News Roundup and Notes: June 18, 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. 

U.S. captures Ahmed Abu Khattalah     

As covered by Just Security’s Thomas Earnest yesterday, U.S. Special Ops forces have captured Ahmed Abu Khattalah, a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans. The Pentagon said that there were “no civilian casualties” and that all U.S. personnel involved had safely left Libya. The New York Times (Peter Baker et al.), Wall Street Journal (Devlin Barrett and Margaret Coker) and Washington Post (Karen DeYoung et al.) provide details of the U.S. raid.

Khatallah faces criminal charges on three counts, including one which could carry the death penalty, although the Justice Department said it retains the option of “adding additional charges in the coming days.”

The White House ruled out sending Khatallah to Guantanamo and argued that the administration has had “substantial success delivering swift justice to terrorists through our federal court system” [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer and Charlie Savage]. However, several Republican lawmakers remained critical of this decision.

Josh Gerstein [Politico] notes that, in relation to Khatallah, the administration is likely to follow the pattern previously used for terrorism suspects: “he’ll be interrogated for several days, likely aboard a U.S. ship, and then brought to the United States for a trial in a civilian court.”

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake and Kimberly Dozier) covers how Delta Force operators practiced the raid, which had been planned for over a year, on a mock up of Khatallah’s compound at Fort Bragg. According to a senior official, the delay was partly to allow the Justice Department to gather the necessary evidence to prosecute Khatallah in criminal court.

CNN (Michael Martinez et al.) reports that according to U.S. officials, not a single shot was fired as part of the weekend’s raid and that Khatallah was captured without a fight.

Speaking at a CNN-sponsored town hall discussion, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is “very pleased” by the successful raid, but added that she is “still looking for answers” and that “there’s a lot we don’t know” about the Benghazi attack [NBC News’ Andrew Rafferty].

David D. Kirkpatrick [New York Times] similarly notes that the arrest may lead to further details about the 2012 attack, which Americans are still intensely debating and investigating.

Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made an appeal for national unity with Sunni critics of his Shi’ite-led government, a few hours after his government accused Saudi Arabia of backing “genocide” in Iraq [Reuters’ Ned Parker].

Fears of sectarian war increased after the bodies of 44 Sunni prisoners were found in a police station in the city of Baquba yesterday, which was shortly followed by a suicide bombing targeting Shi’ites [New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland; Washington Post’s Loveday Morris and Liz Sly].

Islamist militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have seized control of Iraq’s biggest oil refinery, while government troops launched strikes on militants attempting to advance toward Baghdad [BBC].

President Obama has decided against the immediate use of air strikes and will focus instead on alternate strategies, such as providing intelligence to the Iraqi military, seeking regional support, and addressing Iraq’s political rifts, according to senior U.S. officials [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee et al.].

Obama will meet with Senate and House leaders privately today to discuss the conflict [Politico’s Burgess Everett]. Meanwhile, key Democrats have called on the President to take further action in Iraq, with Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein calling for “direct action” against ISIS jihadists marching to Baghdad [The Hill’s Mike Lillis].

The Atlantic (J. M. Berger) and CBS News (Alexander Trowbridge) cover how ISIS is using a sophisticated social-media strategy to boost support.

Joshua Keating [Slate] reports on the role of private funders in Saudi Arabia and Qatar in helping ISIS rise to prominence. Tom Kutsch [Al Jazeera America] also comments on how the Iraq conflict puts Saudi Arabia in “an increasingly awkward position,” trapped between “anti-Iran extremists it dislikes, and expanding Iranian clout in Baghdad.” Saudi Arabia has blamed the Iraqi government’s “sectarian and exclusionary policies” for the latest developments.

Diplomats and Syrian rebels report that Iraqi Shi’ite fighters, who were providing support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are remobilizing to Iraq to help counter the insurgency [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib].

