News Roundup and Notes: February 9, 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.

AFGHANISTAN

A drone strike in Afghanistan has killed former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Rauf and five others, according to Afghan officials. Rauf, a former Guantanamo detainee, had recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State after falling out with the Taliban. [BBC]

The Afghan police force in the northern province of Kunduz is being investigated by the national intelligence service for ties to the Taliban. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Jordan carried out 56 airstrikes over three days targeting the Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa, in response to the killing of a Jordanian pilot, the country’s air force commander said yesterday. [Al Jazeera]

ISIS claimed that Jordanian strikes killed a female U.S. hostage being held by the group, but the U.S. said it could not yet confirm the allegations. The family of the American hostage, Kayla Mueller, did not want U.S. forces to launch a rescue mission, and instead asked for her release to be negotiated, according to a military source. [Foreign Policy’s Seán D. Naylor]

U.S.-led coalition airstrikes continued in Iraq and Syria on Saturday, with at least 12 strikes around the Iraqi city of Mosul, which fell to the Islamic State last June. [CNN’s Phil Black et al]

Iraqi forces will launch “a major counter offensive” against the Islamic State within weeks, according to Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the coalition against ISIS. Allen said that the ground offensive to reclaim ISIS-held territory will be backed by “major firepower” from the coalition. [France 24]

The countdown to the mission to recapture Tikrit from the Islamic State is under way, an Iraqi military official told Asharq Al-Awsat, reports Hamza Mustafa.

Iraqi troops will face “risky urban warfare” in their fight to regain territory lost to the Islamic State, write Missy Ryan and Mustafa Salim. [Washington Post]

Two bombs in Baghdad killed at least 15 people earlier today, the latest in a series of deadly assaults on the Iraqi capital. [Reuters]  On Saturday, many in Baghdad celebrated the lifting of the curfew imposed in 2003, despite three bombings earlier in the day which killed at least 36 people. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Mustafa Salim]

Syrian Kurdish forces have reclaimed more than a third of the villages around Kobani from the Islamic State, after recapturing the strategically important Syrian border town from the militant group. [AFP]

Washington’s strategy to equip and train moderate Syrian rebels is likely to fail without “commensurate diplomatic and political efforts,” explains Geoffrey Aronson. [Al Jazeera America]

The fight against ISIS dominated the Sunday political shows; The Hill offers a useful wrap-up. Both Sens. Tim Kaine and Ted Cruz said the U.S. should not send ground troops to Iraq and Syria, stating instead that any ground troops should come from the region. [CNN’s Eric Bradner]

The four Republican senators weighing 2016 presidential bids are taking different positions on how much power to give Obama in the fight against ISIS; Manu Raju explores their diverging views. [Politico]

Japan has confiscated the passport of a journalist preparing to travel to Syria, citing the need to protect the journalist’s life following the recent killing of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State. [Al Jazeera]

Federal prosecutors have charged six people with terrorist related activity linked to groups operating in Iraq and Syria; five have been arrested while the sixth is overseas. [DoJ News]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France agreed to meet on Wednesday in Minsk to broker a peace agreement for the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said some progress had been made during a phone call on Sunday and expressed hope for a “swift and unconditional ceasefire” to be agreed upon on Wednesday. [Reuters’ Noah Barkin and Lesley Wroughton]

The U.S. and Germany are struggling to display a united front on a strategy for the crisis. President Obama has reportedly delayed a decision on arming Ukrainian troops until today’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has publicly opposed the supply of lethal aid. [Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski et al]

The rift between Germany and the U.S. over how to respond to Moscow was on display at the Munich security conference over the weekend. However, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to downplay tensions, insisting that the West remained united in its approach. [New York Times’ Alison Smale]

The Ukraine crisis has been caused by the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today, accusing Western nations of expanding NATO in breach of their previous promises. [BBC]

Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to Egypt is intended to highlight that the Russian president is not isolated as a result of the Ukraine crisis, according to experts. [Al Jazeera]

