News Roundup and Notes: September 11, 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

In a highly anticipated address last night, President Barack Obama authorized a significant expansion of the U.S. campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, backed by a broad coalition of allies. His four-part strategy against ISIS will involve a “systematic campaign of airstrikes” against the militants “wherever they are,” including Syria; the deployment of an additional 475 advisers to Iraq; and new support for the moderate Syrian opposition. Obama sought to distinguish his campaign from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, likening the mission to U.S. strikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia [Reuters’ Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Ed O’Keefe].

Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide a training base for moderate Syrian opposition fighters—which forms part of the president’s strategy—following an American request [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt].

Lauren French [Politico] discusses the mixed reactions to Obama’s speech on the Hill.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-supported opposition group, issued a statement yesterday welcoming President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would conduct airstrikes targeting the Islamic State in Syria [Associated Press].

Australia and Japan also expressed their support for the president’s strategy this morning [Wall Street Journal’s Rob Taylor and Alexander Martin]. However, there has been a “muted response” to Obama’s address from Arab states in the Gulf region [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones].

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage discusses the president’s reliance on existing authorization for his campaign against ISIS, although Obama indicated in his speech that he would “welcome congressional support” for this operation. Eli Lake [The Daily Beast] and Spencer Ackerman [The Guardian] also explore the legality of the administration’s expanded mission against ISIS.

Politico (Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan) notes that Obama’s urgent request for authorization to equip and train moderate Syrian rebels “is scrambling delicate plans on Capitol Hill less that two months before the midterm elections.”

Reuters (David Lawder and Patricia Zengerle) reports that U.S. lawmakers are considering a congressional vote on President Obama’s plan, but several Republicans want further information on the strategy to battle global terrorism, while many would prefer a vote wider than one focused solely on funding for the Syrian opposition. And The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin and Tim Mak) writes that Democrats are ready to approve Obama’s request for $5 billion to counter terrorism, despite the lack of details on how the money would be used.

The Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman) focuses on the president’s plan to rely on U.S.-trained local forces to battle the Islamic State, noting America’s “poor track record” of relying on local forces in Iraq and Libya.

Peter Baker [New York Times] suggests that Obama’s new course is likely to extend “a legacy of war,” and could leave the president’s successor with “a volatile and incomplete war, much as his predecessor left one for him.”

The New York Times editorial board weighs the strengths and weaknesses of the president’s strategy, suggesting that the authorization of strikes in Syria was a decision in which he “had little choice militarily or politically.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggests that Obama’s “biggest obstacle … will be his own ambivalence about American military force.” And the Washington Post editorial board calls on Congress to take a supportive view, stating that “[c]ongressional and public debate are especially necessary to help strengthen those parts of Mr. Obama’s strategy that remain open to question.”

Edward-Isaac Dovere and Josh Gerstein [Politico] provide an analysis of the “speech Obama didn’t want to give.”

In other developments, the U.S. military conducted an airstrike on Tuesday in support of Iraqi Security Forces’ efforts to defend Erbil [Central Command].

The Washington Post (Adam Goldman) reports that a senior intelligence official told Congress yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security is “unaware of any specific credible threat to the U.S. homeland” from the Islamic State.    

Al Jazeera has learned that the 45 UN peacekeepers from Fiji held by the Nusra Front rebel group in the Golan Heights have been released.

An international watchdog has reported that chlorine gas was used as a chemical weapon in northern Syria earlier this year, in an attack that only the Assad regime could have the ability to conduct [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid].

Murtaza Hussein [The Intercept] reports on the assassination of one of Syria’s top anti-ISIS rebel leaders, suggesting that the group was one of “Obama’s best hope[s]” and that the U.S. must now consider aligning itself with Iran.

A young woman from Colorado pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to assist ISIS, after she was arrested attempting to travel to Syria [New York Times’ Emma G. Fitzsimons].

Peter Mass [The Intercept] argues why the American government should not have censored the media from hosting the videos of the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday that around 70 percent of Russian troops are believed to have withdrawn from the country, raising hopes for the ceasefire deal that came into force last week [CNN’s Victoria Butenko and Laura Smith-Spark].

The U.S. is readying a new round of energy sanctions on Russia, according to an American official, but the measures could also impact some Western companies, reports the Wall Street Journal (Amy Harder and William Mauldin).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered military exercises in the country’s east to test the combat readiness of Russian forces [Associated Press].

In an op-ed in the Kyiv Post, Dmitry Tymchuk argues that while Russian troops are withdrawing from northeastern Ukraine, they are “accumulating in the south.”

Israel and Palestine

The Israeli government announced yesterday that it has opened criminal investigations into possible misconduct by its own forces during the recent Gaza war. The investigation will cover Israeli bombings on UN schools as well as the killing of four young boys on a beach in Gaza [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick].

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of violating the laws of war during this summer’s conflict, on the basis of an investigation into three attacks that killed 45 people, including 17 children.

The Palestinian Authority is organizing a donor conference to be held in Cairo next month to raise funds for reconstruction in Gaza following the conflict, its prime minister said yesterday. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah added that the unity government remains challenged by Hamas control in the territory [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Joshua Mitnick].

An Israeli police officer has been charged with the assault of the Palestinian-American teenager who was beaten in East Jerusalem in July [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner].

Isi Leibler [New York Times] writes that “Israel must put security first” and that given the current climate “the practical implementation of a two-state policy is utterly unrealistic.”

Other Developments

The Hill (Alexander Bolton) reports that Capitol Hill is on high alert for the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, noting the more “ominous significance” of the event due to the rise of the Islamic State. The Associated Press discusses President Obama’s approach to commemorating the 9/11 terrorist attacks throughout his presidency.

The United States has dropped in popularity with long standing ally Germany over this past year, following the NSA surveillance reports, according to a recent poll [Wall Street Journal’s Harriet Torry].

The New York Times (Ismail Khan) reports that Pakistani airstrikes in the North Waziristan region killed at least 65 militants on Wednesday morning, according to a senior Pakistani security official.

The Afghan presidential candidate tipped to win the election, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, said yesterday that he believes in a unified government and will aim to include his opponent after he is sworn in [Associated Press].

The Associated Press reports that the Libyan prime minister has reached out to the U.A.E. for support against Islamist-allied militias that have forced the Libyan government out of the capital this summer. The United Nations envoy to Libya called for an end to the violence yesterday, asking for “meaningful, effective” dialogue between factions and the government [UN News Centre].

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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