News Roundup and Notes: August 22, 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

At a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the threat posed by ISIS is “beyond anything we have seen,” noting that the U.S. is considering “all options” to counter the extremist organization [CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter and Azadeh Ansari].

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey went further than Hagel in addressing questions on Syria, acknowledging that ISIS needed to be tackled “both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border” between Syria and Iraq. Dempsey said airstrikes were “one small part” of the action required to defeat ISIS, but said, “I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America.” Neither Hagel nor Dempsey indicated that President Obama was ready to authorize airstrikes in Syria. The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Helene Cooper) and Washington Post (Dan Lamothe and Karen DeYoung) provide more details.

In the wake of the execution of American photojournalist James Foley, the Wall Street Journal (Felicia Schwartz and Dion Nissenbaum) reports that the U.S. may be pushing for a broader campaign against the Islamist militants. The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) also covers how the administration is signaling a “new war” against the Islamic State, which has now turned “personal.”

However, the New York Times (Mark Landler) considers that Congress is still wary of greater military involvement, despite the “intensely emotional reaction [drawn by Foley’s death] from lawmakers in both parties.” While Politico’s Jeremy Herb reports that the increasing number of U.S. airstrikes and troops in Iraq has prompted a small bipartisan group of lawmakers to call for a congressional vote on military action in Iraq. 

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a Department of Justice “open criminal investigation” into James Foley’s killing [Jonathan Topaz, Politico].

Foley’s murder has reignited the debate over ransom payments [AFP], although the State Department strongly defended its refusal to negotiate payments to terrorists. Spokesperson Marie Harf said “paying ransoms or making concessions would both put … all Americans overseas at greater risk for kidnapping and in harm’s way, [and] would also fund and finance exactly the groups we are trying to degrade their capabilities.” The New York Times’ editorial board considers that while there is “no simple answer on whether to submit to terrorist extortion … [i]f everyone refused to pay, terrorists might not have had the incentive to turn kidnapping into an industry.”

The Telegraph (Gordon Rayner et al.) reports on the British jihadis suspected of Foley’s execution. Amid the intensified search for the militant seen in Foley’s execution video, the British government has come under pressure to reconsider how it tackles domestic extremism [The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt et al.].

The decision to disclose the failed rescue operation for James Foley and other Americans has been criticized by some lawmakers, although administration officials explained they were forced to reveal details as several news outlets were planning to report on the mission [The Hill’s Martin Matishak; Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum].

CNN (Chelsea J. Carter et al.) outlines James Foley’s final months, including the unsuccessful rescue mission and mock executions. NBC News (Cassandra Vinograd) has the inside story on the “race to save” Foley. And GlobalPost has published the full text of the last email sent by the Islamic State to Foley’s family, in which they stated they would execute Foley in retaliation for U.S. action against the group.

Arian Campo-Flores [Wall Street Journal] reports on American freelancer Steven Sotloff, who the Islamic State threatened to kill in their video capturing the execution of James Foley.

Evan Kohlmann [Politico Magazine] explains why “the politics of savagery are unlikely to be a winning strategy for the Islamic State in the long term.”

In an op-ed for Asharq Al-Awsat, Eyad Abu Shakra explores how the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are “joined at the hip.”

Reuters (David Alexander) reports that the Iraqi military is struggling to build up its air force due to delays in the delivery of U.S. attack planes to the country.

Afghanistan

A review of the Government Accountability Office has concluded that the Taliban prisoner swap, which secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl:

“… violated section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014 when it transferred five individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation of Qatar without providing at least 30 days notice to certain congressional committees … As a consequence of using its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, DOD also violated the Antideficiency Act.”

James Rosen [McClatchy DC] provides more details on the report’s findings.

The Department of State’s “Rewards for Justice” program is offering new rewards for information on four leaders of the terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network. The Pakistan-based group has carried out numerous cross-border attacks in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul and is deemed “the most lethal insurgent group targeting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan personnel in Afghanistan.”

The Washington Post’s editorial board argues why the U.S. strategy to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan is the “wrong way to achieve political accommodation” in the country.

In response to widespread criticism for expelling Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg, the Afghan government has issued a statement noting that it “considers Mr. Rosenberg’s report more of an espionage act than a journalistic work, one that was meant to create panic and disruption in people’s minds, and provide the basis for other spying purposes” [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Rick Gladstone].

Israel-Palestine

Amid continuing hostilities, Hamas killed 18 suspected Israeli informers this morning, while Israeli attacks killed at least 29 people in the Gaza strip yesterday. Meanwhile, Germany, France and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution to end the conflict, reportedly joined by the U.S., according to diplomats [Haaretz].

Al-Sarsouriya reports that despite the Israeli and Egyptian crackdown on Gaza’s tunnels, Hamas militants continue to use tunnels into Egypt to transport weapons as well as aid.

Private business owners in Gaza claim that Israel is intentionally targeting the economy by destroying hundreds of factories, an allegation denied by Israeli military officials [Washington Post’s William Booth].

In a separate development, New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford covers the terrorism trial of Arab Bank, accused of knowingly financing Hamas’ terrorism, which is underway at a federal district court in Brooklyn.

Russia and Ukraine

The first trucks in Russia’s 270-truck aid convoy have cleared customs at a rebel-held border point in east Ukraine [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker]. However, Kyiv Post (Ian Bateson and Katya Gorchinskaya) is reporting that several trucks have moved into the Luhansk region without any clearance from the border or the International Committee of the Red Cross. The move has been condemned by Ukrainian authorities as amounting to a “direct invasion” by Russia [Reuters].

Ukrainian forces suffered a significant setback yesterday, when pro-Russian rebels killed at least 19 Ukrainian troops in a deadly counteroffensive [Al Jazeera America].

The Economist considers the “fresh questions” over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans, as fighting in eastern Ukraine intensifies.

The Washington Post’s editorial board warns against any bargain with Putin, noting that “[a]ny discussion that leads to a shred of success for Mr. Putin’s nonlinear war would encourage the use of such tactics again.”

The Wall Street Journal (Anton Troianovski) covers how Russia is “accelerating its push to rebuild, modernize and expand its Soviet-era foreign media apparatus” in an attempt to win an information war in Europe.

The remains of the Malaysian victims of Flight MH17 have been brought to Kuala Lumpur, as the country holds a day of national mourning [Associated Press].

Other Developments

VICE News (Jason Leopold) has learned that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation methods will not include some “well-known architects of [the] torture program.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill is set to lead a Senate hearing on the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which transfers surplus military equipment to local law enforcement, following extensive criticism of police tactics used in the Ferguson protests [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo].

In her final address to the Security Council, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticized the Council’s ineffectiveness. Citing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, among others, Pillay said, “Short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of—and long-term threats to—international peace and security” [Al Jazeera].

The Washington Post’s editorial board writes that the Obama administration should not force Times reporter James Risen to reveal his source, stating “it will damage the ability of journalists to promise confidentiality to sources and to probe government behavior.”

The Navy has dismissed at least 34 sailors for involvement in the nuclear power training cheating scandal, while several others are under criminal investigation [Associated Press].

Reuters reports that South Sudan rebels have agreed to the presence of a Ugandan force in the country until a regional peacekeeping force is deployed.

Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has urged his country’s troops to “raise their level of vigilance” as the deadline set by rebels for the government to quit expires [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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