News Roundup and Notes: September 15, 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

An international summit of foreign ministers has opened in Paris today to plan a united strategy against the Islamic State. The conference aims to define the role of the approximately 40 countries that have joined the coalition [BBCReuters].  The Guardian has live updates as the crisis meeting unfolds.

“Several” Arab nations have offered to assist with airstrikes against the Islamic State, according to the Obama administration [New York Times’ David E. Sanger et al]. However, Iraq’s president, Fouad Massoum, has told the Associated Press that it is “not necessary” for Arab powers to join the airstrikes. Anne Bernard [New York Times] reports that Syrian leaders “see opportunities and risks” in the prospect of U.S. airstrikes on Syrian soil.

Reuters (Will Dunham and Andrew Osborn) provides details on contributions made so far by members of the coalition. The French military is set to start a reconnaissance mission over northern Iraq this morning, in support of the U.S. air force [DW]. The Australian government will supply 600 personnel along with equipment to assist the coalition force, following a formal request from the U.S. [The Guardian’s Helen Davidson].

In his weekly address, President Obama restated details of the administration’s strategy to tackle the Islamic State, stressing the need for a “targeted, relentless counterterrorism campaign.”

Charlie Savage [New York Times] reports that the White House is relying on the 2002 resolution from Congress authorizing the Iraq war as legal justification for airstrikes against ISIS.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has emphasized the importance of Congress authorizing the arming of moderate Syrian rebels, which would ensure U.S. combat troops were not required. McDonough added that the United States “is at war with ISIL” [Fox News Sunday]. Also speaking on Fox News Sunday, former CIA and NSA director General Michael Hayden suggested that the U.S. will require considerably more troops in Iraq and Syria than estimated.

The Hill provides a “Sunday show wrap-up,” where the prevailing theme was the U.S. response to ISIS. Philip Bump [Washington Post] notes that no politicians discussing the Islamic State on the Sunday shows questioned the actual threat posed to the United States, with the focus on “what to do,” not “why it should be done.”

Jack A. Goldstone [Politico Magazine] argues that Obama’s ISIS strategy depends on political solutions and that there can be no “solution in either Iraq or Syria without Iran’s assent.” The New York Times editorial board writes that it is a “risky bet” for the Obama administration to rely on Syrian opposition rebels, describing the plan as “full of hope and fraught with obstacles.”

U.S. officials have said that the five-week campaign by the U.S. airforce against the Islamic State has halted the group’s acquisition of further territory [Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes].

The Islamic State released a video on Saturday capturing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines. The video followed the same pattern as previous recordings showing the murder of two American journalists, with a second U.K. citizen, Alan Henning, being threatened at the end [BBC]. British Prime Minister David Cameron made a statement addressing the killing on Sunday, vowing to “hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice.” Cameron also laid out what he described as a “comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism” strategy. President Obama condemned the “barbaric murder,” stating that the United States stands “shoulder to shoulder” with the United Kingdom in “grief and resolve.”

Jamie Dettmer [The Daily Beast] considers whether the beheading of a U.K. citizen will drive Britain to take tougher action against ISIS, in the same way that the execution of American journalists “galvanized” U.S. public opinion in support of a military response. The Guardian editorial board writes that the killing of Mr. Haines was an “act of provocation,” noting the significance of David Cameron’s “measured” response thus far.

In a Newsweek exclusive, Alev Scott and Alexander Christie-Miller discuss the “Jihadi Highway” and the Islamic State’s recruitment ground in Istanbul’s “vulnerable suburbs.”

Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Noah Bonsey of the International Crisis Group argue that Aleppo in Syria is the key to halting the expansion of the Islamic State’s purported “caliphate” [New York Times].

Rick Noack [Washington Post] tackles how the Islamic State compares to a normal state, using a number of criteria such as territory size and military capabilities.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll shows that the majority of Americans lack confidence in President Obama’s mission to destroy the Islamic State.

American officials have expressed concern at another jihadist group in Syria, known as the Khorasan group, who are said to pose a more direct and imminent threat to the United States. The threat posed by the group is the apparent reason behind the recent TSA ban on uncharged electronic goods on U.S. bound flights [Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian and Eileen Sullivan].

Defectors from al-Qaeda’s North African branch in Algeria have transferred their loyalties to the Islamic State, describing themselves as the “Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria” [Al Jazeera].

