News Roundup and Notes: October 7, 2013

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. raids in Libya and Somalia

U.S. military forces carried out two operations in Libya and in Somalia this weekend [CNN’s Barbara Starr et al.]. In Tripoli, U.S. forces captured a top al-Qaeda member, Abu Anas al-Libi, indicted in the U.S. for his suspected involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. And in a raid in the Somali port city, Baraawe, U.S. Navy SEALs targeted senior al-Shabaab leader, Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, alias Ikrima. According to a senior U.S. official, the SEALs withdrew upon coming under fire, before they could confirm whether they killed their target.

[ICYMI, see Just Security’s Steve Vladeck and Marty Lederman’s posts on the U.S. raids, including an analysis of the legal authority under which the Obama administration acted. Also check out Ryan Goodman’s post earlier this morning on the Somalia operation and his analysis of Ikrima, the target of the assault.]

The Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed the Somalia operation via Twitter:

…and announced this morning:

Secretary of State John Kerry remarked:

We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.

And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel similarly stated:

These operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice. We will continue to maintain relentless pressure on terrorist groups that threaten our people or our interests, and we will conduct direct action against them, if necessary, that is consistent with our laws and our values.

The Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño) reports that according to U.S. officials, both operations were lawful under the AUMF.

Meanwhile, the Libyan government has condemned the operation in Tripoli and claimed it amounted to the “kidnapping” of a Libyan citizen (Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño). But Secretary of State John Kerry has defended the capture of the alleged al-Qaeda leader as a “legal and appropriate target” [BBC]. The AFP notes that the capture in Libya “is an embarrassment for the fledgling government and could spark the wrath of the volatile country’s Islamist extremists.”

Abu Anas al-Libi is being interrogated while being held on a U.S. Navy ship and is expected to be eventually transferred to New York for criminal prosecution, according to officials [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser and Eric Schmitt].

Peter Baker and David E. Sanger in the New York Times write that the U.S. raids “show the limits of U.S. military strikes” and that the “disparate results in two corners of North Africa over the weekend served as a reminder of the uncertainties and dangers inherent in any form of warfare.”

Connor Simpson in the Atlantic Wire questions whether the U.S. is officially moving away from drone strikes. Shane Harris also analyzes the “dramatic departure” from the standard Obama administration policy of using drones [Foreign Policy].

A spokesperson for the Kenya Defense Forces has identified four individuals that took part in the terrorist attack in Nairobi, including one American Somali [CNN’s Emma Lacey-Bordeaux].

Government shutdown

On Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Department would recall most of its 350,000 furloughed civilian workers. The Pentagon concluded that under a law signed by President Obama last Monday, the workers could be considered critical to protecting national security [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Siobhan Hughes]. The Pentagon Comptroller details the “painful” decision regarding which civilians would be able to return from the furlough.

A panel set up by Obama in August to review the government’s use of surveillance technologies – the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies – has been frozen after its staff was furloughed last week [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Mike Allen].

The Wall Street Journal (Ben Otto and Natasha Brereton-Fuku) reports that, following Obama’s decision to cancel his trip to Asia, U.S. cabinet members are aiming to reassure trade partners at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. Speaking on the sidelines of the APEC meeting, Secretary of State John Kerry stated:

I believe that those standing in the way need to think long and hard about the message that we send to the rest of the world when we can’t get our own act together.

Geoff Hiscock writes that Obama’s withdrawal “because of a domestic political brawl leaves [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] and Russian President Vladimir Putin as the two most powerful men in attendance” at the APEC forum [CNN].

Surveillance

ICYMI, on Friday, top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed how the NSA infiltrated Tor’s encrypted network [Washington Post’s Barton Gellman et al.]. Tor is used by millions of people worldwide to protect their identities, business or research, and according to NSA officials, was offering protection to terrorists. Bruce Schneier in the Guardian has more on how the NSA carried out its penetration of Tor.

The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) reports that the “dual-hat assignment” whereby Gen. Keith B. Alexander heads both the NSA and the military’s Cyber Command is stirring debate within the administration.

In the U.K., a former member of the government reveals that U.K. Cabinet ministers as well as members of the national security council were in “utter ignorance” of the surveillance operations, Prism and Tempora [The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor].

And according to a Brazilian television report, Canadian spies are being accused of targeting Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry [the AP].

Syria

The process of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons began yesterday [UN News Centre]. The team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) oversaw Syrian personnel as they disabled a range of items, including “missile warheads, aerial bombs and mixing and filling equipment.”

Speaking at a conference with Russian Foreign Minister  Sergey V. Lavrov earlier today, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the U.S. and Russia were “very pleased” with the regime’s compliance so far and welcomed the “good beginning” [the AP].

As the OPCW team completed its first week in Syria, the New York Times’ (Anne Barnard) covers the “conciliatory note” offered by Syrian officials toward the opposition. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel (to be published today), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stated that the Syrian crisis involved “shades of gray.” He said that he could not claim that the rebels “did everything and we did nothing.”

BBC reports that the Turkish parliament has voted in favor of a bill that authorizes the military to launch cross-border action against Syria, following Syria’s shelling of a Turkish town last week.

According to Israeli media, at the height of the Syria crisis, the White House was so sure of a Syria strike that it gave Israel formal notice of an imminent attack [Times of Israel’s  Raphael Ahren].

The Economist questions whether the disarmament process in Syria will be successful, noting that “destroying a chemical arsenal in the midst of a civil war is unprecedented.” And in an op-ed in the Washington Post, David Ignatius writes about “Obama’s diplomatic opportunity” in relation to both Syria and Iran, but cautions that it “will require constant, skillful diplomatic guidance.”

Iran

On Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed support for President Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to the West, but criticized some of his actions as “inappropriate” [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]. While Khamenei did not specify any actions, a political strategist close to the leader said he was referring to the phone call between Obama and Rouhani. Khamenei also stated that he remained “pessimistic about the Americans.”

Four people suspected of planning to sabotage one of Iran’s nuclear sites have been arrested by the Iranian authorities [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink].

Other developments

Four U.S. troops were killed in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan yesterday [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge].

A recent ruling from the Supreme Court of Netherlands has found the Dutch government responsible for the deaths of three men killed during the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica [OSF]. The ruling sets an “important precedent: that states can now be held liable for its peacekeepers’ actions carrying out a UN mandate.”

In a statement yesterday, an al-Qaeda-sponsored group claimed responsibility for bombings in Iraq’s Kurdish region, stating that it was in response to the Kurdish region’s President’s alleged willingness to support the Iraqi government in battling jihadists in Syria [AFP]. As violence in the country escalates, UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov has called for collective action to end the violence.

Clashes between supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and security forces yesterday has left at least 51 dead and more than 246 injured [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley].

Gunmen in Yemen killed a German embassy guard yesterday in an attack on a diplomatic vehicle in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa [the AP]. The assailants had tried to kidnap the German ambassador Carola Mueller-Holtkemper, who escaped.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has announced his retirement after six years in the role, “clearing the way for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to select a replacement while maintaining the balance of power between civilian and military leadership,” reports Tim Craig [Washington Post].

Following a three-week registration process for next year’s presidential election in Afghanistan, around 20 individuals, “including Islamist warlords,” have submitted their candidacies [Voice of America].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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