The Early Edition: May 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

Bomb attacks across Baghdad left at least 15 people dead yesterday, including a suicide attack that targeted a funeral on the outskirts of the city. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. The attacks serve as a “stark reminder” of Iraq’s ongoing instability amid the country’s escalating political crisis, report Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch. [Wall Street Journal]

Heavily armed US Marines arrived at the American embassy in Baghdad over the weekend, reports Barbara Starr, after their presence was requested by the State Department. [CNN]

Syrian forces and their allies fought insurgents close to Aleppo today, as warplanes bombed the vicinity of Khan Touman, a town that was captured by Islamist rebels last week, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters’ John Davison et al]

The US-led coalition against the Islamic State is facing hurdles, reports Liz Sly, noting that on and off the battlefield the challenges faced in the war against the militant group raise the question “whether the pace of recent gains can be sustained.” [Washington Post]

Turkish special operations forces entered Syria on Saturday for what the government described as a “reconnaissance mission.” It is highly unusual for Ankara to announce such an operation. [Al Jazeera]

A Syrian-Russian businessman, George Haswani, is accused of serving as the middleman in the sale of oil by the Islamic State to its “biggest customer,” the Syrian government. Jay Solomon and Benoit Faucon provide the details. [Wall Street Journal]

Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri has called on rebel factions in Syria to unite and liberate Syria from “the Russians and Western Crusaders,” in an audio recording in which the group’s leader criticized the Islamic State as a group of “extremists and renegades.” [Al Jazeera]

Three freelance Spanish journalists have arrived home after being held captive in Syria for nearly 10 months; the Spanish government provided no information on the captors and thanked “allied and friendly” nations for their role in securing the releases. [AP]

“56 hours with the Russian army in Syria,” from Andrew Roth at the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

US special operations forces experienced confusion over their permitted involvement in the effort to retake Kunduz from the Taliban last year, which led to the bombing of a MSF hospital, a new Pentagon report reveals. Josh Smith provides the story at Reuters.

“It also offered the starkest example to date of a blurry line in Afghanistan and Iraq between the missions that American forces are supposed to be fulfilling – military training and advising – and combat.” Matthew Rosenberg and Joseph Goldstein discuss the US return to a combat role in Afghanistan, and the “terrible error” in Kunduz. [New York Times]

Two NATO troops were killed on Saturday morning in southern Afghanistan by two shooters wearing Afghan National Defense and Security Forces uniforms. [The Hill’s Harper Neidig]

Six Taliban prisoners were hanged on Sunday by Afghan officials, a resumption of executions in the war “that makes good on President Ashraf Ghani’s recent promise to deal harshly with insurgents.” [Washington Post’s Antonio Olivio and Sayed Salahuddin]

RUSSIA

Russia is demonstrating its anger over increasing US military presence in its “backyard” by intercepting US ships and planes in Central and Eastern Europe, writes Helene Cooper. There have been three incidents in just the last month, but US officials are insisting that “this is not going to change our activities one iota.” [New York Times]

Middle Eastern leaders are consulting Putin nowadays, not Obama, despite the fact that the US has a significantly higher military presence in the region, reports Dennis Ross, who says that the reason for this is that “perceptions matter more than mere power,” and Russia is viewed as being willing to join efforts to affect the balance of power in the Middle East, while the US is not. [Politico]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The FBI investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server appears to be in its final stages, reports Julian Hattem. Hillary Clinton is likely to be interviewed herself in the coming days or weeks. The typical structure of investigations is that investigators “would seek to interview the target last,” according to a former federal prosecutor. [The Hill]

“No one has reached out to me yet.” Clinton has told reporters that no-one from the FBI has contacted her for interview so far. [Politico’s Austin Wright]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea will “faithfully fulfil its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for global denuclearization,” leader Kim Jong-un said in a speech at the Workers’ Party congress on Saturday. He said that the North would not use its nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty was infringed by another state with nuclear arms, and that he was prepared to normalize relations with those states which have already shown hostility. He also announced a five-year economic plan, the first since 1980. [Reuters; The Hill’s Jessie Hellmann]

North Korea may be gearing up for another nuclear test, think tank 38 North said on Friday. Satellite images of North Korea’s nuclear test site dated May 5 showed vehicle movement indicative of test preparations, according to 38 North. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom et al]

