News Roundup and Notes: September 5, 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

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to form an international coalition to tackle the “brutal and poisonous” Islamic State at the NATO meeting yesterday. The U.S. urged allies at the summit to arm Kurdish troops, prevent the flow of foreign fighters, and cut off the financial resources of the terrorist organization [Associated Press; Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Stacy Meichtry].

Reuters (Phil Stewart) covers developments at the summit from this morning, where Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that plans for the international “core coalition” would not involve “boots on the ground.” A NATO official said that the alliance would assist in coordinating supplies, while individual member states would provide security assistance.

The Guardian (Patrick Wintour) reports on the “unmistakable stepping-up” of David Cameron’s rhetoric, with the British Prime Minister announcing that U.K. will, for the first time, provide lethal assistance to peshmerga forces in Kurdistan. Cameron also stressed that the international campaign would be contingent on Baghdad forming a new broad-based government.

Karen DeYoung [Washington Post] notes that the Obama administration’s plans for the international coalition against the Islamic State are focused heavily on Iraq, warning that those hoping for measures against the group in Syria are “likely to be disappointed.”

Michael Pizzi [Al Jazeera America] explores the challenges faced by the U.S. in its attempts to forge a “coalition of the willing” between powers that, despite their common hostility to the Islamic State, “remain at odds with one another.”

The head of the UN-OPCW joint mission on Syria told the Security Council yesterday that 96 percent of Syria’s declared stockpile had been destroyed [UN News Centre]. However, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, expressed concern that the Syrian government may have undeclared stockpiles of chemical weapons, which Islamic State militants could obtain [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that the Obama administration will brief lawmakers on the threat posed by the Islamic State next week [The Hill’s Scott Wong].

A British-backed investigation team has been looking into purported war crimes committed by the Islamic State in Syria since January, and is now considering broadening the investigation into Iraq [Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin].

Militants from the Islamic State abducted around 50 men from a Sunni village north of Baghdad yesterday [Associated Press].

A fighter from the Islamic State, captured by the Iraqi military, has been identified as the first known Chinese jihadist fighting for the group [New York Times’ Edward Wong].

Writing in the Daily Beast, House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff explains why U.S. airstrikes in Syria “would do more harm than good.”

The Economist discusses the “tricky problem” posed by the growth of Shia militias in Iraq and Syria, noting that any U.S. action against the Islamic State “risks unwittingly supporting Iran and the Shias, thereby deepening the very sense of Sunni victimhood on which IS feeds.”

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels engaged in violent clashes on the outskirts of the port of Mariupol this morning, only hours before peace talks between Ukraine and Russia that are expected to produce a ceasefire agreement [Associated Press; Reuters’ Aleksandar Vasovic and Gabriela Baczynska].

The Guardian (Andrew Sparrow) reports on discussions at the NATO summit this morning, including plans for a 4,000-strong rapid-reaction force.

At the summit yesterday, the alliance pledged support to Ukraine and criticized Russia for continuing to engage in “direct military operations” in Ukraine. Leaders remained skeptical of Moscow’s intentions for a ceasefire, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stating that previous agreements by Moscow had “just been a smokescreen” [Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison et al.].

On the sidelines of the summit, President Obama and European leaders agreed to expand sanctions against Russia “in the days to come” [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger et al.; The Hill’s Justin Sink]. Anticipating additional sanctions, Moscow said that the Russian central bank is ready to take “non-standard measures” to offset the effect of new Western measures [Reuters].

The Kyiv Post editorial board argues against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan for peace, stating that his terms will “not bring a lasting peace or unity among Ukrainians.”

Andrew Higgins [New York Times] covers how Western leaders are avoiding the terminology of “invasion,” thus highlighting how Putin has successfully blurred the “conventional boundaries between war and peace.”

The Economist warns that Putin appears to be winning his “hybrid war” in Ukraine, noting that the West “must steel itself for a lengthy struggle.”

