News Roundup and Notes: September 29, 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

Strikes in Iraq and Syria continue. U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS positions in northern and eastern Syria overnight hit grain storage areas and the country’s largest gas plant, killing civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [Reuters].

Over the weekend, the American-led coalition targeted Islamic State oil assets as well as positions in the Syria-Turkish border area, assisting Syrian Kurds who have been struggling to counter the terrorist organization near the Turkish border [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz].

Human Rights Watch has called on the U.S. Government to investigate possible unlawful airstrikes in Syria that killed seven civilians and reportedly hit no legitimate military target.

The U.S. continued to carry out separate airstrikes targeting ISIS in Iraq over the weekend.

More countries pledge assistance in Iraq. The U.K. and Belgian parliaments have authorized participation in strikes against ISIS in Iraq, in a move welcomed by the White House as demonstrating “the clear commitment of the international community to take action together against these terrorists.” The governments of Denmark and the Netherlands also announced plans to provide fighter aircrafts to the mission in Iraq.

Terrorists respond to strikes. The leader of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Syria has vowed to “use all possible means” to retaliate against the U.S.-led airstrikes, while warning that the group would take the battle to the Western countries joining the U.S.-alliance [Associated Press]. The al-Qaeda-linked group appears to have reconciled with the Islamic State in Syria, with leaders from the two groups conducting war strategy meetings, reports The Guardian’s Martin Chulov.

U.S. strategy, policy, and debate. President Obama appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” yesterday in a crosscutting interview focusing on U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria. During the interview, Obama conceded that the U.S. had underestimated the threat posed by the Islamic State and emphasized that recent airstrikes are not “American against ISIL” but rather U.S. leadership of an international coalition [New York TimesPolitico].

Eli Lake [The Daily Beast] suggests that President Obama cannot scapegoat U.S. intelligence for underestimating the Islamic State as it had warned the president eight months ago of the group’s progression into Iraq.

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey has restated that he would be ready to recommend U.S. ground troops, if he believed it was necessary to successfully defeat ISIS.

Michael O’Hanlon, writing for the Washington Post, suggests why the U.S. may need to put boots on the ground in Iraq.

Speaking on ABC News’ “This Week,” House Speaker John Boehner said that the U.S. may have “no choice” but to deploy troops on the ground to defeat the threat posed by the Islamic State. Also on “This Week,” Rep. Keith Ellison said that a “narrowly tailored” AUMF to deal with the Islamic State could pass in Congress.

The Hill provides a “wrap-up” of the Sunday shows which focused largely on ISIS.

The administration has not ruled out the possibility of a no-fly zone over northeastern Syria, potentially in coordination with Turkey [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Anne Barnard].

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said on Friday that the U.S. suspects al-Qaeda’s head bomb maker was involved in the Khorasan Group terror plot, which the U.S. says it was seeking to interrupt by conducting airstrikes in Syria against the group [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

In an op-ed for Politico Magazine, Sen. Ted Cruz cautions that the common threat of the Islamic State is not a reason for the U.S. to “cozy up” to Iran.

Jackson Diehl [Washington Post] argues that the Obama administration cannot continue to ignore Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying “[i]f the Islamic State is a cancer, Assad is the source tumor.”

On the ground in Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi army command is attempting to re-enlist soldiers who previously abandoned their units, in an effort to strengthen the army as it attempts to tackle the Islamic State [New York Times’ Kirk Semple].

Iraqi minorities are looking to set up militia groups to tackle the Islamic State, but say they are faced with a resistant central government concerned about exacerbating separatist sentiments [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley].

As shelling on Kobani intensified yesterday, Syrian refugees flooded again across the Turkish border [New York Times’ Karam Shoumali and Anne Bernard].

Other Iraq and Syria news. The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution expressing the Council’s willingness to share its evidence on human rights violations in Syria since 2011 should there be a war crimes tribunal [Associated Press].