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is prompting Japan and South Korea to “go nuclear,” reports Henry Sokolski. Departing from Japan’s “taboo” against nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet said on Friday that there was nothing in Japan’s constitution which banned the use of nuclear weapons. South Korea’s ruling party, meanwhile, has urged President Park Guen-hye to begin stockpiling “peaceful” plutonium. [Wall Street Journal]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Twitter will no longer grant US intelligence agencies access to an analytics service that sifts through all of the social-media postings on its site, the latest event in the increasingly tense relationship between the federal government and Silicon Valley. [Wall Street Journal’s Christopher S. Stewart and Mark Maremont]

“America needs a clear and concise definition of when an attack in cyber space constitutes an act of war.” Republican Senator Mike Rounds makes the case for the Cyber Act of War Act, and why the administration needs a clear policy on cyberattacks. [Wall Street Journal]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

DC Circuit judges have held that “[Detainees] … have no substantive right to due process of law, and that any evidence presented against them must be presumed to be true.” Periodic Review Board hearings at Guantánamo Bay are prisoners’ “best chance” of leaving the detention center. The number of hearings has increased significantly in recent times, but the Justice Department is consistently opposed to the prisoners’ release, reports Jennifer Fenton. [Al Jazeera]

Despite “forcefully” backing Saudi Arabia as it bombs Yemen, US officials have made little effort to explain this support, say Alex Eamons and Zaid Julani. When asked to explain, former US diplomats say that US involvement in the war harms its interests and question whether there is any reason to be involved at all. [The Intercept]

Iran successfully tested a medium-range ballistic missile a fortnight ago, achieving “full accuracy,” a military official said today. The US and some European countries said that previous missile tests were a violation of the UN resolution prohibiting Iran from firing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran insists it needs the tests to help bolster its ability to deter its enemy, Israel. [Reuters’ Bozorgmehr Sharafedin et al]

Seven individuals accused of involvement in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks have gone on trial in Belgium. They are part of a group of 16 suspects, nine of whom have been charged but are on the run, all believed to be members of a terrorist cell run by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a ringleader of the November Paris attacks. [BBC]

Islamic State has killed eight policemen in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt, four gunmen in a pickup truck blocking the path of the police officers’ minibus before opening fire. [Wall Street Journal’s Dahlia Kholaif and Tamer el-Ghobashy; Financial Times’ Heba Saleh]

Islamic State has threatened the lives of 11 Muslim imams and scholars in the West who have been fighting the terrorist organization’s influence through broadcasting sermons and holding live video chats, efforts which the wider communities in the West have barely registered. Such is the danger for these individuals, however, that the FBI has been taking steps to try to ensure their safety, reports Laurie Goodstein. [New York Times]

Failing to stop China constructing a military base on a shoal only 150 miles from the Philippines’ Subic Bay could undermine the progress the Obama administration has made in increasing US influence in the region, according to the Washington Post editorial board. Scarborough Shoal would be the first Chinese attempt to build on islets it does not already control.

Peace in Europe could be at risk if the UK leaves the EU, UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned today, arguing that the EU, with Britain in it, had brought together countries that had been “at each other’s’ throats for decades.” [BBC]  Former heads of MI5 and MI6, the UK’s spy agencies, have also suggested that a UK exit could lead to “instability on the Continent” and damage the UK’s ability to defend itself from terrorist attacks. [Politico’s Jeanette Minns]

Al-Shabaab militants detonated a car bomb at traffic police headquarters in Mogadishu, Somalia, today, killing at least two officers. [Reuters’ Abdi Sheikh et al]

The US needs a better-targeted, not a bigger, defense budget, says the New York Times editorial board, with more funds towards training, maintenance and modernizing weapons and equipment and away from costly high-tech weaponry.

At CENTCOM, two wars are being waged: one against Islamic State, and the other against whistleblowers. A rare public hearing last week before the government appeals board involving an employee who says she was reassigned for “cursing twice in the span of a year” after she spoke out about “cherry-picked” Islamic State intelligence, reveals this second, internal battle, writes Nancy A Youssef. [The Daily Beast] 

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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