News Roundup and Notes: August 6, 2014

Starting tomorrow (August 7th), Just Security’s News Roundup will be taking a brief August recess through August 17th. We’ll be back on August 18th, following the brief summer break. Here’s today’s news.

Afghanistan

A two-star U.S. Army General was killed when a man thought to be an Afghan soldier opened fire at a military academy in Afghanistan yesterday, resulting in the highest-ranking U.S. casualty in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the deadly shooting would not impact the administration’s plans to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge et al.; Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe and Pamela Constable].

The New York Times (Alan Rappeport and Helene Cooper) describes Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the victim of yesterday’s attack, as a “quietly effective leader, known for technical skill.” Eli Lake [The Daily Beast] questions the identity of the shooter, with Afghan officials claiming that the attacker was a terrorist wearing an army uniform.

An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in western Afghanistan has killed at least four civilians, according to Afghan officials [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Ahmad Shakib].

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

The Intercept (Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux) reports that nearly half the individuals included on the U.S.’s database of suspected terrorists are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” The documents, obtained from an intelligence source, also highlight the administration’s “unprecedented expansion” of the terrorist screening database.

U.S. officials have told CNN (Evan Perez) that this latest disclosure is further proof of a new leaker who is disclosing national security documents, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations, according to the federal government. 

Reuters (Joseph Menn) reports on the “slew of encryption products and privacy services” aimed at protecting individuals from electronic spying, following the revelations of mass NSA surveillance.

An individual working on a congressional computer reportedly edited a Wikipedia entry to label Edward Snowden as an “American traitor who defected to Russia” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

Senate-CIA dispute

The Washington Post (Greg Miller) covers the ongoing dispute between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the report on the agency’s interrogation practices post-9/11.  In a statement yesterday, committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein said:

“After further review of the [administration’s] redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded that certain redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions. Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.”

A number of senators supported Feinstein’s call for changes to the redactions, with Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin labeling the CIA’s proposed redactions to the report as “totally unacceptable” [Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman].

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Retired Major General Antonio M. Taguba draws on the lessons learned from Abu Ghraib, noting that “oversight is not the enemy,” and expresses concern at the “pre-emptive efforts of the CIA to derail” publication of the Senate report.

U.S. officials have told Reuters (Mark Hosenball) that the State Department is boosting security measures at some American embassies ahead of the public release of parts of the Senate report on the CIA, due to a fear of protests or backlash.

Guantanamo Bay

Defense attorneys for USS Cole bombing suspect Abd al Rahim al Nashiri have asked the military judge to require the Pentagon to disclose how Nashiri would be executed, if he is convicted at trial [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The attorney for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the Syrian Guantanamo detainee, has said that Dhiab requires urgent medical attention due to his deteriorating health amid a hunger strike [Associated Press’ Danica Coto].

Israel-Palestine

Haaretz reports on the live updates from the region, where the 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian factions continues to hold, with no missiles having being fired from either side since 8am local time yesterday. The Israeli Defense Forces withdrew its ground troops from Gaza, stating it had destroyed all of Hamas’ known underground tunnels, while Israel and Hamas negotiations on a lasting solution are underway in Cairo.

The Wall Street Journal (Nicholas Casey et al.) covers the likely demands of both sides at the Cairo negotiations, to be mediated by U.S. and Egyptian diplomats, including security measures and opening up the Gaza strip for economic development.

The Palestinian foreign minister said that he believed “the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond” [Al Jazeera].

Barak Ravid [Haaretz] reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned high-ranking Israeli ministers of the serious cost of Israeli lives and money, in order to avoid a long-term Gaza operation, at what was described by some as an “intimidation meeting.”

As the ceasefire holds, the Washington Post (Griff Witte and Sudarsan Raghavan) considers that a “single, haunting” question remains: “If this war is truly over, how long until the next one begins?”

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick) discusses Hamas’ intention to keep its political and military wings distinct, even while Israel, now backed by Egypt, is pushing for the complete “demilitarization” of Gaza.

