News Roundup and Notes: November 11, 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

The U.S. confirmed the recent coalition airstrike near Mosul that targeted a convoy of Islamic State leaders. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. could not confirm the status of group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is believed to have been wounded in the strike. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad reportedly said it is “worth studying” the UN ceasefire proposal for the city of Aleppo. [Asharq Al-Awsat]  Yesterday, the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura held what he labeled as “constructive discussions” with President Assad on his proposal for incremental “freezes” in specific conflict zones. [UN News Centre]  The New York Times’ Anne Barnard notes that the modest Aleppo proposal “reflects how the United Nations has scaled back its goals and expectations” in bringing the conflict to an end.

Edward Dark reports on the “two pivotal battles” taking place in the north and south of Syria currently, the outcomes of which are likely to determine how negotiations on freezing the conflict will proceed. [Al-Monitor]

Iraqi soldiers have recaptured the center of the town of Baiji from Islamic State fighters, according to an Iraqi military official, although fierce clashes continue elsewhere in the town. [AP]

Britain launched its first drone strike against Islamic State militants near Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery over the weekend. [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor]

The F-16 fighter jets purchased by Baghdad will be delivered to Arizona, where Iraqi pilots are participating in a training program, after the original delivery of the jets to an Iraqi base was delayed due to the security situation in the country. [DoD News]

President Barack Obama is requesting an additional $165 million to aid the Syrian opposition, as part of his $5.6 billion request to defeat the Islamic State, as set out in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner from the Office of Management and Budget. [Al-Monitor’s Julian Pecquet]

The Obama administration’s insistence on removing former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, before assisting in the battle against ISIS, allowed Tehran to consolidate its position in Iraq, reports the Financial Times’ Borzou Daragahi et al.

Coalition airstrikes are not enough to tackle “terrorism” in Iraq and Syria, Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, warned earlier today. The Qatari leader indicated that factors fueling radicalism, including the Syrian regime and Iran-backed Shi’ite militias, needed to be addressed by the West. [AP]

President Obama’s war against ISIS “is now illegal” and Congress must act “one way or the other,” argues Sen. Rand Paul, stating that President Obama’s 90-day clock under the War Powers Resolution expired this week. [The Daily Beast]

ISIS “will regenerate leadership” even if coalition airstrikes succeed in killing the group’s leaders, warned the U.K.’s chief of defense staff, Nick Houghton. CNN’s Holly Yan and Brian Todd also explain why we cannot expect ISIS to “crumble” if leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed.

Retired Lieutenant General Daniel P. Bolger offers the “truth about the wars.” In his book, “Why We Lost,” released today, Bolger suggests the lessons that should be learned from the “two lost campaigns” in Afghanistan and Iraq in the new fight against the Islamic State. [New York Times]

Will the additional U.S. troops to be deployed to Iraq be sufficient to tackle the Islamic State? Retired Army Major General Robert H. Scales discusses the “nine-brigade gamble” and whether the administration will be faced with the choice between deploying even further troops and accepting the Islamic State caliphate. [Washington Post]

The Iraqi Shi’ite militias who have joined the fight against the Islamic State are “growing more brutal,” raising concerns in Baghdad about international criticism of the militia groups and their possible links to Hezbollah, reports the AP.

Lebanese Christians are joining the fight against the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Frontallying themselves with Hezbollah, and citing a desire to prevent “another Mosul for the Christians in Lebanon” as their driving force. [The Daily Beast’s Susannah George]

David D. Kirkpatrick considers whether Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’ pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State will pull the Egyptian group’s focus away from attacks on Egyptian forces and toward the Islamic State’s indiscriminate mass killings of civilians. [New York Times]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Knife attacks in Tel Aviv and the occupied West Bank left two Israelis dead yesterday, including a soldier. The attacks are believed to have been conducted by Palestinians, adding to mounting political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]  A Palestinian has been seriously wounded in clashes with Israeli troops near Hebron in the West Bank today. [AP]

