News Roundup and Notes: August 27, 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

Speaking in Charlotte, N.C. yesterday, President Obama vowed to counter the growing threat from the Islamic State, while also promising that U.S. “combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.” Obama said that he was seeking to build an “international coalition” to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.” The New York Times (Helene Cooper and Mark Landler) and Politico (Jennifer Epstein) provide more details.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel further pledged to provide Kurdish forces with “urgently needed arms and equipment” in co-operation with a number of allies, including Canada, France and the U.K. [DoD News].

U.S. military forces carried out two airstrikes in the vicinity of Irbil yesterday, destroying two Islamic State armed vehicles, bringing the total number of American strikes since August 8 to 98 [Central Command]. The Telegraph is reporting that the U.S. is set to ask Britain and Australia to join new U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials confirmed that reconnaissance flights over Syria have begun. Nicholas Blanford [Christian Science Monitor] explores whether the U.S. will need to work with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on any future air campaign in the country. However, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki ruled out the possibility of coordinating with the Assad regime on potential airstrikes [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan]. 

The Hill (Kristina Wong) reports that Republicans remain divided over strikes in Syria. Peter Beinart [The Atlantic] explains why striking militants in Syria would be “reckless without allies on the ground.”

A third American hostage held by the Islamic State has been identified as a 26-year old humanitarian aid worker in Syria. The group is reportedly demanding a $6.6 million ransom for her release [ABC News’ Brian Ross et al.].

American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was held for almost two years by Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra, has returned to the U.S., after his release on Sunday [Reuters].

The Obama administration has confirmed the death of American citizen, Douglas McAuthur McCain, who was fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. Senior administration officials have told NBC News that Douglas is only one of several American jihadists who have joined terrorist organizations in Syria.

Fighters from the Islamic State have executed Syrian army troops and are holding a group hostage after taking control of an air base in northeast Syria over the weekend, according to pictures posted on social media [Reuters’ Sylvia Westall].

Heavy fighting is also being reported between Syrian rebels and regime forces near the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and Israel, as the Syrian war “trickles into Israel” [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury and Gili Cohen].

The Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley and Safa Majeed) reports on a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq, which has become trapped in territory now controlled by the Islamic State.

Tamer El-Ghobashy [Wall Street Journal] describes the Islamic State militants’ tactics as they attempt to retake the Iraqi town of Jalawla, which forms part of a strategy that is “built on patience, the element of surprise and a willingness to take losses.”

Josh Gerstein [Politico] reports that the “lack of clarity” in the U.S. approach to the crisis in the region has highlighted concerns of critics, including those previously supporting the administration, as to whether the President’s message is “coherent enough to win support across the globe.”

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake notes that even as the U.S. and Iran are separately intensifying action against the Islamic State, the two militaries are not communicating on strategy.

The Economist explains how the Islamic State is managing since it declared a caliphate and warns that “even in the best-case scenario IS is likely to be active for generations to come.” NATO’s former supreme allied commander in Europe, Wesley Clark [CNN] writes that the group is forcing a “moment of truth,” and stresses the need for an urgent and “effective regional response” to counter the Islamic State.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Casey are calling on the Obama administration to “cut off” the resources of the Islamic State, which they warn has become the “best funded terrorist group in history.”

Writing in the Washington Post, Clint Hinote, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, explores the risks in targeting Islamic State leader Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi. Noting that Baghdadi is “an inspirational leader who is not involved directly in battlefield tactics,” Hinote argues that targeting Baghdadi is “not likely to be worth the cost in precious intelligence resources.”

Robert Mackey [New York Times] covers a conspiracy theory, which appears to have originated in Egypt, that the Islamic State was created by the United States and, in particular, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Brian Castner [Washington Post] writes that the Islamic State and Taliban, among other terrorist groups, have learnt from the American approach to modern warfare to be “equally selective” in their tactics.

Afghanistan

Politico (Josh Gerstein) reports that two men have been transferred from Bagram Air Base to Yemen, ending the Obama administration’s self-imposed suspension on transfer of prisoners to Yemen. The move could pave the way for the release of dozens of Yemenis held at Guantanamo Bay.

Outgoing commander of ISAF, U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford said that the Taliban will heavily target Afghan forces in 2015, in an attempt to capitalize on the reduced U.S. and foreign forces in the country [Associated Press].

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened to pull out of the country’s vote audit if his concerns about electoral fraud remain unaddressed. The UN and Afghanistan’s election commission said the process would continue today without either candidate being represented [Al Jazeera].

Israel-Palestine

Israel and Palestinian groups have agreed to an open-ended ceasefire, bringing an end to more than seven weeks of intense fighting. Both sides have agreed to resume Egypt-brokered talks in Cairo [CNN’s Josh Levs et al.].

Jodi Rudoren [New York Times] reports that the interim agreement promises only limited change in Gaza, with Hamas declaring victory even though it abandoned most of its previous demands. On the other hand, Reuters (Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller) reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing strong criticism in national newspapers over the ceasefire “in which no clear victor emerged.”

Russia and Ukraine

Speaking after direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said a “roadmap” would be prepared to end fighting in eastern Ukraine [BBC; Reuters’ Alexei Anishchuk And Natalia Zinets].

The Wall Street Journal (Andrey Ostroukh and Alan Cullison) reports that the talks “failed to produce a breakthrough,” although Moscow sought to play down the significance of the Russian soldiers who were captured by Ukrainian forces only hours before the discussions.

The New York Times editorial board similarly considers that neither [Putin’s and Poroshenko’s] words nor developments in eastern Ukraine gave much evidence that either side was ready for a cease-fire.”

Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former State Secretary George P. Shultz [Wall Street Journal] explain why helping Ukraine is “imperative.”

And Russia Foundation chair David Clark [CNN] notes that a quick solution to the Ukraine crisis is unlikely and discusses the ways in which Europe must “prepare for a cold Russian winter.”

Pakistan

Seventy commanders have split up from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) to form a new faction, Jamaatul Ihrar. The new group said that due to personal interests of some individuals, “the TTP has failed in achieving its goals” [Baseer Qalander, The Express Tribune].

For an analysis of the national security implications of Pakistan’s latest political crisis, check out Dan Markey’s post at Just Security.

Other Developments

Vice News (Jason Leopold) has obtained a complete inventory of equipment secured by the Ferguson Police Department since 2007. Leopold raises questions about where Ferguson police obtained their military equipment, as “nothing” on the inventory “matched up with the militarized equipment police deployed during the protests.”

Egypt continues to deny any involvement in the airstrikes in Libya, which the U.S. said were carried out in conjunction with the UAE [Al Jazeera]. The new UN envoy to Libya said that the country needs “a lot of international support,” but suggested that foreign intervention would not help the “current chaos” [Associated Press].

The California State Senate has approved legislation that seeks to prevent warrantless drone surveillance [Reuters’ Aaron Mendelson].

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel fired on an Iranian sailing vessel in international waters in the Arabian Gulf yesterday, in what was described as a defensive move by military officials [DoD News].

Promising a new “culture of accountability” at the Department of Veterans Affairs, President Obama announced a number of executive actions to help active-duty military members and veterans, and their families [Washington Post’s Katie Zezima].

The Wall Street Journal (James T. Areddy) covers Pentagon’s concerns about China’s “expanded submarine forces.”

The United Nations mission in South Sudan confirmed that a UN helicopter crashed yesterday, killing three members [UN News Centre].

Boko Haram has taken control of a border town in Nigeria, after hundreds of Nigerian soldiers reportedly fled to Cameroon [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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