The Early Edition: May 25, 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.

AFGHANISTAN

Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the Taliban’s new chief, following a meeting of leaders in the Pakistani city of Quetta. A deputy to previous leader Mullah Mansour, Akhundzada is a “relatively obscure figure” considered unlikely to be “divisive,” reports Mujib Mashal. [New York Times]  Akhundzada holds “hard-line views” and is opposed to peace talks with the Afghan government and the US, according to an anonymous Taliban source. He has also reportedly issued “fatwas” against US troops. [NBC News’ Mushtaq Yusufzai et al]

“How the US tracked and killed the leader of the Taliban.” Adam Entous and Jessica Donati explain how the US intercepted intelligence in order to track Mansour in an area of Pakistan in which its surveillance drones do not operate, until the moment came to “fix” on his vehicle and “finish” him before he reached the city of Quetta. [Wall Street Journal]

The muted reaction to Mansour’s death demonstrates that drone technology is now “taken for granted,” says Mary Dejevsky. But, she says, the fact that drone strikes can accurately target opponents with minimal collateral damage “does not mean that all questions about their use are at an end,” something the West would realize if Islamic State started to use them to close the gap between “us” and “them.” [The Guardian]

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of a minibus in Kabul, Afghanistan, this morning, which killed eleven people. [AP’s Rahim Faiez]

A growing number of children are being recruited into Afghan forces, despite government pledges to clear its military of minors. The UN reported that 43 boys were recruited to fight last year, twice as many as in 2014. Afghan government forces receive a lot of their funding from international partners, including the US and the UK. The US’ 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act banned funding to eight countries known to use child soldiers, but Afghanistan is not one of them – something it has refused to explain, reports Sune Engel Rasmussen. [The Guardian]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Fight for Fallujah. Iraqi security forces bombarded the city of Fallujah yesterday, part of government efforts to reclaim the strategic city in Anbar province from Islamic State. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Mustafa Salim]  Some 50,000 civilians are trapped in Fallujah, sparking concerns among UN and humanitarian organizations. [Al Jazeera]

For the American military, the “battle to rid the Iraqi city of Fallujah of ISIS is shrouded in mystery,” writes Nancy A. Youssef, with some officials believing the battle could be “ferocious and intense” while others see the militant group as “too stretched to protect anything” other than Mosul, the group’s capital in Iraq. [The Daily Beast]

Raqqa offensive. Kurdish-led forces supported by US air power began an offensive yesterday to seize territory around the city of Raqqa, Syria, the first such attack aimed at directly challenging the Islamic State’s control of its de facto capital. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]  The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces is thought to have deployed 30,000 fighters. [BBC]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 23. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 12 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“Their job is to keep trade flowing with the enemy.” Raja Abdulrahim discusses the exigencies of economic survival in wartime Syria, which sees enemies continuing to trade with each other “across front lines that have carved up the nation.” [Wall Street Journal]

EGYPTAIR FLIGHT INVESTIGATION

EgyptAir Flight 804 may have broken apart while in flight, prompting investigators to send wreckage from the plane to an Egyptian criminal forensic laboratory for technical analysis. Robert Wall et al have further details at the Wall Street Journal.

There were no indications of technical problems with the Airbus A320 that vanished last week before it took off from Paris, according to sources within the Egyptian investigation committee. [Reuters’ Lin Noueihed and Tim Hepher]

“Egypt’s long history of air-disaster denial.” Dorian Geiger comments on previous incidents and concludes that “anyone expecting to get to the bottom of the tragedy should reflect on Egypt’s lack of transparency in previous investigations.” [Politico Magazine]

Despite no claims of responsibility, terrorism continues to be pointed to as the likely cause of the crash. Mark Odell and Peggy Hollinger provide an overview of what is currently known about the crash and its causes. [Financial Times]

Increased traffic of officials traveling from  Washington to Egypt has been prompted by the possibility that the crash was another act of terrorism involving an Egyptian airliner, following October’s attack on a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula that was claimed by an Islamic State affiliate, reports Tamer el-Ghobashy. This, she says, suggests that the US is increasing its support for Sisi’s regime, in order to prevent Egypt from following in the path of countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, where terrorists have been exploiting security vacuums. [Wall Street Journal]

SAUDI ARABIA

“It is time for Saudi Arabia to come clean.” House lawmakers from both parties expressed strong support for legislation that would allow 9/11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia during a hearing yesterday, the first formal House action on the bill since it was unexpectedly approved last week despite a White House threat to veto. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Sen. Rand Paul has filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would force public release of the 28-pages, anticipated to shed light on any Saudi connections to al-Qaeda. The amendment would require the release of the documents within 60 days of the Act being signed into law, which is not expected until this fall. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

