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
A large-scale operation by US-backed fighters to capture the Manbij pocket, a strategically important area of Syria, from the Islamic State, began yesterday. The Manbij pocket runs along Syria’s border with Turkey, which the Islamic State uses as a gateway for transporting fighters to and from Europe. US officials have advised reporters that the offensive, which will involve a small number of US soldiers providing support on the ground, could take weeks to complete. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]
Retaking Fallujah. Officials are adopting a more “cautious public tone” in discussing the outcome of the offensive to reclaim the city as Iraqi forces battling Islamic State in Fallujah are facing “fierce counterattacks,” including snipers and suicide bombers. Islamic State have also heavily booby-trapped the city’s streets. [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Ghassan Adnan] A timeline of the battle of Fallujah has been provided by Al Jazeera.
For the tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Fallujah, the operation could prove a “catastrophe.” [New York Times’ Tim Arango] The UN has warned that civilians risk being used as “human shields” by Islamic State. [NBC News’ F Brinley Bruton]
Idlib hospital bombing. Airstrikes by Russian forces or Syrian government forces – witnesses are unsure which – in the Syrian city of Idlib on Monday night targeted the National Hospital, killing dozens. This is the latest episode in “a systematic aerial campaign against medical personnel and facilities,” reports Kareem Shaheen in the Guardian. Save the Children, a staff member of which was killed in the strikes, said the attacks bore the hallmarks of a “double tap” strike, where rescuers visiting the scene of a strike are targeted in a subsequent strike. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard] The targeting of hospitals and humanitarian workers by air forces on both sides is now a “new normal,” said the chief humanitarian adviser at Médecins Sans Frontières, Michiel Hofman, accusing the UN Security Council of complicity in the attacks. [The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen]
Turkey’s military reportedly killed 14 Islamic State militants in a shelling north of the Syrian city of Aleppo. [Reuters’ Ayla Jean Yackley]
A UN report suggests that Islamic State is losing in Iraq and Syria but gaining ground in Libya, Al Jazeera discloses ahead of the report’s release.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eleven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 30. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Requests by law enforcement agencies to private companies for customers’ cellphone data is not a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore does not require a warrant, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond Virginia has ruled. The Court upheld what is known as the “third-party doctrine” – the idea that customers who willingly and knowingly give up their information to third parties have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” regardless of how much, or how revealing, that data is. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]
The FBI has proposed that its national database of fingerprints and facial photos be exempted from a federal law that gives US citizens the right to sue for government violations of the Privacy Act. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]
Web giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have signed up to the EU’s code of conduct on online hate speech in an effort to deal with “technically savvy” terrorists online. The code requires companies to “review the majority” of flagged hate speech within 24 hours, removing it necessary, and even developing “counter narratives” to combat the issue. [Financial Times’ Duncan Robinson]
The UK’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, were split over the Britain’s involvement in rendition operations during the “war on terror,” Nick Hopkins and Richard Norton-Taylor reveal. MI6 officers were involved in the abductions of suspected extremists, who were then tortured. A letter sent to then-prime minister Tony Blair by Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of the UK’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, complaining that the actions of MI6 officers had threatened the security of her own officers, caused “a serious and prolonged breakdown of trust” between the two agencies. [The Guardian]
A prosecutor in the Guantánamo Bay 9/11 pre-trial hearings has asked the judge to allow public testimony from family members of victims of the terrorist attacks at this stage, rather than waiting for trial – which could be years away – for fear that the witnesses might not live that long. The request was for 10 people to be brought to the base as important “victim impact” witnesses. Defense attorneys have argued that the evidence would taint the potential jury pool, and should be given in private. [AP’s Ben Fox]
Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was threatened with ejection from court during his hearing yesterday for speaking without permission, the judge shouting him down in what Carol Rosenberg describes as a “brief, at times baffling, episode.” [Miami Herald]
The Library of Congress has agreed to pay a former military prosecutor $100,000 and amend his personnel records after he was fired for criticizing the military commission process for terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay. Retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis was fired in 2009 from his job as an assistant director at the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service. [Miami Herald’s Mark Seibel; The Intercept’s Alex Emmons]
AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, and THE TALIBAN
The Taliban stormed a court in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in an attack which killed ten, this morning. The attack comes days after the Taliban vowed to seek revenge for the execution of six Taliban prisoners last month. [Reuters’ Mustafa Adalib et al]
The Taliban is holding 18 of the almost 200 passengers it apprehended on a road to the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, yesterday. The militants killed ten others, identified as government workers, releasing the rest, report Ehsanullah Amiri and Jessica Donati for the Wall Street Journal.
