News Roundup and Notes: November 4, 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

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters along with moderate Syrian rebels attacked Islamic State positions in besieged Kobani yesterday, however it remains unclear whether their arrival would assist in pushing the Islamic State back from the border town. [Reuters’s Omer Berberoglu]

The U.S. is considering whether it should strike the Jabhat al-Nusra militant group in Syria, as the group is poised to seize control of a strategically important corridor from Turkey; a move that would broaden the U.S. air campaign in the country. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]

The Pentagon sought to downplay reports yesterday that moderate Syrian rebels had surrendered to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Spokesperson Army Col. Steve Warren said that such battles take place “all the time between these various groups, and territory trades hands in these local areas regularly.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The mass killings of members of an Iraqi Sunni tribe in the Anbar province highlight the weakness in the U.S. plan to defeat ISIS in Iraq, which rests on the support of Sunni tribes joining a new national guard to fight the terrorist organization. [McClatchy DC’s Jonathan S. Landay]

A spate of attacks across Baghdad yesterday killed at least 10 people and injured dozens more. The attacks were predominantly in Shi’ite neighborhoods and the Islamic State is thought to be responsible. [Al Jazeera]  Iraqi security forces are on high alert across the country today, as Shi’ite Muslims gather to commemorate Ashoura, in attempts to avoid a repeat of attacks on past pilgrimages that have caused mass casualties. [Reuters]

U.S.-led airstrikes continued yesterday and on Sunday. Military forces conducted five airstrikes in Syria and a further nine in Iraq, both with the assistance of partner nations. [Central Command]  Airstrikes in Syria were conducted alongside Arab military forces, the first appearance of Arab partner states in the strikes since October 19. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]

Ninety-three Syrian Kurds have been released by the Islamic State, having been captured in February while crossing from Syria into northern Iraq, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

Yazidi minorities in Iraq still face genocide by the Islamic State despite promises from the U.S. government that their humanitarian crisis was a priority, suggests Josh Rogin. [The Daily Beast]

The international coalition must focus its efforts on Aleppo after Kobani, argues French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in an op-ed for the Washington Post, noting how the second largest Syrian city is “caught between the regime’s ‘barrel bombs’ and [ISIS’] cutthroats.”

The civil war in Syria must be “frozen locally” on the ground, according to the UN special envoy to the country, who suggested that a peace plan introduced in increments could help bring the conflict to an end. [UN News Centre]

The State Department intends to cut its entire funding to an organization dedicated to investigating war crimes committed by the Syrian regime and its proxies next year. [Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch]

There is “no typical profile” of Americans seeking to join the jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria, making it difficult for federal law enforcement to identify such individuals, FBI Director James Comey said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman]

Two siblings of the man charged with seeking to join ISIS in Syria were also arrested at Chicago’s international airport last month, but the teenage siblings were not charged. [AP]

The Obama administration may have had “strong and specific” information regarding the location of American journalist James Foley and other hostages held in Syria as early as May, but the rescue mission was not approved until July, reports Fox News’ Catherine Herridge.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have reportedly proposed rival aid packages to Lebanon, as the country’s military continues to counter attacks launched by militants linked to the Syrian civil war.  [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called a crisis meeting with his security chiefs to discuss how to deal with the rebel elections in the east, which he said “jeopardizes the entire peace process.” [BBC] Poroshenko also proposed scrapping parts of the September 5 peace deal, namely, the granting of special status to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. [Kyiv Post’s Oksana Grytsenko]

Moscow said the results of Sunday’s election should be respected, but stopped short of recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk as independent territories. [The Guardian’s Shaul Walker]

The White House condemned the “illegitimate” and “sham” rebel-held elections, while warning Moscow of the costs of further undermining the peace process, in a statement from the National Security Council spokesperson. Despite these threats, U.S. officials have acknowledged the limited ability of the U.S. to influence Russia’s foreign policy, write Philip Shishkin and Julian E. Barnes. [Wall Street Journal]  And the Washington Post editorial board writes that recent developments suggest “it will be Moscow, not the White House, that determines what happens next.”

