News Roundup and Notes: September 18, 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 rare bipartisan move, the House voted 273-156 to approve President Obama’s plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, even as lawmakers from both parties remain skeptical of the President’s strategy to counter the Islamic State. The Senate is expected to pass the legislation today [Politico’s John Bresnahan and Lauren French; Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe and Paul Kane]. Reuters (Patricia Zengerle And Richard Cowan) notes that the measure—an amendment to a stopgap spending bill—leaves several questions unanswered, including whether the moderate rebels will be armed with the advanced weapons they have requested.

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to defend the administration’s strategy against ISIS before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]. Ryan Goodman at Just Security considers Kerry’s “difficult defense” of the application of Congress’ 2001 AUMF to ISIS at the hearing—and “senators’ disbelief.”

In a statement yesterday, President Obama restated that he would not commit American forces “to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” but emphasized his commitment to destroying ISIS in coordination with the “broad coalition of countries that have a stake in this fight” [New York Times’ Michael D. Shear].

The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggests that rather than placating those skeptical of military force, President Obama “would be smarter to rule nothing out and be honest about the sacrifices that might be required” in efforts to eradicate the Islamic State.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ruled out the possibility of U.S. ground troops in Iraq saying: “We don’t want them. We won’t allow them. Full stop.”

Iran has stated that the Islamic State will not be destroyed through airstrikes alone and expressed skepticism over the U.S.-led coalition against the group [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]. Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said that “the pronounced goals of this coalition in the fight against terrorism are inconsistent with certain past and present deeds of its main architects and some of its members” [The Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan].

The New York Times (Anne Bernard and Mohammed Ghannam) reports that Syrian government forces are escalating their assaults against opposition rebel forces, as the U.S. prepares to strike ISIS in the country.

Reuters reports that according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there have been a number of sightings of at least one unmanned drone over the Islamic State-controlled regions in Aleppo.

The Australian authorities conducted an anti-terrorism raid across two cities today, in a preemptive move to foil plots of “demonstration killings” in Australia by supporters of the Islamic State, apparently affiliated with a senior ISIS figure [The Age’s Nick Ralston and Megan Levy].

Reuters reports that the Netherlands has agreed to contribute F-16 fighter jets and weapons to Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State.

Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim, denied accusations that his country provides support to the Islamic State, telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Qatar is also threatened by the group [Al Jazeera].

The French government has said it will refuse to use the name, the “Islamic State,” arguing that it dignifies the terrorist group. It will instead use the term “Daesh,” which is how the group is referred to in much of the Arab world [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor].

The New York Times editorial board writes that the newly formed Iraqi government in Baghdad is “weak and structurally flawed” and questions how reliant the United States can be upon it.

Somini Sengupta [New York Times] draws attention to the dubious international legal authority for U.S. airstrikes in Syria, and notes that the White House has “articulated no rationale” for a move that could be deemed an act of aggression.

Sylvia Westall [Reuters] reports that despite recent strains upon the Syrian army, it is still seen as a strong force within the country.

Adam Entous [Wall Street Journal] writes about Bassam Barabandi, a Syrian diplomat in Washington who aided anti-Assad rebels obtain passports to escape Syria.

More than 100 Muslim leaders from across the U.K. have urged the Islamic State to release British hostage Alan Henning, in a written statement to The Independent.

A New York Times/CBS News poll finds that 39% of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the crisis with ISIS, while 48% disapprove of his strategy, although most continue to support airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

Russia and Ukraine

Ahead of his U.S. visit, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the Canadian parliament that his country is paying “a very high price” for defending “democracy and freedom” [Kyiv Post].

The Russian Foreign Ministry has welcomed Ukraine’s new law granting greater autonomy to separatist-held areas, calling it a “step in the right direction.” In Kiev, however, many lawmakers view the measure as unpatriotic [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne].

European Union officials acknowledge that the delay in the full implementation of the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine could risk scuttling the deal, particularly if Moscow’s influence over Ukraine grows in the next 15 months, reports Laurence Norman [Wall Street Journal].

Al Jazeera America (David Ariosto) explains how Ukraine and Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas has affected the crisis.

James Kirchick [Wall Street Journal] argues that the 19th century Monroe Doctrine offers a useful model for protecting Ukraine from Russian aggression.

Afghanistan

A MARSOC Marine was killed in Afghanistan’s Herat province on Monday in what has been cited as an insider attack [Marine Corps Times].

A female Afghan journalist was killed yesterday in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the seventh journalist to be killed in the country this year, making it the deadliest year for the news media since the fall of the Taliban [New York Times Rod Nordland].

The Washington Post editorial board cautions Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani against “political implosion,” writing that it is up to them “to show that Afghanistan can have a future under moderate, pragmatic leaders who are able to compromise.”

Other Developments

The inaugural Benghazi House hearing opened yesterday “with little drama,” as Chairman Trey Gowdy worked hard to prevent the investigation turning “into a political sideshow” [Politico’s Lauren French].

The Senate Armed Services Committee made public on Wednesday that hackers linked to the Chinese government have repeatedly infiltrated the computer systems of U.S. military contractors [Reuters’ Ros Krasny].

The Associated Press (Robert Burns and Adam Schreck) reports on the “outsize” role played by Qatar in U.S.’s global war on terrorism.

Iran and six world powers resume talks this week in New York on Iran’s nuclear program, though a diplomatic breakthrough may be “elusive,” reports Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau.  The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that his country is committed to reaching a deal, but could not accept an agreement lasting 10 or 15 years [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Gunmen stormed a college in northern Nigeria yesterday, killing at least 15 people and wounding 35. Boko Haram is thought to be behind the attack [Reuters].

Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani presented a cabinet to parliament for approval on Wednesday, amid an escalating crisis that could lead to civil war [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy and Benoit Faucon].

The New York Times (Jodi Rudoren) reports on the recent surge in violence by Palestinians in Jerusalem.

An al-Qaeda inspired group has claimed responsibility for a recent attack in Egypt’s Sinai province which killed six policemen [Al Jazeera]. Alaa Al Aswany [New York Times] questions whether Egypt can ever attain real democracy or whether it is “doomed to autocracy.”

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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