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
Washington is ignoring Turkish opposition as the US backs a Kurdish-Arab force advancing on Manbij, Syria. American commandos are accompanying the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces as they attempt to retake the Islamic State “transit town,” backed up by US airstrikes. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung] The “spat” is the latest illustration of rising tensions between the US and Turkey over their policies in Syria, writes Kadir Ustun for Al Jazeera. The US is taking a “dangerous gamble” by focusing purely on fighting Islamic State, leading to “tactical alliances with sub-state actors on the ground that threaten larger strategic relationships with traditional US allies.”
A “new battle for control – this time pitting Arabs against Kurds” is likely to result if Manbij is taken from Islamic State, warns The Daily Beast. The Kurds have led the fight against the militants, while the 5,000 or so Arabs have been trained by the US to accompany them. US defense officials have admitted that they “don’t know” which group will take charge.
Turkey’s relationship with Russia is also disintegrating over Syria, writes Selin Girit. Starting with the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkish forces last November, and threatened now by Turkey’s accusation that Russia attacked a hospital in the Syrian city of Idlib, Girit asks if the two nations can heal the “rift” that has grown between them. [BBC]
After more than a week of fighting, Iraqi and allied forces have been unable to reach Fallujah’s city center. Iraqi forces are stuck on the southern edge of Fallujah as of yesterday, while Shiite militias successfully moved into the town of Saqlawiya, northwest of Fallujah. Commanders have advised that this could provide a northern entry into Fallujah, away from where the special forces are currently fighting. [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas]
At least 130 Iraqi soldiers have reportedly been killed in the fighting, including in an attack involving ten suicide bombers. [Al Jazeera]
“How we got here, why it matters.” Holly Yan explains why control of Fallujah is so important, who’s involved in the operation, why the Iraqi media chose to broadcast it so early on, and what will happen if and when the city is retaken. [CNN]
Turkey shelled Islamic State positions in the Esh-Sheikh and Yahmoul regions of northern Syria, killing five militants, yesterday, its military confirmed this morning. [Anadolu Agency’s Servet Günerigök]
Syria allowed an international aid convoy to enter several besieged Damascus suburbs yesterday for the first time since 2012, on the day of the deadline after which the US and Russia had pledged to organize air drops if Syrian government had not taken action. However, the convoy, which contained medical supplies and a small amount of baby food, but not the food supplies that are desperately needed in the towns of Derayya and Moadamiya which are held by forces opposed to the Assad regime, has not satisfied the US, the US and France, who have urged the UN to begin air drops anyway. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Erin Cunningham]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 31. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Al-Shabaab militants bombed and then stormed a popular hotel in central Mogadishu, Somalia, last night, killing at least 15. [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman and Mohamed Ibrahim] Somali forces fought the militants overnight, finally bringing the attack to an end this morning. [Reuters’ Abdi Sheik et al]
The al-Shabaab commander considered to have masterminded the April 2015 attack on Garissa University in Kenya has been killed in a special forces raid in Somalia, an official has confirmed. The Garissa attack killed 148 people, including 142 students. Mohamed Mohamud Ali was killed alongside 15 other members of al-Shabaab. US forces provided advice and assistance in the operation, anonymous US officials have told reporters. Separately, US airstrikes killed senior al-Shabaab commander Abdullahi Haji Da’ud last Friday, the DoD confirmed yesterday. [Al Jazeera]
Restrictions on US troop numbers in Afghanistan are forcing the Army to deploy increasing numbers of contractors to the war-torn country. The Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff examines how this policy is affecting Army units who are seeing contractors substitute for their fellow solders.
US soldiers who conducted the February 2010 night raid in Gardez, Afghanistan, killing seven civilians including two pregnant women, “followed the rules of engagement,” an internal Defense Department investigation found. As a result, they were not subject to disciplinary measures. The information was contained in Defense Department documents obtained via an FOIA request by The Intercept, reports Jeremy Scahill.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Powers allowing security services to collect bulk personal data contained in the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill – or “snooper’s charter” – are not “inherently incompatible” with international privacy laws, the parliamentary human rights committee has insisted. The Home Office, which has already amended the bill three times in response to criticisms, has welcomed the committee’s report, and says it intends the bill to become law by the end of the year. [BBC]
Foreign banks will face US sanctions or fines if they do business with North Korea, the Obama administration has warned, increasing pressure on North Korea but also raising the possibility of “direct economic conflict” with China, writes Jay Solomon for the Wall Street Journal.
China’s President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of “friendly ties” with North Korea during a visit by a Pyongyang official to China that is being viewed as an attempt by the two nations to restore their relationship. [BBC]
The UN reiterated its demand that North Korea stop violating sanctions imposed following its first nuclear test in 2006, yesterday, following Pyongyang’s latest, failed, attempt to launch a missile. [AP’s Edith M Lederer]
Libya’s unity government forces and two separate militia forces are advancing toward the Islamic State stronghold of Sturt. The attacks, the first major assaults on the city since it came under the militants’ control last year, are apparently uncoordinated. [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]
The case of CIA-interrogation program “guinea pig” Abu Zubaydah represents “the A to Z of where we went wrong as a nation,” the FBI agent who first interrogated Zabaydah said yesterday. Zubaydah was subjected to “some of the most aggressive enhanced interrogation techniques” concocted by the CIA following his capture in Pakistan in 2002, in the belief that he had information about terrorist organization al-Qaeda. He is due to testify at Guantánamo Bay’s war court this afternoon – his first public appearance since capture –about whether he can support accused 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh’s claims that noises and vibrations are being deliberately caused in Guantánamo Bay’s Camp 7, where both men are being held. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
The State Department “purposely” deleted part of a video showing a reporter asking a question about secret negotiations with Iran in February 2013, it acknowledged yesterday, having previously insisted that the segment was missing as a result of a “glitch.” The question was with reference to an occasion when then State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland had said that no US-Iran negotiations were ongoing. A few months later, the Iran nuclear deal was revealed. Fox News’ James Rosen then asked the State Department whether the government ever purposely lies in order to preserve the secrecy of sensitive negotiations. The State Department has directed the video to be “restored.” [Politico’s Hadas Gold; Washington Post’s Carol Morello]
The US should not be influenced by its allies when deciding its policy in the South China Sea, a Chinese diplomat has said this morning, ahead of Sino-US security talks. [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard]
“Another Gaza war is coming,” Israeli military officials, security experts and activists have warned. The signs are “plain to see:” economic strife in Gaza; pressure on Hamas militants to strike Israeli neighborhoods before their network of border-crossing tunnels is sealed off; and Israel’s new defense minister, who threatened to assassinate Hamas’ leader last week. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]
The “Niger Delta Avengers” are Nigeria’s newest militants, reports Chris Ewokor for the BBC. Their modus operandi is to attack oil installations in the region, seriously affecting oil production, with the aim of taking “the Niger Delta struggle to new heights,” according to the group’s website.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced 14 men to death for their roles in attacks on security forces in the country’s Shiite east. The executions may increase tensions with Shiite rival, Iran, suggests Ben Hubbard. [New York Times]
Bryan Pagliano, staffer to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, will invoke his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination during his June 6 deposition in a civil public records lawsuit over Clinton’s use of a private email server – which Pagliano worked on – while in office. [Washington Post’s Spencer S Hsu]