An independent review of the proposed state surveillance powers under the UK’s “snooper’s charter” – the investigative powers bill – is to be ordered by home secretary Theresa May. The review will examine how the proposed “bulk-collection” powers will operate in practice. [The Guardian’s Heather Stewart]

A Swedish court has upheld the arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holding that his long-term stay inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London is not tantamount to detention. Assange is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape dating back to 2010. [Reuters’ Daniel Dickson]

Silicon Valley start-ups are deleting customers’ sensitive data for fear that the FBI might one day demand access to it. This is part of a “new emphasis” in Silicon Valley on building barriers to government requests for data, reports Elizabeth Dwoskin. [Washington Post]

Apple has rehired cryptography expert Jon Callas, creator of the secure communications platforms Silent Circle, PGP Corp and Blackphone. Apple will not elaborate on Callas’ intended role, but the decision to hire him is consistent with the company’s assertions that it will increase security protection on its devices, reports Katie Bo Williams. [The Hill]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Controversial right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman has been appointed as Israel’s defense minister, agreeing to bring his party, Yisrael Beitenu, into the governing coalition. Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon, who resigned in protest, warned that Israel is being taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements.” [BBC]

Israel’s police have been ordered not to return the bodies of Palestinians, killed while attacking Israelis, to their families for burial. Internal security minister Gilad Erdan made the order in contradiction to an earlier announcement by authorities that they would follow Israel’s Supreme Court’s “recommendation” to return the bodies of nine Palestinians. [New York Times’ Liam Stack]

Human rights group B’Tselem has announced it will no longer work with Israel’s military law enforcement system in light of “deep systematic failures,” according to a report it released today. B’Tselem, which has acted as a “subcontractor” to the system, referring complaints of soldiers’ alleged misconduct, gathering evidence and mediating on behalf of affected Palestinian families, said that its assistance has been “lending legitimacy to the occupation regime and aiding to whitewash it.” [Al Jazeera’s Megan O’Toole]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Countries that “lose control” of transferred Guantánamo Bay detainees would receive reduced foreign aid under an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act filed by GOP senators yesterday, an attempt to crack down on President Obama’s capability to close the detention facility. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

GOP senators also filed an amendment removing language in the Act that provides the Pentagon with flexibility in planning a stateside replacement for Guantánamo Bay. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

NATO must use its upcoming summit to discuss new security models in light of the threat posed by “home-grown terrorism,” Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said yesterday after meeting with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and not focus purely on the eastern border with Russia. He added that NATO was prepared to assist Libya to build its own defense capabilities, if requested. [AP]  Libyan experts are due to visit NATO to discuss how the alliance can help the new Libyan government. [AP]

EU support for Libya’s UN-backed unity government has been resisted by France and Germany. [Reuters’ Robin Emmott]

Survivors and family members of the 130 victims of the November Paris attacks met with the Justices overseeing the ongoing investigation yesterday, the start of a three-day hearing, demanding to know details of how the victims died, and how the attack could have happened in the first place. [Washington Post’s James McAuley]

“Turkey’s hidden war.” The battle against Islamic State initially “made the downtrodden Kurds into heroes,” writes Robert F Worth, PKK fighters working closely with the US military. Now, war between Turky and its Kurdish rebels has resumed, worse in some ways than the PKK-Turkish war of the 1990s. Yet news of the fighting has been suppressed by state censorship and military “curfews.” [New York Times]

Russia has released Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko as part of a prisoner swap, according to local media. She had been sentenced to 22 years for killing two journalists – which she has strongly denied – and has become “a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russia at home.” [BBC]

A paramilitary vehicle was attacked by gunmen in northwest Pakistan today, who killed three onboard, a senior police officer has confirmed. Authorities are blaming the Taliban for the attack, though no-one has yet claimed responsibility. [AP]

The African Union’s “rapid reaction force” will finally become operational this July, the UN announced yesterday, having first been tabled in 1997. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told a Security Council meeting that cooperation between the UN and the AU is “absolutely critical,” particularly as nine of the UN’s 16 peacekeeping missions are in Africa. [AP’s Edith M Lederer]

The first open debates in the UN’s 70-year history, where Security Council candidates field questions from member states and NGOs, took place yesterday, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden making their cases for why they should be elected to a non-permanent seat on the UN body. [AP’s Michael Astor] 

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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