News Roundup and Notes: February 19, 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.

WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE ON VIOLENT EXTREMISM

President Obama has decried any suggestion that the US is at war with Islam, saying instead that the country is warring against those who have perverted Islam during the first of two speeches at this week’s White House summit on countering violent extremism. The president added that Muslims in the US and the world over have a responsibility to fight the idea that terrorist groups speak on their behalf. [The Guardian] President Obama defended the White House’s avoidance of references to “Islamic” or “jihadist” ideologies, citing a strategic logic to his vocabulary and saying that labeling beliefs and behavior as such plays into the hands of terrorists. [New York Times’ Scott Shane]

The full text of his comments is available here.

Russia’s spy chief will attend this week’s summit on countering violent extremism, despite tensions between Washington and the Kremlin. [AP]

The White House will work closely with tech firms to tackle radical groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State online, part of a newly unveiled campaign to counter “violent extremist messaging.” [Politico’s Tom Romm]

President Obama described the battle against violent extremism as “ultimately a battle for hearts and minds,” in an op-ed for the LA Times, adding that efforts to counter the extremist threat “will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process.”

“Military force alone won’t achieve victory.” Secretary of State John Kerry outlines the Obama Administration’s strategy to tackle violent extremism in a piece for the Wall Street Journal. Kerry states the importance of “building a global partnership” as terrorists “require acquiescence from the broader population, if not outright support.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board contends that “more sophisticated argument” will be needed to counter radical Islamism and argues that, above all, “we need to recognize that the strength of radical Islamists is directly correlated to their battlefield success.”

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian rebels have rejected a UN ceasefire proposal for the city of Aleppo, agreed to by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, citing a lack of good faith on Assad’s part during the civil war thus far. A spokesperson for the Islam Army, one of the insurgencies fighting the Assad regime, said that by accepting the ceasefire proposal, what the regime actually wants is for the rebels to hand over their weapons. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

The US has screened roughly 1,200 moderate Syrian rebels for participation in a new training program so that they might return to the battlefield in Syria and take on the Islamic State. The fighters will be continuously screened throughout their training and may go to any of three training facilities in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. [AP]

The Islamic State is at risk of losing its main supply route, a highway which stretches from the group’s Iraqi stronghold in Mosul up to the “caliphate’s” de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and Coalition military partners carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 17. Separately, the US and partner forces conducted a further 14 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

“Uneasy alliances” are a hallmark of the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq; the AP explores some of the fractured relationships between largely autonomous Kurds and the Arab-led government in Baghdad.

LIBYA, EGYPT, and the ISLAMIC STATE

Libya is urging the UN Security Council to lift an arms embargo on the country to enable it to effectively tackle the threat posed to the already unstable country by the Islamic State and other militants. Egypt expressed support for Libya’s proposal during an emergency meeting of the council yesterday. [BBC] The UN’s Special Representative to Libya called for swift agreement amongst the main parties to solve the political conflict in the country. [UN News Centre]

Italy has called for international action to help in forging a political solution to the crisis in Libya, urging for more concerted diplomatic efforts as unattended the situation may produce a broken and chaotic state on Europe’s doorstep. [Wall Street Journal’s Giada Zampano]

The US will not back the airstrikes carried out by Egypt in Libya against the Islamic State, leaving Egypt’s military “very frustrated” with the US, though the frustration is “mutual,” according to an official speaking to The Daily Beast.

Qatar has recalled its ambassador to Egypt “for consultation” after a fall out over Cairo’s decision to launch airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya, according to Qatar News Agency. [Al Jazeera]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists swiftly denounced Ukraine’s request, saying that their presence would constitute a violation of the truce. [Reuters]

Ukrainian forces suffered major losses in their retreat from Debaltseve, both in equipment and human life; the political fallout and the military situation remain uncertain in the wake of the loss. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and David M. Herszenhorn] Alex Luhn and Oksana Grysenko speak to soldiers about their experience of the “stinging defeat.” [The Guardian]

The Baltic States face a “real and present danger” of an attempt by Russia to destabilize them, according to UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. [BBC]

Western cynicism about Russian President Vladimir Putin is worsening the situation in Ukraine, argues Mary Dejevsky, adding that Russia may well want the ceasefire to hold as “the Minsk agreement offers Russia a dignified way of accepting Ukraine’s post-Soviet emergence as an independent state.” [The Guardian]

The Washington Post editorial board criticizes President Obama’s “strategic patience” on Ukraine, arguing that “European leaders will not stop Russian aggression without a determined U.S. president.”

