Turkeyâ€™s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said there is clear evidence that the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG was responsible for Wednesdayâ€™s suicide attack in Ankara that left 28 people dead. Davutoglu has vowed to retaliate in both Iraq and Syria. [Reutersâ€™ Ercan Gurses and Humeyra Pamuk]
Officials identified the suicide bomber as Saleh Najjar, a Syrian refugee who registered in Turkey in mid-2014. [Wall Street Journalâ€™s Dion Nissenbaum et al] Turkish authorities have arrested 14 people in connection to the attack, as a YPG leader denied involvement. [NPRâ€™s Bill Chappell]
Davutoglu also directed a warning at Russia, saying in a televised address that: â€œIf these terror attacks continue, they will be as responsible as the YPG.â€ Moscow denies any link to terrorism related activities. [Financial Timesâ€™ Mehul Srivastava and Funja Guler]Â
The United States was quick to condemn the attack and express support for Turkey but cautioned against prematurely attributing responsibility to the Kurdish militia. [New York Timesâ€™ Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu]
Turkeyâ€™s foreign minister has today accused the US of making a â€œmistakeâ€ by relying on â€œgroups like the YPGâ€ in the fight against ISIS, saying that above all it is a â€œsign of weakness.â€ [Reuters]
IRAQ and SYRIA
Comments by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad â€œdo not chime with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is undertaking,â€ said Moscowâ€™s envoy to the UN, commenting on a statement from Assad in which he said that he intended to re-establish control over all of Syria. [Reuters]
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are considering heightened intervention in Syria, though both are â€œdeeply wary of acting without US consentâ€ while at the same time are â€œangry at what they see as a US failure to take a more muscular stanceâ€ against Russia, report Sam Jones et al for the Financial Times.
Moscow agreed to an American request not to target US special operations forces in northern Syria, the Pentagon revealed yesterday, a previously undisclosed cooperation between the two nations. [The Hillâ€™s Kristina Wong]Â
Tensions between the US and Turkey, heightened now in light of Wednesdayâ€™s attack in Ankara, threaten to â€œjeopardize their alliance in the Syria conflict,â€ writes Rick Gladstone, providing a Q&A on the dynamic between the US, Turkey and the Kurds. [New York Times]
More than 20 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives in two airstrikes targeting ISIS-held towns in Anbar province, sources say. It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were conducted by the US-led coalition. [Al Jazeera]Â
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 17. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 12 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
â€œIn the Syrian nightmare, even small steps forward are notable.â€ David Ignatius explains why now is a â€œcritical momentâ€ in the civil conflict, concluding that it is â€œnever too late for the United States to do the right thing â€“ which is to build, carefully, the political and military framework for a new Syria.â€ [Washington Post]
The Economist writes: â€œSyria is a nasty complex of wars within a war,â€ describing the â€œperils of inactionâ€ and setting out steps which the west ought to take now.
SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Facebook and Twitter have pledged to â€œstand with Appleâ€ and â€œaggressively fightâ€ attempts to weaken encryption, as the tech companyâ€™s battle with the FBI continues. [The Guardianâ€™s Danny Yadron]
Appleâ€™s decision to defy the court order to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters â€œwas over a year in the making,â€ report Matt Apuzzo et al, citing a drug case in a Brooklyn federal court last year which marked a shift in the tech companyâ€™s policy on assisting law enforcement to unlock phones. [New York Times]
Further, Apple had for weeks been refusing the FBIâ€™s requests that it unlock the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, with the Justice Department going as far as considering filing court papers against the tech giant. [Wall Street Journalâ€™s Devlin Barrett and Daisuke Wakabayashi]
Neither Democratic presidential candidate will pick a side between the FBI and Apple, both Sanders and Clinton attempting to occupy a middle ground, one which Jenna McLaughlin argues doesnâ€™t really exist, at The Intercept.
â€œWe are a country of laws, and this charade has gone on long enough,â€ writes Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr in an op-ed at USA Today expressing concern that they are not permitted to act above the law.
