News Roundup and Notes: September 22, 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 will chair an “unusual” meeting of the UN Security Council this week, aimed at adopting a resolution to curb the flow of fighters who travel abroad to join terrorist organizations [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Somini Sengupta]. Josh Gerstein [Politico] provides the backdrop to the “world in turmoil” that marks President Obama’s return to the United Nations.

The U.S. conducted two air strikes on Sunday that destroyed Islamic State targets in the northwest of Iraq [The Hill’s Kyle Balluck].

Yesterday, U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that many nations are committing their support to the fight against the Islamic State, although she would not specify any names of the 40 nations she says have spoken in support of the U.S.-led coalition [Associated Press]. Power also said that even without explicit authority from the Security Council, the U.S. has “the legal basis [they] need” to conduct airstrikes in Syria.

The New York Times editorial board discusses the “unlikeliest of coalitions,” arguing that “political grievances, sectarian tensions and mistrust make organizing the coalition a lot like solving a Rubik’s Cube.”

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Parkinson and Dion Nissenbaum) reports that the U.S. and its allies have begun a large-scale effort to train Kurdish forces in the use of sophisticated weapons to be supplied by the West in coming months.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman), the UN special envoy to Iraq and Syria said that the agency could provide the appropriate platform for bringing together Iran and Arab states as well as Turkey in an attempt to stabilize Iraq.

Anne Barnard [New York Times] reports on the alignment of interests between “sworn enemies,” the U.S. and Hezbollah, in the fight against the Islamic State.

Reuters (Parisa Hafezi and Louis Charbonneau) has learned that the Iranian government is willing to work with the U.S. to tackle the Islamic State but that it wants greater flexibility on its uranium enrichment program in exchange.

Thomas Seibert [The Daily Beast] reports that the Turkish government has chosen to deal “diplomatically” with the Islamic State, and has been accused by Kurdish politicians of helping the group attack Kurds in Syria.

Meeting in The Hague, Western governments have started private talks in the hopes of creating new strategies to bring those responsible for grave international crimes in Iraq and Syria to justice [New York Times’ Marlise Simons].

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said yesterday that the U.S. is “pay[ing] the price” for failing to arm moderate Syrian rebels in 2012 [The Hill’s Kyle Balluck]. The Hill (Mike Lillis) reports that Sen. Ron Johnson and Sen. Chris Murphy “sparred” on the Sunday shows over the Obama administration’s approach to tackling ISIS.

Jaime Fuller [Washington Post] summarizes the key interviews on the Sunday shows, the focus of which was the international community’s response to the Islamic State. The Hill also provides a Sunday show “wrap-up.”

Politico (Maggie Haberman) reports that former President Bill Clinton, in an interview aired on CNN, said that he is in agreement with Hilary Clinton that arming moderate Syrian rebels years ago would have been worthwhile and that he would have “taken that chance.”

In an interview with the BBC, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the international community should not rule out ground troops to tackle ISIS and that at some point “someone’s boots on the ground” would be required. Meanwhile, former MI6 intelligence director, Nigel Inkster, has warned the U.K. against becoming entangled in direct military action in Syria [The Guardian’s Mark Townsend].

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin and Eli Lake) reports on Gen. Michael Nagata—the man chosen by Obama to head the strengthening of the Syrian rebel army—and the concern of lawmakers that he may have been given an “impossible mission.”

The Islamic State released 49 Turkish hostages on Sunday, removing what President Recep Tayyip Erdogen said was the main obstacle to Ankara joining the U.S.-led coalition [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Parkinson].

The Turkish government has clamped down its borders with Syria as roughly 130,000 Kurdish refugees attempted to cross into the country [BBC]. Al Jazeera reports that Turkey used tear gas and water cannons against Kurds who gathered close to the border in support of refugees from Syria.

CNN reports that the Islamic State has seized over 60 villages in northern Syria in recent days.

The New York Times (Ruth Eglash and William Booth) reports that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front has established a permanent presence in the Golan Heights, raising concern in Israel as the militants approach their border.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said that recent reports that Syria used chlorine in attacks raise “serious questions” about the country’s compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN resolutions [The Hill’s Kyle Balluck].

Loveday Morris [Washington Post] writes about the hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who are now trapped or missing following a “chaotic retreat” from an army base in western Iraq as they fled militants of the Islamic State.

