News Roundup and Notes: December 16, 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

Secretary of State John Kerry met for almost four hours with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow yesterday evening; discussions intended to narrow differences ahead of Syria negotiations planned to take place in New York on Friday, reports Andrew E. Kramer. [New York Times]  Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova said today that differences remain between Moscow and Washington over how to solve the Syria crisis. [Reuters]  And The Economist suggests that one of the core differences concerns “which parts of the armed opposition to Bashar al-Assad are deemed sufficiently respectable to be represented in Vienna.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Baghdad today, for discussions with Iraqi leadership on efforts to expedite the US-led campaign against ISIS, including the Defense Department’s offer to support Iraqi forces with Apache helicopters, operated by US personnel. Michael R. Gordon reports. [New York Times]  Carter’s visit to Iraq comes as local forces push forward in their efforts to reclaim Ramadi from Islamic State fighters. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

German military planes have for the first time taken part in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria; a tanker plane refueling fighter jets in mid-air that conducted the missions late yesterday and early today. The mission is the third time that Germany has undertaken a military offensive since World War II. [Deutsche Welle]

ISIS is considering the exploitation of potentially vulnerable oil assets in Libya and other areas outside of Syria, a senior US official said. The militant group controls roughly 80% of Syria’s oil and gas fields. [Reuters]

As many as 7,000 Syrians who died in state detention were the victims of torture, mistreatment or execution, according to Human Rights Watch, saying that holding perpetrators to account must be central to peace efforts in the country, reports Martin Chulov. [The Guardian]

An American aircraft carrier traveled through the Suez Canal yesterday, arriving in the Middle East on its way to the Persian Gulf where it will join the fight against the Islamic State, reports Kristina Wong. [The Hill]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out six strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 14. Separately, partner forces conducted a further eight strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Russia has its own “Jihadi John” to deal with, reports Paul Sonne, writing about Siberian ISIS fighter Anatoly Zemlyanka who appeared in an execution video, cutting the throat of a fellow Russian accused of being a spy. [Wall Street Journal]

Moscow claims it has placed 10 satellites over Syria, part of efforts to map terrain, select targets and collect other intelligence. David Axe provides the details. [The Daily Beast]

“Meet ISIL’s most dangerous affiliates,” from Harleen Gambhir at Politico Magazine.

“[T]he days of jihadist ineptitude may be numbered,” writes Katrin Bennhold, commenting on the recent Paris attacks and comparing them to earlier attacks in which “amateurism” prevented any significant damage. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan security forces seized and destroyed two tonnes of explosives in Kabul, potentially foiling numerous bomb attacks, intelligence officials said today. The materials were sent to Afghanistan by the hardline, Taliban-aligned Haqqani network from Pakistan. [Reuters]

Support for the Taliban in certain parts of Afghanistan increased as a result of American aid projects, as locals believed that the projects would not have been possible without Taliban approval. James Risen explains at the New York Times.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

IDF forces killed two Palestinians and wounded another four during an overnight raid on the Qalandiya refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. [Al Jazeera]

Ultra-Zionist organization, Im Tirtzu, was accused of incitement yesterday for accusing the leaders of four of Israel’s foremost human rights organizations of being “foreign agents” in a widely publicized video. [New York Times’ Robert Mackey]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

GOP presidential debate. Last night’s Republican debate focused on national security, presidential hopefuls sparring over how to defeat the Islamic State. [BBC]  The “policy focused debate” “opened divisions – and sparked personal attacks” between the candidates, including a clash between Sens Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over the use of surveillance in the fight against terrorism. [Wall Street Journal’s Patrick O’Connor and Janet Hook; the Guardian’s David Smith and Sabrina Siddiqui]

Nigerian security forces have been accused of killing hundreds of minority Shi’ite Muslims in a “massacre” in a northern town in recent days; police have since killed at least three demonstrators protesting the incident in the city of Kaduna. [Al Jazeera]

French authorities have arrested a man in connection to the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, according to a judicial source. The man is suspected of “fringe” involvement in the deadly attacks. [France 24]

British resident and former Guantánamo Bay detainee, Shaker Aamer has called for legal immunity to be granted to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior officials so they can reveal what they knew about British complicity in abuse during the “war on terror,” reports the AP.  And Nancy A. Youssef draws attention to the amount of time which has passed since reporters have been permitted to see prisoners at Guantánamo Bay detention facility. [The Daily Beast]

Iran violated a UN Security Council resolution by testing a new ballistic missile in October, a team of sanctions monitors said, prompting calls for Congress to impose further sanctions on Tehran. [Reuters]

Judges at the ICTY have ordered a new trial for two senior aides of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, saying that they had been wrongfully acquitted in 2013. The UN appeals panel held that the original judges made legal errors and misinterpreted international law. [New York Times’ Marlise Simons]

UN-brokered peace talks kicked off in Switzerland yesterday between the warring parties in the Yemen conflict, coinciding with a ceasefire in the country to allow the focus during negotiations to be on “reaching a permanent and comprehensive” cessation of hostilities. [UN News Centre]

The UN Security Council’s P5 have permitted modest changes to the process involved in selecting the secretary general of the international body. All of those who wish to be considered for the position can now hold “informal dialogues or meetings” with member nations, reports Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

The importance of the NATO alliance has come to the fore amid a growing threat from Russia, particularly with respect to the alliance’s commitment to collective defense of member nations in Europe itself, reports Steven Erlanger. [New York Times]

High-ranking Venezuelan military officials are set to be charged by US federal prosecutors with trafficking cocaine into the United States. [Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Matthews and José De Córdoba]

A much-delayed cybersecurity bill was included in a 2009-page omnibus bill published today; the inclusion in the spending bill makes it likely that the cybersecurity measure will soon reach President Obama’s desk, reports Cory Bennett. [The Hill]

LA schools were set to reopen today after a threatened bomb and gun attack was deemed a hoax. [Reuters]

China’s President Xi Jinping has advocated for international respect for “cyber sovereignty” at the Beijing sponsored World Internet Conference. [BBC]

“[W]e should take care not to wear the world ‘fascism’ out with overuse, lest we fail to recognize the real thing, if it does reappear,” writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft, discussing recent uses of the word, applied to subjects from Donald Trump to the Islamic State. [New York Times] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security