News Roundup and Notes: January 6, 2015

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

Syrian Kurds backed by Iraqi peshmerga have captured a key district of Kobani from Islamic State militants and are now in control of over 80% of the Syrian town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [BBC]

Turkey is willing to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels as part of the U.S.-led coalition’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State; training will take place in Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and will begin in late March, according to a senior official. [New York Times’ Sebnem Arsu]

A newly unveiled U.S. effort to train Iraqis for battle against the Islamic State is “not enough,” a senior defense official conceded, speaking to The Daily Beast about the six-week long training program, reports Nancy A. Youssef.

The Iraqi military is making efforts to rebuild following its near total collapse last summer, however the process is still in its early stages, said Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi speaking today. [Reuters]

U.S. troops stationed at Al Asad air base in Iraq are coming under regular fire from nearby Islamic State militants. While the attacks are “completely ineffective,” they are raising concern over the safety of U.S. troops, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and partner nations forces conducted 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 4. Separately, U.S. and partner nations carried out a further six strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Three Saudi border guards were killed along the country’s frontier with Iraq after unidentified gunmen opened fire in a “terrorist” attack yesterday, the interior minister said on Monday. [Al Arabiya News]

“Signs of discontent” with the Islamic State economic model are evident across the “caliphate.” Erika Solomon reports on the poor services, taxes and price caps enforced by the group in the captured Iraqi city of Mosul. [Financial Times]

The Islamic State is making increased efforts to “portray a functioning caliphate;” Jamie Dettmer explores the “increasing desperate” attempts. [The Daily Beast]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Israeli military is divided over the extent to which soldiers should be held to account for actions during last summer’s Gaza war, with the debate over whether to comprehensively investigate “all the more pressing” in light of the Palestinians’ announcement of their application to the ICC last week, reports the AP.  Over 250 Israeli reservists and combat soldiers have signed a letter calling for a halt to criminal investigations into the Gaza war, saying that only commanders should be allowed to probe. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen]

An Israel-based human rights organization has filed a war crimes complaint against three Palestinian leaders at the ICC, accusing them of terrorism, torture and civil rights violations. [AP]

The Palestinian decision to join the ICC looks designed “to use whatever legal means available” to achieve their preferred political outcome, although the decision is “high risk” and “may set back the ultimate goal: an independent Palestinian state,” writes Luke Baker. [Reuters]

The Palestinian “diplomatic intifada will fail” as this current push, including efforts to join the ICC, will for now “only dilute and constrain the pressure game,” writes Aaron David Miller. [Politico Magazine]

The Palestinians are “in effect, establishing a legal state” as the international recognition by 135 states is what “could eventually force changes on the ground,” suggests Jodi Rudoren. [New York Times]

A senior Hezbollah operative has been caught spying for Israel, the group’s deputy chief confirmed over the weekend. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard]

The Israeli government is considering listing hardline Jewish group, Lehava, as a terrorist organization and outlawing it as the country cannot allow “racist phenomenon to endanger” the fabric of life, said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

AFGHANISTAN

The Pentagon stated there will be no change to the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, but there will be flexibility in the pace at which troops will leave the country. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is taking steps to overhaul local government, a “policy experiment aimed at creating clearer lines of responsibility for security in Afghanistan’s provinces,” reports Margherita Stancati. [Wall Street Journal]

The Washington Post editorial board calls on Ghani to begin “demonstrating … progress, and not paralysis,” noting the new president’s continued failure to name a cabinet.

A suicide car bomb attack hit close to the European Union Police Mission in Kabul, killing one Afghan civilian and wounding five others on Monday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that targeted a convoy of European Mission vehicles. [AP]

GUANTÁNAMO

President Obama is working at an “accelerated pace” to empty the Guantánamo prison, which follows a long period of internal political fighting and bureaucratic delays. The Pentagon will be releasing two more groups of prisoners in the next two weeks. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

The path to closing Guantánamo is “clear,” but will require “intense and sustained action to finish the job,” writes former special envoy for closing the prison, Cliff Sloan, who counters the fundamental misconceptions obstructing the process so far. [New York Times]  Meanwhile, J. D. Gordon argues that the administration is “roll[ing] dice with American lives” over every release from Guantánamo. [The Daily Caller]

Kazakhstan accepted five Guantánamo detainees last month as asylum seekers, with the asylum requests still under review by the ministry of internal affairs, according to the Kazak government.  [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Reporter James Risen “reluctantly” took the witness stand on Monday in the case against former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, but did not answer any questions that could assist the Justice Department in identifying his confidential sources. The New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo has more details.

The CIA’s Inspector General David Buckley will be stepping down at the end of this month; Buckley investigated the recent high-profile dispute between the agency and Senate staffers over the handling of records of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. [Reuters’ Mark Hosenball]

Two U.S. citizens face criminal charges related to the botched coup in The Gambia last week, and have been accused of helping to finance, lead, and arm the plotters behind the coup, reports Rick Gladstone. [New York Times]

Western sanctions against Russia should be lifted if progress is made over the Ukraine crisis in peace talks this month, French President François Hollande said in an interview with France Inter Radio yesterday. [France 24]  Germany’s vice chancellor has also warned against additional sanctions targeting Russia. [BBC]

The U.K.’s new counterterrorism proposals could require educators to monitor students, including toddlers, to prevent them “being drawn into terrorism,” which many critics have said is “unworkable” and “heavy-handed.” [The Telegraph’s Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik]

France has ruled out unilateral action inside Libya, but its forces stationed in Niger, south of Libya, are preparing to strike extremists crossing the border. [AP’s Sylvie Corbet and Brian Rohan]  Meanwhile, a Libyan plane carried out an airstrike against a Greek-owned tanker in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, according to Libyan and Greek officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Alkman Granitsas and Benoît Faucon]

Boko Haram’s seizure of an important military base in Nigeria highlights the failures of the country’s military and the international efforts to defeat the insurgent group, report Drew Hinshaw and Gbenga Akingbule. [Wall Street Journal]

Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliated group is “surging in strength,” gaining fresh support and recruits from the country’s Sunni tribesmen, a backlash to drone strikes and the rising power of Houthi rebels, writes Maggie Michael at AP.

UN-backed Congolese troops launched airstrikes and a ground offensive against a Burundian rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. [Reuters]

Militants attacked a town in central Mali yesterday, in an assault believed to be carried out by al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists. [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