News Roundup and Notes: September 12, 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 Pentagon has begun rolling out the expanded campaign against the Islamic State, although operations will increase gradually over a number of months [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]. Retired Marine general, John R. Allen, has been chosen to coordinate the international coalition against ISIS, according to a senior administration official [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon].

In an interview with NPR (Eyder Peralta), Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice emphasized that the operation against ISIS would not be “Iraq war redux” and that the U.S. is not going to deploy ground troops with a combat role.

Democratic senators are reportedly unnerved by President Obama’s attempt to gain swift authority from Congress to arm and train Syrian rebels [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim]. House Republicans are said to be split on their views, with some, including Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers speaking out in favor, whereas others showed more caution [The Hill’s Scott Wong et al]. The New York Times (Jonathan Weisman) reports that House Republican leaders will call members back to the Capitol early next week, in “a rare show of unity” with President Obama, to authorize the arming and training of rebels in Syria.

Arab states remained reserved about the extent of their commitment to military efforts to combat the Islamic State yesterday, even as Secretary of State John Kerry succeeded in obtaining their support at a meeting in Saudi Arabia [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Jay Solomon].  

Al Jazeera reports that French President Francois Hollande is travelling to Iraq in an act of visible support ahead of possible airstrikes with the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State.

The Syrian deputy foreign minister has said that Syria has “no reservations” about airstrikes in the territory, but said that “it is a must” for Obama to call Syrian President Assad [NBC News].

Anne Bernard [New York Times] writes that the prospect of U.S. strikes in Syria “captivated” the people on Thursday, with debate over whether the strikes would help or hinder President Assad.

The New York Times (Ben Hubbard et al.) explores the complexities faced by the U.S. in using decentralized and diverse Syrian rebels to counter the Islamic State in Syria.

Tom Perry and Alexander Dziadosz [Reuters] explore the impact that U.S. support for the Syrian opposition against the Islamic State will have on the Assad regime.

In Politico Magazine, Mary Ellen O’Connell argues that President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State in Syria has no basis in international law, drawing comparison in legal terms between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine: “arming rebels and conducting airstrikes.”

The New York Times editorial board discusses the legal basis for U.S. action against ISIS, accusing Congress of “outrageous” cowardice and allowing President Obama a “free reign to set a dangerous precedent that will last well past this particular military campaign.”

The Washington Post editorial board calls President Obama’s strategy “incomplete,” suggesting that airstrikes alone are insufficient and that the U.S. must assist Iraq and Syria to develop so that “terrorist organizations do not emerge again as soon as Americans look away.”

Dan Froomkin [The Intercept] discusses media coverage of Obama’s strategy, which indicates that news organizations have realized the plan is a “hot mess.”

In other developments, the new UN special envoy to Syria met with President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, pressing for more truces in the country and saying the UN’s first priority was to “facilitate reduction of the violence” [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher].

The CIA has estimated that the number of fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria may have reached 31,000, a number three times their previous calculation [BBC].

The German interior ministry is working on banning the Islamic State terrorist group due to concerns over returning ISIS fighters and public expressions of sympathy with the group [Wall Street Journal’s Andrea Thomas and Harriet Torry].

The Australian government has raised the terror alert level to the second highest, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned that a terrorist attack on home soil was likely, though no specific plots were known of [Wall Street Journal’s Rob Taylor].

The head of Homeland Security has warned that while ISIS is the most apparent threat to the U.S. currently, officials must stay vigilant to other threats to the United States [Associated Press].

Dennis B. Ross [New York Times] cautions that “Islamists are not our friends,” noting that the “new fault line” in the Middle East is defined by Islamists who “subordinate national identities to an Islamic identity.”

The New York Times (David E. Sanger) discusses how President Obama’s decision to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria shifts his focus in the Middle East away from his previous objective of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Russia and Ukraine

The European Union sanctions against Russia, adopted earlier this week, came into force this morning, although leaders said the measures could be reversed if the ceasefire in Ukraine holds [BBC]. President Obama said the U.S. would join the EU in a coordinated effort to “increase Russia’s political isolation as well as the economic costs to Russia” [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and William Mauldin].

Eugene Rumer [Politico Magazine] cautions that the strategy of sanctions “is fraught with unintended consequences reminiscent of Western policies toward the Soviet Union in the 1980s” and could “backfire.”

At a conference today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko downplayed the military options in the conflict, stating he will reclaim Crimea not through force, but by building a better state than Russia [Kyiv Post’s Brian Bonner].

Reuters (Timothy Heritage) discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent public remarks, which suggest “nothing has changed in his fiercely patriotic view of the crisis.”

The Ukrainian government and rebel forces carried out a further round of prisoner swaps this morning, as part of the ceasefire deal agreed last week [Associated Press].

The New York Times (Danny Hakim) covers the shortage in Ukraine’s gas supplies, a consequence of the conflict with Russia.

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

According to court documents unsealed yesterday, the U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it refused to provide access to user data to the NSA [Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian]. In a blogpost, Yahoo outlines its unsuccessful legal battle in 2007-2008 to challenge the government’s “unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance.”

Israel and Palestine

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that an agreement has been reached with Israel and the UN on allowing imports for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, seemingly avoiding Hamas [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren].

Al Jazeera reports that the Palestinian Authority has so far failed to authorize a request for an investigation, submitted by the Palestinian justice minister, into alleged war crimes committed during the recent Gaza conflict, according to International Criminal Court officials.

Other Developments

The Miami Herald (Mark Seibel) reports that a federal judge agreed with the Pentagon yesterday that it does not have to reveal the cost of constructing the secret Camp 7 at Guantánamo Bay, after the Miami Herald made a bid to have relevant documents made public.

U.S. military personnel have been sent to the Central African Republic to assist in the reopening of the American Embassy which was closed in 2012 due to security concerns [Associated Press].

The Washington Post (Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock) notes that despite “two wars, thousands of drone strikes and hundreds of covert operations around the world” the U.S. has failed in its objective to wipe out Al-Qaeda or any affiliate groups, though succeeding in weakening their capabilities.

Boko Haram militants have placed the Nigerian city of Maiduguri under siege, according to traditional elders from the region. The Nigerian Defense Ministry dismissed “alarmist reports” on the city [BBC].

Al-Qaeda’s recently established branch in South Asia has claimed responsibility for an attack on a naval yard in Karachi, Pakistan [Al Jazeera].

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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