News Roundup and Notes: October 1, 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

U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria. American-led airstrikes were launched against Islamic State militants surrounding a Kurdish town today, according to Kurdish forces near the Syrian border with Turkey, in a “rare daylight coalition attack,” reports Reuters (Ayla Jean Yackley).

U.S. forces carried out 11 strikes in Syria and another 11 in Iraq over Monday and Tuesday, destroying several ISIS facilities, fighting positions, and vehicles. The 11 strikes in Syria were not carried out in coordination with Arab partners [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwarz].

The airstrikes are being launched amid considerable intelligence gaps, according to current and former U.S. officials. The Pentagon is relying largely on satellite and surveillance flights, in contrast to the networks and ground-based technology relied upon previously in Iraq and Afghanistan [Associated Press].

The strikes are being conducted under less strict rules than those announced by President Obama last year, which prohibit drone attacks unless there is “near certainty” that civilians would be unharmed. National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that the standard did not apply to present operations, but only “when we take direct action outside areas of active hostilities” [Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff].

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) reports that an airstrike last week nearly bombed a Free Syrian Army-affiliated command-and-control facility, seemingly due to a lack of coordination between the U.S. and the moderate rebels on the ground.

Further countries join in Iraq. British aircrafts launched their first strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq yesterday, in an effort to assist Kurdish forces in the northwest of the country [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor]. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australian planes will start flying over Iraq in support of the U.S.-led coalition today, but will hold back on airstrikes until a final decision is reached domestically [Reuters].

Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper said that his cabinet was weighing up the best action to be taken against the Islamic State, promising that any decision involving military involvement would come before parliament [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vieira].

Meanwhile, Turkey might send ground troops in Iraq and Syria, and let foreign military use its bases for cross-border incursions, according to a government proposal to be debated in parliament on Thursday [Reuters].

U.S. strategy, policy, and debate. President Obama met with his national security team last evening to discuss the administration’s “comprehensive strategy” to tackle the threat posed by ISIS [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Sen. Bernie Sanders considers that ISIS cannot be defeated “unless the Muslim nations which are most threatened — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Jordan — become fully engaged, including the use of ground troops” [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

The expanded air operation in Iraq and Syria is creating new burdens on an already shrinking Pentagon budget, reports the Wall Street Journal (Dion Nissenbaum).

Unifying “moderate” rebels in Syria may be the biggest challenge faced by the U.S., argues David Ignatius [Washington Post]. Ignatius writes that the Obama administration must accept the basic political issue that “[m]ost Syrian rebels are fighting because they hate Assad’s regime.”

The administration will hugely increase the number of Syrian refugees authorized for permanent resettlement in the U.S. next year [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

George Monbiot [The Guardian] satirizes the U.S.-led coalition, noting that “[h]umanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East.”

On the ground. The Islamic State is under heavy attack by Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq, who have pushed into ISIS held territory captured in June with assistance from U.S. and U.K. airstrikes [Al Jazeera].

Inexperienced Iraqi pilots dropped aid and ammunition into Islamic State controlled areas of Iraq that were meant to be delivered to the Iraqi military in the western province of Anbar [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes].

Reuters special report (Maggie Fick) explores the Islamic State strategy of seizing not only land but resources, especially wheat, and cites such tactics as one of the reasons why the group poses a “more complex threat” than al-Qaeda.

The Washington Post (Abigail Hauslohner) reports on the shift in identity caused by the Islamic State in Iraq, with the cracks appearing along ethnic and religious lines. 

Other developments. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it was unacceptable for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to have accused Iran of being “part of the problem” in the Middle East only hours after their historic meeting in New York [The Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan].

The wife of British hostage Alan Henning has made another plea to the terrorist group to release her husband, in a televised appeal arranged by the U.K. Foreign Office [The Guardian’s Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor].

The New York Times (Steven Erlanger) provides details of a number of steps being taken by several European states to deter the increasing number of homegrown jihadists from travelling to Iraq and Syria.

Kosovo has launched two operations in the last two months aimed at curbing Islamist fighters and those who recruit them [Reuters’ Fatos Bytyci].

And the Washington Post (Adam Taylor) offers nine visual assists for understanding the complex situation in the Middle East.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

EU sanctions will continue. An EU spokesperson said there had been “encouraging developments” since the implementation of the ceasefire last month, but said other parts of the deal would “need to be properly implemented” before the bloc would consider easing sanctions against Moscow [RFE/RL]. 

Fresh assaults by separatist rebels. Ukrainian forces resisted fresh attacks on the Donetsk airport yesterday, which has become the “center of battles” in recent days, reports Nick Shchetko [Wall Street Journal]. Earlier today, shells hit a school playground in Donetsk, killing at least ten people [Reuters].

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Secret Service security breach, again. An armed security contractor, with three previous convictions, rode in an elevator with President Obama during a visit to Atlanta last month, raising new concerns over the Secret Service’s ability to protect the President [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]. Agency Director Julia Pierson faced forceful criticism from lawmakers at a House Oversight Committee hearing yesterday, amid the recent revelations of security breaches [Wall Street Journal’s Brent Kendall et al.]. The New York Times editorial board comments on Pierson’s “unimpressive” testimony, while stressing the need for “an independent, top-to-bottom review” of the agency.

Taliban bombing kills at least seven in Afghanistan. Two separate attacks were carried out today on military vehicles in Kabul, which also wounded 15 [Reuters].

Iran nuclear talks to resume. Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program with the P5 +1 will continue within the next two weeks according to a senior Western diplomat speaking on Monday [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Retired General chosen to run war court. Retired Maj. Gen. Vaughn A. Ary has been selected to oversee the war court at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon announced yesterday [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The Libyan Dawn militia has rejected a UN call for peace talks and a ceasefire, demanding that their opponents be disarmed instead [Al Jazeera]. The Egyptian government has offered military training to pro-government forces in Libya, with security officials highlighting links between Libyan militants and the Islamic State [Reuters].

Kenyan President must appear before the International Criminal Court. The ICC rejected Uhuru Kenyatta’s request to avoid the hearing on October 8; he is accused of organizing ethnic massacres after the 2007 presidential elections [BBC].

Influx of Jewish settlers to East Jerusalem. Settlers moved into 26 apartments in 7 buildings on Tuesday in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood, reports Isabel Kershner [New York Times]. The Wall Street Journal (Nicholas Casey) writes that after this summer’s war in Gaza many Israelis are reconsidering living near the border, with some families reluctant to return to Kibbutz communities.

Australia passes counterterrorism legislation. The parliament passed a number of counterterrorism laws, which confer greater surveillance powers on the country’s spy agency, despite concerns about their impact on the freedom of the press [The Australian].

The Guardian awarded Emmy for Snowden reporting. The Guardian U.S. was given the prize for its multimedia interactive coverage of the NSA surveillance disclosures [The Guardian’s Helen Davidson].

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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