The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns that “Tehran and the U.S. don’t have a shared interest in the Mideast” and argues that the administration’s “outreach to Iran smacks mostly of strategic desperation.” On the other hand, the New York Times editorial board considers that Obama has “so far, struck the right note on Iraq,” and states that any further action “must be grounded in a larger political strategy that considers the full spectrum of sectarian dangers that are roiling the region.”

Michael Calderone [Huffington Post] covers how supporters of the 2003 Iraq invasion are back in the “media spotlight” with the recent developments in the country.

Dick and Liz Cheney [Wall Street Journal] argue that “[r]arely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” and note that the crisis in Iraq presents “a strategic threat to the security of the United States.”

Anne Marie Slaughter [New York Times] explains why the administration should not ignore Syria, as it focuses on the attempt to counter ISIS in Iraq.

In a separate development, Andrew Grossman [Wall Street Journal] covers the prosecutor’s opening arguments in the case of the four former security contractors charged in the 2007 killings of 14 civilians in Baghdad.

Surveillance, privacy, & technology

A report from Der Spiegel reveals how the NSA “developed an increasingly intimate relationship with Germany over the past 13 years,” and “claimed to have at least a dozen active collection sites in Germany” in 2007 [The Intercept].

A statement from the UK’s top counter-terrorism official provides the government’s legal argument justifying the mass surveillance of Google, Facebook and Twitter communication, including private messages between British citizens [The Guardian’s Owen Boycott and James Ball]. According to the statement, web-based platforms abroad involve “external communication,” which do not “require a person or a set of premises to be named in the interception warrant.”

Ukraine

Following a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has set out proposals for a peace plan in eastern Ukraine, including a ceasefire by government troops [Reuters’ Pavel Polityuk].

Michael Birnbaum [Washington Post] covers how European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, are selling arms to Russia in an attempt to protect their defense industries, even as they condemn Moscow over the annexation of Crimea.

Pro-Russian separatists have appealed to Moscow for urgent military assistance as Ukrainian forces launched an offensive to retake the border areas, but Russia has refrained from responding to the request, reports the Wall Street Journal (James Marson).

The Washington Post editorial board argues that Poroshenko will need Western backing to counter Russian provocations as he prepares a peace plan for Ukraine.

Other developments

Dawn (Zahir Shah Sherazi) reports that a suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least six alleged militants early this morning in the North Waziristan tribal region, according to intelligence sources.

Colum Lynch [Foreign Policy’s The Cable] reports that the ICC is requesting the UN to conduct a “thorough, independent and public inquiry” into allegations—first revealed by a Foreign Policy investigation—that the UN systematically failed to protect civilians and UN peacekeepers from crimes in Darfur.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that only 37 percent approve of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy, marking an all-time low [NBC News’ Mark Murray].

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has told the UN Human Rights Council that the conflict in Syria has reached a “tipping point,” threatening stability in the entire region [UN News Centre].

In an interview with BBC (Lyse Doucet), Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed the possibility of the return of al-Qaeda-linked groups to his country in a similar way to Iraq.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has denied claims that al-Shabaab fighters carried out a series of attacks on Kenya’s coast, instead blaming the assaults on “local political networks” [Al Jazeera].

A Senate foreign aid bill proposes to cut aid to Egypt by $400 million, taking a more aggressive stance on the situation in Egypt in comparison to the House foreign aid package [Politico’s David Rogers].

A suicide bomb targeted an outdoor World Cup viewing site in northeast Nigeria last night, killing 14 and wounding several others [Associated Press’ Adamu Adamu]. No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack.

Israel has re-arrested 51 Palestinians freed in a 2011 prisoner exchange, as the search for the three missing teenagers continues in the West Bank [Reuters’ Ori Lewis]. Zvi Bar’el [Haaretz] warns that the Israeli government’s retributive measures against Hamas in the search of the students “may backfire.”

The first day of high-level talks between China and Vietnam over the recent territorial disputes failed to make any progress [BBC].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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