The Early Edition: June 8, 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

President Bashar al-Assad has promised to retake “every inch” of Syria from rebel forces during his first major speech since April, when attempts to broker an end to the civil war broke down in Geneva. At the same time, Russia appears to be preparing to increase its part in the war in support of Assad. A full-scale Russian return to the war would signal the end of a “tentative” US-Russia partnership aimed at reaching a diplomatic settlement, which has so far “yielded some results,” according to diplomats. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly; New York Times’ David E Sanger and Rick Gladstone]

Fears of a race towards Islamic State stronghold Raqqa between regime forces and the US-backed opposition have been sparked by an advance by Syrian troops into the province. Supported by Russian air strikes, the regime troops approached to within 65 kilometers of the city. This is the first time government forces have entered the province since they were ousted by the Islamic State in 2014. [Financial Times’ Geoff Dyer and Rebecca Collard]

The Islamic State has withdrawn from its frontlines against Syrian rebel forces north of Aleppo today, the militants withdrawing suddenly from villages around the town of Marea. [Reuters’ Tom Perry]  United rebel forces breached an Islamic State siege around the town of Marea, northwest Syria, yesterday, reopening their main access to the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The rebels had been air dropped weapons by the US-led coalition, last week. [Reuters’ Tom Perry]

A makeshift hospital was hit during airstrikes on Aleppo, reportedly killing at least ten people. It was not clear who was responsible. [BBC]

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Karbala, a Shiite holy city in Iraq, which killed 10 yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch]

Iraqi forces made inroads into Fallujah yesterday, entering the southern neighborhood of Shuhada in the morning, having secured the southern edge of the city – one of Islamic State’s remaining strongholds – on Sunday, deputy commander Maj Gen Hadi Zayid Kassar has reported. [AP’s Susannah George]

Recapturing Fallujah will not signal the end of Islamic State in Iraq, as “one of the most circulating theories suggests,” says Al Jazeera, in conversation with Iraq scholar Zaid al-Ali. The “only long-term solution,” according to al-Ali, is to “make [Iraq’s] politicians more accountable” through “major electoral reform.”  “The politics on and off the battlefield are so unpromising that it is hard to envisage a definitive ISIS defeat,” even if the major military operations underway to drive them out of cities in Syria and Iraq succeed, agrees David Gardner for the Financial Times. The US and Russia from outside, and Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey must “agree to chart some sort of political course together.”

Syria is blocking aid to the besieged town of Daraya, according to UN officials. Daraya received its first aid convoy since 2012 on June 1, but it did not contain food, which is desperately needed. The town is 12 kilometers from Damascus, and food deliveries can be made, a UN spokesperson said yesterday, concluding that the decision to withhold agreement to them is “a political issue.” [Reuters’ Tom Miles et al]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 6. Separately, partner forces conducted 17 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

UK spy agency MI5 collects so much data that it cannot analyze it all, creating possible security threats as clues and details are overlooked, warned a 2010 secret report, writes The Intercept‘s Ryan Gallagher. This may have been a factor in the execution of British soldier Lee Rigby outside his barracks in London in 2013, an investigation into which found that the two perpetrators were well known to MI5, which had nevertheless missed the warning signs – including phone calls made to an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen – perhaps because of difficulties in sifting through the “troves of data” it had collected, suggests Gallagher.

CHINA

A Chinese fighter jet undertook an “unsafe” intercept of a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane on Tuesday as it conducted a routine patrol, US Pacific Command claims. This is the second such encounter in the past month, and since Washington and Beijing agreed on rules of behavior for air encounters last September. [Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page and Gordon Lubold]

“Little progress” was made during two days of high-level talks in Beijing between the US and China, which ended yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz and Mark Magnier]  Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi laid out their “diverging” stances on the South China Sea, suggesting that the two nations remain “far apart” on this issue. [New York Times’ Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley]

The Philippines has ignored China’s proposal of regular talks over maritime disputes in the South China Sea, Beijing claims. China is hoping to find a bilateral solution to the two nations’ overlapping claims in the region, rejecting the case brought by the Philippines in the international tribunal in The Hague over the same issue. [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard and Manuel Mogato]

TURKEY

Three have been killed in a large car bomb attack at a police headquarters in Mardin, Turkey, this morning. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has blamed the attack on the PKK. [Hürriyet Daily News]

Turkish police have arrested four suspects in connection with the bombing of a police bus in Istanbul yesterday, which killed eleven. The four are being held at Istanbul’s main police station. There has been no indication of which, if any, terrorist organization the detainees are suspected of belonging to. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US and India agreed to go ahead with the building of six nuclear reactors in India by US firm Westinghouse Electric Co. yesterday, following a meeting between Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House. This will be the first such deal since the two nations signed a landmark civil nuclear deal in 2008, and is part of an effort toward closer cooperation between the US and India, with the US hoping to bolster India’s role in deterring China. Mr Modi is due to deliver a speech to Congress today. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E Lee and William Mauldin]

Iran refuses to grant visas to three US congressmen who oppose the nuclear deal, it said yesterday. It called the lawmakers’ visit, during which they intend to monitor the deal in action, a “publicity stunt.” The three congressmen are all part of a “GOP backlash” against the deal. [AP’s Amir Vahdat]

The FBI is increasingly employing stings – with agents and informants posing as jihadists, bomb-makers or online “friends” – in investigations into US citizens suspected of supporting the Islamic State, reports Eric Lichtblau. Their involvement extends to helping suspects to source weapons and identify bombing targets, and assisting with travel to Syria to join the Islamic State there. The rise in their use has attracted little public or congressional scrutiny, says Lichtblau. [New York Times]

Jordanian police have banned media coverage of the shooting at an intelligence office near Amman on Monday, which killed five. The attack raises fears that militants were able to infiltrate “one of the region’s most powerful and ruthlessly effective counterterrorism agencies,” reports Kareem Fahim. Jordanian officials insist that the shooting was an “isolated and individual act.” [New York Times]

NATO and its partners will conduct around 150 separate military exercises by the end of this year. Al Jazeera provides an interactive map showing some of the biggest.

Worldwide deaths from conflict are at a 25-year high, the Global Peace Index shows today. The Index measures 23 indicators, including countries’ militarization and weapons imports. The Middle East is mainly to blame, however, while the rest of the world is “actually becoming more peaceful,” reports Alex Whiting for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  The Index also records that the cost of this violence to the global economy was $13.6 trillion last year. [The Guardian’s Sam Jones]

Now is the “golden hour” when the US can break Pakistan’s links with the Taliban, suggests Zalmay Khalilzad in the Wall Street Journal. This opportunity was created by the killing of previous Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour on May 21. Now, Khalilzad writes, the US must move to secure Pakistan’s cooperation in ceasing support for the Haqqani network terrorist and the Taliban.

North Korea’s military buildup a is not limited to nuclear weapons, writes Anna Fifield. Satellite imagery shows that it is also investing considerably in its “conventional facilities.” [Washington Post]

Former CIA director David Petraeus discussed highly classified information with journalists, according to an affidavit obtained by Politico. The affidavit relates to an investigation into Petraeus’ mishandling of classified information, which led him to resign his post and ultimately plead guilty to a criminal charge. The information, according to the affidavit, included details of sensitive military campaigns and operations, some of which is believed to have been “Top Secret,” reports Josh Gerstein. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE