News Roundup and Notes: August 21, 2014

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

U.S. officials say that the military is considering sending an additional 300 troops to Iraq, while American forces carried out 14 additional airstrikes in the Mosul Dam area yesterday in order to create a buffer zone to protect the site from Islamist insurgents [Associated Press’ Lolita C. Baldor and Lara Jakes].

The Wall Street Journal (Nour Malas) reports that U.S. strikes have caused some ground commanders of the Islamic State to return to Syria, according to Iraqi officials who said that the airstrikes are “starting to create panic.”

Yesterday, the Pentagon revealed that U.S. Special Operations forces staged an unsuccessful operation earlier this summer to rescue American hostages held by the Islamic State in Syria. Administration officials confirmed that the hostages included photojournalist James Foley, who was executed by Islamist militants this week  [New York Times’ Michael D. Shear and Eric Schmitt; Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Adam Entous].

Lisa Monaco, the President’s chief counterterrorism adviser, said that Obama authorized the rescue operation at the time “because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody.” However, the mission failed as “the hostages were not present.” The Washington Post (Adam Goldman and Karen DeYoung) reports that the operation was launched after at least six European captives freed by the terrorist group this year had been questioned by U.S. intelligence. [Check out Just Security’s Steve Vladeck’s post from this morning, which considers that the rescue attempt can be defended based upon the language of the 1868 Hostage Act.]

The online video depicting James Foley’s execution has been verified by the White House as authentic [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. It was further disclosed yesterday that the Islamic State had pushed for a ransom payment for Foley’s release [New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi].

Reacting to the “appall[ing]” murder, President Obama vowed to be “vigilant” and “relentless,” and to “continue to do what we must do to protect our people” against the Islamic State.

U.K. security services are attempting to identify the militant who is seen in the beheading video. Prime Minister David Cameron said it appeared “increasingly likely” that the individual, who has an English accent, is British [BBC]. Sources have told The Guardian (Martin Chulov and Josh Halliday) that the jihadist is the leader of British fighters in Syria, responsible for holding Western hostages. And The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin and Eli Lake) considers the potential link between Foley’s abduction and a British jihadi kidnapping network.

The execution of James Foley is raising calls for an expanded U.S. role in Iraq, and is likely to force the White House to “reevaluate its calculus” in the conflict, reports The Hill (Justin Sink et al.).

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board writes that the President’s denunciations are not enough, arguing that “Mr. Obama must get over his political fixation on ending Mr. Bush’s wars and admit that his country must fight again in Iraq.” Similarly, the Washington Post’s editorial board warns that the “Islamic State’s campaign of terror will take more than words to stop.”

As fighting in Iraq continues, Germany has signaled its willingness to arm Kurdish troops and said it will coordinate on strategy with Britain, France, Italy and other European nations that have pledged assistance to the battle against Islamic State [Associated Press’ Frank Jordans].

Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, the progress of Islamic State fighters toward the northern town of Marea has prompted civilians who had not previously joined opposition ranks to join the impending fight [Al Monitor’s Mohammed al-Khatieb].

Israel-Palestine

Three senior Hamas commanders were killed by Israeli airstrikes earlier this morning, a day after the failed assassination attempt on Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif [Reuters’ Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell].

More than 175 rockets and shells have been fired toward Israel since the collapse of the peace negotiations and temporary truce, while Israel has attacked around 110 targets in Gaza. Haaretz continues to provide live updates on the conflict.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed “deep regret” over the breakdown of the ceasefire, but said it will continue “bilateral contacts” with both sides in an effort to restore peace [Associated Press].

The Associated Press reports that according to a Palestinian official, Qatar may have contributed to the collapse of negotiations, suggesting that Qatar has “no interest” in allowing the Egypt-led talks to succeed. Meanwhile, Zvi Bar’el [Haaretz] explores why Turkey has been sidelined in the ongoing conflict and why it is unable to assume the position of the “key Mideast player.”

UNICEF’s top official in Gaza has said that the UN grossly underestimated the effects of an Israeli offensive in Gaza, with the number of people displaced totalling seven times that predicted in the agency’s contingency plan [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

In a related development, a senior Hamas officer said yesterday that the organization’s military wing was responsible for the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teenagers in June [Jerusalem Post].

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian forces say they have made significant gains into rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, reportedly controlling the separatist stronghold of Luhansk, although the city of Donetsk remains under rebel control. At least 52 deaths have been reported in the latest fighting [Al Jazeera].

However, a Ukrainian military source has confirmed that rebels in the east have brought down two helicopters and a Ukrainian jet in the Luhansk area [CNN’s Lindsay Isaac].

Lorries from the Russian humanitarian aid convoy have moved into Ukraine’s customs border zone, but are still due for checks by Ukrainian border troops [BBC].

Afghanistan

A soldier with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces has been stabbed in Kabul by an alleged Taliban member [CNN’s Masoud Popalzai and Jason Hanna].

The Wall Street Journal (Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil) covers the Taliban’s “nationwide offensive” in recent days aimed at gaining new territory.

The Afghan attorney general ordered the expulsion of Times journalist Matthew Rosenberg yesterday, stating that Rosenberg’s article was “divisive and contrary to the national interest, security and stability of Afghanistan” [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

Ferguson Protests

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expressed support for the program that allows surplus military equipment to be handed over to local law enforcement agencies, but said “it’s obvious that there needs to be more oversight” [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

[Be sure to check out Just Security later today for a post from Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel and Michael Price—“Ferguson is not Fallujah”—identifying the multiple congressional programs, other than the 1033 Program, that provide sources of heavy military equipment for local police.]

The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo considers that while on-body cameras for police officers will help shed light on incidents such as the Ferguson shooting, they also raise privacy concerns.

Other Developments

Lawyers for the former Guantánamo detainee from Australia, David Hicks, who pleaded guilty in exchange for his release, are seeking to set aside his conviction [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

According to multiple sources, the U.S. military is preventing employees from accessing The Intercept, in an apparent effort to censor reports containing leaked classified information, even where these are easily available on the internet, reports Ryan Gallagher.

Al Jazeera takes a look at how American and Pakistani leaders have “defended or decried” the “decade of [U.S.] drones” in Pakistan.

The Washington Post’s editorial board questions how much damage from a terrorist attack should be covered by federal money and insurance companies.

The friend of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is expected to plead guilty today to charges connected to obstructing the investigation in the wake of the attack [Wall Street Journal’s Jon Kamp].

A photojournalist who was arrested in Iran, in addition to Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and his wife, has been released on bail [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

Fighting in the Central African Republic capital has killed one Red Cross volunteer and injured several others, as fighting broke out between international peacekeepers and local militia [Al Jazeera].

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he will bar UN investigators from entering his country in order to conduct an inquiry into alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war [Vice News’ Samuel Oakford].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).