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
Battle for Kobani. Islamic State militants are reportedly in control of more than a third of the Syrian border town, despite the U.S.-led air campaign in the area. [Reuters] Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged yesterday that “airstrikes alone” cannot save Kobani from falling to ISIS. [DoD News]
Turkish involvement. The Turkish foreign minister said it is “unrealistic” to expect Turkey to lead a ground operation against the Islamic State in Syria, amid increasing pressure on Turkey to assist Kurdish forces in Kobani. [BBC] Turkey will only consider military involvement if it is part of a broader strategy of regime change in Syria, according to the AP.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey. American and other Western officials are increasingly frustrated with what they perceive as Turkish inaction over Kobani. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly] The New York Times editorial board also explores Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “dangerous game,” commenting on the country’s refusal to assist Kurdish fighters in Syria.
Creation of a buffer zone? Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Turkish proposal for a buffer zone between Syria and Turkey should be considered “very closely.” However, the Wall Street Journal notes that the U.S. has sent “mixed signals” on whether it is seriously considering the idea. French President François Hollande has expressed his support for the idea [France 24] While British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he would not rule out the proposal “at this stage.”
American-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and partner nations carried out nine strikes against ISIS targets in Syria yesterday, while a separate three strikes were conducted by U.S. forces in Iraq. [Central Command] Australia launched its first airstrike in Iraq earlier today, but the exact location and type of facility hit was not revealed. [Sydney Morning Herald]
“There are limitations associated with the exclusive use of air power,” admitted White House press secretary Josh Earnest yesterday. Earnest added that the American strategy in Syria “is reliant on something that is not yet in place … a Syrian opposition that can take the fight to ISIL.” [The Guardian’s Dan Roberts]
Air attacks by Syrian forces have not slowed down, with many opponents arguing that the U.S. operation against ISIS is assisting the Assad regime, which no longer needs to focus on countering the advances of the Islamic State. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt]
Islamic State militants claim to have shot down an Iraqi military helicopter near Baiji, releasing photographs on Twitter purporting to show their fighters hit the aircraft. [Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss] Meanwhile, soldiers from the Iraqi military are paying superior officers to allow them to avoid fighting the Islamic State, in what locals call the “astronaut phenomenon.” [The Daily Beast]
President Obama met with military commanders at the Pentagon yesterday to discuss the fight against ISIS, among other security issues. [DoD News] Obama used the opportunity to warn Congress against the “draconian” budget cuts set to return in 2016 under sequestration, stating that U.S. forces need to have “the equipment and the technology that’s necessary for them to be able to succeed at their mission.” [Politico’s Philip Ewing]
The Islamic State is “far more advanced” than al-Qaeda, and better funded, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday. Clinton said the group “will attempt to launch attacks against Western targets if it has the ability to do so.” [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan]
Efforts to free U.S. hostages held by the Islamic State are “uncoordinated, inconsistent” and “stymied by a malfunctioning government bureaucracy,” reports Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris. The U.K.’s hostage negotiation strategy is also coming under increasing scrutiny, with emphasis on the government’s refusal to pay ransoms and media blackout requests. [The Guardian’s Ian Cobain]
The Justice Department has stepped up efforts to prevent Americans from traveling abroad to join ISIS and other terrorist groups, fearing their radicalization and return to the U.S., although it is unclear that these groups intend to plot attacks against the U.S. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]
Fears over foreign fighters returning from Syria to Europe are “starting to be realized,” as one of the four men arrested in London on Tuesday is thought to have fought previously in Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Cassell Bryan-Low]
Lawyers for the members of Sharia4Belgium, currently on trial in Belgium, are claiming the group is not a terrorist organization, stating that those that did travel to Syria did so to fight against the Assad regime. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton]
Jordan is refusing entry to Syrian refugees, with none having crossed the border in over a week according to international refugee agencies. [New York Times’ Rana F. Sweis] The UN Refugee Agency said that more funds are desperately needed to support over one million Syrian refugees in Turkey. [Reuters’ Kieran Guilbert]
Force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantánamo. Three days of arguments concluded yesterday in the legal challenge brought on behalf of Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab. Justice Department lawyers argued that the methods used to force-feed inmates are necessary and safe. The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman has more details.
Uruguay President Jose Mujica will consult with his successor over whether six Guantánamo detainees should be allowed to resettle in his country, amid increasing domestic opposition to the plan. [Associated Press]
UKRAINE and RUSSIA
Ceasefire continues to falter. Five civilians were killed in Donetsk and several others injured yesterday [Interfax-Ukraine] Since the start of the ceasefire, at least 331 fatalities have been recorded in eastern Ukraine, although no large-scale offensives have been launched, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. [UN News Centre]
The Russian parliament took the first step to retaliate against Western sanctions yesterday. The legislation will authorize Moscow to seize foreign assets and compensate those who have been targeted by the West. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer]
The U.S. and U.K. reiterated their support for Ukraine in a meeting between Secretary of State Kerry and his British counterpart Philip Hammond yesterday. [Voice of America]
The Yemeni government’s prime minister designate has turned down the nomination, following threats from Houthi rebels to hold a mass protest against the appointment. [Al Jazeera]
At least 40 people have been killed in bombings in Sana’a today, apparently targeting a Houthi gathering and two military bases [Al Jazeera] Meanwhile al-Qaeda in Yemen have posted an online video purporting to show the execution of 14 soldiers. [Reuters]
The New York Times writes of the “relief” and “trepidation” caused by the “whirlwind ascent” of Houthi rebels in Yemen.
A special Marine task force is being deployed to Liberia from Spain to assist hundreds of other U.S. troops in efforts to halt the spread of Ebola. [DoD News]
NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim communities. The de Blasio administration defended the NYPD program in newly filed court documents, arguing that any harm caused was the doing of reporters, not wrongdoing on part of law enforcement. [The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux]
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta became the first sitting head of state to appear before the ICC, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity [Al Jazeera] Adam Taylor at the Washington Post discusses the significance of Kenyatta’s appearance at the ICC, and the wide repercussions should the case fall apart.
Aides were aware of a White House link to a 2012 prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, involving nearly two dozen Secret Service agents and members of the military, despite previous denials from administration officials of any White House involvement [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura]
Uncontrolled surveillance by the NSA risks “breaking the internet” if Congress fails to reign in the agency, said Google head Eric Schmidt yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The British Home Secretary has postponed plans to restructure counterterrorism policing, due to the current heightened security threat level in the country. [BBC]
The new Palestinian unity cabinet will meet today in the Gaza Strip for their first session, a meeting symbolic of a move away from absolute Hamas control of Gaza. [AP]
Mali has asked the UN to consider creating a rapid intervention force aimed at tackling extremist groups in North Africa. [AP] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “outrage” yesterday at the deadly attack on UN peacekeepers in Mali, the second in one week. [UN News Centre]
North Korean officials appear to have gone on a “publicity blitz.” CNN’s Madison Park considers the implications.
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