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
President Obama has authorized the deployment of further troops to Iraq. The additional 1,500 troops will serve in non-combat roles by joining the existing advise-and-assist mission and providing comprehensive training for Iraqi and Kurdish forces. [DOD News] Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” President Obama said the deployment announcement on Friday night “signals a new phase” in the campaign against the Islamic State, stating that the operation is now “in a position to start going on some offensive.”
Some of the troops to be deployed will be sent to Anbar province, where the Islamic State is in control of up to 80% of the territory. [McClatchy DC’s Nancy A. Youssef] The Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization is also deploying members to Iraq, as roadside bomb attacks carried out by the Islamic State have surged, killing more than 804 people last month. [Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber]
Iraqi officials confirmed that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been wounded in an airstrike. Amid conflicting reports, an Interior Ministry official said that al-Baghdadi was wounded by an Iraqi-led operation in the town of Qaim in Anbar province, while the Defense Ministry said the leader was targeted by strikes in Mosul. [AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Vivian Salama] Iraqi officials also said that the Qaim strikes killed several ISIS militants, including two of the group’s regional governors. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard]
The Pentagon could not corroborate press reports about al-Baghdadi, a U.S. Central Command spokesperson said yesterday. However, the Central Command confirmed that American strikes around Mosul on Friday targeted a gathering of ISIS militants, destroying a convoy of ten armed trucks. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]
A key aide of al-Baghdadi was killed in the U.S. air strike targeting the convoy of militants near Mosul late Friday night. [The Guardian’s Martin Chulov and Dan Roberts]
Syrian aircraft carried out a series of airstrikes in the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province over the weekend, killing at least 21 people, according to activists. Meanwhile, rebel forces including al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front seized territory from fighters loyal to the Assad regime in southern Syria. [AP]
The White House has a “two-stage plan” to obtain new congressional authorization to counter extremists around the world, according to officials; first, a narrow measure limiting force to the Islamic State, followed by a second broader measure providing authorization for all counterterrorism operations. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Carol E. Lee]
The U.S.-led operation against the Islamic State has been largely limited to striking “pop-up targets of opportunity,” due to poor intelligence and weather, and an Iraqi army that is only just going on the offensive, reports Eric Schmitt. [New York Times]
A British citizen is believed to have become the second U.K. jihadi to die in Syria and Iraq. Kabir Ahmed is thought to have been involved in a suicide attack in the Iraqi town of Baiji two days ago that killed eight people. [Press Association]
Baghdad’s plan to recruit Sunni tribes in the fight against the Islamic State is facing increasing hurdles, owing to the recent mass killings of Sunni tribesmen by ISIS militants coupled with limited assistance from the central government. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris]
Iraqi Kurdish troops remain “ill-equipped and underpaid” in their battle against the Islamic State, reports Leila Fadel. [NPR]
Five nuclear engineers were shot dead on the outskirts of Damascus yesterday as they travelled in a small convoy to a research center, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]
Rep. Darrell Issa said that the U.S. needs to send troops to Iraq, as the country’s government remains “quite delusional” after years of political upheaval, speaking on ABC’s “This Week.”
