News Roundup and Notes: September 30, 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.

Afghanistan

Today, the U.S. and Afghanistan signed the Bilateral Security Agreement, allowing up to 9,800 American soldiers to remain in the country after 2014 to assist Afghan forces [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan].

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Lauria) reports that Pakistan wishes to strengthen recently soured relations with Afghanistan following the inauguration of the new president.

Iraq and Syria

The U.S. along with partner nations conducted eight airstrikes in Syria over Sunday and Monday, while U.S. forces separately carried out three strikes against ISIS positions in Iraq. The U.S. said that ISIS was using the grain storage facility in Syria, targeted by airstrikes yesterday, as a logistics hub and vehicle staging facility.

The Pentagon responded to reports of civilian casualties from American strikes in Syria yesterday, with spokesperson Army Col. Steve Warren stating that the U.S. is unable to corroborate the reports, but is taking the matter “very seriously” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

ISIS fighters are adapting their tactics to avoid U.S. strikes by dispersing themselves, requiring greater effort on part of the U.S. forces to appropriately target the militants, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

On the ground, Islamic State militants have made new advances in both Iraq and Syria and have reportedly reached within six miles of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad [The Telegraph’s Ruth Sherlock et al]. ISIS fighters are also closing in on Syria’s Kurdish area near the Turkish border, despite the campaign of airstrikes that began last week [Associated Press’ Desmond Butler and Diaa Hadid]. The move has prompted the Turkish government to deploy tanks to the border [Al Jazeera].

The U.S.-led strikes are posing a problem for the moderate Syrian rebels, who say they are losing public support, with many Syrians angered at civilian casualties and wary of U.S. motives [Reuters’ Tom Perry]. The New York Times (Anne Bernard) reports on protestors in Syria burning the American flag, as some see the U.S. airstrikes as assisting President Bashar al-Assad.

Based on President Obama’s recent comments, U.S. efforts to oust the Assad regime from Syria have been put on the backburner by the airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, reports the Associated Press’s Julie Pace.

The most significant development within the fight against ISIS is that Arab states have finally started to take part in efforts to stabilize the region and defend against an extremist threat, reports Gerald F. Seib [Wall Street Journal].

The Turkish government is considering deploying troops to Syria, representing a shift from Ankara’s reluctance to be involved in the U.S.-led coalition, reports Deutsche Welle.

Iran will give the Lebanese Army a military grant to boost efforts to prevent Sunni extremists from crossing the Syrian border into Lebanon [Reuters’ Oliver Holmes and Sylvia Westall].

Speaking at the UN General Assembly yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister of Syria accused the U.S. of a “double standard” by only attacking the Islamic State, suggesting an intention to “score certain political agendas, particularly through supporting with money, weapons and training the groups they call moderate” [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Lauria]. In an Associated Press interview, the minister encouraged the U.S. to hit all militants in Syria as they all “have the same extremist ideology.”

The White House attempted to counter the latest criticism of President Obama over Iraq and Syria yesterday, after his comments on Sunday that the U.S. intelligence had underestimated the threat from ISIS. Press secretary Josh Earnest clarified that Obama did not intend to blame intelligence officials, stressing, “Ultimately, the president’s commander in chief and he’s the one who takes responsibility” [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee and Siobhan Gorman].

Classified intelligence reports depicted an increasingly threatening picture of Sunni extremists in Syria late last year, but received little consideration from the White House, according to senior intelligence and military officials [New York Times’ Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt].

The Obama administration has held at least two meetings with top congressional aides regarding military action in Iraq and Syria, discussing the legal justification for strikes as well as the need for a resolution authorizing the use of force, according to multiple sources [Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan].

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers has warned that spending cuts across the Pentagon next year are not “compatible” with the increased U.S. efforts to battle ISIS [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad].

The American operations against the Islamic State have likely cost between $780 million and $930 million so far, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe].

Seth Cropsey [Wall Street Journal] suggests that senior U.S. officers should consider “resigning on principle” if, based on their experience, they believe the administration’s strategy to defeat ISIS is unworkable without combat troops.

