News Roundup and Notes: February 5, 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

A White House request to Congress for a new AUMF is expected by the end of next week, and may come sooner, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker said yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong and Scott Wong]

Jordan is considering expanding its involvement in the coalition against the Islamic State to include airstrikes in Iraq, which would make it the first Arab nation to target the militants outside of Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Felicia Schwartz]  Martin Chulov describes the change of tone in Jordan, both among officials and citizens, in the wake of Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh’s death at the hands of the Islamic State. [The Guardian]

Syrian rebels fired rockets and mortar shells into Damascus today, killing at least three people and wounding others, reports the Syrian state-run news agency. [AP]

The Islamic State executed three Chinese militants that joined the group’s ranks in Iraq and Syria and later attempted to flee, according to a Chinese state-run newspaper. [Reuters]

The Islamic State has “formally entered” South Asia, positioning itself as a competitor to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda in South Asia. Arif Rafiq analyzes the environment and likelihood of success as the group expands. [The Diplomat]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has given a directive to end a decade-old curfew on Baghdad beginning on Saturday. [Al Jazeera]

Foreign fighters dominate leadership positions within the Islamic State in the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, a phenomenon which is “changing the very nature of the Syrian war,” reports Yaroslav Trofimov. [Wall Street Journal]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition military forces carried out 11 airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 3. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations conducted a further six strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

The U.K. needs to improve on its “strikingly modest” contribution to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, according to a cross-party House of Commons defense committee. [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill]

Political progress in Iraq has not followed the same pace as the military campaign, which is seeing the Islamic State increasingly on the defensive. Kenneth M. Pollack cautions that “military victories … could backfire if military progress is not coupled with political reconciliation.” [New York Times]

CARTER’S CONFIRMATION HEARING

Ashton Carter faced his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, answering questions on Iraq, Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, and sexual assault in the military, among other national security issues. Politico’s Philip Ewing et al and The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas provide an overview of the hearing.

The outrage over the most recent ISIS killings and the conflicts in Iraq and Syria dominated the hearing, reports Eric Pianin. [The Fiscal Times]

Carter is “very much inclined” to provide military aid to Ukraine, a proposal that the White House has thus far resisted. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]  Nancy A. Youssef writes that Carter is “already at odds” with the president over the strategy for Ukraine. [The Daily Beast]

The U.S. is “not anywhere near what [it] should be” on cybersecurity, according to the defense secretary nominee, who cited concerns about cyberattacks on civilian and military infrastructure. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The U.S. must have a “conditions-based withdrawal” from Afghanistan, senators told Carter, who indicated that he would recommend changes to the plan if warranted by the security situation. [The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas]

On Guantanamo transfers, Carter said he would not give into pressure from the White House to step up the pace of releases. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

Sen. John McCain is “confident that [Carter] has no influence whatsoever.” During a break in yesterday’s hearing, the Committee chair suggested that Carter’s proposals will be ignored by the White House. [Defense News’ John T. Bennett]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The U.S., U.K., and Canadian intelligence agencies are secretly monitoring hackers for access to their information, despite publicly denouncing them as criminals. In some cases the spy agencies obtain information from hackers without notifying the hacking victims of their breached email accounts, according to documents provided by Edward Snowden. [The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald]

The NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata could end if Section 215 of the Patriot Act, set to expire in June, is not extended by Congress, ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt said yesterday. However, Litt suggested that a version of the surveillance program could continue under other legal authorities. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Joseph Marks]

The FBI is concerned about losing its surveillance powers under Section 215, if the provision sunsets on June 1, reports Devlin Barrett. [Wall Street Journal]

Senate Democrats said Congress must do more on cybersecurity, with Sen. Bill Nelson stating that the administration’s voluntary cybersecurity framework for private companies only “works as long as everybody is volunteering.” [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Kiev to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the extent of U.S. assistance to the country. Ahead of Kerry’s visit, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was confident the U.S. would agree to providing military aid for the fight against separatist rebels. [Al Jazeera]

The French and German leaders will visit Ukraine to propose a new peace initiative; the new plan will be put forward ahead of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday. [BBC]

NATO is due to announce details of a strategy to boost the alliance’s presence in Eastern Europe in response to “the aggressive actions” seen from Russia, the bloc’s chief Jens Stoltenberg said today. [BBC]  Meanwhile, Ian Traynor comments on the “battle fatigue” being displayed by NATO over the confrontation with Moscow. [The Guardian]

Britain will contribute four Typhoon fighter jets this year to assist NATO with air policing in the Baltic nations. U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon also committed 1,000 British troops for a NATO rapid reaction force, part of the latest NATO efforts to reassure allies in Eastern Europe over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. [Reuters]

Five Ukrainian troops have been killed in clashes with separatists in the past 24 hours, as violence in the east continues. [Reuters]

Amid mounting casualties and eight months of fighting, many argue that the Ukrainian government should “declare a state of war and professionalize the fight,” writes Anna Nemtsova. [The Daily Beast]

ISRAEL

The UN will appoint a panel to investigate the death of one of its peacekeepers last week on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Spanish soldier was killed in fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Congressional Democrats have warned against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to address U.S. lawmakers, citing concerns about the politicization of the relationship between the two nations. [Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Crittenden and Joshua Mitnick]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The White House has ruled out returning the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, rejecting the key demand of Cuban President Raul Castro for restoring normal diplomatic relations between the two states. [AP’s Bradley Klapper and Emily Swanson]

Saudi Arabia continues to be “haunted” by what some suspect was a “tacit alliance” with al-Qaeda in the years pre-9/11. These suspicions resurfaced this week amid new accusations by a former al-Qaeda operative; Ben Hubbard and Scott Shane detail the background to the claims of Saudi support for extremists. [New York Times]  The latest accusations shed new light on a still-classified section of the intelligence committees’ investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, which has come to take on an almost “mythic quality,” reports Carl Hulse. [New York Times]

President Obama met with Muslim-American leaders to discuss efforts to counter extremism and the threat from the Islamic State on Wednesday at the White House. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

A bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of funding on Feb. 27, stalled for a second day; Senate Democrats blocked debate over opposition to immigration-related amendments attached to the bill. [CNN’s Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh]

The Navy’s “sex-for-secrets” corruption scandal may worsen as a confidential witness informed investigators that a former senior U.S. contracting official accepted several hundred thousand dollars in bribes in exchange for providing Navy business. [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock and Matt Zapotosky]

The Navy has unveiled a prototype for a robot firefighter which is hoped will eventually assist in inspecting damage on ships. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

Russia is pushing for a UN resolution seeking to prevent terrorists from collecting ransom payments or money from the illicit sale of oil or antiquities. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Western powers – singling out the U.S. and Israel – of distorting the discourse on Iran’s nuclear program, and making what he described as false warnings about his country’s nuclear ambitions. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

Yemeni factions missed a deadline to reach a compromise on a new governmental setup, driving the country deeper into a political crisis. A leading Houthi official said the group would likely give more time for talks and would not unilaterally take power. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Hakim Almasmari]

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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