News Roundup and Notes: September 2, 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.

Somalia

U.S. military forces launched an operation against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia yesterday. Defense Department press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the Pentagon is “assessing the results of the operation,” but did not provide any further information. However, a Somali governor said that a suspected drone strike targeted an Al-Shabaab camp and that Ahmed Godane, the leader of the terrorist group, was among those targeted. Also yesterday, African Union troops successfully freed several important Somali towns from Al-Shabaab control [CNN’s Barbara Starr and Omar Nor].

[Check out Ryan Goodman’s post at Just Security from earlier this year analyzing the domestic legal authority under which Ahmed Godane could be targeted].

Iraq and Syria

On Sunday, Iraqi government troops and Kurdish forces managed to break the two-month-long Islamic State siege on the town of Amerli [Al Jazeera America].

The U.S. military conducted airstrikes on Saturday in support of a humanitarian assistance operation in Amerli [U.S. Central Command], and conducted further strikes near the Mosul Dam and Amerli on Sunday [U.S. Central Command]. President Obama notified Congress yesterday that he had authorized the strikes and humanitarian airdrops in Amerli, stating that operations would be “limited in their scope and duration” [Reuters]. The New York Times (Tim Arango and Azam Ahmed) discusses the unlikely alliance between the U.S. and Iran in Amerli, as the two states attempted to tackle their common purpose of defeating the Islamic State in Iraq over the weekend.

Iraqi Kurdish forces, along with Shia armed volunteers, succeeded in retaking more northern towns yesterday and reportedly killed at least two of the Islamic State’s senior fighters [Al Jazeera].

Germany has decided to arm Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State forces in Iraq [Deutsche Welle]. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discusses why his country is sending weapons to Iraq, calling the decision “prudent” and denying that it constitutes a “change in basic policy.”

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has announced new counterterrorism plans to counter the threat from foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria [The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow].

Speaking on ABC News’ ‘This Week’, counterterrorism official Richard Clarke said that President Obama is “wrong” to downplay the terrorist threat to the United States from ISIS.

The Intercept (Laura Poitras) reports that the U.S. helped the Turkish government in battling “the very same Kurdish separatists that are now leading the fight against ISIS” in northern Iraq. The report, based on documents obtained from Edward Snowden, also reveals “wide-scale spying” by the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, against Turkey.

The Long War Journal (Thomas Joscelyn) reports that the Al Nusrah Front announced on Twitter that it is responsible for the detention of the 45 UN peacekeepers captured last week. The Al Nusrah Front has demanded that the group be removed from global terrorism lists and that it be paid compensation for the deaths of members, according to the head of Fiji’s army, as part of negotiations with the UN [Reuters’ Baz and Lincoln Feast].

Amnesty International has accused the Islamic State of carrying out ethnic cleansing against minority groups in northern Iraq. Human Rights Watch reports there is “credible evidence” indicating that Islamic State forces have used cluster bombs on at least one occasion in Syria in recent weeks.

Julian Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy [New York Times] argue that in order to defeat the Islamic State, the focus must primarily be on Syria, and call on the west to “move beyond” the “false dichotomy” of choosing either the Assad regime or a strong Sunni opposition to defeat the militant group.

Russia and Ukraine

At a press conference yesterday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Russia is “intervening overtly in Ukraine.” He stated that the alliance will approve plans for a high readiness force at the NATO summit this week to counter the growing Russian threat. The Secretary General offered further details of what he called a “spearhead” within the NATO Response Force–“a very high readiness force able to deploy at very short notice” [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill]. Moscow responded by stating it would review its military strategy in light of the expanded NATO plans [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Daniela Deane].

Preliminary negotiations in Minsk failed to produce an agreement yesterday, with the parties expected to resume discussions on Friday [BBC; Kyiv Post]. Pro-Russian rebels, who joined yesterday’s talks, indicated they would be prepared to stay within Ukraine if granted “special status” [Reuters].

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia of “direct and undisguised aggression,” following further significant losses suffered by Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The military was forced to withdraw from an important airport near the eastern city of Luhansk owing to a pro-Russian rebel offensive in the region [Reuters’ Pavel Polityuk and Polina Devitt].

Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey signaled a change in military strategy yesterday, stating that troops would shift focus from the separatists to addressing what he labeled as a “full-scale invasion” by Russian troops [Wall Street Journal’s Gregory L. White and James Marson].

The Wall Street Journal (James Marson and Alan Cullison) notes that the recent “crushing defeat” of Ukrainian volunteers in the town of Ilovaisk, following the arrival of Russian forces in the country’s east, “has become a symbol of the reversal of Ukrainian forces.” The Daily Beast (Ted Phillips) reports that the coastal city of Mariupol is preparing for attack as rebels move toward the south, while boasting that Kiev will be targeted next.

The New York Times (Neil MacFarquhar) covers the recent exchange of “oblique criticisms” between Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Over the weekend, a number of congressional leaders called on the Obama administration to increase its support for Ukraine, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, who said it was time to provide Ukraine with “defensive weapons” [Politico’s Austin Wright].

Israel-Palestine

Barak Ravid [Haaretz] reports on a fight within the Israeli cabinet last week over negotiations with the Palestinians, and notes that Secretary of State John Kerry decided against visiting Israel after learning that neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were interesting in re-starting talks.

Haaretz’s Amos Harel reports that Israel’s defense establishment is recommending that the government ease restrictions on Gaza as part of its indirect negotiations with Hamas, on the basis that preventing social and economic crisis in the region is in Israel’s interests.

Israel seized nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc close to Bethlehem on Sunday [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]. A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the move is “illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-State solution.”

Libya

Libyan militias have seized control of the country’s capital, Tripoli. The government said yesterday that it had lost control of its ministries, and that the buildings “are under the control of armed men” [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

The Associated Press reports that fighting between Islamist militia and rival forces in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which erupted last night, have killed 31 on both sides, according to a security official.

The Libyan parliament has asked Abdullah al-Thinni to return and form a new emergency government, following the prime minister’s resignation last week [Al Jazeera].

The U.S. government believes that the closed American Embassy compound in Tripoli remains secure, with an Islamist militant group reportedly guarding the property as well as a nearby residential compound [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz].

Other Developments

The Washington Post (Craig Whitlock) reports that the Pentagon is planning to open a drone base in Niger, following months of negotiations with the country’s government. The base will be the Pentagon’s second surveillance hub in Niger and the third in the region, signaling an expansion in counterterrorism measures in West Africa.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York is set to hear the legal challenge to the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records this week, filed by the ACLU last June [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo].

NPR (Sean Carberry) reports that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are becoming bolder, taking on government forces across the country. The U.S.-brokered deal to audit the Afghan presidential election runoff faced collapse yesterday as candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened to pull out of talks once again [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati].

In a Q&A in the New York Times, Charlie Savage considers the future of the Guantánamo detention facility and its prisoners.

The transfer of six Guantánamo prisoners to Uruguay is not as imminent as originally thought, according to Uruguayan presidential spokesperson Diego Canepa [Miami Herald].

NATO is expected to ratify a new policy at its summit this week which will provide for a collective defense strategy in relation to cyberattacks on any of the 28 NATO states [New York Times’ David E. Sanger].

The Iranian government is “quite optimistic” that it can reach a nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries by the November 24 deadline, following a “good” meeting between Iran’s foreign minister and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton yesterday [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]. Meanwhile, the Iranian military unveiled a new surface-to-air missile and two radar systems today, which Iran claims will boost its defense capabilities [Associated Press].

Three American citizens, currently detained in North Korea, were provided with foreign media access yesterday. The detainees called on Washington to send a U.S. representative to the country to make a direct appeal for their release [Al Jazeera America].

The Associated Press reports that the Nigerian military engaged in clashes with Boko Haram yesterday, with military officials saying they killed about 70 militants in the northeastern town of Bama.

Reuters (Syed Raza Hassan) reports that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a joint session of parliament today, seeking to reaffirm his control, as violent protests demanding his resignation mark an escalating crisis in the country.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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