News Roundup and Notes: September 3, 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

The Islamic State has released a video purporting to show the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, only a fortnight after the group released a similar video of journalist James Foley. The group blamed Obama’s “arrogant foreign policy” for the execution [BBC]. National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the intelligence community has confirmed the authenticity of the video [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley].

The U.K. announced that it would not rule out airstrikes against the Islamic State after the group issued a threat against a British hostage during the course of the execution video [Reuters]. Prime Minister David Cameron has called an emergency meeting this morning to decide on the U.K.’s response to the threat to the British captive [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour et al].

Several lawmakers are calling on the Obama administration to broaden the military campaign against the Islamic State, following the release of the most recent beheading video [The Hill’s Justin Sink and Amie Parnes]. As bipartisan outrage over developments in Iraq and Syria grows, Sen. Bill Nelson said he will introduce legislation to provide President Obama with congressional authority to order airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

The Telegraph (Raf Sanchez) reports that the video of Steven Sotloff appears to have been found by a U.S. private intelligence firm, SITE, before the Islamic State was planning to release it. Experts are investigating whether the same British-accented militant, dubbed “Jihadi John,” is responsible for the execution of Steven Sotloff and James Foley [Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian]. And a number of international rapporteurs on freedom of expression have urged stronger protection for journalists in conflict situations [UN OHCHR].

Following an “extensive interagency review,” President Obama has authorized the deployment of approximately 350 additional U.S. military personnel to protect diplomatic facilities and personnel in Baghdad [White House; Los Angeles Times’ W. J. Hennigan].

The Pentagon said that the Islamic State remains a threat to the Mosul Dam due to continued counterattacks by the group despite several weeks of U.S. airstrikes [Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman].

Former CIA officer Graham Fuller has told Radikal that U.S. policies in the Middle East helped create the Islamic State.

The Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley and Ali A. Nabhan) reports that relatives of Iraqi soldiers killed in clashes with Islamist militants have stormed and shut down the parliament in Baghdad, in protest over the government’s failure to account for the dead.

Lebanon’s military has confirmed the identity of one of its soldiers beheaded by Islamist militants [Associated Press].

Police in Bosnia have detained 16 individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism related activities in Syria and Iraq [Reuters].

Christopher Paul and Colin P. Clarke [Washington Post] table a “broad approach” to tackling the Islamic State, suggesting there is “strong evidence in support of the importance of flexibility and adaptability” when tackling insurgency.

Jim Gaines [Reuters] argues that in order to avoid the “unintended consequences” of previous Western interventions in the Middle East, the Obama administration should wait until a strong strategy has been designed.

Jamie Dettmer [The Daily Beast] suggests that the media blackout on captives, enforced by the U.S. and U.K., has a detrimental effect as it gives the terrorists “tremendous propaganda power” when they reveal those they are about to execute.

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he has agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on a “ceasefire process” for eastern Ukraine. Earlier this morning, Poroshenko’s office reported that a “permanent ceasefire” had been agreed, but this statement was revised after the Kremlin said that Putin had not agreed to a ceasefire on the basis that Russia is not a party to the conflict [BBC].

President Barack Obama pledged his “unbreakable” and “unwavering” commitment to the security of NATO allies, as he visited Estonia in a show of support to Eastern Europe. Obama said the U.S. would deliver more Air Force units and aircraft to the region, amid mounting fears of Russian aggression [Associated Press].

Ahead of NATO’s 65th summit meeting this week, the editorial boards of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post offer their views on how the alliance, and its members, should tackle the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

James Goldgeier [Politico Magazine] covers how NATO “suddenly … has a whole bunch of new reasons for surviving.” In an op-ed for the New York Times, Gary J. Schmitt considers how NATO members could be made to reverse the reductions in military spending. And Politico’s Philip Ewing reports that the outlook for NATO reform at the summit “appears dim,” noting that “[m]ost European nations would love a stouter defense structure—so long as they don’t have to pay for it.”

Several EU diplomats said that the bloc is considering widening sanctions against Russia beyond the banking sector. The Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman) reports that the measures being contemplated would only “modestly increase pressure” on Russia. Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger [New York Times] also cover how the U.S. and Europe are struggling to respond to Russia, as officials debate new economic sanctions that will have greater impact, but “without risking major damage to their own industries or a military escalation that could spiral out of control.”

Alexander Cohen [Center for Public Integrity] reports that a Russian bank targeted by U.S. sanctions has hired two former American senators to lobby against those sanctions, according to a disclosure filed with the Senate.

The Wall Street Journal (James Marson) notes that the advance of Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine has left Kiev facing a difficult choice between “negotiating with ‘terrorists’” or “fighting a bloody defensive war.”

The New York Times has a roundup of Putin’s “war of words,” including his most recent reported statement to the European Commission president, “If I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks.”

The UN Refugee Agency has said that escalated fighting in the last three weeks has caused the number of displaced people in eastern Ukraine to more than double, with the figure now standing at approximately 260,000 [UN News Centre].

Somalia

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed that the U.S. airstrike in Somalia on Monday was a “direct strike against the al-Shabaab network, specifically the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi al-Muhammad, also known Ahmed Godane.” Kirby said the department is still assessing the results of the operation, but stated that the strike destroyed an al-Shabaab encampment and a vehicle located at that camp [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman and Helene Cooper; Wall Street Journal’s Abdalle Ahmed Mumim and Julian E. Barnes].

A member of the terrorist organization told the Associated Press that the U.S. operation killed six militants. He did not confirm whether Ahmed Godane was among those killed, but confirmed that the group’s leader was in one of the two vehicles hit by the strike.

The Washington Post (Adam Taylor) provides a profile of al-Shabaab and Godane, and explains why they are a concern to the U.S.

Israel-Palestine

The State Department criticized Israel yesterday for its plan to seize almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank. In an “unusual” statement, spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision” [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet with Palestinian negotiators in Washington today to discuss a range of issues, including the ongoing ceasefire discussion [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad].

Isabel Kershner [New York Times] reports on the impact of the recent Gaza conflict on the capabilities of Hamas. An Israeli intelligence official said there is evidence that Hamas and Islamist Jihad “suffered a huge, even dramatic hit.”

Al Jazeera reports that an opinion poll has indicated a significant surge in Hamas’ popularity following the recent war, suggesting that the group would win elections if they were held today.

Other Developments

Josh Gerstein [Politico] covers the first day of the challenge to the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata before the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, describing the judges’ reception to government arguments as “surprisingly chilly.”

U.S.-backed efforts to resolve the presidential election dispute in Afghanistan have failed to declare a new Afghan head of state in time for the NATO summit this week, where the country’s new president was supposed to be welcomed [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

Kimberley Dozier [The Daily Beast] covers the Afghan army’s inability to prosecute illegal killings conducted by its own security forces, and the threat that such failures pose to the provision of U.S. aid in the country.

Kristina Wong [The Hill] discusses the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program, noting that with only two months remaining until the midterms, the release could make the Democrats vulnerable to Republican attack.

At least four UN peacekeepers were killed and fifteen wounded yesterday in northern Mali when their convoy hit a mine [Associated Press]. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the U.S. strongly condemns the attack and called on the government of Mali to investigate the incident. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson said the incident would not deter the mission’s commitment to Mali [UN News Centre].

Reuters reports that 88 people have been detained by Saudi Arabia on suspicion of involvement in terrorism related activities at home and in foreign countries, according to the Saudi Interior Minister.

A roadside explosion in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt killed eight policemen travelling in an armored vehicle yesterday [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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