A group led by a 16-year-old were arrested in Antwerp, Brussels, on suspicion of planning to bomb Antwerp central station, last week. The group was reportedly preventing from carrying out the attack – involving dropping bags of explosives at the station – by enhanced security following the Brussels terror attacks earlier this year. [Het Laatste Nieuws]
Euro 2016 could be a terrorist target, the US State Department has warned, issuing a travel alert for tourists intending to visit Paris, France, where the soccer championship is being held from June 10 to July 10. [BBC; The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
North Korea’s policy of expanding its nuclear arsenal is “permanent,” senior North Korean official Ri Su-yong reportedly told the Chinese yesterday during his visit to that country for talks. [New York Times’ Jane Perlez]
North Korea’s nuclear intentions cannot be tolerated, Japan’s chief envoy to the six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea said today. He was speaking following talks with US and South Korean counterparts. He added that the parties had agreed on “stepping up pressure on North Korea.” [Reuters’ Kiyoshi Takenaka]
HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s advisers gave “little thought” to potential issues over her use of a private email server, Clinton’s chief of staff at the time Cheryl D Mills said in sworn testimony released yesterday. [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers] Clinton also kept Bryan Pagliano, the IT expert who set up and maintained her server, at “arm’s-length,” according to Mills. Pagliano has been granted immunity in return for his cooperation with the FBI investigation into Clinton’s server. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
Clinton herself has refuted allegations that some of her staff were required to keep quiet about her unusual email arrangements, contained in the inspector general report released last week. Speaking yesterday, Clinton said that it was “obvious to hundreds of people” she was emailing across the State Department and federal government that she was doing so from a private server. [Politico’s Nolan D McCaskill]
The NATO summit in Warsaw in July comes at a “critical time” for the alliance in the face of Russian aggressiveness and the worldwide threat of terrorism, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday. [AP]
Despite growing threats from Russia, many countries are resisting measures to strengthen NATO, writes Steven Erlanger in the New York Times. Some European countries are even cutting back, France in particular reverting to its “traditional scepticism” that sees NATO as “an instrument of American policy and an infringement on its sovereignty.” There is also a “growing unwillingness” in the US to bear the largest military and financial NATO burden, illustrated by recent comments by presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump that the alliance is “obsolete” and that other members are “ripping off” the US.
President Obama is helping Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “remilitarize the world’s wealthiest, most populist pacifist country,” says Dreux Richard, restructuring the US-Japan alliance by removing the “restrictions” on arming Japan contained in the language of its post-WWII constitution. Siding with Japan is intended to avoid a nuclear-armed China, but, Richard suggests, Obama has “chosen the wrong strategic partner.” [New York Times]
House Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi have proposed a “joint report” on Benghazi, or failing that, the opportunity to review the GOP’s report before it is released to the public, in a letter sent to Chairman Trey Gowdy. A spokesperson for the Committee appeared to dismiss the requests, reports Julian Hattem. The Benghazi report is due to be released sometime this month. [The Hill]
Israel has released Jewish extremist Meir Ettinger who has been held under “administrative detention” – detention without charge – for ten months since his arrest in respect of an arson attack on a West Bank home. The measure is normally used on suspected Palestinian militants. Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet declined to say why he was being released. [AP]
Tunisia’s Ennahda party has successfully “beat back the Islamist tide,” approving an internal reform that asserts “the primacy of secular democracy over Islamist theocracy,” reports Maajid Nawaz. [The Daily Beast]
Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has failed to eradicate Boko Haram despite his promise last year to do so within 12 months, and despite a military crackdown on the terrorist group – an approach which analysts warn may be “causing more problems than it solves.” [The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall]
Three people have been killed in attacks on UN peacekeeping sites in the city of Gao in Mali. No group has yet claimed responsibility. [Al Jazeera]