News Roundup and Notes: January 23, 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.

YEMEN

Yemen’s president has resigned along with his prime minister in protest of the Houthi takeover in Sana’a this week. Houthi rebel leaders have welcomed the resignations which have reportedly been refused by the country’s parliament. This development creates a “dangerous political vacuum” that could benefit AQAP, reports Sebastian Usher for the BBC.

The White House was “still assessing” the resignation of Yemen’s president yesterday, and expressed its continued support of a peaceful political transition. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

The U.S. has evacuated further staff from the embassy in Yemen, according to American officials speaking yesterday, citing heightened security concerns. [Reuters’ Mark Hosenball and Matt Spetalnick]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that recent unrest in Yemen “has to be factored in” when deciding on the release of Yemeni detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The increased use of military resources in the fight against the Islamic State is leaving the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist threats from Yemen, said House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Casey L. Coombs and Jeremy Scahill detail how the Houthis succeeded in seizing control of Sana’a, noting that the Shi’ite group defy the old adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as they are bitter enemies of AQAP but also despise the U.S. and Israel. [The Intercept]

The New York Times editorial board comments on the crisis in Yemen, arguing that the U.S. and Yemen’s neighbors must “nudge the antagonists in this crisis toward a compromise that avoids the wholesale collapse of the state,” and suggests that it would serve the U.S. to develop a dialogue with the Houthis, “even through back channels.”  And the Washington Post editorial board admonishes President Obama’s “partners” strategy in Yemen, noting that it has “too narrowly focused on drone strikes … and not enough on providing security for the population.”

IRAQ and SYRIA

High-level meeting in London on Islamic State strategy. Foreign ministers from 21 countries gathered yesterday, including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. U.S. and U.K. officials cited progress, saying the airstrikes have halted the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and succeeded in reducing its resources. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Coalition has reclaimed some 700 square kilometers of territory from the group. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning and Jay Solomon]

Iraqi Kurdistan has spoken out to complain about being excluded from yesterday’s Coalition meeting in London. [Reuters]

The U.S.-led coalition could take up to two years to expel the Islamic State from Iraq, and Iraq’s own forces will not have the capacity for proper combat operations for months, U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday. [Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Warren Strobel]

The U.S. and Iraq have started preparation for a major offensive this summer to retake Mosul, strategically cutting off supply lines and training military units. Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of Central Command, estimates that the Coalition campaign has so far killed 6,000 Islamic State militants and around half of the group’s leadership. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has expressed doubt as to the estimated death count of Islamic State fighters, noting that he had not seen “any verification” to support claims that 6,000 fighters had been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The deadline for Japan to pay a ransom of $200 million to the Islamic State in exchange for two Japanese hostages has passed, with no reported progress made in efforts to ensure their release. [Reuters]  The Daily Beast has learned that the current hostage crisis may have been averted but for Japan’s interference in negotiations to save the first hostage captured by the Islamic State; Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky and Jake Adelstein provide further details.

The Islamic State has turned over 1,500 schools in Iraq’s Anbar province into military barracks, a move which is said to have practically halted education in the province, reports Manaf Al-Obaidi for Asharq Al-Awsat.

At least three gunmen were killed during fighting with Lebanese soldiers near the Syrian border today, an area which has seen consistent incursions from Islamic State militants. [Reuters]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition military forces conducted 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 21. Separately, U.S. and Coalition forces carried out a further 21 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The U.S. must maintain “effective working arrangements with Syria and Iran to check and defeat the Islamic State,” argues Leslie H. Gelb, adding that President Obama appears to be “the main official flirting with the idea of a working arrangement with Assad.” [The Daily Beast]

IRAN

U.S. lawmakers “face an uncomfortable choice” on whether to adopt new Iran sanctions legislation, with European and Israeli allies publicly disagreeing on the issue, reports Julian Pecquet. [Al-Monitor]  The foreign affairs ministers from France, Britain, Germany, and the EU jointly warned against fresh sanctions legislation at this “critical juncture” in a Jan. 21 Washington Post op-ed.

President Obama has told the Israeli Prime Minister to stop encouraging U.S. lawmakers on advancing new Iran sanctions legislation. Benjamin Netanyahu plans to address a joint session of Congress during a visit in March, expected to focus on the Iran issue, prompting a senior American official to state: “He spat in our face publicly … [and] there will be a price.” [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

Obama will not meet Netanyahu during his March visit, marking a new low in ties between the countries over the Iran nuclear deal. The White House said that the decision was in line with a longstanding policy of not meeting with foreign leaders too close to their national elections. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger et al]

An EU court has struck down sanctions targeting an Iranian bank and a number of Iranian shipping companies, citing insufficient evidence to support the sanctions measure; the bloc has two months to respond to the decision. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has died at the age of 90, marking “the end of one of the strongest U.S. allies in the region,” reports Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]  American officials are worried that King Abdullah’s death will cloud the “already tense relationship” with the country, with the transition period likely to impact how Saudi Arabia reacts to the Iran nuclear negotiations and the Islamic State uprising among other issues. [Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib and Jay Solomon]

A suicide bombing targeting a Turkish government convoy in Somalia’s capital on Thursday killed at least six people. Militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, which came a day before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the country. [Wall Street Journal’s Abdalle Ahmed Mumim and Joe Parkinson]

Links between the intelligence agencies of Britain and former Libyan leader Gaddafi were more extensive than previously suspected, according to documents recovered in Tripoli, which indicate that information extracted from rendition victims were used in secret court hearings in London. [The Guardian’s Ian Cobain]

The Sri Lankan government responded to Just Security’s Ryan Goodman’s New York Times op-ed calling for a war crimes prosecution in the U.S. The government said that former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will have full protection against a war crimes trial in a foreign country “as long as he stays within the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka.” [Daily News’ Chamikara Weerasinghe]

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine will continue their military offensive following the territorial advances made in recent weeks, their leader was quoted as saying today. [Reuters]

Chad is sending troops to Nigeria to assist in the fight against Boko Haram militants, Nigeria’s national security adviser said yesterday. [BBC]

A third trial arising from the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in east Africa began in Manhattan yesterday; the defendant, Khaled al-Fawwaz, is believed to be one of the most senior alleged al-Qaeda operatives to be tried in the United States. [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser]

Seventy-one percent of analysts and investors believe the government should respond to cyberattacks and that companies should not respond with counterstrikes, according to a new Bloomberg poll, reports Jordan Robertson.

The “lone wolf extremists” of Paris, Sydney, and Boston “are the new normal,” against which there is “no foolproof defense,” explain Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. [Politico Magazine]

The Cuban and U.S. delegations held a first round of “productive” talks yesterday, but both sides acknowledged that “profound differences” remain. Karen DeYoung has more details. [Washington Post]

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
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