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
Iraqi forces have taken full control of the city of Fallujah, Iraqi commanders confirmed yesterday, ending a month-long battle to oust the Islamic State from one of its symbolic strongholds and the largest city in Iraq that was under its control. [The Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy and Ghassan Adnan; The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim] Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Fallujah yesterday, urging all Iraqis to “get out and celebrate,” and vowing to take Mosul next, the Islamic State’s last remaining “major hub,” says Al Jazeera.
Looking ahead at Iraq’s war against the Islamic State after Fallujah, Susannah George anticipates that a “key task” will be stopping the insurgents from returning to Fallujah, as they did after two US-led assaults on the city in 2004. There is also a looming humanitarian crisis to deal with, with an estimated 85,000 people who fled Fallujah currently living in desert camps, out in the open, with little food, water, or shelter. Retaking Mosul may not be as straightforward a task as Iraqi leaders have implied, US officials and analysts saying assertions that that city will be retaken this year are not realistic, given, for example, the need to train many more Iraqi troops to ensure the operation is effective. [AP]
Syrian or Russian warplanes carried out heavy airstrikes on the Syrian town of al-Quria in Deir al-Zor province, killing dozens, including 25 children, according to UNICEF and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Deir al-Zor province is mostly under Islamic State control, and links the insurgents’ de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, with its territory in Iraq. [Reuters’ Tom Perry]
Suicide bombers attacked a Lebanese village on the border with Syria this morning, killing five and wounding at least 15, according to a Lebanese military official and paramedics. [AP’s Zeina Karam]
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for last week’s attack on a Jordanian army post on the Syrian border, which killed seven Jordanian troops. Jordan has promised to respond with an “iron fist,” and has closed off its border with Syria, cutting off around 70,000 Syrian refugees, reports Al Jazeera.
Jordanian intelligence operatives have “systematically stolen” weapons shipped to Jordan by the CIA and Saudi Arabia that were intended for Syrian rebels, selling them on to arms merchants via the black market, US and Jordanian officials have disclosed following a joint investigation by the New York Times and Al Jazeera. Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting last November at a police training facility in Amman which led to the deaths of five people, including two Americans, according to the FBI. [New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Ali Younes]
Syria’s civil war is being fought in its prisons, not just on the battlefield, reports Priyanka Gupta. Over 12,000 Syrians have been killed under torture in detention since the start of the conflict, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and there are concerns that accountability for this will be “overlooked” by parties attempting to end the fighting. [Al Jazeera]
A video depicting the executions of five Syrian media activists was released by the Islamic State on Sunday. The five were captured by the terrorist group last October, and are believed to have been killed in December. [AP]
Moscow has passed draconian anti-terrorism laws that make it a crime not to warn the authorities of “reliable” information about planned terror attacks, punishes online approval of terrorism with up to seven years imprisonment, and obliges telephone and internet providers to store communications records for six months and all metadata for three years, as well as assisting intelligence agencies to decode encrypted messaging services. Human rights campaigners and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently residing in Russia, have said that the measures will undermine personal freedoms and privacy, reports Alec Luhn in the Guardian.
The US has lost its “most reliable, sympathetic partner” in Europe following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, writes David E Sanger in the New York Times. Finding a replacement “will not be easy:” no other country shares America’s worldview in the way that the UK – the US’s greatest security ally and most effective intelligence partner – does. What is more, the loss of Britain’s influence in Europe comes at a “particularly bad moment,” as the US and its allies debate how to deal with Russia, “reinvigorate” NATO, and work toward a diplomatic settlement in Syria.
US National Security Adviser Susan Rice sees “relatively few” immediate security concerns following Britain’s EU-exit vote, saying that “we will do all we can to make sure the areas in which we’re cooperating – counterterrorism – remain solid.” [Politico]
Britain’s vote will have “profound foreign policy consequences,” says the New York Times editorial board, and will lead to the “weakening” of “the interlocking web of Western institutions and alliances that have helped guarantee international peace and stability for 70 years.” Now President Obama, who has been focused on building alliances with Asia, must make Europe and NATO a priority again, or risk ultimately benefiting Russia and China.
The vote was “maybe the most dramatic” event in a reversing trend that sees Europe weakening as Russia and its allies are consolidating, agrees former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul in the Washington Post.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is set to present a plan to widen European defense and security cooperation on Tuesday, in an effort to increase the bloc’s ability to act independently. This will be the first time a European global strategy has been presented to European leaders in over a decade, and the first Brussels meeting since the UK voted to leave the EU last Thursday. The UK’s approach to EU defense and security has been to resist efforts to create an EU-wide military structure, writes Laurence Norman, pushing instead for defense resources to be channeled through NATO. [Wall Street Journal; Financial Times’ Alex Barker]
The FBI spends “hundreds of millions of dollars” on developing technology for use in national security and domestic law enforcement investigations, but refuses to reveal the exact amount, reports Jenna McLaughlin for The Intercept. The FBI has requested more than $100 million more for 2017: over $85 million to boost its cyber offense and defense, and over $38 million to deal with the issue of encryption and other anonymity software in investigations.
Yemen’s warring factions must keep working toward a comprehensive peace agreement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged delegates taking part in the two-month old peace talks in Kuwait yesterday. The conflict has killed around 9,000 people since March last year, according to the UN. [AP’s Hussain Al-Qatari and Ahmed Al-Haj]
Lawyers for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden will push for a presidential pardon before Obama leaves office. Snowden, however, believes that Obama is unlikely to acquiesce. Furthermore, neither of the current presidential candidates have shown “much sign of sympathy” for Snowden, who is living in sanctuary in Russia: Hillary Clinton has said he should not be allowed to return to the US without “facing the music,” while Republican candidate Donald Trump has suggested that Snowden should be executed. [The Guardian’s Edward Helmore]
Meanwhile, a Norwegian court has today declined to hear a lawsuit from Snowden against the Norwegian government for free passage to the country. [Reuters’ Terje Solsvik]
India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime, and exclusive club of 34 –now 35 – countries which control exports on missile technology, today. India has been pressing for admittance to various “elite groups” controlling the export of nuclear materials and regulating technologies relating to nuclear and other weapons since it signed a landmark deal with the US in 2008 providing it with some access to nuclear materials and technologies. [AP]