Forty-six members of the Belgian jihadist group, Sharia4Belgium, go on trial in Antwerp today, in Europe’s most high-profile legal attempt to curtail the reality that Europe is functioning as a recruiting ground for jihadist groups like the Islamic State [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton and Margaret Coker]. Also at the Wall Street Journal, Coker and Dalton discuss proposed “deradicalization” programs in Europe and the opinions of those who are skeptical of them.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan inaugurated Ashraf Ghani as president today in a “historic, anxious” handover of power, after months of deadlock over the disputed presidential vote [Reuters’ Kay Johnson].

In an op-ed published on the Washington Post, Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Afghanistan on the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history and, in commending the two electoral candidates on their compromise, said “perhaps Washington could take a lesson from Kabul.”

A Taliban attack on local government headquarters in the eastern province of Paktia killed at least 12 people earlier today [Al Jazeera].

A weeklong Taliban offensive in central Afghanistan was defeated over the weekend according to local officials, though the death toll was high and the victory insecure [New York Times’ Declan Walsh and Fazl Muzhary].

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

The Center for National Security Studies is asking a federal appeals court to allow the group to defend U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s ruling that the NSA’s bulk collection program appeared to be illegal, although the group is relying on different grounds than those relied upon by Leon [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

The prospect of a European-based company being awarded a federal contract that would involve acting as the air traffic controller for the phone system in the U.S. has prompted intelligence officials to voice concern that the decision could hinder the government’s surveillance efforts [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau].

Russia and Ukraine

Twelve people, including Ukrainian troops and civilians, have been killed in Ukraine’s east overnight, in the deadliest fighting since the ceasefire came into force earlier this month [Reuters].

Ukrainian forces and rebels carried out another round of prisoner exchange yesterday under observation from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [Kyiv Post’s Christopher J. Miller].

A newly appointed governor in Ukraine’s southeast has voiced concern that the demarcation lines drawn as part of the ceasefire could create a lasting de facto rebel-controlled state on the border of his province [Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison].

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used the bulk of his UN General Assembly address to rebut the West’s accusations of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, while also criticizing Western actions in Iraq, Syria, and Libya [UN News Centre]. Rick Gladstone [New York Times] provides more details.

Yemen

A suicide car bomber linked to al-Qaeda attacked a Shiite-run field hospital north of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, yesterday, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 50 [Al Jazeera].

A rocket was launched near the U.S. embassy in Yemen’s capital by an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group on Saturday [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

The Economist discusses Yemen’s “violent politics” and the security vacuum that has been rapidly filled with Houthi rebels.

Other Developments

A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region yesterday killed at least four people suspected of being insurgents, according to local officials [New York Times’ Salman Masood].

The Justice Department is expected to announce a new policy in the coming weeks banning religious, ethnic, and other forms of profiling by federal law enforcement officers, with no exception for national security investigations, according to department and congressional sources [Los Angeles Times’ Timothy M. Phelps].

The Justice Department has filed a motion requesting to hold a hearing in secret next week before a U.S. District Court Judge, which involves a complaint against procedures for force-feeding at Guantánamo Bay, reports Josh Gerstein [Politico].

The leader of the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of committing a “war of genocide” in the Gaza Strip during his address to the UN General Assembly on Friday [BBC]. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki criticized the speech as “offensive” and “counterproductive” to efforts aimed at restoring trust between Israel and Palestine [Haaretz].

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken sought to defend the Secret Service, in response to a Washington Post report this weekend that it took four days for the agency to grasp that a gunman had hit the White House residence in November 2011 [Washington Post’s Jaime Fuller and Fredrick Kunkle].

Sen. Lindsey Graham has emphasized that any deal coming out of the “P5 + 1” talks with Iran on its nuclear program must be voted on by Congress [Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin].

At the UN General Assembly last week, world leaders described a new era of global crisis, which President Obama will aim to address in the coming weeks with his “more muscular foreign policy,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee).

Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said today that the U.S. and North Korea are far from conducting a responsible dialogue as North Korea drifts further from its obligations to de-nuclearize [Associated Press].

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
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