News Roundup and Notes: September 22, 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 car bomb attack in Baghdad yesterday killed at least 12 people and injured another 42. No group immediately claimed responsibility. [Reuters]

Expanded Syrian government airstrikes on ISIS positions in Palmyra have killed at least 38 militants over the last 24 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Haaretz]

Russia has begun drone surveillance missions in Syria, US officials said yesterday, in what are thought to be Moscow’s first military air operations since the recent buildup at an air base near Latakia. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]  Moscow has also deployed some of its most advanced ground attack planes and fighter jets. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Neil MacFarquhar]

Moscow and Tehran have increased coordination in support of the Assad regime inside Syria, as they move to protect the government-controlled coastal region of Latakia. The relationship adds another complication to US diplomatic goals in the region. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Sam Dagher]

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow yesterday, reportedly disagreeing over the level of threat posed to Israel by an Iran-backed Syria. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]  The two leaders agreed to coordinate their military actions in Syria to avoid accidental escalation. [Al Jazeera]  Anshel Pfeffer writes that the visit suggests the start of an era of “post-American Middle East.” [Haaretz]

The Obama administration is pushing for greater gains in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, as the offensive to push back against the group in Iraq stalls. New efforts are expected to include pressing ISIS in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe]

Despite a relatively modest ground presence, Iran plays a critical role in the Syrian conflict; Ian Black discusses at the Guardian.

Syrian insurgent group, Ahrar al-Sham, has emerged as a key player in the Syrian civil war, despite the setback caused by the death of almost all its leaders in a bomb attack last year. [Reuters’ Mariam Karouny]

Could the United States have prevented the ongoing tragedy in Syria? Stephen M. Walt questions his own original assessment of the situation and concludes that American intervention is still a bad idea, at Foreign Policy.

Fighters are defecting from ISIS in their dozens; Karla Adam explains why. [Washington Post]

“Can Russia really be a partner to bring peace to Syria?” Contributors at the New York Times debate the issue.

“What can the world do to stop ISIS from its destruction of ancient art and architecture in Syria and Iraq?” James Cuno presents four actions at the Wall Street Journal.

AFGHANISTAN

A New York Times report describing how US forces were told to ignore sexual abuse of boys by Afghan allies “prompted declarations of outrage” in Washington yesterday, reports Matthew Rosenberg. [New York Times]

The Pentagon rejected claims that there is a policy instructing service members to look the other way when they come across Afghan allies carrying out sexual abuse. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Taliban leader Mullah Mansour called for unity in a statement to mark the upcoming festival of Eid, raising the possibility of peace talks with the central government in Kabul. [Reuters’ Jibran Ahmad]

IRAN

The head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano cited significant progress in the implementation of a strategy to resolve all outstanding issues regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, speaking yesterday from Vienna. Amano discussed his visit to the controversial Parchin military site. [UN News Centre]

Defending the nuclear watchdog’s investigation, Amano confirmed that Iranians had taken their own samples from the suspected site of nuclear experimentation, but explained that the collection had taken place under the watch of surveillance devices, report Thomas Erdbrink and David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Pro-government forces in Yemen have stalled in their advance on the capital, Sana’a, causing frustration among troops as Iran-backed Houthi rebels put up heavy resistance and despite an expanded air strike campaign by a Saudi-led coalition. [AP]

Boko Haram bomb attacks in Nigeria’s Borno State killed over 100 people on Sunday evening; the attacks, which appeared to be carefully coordinated, were the deadliest in months. [New York Times’ Norimitsu Onishi]

A car bomb attack targeted the Somali presidential palace in Mogadishu yesterday. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack which killed at least four people. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ibrahim]

The Egyptian military is carrying out human rights violations in the restive Sinai Peninsula, according to Human Rights Watch in a new report. The government’s military campaign against insurgents there has involved the evictions of 3,200 families over two years and razing hundreds of hectares in an attempt to destroy tunnels connecting to Gaza. Human Rights Watch says more homes than necessary have been destroyed. [AP; New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]  And Heba Afify describes the “human cost” of Egypt’s “successful” war on terror, at the Guardian.

UN-brokered peace negotiations between parties to the Libyan conflict edged toward collapse yesterday, as a deadline for agreement passed on Sunday. It is unclear whether the talks are ongoing or the deadline extended, report Tamer El-Ghobashy and Hassan Morajea. [Wall Street Journal]

A Palestinian man died trying to throw an explosive at Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Hebron overnight, officials said. Tensions were high on the eve of Jewish Yom Kippur. [Reuters]

NATO chief, Jen Stoltenberg called on Russia to withdraw its heavy weapons from east Ukraine; Stoltenberg paid his first visit to Ukraine yesterday, inaugurating a NATO disaster-relief exercise. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

The leaders of the coup in Burkina Faso apologized to the nation and pledged to give power back to the civilian authorities. [New York Times’ Hervé Taoko]

An American businesswoman has been formally arrested in China, accused of stealing state secrets. Phan Phan-Gillis was first detained six months ago while accompanying a delegation from Houston. [New York Times’ Chris Buckley]

Observing the International Day of Peace, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for warring parties the world over to observe a global ceasefire and “stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace.” [UN News Centre]

“Both sides have clearly found there’s no plausible alternative and have come home to each other again.” Hussein Ibish discusses a “reset” in fraught Saudi-American relations, at the New York Times. 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security