News Roundup and Notes: October 15, 2015

IRAQ and SYRIA 

The Syrian military launched an offensive against rebel-held towns north of the city of Homs today, backed by Russian air support, Syrian state TV and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. [Reuters]

Iran is ramping up its role in the Syrian conflict, deploying hundreds of troops from its elite forces to support the army of Bashar al-Assad and sending celebrated Revolutionary Guards commander Gen Qassem Suleimani to an area where an anti-rebel offensive is sooner expected. [The Guardian’s Ian Black and Saeed Kamali]  Nancy A. Youssef discusses the planned offensive against rebels in Aleppo by Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces, at The Daily Beast. 

Russia is using its intervention in Syria to showcase its improved military capabilities, in all three weaponry, tactics and strategy, report Steven Lee Myers and Eric Schmitt, providing details of Moscow’s advancement away from what was perceived as a “decaying, insignificant force.” [New York Times]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter gave a strong warning to Russia yesterday, describing its airstrikes in Syria as a “misguided strategy” that will “inflame and prolong” the civil war there and vowing that the US would take “all necessary steps” to counter Moscow. [Politico’s Leigh Munsil]

There is a difference of opinion in the Obama administration over how to tackle Russia’s intervention in Syria, some officials concerned that Obama’s reluctance to act signals American weakness and indecision, reports Michael Crowley. [Politico]

Turkey has expressed concern to the US over reports that America delivered military aid to Syrian Kurds, summoning the US ambassador to register its complaint. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and partner military forces carried out two strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on Oct 13. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further 16 airstrikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The Islamic State’s far-reaching oil operation is forcing even the group’s enemies to trade with it. The Financial Times provides the details.

ISIS and associated extremists groups are the world’s principal persecutors of religious minorities, according to a new State Department report on international religious freedom. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]

Recent political tensions and violence in Iraqi Kurdistan are a cause of concern, the UN envoy for Iraq discussing the issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) yesterday. [UN News Centre

Turkey accused Kurdish separatists of playing a role in the terrorist attack in Ankara, even as the Islamic State remained the prime suspect in the twin suicide bombings. [Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker]

A Russian jet approached a US aircraft this weekend in an effort to identify it, that country’s military said yesterday, as the two countries came together to discuss further deconfliction efforts. [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson]

Russia said that ISIS was behind an attempted attack on a mosque in a town in Siberia in 2014. [Reuters]

EU leaders will meet with Turkey to discuss measures to ameliorate the refugee crisis facing the region. [BBC]

A British national who fled ISIS with her five children after travelling to Syria to join her jihadist husband has told of her experiences. [The Guardian’s Ben Quinn]

Putin’s strategy in Syria is “old school,” according to Sohrab Ahmari, suggesting that behind his “decisiveness is a vision of the Middle East in which Russia and its clients in the Iranian-Shi’ite sphere edge out the US and its traditional Arab allies.” [Wall Street Journal]

“I got Syria so wrong.” Frederic Hof explains why at Politico Magazine.

AFGHANISTAN 

President Obama will announce the halt of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan today, instead maintaining a force of thousands in the country through to the end of his term in 2017. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg]  The BBC has updates as this breaking story develops. 

Pressure mounted on the White House to slow the withdrawal, a new report from a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, including Madeleine Albright, saying that cutting troops levels would “foreclose future options for the president.” [Politico’s Nahal Toosi] 

An independent investigation into the US bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz is awaiting the approval of the US and Afghan governments, the group said yesterday. [New York Times’ Milan Schreuer]

The Taliban is targeting other provincial centers in the wake of its pullout from the northern city of Kunduz. Sudarsan Raghavan provides the details. [Washington Post]

IRAN 

Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council has approved the nuclear accord with six powers, the final step for Iran to start carrying out the agreement, reports Thomas Erdbrink. [New York Times] 

Tehran has stepped up what had been “very limited cooperation” with an investigation by the IAEA into its past nuclear work, in response to pressure from Western nations. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman] 

Iran has violated UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to their ballistic missile activities, US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington yesterday. [Politico’s Nick Gass]

Iran has a large underground missile base, a facility it revealed on state TV, which officials said could be used if “enemies make a mistake.” [AFP]

Unilateral sanctions by the US against Iran will not succeed in altering Tehran’s behavior, opines Saam Borhani, arguing that Iran’s engagement with the nuclear accord only arose due to international pressure. [The Guardian]

China wants closer military relations with Iran, a senior admiral said after a meeting with Iran’s defense minister in Tehran today. [Reuters]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE 

Israel deployed troops into cities across the country to assist the police to quell the ongoing wave of violence. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Amir Mizroch]  The security services are still viewing the situation as one of ongoing security however, rather than an “all-out battle,” reports Amos Harel. [Haaretz] 

Comments from the State Department that Israel may be using excessive force to quell Palestinian stabbing attacks has been met with strong criticism today from senior Israeli lawmakers. [Reuters] 

The White House is making renewed efforts to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry hoping to find ways to restart some of the negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz and Carol E. Lee] 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to visit with Palestinians during his visit to Israel, breaking from the “well-worn political script.” [New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum]

“The intifada will be Instagrammed.” Jay Michaelson comments on how mobile recording technology takes the control away from Palestinian and Israeli leaders, losing their hold on the “narrative – and of their own extremists.” [The Daily Beast]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board opines that failing to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his involvement in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 “gives him a veto over use of other air space.” 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump doesn’t think Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17, despite evidence, reports Tal Kopan and Jim Sciutto. [CNN]

NATO may be about to expand again, Montenegro requesting to join the bloc. [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

A suicide attack hit the office of a government-party politician in central Pakistan yesterday, killing at least seven people and wounding another four, officials said. [New York Times’ Waqar Gillani]

A Houthi ballistic missile attack today targeting a military base in Saudi Arabia was in retaliation for attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, a source in the Yemeni rebel group said. [Reuters] 

The US will deploy as many as 300 troops as well as surveillances drones to Cameroon to assist in their campaign against Boko Haram and assist in counterinsurgency efforts, officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold]

Muslim Americans have won the right to sue the NYPD for its surveillance on them following a decision from the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals. [Al Jazeera]

Hillary Clinton said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands,” during the first Democratic presidential debate. Dan Froomkin considers what she meant. [The Intercept]

The House Benghazi committee will hear testimony from former Clinton aide Huma Adebin tomorrow. [NBC News]  And Rep Richard Hanna said he agrees with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that the committee was in part designed to damage Clinton politically. [The Hill’s Jonathan Easley]

A new office has been created by the Justice Department to coordinate investigations in domestic terrorism, an official said yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

A bill known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) could allow the government to spy on individuals using library computers. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The immunity of a Hungarian leader suspected of spying on behalf of Russia has been lifted by the European Parliament. The decision will allow prosecutors to investigate the allegations. [AP] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security