News Roundup and Notes: October 16, 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. military forces carried out 18 airstrikes near Kobani over Tuesday and Wednesday, and a further five strikes targeting ISIS positions in Iraq. [Central Command] An additional 11 strikes took place around Kobani overnight, according to Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith.

Airstrikes around Kobani are assisting Kurdish fighters, with the Islamic State having lost control over more than 20 percent of the town in recent days, according to a Kurdish official. [BBC]

American strikes near Kobani are being aided by data from Kurdish fighters, which is then corroborated with drone imagery and other intelligence, according to a senior defense official. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Kareem Fahim]  Kurdish defenders also said that enhanced coordination with the air operations is helping hold off advances of ISIS fighters, but noted the ongoing suspicion the fighters face from Turkey. [NPR’s Peter Kenyon]

Coalition airstrikes around Kobani have killed several hundred ISIS militants, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said yesterday, while warning that the town “could still fall.” Kirby said the town is “itself not a strategic location,” explaining that the increased airstrikes were due to the concentration of ISIS fighters in the area and poor weather in central Iraq that had prevented air operations in that region [DoD NewsThe Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes considers the U.S.’s “mixed message” on Kobani, with officials playing down the importance of the border town in public statements, while simultaneously ramping up airstrikes to defend it.

ISIS fighters have made advances in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, following fighting with regime forces. [Asharq al-Awsat]

The Islamic State appeared to be preparing a siege yesterday in Anbar province, on a town located 25 miles west of Baghdad, the control of which would give the militants a “strategic advantage” over an important transportation corridor. [New York Times’ Kirk Semple and Ali Hamza]

A three-day gathering of the Syrian Opposition Coalition highlighted its “political disarray,” as Qatar pushed an Islamist candidate into a key leadership position despite protests from coalition nations, writes David Ignatius for the Washington Post.

The U.S. will not be formally coordinating with the Free Syrian Army and will build its own “credible field force” on the ground instead, the U.S. special envoy Gen. John Allen confirmed yesterday. [McClatchy DC’s Hannah Allam]  Allen also acknowledged that the Islamic State has made some “substantial gains” in Iraq, gathering “tactical momentum” in some areas. [State Department]

The U.S. military operation against ISIS has been officially designated as Operation Inherent Resolve, “intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment” of the U.S. and partner countries to defeat the terrorist group. [Central Command]

Gen. Martin Dempsey said the U.S. has a “winning strategy” against ISIS and that he is “confident” that, with American assistance, Baghdad will not fall to the terrorist group, speaking yesterday in an interview with CNN.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is concerned about the treatment of personnel exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq, after a New York Times report suggested that 17 American troops were exposed to chemical materials between 2004-2011. Press secretary John Kirby added that there is no evidence that militants from the Islamic State have gained possession of any chemical weapons still in Iraq. [DOD News]  The New York Times editorial board writes that C.J. Chivers’ investigation published yesterday exposes “shocking” failings by the Pentagon and adds to the “dismal legacy” of U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi sought to quell fears over the Islamic State’s advances into Baghdad in a speech yesterday, calling reports of the group’s proximity to the capital “false rumors.” [Asharq Al-Awsat]

Political feuding is posing serious challenges to the Iraqi prime minister, Kirk Semple at the New York Times explains. The Iraqi government is struggling to fill two high-level security posts in its cabinet, and the prime minister is set to nominate a candidate from an Iranian-supported Shi’ite militia group as the interior minister, a move likely to stoke sectarian tensions. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer Al-Ghobashy]

Republicans are using the threat of ISIS to gain midterm votes, including by depicting the administration’s response to the crisis as unsuccessful, reports The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin.

Despite a CIA report indicating that arming rebel forces is rarely successful, President Obama went ahead with that strategy in Syria under political pressure; Dan Froomkin argues the president “knew better, but he did it anyway.” [The Intercept]

Fourteen people in Malaysia with suspected links to the Islamic State have been arrested by authorities as part of a three-day operation. [Wall Street Journal’s Jason Ng]

IRAN

“A substantial amount of work” is still required to reach a final Iran nuclear accord by the deadline next month, though progress has been made, according to a senior U.S. official speaking yesterday after a trilateral U.S.-Iran-EU meeting. [Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen]  Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif also said that progress has been made in “very difficult” nuclear talks. The discussions with the P5+1 countries are continuing in Vienna today [Reuters]

With the November 24 deadline looming over the negotiations, the AP explores “what’s at stake” for the parties involved.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Abu Anas al-Libi’s pre-trial hearing. The alleged al-Qaeda operative disputed yesterday the government’s claim that he knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to remain silent before being questioned following his capture in Libya last year. [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser]

The Justice Department has asked U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to halt plans for releasing videotapes showing the force-feeding of Syrian prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab. [AP]

The General Court of the EU struck down anti-terrorism sanctions imposed on the Tamil Tigers today, on the basis of a technicality, but held that the assets of the Sri Lankan group should remain frozen for now. [Reuters]

FBI Director James B Comey will say that advanced encryption technologies on communication devices pose a threat to crime solving as law enforcement officers cannot access information from them, in his first major policy speech in the role. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

Eight Afghan paramilitary soldiers, from a CIA-trained unit, were killed yesterday by a car bomb during a raid in the Khost Province of Afghanistan. [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]  Two senior leaders of the Haqqani terrorist network were arrested during the operation. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]

Glenn Greenwald offers a detailed analysis of the report on mass electronic surveillance released yesterday by the UN Special Rapporteur for counterterrorism. [The Intercept]

The Russian and Ukrainian leaders will meet today at the Asia-Europe summit in Milan and are expected to discuss the implementation of the September 5 Minsk agreement. [Kyiv Post’s Oleg Sukhov] Ahead of the summit, which will also involve other European leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for dialogue with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, stating that “sanctions, however necessary, do not preclude dialogue.” [Deutsche Welle]

Benghazi, Libya, was hit by escalated airstrikes and gunfire yesterday, thought to have been conducted by forces loyal to ex-general Khalifa Hafter, amid an offensive to drive out Islamist militias. [BBC]

Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni city of Ibb yesterday, close to an al-Qaeda stronghold. The city was seized just hours after clashes between Houthi and al-Qaeda fighters in Raada. [Al Jazeera]  Charles Schmitz at Politico Magazine questions why the international community did not take notice of last month’s “stealthy” political coup by the Houthis.

A car bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia, killed at least five people and wounded another ten last night. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ibrahim]

A steep decline in oil prices poses severe problems to the budgets of major exporting countries, including Iraq where it poses a potentially grave security challenge as the state struggles to pay for the fight against the Islamic State. [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn]

North and South Korean senior military officials met yesterday in the first high-level talks since 2011, but no progress was made in easing tensions after two exchanges of fire last week. [Wall Street Journal’s Jeyup S. Kwaak]

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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