News Roundup and Notes: October 7, 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 has launched airstrikes against ISIS from warships in the Caspian Sea today, officials say. [BBC]

Syria’s army and allied militia conducted ground attacks on rebel positions in Hama and Idlib provinces today, backed by intense Russian airstrikes, the first coordinated attack between the allies since Moscow began airstrikes last week. [Reuters]  The offensive has sparked “the most intense fighting in months,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [AP]

Washington and Moscow have agreed to hold further talks on how the two countries can deconflict their military operations in Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Thomas Grove]  Both sides appeared tentative and distrustful of one another as they discussed the talks, report Craig Whitlock and Brian Murphy. [Washington Post]

Russia has also offered to further coordinate with the US, calling on all sides to share targeting reconnaissance. [CNN’s Brian Walker]

Airstrikes conducted by Russia in Aleppo province have destroyed the main weapons depot of a US-trained rebel group, their commander said today. [Reuters]

Moscow has denied reports that it conducted airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Palmyra which killed 15 civilians after hitting an agricultural area to the east. [Wall Street Journal’s Karen Leigh and Thomas Grove]

Russia’s violations of Turkish airspace are being perceived by NATO as an “unwelcome test” of Ankara’s reaction, NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg saying “it doesn’t look like an accident.” [New York Times’ Russell Goldman]

Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and militia leaders are calling on Moscow to begin airstrikes against ISIS in that country, a move which would escalate tensions with the US and heighten the risk of confrontation, report Matt Bradley and Ghassan Adnan. [Wall Street Journal]

Russia has been sending advanced surveillance and communications-blocking equipment to Syria, technology which could “deal a new blow to the beleaguered,” US-backed opposition rebels fighting the Assad regime. [Foreign Policy’s Elias Groll]

Gangs with suspected Russian connections have attempted to sell radioactive material to extremists in the Middle East, the AP has learned. Authorities in Eastern Europe, working with the FBI, have interrupted four attempts to sell nuclear material, most notably an attempt this February to make a deal with the Islamic State group, report Desmond Butler and Vadim Ghirda.

A visit to Moscow by the leader of the Iranian Quds Force was the first step on the path toward Russian intervention in Syria. Laila Bassam and Tom Perry provide the details. [Reuters]

The Islamic State is frantically trying to prevent skilled Muslims from fleeing Iraq and Syria for Europe as the mass exodus threatens the group’s ability to recruit foreign fighters and run its self-professed caliphate. [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley and Mohammad Nour Alakraa]

“How much chemical warfare capacity the Islamic State has organized, and its militants’ ambitions for its use, remain publicly unknown.” C. J. Chivers explores the impact of an ISIS chemical strike on one Syrian family, at the New York Times.

Kickstarter has begun its first social service campaign, intended to raise funds for the UN refugee agency on behalf of Syrian refugees; the effort was prompted by a request from officials at the White House Office of Digital Strategy. [New York Times’ Michael D. Shear]

The New York Times editorial board writes than Putin’s “voluntary forces” in Syria are there “about as voluntarily as were the Russian soldiers ordered into Crimea or eastern Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin is repeating Cold War mistakes with his intervention in Syria, suggests David W. Lesch, at Foreign Policy.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has attacked a police headquarters in Kunduz overnight, sparking renewed clashes with Afghan forces. [AP’s Rahim Faiez]  Half the city was reportedly under Taliban control yesterday, a day after Afghan security forces said they had made significant progress against the insurgents. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Najim Rahim]

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) has called for the establishment of an international independent fact-finding commission tasked with investigating the US attack on its hospital in Kunduz. [Reuters’ Stephanie Nebehay]

The United States has again changed its position on the airstrike in Kunduz. Testifying before a Senate panel, Gen John Campbell conceded that US special operations forces – not the Afghan military – called in the lethal strikes. Campbell described the attack as a mistake, adding that the US would “never intentionally target a protected military facility.” [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]  It is reported that Campbell believes the US broke its own rules calling in the strike. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Matthew Rosenberg]

Campbell, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, went against President Obama, calling for a stronger US presence on the ground in Afghanistan in the future. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]  And 22 Republicans have written to President Obama, urging him to keep 9,800 American service members in Afghanistan through 2016. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

All humanitarian aid agencies have left Kunduz following the airstrike which hit the MSF hospital in the city. [UN News Centre]

There are strong reasons to believe the US attack violated international humanitarian law, argues Nick Turse, citing experts including posts at Just Security from Sarah Knuckey and Jonathan Horowitz, at The Intercept.

NATO’s “press officers are trained to speak no recognizable human language,” writes George Monbiot, opining that the use of terms such as “collateral damage” are efforts to “create distance: distance from responsibility, distance from consequences, distance above all from the humanity of those who were killed.” [The Guardian]

YEMEN

Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have agreed to a peace plan brokered by the UN during talks in Muscat, Oman. The deal is comprised of seven principles including a ceasefire, the removal of armed militias from the cities and the return of the government to Sana’a. [BBC; Reuters]

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a string of bomb attacks yesterday that killed at least 25 people, including Saudi-led coalition troops. [New York Times’ Saeed Al-Batati and Kareem Fahim]  The attack in Aden was the first time an Islamic State affiliate has directly targeted the international force in Yemen, reports Asa Fitch. [Wall Street Journal]

Amnesty International has called on the UK to halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia in light of “damning evidence of war crimes” conducted by the British ally in the war against Houthi rebels there. [The Guardian’s Ian Black]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A former president of the UN general assembly faces charges of accepting over $1m in bribes from a Chinese billionaire real estate mogul, turning the world body into a “platform for profit.” [AP]  Top UN officials said that they are “shocked” and “deeply troubled” by the allegations announced yesterday by US federal prosecutors. [UN News Centre]

An FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server has widened to include a second private technology company, which it is said will supply the bureau with data preserved from Clinton’s account. [Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman]

The leader of last month’s coup in Burkina Faso has been charged with offences including threatening state security and homicide; Gen Gilbert Diendere will face trial before a military tribunal. [BBC]

House Democrats have failed in their attempt to dismantle the House Benghazi committee launched in the wake of renewed criticism of its underlying agenda. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Senate Democrats allowed the annual defense bill to advance despite veto threats from the Obama administration, 21 Democrats broke ranks to vote on side with the GOP. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

The House has approved a bill mandating a formal cybersecurity strategy at the Department of Homeland Security. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will “look to see if there is an opportunity” to intervene over the death penalty sentence of a protester in Saudi Arabia who was 17 on his arrest. [BBC] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security