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
Kurdish forces backed by US-coalition air power have launched an offensive to retake Mount Sinjar today, territory seized last year by ISIS and from where the militants killed, raped, and enslaved thousands of ethnic Yazidis. The offensive will deploy 7,500 Peshmerga fighters supported by thousands of lightly-armed Yazidis. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon; Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling and Ali A. Nabhan; Reuters]
The White House will be forced to face difficult decisions on Syria this weekend at talks in Vienna, decisions it has “long resisted” but may now be unavoidable if Obama’s joint diplomatic and military strategies are to work. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]
A Russian proposal for the resolution of the Syrian conflict has failed to gain traction, receiving criticism from Western and Arab officials dissatisfied with how it addresses the Assad regime, report Farnaz Fassihi and Jay Solomon. [Wall Street Journal]
“The police are gone, and militias have flourished, snarling traffic with checkpoints and covering lampposts with pictures of dead fighters.” Ben Hubbard explores “life after ISIS and Assad,” in a Kurdish-controled region of northern Syria. [New York Times]
The United States is not losing the “war of ideas” against ISIS, argues J.M. Berger at The Atlantic.
Egyptian investigators into the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian airliner have begun preliminary discussions with American government crash experts about the aircraft’s engines. [Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor]
The crash is “baffling” investigators, some US intelligence officials concluding that attackers must have used a novel or previously-unseen explosive device, reports Shane Harris. [The Daily Beast]
Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday, his first appearance in the seaside town since the Russian Metrojet crash, a visit he said was intended to “reassure people.” [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]
The downing of the Russian plane could constitute “a whole new chapter in terrorism,” according to Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul.
Democrats appear willing to accept the executive closure of Guantanamo Bay detention facility by the Obama administration, some indicating that unilateral action may be a good idea. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post. And Charles Lane comments on President Obama’s “inconsistency” on closing the prison camp, observing that if “history teaches anything about presidential power, it is that politics and policy shape constitutional arguments.” [Washington Post]
Relations between Washington and Tehran could be restored but the US would have to apologize to Iranians before diplomatic relations could be normalized, President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying today. [Reuters]
Russia has convicted a man on charges of spying for the CIA, and has been sentenced to 13 years, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement. [Reuters]
Undercover Israeli forces stormed a West Bank hospital today, shooting dead a Palestinian during an attempt to arrest another man suspected of carrying out a stabbing attack, the Palestinian health ministry said. [Al Jazeera]
A Boko Haram attack on a village in southern Niger and the subsequent fighting between militants and government forces left at least 25 people dead yesterday. [Reuters]
Islamic extremists are celebrating an attack in Jordan which left two Americans and at least three others dead at a training facility this week, reports Julian Hattem. [The Hill]
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was “overwhelmed” by the public response to his revelations about US mass surveillance, the former contractor said during a video Q&A session hosted by the PEN American Center on Tuesday. [The Hill’s Harper Neidig]
Sen John McCain wants the Pentagon to provide more details about its plans to increase patrols in disputed waters of the South China Sea, expressing his support for the plan but urging clarification in a letter this week to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, published by US Naval Institute News.
A massive anonymous hack of Securus Technologies reveals what appear to be at least 14,000 recorded conversations between prison inmates and attorneys, “a strong indication” that at least some of the recordings are of conversations protected by the attorney-client privilege. Jordan Smith and Micah Lee provide the details at The Intercept.
A Russian television network accidentally showed secret plans for a new nuclear torpedo system, the Kremlin has conceded. [The Guardian]
“Delicate but pivotal,” Gareth Smyth explains factional Iranian politics at the Guardian.