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 Islamic State said it beheaded Japanese journalist Kenji Goto this weekend. Speaking today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wished to debate the possibility of Japanese forces rescuing citizens abroad, and vowed to boost humanitarian aid to the Middle East. [Reuters] Jordan is seeking proof from ISIS that its downed pilot, held hostage by the group, is still alive. A spokesperson for the Jordanian government said the country is still willing to exchange a convicted Iraqi terrorist for its citizen. [The Guardian’s Justin McCurry and Martin Chulov]
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the murder, describing Goto’s death as “barbaric.” [State Department]
Vows of retribution from the Japanese Prime Minister raise questions regarding Japan’s pacifism as such statements have “been unheard of in confrontation-averse Japan,” reports Martin Fackler. [New York Times]
A bomb attack on a bus in Damascus carrying Shi’ite pilgrims from Lebanon killed at least six people yesterday. Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. [Wall Street Journal’s Dana Ballout]
Islamic State militant Abu Malik was killed by a coalition airstrike on Jan. 24 close to Mosul, Iraq. Malik was a chemical weapons engineer who previously worked at Saddam Hussein’s Muthana chemical weapon production facility before affiliating with al-Qaeda and then ISIS, according to U.S. Central Command.
The Pentagon announced that ISIS has been officially “pushed out” of the Syrian border town of Kobani on Saturday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong] Emma Graham-Harrison describes the extent of the destruction across the town following the Kurds’ “unexpected victory.” [The Guardian]
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and Coalition military forces carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 30. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations carried out a further four strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]
The Iraqi premier has blamed “criminals” for alleged mass executions, after reports claimed dozens of civilians were killed by Shi’ite militiamen in Diyala province. [Reuters]
Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Iraq struggle to hold gains made against the Islamic State; the AP discusses whether the coalition-backed Kurds can secure strategic crossroads and renew an offensive against the militants.
The Syrian conflict has been marked by a “very active” cyber battle that has “engulfed all sides,” report David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, providing further details. [New York Times]
The consequence of “tacit collaboration” between the U.S. and the Quds force is “obvious.” Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent write that the U.S. will be depicted by ISIS “as a helpmeet in the indiscriminate murder and dispossession of Sunnis.” [The Daily Beast]
President Obama’s goal of destroying the Islamic State is “unrealistic,” according to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said that ground troops may be needed to “roll back ISIS” during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday.
The Islamic State’s supply of foreign hostages is “dwindling.” Rod Nordland questions the group’s tactics following the 12 days of worldwide publicity over their Japanese and Jordanian hostages. [New York Times]
“The fates of 23 ISIS Hostages in Syria” is provided by Karen Yourish, who notes that the majority of prisoners held in the same prison as American journalist James Foley have been freed for ransom. [New York Times]
The threat of the Islamic State is not an excuse to “give the executive branch what amounts to a blank check to battle an ever-shifting array of enemies around the globe.” The New York Times editorial board discusses the retroactive authorization of war against the group and how Congress’s failure to replace the Iraq and Afghanistan authorizations with a narrower mandate constitutes an abdication of “one of [its] most consequential constitutional powers.”
UKRAINE and RUSSIA
Violence in eastern Ukraine intensified over the weekend following the collapse of the Minsk negotiations, with more than two dozen government troops and civilians killed. [Reuters] Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed earlier today, said officials, as clashes with separatist rebels continue. [AP]
Russian-backed rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko announced plans to recruit 100,000 men, adding that the recruitment would be voluntary and would serve as a reserve force. [BBC]
The Obama administration is debating providing lethal assistance to Kiev, with both Secretary of State John Kerry and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey open to the idea, according to officials. NATO military chief Gen. Philip M. Breedlove has expressed support for providing Ukraine with military aid in light of stepped-up attacks in the country’s east. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt]
The U.S. should provide lethal assistance to Ukraine, including defensive arms such as light anti-armor weapons, write former U.S. officials Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott. [Washington Post] Timothy Garton Ash similarly stresses the need for military assistance, writing that “sometimes only guns can stop guns.” [The Guardian] David J. Kramer outlines the six ways to enable Ukraine to “resist Russia’s latest invasion.” [Wall Street Journal] Meanwhile, the New York Times editorial board cautions that lethal assistance “could open a dangerous new chapter in the struggle.”
Rep. Paul Ryan has defended the GOP’s decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress without consulting the White House. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]
The CIA assisted Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, in the killing of Hezbollah’s international operations chief in 2008. The U.S. reportedly helped build the bomb used and tested it repeatedly in a CIA facility to ensure a contained blast area. [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima]
Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Afghanistan killed at least nine police officers earlier today. [AP]
Many Afghans prefer the Taliban’s “quick and tradition-rooted” justice system over the Afghan courts due to their frustration with “Western-inspired legal codes” and a system widely viewed as corrupt, reports Azam Ahmed. [New York Times]
Greg Jaffe reflects on the president’s 2012 visit to troops in Afghanistan and comments on how Obama has been “unusually cautious about putting U.S. troops in harm’s way.” [Washington Post]
Boko Haram launched a fresh assault on the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Saturday night; militants are reported to have attacked from four fronts. The third attack in a week on Maiduguri–the birth place of the militant group–comes as the African Union authorized the creation of a 7,500-strong force from Nigeria and its four neighbors to battle the mounting threat. [AP]
The Nigerian military repelled the assault and worked to hold off Boko Haram throughout Sunday, while Chad’s air force pounded the group’s positions in Gamboru, a Nigerian town on the border with Cameroon. [Al Jazeera]
CIA interrogations took place at Diego Garcia, a British overseas territory, a senior Bush administration official has told Vice News. The CIA did not maintain a permanent facility on the island, but used it as a “transit site” for detainees; Ben Bryant and Rupert Stone report.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they will take over the country’s affairs if a three-day deadline is not met to resolve Yemen’s political crisis. The ultimatum was issued during a meeting yesterday, calling on politicians to fill the vacuum left by the resignation of President Hadi. [Al Jazeera]
The Wall Street Journal interviews David Cohen—the outgoing Treasury Department official who spearheaded the department’s foreign sanctions campaign—who said that U.S. sanctions had weakened Iran, Russia, and the Islamic State. Jay Solomon and William Mauldin provide more details.
President Obama is at odds with own party over foreign policy, including the strategy in relation to the Ukraine crisis and Iran’s nuclear program, writes Jackson Diehl. [Washington Post]
The FBI has placed the brother of no-fly list litigant Gulet Mohamed on its most wanted terrorist list “under suspicious circumstances,” reports Glenn Greenwald. [The Intercept]
The next defense secretary faces “daunting challenges;” the AP outlines the top issues facing Ashton Carter, including the budget and the fight against the Islamic State.
Hamas is “investing its resources in preparing for another unwinnable battle,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, suggesting that this is “yet another indictment of this Islamic terrorist movement.”
South Sudan’s rival sides signed a new peace deal today; both the African Union and Security Council have threatened sanctions against anyone who undermines the latest agreement. [AP]
A Libyan oil official who was kidnapped last month has been released, although the identities of his kidnappers remain unknown. [BBC]
Egypt has released Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, who was imprisoned in Cairo for 400 days, although his two colleagues remain detained in the country. A court in Egypt has sentenced to death 183 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood today on charges related to the killing of police officers, part of a wider crackdown on Islamists within the country. [Reuters’ Omar Fahmy]
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