News Roundup and Notes: January 21, 2016

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 and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov failed to reach agreement on the invitation list for Syrian peace talks, scheduled to begin at the end of this month. Lavrov said that despite the lack of consensus the talks are still set to begin as planned. [Al Jazeera]

Russian airstrikes in Syria have succeeded in stabilizing the Assad government, Gen Joseph F. Dunford Jr, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday, adding that Moscow’s involvement has not changed how the US military was proceeding in the country. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]  Moscow’s strikes have taken their toll on rebel groups, with reports of heightened operations in areas in the west of the country that are of most importance to Assad. [Reuters]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that Russia’s strikes in Syria have killed more than 1,000 civilians since they began nearly four months ago. [AFP]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter delivered a counter-ISIS speech today in Paris, footage of his comments is available here.  Carter met with his French counterpart yesterday and attended a defense ministerial, the first face-to-face meeting of representatives from the seven major contributing countries in the coalition against the militant group. [DoD News]

America will convene a meeting of defense ministers from 27 countries involved in the fight against ISIS next month in order to discuss how each state can contribute more to efforts to tackle the group, Carter announced yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

The US has offered technologies to Turkey that will assist Ankara in securing the country’s frontier with Syria. [Reuters]

American forces have taken control of Rmeilan airfield in the Syrian province of Hasakah, part of efforts to support the Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS militants. [Al Jazeera]

ISIS militants are using Syria’s Tabqa Dam as a “fulcrum of power,” keeping high value prisoners and senior officials there in the hopes that the US won’t strike it for fear of causing a huge flood, reports Damian Paletta. [Wall Street Journal]

US-led coalition airstrikes are targeting the Islamic State’s money, American warplanes hitting nine depots where the militant group is thought to have stashed tens of millions of dollars in cash, according to the coalition’s spokesman, Col. Steven H. Warren. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 14 strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq on Jan. 19. [Central Command]

The White House and the Vatican have condemned ISIS for its destruction of the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq; St. Elijah’s monastery in Mosul had stood for 1,400 years until its destruction by the militant group. [AP’s Martha Mendoza et al]

“Liberation from ISIS begins with political reform in Baghdad to reduce sectarian strife.” Aziz Ahmed makes the case for allowing Iraq’s Sunnis to join the fight against the militant group, at the Wall Street Journal.

“We broke Iraq. We created a focus of discontent and a vacuum into which ISIS was left free to establish its ‘caliphate.’ We handed it the Sunni republican guard, fully armed, on a plate.” Simon Jenkins makes the case for why Britain ought to take in more refugees, at the Guardian.

IRAN

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned a mob attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran earlier this month, describing the incident as “very bad” and “detrimental to the country and Islam.” [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is pushing for more free and fair elections in the country, calling for moderate and reformist factions to be allowed run in the country’s parliamentary elections next month. [AP]

“It is the Persian Gulf? Or the Arabian Gulf?” Karen Zraick explores the importance of a name, amid escalating tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. [New York Times]

“Why the US should stand by the Saudis against Iran.” Bret Stephens makes the case for supporting the “detestable” House of Saud. [Wall Street Journal]

What happens now that the nuclear accord has been implemented? Rick Gladstone offers a Q&A at the New York Times.

PAKISTANI UNIVERSITY ATTACK

Yesterday’s Taliban attack on a university in northwestern Pakistan demonstrates that the militant group is still capable of launching large scale attacks, despite a country-wide crackdown on terrorism, report Jibran Ahmad and Mehreen Zahra-Malik. [Reuters]

A profile of Umar Mansoor, the Pakistani Taliban commander who claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the Bacha Khan University. [DAWN]

AFGHANISTAN 

A Taliban suicide attack targeted an Afghan television production company yesterday in Kabul, killing at least seven people and wounding 25 others. [New York Times’ David Jolly and Jawad Sukhanyar]

President Obama has relaxed the rules to enable the Pentagon to get approval for conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Afghanistan, according to government officials. Charlie Savage reports. [New York Times]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denies sending or receiving any material marked classified, following recent reports that the Senate Intelligence and Senate Foreign Relations committees were told in January 2014 that some emails on her private server were marked classified as above top-secret level. [Politico’s Nolan D. McCaskill]