The media weighs in. The New York Times editorial board makes the case for â€œwhy Apple is right to challengeâ€ the court ruling ordering it to assist the FBI, citing the â€œConstitution and the nationâ€™s lawsâ€ which â€œlimit how investigators and prosecutors can collect evidence.â€ The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggests that â€œthe reality seems to be more complicated than either Mr Cook or the FBI allow,â€ concluding that a â€œmature democracy â€“ if America still is one â€“ ought to be able to work out these crucial matters of national security through legislative deliberation.â€ And the Washington Post editorial board expresses hope that â€œApple will fight â€¦ hard to safeguard its usersâ€™ privacy from authoritarian abuse.â€
â€œCrime, iPhones and encryption.â€ The New York Times â€œRoom for Debateâ€ asks whether tech companies should provide access to law enforcement where a crime has been committed.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Australia and New Zealand have urged China to avoid further exacerbating tensions among those countries disputing sovereignty in the South China Sea. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that â€œit is absolutely critical that we ensure that there is a lowering of tensions.â€ [Reutersâ€™ Colin Packham]
The New York Times editorial board situates Chinaâ€™s decision to place missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea in the context of a â€œseries of provocative acts that is fueling regional tensions.â€ While, in theory, defense of its naval bases 273 miles away on Hainan Island would be a legitimate reason for the missiles, the timing of the deployment, and the way it was done, makes it â€œimpossible to blindly acceptâ€ this rationale.
Russiaâ€™s next strike could be â€œanywhere in the world.â€ Polandâ€™s foreign affairs adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski, has warned. He told Patrick Wintour that Russiaâ€™s intervention in Syria demonstrates that it has the capability of transporting large amounts of military equipment at speed while remaining undetected, allowing it to set â€œnew challenging fronts around the world.â€ [The Guardian]
Islamic State is focusing activity in the Northern Caucases, reports Anna Nemtsova, recruiting from the local population and â€œexacting retribution for what happens on the faraway battlefields of Syria.â€ [The Daily Beast]
Confirmation that video footage depicting a senior Belgian nuclear official was recovered from a Paris suspect has sparked uproar among lawmakers, who are protesting that they and the rest of the country have been misled about the extent of the threat to nuclear facilities and the ambitions of those responsible for the attacks. [New York Times]
A main suspect wanted in connection with the Paris attacks successfully hid inside an apartment in Brussels for three weeks, those investigating have reportedly confirmed. [Reuters]
Encryption assisted the Paris attackers to hide from authorities in the run-up to their November assault, director of the NSA, Michael Rogers has said. [The Hillâ€™s Cory Bennett]
Afghan security forces raided a hospital in Wardak province, AfghanistanÂ on Wednesday night, killing three. There are reports that NATO advisers may have taken part in the attack, which is being presented as a violation of humanitarian law. [New York Timesâ€™ Mujib Mashal; Washington Postâ€™s Tim Craig and Sayed Salahuddin]
Five Red Cross staff members have been kidnapped by an armed group while travelling in the Afghan province of Ghazni. The Red Cross has confirmed that it has halted operations there and is working to secure the release of its employees. [Reuters]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Two teenage Palestinians have fatally stabbed an Israeli soldier and wounded another man in an Israeli supermarket in the West Bank. Civilians subsequently shot the attackers, wounding them. The incident comes just after Israelâ€™s top general addressed Israeli students on the issue of the appropriate degree of force to use in confrontations with Palestinian attackers. [New York Timesâ€™ Isabel Kershner]
Violence between Israel and Palestine is showing â€œno sign of relenting,â€ according to the UN, urging both sides to act to shape the future of their relations. [UN News Centre]
Bill Clinton has lent his voice to his wifeâ€™s promise to give â€œeven greater supportâ€ to Israel if she is elected, meeting secretly with leaders of South Floridaâ€™s Jewish community on Monday. [The Interceptâ€™s Glenn Greenwald]
President Obama has approved new sanctions against North Korea after the Senateâ€™s unanimous approval of the bill last week. The new measures are supposed to cut off money that North Korea needs to develop its nuclear weapons technology. [AP; BBC]
US and South Korean fighter jets flew alongside each other on Thursday, in what the Department of Defense said was a show of the nationsâ€™ collective capability to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula in the face of recent provocations by North Korea. The importance of US-South Korea coordination in responding to North Korea was reaffirmed during the discussions between Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken and North Koreaâ€™s Deputy National Security Advisor, in Washington, said the Department of State.
