News Roundup and Notes: November 12, 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.

COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE

The Obama administration appeared for its first session before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva this morning.  A live video stream for tomorrow’s session (15.00-18.00 local time) is available here.

The U.S. is expected to tell the Committee that the Convention Against Torture will restrict how America may treat detainees in certain extraterritorial locations, a revision of the Bush administration policy, but not “an unequivocal acceptance” of the treaty’s application to U.S. detainees held overseas. [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian Kurds have made gains in efforts to break the Islamic State siege of the border town of Kobani, but are still under heavy fire from militants and are yet to regain full control. [Reuters’ Rasha Elass and Hamdi Istanbullu]

A suicide attack in the northern Iraqi city of Baiji killed eight people, including six soldiers, yesterday. Iraqi forces have been trying to reassert their control over the city, and had succeeded in retaking parts of the city center. [Reuters’ Ahmed Rasheed]

Al-Qaeda militants of the Khorasan group are trying to broker a merger between the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front as part of an effort to quash U.S.-backed moderate Syrian rebels in the country, reports Jamie Dettmer. [The Daily Beast]

U.S.-led air strikes in Syria have killed 856 people, including 50 civilians, since the campaign began at the end of September, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

A number of Iraqi militias are backed by and loyal to Iran, with the influence “rooted in the two countries’ shared religious beliefs,” explains Babak Dehghanpisheh for Reuters.

Adam Taylor analyzes the significance of the deployment of U.S. troops to Anbar province, the first time American forces have been in the region since they left Iraq in 2011. [Washington Post]

David Ignatius provides a “checklist” for U.S. efforts in Iraq, highlighting corruption, sectarianism, military training, and Kurdish and regional outreach. [Washington Post]

The administration’s $5.6 billion request to fight ISIS has been described as a “blank check with no strategy” by Sen. Tim Scott. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]

The UN proposal to incrementally “freeze” fighting “faces [the] same old pitfalls,” with many questioning whether the new plan “will prove to be a rehashing of past failed cease-fire attempts,” writes Michael Pizzi. [Al Jazeera America]

NPR’s Alison Meuse covers how the Islamic State pursues its propaganda war, exploring the group’s numerous videos in circulation.

Thousands of Syrians have been forcibly disappeared since the country’s uprising began in March 2011, taken by both the regime and militant groups. [BBC’s Lucy Rodgers and Fiasal Irshaid]

German authorities have detained two suspected supporters of the Islamic State and the Syrian rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham and Junud al-Sham. [AP]

Check out the BBC’s live report from Syria as part of a two-day special coverage of the conflict.

YEMEN

A U.S. drone strike killed seven suspected al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, according to local military forces. Elsewhere, at least 33 people have been killed in clashes in central Yemen between Shi’ite Muslim Houthi rebels and al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni tribes over the past two days. [Reuters]

The U.S. may evacuate the country’s embassy in Yemen, updating evacuation plans as the violent clashes in the country become “considerably worse” between government and Houthi forces. [CNN’s Barbara Starr and Elise Labott]

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and two Houthi military commanders. This action was taken in conjunction with a unanimous Security Council resolution adopted on November 7. [Treasury Department]

The U.S. paid compensation to the relative of two people killed by an American drone strike in Yemen this July, according to international human rights organization Reprieve. [Al Jazeera America’s Massoud Hayoun]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli settlers burned down a West Bank mosque today, amid spiraling tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. [Al Jazeera]

Imprisoned Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, called for a “comprehensive armed resistance” against Israel yesterday. The influential leader’s comments came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of starting a “religious war” at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and IDF forces fatally shot a Palestinian in the West Bank. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey]

Israeli security forces are increasingly concerned over violent clashes, as leaders on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “issued belligerent statements” yesterday, jeopardizing coordination on the rehabilitation of Gaza. [Haaretz’s Amos Harel]

Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Jordan for talks on alleviating tensions in Jerusalem over the al-Aqsa compound. Kerry and King Abdullah will also discuss the fight in the region against the Islamic State. [Reuters]

A “leaderless Palestinian revolt” against Israeli policies is proving much more difficult to curb, as Israel has no straightforward plan to stop the attacks or hold Palestinian authorities to account, report Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren. [New York Times]  Haaretz’s Amira Hass writes that Palestinians are not prepared for an uprising, though the “general rage” may still prevail within Palestinian society.

