News Roundup and Notes: September 24, 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 latest U.S.-led airstrikes overnight targeted Islamic State-held territory close to the Turkish border in Syria, near a region that tens of thousands of Kurds have fled, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [Reuters]. Be sure to follow The Guardian for live updates on the strikes and visit the Washington Post for a map of where U.S.-led airstrikes have hit so far in Syria. The U.S. Central Command also provides further information on the strikes carried out yesterday.

Airstrikes in Syria early yesterday, undertaken only by U.S. assets, specifically targeted the al-Qaeda offshoot, the Khorasan Group, which is believed to have been plotting an “imminent” attack on the U.S., according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and Attorney General Eric Holder [U.S. Central Command]. A senior administration official has said that the Obama administration considers strikes against the Khorasan Group as “separate and apart” from those targeting the Islamic State [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The airstrikes in Syria appear to have so far dealt the heaviest blow to the al-Nusra Front, which announced the death of its leader by a U.S. strike [CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter et al.].

Speaking from the South Lawn yesterday, President Obama vowed more strikes targeting extremists in Syria, stating that the operation “is not America’s fight alone” [Reuters’ Roberta Rampton and Phil Stewart].

U.S. military officials said that the United States is responsible for the vast majority of strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Michael R. Gordon].

The Arab states who worked alongside the U.S. in Syria have “remained muted” about their involvement, reports the Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley and Ghassan Adnan). However, American lawmakers from both parties have praised the role of Arab allies in the U.S.-led strikes [Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Crittenden]. Stephanie Gaskell [Defense One] details the congressional backing for the Syria airstrikes, support which appears largely conditional upon the sustained involvement of Arab allies.

Speaking in New York yesterday, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani decried the U.S.-led strikes, accusing them of having no legal standing, while emphasizing Iran’s willingness to combat the group alongside its Syrian ally [Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Baker].

In an interview with CNN, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that he is happy to see coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria as long as they “do it right this time.”

The Pentagon spokesperson told the BBC that the campaign against the Islamic State will take years.

The U.S. has informed the United Nations that strikes in Syria are justified on the basis of collective self-defense of Iraq, stating that the “Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself.” In a possible acknowledgement of the U.S. argument, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that “the strikes took place in areas no longer under the effective control of that Government” [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Charlie Savage].

Josh Gerstein [Politico] reports on President Obama’s “awkward” invocation of the authorization of the 2001 Iraq war, noting that it “paints the expanding anti-ISIL campaign as a successor to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq 12 years ago.”

Western-backed rebels in Syria have expressed concern that the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State and other groups in the country will cause the ongoing civil war to tip in favor of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Daghar].

Syria has accused Israel of siding with rebels from the Islamic State and the Nusra Front after it shot down a Syrian military aircraft that Israel said had infiltrated its airspace above the Golan Heights [Al Jazeera].

The Philippines has pulled out its contingent from the four-decade-old UN peacekeeping operation in the Golan Heights due to attacks from Syrian insurgents [New York Times’ Rich Gladstone and Jodi Rudoren].

A UN Security Council committee has blacklisted over a dozen foreign extremist fighters, fundraisers and recruiters linked to terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, and Yemen [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols].

President Obama will chair the UN Security Council today with the aim of rallying support for the military coalition against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria [The Hill’s Justin Sink and Amie Parnes].

The wife of British hostage Alan Henning said that she received an audio file recording of Mr Henning begging for his life, adding that she was told he had been taken to a Sharia court and found innocent of spying  [Associated Press].

Australian police have shot dead a teenager in a counter-terrorism operation, days after numerous raids to prevent attacks by fighters returning from Iraq and Syria [Reuters’ Lincoln Feast].

German police officers have raided the homes of seven individuals suspected of funneling vehicles to the Islamic State [Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski].

As debate and analysis continues in the media, the New York Times editorial board criticizes the lack of a “full picture” perspective from President Obama on his strategy in Syria, and accuses Congress of “utterly fail[ing] in its constitutional responsibilities” by “shamelessly ducking a vote on this critical issue.” In another piece, the editorial board weighs in on the likelihood that American airstrikes will go some way in assisting the Assad regime.

Foreign Policy (Shane Harris et al.) explores whether the Khorasan Group is as dangerous as the administration is making it out to be.

The Washington Post (Rich Noack) provides a useful summery of international media reactions to Syrian airstrikes from a selection of countries.

Michael Hirsh [Politico Magazine] questions whether President Obama will redefine his legacy and become “America’s new war president.”

Glenn Greenwald [The Intercept] notes that Syria is the 7th predominantly Muslim country to be bombed by President Obama’s administration, and highlights the “utter lack of interest” in the strikes’ legal authority.

Mustafa Akyol [New York Times] considers whether Turkey will take military action against the Islamic State, noting that it will have to “reckon with the possible local backlashes of joining the anti-ISIS military campaign.”

Russia and Ukraine

NATO said that Russia has withdrawn a “significant” number of conventional forces from Ukraine, while a top EU official criticized Moscow for threatening retaliation against Ukraine over the trade deal it signed with the European Union [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman et al.].

Meanwhile, mortar fire in the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk marked yet another violation of the ceasefire between the warring sides, which came into force earlier this month [Associated Press].

Other Developments

In his farewell speech, outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the U.S. of “pursu[ing] its own interests” in his country, in remarks that were labeled “ungracious and ungrateful” by the departing American ambassador to Kabul [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]. The Washington Post editorial board notes that Afghanistan’s “path to stability still looks steep” and that Kabul will not be facilitated by Obama’s “arbitrary deadline” for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Associated Press considers the “unprecedented” number of crises that world leaders will have to grapple with at the United Nations meeting this week.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists, strengthening the argument that U.S. civilian courts are well-suited to handle terrorism cases, reports Christopher M. Matthews [Wall Street Journal].

A suspected al Qaeda bomb-maker, linked to devices made in Iraq several years ago, has been arrested in London [The Guardian’s Duncan Gardham].

The U.S. is considering lifting the arms embargo on Vietnam, according to senior American officials, in a move that will assist the country in dealing with China’s growing naval threats [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton and Andrea Shalal].

Somali pirates have released a German-American writer, who was abducted close to three years ago, following a ransom payment [The Telegraph’s Mike Pflanz].

Abu Qatada, the radical Muslim cleric who was deported from the U.K. last year, has been cleared of terrorism offences by a Jordanian court [BBC].

A Pakistani citizen who argues he was tortured by U.K. and U.S. forces is set to challenge the British government’s claim that he cannot pursue his case before the domestic courts due to the “act of state” doctrine, which prevents the courts from questioning the legality of acts carried out by U.S. troops [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor].

Stephanie Clifford [New York Times] considers the “complex calculation” to determine the cost of Arab Bank’s liability for supporting terrorism, in the first U.S. case against a bank under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Following a failed peace deal with Shia rebels, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi pledged to restore state control, while warning of the risk of a “civil war” in the country [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