Masha Gessen [Reuters] argues that the West must “use the entire arsenal of financial and political sanctions at once,” in addition to arming Ukraine, in order to effectively counter Putin.

David Rothkopf [CNN] explains why Russian President Vladimir Putin is only “a distraction with which NATO is ill-prepared to deal.”

Israel-Palestine

The New York Times (Isabel Kershner) reports that official Israeli documents released yesterday provide no evidence that top Hamas leaders orchestrated or were aware of the plot to abduct three Israeli youths, the deaths of whom fueled the recent conflict in the region.

Joshua Mitnick [Wall Street Journal] reports that rifts between the two main Palestinian factions—Hamas and the Palestinian authority—have widened since the seven-week conflict, threatening their “nascent reconciliation.”

Former Palestinian Authority minister, Ali Jarbawi [New York Times] writes on the lessons to be learned by Israel from the recent Gaza conflict, cautioning that if “the course is not set toward a solution, then we must all prepare for the inevitable next war.”

Afghanistan

NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to Afghanistan at the Wales summit yesterday, calling on the two presidential candidates to work together.

Reuters reports that the U.S.-supervised audit of Afghanistan’s presidential election has been completed, an Afghan electoral official said this morning.

The New York Times editorial board argues that it is “time for compromise” between the rival presidential candidates, warning that a failure to agree on a power-sharing deal “could easily kick off a wave of unrest that would all but guarantee a catastrophic wind-down to America’s longest war.”

A friendly fire airstrike this June which mistakenly killed five American soldiers and one Afghan was the result of avoidable miscommunication, according to a military report released yesterday [Associated Press].

Nigeria

The United States is planning a “major” border security program to assist the Nigerian government and neighboring countries to tackle the escalating terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, according to a senior U.S. official for Africa [Associated Press].

Hundreds of residents of Maiduguri reportedly fled the Nigerian city yesterday, amid fears of Boko Haram’s advancement on the major commercial and government hub [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter].

The Economist discusses the “other caliphate,” namely the rise of Boko Haram jihadists in Nigeria.

A U.S. advocacy group has said that Boko Haram as well as Nigeria’s military are exploiting thousands of children, some of whom have been conscripted on both sides to join the escalating fighting [Wall Street Journal’s Patrick McGroarty].

Other Developments

Jonathan Alter [The Daily Beast] argues that President Obama’s “foreign policy legacy is truly on the line” this week at the NATO summit and writes that “if he can lead now on ISIS and Putin, we’ll soon forget his recent history.” Be sure to check The Guardian’s live blog for rolling coverage of the summit, including the Secretary General’s press conference. Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced, among other initiatives, that NATO will offer partnerships to Georgia, Moldova, and Jordan, enabling the countries to work closer with the alliance.

Jason Leopold [Vice News] discusses whether the release of photographs showing the abuse of detainees in CIA and military custody—which will be considered by a federal court next week—is likely to incite terrorism and threaten national security.

Ken Silverstein [The Intercept] reports that a prominent national security reporter, Ken Dilanian, maintained a close “collaborative” relationship with the CIA, regularly sharing drafts and summaries of reports with CIA press handlers before publication.

In a new book to be released next week, five commandos who guarded the CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012, say that the station chief prevented them from intervening to save the lives of the U.S. Ambassador and another American when the diplomatic mission was attacked [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

The House is due to vote next week on a resolution condemning President Obama for failing to notify Congress in advance of the Taliban prisoner exchange that secured the release of  Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos].

The Washington Post editorial board criticizes the U.S. policy of subordinating concerns about human rights when dealing with governments that work with the United States on “core interests.”

Michael Hirsh [Politico] discusses “Greenwald, Inc.” and questions what comes next for the journalist responsible for publishing the Edward Snowden leaks.

Bruce Riedel [The Daily Beast] covers the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence directorate’s support of terrorist groups, suggesting the U.S. should consider imposing specific sanctions against individual Pakistani officials involved in supporting terrorism.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security