News Roundup and Notes: October 1, 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

Russia conducted its first airstrikes in Syria yesterday. Moscow asserted that the strikes hit Islamic State targets, a claim which was called into question by the US and rebels on the ground. [Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Phil Stewart]

US officials said the Russian planes bombed to the north of Homs city, an area where there are very few Islamic State militants. The airstrikes reportedly killed 36 civilians, reinforcing claims that Moscow’s intervention is intended to assist the Assad regime, not tackle the Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

One of the strikes hit an area held by rebels backed by the CIA and allied spy agencies, US officials said. Defense Secretary Ash Carter suggested that Moscow’s approach to the Syria situation was tantamount to “pouring gasoline on the fire” of the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry said he raised concerns about attacks not targeting ISIS when he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum et al]

Amid conflicting reports, the Kremlin announced that it is targeting a list of well-known militant organizations in Syria, not just ISIS, in a statement today. [Reuters]

Russia’s air campaign is the first major military action launched outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the cold war ended. [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker et al]

The US conducted its own airstrikes on Syria yesterday, near Aleppo, without informing the Russians, a US official said, demonstrating the mounting complexity of the situation. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper et al]

The American and Russian militaries will hold talks “as soon as possible” to avoid direct collisions between the two in Syria. Secretary Kerry stated that Washington and Moscow were in agreement as to the “urgency of that discussion,” and talks may take place as early as today. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Felicia Schwartz]

The Russian intervention triggered “aftershocks” at the UN General Assembly, write Colum Lynch and Paul McCleary, who add that Russia’s involvement shouldn’t come as a surprise given the country’s history of “forc[ing] its way into … international crisis situations,” at Foreign Policy.

Russia’s involvement may constitute a “game changer” in the Syrian conflict, but only if it prompts a speedier political transition in the country, writes Ian Black. [The Guardian]

The “roots of Russia’s bold intervention in Syria” go back to the beginning of the Arab Spring in early 2011. Steven Lee Myers provides the “real story” behind Putin’s Syrian air campaign. [Politico Magazine]

France has opened a criminal investigation into the use of torture under the Assad regime, officials and human rights advocates said yesterday. The inquiry is based upon tens of thousands of photos of torture victims taken by a Syrian defector and is in its early stages. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter]  And the defector, known as Ceasar, shares his story for the first time to Garance le Caisne, at the Guardian.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized collective responsibility in the pursuit of resolutions to crises in the Middle East, at a ministerial-level meeting at the Security Council, adding that the Syria conflict “has proven to be the most intractable.” [UN News Centre]

“Who is fighting whom in Syria?” from the New York Times.

A fifth Briton has been added to a UN sanctions list for fighting with Islamic State militants in Syria; Aseel Muthana, a teenager from Cardiff, is thought to be based in ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa. [The Guardian’s Ben Quinn]

“Whatever else one wants to say about Iraq and Afghanistan, one cannot honestly say that Obama ended the wars in those countries.” Glenn Greenwald highlights the fact the US still conducts airstrikes and deploys troops in both nations, despite the Obama administration celebrating the conclusion of both wars, at The Intercept.

“Meet the American vigilantes who are fighting ISIS,” from Jennifer Percy at the New York Times.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinians are no longer bound by 1993 and 1995 Oslo peace accords and other mutual agreements with Israel. During his address to the UN General Assembly, Abbas accused Israel of repeatedly violating these agreements and said that as a result “we cannot continue to be bound.” [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone and Jodi Rudoren]

The statement sends negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians into “uncharted territory,” writes Joe Lauria, adding that questions emerged about whether Abbas’s post would remain following his comments. [Wall Street Journal]

Abbas’s statement was an “attempt to buy time and international support,” opines Jack Khoury, as many question how he will make good on his threats. [Haaretz]

The Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the United Nations yesterday, following Abbas’s address to the General Assembly. [Al Jazeera]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the General Assembly today, and while he may address the Palestinian issue, he may not mention the comments made by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority yesterday, suggests Jodi Rudoren. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

The Afghan military recaptured the city center in Kunduz today following clashes with Taliban insurgents. [Reuters; BBC]  The AP has live updates of the government offensive.

Local residents and provincial officials said the city remained under Taliban control today, despite the government claims, residents saying the situation was fluid and clashes continue, reports Alissa J. Rubin. [New York Times]

US Special Operations forces were dispatched to Kunduz along with military advisers from the NATO coalition to assist the Afghan military to recapture the city, reports Tim Craig. [Washington Post]

“Unhappy anniversary.” The Economist comments that even if the central government succeeds in retaking Kunduz, the incident nonetheless constitutes a major setback for the government of Ashraf Ghani.

A profile of Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, from M Ilyas Khan at the BBC.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has called on the Pentagon to outline its plans for how to combat alleged sexual abuse within Afghan troops, in a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

Russian-linked hackers attempted to gain access to Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was in office as secretary of state, emails disclosed yesterday reveal. [AP’s Bradley Klapper et al]

The hackers attempted to target the server at least five times in one day, information which cyber experts say demonstrates the vulnerabilities of her system, report Rachael Bade et al. [Politico]

Clinton aides were concerned about her use of a private email server, some of them considering the risks involved while corresponding with their boss, new emails reveal. [The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak]

Roughly two months of emails are missing and federal agents have been unable to recover them. [Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau and Peter Nicholas]

The number of classified emails held on Hillary Clinton’s email server doubled with the latest State Department release. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein et al]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Western nations dropped plans to establish an international inquiry into human rights violations by parties to the Yemeni conflict that has left thousands of civilians dead in the past six months. The sharp change of plan at the UN human rights council comes as a result of strong resistance from Saudi Arabia and its Arab coalition partners. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

Parties to the Ukrainian conflict have agreed to the withdrawal of small-caliber weapons from front-line positions in the east of the country, the latest attempt to bring the conflict there to an end. [Wall Street Journal’s Laura Mills]

UK military involvement in Somalia to assist in efforts to counter militant group al-Shabaab, may have the opposite effect and instead garner support for the group among local people, suggests Jamal Osman. [The Guardian] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security