CBS News’ “60 Minutes” (Scott Pelley) reports from the front lines in the fight against ISIS in the north of Iraq.

Al Jazeera America (Jamie Tarabay) reports on the “high hopes” for new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, but notes that there are “few good choices” available to him, as Washington expects him to bring in a new era of reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias.

Russia and Ukraine

Kiev has said it will not withdraw heavy weaponry from eastern Ukraine until separatist rebels honor the ceasefire agreement, only a day after the two sides agreed in Minsk to pull back artillery from the conflict zone [Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison].

Speaking yesterday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sought to defend his peace plan that includes granting greater autonomy to parts of eastern Ukraine [Kyiv Post’s Ivan Verstyuk].

Timothy Ash [Kyiv Post] has a summary of events over the weekend, including the Minsk negotiations.

Thousands of Russians gathered in Moscow yesterday in protest against Russia’s actions in the eastern Ukraine conflict [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian].

Afghanistan

Following months of quarreling over the presidential elections, Ashraf Ghani has been declared the new president of Afghanistan. On Sunday, the rival candidates signed a deal to form a national unity government, which will see runner-up Abdullah Abdullah nominating, likely himself, a chief executive [BBC]. The White House and Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the signing of the power-sharing agreement.

The Wall Street Journal (Margherita Stancati) notes that the agreement [full text] was made possible by months of sustained U.S. pressure, with Kerry calling the candidates almost 30 times since the June 14 election.

The New York Times editorial board welcomes the transfer of power, but writes that the leadership change “is dampened by serious concerns over whether the power-sharing deal will prove durable.”

The new Afghan president is likely to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. as early as next week, reports Yaroslav Trofimov [Wall Street Journal].

In a separate development, U.S. officials are searching for three Afghan soldiers who went missing during a Central Command Regional Cooperation training exercise at a Cape Cod military base [Associated Press].

Other Developments

The Associated Press reports that the CIA has halted its spying on Western European allies, following the outcry over the German official suspected of spying for the U.S. as well as the Edward Snowden revelations, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The New York Times (William J. Broad and David E. Sanger) reports that the U.S. is engaging in a “nationwide wave of atomic revitalization” as the government moves to upgrade major nuclear weapon plants and laboratories.

The Washington Post (Carol D. Leonnig) reports that the U.S. Secret Service has launched a security review of the White House following an unprecedented security breach on Friday when a man jumped the perimeter fence and entered the White House.

On the eve of his retirement, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, has been reinstated as Chief Prosecutor at the Guantánamo Bay military commission for a further three years [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The U.S. Air Force has contracted for pocket-sized drones to boost its search and rescue operations [Airforce Technology].

This morning, the Pakistani military announced a new head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the country’s premier intelligence agency [Associated Press]. The Washington Post (Tim Craig and Karen DeYoung) reports that according to Pakistani and Western analysts, Pakistan is moving toward sea-based military capacities and widening its interests in short-range nuclear weapons.

A host of assassinations over a 24-hour period in Benghazi, Libya, has augmented the crisis in the city that is already overcome by violent tensions [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham].

An Egyptian militant group, Soldiers of Egypt, has claimed responsibility for a bomb blast on Sunday in downtown Cairo that killed two police officers and injured others [Associated Press]. Reuters reports that the Islamic State has called on militants in Egypt’s Sinai Province to continue with further attacks against Egyptian security forces and beheadings.

A UN-brokered peace deal was signed between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels yesterday, aimed at ending the political crisis that has challenged the country for weeks. The agreement came as Houthi rebels took control of government buildings in the capital [Al Jazeera].

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif yesterday for talks on Iran’s nuclear program as well as the threat posed by the Islamic State [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

German authorities arrested two men on suspicion of membership of the Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabaab on Saturday [Wall Street Journal’s Natalia Drozdiak].

China and Iran are scheduled to begin joint naval exercises today in the Persian Gulf, primarily focused upon rescue missions [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink and Chris Buckley].

The Australian government is seeking to enact wider security powers to tackle the rising threat posed by Islamist militants in the country, according to the prime minister speaking today [Reuters’ Matt Siegel].

The UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees has called on the international community to take steps against Israeli plans to relocate thousands of Palestinian Bedouins from the central West Bank, as such a move may be considered forcible transfer [Al Jazeera].

Three bomb blasts in China’s Xinjiang province over the weekend killed two people and injured several others [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