The AP provides a rundown of key events for Israel and Palestine this year, highlighted by “the failure of peace talks and a string of violent incidents.”

IRAN

Russia has signed a deal to build two nuclear power reactors in Iran, with the possibility of constructing a further six plants. This supply of civilian nuclear technology to Iran, under international monitoring, has been previously approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer]

Iran has said that it tested a new centrifuge, but dismissed concerns that the move was in violation of the interim nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries. [Reuters]

While emphasis remains on concluding a nuclear deal by the November 24 deadline, some diplomats involved in the talks have acknowledged the possibility of extending the timeline. The lead Russian negotiator said that while the need for an extension “would not kill the chances … that would be the worst possible outcome.” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee]

Senate Republicans will seek a vote on legislation requiring congressional approval of any nuclear deal on Thursday, in a move aimed at “derail[ing]” the Obama administration’s plans with regard to Iran. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Michael Crowley]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Donetsk was hit by new shelling today, further undermining the shaky ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. [Reuters]

The OSCE has observed a further unmarked military convoy outside of Donetsk, moving toward the city center, raising concerns over what is believed to be assistance from Moscow ahead of a possible fresh offensive by separatist rebels in Ukraine. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

Further sanctions against Russia are not imminent, despite Western leaders denouncing reports of Russian military buildup in Ukraine’s east. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that additional economic sanctions “are not planned at the moment,” with the focus instead on “the humanitarian situation there and how to get a real ceasefire.” [Kyiv Post’s Ian Bateson]

Russia is feeling the pressure of Western sanctions, with effects being felt by the gold industry. [Reuters’ Clara Denina]

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Ukraine, Syria, and Iran at the sidelines of the economic summit in Beijing yesterday. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. must decide what infrastructure and equipment should be left behind as troops begin the withdrawal process from Afghanistan which is to be completed by the end of 2016. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]

The corruption of Afghan border officials loses the country’s aid-dependent treasury at least $500 million a year, a symptom of a political system where corruption is “interwoven.” [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]

Jack Fairweather suggests the Afghan administration may need to “give the Taliban a chance” as the Western imposed vision of Afghanistan has “built a Frankenstein state,” writing that the time has come to “let Afghans fashion their own system,” which in reality will have to include a role for the Taliban. [New York Times]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Foreign Policy report looks at the nine ways “foreign policy will dominate the lame-duck Congress, including, among other things, the need to tackle ISIS and Ebola, and pass the annual defense policy bill. Notably, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid plan to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report before Congress adjourns, according to a Senate aide.

A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region killed six suspected foreign militants yesterday when missiles hit a compound and an explosives-laden vehicle. [Dawn]

The U.S. nuclear arsenal is aging, while Russia, China, and other nations continue to modernize their stockpile, according to a report from Los Angeles Times’ W.J. Hennigan and Ralph Vartabedian.

Warfare is increasingly guided by software and U.S. arms makers are now developing weapons reliant on artificial intelligence, rather than human instruction, in what amounts to “troubling territory” according to some scientists. [New York Times’ John Markoff]

The first installment of an interview with the ex-Navy SEAL who says he shot and killed Osama bin Laden was aired on Fox News last night.

An American citizen who deserted the army while deployed in Iraq, believing the war was contrary to international law, may have a right to claim asylum in the EU, according to a non-binding opinion from the European Court of Justice’s Advocate General. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

A bomb blast in the Libyan city of Tobruk killed at least 20 people today. The House of Representatives has been operating out of a hotel complex in Tobruk as the capital, Tripoli, is under the control of a rival group. [Reuters]  Dirk Vandewalle advocates sending in a European peacekeeping force to Libya, to “shield the fledgling government from the various armed groups currently contesting its power.” [New York Times]

The creation of a buffer zone along the Gaza border in Egypt is not a solution to growing militancy in the Sinai region as it does not deal with the underlying issues, according to Amnesty International. [Reuters’ Maha El Dahan and Stanley Carvalho]

The International Criminal Court has ordered former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, and members of his defense team to stand trial on charges of interfering with justice. [AP]

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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