News Roundup and Notes: September 17, 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

Only a very small number of US-trained Syrian fighters remain in the fight against the Islamic State; head of Central Command, Gen Lloyd Austin III told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only four or five of the original 54 Syrians trained are still fighting. Austin also told the panel that the US would not achieve its goal of training 5,000 Syrians anytime soon, reports Helene Cooper. [New York Times]

Secretary of State John Kerry is talking to the White House and the Pentagon regarding a Kremlin proposal to engage in military talks over Syria, he said yesterday; Kerry did not provide details but suggested the proposal concerned deconfliction. [Reuters]

Syria’s Army has begun using weapons supplied by Russia, according to a Syrian military source. [Reuters’ Tom Perry]  And a convoy of Russian troops crossing Syria has sparked claims that bolstered support of the Assad regime could lead to Moscow “effectively running the war,” reports Martin Chulov. [The Guardian]

Syria provides an opportunity for Russia to “get back in the west’s good graces in a hurry,” though the stakes for President Putin are high. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew E Kramer]

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ask Russia’s President Putin about the purpose, scope and expected duration of the deployment of Russian military personnel and equipment in Syria during a visit to Moscow scheduled for next week. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

The UK’s attorney general has refused to disclose the content of his advice about the legal justification for Royal Air Force (RAF) drone strikes in Syria, citing the need for legal advice taken by the government to be “full and frank.” [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]

British RAF forces airstrikes have killed roughly 330 fighters from the Islamic State, according to a “highly approximate” figure provided by Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. [BBC]

Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad has blamed the west for the refugee crisis currently affecting Europe, saying that western support for “terrorism” was driving people out of Syria, reports Hugh Naylor. [Washington Post]

The Assad regime poses a greater threat than the Islamic State and the approach taken by the west to the conflict is “fundamentally flawed,” analysts from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) have warned. [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor]

“Despite the precautions the pilots say they take, there are civilian casualties from airstrikes.” Helene Cooper profiles the US pilots fighting the air war against the Islamic State. [New York Times]

US-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces conducted three airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sept 15. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 11 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“This is the story of why men from all over the world have chosen to fight in a brutal and apocalyptic war,” from Martin Chulov at the Guardian.

IRAN

Last night’s GOP presidential debate showed a divide between the candidates over the Iran nuclear agreement. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]  During the debate, Sen Ted Cruz promised to “rip to shreds” the Obama administration’s deal with Iran, adding that any Republican candidate who would agree to be bound by the accord would be “giving up their core responsibility as commander in chief.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

President Obama will host Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to the White House on Nov 9, the first meeting of the two leaders since their dispute over the nuclear accord with Iran. [New York Times’ Peter Baker]

How should Iran deal with the “Great Satan,” America, now that it has reached a compromise with it? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani are now faced with this difficult question, avoided since the country’s revolution 37 years ago, reports Thomas Erdbrink. [New York Times]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel’s government plans to clamp down on Palestinian stone throwers following three days of clashes with security forces at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, Ruth Eglash reports. [Washington Post]

Saudi King Salman has called on the United Nations to take “urgent measures” following the clashes, expressing “strong condemnation of the dangerous Israeli escalation.” [AFP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Eight videotapes showing force feeding at Guantánamo Bay in redacted form were provided by the US government to a court. Lawyers for the subject, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, and news organizations are trying to get the footage released to the public. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

The hearing has been set for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl who faces military desertion charges for abandoning his post in Afghanistan. [AP’s Juan A Lozano]

The New York Times editorial board asks what went wrong in Egypt to result in the killing of at least a dozen people from a tourist group after a military helicopter mistakenly fired on the group.

Saudi Arabian authorities raided two alleged terror cells, officials said Wednesday, sparking security concerns as streams of visitors arrive in the country for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran]

Technological advances are facilitating terrorists’ communications “out of the reach of authorities,” the head of UK spy agency MI5 said today. [BBC]

President Obama hinted that his administration may impose sanctions against China in response to cyberattacks carried out by Beijing or proxies, the president saying he was prepared to “take some countervailing actions” to show how serious the matter is. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

New F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets are not “optimized for dogfighting,” the Air Force has conceded, admitting that the jets intended to replace almost 90% of the US tactical aviation fleet are not as maneuverable as older jets. [The Daily Beast’s David Axe]

The second GOP presidential debate focused on world affairs and demonstrated policy disagreements which reflect the “internal division” within the Republican party over American interventionism. [New York Times’ David E Sanger]

The British parliament’s intelligence and security committee has a new chair; former Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve will fill the post. The newly assembled committee will likely begin by assessing the use of RAF drone strikes to kill British citizens in Syria. [The Guardian’s Ben Quinn]

A case before an appeals court in Virginia may have implications for the Alien Tort Statute which allows foreign nationals to seek legal redress in US courts for wrongs committed against them in other jurisdictions. [The Guardian’s Richard Luscombe]

UN peacekeeping operations are going through an “identity crisis” as the number of international conflicts grows and peacekeeping comes under mounting scrutiny over its effectiveness. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

The Pentagon is purchasing and sending too much weaponry and equipment to Afghan security forces, according to a government watchdog agency. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff] 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security