News Roundup and Notes: November 7, 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

American forces carried out airstrikes against five Khorasan Group targets in Syria early Thursday, citing the group’s plans to carry out attacks against Western interests in the U.S. or Europe. The strikes were not in response to the Nusrah Front’s recent clashes with the moderate Syrian opposition, and only targeted the Khorasan Group—“a network of Nusrah Front and al-Qa’ida core extremists … whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people,” according to a Central Command news release. The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung et al. provide more details.

The latest strikes appear to have killed the French bomb maker and Khorasan Group member, David Drugeon, a defense official said yesterday. [CNN’s Barbara Starr and Paul Cruickshank]  The strikes are also likely to have targeted Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti senior al-Qaeda operative who is believed to have founded the Khorasan Group in Syria. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt]

Thursday’s strikes offer the “clearest signal yet” of the expanding American operations in Syria, despite warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that any attacks against the Nusrah Front would undermine the efforts of the Syrian moderate opposition. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Jamie Dettmer]

Iraqi Kurds are making the first signs of progress against Islamic State fighters in Kobani, but there has been “no radical change on the ground yet,” according to a senior Iraqi Kurdish official. [Wall Street Journal’s Ayla Albayrak]

President Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month, outlining a shared interest in combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and suggesting that any cooperation on ISIS would be contingent on reaching a comprehensive nuclear accord by the November 24 deadline. White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment on the “private correspondence,” but emphasized that the U.S. is not cooperating militarily with Iran on the Islamic State fight. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee]

Sen. John McCain criticized the administration for “playing footsie with Iran” on the ISIS issue, instead of carrying out more airstrikes inside Syria, in an interview with MSNBC. Sens. McCain and Lindsey Graham also released a statement strongly criticizing “this ill-conceived bargain” with “the same Iranian regime that has been complicit in the rise of ISIS by pushing a violent sectarian agenda throughout the Middle East.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has been key to Iraqi victories against Islamic State fighters north and south of Baghdad, with many Shi’ite militias and volunteers fighting under the leadership of Qasem Soleimani, chief of Iran’s Quds Force. [Al-Monitor’s Ali Abdel Amir]

U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. Lloyd Austin will brief congressional leaders on the fight against Islamic State today, as part of President Obama’s decision to seek new congressional authorization for the battle against the group. [Bloomberg’s David Lerman et al]

The Islamic State has detained hundreds of men and boys of the Jubouri tribe from the central Iraqi town of al-Alam for resisting the rule of the militant group. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

Hopeful jihadi fighters are turning to cruise ships to join extremists in Syria and Iraq, in an effort to bypass measures to stop them in Turkey, Interpol officials have told the AP.

Over 600 U.S. troops reported exposure to chemical warfare agents in Iraq since 2003, but the Pentagon failed to take adequate action; the figures are the result of a Pentagon internal review that “abruptly change[s] the scale and potential costs” of U.S. encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq. [New York Times’ C. J. Chivers]

The impunity of Syrian President Bashar Assad is “undermining” efforts to defeat the Islamic State, as the regime escalates attacks and weakens moderate opposition forces, argues The Economist.

U.S. Marines reflect on the “iconic fight” for Fallujah, ten years after the fiercest battle of the Iraq War. [NPR’s Susan Murphy]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reassured Jordan’s leader that he is committed to the religious status quo on Jerusalem’s holy sites during a rare public phone call yesterday, and reiterated recognition of Jordan’s status as the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick]

The death toll from Wednesday’s “ramming incident” in Jerusalem has risen to three; Hamas has claimed responsibility for the attack. [Reuters]  Jodi Rudoren considers the new campaign calling for a “run-over intifada,” inspired by recent incidents in which Palestinian drivers have rammed into Israeli pedestrians. [New York Times]

The recent surge of violence in Jerusalem underscores the need for urgent talks between Israel and the Palestinians, said the new EU foreign policy chief after meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. [Reuters]

Coordinated explosions have hit the homes of a number of leaders of the Fatah Party, the political party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza early today. No one immediately claimed responsibility though the acts occurred amid heightening tensions between Fatah and Hamas. [Al Jazeera]

The ICC Prosecutor has now posted her full report on the closure of the preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla. Just Security’s Beth Van Schaack explores the ICC analysis of the “Freedom Flotilla” incident.

Army General Martin Dempsey said that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to avoid civilian casualties during this summer’s Gaza war. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff added: “where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you’re going to be criticized for civilian casualties.” [Al Jazeera]

At the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, the “erosion of the status quo … looks like part of a broader policy of encroachment” by Israel. The Economist argues why “Jerusalem’s holy sites must not be touched.”

Jerusalem’s housing market is a key factor in the Middle East conflict, suggests Emily Harris. [NPR]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

U.K. intelligence services have routinely intercepted privileged communications between lawyers and their clients–and the information may have been unlawfully exploited in some sensitive national security cases–according to internal MI5, MI6 and GCHQ documents. The revelations follow a claim by Libyan Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, brought over concerns that his communications with his lawyer may have been compromised. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]  Ryan Gallagher offers an analysis of reactions to the revelations. [The Intercept]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Pro-Russian rebels accused Kiev of launching a new operation in Ukraine’s east, which Kiev denied, while Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with top security officials to discuss the “deterioration of the situation” in eastern Ukraine. [Reuters] Earlier today, Kiev said that Russia has deployed a tank column and other military equipment across the border into Ukraine. [Reuters]

The conflict in eastern Ukraine “looks increasingly like a frozen one,” particularly in light of Sunday’s rebel-held elections, explains The Economist.

Roger Cohen discusses Russia’s pivot to Asia and suggests that limited cooperation may still be possible between the West and Russia, in an op-ed for the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Two Idaho Army National Guard soldiers died when their Apache helicopter crashed during a night time training mission. [KTVB-TV]

Harold Koh calls on President Obama to secure his legacy by “agreeing that international law also bans official cruelty abroad” and affirming the status quo ante before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva next week. [Politico Magazine]

Members of the U.S. Navy SEAL commando unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden are making conflicting claims as to who in fact shot the al-Qaeda leader, more than three years after his death. Robert O’Neill told the Washington Post that he fired the fatal shot in contradiction to the account given by another former SEAL in a book released in 2012. [BBC]  The publicity surrounding the revelations has “outraged” the Pentagon and SEAL chiefs, as it constitutes a “breach of the special forces’ supposed code of omerta,” reports The Guardian’s Ewen McAskill.

A State Department diplomat and longtime Pakistan expert is under federal investigation and has had her security clearances withdrawn as part of a counterintelligence probe, a description typically relating to allegations of spying for foreign governments. [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Adam Goldman]

A record number of Afghan security forces are dying as they assume the leading role in the fight against the Taliban, while coalition forces shift into a training and support role, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. [AP]

Guantánamo’s incommunicado prisoners will be allowed to video chat with their families for the first time, reports Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg.

Seventeen groups have asked the National Archives and Records Administration to reject a CIA request for greater authority to destroy its email records. [National Security Archive’s Lauren Harper]

Glenn Greenwald explores the breadth of U.S. military involvement in the Islamic world, and describes the “sheer casualness” of President Obama’s recent call for a new AUMF as reflective of “how central … violence and militarism are in the U.S.’s imperial management of the world.” [The Intercept]

The Libyan Supreme Court has ruled that the internationally recognized elected parliament is unconstitutional, a decision likely to cause chaos as the country appears on the brink of full-blown civil war. [Reuters]

French authorities have arrested three people in connection with recent drone flights over French nuclear power plants. [New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky]

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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