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
Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have joined the fight in Kobani against ISIS militants. A Syrian Kurdish official said the long-range artillery brought by the peshmerga fighters is making “a big difference” in the battle to prevent the Syrian border town from falling to the Islamic State. [Reuters’ Mariam Karouny and Omer Berberoglu]
Islamic State militants in Syria say they have captured control of a gas field in central Homs province, the second gas field seized in a week following battles with government forces. [Reuters]
The Al Nusra Front has made significant advances in Syria’s Idlib province, in a further setback for the western-backed rebels in the region. [Al Jazeera] The push by the al-Qaeda-affiliated group also prompted “widespread defections” among Free Syrian Army rebels, undermining Washington’s plan to partner with the moderate rebels, reports Liz Sly. [Washington Post] Meanwhile, the Al Nusra Front issued a list of demands on Saturday for the release of the 27 Lebanese soldiers it has held captive since August. [Asharq Al-Awsat]
Iraqi security forces are preparing to launch a major offensive against the Islamic State in the spring, with the help of American military advisers and backed by U.S.-led air operations. Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt report on the significant logistical and political challenges facing the campaign. [New York Times]
At least 50 members of the Iraqi Sunni Al-Bu Nimr tribe were killed by Islamic State militants on Sunday; mass killings of the tribe have seen 322 members killed in western Anbar province. Tribal leaders suggest that the mass killings are being conducted as punishment for the tribe’s resistance to the Islamic State. [BBC]
At least 28 people were killed in Baghdad yesterday after a number of car bombs targeting Shi’ite Muslims exploded at several locations. [Al Jazeera]
ISIS fighters have been targeting former Iraqi police and army officers in the past few weeks, out of fear that the former officers may join a potential Sunni revolt against the terrorist organization. [AP’s Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin]
Canada has conducted its first airstrikes against militants in Iraq since deploying to the region. [AP]
A team of German experts travelled to Irbil in northern Iraq last week, tasked with assessing whether German Bundeswehr forces could assist in providing Kurdish peshmerga forces with military training. [Deutsche Welle]
China and the U.S. find a “brief moment to agree” on the fight against the Islamic State. Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom explore the “political dividends” that could be paid should the two see eye-to-eye on the issue. [Reuters]
Qatar’s “contradictory” policies are being “exposed” amid the backlash against political Islam in the Middle East, as it claims allegiance to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State yet provides broad support for a number of extremist groups, Reuters reports.
The radicalization of French citizen, David Drugeon, is likely to have taken place over a number of years. U.S. officials have said Drugeon, thought to be a key bomb-maker for the Khorasan Group, may have been involved in developing devices that beat airport security. [CNN’s Paul Cruickshank]
Tunisian youth are being lured to join jihadist groups in Syria due to the “alienation of the young from politics and … a loss of hope stemming from poverty and high unemployment,” suggests Heba Saleh. [Financial Times]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Israel closed the pedestrian and cargo entrances into Gaza yesterday following a rocket attack on Israel on Friday; it is unclear how long the Palestinian territory would remain closed. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey] Hamas security forces have arrested five Palestinians on suspicion of committing the rocket attack, claiming the organization is committed to its ceasefire with Israel. [Haaretz’s Amos Harel and Gili Cohen]
A far-right Israeli politician visited the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem yesterday, despite calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to exercise restraint following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces last week. [Al Jazeera]
Israel has recalled the country’s ambassador to Sweden, after Sweden became the first major Western nation to recognize Palestinian statehood last week. [Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh]
SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider this week the challenge to the NSA’s bulk collection program brought by Larry Klayman. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The Pentagon’s plan for an overseas spy service for counterterrorism missions has been scaled down due to opposition from lawmakers who raised concerns about its cost and purpose, according to U.S. officials. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]
Brazil is sticking to its plan to disconnect from the U.S. internet, made after last year’s NSA surveillance reports, and is building a cable from the country’s north stretching to Portugal while avoiding U.S. vendors. [Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes]
RUSSIA and UKRAINE
Separatist rebels held their own election in eastern Ukraine yesterday, in a vote denounced as “a farce” by President Petro Poroshenko and dismissed by the West. In a predicted victory, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was announced as the elected leader of Donetsk today. [Reuters’ Thomas Grove]
The OSCE has refuted claims that its observers were monitoring Sunday’s election. [Ukraine Today] And the new EU foreign policy chief said the “illegal and illegitimate vote” is as “a new obstacle on the path towards peace in Ukraine.”
Sunday’s vote is likely to reinforce the status quo in Luhansk and Donetsk, which have been largely under rebel control since the spring, writes New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has embraced close collaboration between U.S.-led forces and the Afghan military, including expressing a willingness to remove some of the restrictions imposed by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on military operations against the Taliban. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]
A provincial deputy-governor in south Afghanistan was shot dead at a university today. The Taliban is suspected of being behind the attack, the latest in a string of deadly assaults on Afghan officials in the Kandahar province. [Reuters]
Fox News will air its documentary with a Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden next week, despite objections from the Pentagon. [Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond] The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier has an interview with former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, who has written a second book on the lessons learned on the battlefield.
A man is facing federal charges of destroying or stealing sensitive government files after he was removed from his work on a top secret project at an Air Force base as a defense contractor. [Dayton Daily News’ Mark Gokavi]
An attack by a suicide bomber at the main Pakistan-India border crossing killed at least 55 people yesterday, in a rare strike in Pakistan’s wealthy Punjab province. [AFP’s Waqar Hussain] Security personnel have since uncovered large quantities of explosives and suicide vests in the surrounding areas which have been defused. [AFP and Dawn]
Iran has stopped answering questions relating to suspected past efforts to design the components of a nuclear bomb, according to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, just as U.S. negotiators say they are making headway toward a nuclear deal with Iran. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]
A Yemeni politician, accused of backing Houthi rebels, has been killed in the country’s capital, Sana’a, an attack condemned as an “assassination” by Yemen’s president. [Al Jazeera]
More than 350 Egyptian journalists signed an online statement yesterday in protest against a pledge by newspaper editors not to publish anything perceived as critical of the government, in a rare act of public dissent since the military takeover last year. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, for atrocities committed during the war of independence from Pakistan. [Al Jazeera]
Militants from Abu Sayyaf killed six soldiers in the southern Philippines yesterday; the militant group is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations. [AP]
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