News Roundup and Notes: March 26, 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

Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes in Yemen, targeting Shi’ite Houthi rebels fighting to oust the country’s president. A number of regional powers including Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan expressed a willingness to commit ground troops to the offensive. The United States is providing “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi-led forces attacking the rebels, the White House confirmed. [The Guardian’s Dan Roberts and Kareem Shaheen; Reuters’ Khaled Abdallah and Sami Aboudi]  To have Yemen fail “is not an option for us,” said the Saudi Ambassador. [AP]

China is deeply concerned by the worsening crisis in Yemen, said the country’s foreign ministry, calling on a diplomatic solution to the situation in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen. [Reuters]  Iran’s foreign ministry has echoed this sentiment, saying that airstrikes are a “dangerous step” that will worsen the crisis. [AP]

Houthi rebels have seized control of secret files held by Yemeni security forces detailing U.S. intelligence operations in the country, exposing names of confidential informants and plans for American drone strikes, say officials. [LA Times’ Brian Bennett and Zaid Al-Alayaa]

The conflict gripping Yemen has sparked renewed calls for southern independence, with many in the south willing to fight, not to restore President Hadi’s rule, but to carve out their own independence. [AP’s Hamza Hendawi]

The Economist provides an overview of the situation in Yemen leading up to Saudi airstrikes, analyzing the parties involved and the challenging campaign to come.

“Is Yemen about to turn into a regional battleground?” asks Gregory D. Johnsen, noting that whether regional powers take a similar step back to the U.S. will determine if Yemen “merely implodes or if it explodes.” [Buzzfeed]

With the U.S. left with few avenues for tackling Islamist extremists in Yemen, questions are being asked about whether the “Obama administration pursued too narrow a strategy” in the fight against AQAP. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Tim Mak]

IRAQ and SYRIA

U.S.-led coalition launches airstrikes on Tikrit. At the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the coalition has launched airstrikes to support Iraqi security forces in their ground operations. [DIPNOTE]  Coalition and Iraqi air forces targeted Tikrit’s palace compound today, where ISIS militants have been holding out for over three weeks. [Reuters’ Saif Hameed and Ahmed Rasheed]

The decision to back the Tikrit fight with air support pulls the U.S. into a “messy battle” which puts the coalition on the same side as Iranian-backed militia, opening a new chapter in the war. [Reuters’ Amhed Rasheed and Phil Stewart]  U.S. officials said that the necessity of strikes exposed the weakness of Iranian support for Iraq, difficulties which the U.S. hopes to use to “drive a wedge” between the two countries. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes et al]

U.S. officials are increasingly concerned over Iran’s expanding military role in Iraq, and the threat it may pose to American troops in the country, reports Michael Crowley. [Politico] 

A Turkish court has ordered a website popular with jihadists to be blocked; the website had been used to recruit Turks to join the Islamic State and had evaded Turkey’s strict Internet regulations for years. [New York Times’ Ceylan Yeginsu]

Dominic Casciani profiles Britons who have joined jihadist groups, attempting to map the scale of this extremism in Iraq and Syria for the BBC.

Army Under Secretary Brad R. Carson apologized for the military’s treatment of U.S. service members exposed to chemical weapons during the Iraq war, and announced new efforts to provide medical support to those with ongoing health problems arising from the exposure. [New York Times’ C.J. Chivers]

SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL CHARGED 

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been formally charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy; his case has been scheduled for an Article 32 preliminary hearing at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. [DoD News; AP’s Allen G. Breed]

The charges are reigniting debate over the prisoner swap with the Taliban last year, which saw the U.S. releasing five Guantanamo Bay detainees to secure the release of Bergdahl who was being held by the group. [Politico’s Philip Ewing]

Bergdahl’s trajectory is “a parable of how narratives about the war in Afghanistan did not pan out,” writes Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast] And the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that the desertion charges highlight the “extravagant price the U.S. has paid” for President Obama’s desire to “score political points” and “‘whittle away’ the killers at Guantanamo.”

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Nuclear talks resume today. A senior State Department official said yesterday that it is possible to reach agreement by the March 31 deadline, but added that several complex issues could still hamper the talks. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

A major stumbling block is Tehran’s failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe into Iran’s previous atomic weapons efforts, according to those close to the negotiations. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman] Julian Borger also reports on the dilemma facing the P5+1 over the “unresolved question” of whether Tehran explored nuclear weapons design in the past. [The Guardian]

Israel’s denial of the report that it spied on U.S. negotiations with Iran is contradicted by secret NSA documents, which showcase Israel’s aggressive electronic surveillance of the U.S. government. [The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman]

The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is attempting to smooth tensions with the United States, while also increasing his efforts to prevent a deal with Iran from being concluded. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Ashley Parker]

“[O]nly military action” can halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, argues former U.S. ambassador to the UN John R. Bolton, warning that a deal with Tehran will lead to a “thoroughly nuclear-weaponized Middle East.” [New York Times]

Iran’s hardliners oppose a nuclear deal because it would seriously undermine their ideology, based on “anti-Americanism as a legitimizing force,” writes Sadegh Zibakalam. [Politico Magazine] 

Gov. Scott Walker said he would reject any nuclear deal on his first day in office if elected president, in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt. 

NIGERIA

A Nigerian government spokesperson has denied reports of a large-scale kidnapping by Boko Haram in the northeastern town of Damasak. [Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff] 

Concerns remain over the upcoming election, with the ongoing threat of Boko Haram’s pledge to disrupt the vote and tensions over the potential for vote-rigging mounting. [Wall Street Journal’s Patrick McGroarty  and Drew Hinshaw] 

Boko Haram is using civilians as human shields as fighters from the group flee amid an offensive by multinational forces, says a Nigerian official. [Washington Post’s Michelle Faul and Edwin Kindzeka Moki]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center chief is being removed from his post. His removal marks a “watershed moment” in counterterrorism strategy, and is part of a major reorganization under CIA Director John Brennan. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]

The shift in America’s Afghanistan drawdown plans is a consequence of the dire situation in the country, but also the “broad lobbying effort” by an influential cross-section of U.S. security and foreign policy figures, reports Matthew Rosenberg. [New York Times]

Military bureaucrats are pushing forces in conflict zones to use an in-house intelligence system that has repeatedly failed independent reviews, while blocking requests from troops to use commercial alternatives, reports Ken Dilanian. [AP]

The FBI has made good progress since 9/11 but needs to improve its ability to collect information and effectively analyze it, according to a new report from the FBI 9/11 Review Commission. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

House Republicans have approved a 2016 budget that would increase defense spending next year, boosting the Pentagon’s war account to $96 billion. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad] 

A Canadian judge will decide whether to grant bail to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, who pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. soldier. [AP] 

Pakistan’s military has begun an offensive to gain control of the Tirah Valley, a militant hotbed close to the Afghan border, with dozens of Pakistani soldiers and militants already killed in fighting. [New York Times’ Ismail Khan]

Palestinian armed groups used indiscriminate projectiles during the 2014 Gaza war, killing both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, with some attacks amounting to war crimes, according to a new Amnesty International report.

A suicide bomber in Kabul detonated a car near Afghanistan’s defense and finance ministry buildings yesterday, killing at least six people. [CNN’s Masoud Popalzai]

A passenger bus hit a landmine in eastern Ukraine, killing at least four people. [BBC]

President Obama appears to be “attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy [in the Middle East] in a generation,” writes Max Boot, who describes the president’s doctrine as “U.S. put[ting] down the burden, and Iran pick[ing] up the slack.” [Wall Street Journal]

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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