News Roundup and Notes: October 19, 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 US drone strike killed Sanafi al-Nasr, the leader of the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate, in Syria on Sunday. Al-Nasr was the fifth Khorasan Group leader killed in the past four months. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane]

The battle for Aleppo has restarted, and there are many players. Islamists and anti-Assad rebels are fighting a Russian-backed conglomerate of Assad forces including the Syrian Army, an Iranian military brigade, Hezbollah fighters, and Shia militias from Iraq. [Guardian’s Martin Chulov] More than 70,000 people have fled the region in the last three days, according to activists on the ground. [BBC]

The United States is delivering more arms to Syrian rebels currently fighting in Aleppo, but rebel officials on the ground have said the arms are not enough relative to the size of the assault. [Reuters]

The complicated competition between regional and western powers in Syria is contributing to the rise of the Islamic State. A desire to defeat the extremist group often takes a backseat to other countries’ other interests, leaving room for the group to expand. [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov and Philip Shishkin] Meanwhile, the New York Times presents a visual untangling of the ongoing conflicts in Syria.

Cuban special forces have joined the fight in Syria, supporting Russia’s intervention in the country. [Daily Beast’s James Bloodworth]

At least 40 people allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State were killed in an airstrike outside Raqqa, Syria. It is not clear who launched the strike, but source say the plans were not part of the US-led coalition and were likely either Russian or Syrian. [BBC]

Turkey shot down a Russian-made drone near the Syrian border on Friday. Russia has since said that the drone did not belong to it. [Reuters]

AFGHANISTAN

Leaving US troops in Afghanistan won’t significantly alter Afghanistan’s chances of fighting off the Taliban without a viable political strategy to back the military up, argues Jeff Eggers. [Politico Magazine]

Former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has expressed her support for President Obama’s decision to keep troops in Afghanistan until after he leaves the White House in 2017. [Associated Press’ Ken Thomas]

The Taliban threatened the lives of journalists at Afghanistan’s leading television channels and have harassed staffers over social media in the wake of reporting on the fighting in Kunduz over the last several weeks. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland]

 A German aid worker who was kidnapped in August has been released by the Taliban, according to her employer. [BBC]

IRAN

President Obama officially ordered his administration to issue sanctions waivers for Iran on Sunday. The waivers will only take effect when the UN confirms that Iran has dramatically scaled its nuclear program back, which will be a “lengthy” process. [Agence France-Presse’s Dave Clark]

Some US officials have expressed concerns over the quick timeline Iran has set for compliance. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is aiming to comply by the end of February, when Iran will hold Parliamentary elections. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]

The US reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with Israel to curtail Iranian actions in Syria during a visit between Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Associated Press’ Lolita C. Baldor]

BENGHAZI

Longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin spent nearly eight hours answering questions from the House Select Committee on Benghazi behind closed doors on Friday. Only three lawmakers attended the questioning, which has added to controversy over the politicization of the investigations. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Republicans and Democrats are feuding over whether the Committee’s investigation has become too political. [Politico’s Rachel Bade] The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery highlights that Committee Chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has a tendency to attend witness interviews only when the individuals are closely tied to Clinton. Meanwhile, Gowdy expressed frustration with fellow Republicans who are commenting on the Benghazi hearings without having been debriefed on previous hearings. [Daily Beast’s Tim Mak]

A federal judge in DC is considering whether to dismiss charges against a suspected Libyan militant after oral argument on Friday. Ahmed Abu Khattala is accused of participating in the attack on Benghazi in 2012. [Associated Press‘ Eric Tucker]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The 9/11 trial at Guantánamo may finally move forward after being stalled for 18 months after revelations that members of one defendant’s defense team had been questioned by the FBI for allegedly aiding and abetting the plot. Today’s hearing will be the first hearing in the case since February of this year, and the military judge must settle the question of how to handle the potential conflict of interest that has arisen between the detainee and his civilian lawyer. [Associated Press’ Ben Fox]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced new plans to address the radicalization of young British Muslims. The measures will include a process to withdraw passports of those who are at risk of becoming foreign fighters. [Guardian’s Alan Travis]

Chinese hackers have continued to attack US companies to steal trade secrets despite last month’s cyber agreement, which included promises not to engage in economic espionage. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

EU privacy regulators gave the European Commission and the US three months to agree to a data transfer framework in the wake of the European Court of Justice’s decision earlier this month related to the “Safe Harbor” arrangement. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

Five people were killed and nine wounded in an Islamic State attack in eastern Saudi Arabia at a celebration of Ashura, a Shia holiday. [BBC]

Haroon Aswat was sentenced by a US court to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism. Aswat had attempted to set up a terrorist training camp in the Pacific Northwest under the orders of Abu Hamza in 2000. [BBC]

The US Transportation Department plans to require drone operators to register their devices with the government, citing growing fears that recreational drones may pose risks to manned aircraft. [Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nicas]

Colombia’s government and FARC rebels have reached an agreement to search for the more than 50,000 people who disappeared during the country’s long civil war. The two sides will form a joint specialized unit to recover remains from mass graves and locate those who are still alive. [BBC]

The US is now being challenged over both power and legitimacy by Russia and China in places like Syria and Southeast Asia. Both countries are mounting increasing tests to the US’ dominance and stewardship of the international order. [The Economist]

The Nigerian government is willing to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped last year, if the group proves the girls are still alive. [Al-Jazeera America’s Philip J. Victor] 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).

John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).