Who is in charge of President Obama’s new war in Iraq? Michael Crowley details the issues arising out of a “policymaking process hounded by rivalries and unclear leadership.” [Politico Magazine]
The U.S. and the U.A.E. have fostered a strong relationship, with the U.A.E. “going all in” in the coalition against the Islamic State, earning the nickname “Little Sparta,” writes Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
Egyptian militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a pledge which, if genuine, shows the widening influence of the terrorist group in the region. [Al Jazeera]
Jordan has imposed restrictions on Muslim clerics so that they can only preach moderate Islam, a move taken in the hopes of countering the rise of the Islamic State. [Washington Post’s William Booth and Taylor Luck]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Israeli police shot dead a 22-year-old Palestinian man in Galilee on Friday, sparking widespread violent protests. Video footage indicates that the police shot at the youth as he retreated, posing no immediate threat to the officers, in contradiction to the official police statement released on Friday. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont]
An Israeli soldier has been stabbed by a Palestinian near Tel Aviv train station today, adding to fears of a Palestinian uprising. [Reuters]
Jack Khoury suggests that Israeli police are “quick on the trigger” when it comes to Arab citizens, and have failed to learn the lessons of the events of October 2000. [Haaretz]
Shmuel Rosner discusses the “burning fuse” of the status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. [New York Times]
High-level talks on Iran’s nuclear program are continuing in Oman, as Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU diplomat Catherine Ashton for a second day. [Reuters]
There remains “a big gap” between Iran and the world powers, President Obama said in an interview broadcast yesterday. While suggesting that the “unprecedented” sanctions forced Iran to the negotiating table, Obama acknowledged, “We may not be able to get there” by the deadline. [CBS’ “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer]
“There is no linkage whatsoever” between the nuclear talks with Iran and the strategy against ISIS, stressed Secretary of State John Kerry, following reports last week of President Obama’s letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo] Israel learned about the secret letter through independent channels, according to a Jerusalem official, and the development is likely to deepen suspicions in Israel about the U.S. stance on the Iranian issue, writes Barak Ravid. [Haaretz] Meanwhile, the Iranian Supreme Leader tweeted a plan to eliminate Israel from the map yesterday, explaining how to destroy the “fake Zionist regime.” [Haaretz]
The administration may be facing its “last best chance” on a nuclear deal “before skeptical Republicans who will control Congress next year are able to scuttle it,” writes the AP. Al-Monitor’s Arash Karami similarly notes the concerns of some Iranian analysts that the Republican midterm victory could derail the negotiations. And the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon explores the continuing tensions in both Tehran and Washington that risk complicating talks ahead of the deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal.
RUSSIA and UKRAINE
The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine looked shakier than ever over the weekend, as Donetsk was hit by the heaviest shelling in a month. The OSCE said it observed a convoy of more than 40 trucks without insignia in rebel-held territory, supporting Kiev’s position that Russia is sending reinforcements to the separatist rebels across the border. [Reuters]
The White House called on separatist forces and Russia to honor the terms of the Minsk agreement, urging Moscow to end its military support to the rebels and withdraw all its troops, a National Security Council spokesperson said yesterday.
North Korea released two American detainees from its labor camps on Saturday. The release was negotiated by DNI James Clapper who traveled to North Korea with a brief letter from President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]
President Obama shot down expectations that the release indicates a thawing in relations between the two states, stating that the negotiations were not a precursor to nuclear negotiations. [AP]
Gordon G. Chang explores why North Korea released the two Americans, concluding that the “regime will have to change, and we should find out if this is that moment.” [The Daily Beast]
A federal judge has ruled in favor of the U.S. government in a challenge to Guantánamo’s force-feeding practices. Judge Gladys Kessler said there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that military medical staff showed deliberate indifference to the health of Syrian prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
A U.S. officer maintained unauthorized ties to Islamic militants in order to gather evidence, but not to prevent attacks. A port authority officer and FBI member travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and developed informants inside Iran-based terrorist group Jundallah, reports James Risen and Matt Apuzzo. [New York Times]
Al-Qaeda attempted to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to Yemen with two bombs last Thursday, the terrorist group said on Saturday [AFP] Meanwhile,the UN Security Council welcomed the formation of Yemen’s new government, urging all parties to unite behind the administration on the “path to stability and security.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken has been nominated as deputy secretary of state by President Obama, the White House announced on Friday.
Bomb attacks have struck three Afghan cities today, including Kabul, killing at least 10 policemen. [Reuters] The capital also suffered three attacks yesterday, once of which targeted the police headquarters and killed one person. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Jawad Sukhanyar]
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is seeking renewed ties with Pakistan, in an indirect push to convince Pakistan to bring Taliban leadership to the negotiating table. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]
Cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure are a “real threat,” according to Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jim Langevin, speaking on ABC’s “This Week.” [The Hill’s Kyle Balluck]
A bomb blast at a secondary school in northeast Nigeria this morning has killed dozens of people, with reports of over 48 deaths so far. Boko Haram is suspected of responsibility. [Al Jazeera] Alexis Okeowo explores the vigilante fight against Boko Haram–the thousands-strong Civilian Joint Task Force that was formed in 2013 to fight the militant group. [New York Times]
A peace deal between the rival sides in South Sudan has been reached amid increasing threats of sanctions from the UN Security Council and African leaders. [AP]
Twenty-four jihadists were killed in northern Mali during a recent operation that also killed a French solider, according to the French military. [AP]
Iran has successfully tested a drone, built to replicate a U.S.-made drone captured in 2011, according to reports on state TV. [AP]
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