News Roundup and Notes: February 23, 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

Lawmakers will need to confront the challenging task of how the U.S. should counter terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, as Congress returns to Washington this week. However, lawmakers remain split over President Obama’s AUMF request. [Washington Post’s Paul Kane]

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will hold a closed-door conference in Kuwait today to discuss the American strategy against the Islamic State with senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

The Turkish military sent troops far into Syria to recover the remains of a major historical figure and to evacuate the guards protecting his besieged tomb late Saturday. The Syrian government accused Turkey of “flagrant aggression,” but Turkey said it notified the Syrian government, rebel leaders and coalition forces of the operation, which appeared to be the country’s first major ground incursion into Syria since the start of the civil war. [New York Times’ Sebnam Arsu] 

The UN is considering ways to stop the “exponential rise” in atrocities being committed in the Syrian conflict, with UN investigators prepared to publish confidential lists of alleged war criminals in the country. [Al Jazeera]

The UN special envoy to Syria is heading to Damascus in an attempt to contain fighting in Aleppo, where rebel forces have killed over 300 government troops in the past week. [Al Jazeera]

A French aircraft carrier has begun military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq, according to a French military source speaking today. [Reuters]

The Islamic State is implementing a complex global strategy across three geographic rings, according to a recent report for the Institute for the Study of War, explain Jessica Lewis McFate and Harleen Gambhir, the researcher responsible for the study. [Wall Street Journal]

The Islamic State has released a video showing 21 imprisoned Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters being paraded through the streets of Kirkuk in cages. The fate of the prisoners is unclear though they are shown alive at the end of the video. [CNN’s Yousuf Basil and Holly Yan]

An increased demand for military equipment, including precision weapons, is expected due to heightened involvement in the Middle East, especially from regional buyers contributing to the fight against the Islamic State, says the Pentagon’s acquisition chief Frank Kendall. [Wall Street Journal’s Robert Wall]

To defeat the enemy “you first must admit they exist;” former DIA director Michael Flynn explains why the Iraq offensive to retake Mosul will fail unless the Obama administration gains a deeper understanding of the threat ISIS poses and takes “dramatically more action” in Iraq. [Politico Magazine]

Iraqi Kurds are prepared to begin the offensive to recapture Mosul; Ari Shapiro interviews the head of the Kurdish security and intelligence services, Masrour Barzani for NPR.

U.K. police forces are in Turkey as the search for three British schoolgirls thought to be on their way to join the Islamic State in Syria continues. [BBC]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Ukraine said it could not begin to withdraw heavy weaponry from the front lines this morning, as required under the shaky ceasefire, as its military positions in the east were still under attack from pro-Russian rebels. [Reuters’ Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev]

A bomb in the city of Kharkiv killed two people yesterday at a march marking the first anniversary of the ouster of former president Viktor Yanu­kovych. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]

The two sides carried out a prisoner exchange over the weekend, involving 139 Ukrainian troops and 52 rebels. [AP’s Jim Heintz]

The Obama administration is weighing new sanctions against Moscow, in light of Russia’s continued “land-grabbing” in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Michael Birnbaum]

YEMEN

Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi escaped house arrest on Saturday. The country’s president had been under house arrest since his resignation on Jan. 22, following the Houthi takeover. A number of conflicting accounts have surfaced over the circumstances of his escape from Sana’a. [New York Times’ Shuaib Almosawa and Rod Nordland]  On Sunday, Hadi sought to resume presidential duties, holding his first public meeting with officials since fleeing house arrest. [Reuters]

Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Hadi took to the streets of seven Yemeni provinces yesterday, following his escape from house arrest. [CNN’s Hakim Almasmari]

Houthi rebels have taken “partial” control of the country’s air force, making comprehensive changes to the air force leadership. [al-Araby al-Jaheed]

Important Middle Eastern shipping routes are secure despite violence and political instability in Yemen, as well as seizure of significant territory in the region by Islamic State militants, according to a senior U.S. naval officer speaking today. [Reuters]

AFGHANISTAN

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Saturday, where he suggested the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan could be slowed down to ensure that the progress made thus far “sticks.” [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]  During a Q&A session in Kandahar, Carter also expressed openness toward loosening the ban on transgender service members. [Washington Post’s Sandhya Somashekhar]

The U.S. military is considering extending its mission in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province into next year rather than completing the mission at the end of 2015 as currently planned, according to defense officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

The Afghan Taliban has reopened its office in Doha, Qatar and the Taliban is now holding initial talks with Kabul, with Pakistan as facilitator. [Dawn]

IRAN

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Sunday as part of bilateral talks to further negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his criticism of the diplomatic efforts. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

Will an Iran deal create a new nuclear proliferation standard? Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiations, explores the question at Al-Monitor.

President Obama faces a “credibility gap” in persuading Congress to accept an agreement with Iran, Fred Hiatt explains why. [Washington Post]

Hostilities between the U.S. and Iran are increasingly playing out through cyberwarfare, according to a recently disclosed NSA document, despite ongoing diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

Russia has offered Iran its latest anti-aircraft missiles, after a deal to provide less powerful S-300 missiles was scrapped amid pressure from the U.S. and Israel. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Al-Shabaab released a propaganda video on Saturday calling for attacks on shopping malls in Western countries, singling out a Minnesota mall among others. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told CNN’s “State of the Union” that there is “no credible or specific evidence” of a mall attack, but warned shoppers to be careful.

A female child suicide bomber in Nigeria killed herself and four others in the northeastern town of Potiskum on Sunday. Boko Haram is suspected to be responsible for the attack, raising concerns that the group is using kidnap victims as bombers. [AP]  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani discusses the disconnect between north and south Nigeria with respect to Boko Haram, noting that in the south many consider the terrorist group to be “some sort of karma inflicted on the north.” [New York Times]

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott unveiled a new counter-terrorism strategy today—in response to the Sydney siege last December—which will include tougher visa, citizenship, and immigration measures. [ABC News’ James Bennett]

Libya’s largest oil field resumed oil flow yesterday, a week after a key pipeline was blown up by unknown militants; Libyan officials have accused the Islamic State of carrying out the attack. [Wall Street Journal’s Benoît Faucon]

Egyptian President Adbel Fattah el-Sisi has cited a growing need for a joint Arab military force to tackle armed factions posing an escalated threat to the region. [Al Jazeera]

The retrial of two Al Jazeera journalists who are facing terror-related charges in Egypt has been adjourned until March 8. [Al Jazeera]

The U.S. must not ignore North Korea’s human rights record amid other pressing issues, including dealing with the country’s cyberattacks and nuclear weapons, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

Laura Poitras won an Academy Award for her documentary “Citizenfour,” following former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. [The Intercept’s Peter Maass]  Snowden sent a statement through the ACLU praising the documentary and welcoming Poitras’ win. [Politico’s Nick Gass]

Hundreds of secret intelligence documents from global spy agencies have been leaked to Al Jazeera. Over the coming days Al Jazeera will publish “The Spy Cables,” in collaboration with The Guardian, offering an “unprecedented insight” into human intelligence operational dealings.

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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