The Economist considers that the fight against the Islamic State will “help define America’s role in the world” and serves as “a test of America’s commitment to global security,” one that it has been “failing until now.”

Michael Gerson [Washington Post] welcomes the “historic” shift in President Obama’s stance from his West Point commencement address earlier this year to his UN speech last week, “separated by four months and many ideological light-years.”

The U.S. administration has used the Khorasan Group as a scaremongering tactic to rally support for strikes in Syria, suggests The Intercept (Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain).

A third video of British hostage John Cantlie was released today by the Islamic State; a response to President Obama’s 9/11 anniversary speech. The clip states that there will be further messages released [BBC].

The leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front appeared online for the first time in eight months yesterday, threatening to retaliate against the West for the U.S. strikes in Syria, statements described as “ominous” but “predictable” by The Daily Beast (Jacob Siegel).

The Guardian (Harriet Sherwood et al.) reports on the increasing number of women and girls going missing in the West to reappear in Iraq and Syria.

The Daily Beast (Anna Nemtsova) reports on the mounting threat posed by ISIS to Russia; one such threat arising from a Georgian ISIS commander dubbed “the Chechen.”

Yesterday, Belgian prosecutors set out the terrorism charges faced by 46 members of Sharia4Belgium, the Islamist group accused of sending dozens of young Muslims to join the conflict in Syria [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton].

Australian authorities conducted counterterrorism raids today in Melbourne, arresting one individual charged with funding the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra [The Australian’s Pia Akerman].

A British man has been arrested in Bangladesh and accused of recruiting fighters to join al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria [The Guardian’s Shiv Malik and Aisha Gani].

Israel and Palestine

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas and ISIS are “branches of the same poisonous tree,” comparing the two groups to the Nazis [Associated Press]. The leader also cautioned the West against believing the “crocodile tears” of Iran: “to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war” [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and David E. Sanger]. Barak Ravid [Haaretz] suggests that Netanyahu’s speech was “full of threats and dangers” but lacked strategy.

At a news conference yesterday, the Israeli Foreign Minister accused the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, of failing to be a reliable peace partner [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

The Washington Post editorial board describes President Abbas’ UN address last Friday as “dangerous” and “bridge-burning,” suggesting that the leader has “done little good” for the Palestinians and their cause.

Russia and Ukraine

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned yesterday that the West must be prepared for “the long haul” in resolving the crisis in eastern Ukraine, stating, “I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position” [Bloomberg’s Arne Delfs and Brian Parkin].

Moscow has demanded Kiev pay $3.9 billion if Ukraine wishes to resume natural gas supplies from Russia, said the Russian Energy Minister today [Wall Street Journal’s Andrey Ostroukh].

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (Gregory L. White), the head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, said that the notion that those targeted by Western sanctions would influence Russian President Vladimir Putin to alter policy is “wishful thinking” and “absolutely primitive.”

Other Developments

A 1981 executive order signed by former President Ronald Reagan has been cited as the “primary source” of authority for NSA foreign spying, according to newly released internal reports [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]. The Intercept (Cora Currier and Ryan Devereaux) provides further details.

A slow Pentagon approval process has caused the transfer of prisoners out of Guantánamo Bay to grind to a halt, heightening concerns within the administration as to whether Obama will succeed in his campaign pledge to shut the detention camp [Associated Press].

The Associated Press reports on the mixed success of Attorney General Eric Holder on national security issues during his time in the position.

The armed man who jumped the fence of the White House earlier this month succeeded in making it much deeper into the building than was previously disclosed, apparently reaching the East Room before he was tackled by a counterassault agent [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig].The Washington Post editorial board discusses the “shattered sense of security in the Secret Service.”

Nine Bahraini citizens have been sentenced to life and had their citizenship revoked on charges of smuggling in arms for use in terrorism related activities [Al Jazeera].

The Saudi government has cautioned that neighboring Yemen faces sliding into even worse violent crisis, placing regional security at risk [Al Jazeera].

As political dialogue aimed at ending the crisis in Libya began yesterday in Ghadames, the chief UN envoy to Libya described the day as historic  [UN News Centre].

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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