News Roundup and Notes: May 28, 2014

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.

Afghanistan

As covered by Just Security’s Thomas Earnest, President Obama has announced his plan for the complete withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. Obama said the U.S. would leave 9,800 troops in the country after 2014, and the number would be cut in half by the end of 2015. Obama added that the plan is contingent upon concluding the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan, but noted that both Afghan presidential candidates have indicated they will sign the agreement with the U.S. The New York Times (Mark Landler), Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous and Carol E. Lee) and Washington Post (Karen DeYoung) provide more detail.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board welcomes Obama’s plan, writing that it “represents a responsible way to draw down America’s presence in [Afghanistan].” The Washington Post editorial board questions Obama’s decision and warns that previous decisions to completely withdraw from Iraq and Libya led to “consistently bad” results.

The New York Times editorial board notes that Obama’s “promise to end the war, made years ago, won’t be honored until he’s practically out of office.” And the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that Obama has set “another arbitrary and risky exit deadline.”

In a separate development, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston will be conducting an investigation into how the identity of the CIA’s top officer in Afghanistan was mistakenly released to the press during Obama’s surprise visit to the country on Sunday [The Hill’s Justin Sink; Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

On the ground, two Americans were injured earlier today when a consular vehicle was attacked in western Afghanistan [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark and Khushbu Shah].

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

Journalist Glenn Greenwald told The Sunday Times (Toby Harnden) that he plans to disclose the names of the U.S. citizens targeted by NSA surveillance in what will be the “biggest” revelation from Edward Snowden’s files.

Meanwhile, in an interview with NBC’s “Nightly News” (Brian Williams) to be aired tonight, Edward Snowden states that he was “trained as a spy” and that the administration’s claims that he was a “low-level systems administrator” are “misleading.”

Writing in the New York Times, Faiza Patel explains why the USA Freedom Act–“advertised as ending bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under the Patriot Act–barely scratches the surface.”

Jeremy Camp [Al Jazeera America] argues that secret laws–including secret electronic surveillance orders–constitute “a threat to American democracy.”

Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris provides an exclusive look inside the FBI’s battle against Chinese cyber-espionage, which led to the criminal charges against Chinese officials last week.

A New York-based hacker has been given a hugely reduced sentence for assisting the government in disrupting at least 300 cyberattacks on sensitive targets including the U.S. military and courts [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser].

Syria

Al Jazeera reports that the administration is close to signing off on a project to train and equip carefully vetted moderate Syrian rebels in Jordan, according to U.S. officials.

The Washington Post (Liz Sly) covers how the U.S.-Saudi relation is still “strained” over Syria, although both governments are taking measures to repair ties.

Lebanon’s army is “under immense strain” as the Syrian conflict across its border continues to spill over, reports the Wall Street Journal (Nour Malas and Maria Abi-Habib).

Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are voting at the Syrian embassies in Beirut and Amman in the presidential election, due to be held in Syria next week [BBC].

Ukraine

The mayor of eastern Ukrainian city Donetsk said yesterday that at least eight Russian citizens were among the rebels wounded by the Ukrainian military assault, including Russians from Moscow and cities in Chechnya [New York Times’ Andrew Roth and Sabrina Tavernise]. However, Chechnya’s leader has issued a statement denying the reports, stating he has not sent any troops to support the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine [BBC].

EU leaders have said they are still carrying out “preparatory work” on possible further sanctions, “should events so require” [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Nigeria

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the department does not have independent information from the U.S. supporting claims that the Nigerian government has located the hundreds of abducted schoolgirls.

The Associated Press (Michelle Faul et al.) reports that Nigeria’s military and the President are divided over how to rescue the girls; the military said the use of force puts the girls in danger, while the President has ruled out a hostage swap with Boko Haram.

In the most recent attack, suspected Boko Haram militants targeted a military base in northeast Nigeria, killing at least 31 security personnel [Al Jazeera].

Other developments

Ahead of the President’s anticipated West Point commencement speech, CNN (Elise Labott) outlines the “five foreign policy headaches for Obama,” including Russia, Syria and terrorism.

Josh Gerstein [Politico] reports that the Justice Department intends to ask a federal appeals court to redact additional information from a legal memo on drones before it is made publicly available.

Carol Rosenberg [Miami Herald] notes that the start date of the trial of suspected USS Cole bomber al Nashiri has been pushed back to February 9. The delay has been linked to the prosecutor’s effort to protect details of the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program in relation to al Nashiri.

The Supreme Court denied cert. in an appeal of a lower court ruling that protected Fox News reporter Jana Winter from disclosing confidential sources in stories about the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting [Politico’s Hadas Gold].

In a meeting with journalists yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that New York Times reporter James Risen may not be sent to jail for defying a subpoena requiring him to disclose confidential sources at the trial of a former CIA official [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered “a comprehensive review of the military health system to begin immediately” and is expected to last for 90 days. Meanwhile, The Daily Beast (Jacob Siegel) reports on systematic fraud at a VA hospital in Texas, based on whistleblower testimony and documents. And the New York Times (Sharon LaFraniere) reports on the unexpected deaths at a military hospital at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The State Department has issued a travel warning for Libya, asking citizens to leave immediately due to the “unpredictable and unstable” security situation and threat of attacks against American interests [NPR’s Scott Neuman]. And AFP reports that the U.S. is deploying an assault ship off the Libyan coast in case the U.S. embassy needs to be evacuated.

In a unanimously adopted resolution, the UN Security Council has extended the UN Mission in South Sudan and revised its mandate, authorizing the Mission to use “all necessary means” to protect civilians [UN News Centre].

Europol’s EU terrorism situation and trend report 2014 finds that the terrorist threat in the EU “remains acute and diverse.”

The U.S. is considering deploying a missile-defense system in South Korea to counter the threat from North Korea as well as to strengthen co-operation in Asia, according to defense officials [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes].

Dawn (Zahir Shah Sherazi) reports that a faction of the Pakistani Taliban has formally split from the central group, citing ideological differences.

Egypt extended its presidential poll by a day amid low voter turnout that threatened to undermine the credibility of the election, set to be won by former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).