News Roundup and Notes: October 21, 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

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow yesterday to personally thank President Vladimir Putin for his military support in the Syrian conflict. It was the first overseas visit made by the leader of the Assad regime since the civil war broke out in 2011, local TV reported. [BBC; Reuters]

The two leaders discussed “issues regarding the fight against terrorist and extremist groups, issues of the continuation of the Russian operation supporting the offensive of the Syrian military,” the Russian spokesman told reporters. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]

Russian airstrikes killed a rebel commander from a group supported by the Assad regime’s foreign enemies, a spokesman for the group said of the attack in Syria’s Latakia province yesterday. [Reuters]

Syrian government forces are making progress in their offensive on the contested city of Aleppo, an effort visibly bolstered by Moscow’s air support. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim and Anne Barnard]  Thousands have reportedly fled the city in the midst of escalated fighting there, aid agencies say. [BBC]  And Juan Cole considers whether the “Aleppo Strategy” will serve the Russo-Iranian agenda, at Informed Content.

The US and Russia have agreed on rules regulating all aircraft and drone flights over Syria, the defense departments of both nations announced. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]

Members of Iraq’s ruling alliance and Shi’ite militias have called on the Abadi government to request Russian airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS. [Reuters’ Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Hameed]

Canada will end its participation in the air campaign against ISIS in Syria under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. [The Guardian’s Jessica Murphy]

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Marine General Joseph Dunford vowed to find new ways to build momentum in the Iraqi fight against the Islamic State and rejected descriptions of the conflict as a “stalemate,” during his first visit to the country since becoming the top US military officer. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

“Washington’s exclusive focus on enabling the Kurds to fight the Islamic State risks creating new problems that could plague Iraq and Syria for much longer,” argue Cale Salih and Maria Fantappie. [New York Times]

“The ability to act unilaterally and the ability to create solutions for difficult situations with multiple actors are mutually exclusive,” observes Frankie Boyle, commenting on the British government’s likely intervention into Syria. [The Guardian]

Looting of important archaeological sites in Syria has been committed by groups other than the Islamic State, research has shown. [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor]

A Russian television crew published footage of a Syrian government offensive on a Damascus suburb last week. [New York Times’ Robert Mackey]

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban are closing in on the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, fighting government forces in the city’s suburbs, and prompting the dispatch of “a couple of hundred” additional troops to assist in defending the city. [The Guardian’s Sune Engel Rasmussen; Al Jazeera]

US Special Operations Forces normally assigned to different parts of Asia approved the airstrike on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, according to information emerging from a US military investigation into the incident that killed at least 22 staff members and patients on Oct. 3. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Matthew Rosenberg]

“Are we losing Afghanistan again?” ask Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, arguing that additional US troops will be needed to support local Afghan allies. [New York Times]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that violence in Israel and the West Bank risks “spinning out of control,” during the first day of his visit to Israel yesterday. The chief of the international body noted that he would meet with both sides of the conflict and underlined that the “status quo is only making things worse.” [UN News Centre]

The IDF is investigating the conduct of soldiers who fled the scene of the Be’er Sheva terror attack on Sunday, including whether soldiers were involved in the lynching of an Eritrean asylum seeker who was murdered by bystanders who thought him to be a terrorist. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen]

A Palestinian teen has been shot dead by Israeli soldiers after she was suspected of an attempted stabbing attack in the West Bank early today. [Haaretz’s Almog Ben Zikri and Gili Cohen]

Israelis and Palestinians are grappling with the motivation driving the Palestinians who carry out knife attacks on Jews, one relative of a slain attacker suggesting that it is the “humiliation of occupation,” report William Booth and Ruth Eglash. [Washington Post]

UNESCO’s director general has rejected a proposal by some Arab states to reclassify Jerusalem’s Western Wall as part of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound that sparked outcry by Israel and a number of Jewish-American groups; the Western Wall is Judaism’s most holy site. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

A small group of hawkish US lawmakers and former military officials want to arm Israel with B-52 and B-1 heavy bombers to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the event that the deal with Tehran falls through. David Axe provides the details. [The Daily Beast]

IRAN

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has approved the nuclear accord and ordered its implementation subject to certain conditions, his official website said today. [Reuters]

Tehran may have set unrealistic expectations for how rapidly it can implement the nuclear accord and end nuclear sanctions, according to some US officials. Michael Crowley provides the details. [Politico]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Vice President Joe Biden appears to have altered his position on the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, saying he was always a strong supporter of sending a team of Navy SEALs into Pakistan, contradicting his earlier memories of the final White House meeting on whether to go ahead. [Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe]  And Joe Nocera comments on a recent New York Times article from Jonathan Mahler which questioned the “real story” of how the raid took place. [New York Times]

Yemen’s exiled government will participate in peace negotiations with Houthi rebels, officials and the UN announced on Monday. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]  And a Canadian Internet filtering company is blocking content in Yemen, part of an information blackout by Houthi rebels who have gained control of the country’s main Internet service provider. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

Attorneys and the judge at the 9/11 trial are struggling with how an ex-CIA blacksite captive kept virtually incommunicado can act as his own lawyer during the death-penalty trial. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Nothing classified has been revealed by a hack of CIA Director John Brennan’s private email account, David E. Sanger reports. [New York Times]

Libya has found itself with no internationally recognized government following the rejection of a plan for a national unity government by the two rival parliaments. The mandate for the only parliament recognized by Western states lapsed before the endorsement could be made. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

Hillary Clinton’s plan for Libya after the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi was “play it by ear,” according to ex-Pentagon chief Bob Gates. Nancy A. Youssef reports. [The Daily Beast]

Democratic members of the House Benghazi committee are considering resigning from the panel soon after Hillary Clinton provides testimony before it next week, Rep Adam Schiff said. [The Hill’s Elliot Smilowitz]

The race for House speaker has national security implications; WOTR staff provide further details.

The UN Security Council has expressed deep concern at the recent escalation of violence in the Central African Republic, restating its decision to apply an asset freeze on those engaged in or supporting acts which undermine the peace, stability and security of the country. [UN News Centre]

A newly published report on the IRA found that the paramilitary group poses no serious threat and has a “wholly political focus” despite its command structures still being in place. [New York Times’ Douglas Dalby] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security