Prime Minister Netanyahu advanced plans to demolish homes belonging to Palestinian terrorists at an emergency meeting called last night, following the two stabbing incidents. [Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff]  The Israeli Defense Forces will also station further troops in the West Bank. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced an investigation into attacks on over 100 UN facilities and the deaths of 11 staff members during this summer’s Gaza war, disregarding calls from Israel to wait until it had concluded its own inquiry. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

The Israeli envoy to Jordan said that the peace treaty between the two countries was at risk of collapse due to the situation around Jerusalem’s holy sites, implicating his own government in failing to quell tensions. [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick]

IRAN

Two days of nuclear talks in Oman have failed to produce breakthrough ahead of the November 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal with Iran. However, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that it is still possible to “reach a general agreement on major issues” by the deadline “if there is a political will.” [Reuters’ Warren Strobel]

The parties have not discussed an extension of the deadline, and remain focused instead “on closing gaps,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said yesterday. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]  German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also stressed the need to meet the deadline, stating that another opportunity “won’t come around again so soon.” [AP]

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced calls from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to eliminate Israel and updated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the nuclear negotiations during a phone call overnight Monday. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

British Prime Minister David Cameron cautioned Russia against “ripping up the international rulebook,” and vowed to raise the issue with President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet at the G20 summit this weekend. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]  Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes also said the situation in east Ukraine would be tackled by world leaders at the summit in Australia, noting that the U.S. is “deeply troubled” by recent reports of Russian activity in Ukraine. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

Almost 40 instances of close encounters between Russian forces and the West have been recorded since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, including 11 incidents of “a more aggressive or unusually provocative nature,” according to a report of the European Leadership Network.

Roger Cohen warns against ignoring Russia’s military involvement in the Ukraine conflict in exchange for securing Moscow’s help on concluding a nuclear deal with Iran, in an op-ed for the New York Times.

YEMEN

The number of American staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen has been reduced, in light of the deteriorating security situation in the country. [AP]

The new Yemeni government was sworn in on Sunday, and talks are underway “between different sides to return security to the country,” according to new Prime Minister Khaled Bahah. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Arafat Madabish]

The advances of Shi’ite Houthi rebels in northern Yemen are causing alarm in neighboring Saudi Arabia, concerned over the weak southern border which already suffers a constant flow of illicit activity. [Reuters’ Angus McDowall]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Guantánamo Bay hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab will appeal a federal judge’s decision to refuse to change force-feeding procedures at the detention center. [AP]  In other news, a Navy judge has temporarily ordered the Guantánamo prison to stop using female guards to transfer an Iraqi detainee to meetings with his lawyer. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Sen. Mark Udall is being asked to put the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report into the congressional record by several activists and others, following the loss of his reelection bid last week. [The InterceptSalon’s Heather Digby Parton similarly considers how Udall “can still leave a historic legacy as a torture critic.”

The U.S. intends to be “very clear” with China if it crosses international norms on cybersecurity, maritime disputes and other issues, the deputy national security adviser said ahead of the summit between the two leaders. [Reuters’ Michael Martina And Matt Spetalnick]

Chinese government hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. Postal Service, according to analysts. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

The Nigerian ambassador to the U.S. has criticised Washington for its refusal to sell “lethal weapons” to the country to tackle the Islamist uprising of Boko Haram. [AP]

A suicide attack at a school in northeast Nigeria yesterday killed up to 50 boys. Alan Nossiter describes the situation on the ground following the attack. [New York Times]  The New York Times explains the nature of Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency. And Ofeibea Quist-Arcton considers the situation of those displaced by Boko Haram attacks. [NPR]

A ceasefire reached just 48 hours ago in South Sudan has ended. Fierce clashes broke out yesterday between government forces and rebel fighters, leaving 29 people dead. [AP]

The U.S. has warned Somalia of the risks involved in holding a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, stating that Washington is “deeply concerned with political turmoil.” [Reuters’ Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh]

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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