News Roundup and Notes: October 5, 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

Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad has said that no political reforms are possible in the country until “terrorism” has been defeated there, in an interview with Iran’s Khabar television network. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]  The regime leader also publically backed Russian airstrikes and said that the Russian campaign “must succeed or we are facing the destruction of a whole region.” [AP]

ISIS has destroyed Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph, an ancient monument built about 2,000 years ago. [BBC]

US-backed opposition rebels in Syria have called on the US to supply them with antiaircraft missiles to defend their positions against Russian airstrikes. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Andrew Roth]

The US-led coalition against ISIS plans to open a major front in the northeast of Syria, targeting militant positions in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, military and administration officials have said. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon]

Russian military aircraft violated Turkey’s airspace, the country’s foreign ministry said today, summoning Moscow’s ambassador to protest the incident. [Reuters]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron criticized the Russian intervention in Syria on Saturday, accusing it of conducting indiscriminate airstrikes, “actually backing the butcher Assad and helping him.” [Wall Street Journal’s Jason Douglas and James Marson]  And the country’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond commented that Russian support of the Assad regime would ultimately hurt the fight against ISIS. [Wall Street Journal’s Jenny Gross]

Russia’s involvement in Syria is unlikely to turn the tide in the conflict, suggest Andrew Roth and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, citing analysts who point to Moscow’s aging military equipment and the poorly trained Syrian army. [Washington Post]

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders opposes a unilateral no-fly zone in Syria, siding with President Obama on the subject, saying that it is a move which could “get us more deeply involved” in the Syrian conflict and “lead to a never-ending US entanglement in that region.” [Washington Post’s Josh Wagner and Anne Gearan]

“Syria increasingly looks like a battleground between great powers with unequal commitments,” write Adam Entous et al, discussing the conflicting agendas of the parties to the civil war. [Wall Street Journal]

“Iraqi civilian losses used to be referred to as the inevitable ‘collateral damage’ of war” but it is becoming “painfully clear” that in the war against the Islamic State, those killed have not even “earned that ghastly euphemism.” Zareena Grewal discusses the deaths of relatives in Mosul by a US airstrike on September 21. [New York Times]

Whether Vladimir Putin is “winning” through his Syrian intervention depends on how you define success, discusses Ross Douthat. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has accused the US of committing a war crime after a US airstrike hit the organization’s hospital in the city of Kunduz on Saturday morning. MSF has pulled its staff out of the city in the wake of the strike which killed 22 people. [The Guardian’s Sune Engel Rasmussen and Jessica Elgot]  MSF has updates of the situation here.

MSF is “disgusted” by claims of the Afghan government that the strike took place following reports of Taliban fighters hiding in the hospital. [BBC]  Tim Craig and Craig Whitlock comment on the distinctly “muted” Afghan response to the strike. [Washington Post]

The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, President Obama said in a statement in which he extended his condolences to those affected by the “tragic incident.”  Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that there will be accountability “if that is required,” and added that it may take some time to get the facts in the “confused and complicated” situation.  MSF has said that an internal investigation is “wholly insufficient” and called for an independent probe into the strike. [Reuters]

UN officials condemned the airstrike as “tragic” and “inexcusable,” and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the explicit protection of hospitals and medical personnel under international humanitarian law. [UN News Centre]

The US formula is now clear “bombing whatever countries it wants, justifying it all by reflexively labeling their targets as ‘terrorists,’ and then dishonestly denying or casually dismissing the civilians they slaughter as ‘collateral damage,’ opines Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.

Afghan forces have recovered most of Kunduz today, according to police and residents of the city. [Reuters]  Reports conflict however, Al Jazeera reporting that the Taliban claims to have retaken large parts of the city from Afghan forces.

Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah said that the government’s failure to act sooner in Kunduz was “mainly” due to “insufficient resources,” speaking with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens.

Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour is cementing his position with “intrigue and battlefield victory,” writes Joseph Goldstein, profiling the new leader. [New York Times]

Kunduz “marks a new phase in the war and a critical test for the effort by the United States and NATO to leave the bulk of the fighting to Afghan security forces,” writes Emile Simpson at Politico Magazine.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to wage a “harsh offensive against Palestinian Islamic terrorism,” in a Facebook post written on his return from New York. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren]  Following a later meeting with security officials, Netanyahu said that additional steps to combat terrorists include “fast-tracking the razing of terrorists’ homes.” [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont and Kate Shuttleworth]

Palestinians have been barred from entering Jerusalem’s Old City, a “drastic” move by security forces following the lethal stabbing of an off-duty Israeli soldier and a rabbi there on Saturday night. [Washington Post’s William Booth]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern that “these latest incidents signal a dangerous slide towards escalation.” [UN News Centre]

The IDF targeted Hamas military facilities in Gaza early today in response to two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel late last night. [Haaretz]

A Palestinian youth was killed during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank on Sunday night, local media reported. [Haaretz]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Pentagon team has resumed a site survey of a possible “Guantánamo North” in Colorado, the Defense Department said Friday. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The Obama administration is threatening to veto the annual defense bill; President Obama has threatened to veto every defense bill for the past six years, though has never gone through with it. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored violence by Nigerian militant group Boko Haram as an “affront to humanity,” condemning a Friday bomb attack and multiple suicide bombings last Thursday. [UN News Centre]

Leaked memos have shown that the White House may be backpedaling on its commitment to a technological solution that would let investigators bypass encryption; privacy advocates and tech companies have taken this as a signal of growing momentum in the encryption fight. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

US-trained foreign military forces have “collapsed, stalled or defected,” with “alarming frequency,” write Eric Schmitt and Tim Arango, providing further details. [New York Times]

The American government has pursued far fewer violations of the arms embargo against Iran over the past year than it has in recent years, according to a review of court records, a pattern which raises questions about how strictly it will be applied in the future following the conclusion of the nuclear accord. [Reuters’ Yeganeh Torbati]

Libya: “this is the story of a failed revolution and the people it engulfed,” from Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy.

“[W]ith only 16 months left before the president’s term ends, Carter is shaping up to be more of a caretaker than a reformer,” comment Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary, discussing Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s tenure in the post. [Foreign Policy] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security