The Early Edition: May 20, 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

Iraqi security forces have reclaimed the town of Rutbah from Islamic State. The town is located in the desert west of Baghdad, on key transit routes to Jordan and Syria, and has an “outsized strategic value,” according to Col. Steve Warren, a US military spokesperson. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim]  There was no immediate information on casualties on either side. [Wall Street Journal’s Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch]

Syrian government airstrikes killed at least 21 civilians including seven children yesterday, after regime forces used barrel bombs to hit the town of Al-Houla and neighboring villages, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [France 24]

The IMF has pledged to bailout Iraq with $5.4bn for three years, to assist it to manage the economic fallout of its war against the Islamic State and low oil prices which have left the economy reeling. [Financial Times’ Shawn Donnan and Erika Solomon]

The credibility of Syria peace negotiations is at risk without improved humanitarian access and the restoration of a ceasefire, said UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, yesterday.

Islamic State defector “Mo” has provided the FBI with “reliable information about the identities and activities” of other members while his sentencing for terrorism-related offenses is put on hold, report Richard Engel et al. US citizen Mo used his savings to join Islamic State in Syria in 2014, but became disillusioned after a few months and was able to escape and hand himself in to the US consulate in Turkey. [NBC News]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 18. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

EGYPTAIR FLIGHT INVESTIGATION

Debris has been found from EgyptAir flight 804, which disappeared between Paris and Cairo yesterday and is believed to have crashed into the sea between Greece and Egypt, according to the Egyptian army. [The Guardian’s Luke Harding; Financial Times]

The plane “abruptly turned and dropped steeply” before it disappeared from radar, investigators have established, a possible indication that the plane was hijacked by terrorists. [Washington Post’s Heba Habib and Sudarsan Raghavan]

Islamic State’s “atypical response” to the flight’s disappearance has left some experts doubtful of that terrorist organization’s involvement. [MSNBC]

Donald Trump has opted to use the plane’s disappearance to further justify his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, releasing a statement on his website yesterday. [Politico’s Hanna Trudo]

Live updates continue to be provided by the BBC and the Guardian.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE 

France will host an international conference aimed at restarting peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, scheduled for June 3 in Paris, according to the French foreign minister. [Al Jazeera]

US Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed his attendance at the gathering of foreign ministers. Following Kerry’s confirmation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also expected to attend. [Haaretz]

“It is not the failure of the United States or any other country to bring people back to the table,” Kerry said, defending the Obama administration’s record of attempting to bring talks forward, adding: “It is the failure of those countries themselves to make the decision to come back to the table.” [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Rory Jones]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

US military advisers may soon be deployed to Libya to assist in the fight against Islamic State, “intense dialogue” currently under way with the Libyan government, according to Marine Gen. Joseph F Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There is also interest in participating in the mission among NATO nations. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe] 

A white paper detailing its counter-terrorism efforts is being distributed to members of Congress by Saudi Arabia, covering security measures, financial controls aimed at disrupting terrorist funding, and the efforts that have been made to end radicalization in mosques and other public places. The paper is part of a broader public relations campaign which hopes to alter US perception that is not doing enough to fight extremism. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

Obama wants to send 12 Super Tucano attack planes to help Nigerian forces battle Boko Haram. The Wall Street Journal editorial board is fully supportive of this move, which it says is needed if Nigeria is to defeat “Africa’s most vicious terror outfit.”

Paris terror attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has refused to answer judge’s questions during the first questioning session since his extradition from Belgium to Paris last month, the session drawing to a close early as a consequence. [AP’s Philippe Sotto]  Abdeslam arrived in central Paris for interrogation this morning, judges hoping that he would shed some light on the operational specifics of the November attacks. Abdeslam has been in solitary confinement in Paris’ Fleury-Mérogis prison since April 27. [AFP]

NATO will seek another meeting with Russia before its leaders meet in Warsaw in July, the alliance has agreed. Russia’s President Putin’s spokesperson has welcomed the announcement. [AP’s John-Thor Dahlburg]

The US must take military action if China moves to reclaim a contested reef off the coast of the Philippines, according to President Benigno S. Aquino III. Mr Aquino added that he had had no indication that Beijing was planning such a move. [New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández]

President Obama is still undecided as to whether to lift the US arms embargo on Vietnam as the day of his visit there approaches, report Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom. His administration is supportive of a lift, but there are also some strong opposing voices, particularly among rights advocates who are concerned about Vietnam’s government’s treatment of its opponents and of workers. [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick]

Google is appealing a decision by the French data watchdog to apply the EU’s “right to be forgotten” ruling outside of Europe, requiring that the tech giant delete some of its search results globally. This is just the latest in a string of fights between Silicon Valley and the EU’s “increasingly firm” data protection regulators. [BBC; Financial Times’ Duncan Robinson]

 “Create an American Foreign Legion” to solve the “many problems that have plagued us in the past decade of war” in the Middle East, writes Sean McFate. Part of the Defense Department, it would recruit globally, he suggests, along the lines of the French Foreign Legion. [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