Clinton’s campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, has accused the Republicans, in particular Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, of trying to resurface the allegations against her for the purpose of damaging her campaign. [Politico’s Nick Gass]

Blaming the accusations on a right-wing conspiracy is “a sure sign of political distress”, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board, concluding that Clinton “should be held accountable.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A British inquiry reported its findings today on the death of ex-KGB officer turned whilstleblower, Alexander Litvinenko,  in 2006.  The poisoning of Mr Litvinenko, while in the company of two Russian associates in the Millennium Hotel in London, put pressure “reminiscent of the Cold War” on London-Moscow relations.  It is anticipated that the report, which considered the possibility of Russian state involvement in the death, may revive those pressures. [New York Times’ Alan Cowell; The Guardian’s Luke Harding]  The BBC reported this morning that the inquiry has found that “President Putin ‘probably’ approved” the ex-Russian spy’s assassination.

“Russia rearms for a new era.” Catrin Einhorn et al provide infographics showing Russian efforts to reassert its influence on the world stage. [New York Times]

Two men have been arrested in Belgium, accused of links to the Paris attacks, the federal prosecutor’s office said today. [Reuters]

Israel plans to seize a large area of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, the defense ministry confirmed yesterday. [Reuters]

Five policemen have been killed at a checkpoint in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.  No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as part of a series of suicide bombings and attacks which has hit Egypt in recent years. [AP]  And US troops stationed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula are becoming an “irresistible target” for groups affiliated with the Islamic State. The Pentagon is worried that, despite this threat, it will not be able to remove them from the area anytime soon. [NPR]

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders want to bypass a proposed national commission study and legislate on encryption as quickly as possible, motivated by recent terrorist attacks and warnings from law enforcement officials that increasingly, criminals and terrorists are using encryption to conceal their communications. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The US Senate is delaying legislation that would give US privacy rights to Europeans.  The passage of the Judicial Redress Act, which would give European citizens the right to sue over data privacy in the US, is seen as a critical step toward a new “Safe Harbor” framework. [Reuters’ Dustin Volz]

Two senators have urged Defense Secretary Ash Carter not to demote retired General David Petraeus.  Sens John McCain and Jack Reed sent a letter to the Defense Secretary requesting that he use his discretion not to review Petraeus’ grade on account of a misdemeanor conviction more than four years ago. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

GOP candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policies are not only consistent, they echo an American foreign policy tradition that has been dormant since pre-World War II.  [Politico]

Oil installations near to Libya’s Ras Lanuf terminal have been attacked by suspected Islamic State militants.  [Reuters] 

Between 80 and 100 Kenyan soldiers were massacred during an attack by al-Shabaab on a Kenyan military base in El-Adde, Somalia on Friday, according to Somali and Western officials.  The Somali-based militant Islamist group, which is aligned with Al-Qaeda, held the base for several hours before making off with communications equipment, artillery pieces and American-made armored Humvees. [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman]

Almost 2.5 million people in the Central African Republic are starving, according to the UN agency, the World Food Program.  The agency has called for emergency funds from donor countries. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

French schools are overhauling their teaching of secularism in an effort to curb radicalization and terrorism.  Politicians have been accused of twisting the meaning of the principle, leaving school children confused. Secularism, or laïcité, is about inclusivity, says education minister  Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. [The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis]

British Prime Minister David Cameron is right to push English-language requirement on immigrants, opines Maajid Nawaz. Liberals must overcome “obfuscation, denial and politically correct paralysis” in order to address cultural integration issues. [The Daily Beast]

Law enforcement services in Tajikistan have convinced more than 1,700 Muslim women and girls to stop wearing headscarves, according to a local official. The police have also shaved nearly 13,000 people’s beards, and shut down numerous shops selling traditional Muslim clothing, in what is described as the country’s fight against “foreign influences.” [Al Jazeera]

Ali Muhammed Brown, accused of killing four people in New Jersey and Washington state as revenge against US military action in the Middle East, hoped to travel to Iraq to support the Islamic State, his journal has revealed.  Brown is the first person to face state terrorism charges in New Jersey, reports Joseph Ax. [Reuters] 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security