News Roundup and Notes: February 25, 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

The ban on U.S. troops engaging in “enduring offensive ground combat operations” against ISIS would not preclude troops from assisting Iraqi soldiers in an “overnight deal” or a “rescue operation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in relation to the language used in the president’s proposed AUMF. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The Senate Armed Services Committee could share responsibility in drafting the AUMF against the Islamic State, particularly if it “has to do with movement or numbers of troops or military presence,” committee chairman John McCain said on Tuesday. [CQ Roll Call’s Megan Scully]

The campaign against ISIS should not involve Western ground troops, but should rely instead on air power and “soldiers from the region,” former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said yesterday. [Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti]

There is growing public support for the battle against ISIS, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, which also finds that 70% of Americans approve of the U.S. policy to never pay ransom for hostages.

U.S. and coalition military forces conducted 16 airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria, and separately carried out five airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq on February 23. [Central Command]

The Syrian government has targeted hundreds of sites in indiscriminate attacks using air-dropped munitions, including barrel bombs, over the past year, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

ISIS militants have kidnapped at least 150 Assyrian Christian from villages in northeastern Syria, activists said yesterday. [Reuters’ Suleiman Al-Khalidi]

Three British schoolgirls suspected of attempting to join the Islamic State are believed to have crossed into Syria from Turkey, according to U.K. police. [BBC]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The truce in eastern Ukraine appears to be in place today, as rebels withdrew their weaponry from the frontlines, report Natalia Zinets and Anton Zverev. However, a currency collapse has edged the country closer to bankruptcy. [Reuters]

Ukraine will buy defensive weapons from the U.A.E., President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday, in an apparent move to sidestep Western reluctance to arm Kiev’s troops against pro-Russian separatists. [Wall Street Journal’s Robert Wall and James Marson]

Moscow will face further sanctions if rebels attack Mariupol, Ukraine’s government-controlled port, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned in a radio interview. [Al Jazeera]

OSCE monitors require greater assistance, including further drones and radar equipment to monitor the conflict when they are not granted access on the ground, the secretary general of the organization has said. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Ukraine’s Donbass region has experienced “the worst fighting … since World War II,” reports Anna Nemtsova. [The Daily Beast]

Ukraine is “today’s West Berlin,” writes former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, outlining the steps necessary to defend Ukraine’s interests. [Washington Post]

AFGHANISTAN

The use of torture in Afghan detention centers is decreasing but still widespread, and its use is particularly systematic in a number of centers, according to a new report released today by the UN. [The Guardian’s Sune Engel Rasmussen]

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said that the Taliban must play a formal role in Afghanistan in order for there to be peace, and that the inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani marks a new opportunity for reconciliation between the Taliban and Kabul. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Saeed Shah]

The threat of the Islamic State to Afghanistan has sparked the resurgence of militia in the country, mostly comprising former mujahedeen commanders committed to preventing Iraq and Syria-based extremists from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

The case of convicted First Lt. Clint Lorance has become a “cause célèbre” among conservative commentators but the subject of scorn among many of his platoon; Dave Philipps discusses the ongoing impact of the case which is one of the few times an American has been convicted for crimes committed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. [New York Times]

IRAN

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to rebut critics of a potential nuclear accord with Iran, only a week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver his planned Congressional address against the emerging deal. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

The White House denied reports that an Iran deal would place strict nuclear restrictions on Tehran for 10 years, with press secretary Josh Earnest declining to comment on other details of the negotiations. [The Hill’s David McCabe]

The International Atomic Energy Agency meeting with Iran has resulted in a “better understanding” between the sides, but limited progress was made in the agency’s efforts to investigate Tehran’s past nuclear activity. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched a large air defense and naval drill in the Gulf during which dozens of speedboats surrounded a mock U.S. aircraft carrier, reports the AP.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The tech industry is seeking to employ former NSA staff so as to draw on their experience in designing security products, even as the industry continues to fight against the agency’s surveillance. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The FBI’s cybercrime investigations would “obviously” be impacted if lawmakers fail to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, assistant director of the agency’s Cyber Division, Joseph Demarest, said yesterday. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined an invitation to meet U.S. Senate Democrats during his visit to Washington next week, citing concerns that it could “compound the misperception of partisanship” surrounding his trip, reports the AP.

National security adviser Susan E. Rice described Netanyahu’s decision to speak before Congress as “destructive,” by injecting an unfortunate “degree of partisanship.” [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

A Palestinian mosque in the occupied West Bank was set alight today; Hebrew graffiti at the scene suggests a far-right Israeli group was responsible for the attack, officials say. [Reuters]

YEMEN

Yemen’s Houthi rebels took over a government special forces army base in Sana’s early today following clashes in which at least 10 people were killed. [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari]

A French humanitarian worker has been kidnapped in Sana’a; the French foreign ministry confirmed yesterday that a woman working for the World Bank was taken in front of a ministry in Yemen. [France 24]

The UN Security Council has renewed the mandate of a Yemen sanctions panel for 13 months to assist in facilitating political transition in the country. [UN News Centre]

SPY CABLES

Africa has been described as the “El Dorado of espionage,” with the continent increasingly becoming the focus of international spying with South Africa serving as the primary gateway, according to secret intelligence documents seen by The Guardian, report Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill.

Individuals claiming to be former Mossad agents threatened South Africa with a devastating cyberattack unless the country stamped out the growing campaign to boycott Israel, according to spy cables obtained by Al Jazeera.   The secret documents also indicated a stream of politicized requests by intelligence agencies to South Africa’s State Security Agency for information on “rogue NGOs,” including Greenpeace. [Al Jazeera’s Rahul Radhakrishnan and Will Jordan]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Amnesty International has called on the UN Security Council’s P5 to give up their veto power in situations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In its annual report for 2014, the organization said that the UN Security Council had “miserably failed” to protect civilians. [BBC]  In an op-ed for the New York Times, Amnesty International’s secretary general Salil Shetty says this “fundamental step” would “unshackle” the Security Council.

A defense attorney for the USS Cole suspect relied on recently disclosed emails to portray the Pentagon as unlawfully interfering in death penalty trials by ordering judges to live at Guantanamo until their completion. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]  David Welna notes how the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s interrogation program is “reshaping” the nature of conversation at Guantanamo trials. [NPR]

A U.S. citizen has been kidnapped in central Nigeria; the missionary was taken from a school in an area prone to kidnappings for ransom and officials have said it is unlikely Boko Haram is behind the incident. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter]  The “smothering” impact of Boko Haram on Chad’s economy has “signaled a call to arms” in the country, and its army is now “swinging the momentum” of the conflict out of Boko Haram’s favour, report Michael M. Phillips and Drew Hinshaw. [Wall Street Journal]

Julian Assange is appealing to Sweden’s supreme court in a final attempt to have the arrest warrant against him revoked. [The Guardian’s David Crouch]

The U.S. is proposing a UN sanctions panel for the South Sudan crisis; an arms embargo has not been ruled out should the warring sides fail to stick to a peace agreement. [Reuters]

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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