The Early Edition: June 22, 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

The Islamic State has retaken “large areas” of Raqqa province from Syrian forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The insurgents have reportedly pushed back forces loyal to the Syrian government to around 40 kilometers from Tabqa, an area west of Raqqa city. [Al Jazeera]

At least 18 civilians have been killed in airstrikes on Raqqa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that it was not able to determine who was responsible for the attacks. [BBC]

Iraqi forces only control a third of Fallujah, the US government has advised, despite Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s declaration four days ago that the city had been liberated from the insurgents. [Al Jazeera]

Some US officials are warning that gains against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are not enough, and could produce unwarranted consequences: greater legitimacy for Islamic State in the eyes of disaffected Sunni Muslims who see the prevalence of Shiite and Kurdish fighters in the campaign against the insurgents; the possibility that the group will turn to less conventional military tactics and to directing attacks in the US, Europe and elsewhere as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria. [Reuters’ John Walcott]

Jordan has declared its borders with Syria and Iraq are to be closed military zones following yesterday’s suicide bombing, which resulted in the deaths of six soldiers. It is still unclear who is responsible for the attack, which was launched from Syrian territory. [BBC; AP’s Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh]

Lebanese troops are “quietly” making progress against Islamic State near the Lebanese border with Syria, aided by the US and Britain and indirectly supported by allies Hezbollah who are fighting on the other side of the border. [AP]

Secretary of State John Kerry met yesterday with eight of the 51 State Department Officials who authored the Dissent Channel cable last week disagreeing with US policy in Syria and arguing that it should be more “militarily assertive.” Details of the discussion, which lasted for around half an hour, have not been provided. [New York Times’ David E Sanger; Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed]

Supporters and opponents of legal actions in Europe against alleged perpetrators of grave crimes in Syria met at a UN panel discussion yesterday. Several UN countries have already been pursuing investigations or prosecutions. Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution backed by over 60 countries in May 2014 which would have referred the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court. [AP’s Edith M Lederer]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 20. Separately, partner forces conducted 20 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A proposal that would allow the FBI to use “national security letters” to get hold of people’s internet browsing history without a warrant during a terrorism or federal intelligence probe is due to be subjected to a procedural vote by Senators today. The proposal would also permanently extend a Patriot Act provision meant to monitor “lone wolf” extremists, currently due to expire in 2019. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

There are no privacy regulations at all in the over 600 pages of rules on the use of drones in US airspace released by the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday. Despite over 180 groups raising privacy concerns through the public commenting process, the FAA insisted that its “longstanding mission” does not include privacy, and that to have considered it would be “overreaching” its mandate. [The Intercept’s Alex Emmons]

UK security services will be licensed to hack into all the phones and laptops in a “major town” under the Investigatory Powers Bill, currently moving through Parliament, as long as the town were overseas and the hacking were necessary for national security purposes. The powers were revealed in an “obscure” case study in a UK Home office document, which set out the operational case for their use. [The Guardian’s Alan Travis]

RUSSIA

NATO troops should be stationed permanently in Eastern Europe in order to guard against Russia, two former US policymakers have said. Former US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns and former supreme allied commander for Europe Gen. James Jones have called for permanent air, sea, and ground troops to be based in the Baltic States, Poland and Bulgaria. [The Guardian’s Jennifer Rankin]

Russia’s President Putin has said that Russia must increase its combat readiness in response to NATO’s “aggressive actions” near its borders, today. He added that Russia was open to discussions with Europe on the issue of building a “modern, non-bloc collective security system” with Russia. [Reuters’ Denis Pinchuk et al]

President Putin is heading to China this weekend as part of a push to strengthen ties between the two former rival countries and form what they are calling a “strategic partnership.” A shared desire to counter US “global domination” and strong personal ties between Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping are the main impetuses behind the cooperation, reports Vladimir Isachenkov. [AP]

The EU agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine to the end of January 2016 yesterday, though formal approval is pending. It may come as early as Friday or – if Italy’s request to defer it until EU leaders meet in Brussels on June 28-9 is agreed to  – at the end of the month. [Reuters’ Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair MacDonald]

EUROPE

French police detained three in connection with the knife attack on a police captain and his partner last week, later releasing two and retaining one, indicating that the attack may have been “the work of a broader group,” suggests Inti Landauro in the Wall Street Journal.

A man wearing a fake explosive belt in a Brussels shopping center prompted a major security alert and an emergency meeting of government ministers yesterday. Police reported that the man claimed he had been abducted and dropped off at the mall, and that the suicide belt – which turned out to be full of salt and biscuits – would be detonated remotely. [AP]

The world’s leading construction materials company Lafarge entered into deals with the Islamic State in Syria in order to protect its business interests there, French newspaper Le Monde reported yesterday. The French company paid taxes to Islamic State and negotiated safe passage for its trucks and employees, in order to allow it to sustain production levels despite the civil war. [France 24]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The US has called on China and other claimants to exercise restraint when the arbitration panel in The Hague releases its ruling on the South China Sea disputes, an anonymous official telling reporters that the decision may offer “a great deal of clarity” and form the basis of an arrangement aimed at avoiding future confrontations. [AP’s Jim Gomez]

Indonesia has rejected China’s position that the two countries have overlapping claims on “maritime rights and interests” in the South China Sea. The two nations have been caught up in a run of skirmishes in the region recently. [Reuters’ Agustinus Beo Da Costa et al]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea launched two intermediate-range ballistic missiles today, South Korea has confirmed. The first reportedly failed, but the second, fired a few hours later, proved to be the most effective test to date. [BBC]  NATO has condemned the launches.  Japan, meanwhile, has warned that they pose “a serious threat.” [BBC]

US and North Korean diplomats are to attend a six-nation security forum in Beijing today, though the US State Department has said that there are no plans for direct talks between the two nations. [AP’s Christopher Bodeen]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 34 Libyan pro-government fighters were killed and 100 wounded while making “their largest gains” so far against Islamic State in the militants’ stronghold, Surt, yesterday, one of the bloodiest days since the offensive began in May. [AFP; BBC]

Three suspected Islamic State members were arrested late last night in Istanbul, Turkey, following a tip-off they were planning an attack on a transgender march. [Reuters’ Humeyra Pamuk]

An 18-year-old from Indianapolis has been arrested for allegedly attempting to fly to Morocco to join the Islamic State. Akram Musleh reportedly has a long history of indicating support for the terrorist organization on social media. [The Daily Beast]

A 15-year-old Palestinian boy has been “mistakenly” shot dead by Israeli troops who mistook him for a stone-thrower, close to the village of Beit Sira in occupied West Bank. [The Guardian’s Donald Macintyre] 

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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