News Roundup and Notes: February 11, 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

Islamic State AUMF. The White House proposal for a new authorization to fight ISIS would sunset in three years and prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces,” according to congressional sources [Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin]  Roll Call’s Sarah Chacko has a transcript of Sen. Richard Durbin’s comments after being briefed on the administration’s draft proposal.

Both Democrats and Republicans are critical of the proposed AUMF language; Senate Democrats want tighter restrictions on ground troops, while some Republicans want fewer limits. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Jeremy Herb]

The Pentagon confirmed the death of U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller who was being held hostage by the Islamic State in Syria. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said there was “no doubt” that the militant group was responsible for Mueller’s death, countering ISIS’s claims that she was killed in a Jordanian strike. [DoD News; AP]

The Pentagon did not have plans to rescue Mueller in the weeks leading up to her death. Officials were unaware of her location after the failed rescue mission carried out by special forces last July, according to government officials. [Politico’s Philip Ewing et al]

An increasing number of foreign fighters are traveling to join the Islamic State, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center will tell a House Homeland Security Committee hearing today. Nicholas Rasmussen will testify that more than 20,000 fighters, from over 90 countries, have traveled to the ISIS battlefield. [CNN’s Jamie Crawford]

The U.A.E. has returned to combat missions, as jets deployed by Arab allies carried out a series of airstrikes in Syria early Tuesday. Emirati officials said that their concerns—that the U.S. was not sending adequate assets closer to the ground to rescue downed pilots—had been addressed. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Anne Barnard]

The U.S. and coalition military forces launched one airstrike against the Islamic State in Syria on Feb. 9. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations carried out a further 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Following their victory in Kobani, Kurdish fighters are seeking to form an alliance with moderate Syrian rebels to make further gains against the Islamic State. [AP]

Denis Cuspert has been designated a global terrorist by the State Department; the German national is said to have joined the ISIS fight in Syria. [New York Times’ Alison Smale]

A “de facto deal” between Washington and Damascus over the fight against ISIS is “increasingly obvious,” despite the lack of any official coordination, writes Jamie Dettmer. [The Daily Beast]

A pro-ISIS hacking group hacked the Twitter accounts of Newsweek and a military spouse on Tuesday; the Cyber Caliphate is the same group that hacked the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts in January. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

Sharia4Belgium trial. Forty-five members of the group have been found guilty of terror-related offences by a Belgian court; most are said to be in Syria and some may be dead. [BBC]

SURVEILLANCE and CYBERSECURITY

A U.S. judge dismissed a challenge to the NSA’s Upstream program on the basis that additional defense from the government would have necessitated “impermissible disclosure of state secret information.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The NSA is concerned that the West’s sophisticated cyberattacks campaign is helping Iran improve its own cyber tactics by studying such attacks, according to a secret NSA document from April 2013. [The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Violence in eastern Ukraine continues to escalate, with more than 20 people killed ahead of today’s Minsk peace talks between the leaders from Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany. [BBC]

In advance of the Minsk talks, President Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of the rising costs for Moscow if its “aggressive actions in Ukraine” continue. [Al Jazeera]

The current financial markets are “far stronger than any army or store of weapons,” writes former deputy Treasury secretary Roger C. Altman, who argues that tightening financial sanctions offers a more effective strategy in countering Russia. [Wall Street Journal]

YEMEN

The U.S. has suspended all consular services in Yemen. The decision to close the embassy in Sana’a comes amid increasing concerns over worsening security in the country’s capital. Consular staff have been relocated until further notice, and the State Department has issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]  The U.K. and France have followed suit in closing their embassies in Sana’a. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland]

The Houthis “drove Yemen into a political vacuum;” Mohammed Ghobari and Yara Bayoumy explain how at Reuters.  Hugh Naylor discusses how Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former Yemeni president ousted in 2012, is a “key player” in the country’s current political chaos. [Washington Post]

A group of Islamist fighters has renounced support for AQAP, instead pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A court interpreter serving on the defense of an alleged 9/11 plotter previously worked for the CIA, the military has confirmed. Four of the five alleged 9/11 conspirators claim they independently recognized the translator from time spent in CIA black sites, an assertion the military would not confirm. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The administration is considering adjusting the Afghanistan withdrawal plan. According to U.S. officials, the pace of withdrawal could be slowed down to accommodate security challenges on the ground. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

The majority of U.S. troops stationed in West Africa to assist the fight against Ebola will return to the U.S. by the end of April, the White House announced yesterday. [Washington Post’s Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin]

Boko Haram has abducted about 30 people and killed seven hostages in assaults in Cameroon and Nigeria. [AP]

The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 has led to “one of the most expensive, significant and controversial criminal investigations ever conducted.” Ronen Bergman explores the “Hezbollah connection” and discusses the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. [New York Times]

France is examining terrorist propaganda and other ways of recruiting fighters, as part of its response to last month’s terror attacks. [AP]

Australian authorities have arrested two men in Sydney on charges of planning a terrorist attack. [Sydney Morning Herald]

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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