GUANTANAMO BAY

David Hicks, an Australian held at Guantanamo from 2002-2007, has won his appeal before a military appeals court, which found that his actions in Afghanistan did not constitute a war crime. [Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin] Hicks has spoken out about the torture he alleges he was subjected to during his detention, saying that he wants the Australian government to pay for treatment of ailments resulting from the abuse. [Reuters’ Jane Wardell and David Alexander]

Poland has agreed to pay $262,000 to two Guantanamo Bay inmates, in compliance with an ECtHR order to pay reparations for the state’s role in hosting a CIA secret prison where the men were subjected to torture. [The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas]

Guantanamo Bay interrogator and ex Chicago cop, Richard Zuley, used similar “brutal” techniques to extract confessions – particularly from minorities – while working as a detective in Chicago for years prior to his stint at Guantanamo, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman has uncovered.

Controversy has arisen over the six former Guantanamo detainees resettled in Uruguay, with many criticizing the group for a lack of worth ethic. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The White House has named DJ Patil as its first Chief Data Scientist and Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy; the role will involve helping the US government maximize its investments in big data and advice on policy issues and technology practices. [Wired’s Jessi Hempel]

President Obama has named Joseph Clancy, his acting director and former protective detail leader, as the new head of the Secret Service, choosing a an experienced insider despite calls from Congress to bring in fresh management for the agency. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura]

Two Russian military aircraft have been seen off the southwest coast of the UK, according to the Ministry of Defense, leading the Royal Air Force to scramble jets and escort the two planes until they left the “U.K. area of interest.” [BBC]

The Afghan Taliban has signaled a willingness to engage in peace talks which could be held later today, according to sources in the Pakistani military. The first round of peace talks with US officials would be held in Qatar lateThursday according to a member of the Afghan Taliban however no statement from the US or Qatar on the subject has been made. [Reuters’ Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Jibran Ahmad]

Boko Haram is losing ground to Chadian troops who have pushed into a town 50 miles from the “beleaguered” Nigerian state capital of Maiduguri which has been surrounded by the militants group for months. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter] And Chad, Niger, and Cameroon are hoping to pin down Boko Haram within Nigeria’s borders before the start of a major offensive against the group at the end of the month. [Reuters]

The White House has accused Israel of “cherry picking” information that distorts the American position in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

London-based human rights group Privacy International has launched an initiative facilitating members of the public, from anywhere, to partake in a lawsuit challenging the covert spying programs of the UK’s NSA equivalent, GCHQ. The campaign was made possible due to a court ruling earlier this month that held intelligence sharing between the NSA and GCHQ was unlawful due to the level of secrecy. [The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher]

Former Gov. Jeb Bush made extensive comments about foreign policy yesterday, his broadest statement on the subject since announcing he is considering running for the GOP presidential nomination. Alan Rappeport outlines the key points from his speech. [New York Times] Bush’s familial connection to the White House may “prove far more of a double burden,” say some conservative pundits, notes Michael Hirsh analyzing Bush’s foreign policy speech that was “larded with generalizations.” [Politico Magazine]

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby is stepping down from his post as incumbent Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wishes to revisit the role, and whether it is appropriate to have someone in uniform filling the role. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

“Destroyed by the Espionage Act.” Peter Maass provides the story of Stephen King, the former State Department expert currently serving a prison sentence for leaking to Fox News reporter James Rosen. [The Intercept]

Obama’s foreign policy is the “American left’s version of realpolitik,” writes Daniel Henninger noting that the president’s “foreign-policy reductionism” has consequences. [Wall Street Journal] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security