More than 30 Islamic State militants have been killed in a US air strike near Sabratha, west of Tripoli, Libya. Many of those killed are believed to have been involved in two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year, including Noureddine Chouchane, a â€œmajor facilitatorâ€ for Â the Islamic State, although reports of his death are yet to be confirmed. [New York Timesâ€™ Eric Schmitt and Declan Walsh]
Scenes from the Hollywood movie â€œZero Dark Thirtyâ€ have been screened at the 9/11 pre-trial hearings at GuantÃ¡namo Bayâ€™s Camp Justice. Defense lawyers are arguing that the CIA gave more access to evidence to filmmakers than it did to lawyers involved in the case. [Miami Heraldâ€™s Carol Rosenberg]
â€œSignificant breakthroughs.â€ The head of the House Benghazi Committee reports â€œenormous progressâ€ in its investigation into the terrorist attacks on a US Compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, following interviews with top governmental officials this month. [The Hillâ€™s Julian Hattem]
The US Marines has placed tanks, artillery and logistic equipment inside caves in Norway as it stations itself close to the NATO-Russia frontier. Colonel William Bentley has stated that the intention in doing this is to reduce cost and speed up the Marinesâ€™ â€œability to support operations in crisis, so weâ€™re able to fall in on gear that is ready-to-go and respond to whatever that crisis may be.â€ [CNNâ€™s Ryan Browne]
A UN Mission in South Sudan has been burned to the ground following an eruption of violence there on Wednesday evening, which continued overnight and has resulted in the deaths of at least 18 people. [The Daily Beastâ€™s Justin Lynch; CNNâ€™s Catherine E Shoichet and Pierre Meilhan] Â UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack and urged all parties to abstain from any actions or comments which could cause the situation to escalate. [UN News Centre]
Kenyaâ€™s military claims to have killed the head of intelligence of al-Shabaab in an airstrike in Nadris camp in south Somalia, ten days ago. Al-Shabaab denies the death. [AP]
Egyptian human rights organization, the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, is to challenge the governmentâ€™s â€œpolitically motivatedâ€ decision to shut it down, intending to begin its resistance with â€œa lawsuit in the administrative court.â€ [Wall Street Journalâ€™s Dahlia Kholaif]
Cultivating â€œa generation of school-age militants.â€ Islamic Stateâ€™s newest â€œshock tacticâ€ is to use children on suicide missions, reports Greg Miller. [Washington Post] Â At least 89 children were killed in the year up to January 2016, a report published by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Pointâ€™s CTC Sentinel has confirmed. [The Daily Beastâ€™s Katie Zavaski]
â€œTerror disruptions.â€ Jenna McLaughlin reports on the FBIâ€™s new categorization of its own performance measures, which she suggests is vague, lacks transparency and appears to be an attempt to wrongly suggest that the FBI is exceeding expectations in the fight against terror. [The Intercept]
Following the release of the National Commission on the Future of the US Armyâ€™s report on Jan 29, Andrew F Krepinevich mourns the Armyâ€™s â€œdeclining ability to wage the kind of protracted irregular wars that Americaâ€™s enemies increasingly prefer to fight,â€ a problem he says has its origins in the post-Vietnam war decision to drop the draft. [Wall Street Journal]
By Nadia O’Mara and ZoÃ« Chapman