News Roundup and Notes: September 23, 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 United States, along with five “partner nations,” has begun the first airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, using a combination of fighter and bomber aircraft as well as Tomahawk Land Attack missiles [BBC; Pentagon]. Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE “participated in or supported” the strikes, according to the Pentagon [BBC]. President Obama will give a statement on the Syrian airstrikes within hours, AFP reports. Be sure to follow The Guardian’s live stream for updates this morning.

The U.S. strikes in Syria were not only focused on the Islamic State but also targeted a second extremist organization of concern to the U.S.—the Khorasan group who were responsible for plotting against Western airlines, reports the Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes).

The Jordanian army alluded to taking part in the U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria today [Reuters].

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that Washington informed the Syrian envoy to the UN in advance of launching airstrikes in the country [Associated Press].

London based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed in strikes on 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, while strikes against the Nusra Front killed at least 50 militants and 8 civilians in Aleppo and Idlib [Reuters].

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ruled out his country’s participation in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria yesterday, despite having joined a U.S. attack in northern Iraq last week [Reuters’ Daniel Bases].

The first wave of U.S. strikes inside Syria is likely to complicate the dynamics of the President’s diplomacy at the United Nations this week, explains Josh Gerstein [Politico].

CNN (Deirdre Walsh) notes that the majority of statements in support of the airstrikes in Syria came from lawmakers usually critical of President Obama.

Marc Weller [BBC] questions the legality of U.S. and allied states’ airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq, noting the distinction between the two scenarios.

The Washington Post editorial board argues that airstrikes alone in Syria “will not be sufficient,” but that they will be “eminently justifiable” if the strikes can save Syrian Kurds from impending disaster in the short-term.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq [Central Command].

Moscow backs the UN Security Council draft resolution on tackling the recruitment and travel of foreign fighters, according to a Foreign Ministry official quoted by Interfax [Reuters]. Kimberly Dozier [The Daily Beast] writes that the resolution “relies more on convincing more than coercing” and shifts the onus of the Islamic State fight on the United Nations. Check out posts later today at Just Security by Faiza Patel and Martin Scheinin on the Security Council draft resolution.

President Obama will be using the UN General Assembly gathering this week to consolidate the global coalition against the Islamic State [Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Anne Gearan]. Obama is expected to meet with Iraqi and Egyptian leaders on the sidelines of the UN meeting to discuss the issue [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

U.K Prime Minister David Cameron will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the Islamic State, in the first meeting between the two countries’ leaders since the 1979 revolution [BBC].

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogen hinted yesterday that his country had engaged in a prisoner exchange with the Islamic State in order to recover 49 Turkish hostages that were being held by the terrorist group [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

The Washington Post (Karoun Demirjian) reports that while Russia is on board with the U.S. on destroying the Islamic State, it will not concede on moving against the terrorist group in Syria without Assad’s agreement.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi committed his country’s support to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State yesterday, but encouraged the Obama administration to tackle extremism in regions far beyond Iraq and Syria [Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Baker and Jay Solomon].

Syrian Kurds and ISIS militants are engaged in heavy fighting for the control of Kobani, in what has been a “relatively calm” region in the Kurdish-held northeast [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak]. This escalation in fighting forced over 130,000 Syrians to flee into Turkey, prompting the UN Refugee Agency to call on the international community to lend support to the Turkish government as it buckles under the strain [BBC].

The Israeli Air Forces shot down a Syrian fighter plane crossing into Israeli territory today, the first time the IAF has downed a Syrian aircraft since 1982 [Haaretz’s Amos Harel].

A terrorist group in Algeria, allied with the Islamic State, has kidnapped and threatened to kill a French citizen unless the French military halt air attacks in Iraq against ISIS [Al Jazeera].

The Wall Street Journal (Friedrich Geiger) reports on the visible “crack down” on suspected Islamic State militants in Germany, amid concern that the conflict in Iraq and Syria could lead to European attacks.