Jodi Rudoren [New York Times] notes that even as the conflict appears to draw down, “the battle over casualty statistics rages on,” with each side disputing the other’s assessment of the number and nature of deaths.

Human Rights Watch is investigating claims that IDF soldiers killed civilians in the southern Gaza town of Khuza’a in violation of the laws of war. The Daily Beast (Jesse Rosenfield), which first reported this mass execution, discusses the alleged war crimes.

Ben Piven [Al Jazeera America] covers the economic damage suffered by Gaza during the four week Israeli offensive.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has come under renewed pressure to suspend arms export licenses to Israel, following the resignation of a senior foreign office minister, who said that the government’s position on Israel’s offensive in Gaza was “morally indefensible” [BBC].

Israeli forces have arrested a suspected accomplice in the kidnapping in June of the three Israeli teens, reports the Times of Israel (Adiv Sterman).

Russia and Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he has ordered retaliatory action to be taken in response to the expanded Western sanctions imposed against his country last week. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that eastern Ukraine was on the brink of a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and called for an international humanitarian mission to address the situation, which was dismissed by the Ukrainian government [Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski and Gregory L. White; Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Carol Morello].

According to one NATO official, the build up of Moscow’s presence along the Ukrainian border now includes around 20,000 Russian troops [CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh et al.].

Japan imposed new sanctions against Russia yesterday, although it has not gone as far as the U.S., instead keeping its “diplomatic door [with Moscow] open” [New York Times’ Martin Fackler].

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen [Financial Times] calls on NATO members to “reverse falling defense spending,” noting that each member of the alliance “has to pull its weight after Russia’s threats.”

Iraq and Syria

The Wall Street Journal (Nour Malas) reports that the U.S. is holding talks with Sunni officials in Iraq, who have requested assistance in countering the extremist Islamic State jihadists.

Key lawmakers have called on the administration to provide greater support to Iraq’s Kurdish minority, which has suffered huge blows this week amid heavy fighting against Islamic State militants [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad [Washington Post] also calls for “expedited aid” to Kurdish and Iraqi forces to enable them to respond to the significant advances made by the Islamic State.

Al Jazeera (Mohammed A Salih and Wladimir van Wilgenburg) and the Washington Post (Loveday Morris) cover the plight of Iraq’s Yazidi minority as a result of ISIS violence.

The New York Times (Carlotta Gall) reports that Tunisia has “supplied a disproportionate number of fighters to the Islamist cause in Iraq and Syria,” with almost 3,000 Tunisians having joined the fight in Syria against the Assad regime.

A 24-hour ceasefire between the Syrian extremist groups who took control of a Lebanon border town over the weekend collapsed yesterday, causing concerns over the “infectious spread” of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon [New York Times’ Hwaida Saad and Rick Gladstone]. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has provided $1bn to Lebanon’s military to assist with the fight against Islamist fighters on the Syrian border [Al Jazeera].

And the U.S. has told the UN Security Council that it has successfully neutralized approximately 60 percent of Syria’s most toxic chemicals [Al Jazeera].

Other Developments

Sen. Bob Corker [Washington Post], ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describes why President Obama is “an unreliable ally,” outlining his inaction over the crises in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine.

Former prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl is scheduled to meet today with the Army general leading the investigation into the sergeant’s disappearance and subsequent capture by the Taliban [CNN’s Steve Almasy and Nick Valencia].

Forty-seven inspectors general (IG), including the IGs for the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, have sent a joint letter to Congress, complaining that restrictions and delays in access to government records have led to “incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

The Washington Post’s editorial board welcomes the effort by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray to set up an online system for FOIA requests as “a needed step in the right direction.”

U.S. and Nigerian officials said that recent American surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria have shown large groups of girls in remote areas, raising hope that these groups include the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April [Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw and Dion Nissenbaum].

According to Iran’s state news agency, the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 countries will resume next month when the countries meet at the UN General Assembly [The Hill’s Martin Matishak].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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