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
Iraqi military forces are closing in on Ramadi, announcing yesterday that they had pushed ISIS militants out of large portions of the city, part of a campaign to reclaim the city that has been under Islamic State control for seven months. [Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Hugh Naylor] Ramadi’s civilians are being held captive in the city by Islamic State militants, who hope to use them as human shields. [Reuters]
Syrian opposition rebels have started to evacuate the last district they control in Homs city today, part of a ceasefire agreement concluded with the government, according to activists and monitoring groups. [BBC] About 750 people are expected to leave rebel-controled areas of Hama and Idlib provinces. [Reuters]
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must face justice and Syrian “institutions of oppression” must be taken apart, according to powerful Islamist insurgent group, Ahrar al-Sham, commenting that an opposition meeting in Saudi Arabia must not make concessions. [Reuters] Al Jazeera provides an overview of the opposition landscape ahead of the three-day meeting in Riyadh.
Many Democrats are disappointed with President Obama’s ISIS strategy which many see as lacking and not aggressive enough in confronting the terrorist threat. [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer and Michael D. Shear]
Iraq has called on NATO to put pressure on Turkey to withdraw troops from northern Iraq with immediate effect. [Al Jazeera] And Iraq’s cabinet has authorized Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to seek help from the UN Security Council in expelling the Turkish forces. [Wall Street Journal’s Karen Leigh and Emre Peker]
“Foreign experts” will examine the recovered black box of the Russian warplane downed by Turkey, says President Vladimir Putin. [AFP]
Jordan has been called on to admit thousands of Syrian refugees currently stranded in a northeast desert area adjoining the Syrian frontier. [New York Times’ Rana F. Sweis]
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 11 strikes against ISIS targets in Syria on Dec. 7. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 20 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ISIS is spreading its recruitment efforts to China, including a digital recording of a new ISIS chant in Mandarin Chinese. [New York Times’ Edward Wong and Adam Wu]
“The region … is littered with evidence that in asymmetrical conflicts, even the most powerful military response can end up stoking the violence and opposition they seek to quell, especially without solutions to underlying conflicts.” Anne Barnard argues that “lessons from the past” should indicate the challenges inherent in fighting the Islamic State, at the New York Times.
“What’s needed is a strategy to destroy ISIS – not “ultimately,” as the president said last year, but as quickly as possible.” Sens John McCain and Lindsey Graham present their strategy to defeat “apocalyptic terrorists,” at the Wall Street Journal.
SAN BERNARDINO SHOOTING
Both of the San Bernardino attackers pledged allegiance to ISIS; federal authorities believe that the Facebook post made by Tashfeen Malik was made on behalf of both herself and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan et al]
The couple borrowed $28,000 from an online lender, money which was deposited into their bank account about two weeks before the shooting. [Reuters’ Dan Whitcomb and Edward McAllister]
New concerns have arisen over visa programs following revelations that Pakistani woman, Tashfeen Malik used a “relatively obscure” visa to enter the United States, reports Miriam Jordan. [Wall Street Journal]
Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims. “Without wading into politics,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, when asked about anti-Muslim rhetoric, said that “anything that tries to bolster the ISIL narrative” that America is at war with Islam “is contrary to our values and contrary to our national security.” [Politico’s Austin Wright] Trump has stood by his suggestion that all Muslims should be barred from entering the US, despite condemnation from all sides in the US and abroad. [New York Times’ Maggie Haberman; Reuters]
The “biggest difference” between Democrats and Republicans in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks has been the use of the word “war,” write James Oliphant and John Whitesides, suggesting that for Republicans “war rolls easily off the tongue.” [Reuters]
The House voted overwhelmingly in favor of restricting a program which allows people to travel to America without a visa, amid growing concerns over the threat of terrorism from overseas. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos] The limitations include a ban on people from 38 friendly foreign states who have traveled to countries including Iraq and Syria since March 2011 without a visa. [Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Hughes]
A Taliban attack has killed at least 22 military officers and nine fighters after the insurgents targeted Kandahar Airfield, a major base for US military and intelligence forces as well as the Afghan army. [Al Jazeera]
Two American servicemen have contradicted the military’s explanation for the airstrike on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, saying that they called in the strike due to the belief that the Taliban were using it as a command center. The military said that the strike was an accident as it was intended for another building. [AP’s Ken Dilanian]
The United States is carrying out a “serious review” of reports that Tehran conducted a ballistic missile test last month in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said yesterday. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols]
Washington is assisting Tehran with plans to send part of its nuclear fuel stockpile to Kazakhstan, a deal which could resolve a significant obstacle in the implementation of the nuclear accord. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
A Palestinian lawmaker has been sentenced to 15 months in prison on charges of incitement and membership of an illegal organization, the Israeli military announced yesterday. [AP]
IDF soldiers have killed a Palestinian teenager during a raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. [Al Jazeera]
GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson has hired a former Netanyahu aide as a foreign policy adviser amid concerns about Carson’s strength on the subject. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]
The Islamic State has secured a foothold in Gaza Strip, despite strong opposition from Hamas. [The Daily Beast’s Creede Newton]
French authorities have identified a third attacker involved in the terrorist assault on the Bataclan music hall in Paris. Foued Mohamed Aggad, from the French city of Strasbourg, traveled to Syria with a group in 2013, according to a source close to the investigation. [France 24; The Guardian]
Yemeni “forever prisoner,” Zahir Hamdoun is seeking release from the national security parole board, following 13 years of detention at Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
EU finance ministers reached broad agreement yesterday on a French-led initiative aimed at better tracking and freezing of terrorist funding across the bloc. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop]
Secretary of State John Kerry plans to visit Russia within the next week, for meetings on the Syrian and Ukrainian crises. [AP] And weapons and military personnel are still flowing into separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine from Russia, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. [Reuters]
The Treasury Department has expanded sanctions targeting North Korea, designating a “number of entities and individuals with ties to North Korea’s weapons proliferation and illicit finance efforts,” it was announced yesterday.