News Roundup and Notes: June 10, 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

The International Security Assistance Force said that five NATO soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan yesterday, but did not provide any details [BBC]. Local officials said that the troops, along with an Afghan soldier and interpreter, were mistakenly killed by an airstrike from a coalition plane.

Tim Craig [Washington Post] reports that Afghans fear an economic collapse due to declining American spending and rising security threats, as the U.S. prepares to withdraw from the country.

American prisoner exchange

House Republicans remained unconvinced by their classified briefing on the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl last night [The Hill’s Russell Berman and Bernie Becker; Politico’s Lauren French and John Bresnahan]. Lawmakers complained they had learned no new information and expressed anger that around 80-90 administration officials were informed beforehand about the prisoner swap, while no members of Congress were informed.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will defend the prisoner exchange before the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow, and is expected to discuss the assurances given to the U.S. regarding the monitoring of the freed Taliban officials [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Dion Nissenbaum].

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said that since the phone call from Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken a week ago, she has not been contacted by President Obama or other top White House officials over the prisoner exchange [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

Sen. Ted Cruz said he intends to introduce legislation this week that would freeze all prisoner swaps from Guantánamo, “[u]ntil President Obama can make his case and convince the American public that this swap [with the Taliban] was in our interest” [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox].

Spencer Ackerman [The Guardian] reports that while controversy over the Taliban deal persists, the administration is considering the transfer of a small number of Guantánamo detainees who are low-level in rank.

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake and Kimberly Dozier) notes that top intelligence officials expect four of the five freed Taliban detainees to return to the battlefield. However, the administration had to balance these concerns against the warning from Qatar that factions within the Taliban were campaigning for Bergdahl to be killed instead of traded.

Zack Beauchamp [Vox] speaks to constitutional law experts to explore whether Obama violated the law in releasing the Taliban detainees from Guantánamo without notifying Congress.

Pew Research/USA Today poll reveals that 64% percent believe Obama should be required to inform Congress in advance of decisions like these, while 56% say the U.S. has a responsibility to do all it can to return an American captive soldier, no matter what the circumstances.

Pakistani Taliban attack

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for a second attack near the Karachi airport earlier today [Dawn]. The attackers managed to escape as security forces secured the area, and a search operation is underway.

Meanwhile, Pakistani security forces carried out aerial strikes in the remote Tirah Valley, killing at least 15 militants and destroying nine militant hideouts [Reuters].

A Western diplomat has told The Daily Beast (Sami Yousafzai) that the Pakistani interior ministry “knew the Taliban would be attacking the airport but they could not stop it.”

The New York Times (Declan Walsh) and Washington Post (Tim Craig) cover how the Karachi attack signals the increasing threat posed by the Pakistani Taliban.

Officials and analysts say that the attack has ended any hope for a peace deal, instead pushing the government in the direction of an armed operation against the militant group, reports the Wall Street Journal (Saeed Shah).

And The Economist notes that the latest attack could change Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s strategy on dealing with the group, who has until now held back on seizing control of the North Waziristan region, which is controlled by the Taliban.

Ukraine

Natural gas supplies to Ukraine appeared stable, even as the deadline imposed by Moscow for Kiev to pay off its debts passed earlier this morning [Reuters]. Officials said the talks over the dispute, brokered by the EU, would continue in Brussels, after failing to reach an agreement last night. Meanwhile, Ukraine-Russia talks with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have produced what Kiev has called a mutual understanding on key issues in the peace plan intended to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced the establishment of an “escape corridor” for civilians who wish to leave eastern parts of the country, stating it was intended to avoid “new victims in the area of the counterterrorism operation” [Financial Times’ John Reed].

The New York Times (Andrew E. Kramer) reports on how numerous Russians have signed up to join the fight in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks—“either with recruiters or through one of several websites established expressly for enrolling them.”

Other developments

McClatchy DC (Joel Greenberg) reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking legislation to authorize the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on extended hunger strikes, and has reportedly relied on force-feeding at Guantánamo to strengthen his case.

Katy Bachman [Politico] covers how tech firms have called for stronger NSA reform in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations, but notes that the leaks have not prompted changes to the companies’ business models that  “produce the very data the NSA covets.”

In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer [video], former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed a range of issues, including her handling of the 2012 Benghazi attack; nuclear talks with Iran; and the situation in Ukraine. The Washington Post offers a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices,” which is being released today.

A new report from CrowdStrike offers further evidence of China’s cyber-espionage campaign that targets the government, defense, research, and technology sectors in the U.S. [New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth].

Al Jazeera reports on the kidnapping of a further 20 women by suspected Boko Haram gunmen from a settlement in northeast Nigeria.

An internal audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs has revealed that more than 57,000 new patients had to wait for over 90 days for initial appointments [Associated Press’ Alan Fram]. And the Washington Post editorial board argues that the Sanders-McCain bill, which provides for a two-year experiment in allowing veterans to access care outside the system, could be “a move in the right direction.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has announced an amnesty for prisoners, although it was not clear to whom the amnesty would apply [Al Jazeera America]. The move was dismissed by many as “propaganda.”

The Associated Press reports that Iraqi troops have been forced to abandon their posts in the northern city of Mosul after militants took control over key buildings, including the provincial government headquarters.

Iranian deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi indicated that the nuclear negotiations with the “P5+1” countries could be extended for a further six months, but expressed hope that a final deal could still be reached by the July 20 deadline [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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