelling.” [AP]
More than 35 airstrikes hit Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, overnight, killing at least 134 people and wounding many more, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It is unclear whether the planes belonged to Russia or the US-led coalition. [Reuters]
A US serviceman has been killed in combat in Irbil, Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter informed reporters today. The soldier has yet to be identified. [AP’s Robert Burns]
US troops are moving closer to the front lines in Iraq, reports Loveday Morris. A new US outpost, “Firebase Bell,” is less than 10 miles from the front line pushing towards Mosul, and is manned by around 200 Marines. [Washington Post]
Turkish security forces returned fire into Syria again today after the Turkish border town of Kilis was fired on from an ISIS-controlled part of Syria. [Reuters]
US military personnel on the ground in Syria are assisting the fight against ISIS by gathering improved target information, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday, saying that airstrikes will increase as more targets become known. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne and Julian E. Barnes]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition military forces carried out seven strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 1. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 18 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
How a Shiite cleric could take down the government in Baghdad. Michael Weiss and Abdulla Hawez discuss the re-emergence Muqtada al-Sadr, at The Daily Beast.
“It’s impossible to predict what this remarkable show of force will lead to, given the volatility of Iraqi politics.” The New York Times editorial board discusses the “rich … symbolism” of demonstrators’ brief takeover of the Iraqi Parliament on Saturday.
“Biden’s Iraq hopes crash with reality.” Nahal Toosi comments on the vice president’s optimistic outlook during a visit to Baghdad last week, a vision marred by the subsequent storming of Baghdad’s Green Zone. [Politico]
The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on the Obama administration’s “gradual” war in Iraq, suggesting that this “gradualism has already had tremendous political and security costs,” and has allowed ISIS to gain footholds in Libya and Afghanistan.
PKK fighters attacked a military outpost in southeast Turkey yesterday, armed with rocket launchers and rifles, according to the Turkish military. Two Turkish soldiers and five PKK fighters were killed. [Reuters’ Daren Butler]
Turkey is treating its journalists like “terrorists,” reports Constanze Letsch, with many pro-Kurdish journalists being jailed or subjected to violence, harassment and obstruction. In the meantime, pro-government news outlets are enjoying better access to state security operations, though they are not always allowed to write what they want, and some journalists say their reports are heavily censored. [The Guardian]
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
Four people were arrested on suspicion of promoting Islamist militancy on social media by Spanish police near Madrid yesterday, as part of an ongoing operation. The suspects allegedly targeted hundreds of individuals via instant messaging and other social media. [Reuters’ Paul Day]
The Frenchman alleged to have planned the November Paris attacks has been promoted to a senior position in Islamic State’s foreign intelligence branch, and is believed to be the first Western European ever to reach such a high rank within the terrorist organization, reports Michael Weiss. [The Daily Beast]
What’s in store for North Korea’s ruling party congress later this week? This remains a “well-kept secret,” writes Eric Talmadge, but likely themes are the nation’s progress in becoming a credible nuclear power and claims of economic advances despite tough global sanctions. There is no doubt that “Pyongyang wants the event to grab headlines around the world.” [AP]
Delegates from around the country have started to arrive in Pyongyang ahead of the congress, the first since 1980, which is expected to last for four or five days. [Reuters’ Jack Kim and Ju-min Park]
Sanctions alone are not enough to mitigate the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, suggests the New York Times editorial board. The US, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia need to find a way to restart open negotiations rather than back the “inexperienced and reckless” Kim Jong-un into a corner with sanctions, which may lead to even more dangerous responses.
An order prohibiting female guards from having physical contact with the five defendants accused of planning and aiding the 9/11 attacks is to be lifted by the presiding judge, but not for another six months. Army Col. James Pohl has said that the delay is in response to “inappropriate” and “disparaging” comments by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during their appearance before Congress last October. [AP’s Ben Fox]
“What are you doing here?” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned the US military to get out of the Persian Gulf, according to Fars News. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
Afghan security forces have begun an attempt to break the Taliban’s hold on a highway running through Oruzgan Province, a “crucial” element of the insurgents’ increasing foothold in the area, Afghan officials said yesterday. [New York Times’ Taimoor Shah and Mujib Mashal]
Libya’s struggle is not between Islamists and secularists, argues Abdulrazag Elaradi, an “interpretive framework” he says is “tedious” and which conceals the true complexity of Libya’s situation involving a number of competing factions each of whom is comprised of Islamist, liberals and militia supporters. In reality, Elaradi says, the division is between “those who want Libya to move forward via the newly installed unity government” and those who wish to retain their own spheres of control. [New York Times]
UK Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce new anti-extremism measures soon, including powers to “ban organizations, close down premises and gag individuals.” The legislation will introduce measures announced as part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy. [The Guardian’s Anushka Asthana]
The utility of the NATO alliance is “self-evident,” writes NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of the US European Command, Philip Breedlove, setting out the case for its position as “the most critical lynchpin supporting stability” in Europe. [Washington Post]