News Roundup and Notes: March 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.

YEMEN

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has fled Aden. The president’s departure comes just hours after Houthi fighters claimed to have seized an airbase where U.S. troops previously advised the country in the fight against AQAP. There are reports that the country’s defense minister has been arrested. [Al JazeeraAP]

President Hadi yesterday requested the UN Security Council to authorize military intervention to assist his government to prevent the progression of Houthi rebels. [Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia has begun moving heavy military equipment close to its border with Yemen, U.S. officials said yesterday, raising concerns that it will be pulled into Yemen’s spiralling conflict. [Reuters]

AFGHANISTAN

President Obama’s decision to slow the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan will not change his 2017 exit plan. [Reuters’ Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton; White House]  The decision is partly designed to increase U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the country, including the ability to carry out drone strikes, said administration officials yesterday. [ReutersNew York Times’ Michael D. Shear and Mark Mazzetti]

The Washington Post editorial board believes the drawdown adjustment “still falls short” of what the new Afghan government will need for “a reasonable chance of success.”

IRAQ and SYRIA

The U.S. has begun providing Iraq with aerial intelligence in the halted battle to push the Islamic State from Tikrit, drawing the U.S. even closer in coordination with Iranian-backed militias involved in the offensive. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Julian E. Barnes]  Iraqi forces have had to shift tactics in the battle for Tikrit, attempting to seal off the areas still held by militants rather than storming the city, highlighting the challenges facing the offensive, write Anne Bernard and Kareem Fahim. [New York Times]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for a united front with Iraq in the fight against terrorism, during talks with Iraq’s foreign minister in Damascus yesterday. [Reuters]

Syrian opposition forces have launched an offensive targeting Idlib, the major government-held Syrian city; rebels currently hold much of the countryside and towns across Idlib province. [Washington Post’s Ryan Lucas]  And Syrian rebels have seized control of a town close to the Jordanian border following four days of fighting with government forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today. [Reuters]

Hezbollah is preparing a major offensive against the Islamic State and other armed Sunni groups in a mountainous region spanning Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. [Al Jazeera America]

Islamic State fighters publicly stoned a man and woman to death on adultery charges in Mosul yesterday, and publicly beheaded three men accused of being related to opponents of the group later in the day. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 23. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further eight strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Sen. Mark Warner believes U.S. service members mentioned on an ISIS “hit list” need assistance “immediately,” calling on Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to take all possible steps to assure their safety. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

Australian counterterror authorities have stopped some 200 suspected supporters of militant groups from leaving the country as part of a wider effort to block recruitment by the Islamic State and others. [BBC]

Morocco has reportedly broken up an Islamic State cell plotting attacks across the country, following operations by security forces in a number of cities. [Al Jazeera]

Online vigilantes are actively working to fight the Islamic State on the Internet, working to subvert the group’s aggressive use of social media, particularly on Twitter. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Iran is reportedly avoiding any formal “framework” agreement at this stage, pushing for a general statement of “understanding” instead, according to Western diplomats. The lack of specifics from Iran is likely to bring the Obama administration under further pressure from Congress. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon]

France is playing “bad cop” as the March 31 deadline approaches, taking the hardest line of the remaining negotiating countries in talks with Iran, reports Michael Pizzi. [Al Jazeera America]

Pursuit of research and development for Tehran’s nuclear program could be the “key domestic selling point” of any deal for Iranians, explains Mohammad Ali Shabani. [Al-Monitor]

The report of Israel spying on the Iran negotiations has not angered key Democrats and Republicans, although some GOP lawmakers clarified they had not received any Israeli intelligence. [The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak; The Hill’s Martin Matishak and Scott Wong]  The Israeli push to undermine congressional support for a nuclear deal has not made a difference, according to Senate Democrats, and it has made some lawmakers more sympathetic to the administration. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal “seems very dim,” President Obama said during a news conference yesterday, referencing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election comments on Palestinian statehood. Obama declined to comment on the report that Israel spied on the Iran negotiations. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]  The administration’s mounting criticism of Netanyahu is being viewed by some Israeli analysts as a step too far, inviting new sympathy for the Israeli leader. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on Obama’s “Israel tantrum,” noting the problems with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s speech on Monday that “invoke[d] the lexicon of Palestinian terrorists to describe Israel’s democracy.”

GUANTANAMO BAY

Pentagon prosecutors do not have to identify the intended method of execution of USS Cole bombing suspect, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a judge held yesterday. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Murtaza Hussain profiles Guantanamo detainee Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, detailing the Yemeni national’s petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. [The Intercept]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Top U.S. technology firms and privacy groups are pressuring Congress to limit the government’s surveillance powers ahead of the nearing deadline for legislative action in relation to the Patriot Act. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

The proposed 2016 war budget—seeking to add around $38 billion to the administration’s $58 billion war spending request—risks creating an authorized and permanent “slush fund,” report Jeremy Herb and Bryan Bender. [Politico]

Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy appeared before a congressional committee yesterday to answer questions over his handling of the allegations that two agents disrupted a bomb investigation on March 4 after driving into a White House security barrier. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

Pakistani military jets killed at least 30 suspected militants in airstrikes targeting the Khyber tribal region today. [Dawn’s Ali Akbar]

Boko Haram kidnapped more than 400 women and children from Damasak, as fighters left the town that was freed by forces from Niger and Chad, local residents said yesterday. [Reuters]

Libya’s Islamic State affiliate group has claimed responsibility for a series of car bomb attacks that killed 12 people in Benghazi yesterday. [AP’s Esam Mohamed]

NATO is “stuck at crossroads” over Ukraine, struggling over whether to step up confrontation with Russia or accept the “frozen conflict” which has emerged in Ukraine, according to David Ignatius. [Washington Post]

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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