Arming Ukrainian troops “would be a huge mistake;” John J. Mearsheimer considers the dangerous implications given that nuclear equipped Moscow is “seeking to defend a vital strategic interest.” [New York Times]

IRAN

Iran’s supreme leader offered his strongest support yet for the nuclear negotiations. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would “firmly” back a compromise agreement, as his foreign minister met with his P5+1 counterparts on the sidelines of the Munich security conference on Sunday. [Reuters]

Julian Borger offers a summary of this weekend’s discussion on Iran’s nuclear program, noting that “creative thinking” is shifting the parties closer to a comprehensive agreement. [The Guardian]

The opportunity to agree on a nuclear deal “may not be repeated,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif emphasized on Sunday. [Washington Post’s David Ignatius]  Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “the only chance” of extending nuclear talks would be if the parties decided on an outline agreement before the June 30 deadline. [NBC’s “Meet the Press”]

Western officials have suggested that a final deal remains difficult after the latest round of talks, as Iran refuses to budge on substantially curbing its uranium enrichment. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

CYBERSECURITY

The split over responding to cyberattacks continues, with White House officials and some security experts doubtful that counterattacks would work, citing the problem of targeting hackers. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Dion Nissenbaum]

The number of cyberattacks against the military is “dramatically increasing,” Dan Kaufman, the head of DARPA’s software innovation division said on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security over funding delays could leave federal networks more susceptible to cyberattacks, according to former officials. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

NIGERIA

The decision to postpone the Nigerian presidential election, on the basis that all military resources were needed for the Boko Haram fight, has been criticized locally and abroad. [Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw]  Expressing disappointment, Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned that the government “not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process.”

Boko Haram attacked the Nigerian border town of Diffa over the weekend, marking an escalation in the group’s aggression in the country. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The co-accused 9/11 plotters will return to the Guantanamo military commission today, with pre-trial issues continuing to complicate the progress of the trial. Carol Rosenberg details the three legal issues that have arisen since the last 9/11 hearings. [Miami Herald]

The U.S. needs “a much broader strategy” to counter the expanding global terror threats, according to former DIA Director Gen. Michael Flynn, who said the administration’s national security strategy focused too narrowly on Iraq and Syria. [Fox News Sunday]

Copies of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA will not be destroyed or returned by the White House “until the issue of whether the Full Report is a congressional document or an agency record is resolved, or until it obtains leave of court to alter the status quo,” according to a Justice Department court filing. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Burgess Everett]

Hooded gunmen in France fired on police in the city of Marseille today; Prime Minister Manuel Valls was visiting the city, although the shootings have been linked to a drug-trafficking problem. [Reuters]  French authorities detained six people suspected of ties to a jihadi network yesterday, in the latest anti-terror raid since last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. [France 24]

The CIA “tried to spike” the recent report implicating the agency in the killing of Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh; Politico’s Hadas Gold provides further details of the agency’s efforts.

The New York Times editorial board comments on the Pentagon’s excess real estate, noting the opposition from lawmakers to closing useless bases notwithstanding the increased efficiency that such a move would bring to the Defense Department.

The Israeli prime minister faced increasing criticism from political opponents, after Vice President Joe Biden’s office said he would not attend Benjamin Netanyahu congressional address next month on Iran. [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick]

National dialogue to resolve Yemen’s crisis, involving all political parties, is set to resume today, three days after a Houthi political takeover that was widely condemned as a “coup.” [Al Jazeera]

U.K. authorities are detaining terror suspects daily, with the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer calling for additional funding to counter the growing threat linked to the Islamic State. [The Telegraph’s Tom Whitehead]

Egypt has set a date for the retrial of the two Al Jazeera journalists who have been detained in the country for over 400 days. [Al Jazeera]  On Sunday, 22 people were killed outside an Egyptian soccer stadium during clashes with security forces; the national league championships have been postponed indefinitely. [Al Arabiya News]

North Korea launched five short-range missiles off its coast on Sunday, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).