News Roundup and Notes: October 23, 2015

IRAQ and SYRIA

A US service member was killed during a joint mission by US special forces and Kurdish fighters yesterday while rescuing captives of the Islamic State in Iraq, the Pentagon has confirmed. It is the first death of an American soldier in combat in that country for four years. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Matt Bradley]

Sixty-nine hostages were rescued in the operation, which targeted an ISIS prison north of the town of Hawija, the Kurdistan regional security council said. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart and Isabel Coles]  The captives were facing “imminent mass execution” by the Islamic State, officials said. [The Guardian’s Martin Chulov et al]

The Defense Department continued to call the US effort a “train, advise and assist” mission, rather than a combat one, observes Nancy A. Youssef, adding that the death “marked the latest game of military semantics in a war defined as much by its messaging as by its tactical results.” [The Daily Beast]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Syria’s government could cooperate with rebel groups which are willing to battle ISIS. [BBC; Reuters]  Putin also suggested that now is a critical moment in East-West relations, not unlike the conclusion of the Cold War. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]

At least seven medical facilities have been bombed by Russia in Syria since that country entered the civil war, killing at least four people, according to Physicians for Human Rights. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

The White House is looking for ways to protect Syrian civilians, considering whether to deploy US troops to establish no-fly zones and safe havens in Syria. Mark Mazzetti and Peter Baker report. [New York Times]

US plans to recapture Raqqa from ISIS are already facing challenges. Liz Sly reports. [Washington Post]

“The time of the Kurds;” a look at the group from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Russian President Putin is acting as though the Middle East were another “troublesome province that needs to be brought up short by the power of the centralized state,” suggests Maxim Trudolyubov. [New York Times]

Putin’s “supposed strategic genius” is a “myth,” explains Michael A. McFaul. [New York Times]

BENGHAZI

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton appeared before the House Select Committee on Benghazi yesterday, giving nearly 11 hours of testimony concerning the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya. [Reuters’ Jonathan Allen and John Whitesides; Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau and Peter Nicholas]

During the hearing Clinton again took responsibility for the attacks but emphasized that in her role as secretary of state she had never personally approved or denied requests for greater security on the compound. Michael D. Shear and Michael S. Schmidt provide the details. [New York Times]

Clinton “put the controversy … firmly behind her” and “emerged” from the hearing “largely unscathed,” fending off accusations of her failure to protect the four Americans who were killed – and avoided an intense focus on her private email server. [The Guardian’s Dan Roberts et al; Politico’s Rachael Bade]

Democrat Rep Elijah Cummings denounced the Benghazi panel, prompting applause from the audience during the testimony. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The alleged leader of the attack, Ahmed Salim Faraj Abu Khatallah “barely rated a mention” during the 11 hours of testimony, writes Michael Daly. [The Daily Beast]

The New York Times editorial board suggests that the committee “further discredited itself” yesterday, observing that the panel “elicited little new information and offered little hope that their inquiry would find anything” that the previous seven did not.

The Economist observes that much of the questioning from GOP committee members was “ill-focused, irrelevant or asinine.”

Americans “should be enraged” by the committee, writes Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast.

By the time Hillary Clinton appeared before the panel yesterday, she didn’t “have to make any real effort to paint the Benghazi inquiry as partisan.” [Politico Magazine’s Todd S. Purdum]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

A secret Pentagon program was disclosed this week by 9/11 death-penalty trial defense attorney Jay Connell to the court. Carol Rosenberg provides the details. [Miami Herald]

A former military judge who presided over the 2013 court martial of Private Chelsea Manning has been added as a new adviser to the staff of the 9/11 terror trial. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday in Berlin, urging the leader to tone down his inflammatory language that US and European officials claim is adding to the escalating violence. Kerry noted that his conversation with Netanyahu gave him “a cautious measure of optimism.” [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Alison Smale]

Muslims of all ages will be permitted to enter Jerusalem’s most delicate holy site to perform Friday prayers, the first time since violence escalated in mid-September. [AP]

An account of souring relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from Adam Entous at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act, using the power for just the fifth time in his presidency. The measure, rejected because of the manner it uses money intended for war spending, will be sent back to the GOP-led Congress. [Reuters; New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]  Footage of Obama’s comments and his official veto of the bill available here.

A bomb attack targeting a mosque in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria killing at least 18 people this morning. There is yet to be a claim of responsibility but Boko Haram is suspected of being behind the attack. [AP]

A suicide bomb attack in southwest Pakistan hit a mosque yesterday, killing at least 10 people and wounding others, government officials said. [AP]  And Saeed Shah and Adam Entous report on Gen Raheel Sharif, the head of Pakistan’s army who “has eclipsed the authority” of the country’s government on important security related matters. [Wall Street Journal]

The Obama administration has officially endorsed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, the controversial major cybersecurity bill that is set for its final vote on Tuesday. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The World Bank’s operational policies treat human rights “more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations,” according to the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, accusing the bank’s approach to human rights of being “incoherent, counterproductive and unsustainable,” according to a new report. The World Bank has rejected the assertions. [The Guardian’s Sam Jones]

Afghanistan’s special forces are in the firing line as the country’s army and police force struggle to contain the escalating insurgency that has advanced on a number of cities in recent weeks. [Reuters] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security