It is suspected that up to 100 Americans who have travelled to the Middle East to join jihadist organizations have returned to the U.S., according to a senior administration official speaking yesterday [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The Islamic State has released a second propaganda video featuring British hostage John Cantlie, following the format of a “lecture series” similar to last week’s installment [New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi]. The Intercept (Murtaza Hussain) writes that the newly released Islamic State video, entitled ‘Flames of War,’ appears to feature a militant speaking in an American or Canadian accent.

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick and Omar Al-Jawoshy) reports that despite six weeks of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, the Iraqi government forces have failed to dislodge the Sunni extremist’s stronghold on almost a quarter of the country.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius discusses the unsettling parallels between the Vietnam War and the escalating assault against the Islamic State.

Israel and Palestine

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he will present a plan with a new timeline for Middle East peace talks to the United Nations this week [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Eighty-eight senators have written a letter asking the administration to “support efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza,” in what is described by Eli Lake [The Daily Beast] as a push toward “slow-motion regime change.”

President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week at the White House, in the first meeting between the two since the summer war in Gaza [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid].

Arab Bank has been found liable for providing assistance to Hamas—responsible for numerous attacks in and around Israel—in the first U.S. case against a bank under the Anti-Terrorism Act [New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford].

Israeli forces have killed two Palestinians suspected of abducting and killing the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen].

Afghanistan

The decision not to release the final vote count in the Afghan presidential elections was the result of pressure from Western officials, including UN officials involved in monitoring the audit [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Tim Craig) explores the challenges of “finessing” a power-sharing government in Afghanistan, following the announcement that unsuccessful candidate Abdullah Abdullah would fill the newly created post of “chief executive” of Ashraf Ghani’s administration.

In other news, the three Afghan soldiers who were in the U.S. for a military training exercise and went missing from Cape Cod were located yesterday near the Canadian border crossing [New York Times].

Iran

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has warned against conflating talks with Iran on its nuclear program with tackling the Islamic State [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

White House press secretary Josh Earnest affirmed the U.S. position on the Iran question, saying: “The United States will not be in the position of trading aspects of Iran’s nuclear program to secure commitments to take on ISIL” [Reuters].

The Washington Post (Anne Gearan) discusses the failure of the U.S. and Iran to improve relations a year on from their “historic” phone conversation on the last day of the UN General Assembly last year.

Other Developments

Sen. Rand Paul’s lawsuit challenging NSA surveillance was put on hold yesterday, pending the result of a parallel case before the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

Ukrainian politicians and other analysts believe that Ukraine is less free from Moscow’s influence than before, with many choosing to refer to the situation as “capitulation” [Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times].

The man who jumped the White House fence on Friday night had 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets, and a machete in his car, federal prosecutors said yesterday [Washington Post’s Hsu]. The U.S. Secret Service Director has been asked to testify before the House Oversight Committee on the agency’s security measures, following Friday’s incident [Politico’s Lauren French].

The United Nations, the EU and a group of states have called for a ceasefire in Libya, as the UN mission proposed talks between supporters of rival parliaments to start next week [Al Jazeera].

The New York Times editorial board discusses President Obama’s “backsliding” on the question of nuclear weapons and his transition from a commitment to working “toward a world without nuclear weapons” to investing tens of billions of dollars in America’s nuclear capabilities.

During a farewell interview with the Associated Press, outgoing NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that during his tenure the alliance “cut fat and built muscle” as it streamlined structures.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have conducted raids on the property of a high-level military commander and allies in Sanaa, despite having signed a UN-brokered peace agreement with the Yemeni government yesterday [Al Jazeera America]. Ibrahim Sharqieh [New York Times] discusses the cost of “abandoning Yemen,” noting that the U.S. focus on counterterrorism has not assisted in achieving reconciliation.

A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle close to a paramilitary convoy in Peshawar, Pakistan today, killing at least three people and wounding 13 [Wall Street Journal’s Qasim Nauman and Safdar Dawar].

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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