News Roundup and Notes: February 17, 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

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the BBC that his forces are preparing an offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, and that the northern city would be liberated within a few months. [BBC]

The Syrian army and allied militia captured a number of villages to the north of Aleppo and fighting has blocked the main supply route into the city, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters’ Sylvia Westall]

The CIA repeatedly bought nerve-agent rockets from a secret Iraqi seller from 2005–2006, as part of a previously undisclosed effort to prevent Iraq’s old chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists or insurgencies, according to officials. [New York Times’ C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt]

The Obama Administration is ramping up efforts to tackle the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, acknowledging that the terrorist group has been far more successful in achieving recruits and notoriety than the US and others have been in thwarting it. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

Hezbollah leader, Hasan Nasrallah, publically acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the Shi’ite group has sent fighters to Iraq and urged Arab nations to put aside sectarian tensions and unite to confront the threat of the Islamic State. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous]

“A cynical liar or a president fighting for the best interests of his country?” Jeremy Brown analyzes President Bashar al-Assad’s approach to the Syrian conflict following an interview with the war-torn state’s leader. [BBC]

A wide window was available to the US to attempt to rescue hostages held by ISIS, as British and American captives were held at the same location in Syria for over four months, according to security sources from the two countries. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Jamie Dettmer]

“We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways.” Graeme Wood analyzes this “religious group with carefully considered beliefs” and what that means for its strategy. [The Atlantic]

The antiquities trade serves as a key source of funding for the Islamic State. Simon Cox explains the BBC’s investigation into the trade and the routes from Syria through Turkey and Lebanon and into Europe.

AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF MILITARY FORCE

The overwhelming majority of Americans believe Congress should pass an AUMF against ISIS, according to a new CNN/ORC poll which suggests that 78% of people think Congress should authorize the war. [The Hill’s David McCabe] The poll also indicates that the majority of US citizens disapprove of President Obama’s policies for tackling the Islamic State. [Politico’s Jennifer Shutt]

Sen. John McCain described President Obama’s war authority request as “convoluted” and said that Congress should not “restrain” the president in its authorization of him taking military action as it would be “unconstitutional” to do so. [NBC’s Meet the Press]

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough urged Congress not to “take a pass” on an ISIS war authorization and said that the draft proposal was designed to achieve a “strong bipartisan showing.” [CBS’s Face the Nation]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said that there is much “skepticism about the administration’s commitment” to tackling the Islamic State, and noted that the 60 vote threshold in the Senate makes things “very difficult.” [CBS’s Face the Nation] Corker has become one of the most important figures in the war against ISIS, and Molly O’Toole explores how his role as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have Corker presiding over the “first full debate on war powers” and American interventionism in over a decade. [Defense One]

LIBYA, EGYPT, and the ISLAMIC STATE

Egypt launches airstrikes in Libya. Egypt’s air force launched retaliatory strikes against Islamic State targets in Libya on Monday. The strikes came hours after the Islamic State released footage purporting to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. [BBC] At least seven civilians, including three children, have so far been killed by the Egyptian strikes in the northeast of Libya. [Al Jazeera]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has called for a UN resolution mandating the creation of an international coalition to intervene in Libya, saying that in the current situation the international community is left with “no other choice” and that the 2011 Libyan war is an “unfinished mission.” [Reuters]

The expansion of the Islamic State into Libya has gone “largely unnoticed” writes Louisa Loveluck, describing the group’s “slow creep” onto Europe’s doorstep. [The Telegraph]

Despite being lauded as a model for intervention in 2011, the “unraveling of Libya is now close to absolute.” Glenn Greenwald argues that the Libya intervention — and its “predictable disintegration” — should discredit the idea of “humanitarian wars.” [The Intercept]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists failed to begin the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline, as a deadline agreed under last week’s ceasefire agreement passed. [BBC] Clashes escalated in the east of Ukraine on the second day of the ceasefire, with officials yesterday saying that rebels had fired on government troops 112 times in 24 hours and killed five soldiers. [The Guardian’s Alec Luhn] And in an interview with CNN, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, asserted that Russia had breached the ceasefire agreement.

The EU has imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on nine organizations and 19 people linked to the conflict in the Ukraine yesterday; those targeted by the sanctions include separatist officials and organizations as well as several Russians. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

“Mistrust” between the US and Israel is deepening amid American suspicion that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized leaks of information about nuclear talks with Iran, writes David Ignatius. [Washington Post]

Israelis close to the intelligence community in the country have expressed concern that the US is taking too much credit for the joint operation between Mossad and the CIA to assassinate Hezbollah military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus seven years ago. [Jerusalem Post]

“Creative thinking” will be needed by both Washington and Jerusalem to preserve the “special relationship” between the two states. Mel Levine and Oded Eran suggest steps which Netanyahu should take to save US-Israel ties. [Politico Magazine]

YEMEN

Supporters of former President Hadi has taken control of radio and television buildings in the city of Aden in the south of the country; one soldier and two Hadi supporters were reportedly killed during the takeover. [AP]

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Sunday to pass a resolution condemning Yemen’s Houthi rebels and demanding they immediately relinquish control of the country’s government. [AP]

Over the weekend Houthi rebels threatened to seize control of a critical oil-producing province, sparking fears that the country could be headed for all-out civil war. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US has figured out how to permanently embed spyware into computers and networks targeted by the NSA in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and other countries spied on by the US, according to Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab. [New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger]

An attack on the police headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan has killed at least eight people and wounded dozens more. TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack. [DAWN]

The trial of al-Qaeda operative Abid Naseer starts this week in New York and the Pakistani defendant has decided to represent himself, the first of what is likely to be many “twists” during the hearing, writes Tom Hays. [AP]

US lawmakers are pushing President Obama to declassify 28 pages of the 9/11 report that were blacked out when the document was first publicly released; the redacted pages are believed to contain information suggestive of Saudi Arabia’s complicity in the 2001 attacks. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak and Julian Hattem]

Suspected Copenhagen gunman, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein was reportedly only loosely interested in Islam but held a deep loathing for Denmark, an anger which likely led to the attack, according to sociologist Aydin Soei. [New York Times’ Andrew Higgins and Melissa Eddy]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board explores “Europe’s new terrorist normal,” and suggests that Denmark and other European countries follow the example set by France in adopting “prudent” anti-terror measures “so bewailed by imprudent civil libertarians.”

The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to defer by six months the release of a landmark report into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, following intensive lobbying by the country’s new government and “signals of broad cooperation” from Sri Lankan officials, according to the UN’s top human rights official. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Suspected Boko Haram fighters have attacked a military base in Cameroon, close to the Nigerian border, killing at least five soldiers yesterday. [AP] Meanwhile, Central African leaders met in Cameroonon Monday to finalize plans for a joint military offensive against Boko Haram in Nigeria and its neighbors. [Al Jazeera]

The US military will provide communications equipment and intelligence to assist African states in the fight against Boko Haram, according to the commander of the US Special Forces operations in Africa. [Reuters’ Daniel Flynn]

Four suicide bombers attacked a police headquarters in eastern Afghanistan killing at least 22 police officers. The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. [Reuters’ Mirwais Harooni] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security