News Roundup and Notes: August 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

A suicide attack targeted the offices of a Kurdish security agency in the northeast of Syria today, killing at least 10 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. [Reuters]

ISIS has beheaded one of Syria’s leading antiquities scholars in the ancient town of Palmyra, according to Syrian state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Islamic State took control of Palmyra in May, sparking concerns that the militants would destroy its 2,000 year old Roman-era city. [AP; BBC]

“Stalled” diplomacy on the Syrian conflict has taken on a new sense of “urgency” amid concerns over the collapse of the Assad regime and the impact of the conclusion of the Iran nuclear accord; Michael Pizzi explores recent developments at Al Jazeera America.

The handling of the case of Umm Sayyaf is “highly unusual” and raises questions about the treatment of future ISIS militants detained overseas by US authorities; US forces handed the ISIS member, captured in a May raid, over to Iraq’s Kurdish regional government in Erbil. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef]

AFGHANISTAN

Former warlord and Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostrum is causing concern by mobilizing a force of private militias along with some Afghan security forces in the fight against the Taliban in the north of the country. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal]  The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an ISIS affiliated group, has emerged as a strong force on the battlefield in northern Afghanistan. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Nathan Hodge]

The findings of an investigation into the 2012 incident during which Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales killed 16 Afghan civilians has been released. The report found, amongst other things, that the post where Bales served was suffering from “low standards of personal conduct and discipline.” [Reuters’ David Alexander]

“Cultural training and deep, nuanced understanding of Afghan politics and history were in short supply in the Army.” Vanessa M. Gezari discusses the US Army social-science program called the Human Terrain System, the array of problems it faced, and its “quiet demise,” at the New York Times.

IRAN

Sen Robert Menendez will oppose the Iran nuclear deal, citing concerns that the agreement fails to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state “at a time of its choosing.” [Politico’s Burgess Everett]  Pro-Iran deal group, CREDO Action, accused Menendez of being a “warmonger” following the New Jersey Democrat’s announcement of his opposition yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is holding out on announcing whether or not he supports the nuclear accord, angering liberal groups. Eighteen Senate Democrats remain undecided. [Politico’s Alexander Bolton]

President Obama has a “great likelihood of success” getting the deal through Congress, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, conceding the limited options available to him in order to shut the agreement down. [AP]

“[T]he math remains firmly on Obama’s side.” Burgess Everett suggests that the opposition of Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez is unlikely to have much of an impact on the GOP’s plan to derail the agreement. [Politico]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin “take[s] delight” in referring to the country’s nuclear capabilities, changing decades of diplomatic practice where states with nuclear capacity only hint at their abilities, writes Elisabeth Braw. [Politico]

Russian military deaths during “peacetime” are considered an official state secret; Anna Nemtsova explains how while Ukrainian people are informed of the deaths on their side, Russians are “kept in the dark” about military casualties. [The Daily Beast]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Arab League has agreed to a call from Libya’s internationally recognized government urging fellow Arab states to provide military support to assist in the fight against the Islamic State there. Libya’s foreign minister Mohamed el-Dayri said that Libyans could not supress the militant group’s grip on the city of Surt at a meeting of Arab diplomats in Cairo on Tuesday. [Al Arabiya; New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

A suspected Boko Haram attack in northeastern Nigeria killed as many as 60 people last Thursday, however details are only just emerging. Nigerian security forces have since pushed Boko Haram out of the attacked village in Yobe state. [BBC; Wall Street Journal’s Gbenga Akingbule]

There “is no reason” that women should be barred from Navy SEAL teams if they measure up, chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, said in an interview with Defense News, adding that “we’re on track.” [Navy Times’ David Larter and Meghann Myers]

Nearly 400 children have been killed during fighting in Yemen, and a similar number of minors have been recruited into armed groups, UNICEF said in a report which warns that the conflict shows “no sign of resolution.” [AP’s Cara Anna]

The US has threatened sanctions against “those who undermine the peace process” in South Sudan, following President Salva Kiir’s refusal to sign a peace agreement halting the civil war yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael D. Shear]

The UN Security Council welcomed Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s commitment to enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual abuse by UN personnel, stressing the importance of a prompt investigation into recent allegations of misconduct by peacekeepers, in a press statement.

A Palestinian hunger-striker is “flummoxing Israel’s legal, medical, political and security systems,” report Jodi Rudoren and Diaa Hadid; Mohammad Allan has not eaten since June 16, refusing to do so until he is released. [New York Times] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security