News Roundup and Notes: November 2, 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

An agreement was reached Friday to “explore the modalities of a nationwide cease-fire” in Syria by a group of nations and the UN has been asked to assist in rewriting the Syrian constitution and assisting in new elections. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned foreign nations against dictating the future of Syria’s political system, rejecting direct talks with the US on regional issues. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Aresu Eqbali]

The US revealed plans to deploy its first ground troops to Syria to fight in the war against ISIS, announcing on Friday that fewer than 50 Special Forces would be sent to northern Syria in the coming weeks, though they will not be engaged in front-line combat. [Reuters’ Sabine Siebold et al]

The US will also commit nearly $100 million in military aid to Syrian opposition rebels fighting the Islamic State in that country.

Syrian Islamist opposition rebels plan to use caged Alawite prisoners as human shields against airstrikes by the Assad regime, report Robert Mackey and Maher Samaan. [New York Times] 

“Like many consequential events, this one didn’t sneak up on policymakers; they simply didn’t see what was taking shape in front of them,” comments David Ignatius, writing on the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. [The Atlantic]

The Syria crisis has provoked the feeling among many that the US cannot simple “kill [its] way to a solution,” writes Mike Barnicle. [The Daily Beast]

Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has made one of his most direct interventions into Iraqi politics, move which while intended to counter Iran, “may end up emulating it,” reports Tim Arango. [New York Times]

RUSSIAN AIRLINER CRASH

A Russian Airbus A321-200 crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board the St Petersburg-bound flight from Cairo. A Russian cargo plane today brought the first of the bodies back home. [AP; BBC]

An investigation into the incident revealed that the plane broke up in midair, officials asking whether the plane was downed by an act of terrorism or a tragic accident. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and Neil MacFarquhar; Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor et al]

Metrojet airline has rejected the suggestion that a technical fault may have caused the crash, today blaming an “external factor.” [The Guardian’s Alec Luhn]

ISIS-affiliated group, Sinai Province does not have the military capabilities to down a plane, according to a regional expert. [The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison]

Why did the airliner break up in the air? Gwyn Topham considers the possibilities at the Guardian.

The Egyptian response to the situation in Sinai has fueled “resentment – and militancy,” Naomi Conrad reports for Deutsche Welle.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A Palestinian has been shot and killed by IDF forces following an alleged stabbing attack on a solider at a West Bank checkpoint. Seventy-three Palestinians have died and 9 Israelis since the start of the current wave of violence in early October. [Al Jazeera] 

There is little international consensus on the appropriate approach to reviving the political process between the two sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite a renewed impetus arising from the ongoing violence. [Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Laurence Norman]

AFGHANISTAN

A Taliban splinter group has chosen its own new leader, in direct challenge to the new chief of the insurgent group, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, two commanders said today. [Reuters]

The Islamic State will continue to struggle to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, opines Barnett Rubin, suggesting that ideological and religious difference will hinder the group’s ability to recruit from the Taliban. [Al Jazeera]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

Shaker Aamer “suffered profound disruption of his life” while held at Guantánamo Bay, according to a psychiatric report following a medical examination in 2013. Aamer was returned to the UK last week where he underwent a medical examination and was reunited with his family. [The Guardian’s Ian Cobain]

The delay in releasing Aamer may have been due to the fact that as an “English-speaking resident of a Western country, he would serve as an effective public witness against those responsible for human rights abuses in US detention facilities,” writes Murtaza Hussain. [The Intercept]

The New York Times editorial board comments on the expedited rate of releases from Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, adding that there is “no excuse” for how slowly the Pentagon has moved on freeing dozens of prisoners cleared for release.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Tehran has started implementing the July nuclear accord with six world powers, decommissioning uranium enrichment centrifuges under the terms of the agreement, the country’s nuclear chief has said. [Reuters]

The Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu was bombed by Somali Islamist militants yesterday, leaving at least 14 people dead. Militant group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ibrahim and Jeffrey Gettleman] The UN Security Council has condemned “in the strongest terms” yesterday’s attack. [UN News Centre]

A draft surveillance bill will not succeed in Britain’s parliament if it does not contain a requirement for judicial authorization and oversight, elements lacking from the current investigatory powers regime, former shadow home secretary David Davis has said. [The Guardian’s Frances Perraudin] The bill, to be published Wednesday, is expected to contain a power for British intelligence agencies to access people’s entire web-browsing histories. [The Telegraph’s Nicola Harley]

NATO is taking a hard line against Russia, working to deter Russian aggression against the bloc’s eastern flank. Michael Crowley provides the details at Politico.

Hillary Clinton and State Department officials were warned not to suggest a link between an anti-Muslim video and the 2012 Benghazi attack, an email released on Friday reveals. [The Hill’s Bradford Richardson] 

An interactive program designed by the FBI to help identify extremists is facing criticism from Muslim, Arab and other religious and civil rights leaders who claim the program is too focused on Islamic extremism. [New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein]

Britain’s EU membership is important as a matter of national security, opines Simon Nixon, arguing that the “strongest case” for British membership is the country’s security, not the economic arguments currently at the fore. [Wall Street Journal] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security