Seven individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism in Indonesia over the weekend are being investigated for potential links to the Islamic State [Wall Street Journal’s Andreas Ismar and Joko Hariyanto].

A 20-year-old German man suspected of being a member of the Islamic State is going on trial in Frankfurt  [Deutsche Welle].

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Heletey announced that NATO countries are delivering arms to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian separatists, but did not name the countries involved [RFE/RL].

The ceasefire in Ukraine appears to be holding despite incidents of violence in the east, including heavy fighting around Donetsk airport on Saturday and two attacks on an OSCE monitoring team in Donetsk on Sunday [Reuters].

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that the latest round of EU and U.S. sanctions, which were imposed last Friday, were “test[ing] Russia’s strength” [Reuters].

Candidates loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin are predicted to win in regional and local elections across Russia, including in Crimea, where voting is taking place for the first time since Russia’s annexation of the peninsula [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn].

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher [The Intercept] report that the New Zealand spy agency, GCSB, worked in 2012 and 2013 on a program to carry out mass metadata surveillance, in contrast to assurances previously provided by top government officials that such surveillance was not being considered. Ahead of this report, Prime Minister John Key admitted that the GCSB considered mass surveillance aimed at citizens, but that the program was never implemented [Patrick Gower, 3 News]. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, writing in The Intercept, argues that the statements of the New Zealand government on this issue are “categorically false.”

The Intercept (Andy Müller-Maguhn et al.) covers the operations of the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ against German satellite companies, as part of “Treasure Map,” an extensive NSA campaign “to map the global internet.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul has said that Edward Snowden should be brought to the U.S. to face trial and should not be granted political asylum in Switzerland, an option that is being considered by the Swiss attorney general [Foreign Policy’s John Hudson].

Israel and Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed as “baseless slander” the letter from 43 members of the IDF’s signal intelligence unit, who wrote last week that they would refuse to serve because of Israel’s “political persecution” of the Palestinians [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid].

At a rally against anti-Semitism in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly condemned anti-Semitic incidents in the country and Europe in the wake of the Gaza conflict [Wall Street Journal’s Andrea Thomas].

Children in Gaza have made a return to school following the 50-day war with Israel, after several delays owing to the damage to school buildings during the conflict [Associated Press].

Other Developments

Ali Watkins [McClatchy DC] reports on the new tensions between the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee last week, after Director John Brennan declined to answer the committee’s questions on who at the agency authorized the intrusion of computers used by Senate staffers.

A U.S. assessment that the terrorist organization al-Qaeda is in decline was dismissed as “lies” in a strong online message from the group. No mention was made of the Islamic State, who is considered al-Qaeda’s main rival [Reuters].

The newest branch of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent has claimed responsibility for two attacks in Pakistan conducted during its first week of operations in the region [Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn]. The Telegraph (Dean Nelson) reports that an attempt by the group’s new branch to attack a ship in Karachi on the anniversary of 9/11 ended in failure as the terrorists raided the wrong ship.

Scores of militants from al-Qaeda are said to have moved into the capital of Yemen, San’a, with ambitions of taking advantage of the country’s fraught political situation, according to officials [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari].

AFP reports that French intelligence officials assisted the United States in the recent operation in Somalia that killed Ahmed Godane, the commander of the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

Authorities in Uganda have seized sizeable quantities of explosives during raids on suspected al-Shabaab militants in the country’s capital, Kampala [BBC]. On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Uganda called on Americans in the country to “seek shelter” after local authorities uncovered the al-Shabaab “terrorist cell” [Washington Post’s Elias Biryabarema].

Josh Gerstein [Politico] reports that the Justice Department has requested a federal judge to halt a private lawsuit brought against “United Against Nuclear Iran,” invoking the state secrets privilege and citing the potential damage to U.S. national security.

The New York Times (Choe Sang-Kun) reports that one of three American citizens known to be detained in North Korea has been sentenced to six years hard labor on charges of committing “hostile acts” against the country.

Rep. Janice Hahn has introduced a bill which seeks to uphold a 2007 regulation requiring that 100% of containers coming to the United States be screened to avert terrorist threats, a goal which has not been obtained, with current scanning at 3% [Roll Call’s Tom Curry].

Afghans concerned with the threat of civil war are considering the possibility that current President Hamid Karzai could retain his office while the rival presidential candidates resolve the election dispute [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Nathan Hodge].

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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