Russia continues to equip Ukraine’s rebels, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said yesterday. NATO’s top military commander said that the Ukraine-Russia border is “completely porous” with “Russian equipment, resupply, training flow[ing] back and forth freely.” The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Andrew E. Kramer have more details.

A drone operating as part of the ceasefire-monitoring mission came under attack during Sunday’s election, according to OSCE observers in the region. [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum]

AFGHANISTAN

The Pentagon’s top commander in Kabul is reassessing whether more coalition troops should remain in the country for longer than currently planned under the administration’s timeline, which would see a complete withdrawal of American troops in 2016. [Foreign Policy’s Gopal Ratnam]

Five people have been killed in attacks across Afghanistan in the past two days, including a provincial official and a judge. [AP]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Israeli government advanced plans for 500 settler homes in East Jerusalem yesterday. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said it is “unfortunate for this to move forward given not just the view of the United States, but the view of many in the international community.” [Reuters]

The U.S. Supreme Court was forced to consider the status of Jerusalem yesterday, as part of the case brought by an American-Jewish couple who wish to record the birthplace of their son, born in Jerusalem, as Israel in his passport. [New York Times’ Adam Liptak]

A U.S. federal court has asked Belgium to compel the testimony of a key witness in a major terror financing case related to a bombing in Israel; the witness has been traced to Belgium after disappearing six years ago. [Times of Israel’s Rebecca Shimoni Stoil]

YEMEN

A U.S. drone strike in central Yemen killed at least 10 suspected al-Qaeda militants today. [Reuters]

The U.S. has requested that the UN Security Council impose sanctions on former Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh along with two leading members of the Houthi movement, for “threatening the peace and stability” of the country. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Mohammed Ali Salih] 

The assassination of a Yemeni politician who was key to talks between the government and rebels is reported to have shaken the capital, Sana’a, ahead of today’s Shi’ite Muslim commemorations of Ashoura. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

One World Trade Center opened for business yesterday, thirteen years after the Twin Towers were destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. [ABC News’s Josh Margolin]

U.S. technology companies have become “the command and control networks of choice” for extremists, according to new GCHQ director Robert Hannigan, who cites how the Islamic State has exploited the “power of the web” to obtain “near-global reach,” in an op-ed for the Financial Times. This “hard-hitting article” is likely intended to pressure companies into cooperating more with government, suggests Gordon Corera. [BBC]

Iran has cautiously agreed to transport large quantities of its sizeable uranium stockpile to Russia should it reach a broad nuclear deal with the P5+1, a potentially major breakthrough in talks which up until now have been deadlocked. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

President Barack Obama reportedly favors the nomination of Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken for the No. 2 position in the State Department, despite John Kerry strongly advocating for the nomination of Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs and lead U.S. negotiator on the Iran nuclear talks. [Foreign Policy’s John Hudson]

The Air Force fired two commanders and disciplined a third following internal investigations of leadership failings and misbehavior at two intercontinental ballistic missile bases. [AP]

A Taliban splinter group has claimed responsibility for a Pakistan-India border attack on Sunday; a suicide bombing which killed 60 people, the highest death toll from an attack in Pakistan for over a year. [Al Jazeera America]

Israel, Iran and Iraq are all likely to be watching the U.S. midterm elections closely, Daniel R. DePetris suggests why. [Huffington Post]

Illegal and unidentified drone flights over more than 12 nuclear power stations in France have raised security concerns due to France’s high reliance on atomic energy. [AP’s Jamey Keaten]

A suicide bomb in northeast Nigeria targeting a procession by the moderate Muslim Brotherhood killed at least 32 people. [AP]

Fierce clashes were reported in Benghazi yesterday as the Libyan army attempted to reclaim the city from Islamist militants. [BBC]

A Muslim clerical leader, appointed by the Egyptian government, provided a religious defense to the forced evacuation of over 1,200 families from the Sinai Peninsula, citing the “danger” of extremism to Egypt as “genuine.” [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

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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