News Roundup and Notes: February 13, 2015

IRAQ and SYRIA

US airstrikes have reportedly killed at least 20 Islamic State fighters in Syria on the Iraq border. [Reuters’ Tom Perry]

Shiite militias in Iraq represent “the only alternative” to the Islamic State on the ground. Though, as Yaroslav Trofimov writes, “With their Iranian backing and sectarian agenda, they have committed plenty of atrocities of their own—and are a reason why many Sunnis embraced Islamic State’s cause in the first place.” [Wall Street Journal]

Anonymous “is trying to dismantle the vast social media operation” that helps the Islamic State recruit new members. The international hacking group has recently launched a series of denial-of-service attacks to shut down many of the Islamic State’s forums. [The Hill]

Iraq’s Yazidis are returning to their villages to find mass graves in regions where Kurdish peshmerga have pushed the Islamic State back. Now, many are calling on the UN to document the killings. [NPR’s Ari Shapiro]

Nancy Pelosi is facing pressure from both sides on the President’s proposed authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State. Liberal democrats are concerned that the resolution is too broad, while Republicans are arguing the proposal is too narrow to be effective. [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]

There are rising questions of the Administration’s system for dealing with hostage crises after the death of aid worker Kayla Mueller.  Family members are saying “the government’s system for dealing with hostage negotiations lacks coordination” and leaves people “in the dark,”writes Politico’s Josh Gerstein. Jamie Dettmer and Shane Harris are also reporting that these slow-moving policies are a source of frustration to some allies. [Daily Beast]

The wife of one of the shooters in last month’s Paris attacks has reportedly resurfaced in Islamic State-controlled territory. [Wall Street Journal’s Noemie Bisserbe and Margaret Coker]

ASH CARTER CONFIRMATION

Ashton Carter was confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense yesterday by a Senate vote of 93 to 5. [New York Times’ Emmarie Huetteman]

While reactions to his confirmation have been positive, there is some concern that he is not perfectly “in line with the President” on certain issues, including on Ukraine and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. [The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas]

Lawmakers are excited about Carter’s reputation as “wonk.” “Ash Carter’s return to the Pentagon [will] crown a cadre of leaders seen as technocrats, not politicians” seeking to run the Defense Department more efficiently, writes Philip Ewing. [Politico]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Ahead of this Sunday’s ceasefire, eight Ukrainian troops have been killed and 34 wounded in the last 24 hours. [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth] Andrey Ostroukh and Gregory L. White report that “even as the truce was being sealed, fighting remained heavy as both sides jockeyed to expand their territory before Sunday.” [Wall Street Journal]

The peace deal itself “is likely to leave Russia and the separatists it supports holding the upper hand in eastern Ukraine for months, if not longer,” due to the lack of agreement on control of Ukraine’s eastern border. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon] It may be days before anyone can be sure that the agreement will hold up better than the ceasefire agreement that was reach five months ago. [Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova]

Jonathan Alpeyrie has a profile of Debaltseve, a strategically located town in eastern Ukraine and a site of recent fighting. [CNN]

GUANTANAMO

The White House has threatened to veto proposed legislation that would severely limit transfers out of Guantánamo Bay and formally reinstate the ban on transfers to Yemen. [Associated Press’ Nedra Pickler]

Members of the House Armed Services Committee plan to visit Guantánamo later this month to get a better sense of how the prison operates and to meet some of the people who work there. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a former detainee who was recently transferred to Uruguay, has appeared in Argentina to plead with the country to grant asylum for more detainees who are still at Guantánamo. [Associated Press’ Peter Prengaman]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

AQAP militants seized a Yemeni army base in southern Yemen. [Wall Street Journal’s Hakim Almasmari and Asa Fitch] UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, has warned the UN Security Council that “Yemen is collapsing before our eyes.” [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols]

FBI Director James Comey quoted the musical Avenue Q, specifically the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” when discussing race and policing yesterday. [New York Times’ Brent Staples] In what some are saying is a tone deaf response to recent tensions between citizens and law enforcement, Comey argued that police are no more racist than the general public, but that police “often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel” after years of experience. [The Intercept’s Juan Thompson]

Two Al Jazeera journalists who were arrested in Egypt are now free on bail. Some supporters have indicated that the bail order is also a signal that the case “will see a swift resolution in which the men are found not guilty.” [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy and Sharaf Alhourani]

Last October, Afghan and American commandos recovered a laptop computer that has “helped fuel a significant increase in night raids” against al Qaeda and Taliban targets by American and Afghan forces. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt]

Yesterday, European Union leaders agreed to a range of new anti-terror measures, including sharing airline passenger data, tougher border controls on travelers, and the detection and removal of Internet content promoting terrorism or extremism. [Associated Press’ John-Thor Dahlburg]

Congressional Republicans have no idea how to prevent a de-funding of the Department of Homeland Security at the end of this month, unless a federal court decides to bail them out, argues Greg Sargent in the Washington Post. 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).