News Roundup and Notes: December 8, 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.

HOSTAGE RESCUE BID

A failed hostage rescue mission in Dafaar, Yemen, carried out by U.S. Special Forces over the weekend led to the death of 13 people, including American journalist Luke Somers and a local al-Qaeda leader. The raid on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was the second attempt to rescue Somers, which President Obama said he authorized based on information that Somers’ life was in “imminent danger.” [Reuters’ Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf]

South African hostage Pierre Korkie, who also died in the raid, was reportedly set to be released by AQAP yesterday, following negotiations between the terrorist group and a South African humanitarian relief organization. The U.S. sought to defend the commando raid, with officials stating they were unaware of the deal and did not know Korkie was being held alongside Somers [AP; The Guardian’s Peter Salisbury et al]

The Pentagon will not review its policy on rescuing hostages following the weekend’s failed bid. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the process for approving such raids is “about as thorough as it can be.” [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes et al]

The U.S. has “few good options” in its efforts to rescue American prisoners, as highlighted by the third failed rescue mission in recent months, writes Shane Harris. [The Daily Beast]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The U.S. transferred six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay this weekend, the Defense Department announced early yesterday. The group of six constitutes the largest single release of inmates from the prison since 2009. The agreement with Uruguay was finalized last spring and was delayed due to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s slow pace in signing off the deal, reports Charlie Savage. [New York Times]

Abu Wa’el Dhiab was among those released to Uruguay. Dhiab, a Syrian inmate held since 2002, brought the first legal challenge against the prison’s force-feeding program; his release will not have an impact on the ongoing trial. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

The New York Times editorial board calls on the administration to release footage of prisoner force-feeding, suggesting that the “government defends its demand for secrecy by trying to have it both ways.”

The release of the detainees “highlights the historic evil of Guantanamo,” argues Glenn Greenwald, noting that they had been cleared for release by the Pentagon for years but “nonetheless remained in cages.” [The Intercept]

SENATE TORTURE REPORT 

The White House indicated support for the planned release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA, despite reports on Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry asked for the release to be delayed, citing the possible backlash against U.S. forces and hostages overseas. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

Former President George W. Bush and ex-CIA officials challenged the report’s conclusions over the weekend, pre-empting its release this week. [New York Times’ Peter Baker]  Former CIA Director Michael Hayden dismissed allegations that his agency lied about its interrogation program, while suggesting the report could be used by America’s enemies to motivate attacks against U.S. facilities and personnel overseas. [CBS News’ “Face the Nation”]

House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers expressed similar concerns about the report’s release on CNN’s “State of the Union,” while Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein outlined her efforts to secure the report’s release in an interview with the Los Angeles Times’  Brian Bennet.

The CIA is likely to issue a muted response to the Senate report, and is unlikely to defend the former interrogation programs, according to current and former officials. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Tim Mak]

“[T]here are huge strategic drawbacks to torture,” writes active-duty counterintelligence officer Lt. Col. Douglas A. Pryer, who disputes the arguments of torture advocates that “enhanced” interrogation techniques yield intelligence. [Foreign Policy’s “Best Defense”]

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Syrian military accused Israel of carrying out two airstrikes near Damascus on Sunday. Israeli officials refused to confirm or deny the reports. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]  Creede Newton writes that the reported strikes, which follow an apparent meeting between Hezbollah and the Russian deputy foreign minister, appear to be sending a warning message to Russia and Iran, in addition to the Assad regime. [The Daily Beast]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. From Dec. 3-5 U.S. military forces conducted six airstrikes in Syria, five of which were near Kobani. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations carried out 14 airstrikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is urging Turkey to fully participate in the fight against the Islamic State during a visit to Ankara. [BBC]

The nature and extent of cooperation between Israeli troops and Syrian rebels has been documented by UN observers in the Golan Heights over the last 18 months in reports submitted to the Security Council. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

Anbar’s tribal fighters are running short of ammunition and are struggling to counter ISIS fighters in Iraq who possess “more sophisticated arms,” a tribal leader has told Asharq Al-Awsat’s Hamza Mustafa.

“How the ISIS war looks from Baghdad.” Iraqi expert Douglas Ollivant gives a Q&A on the situation, stating his view that Americans are missing out on a number of key developments. [Vox’s Zack Beauchamp]

International aid agencies are calling on wealthy countries to take in Syrian refugees as the immediate neighbors of the warn-torn country are overburdened; their call comes ahead of the UN conference in Geneva dealing with the refugee crisis. [The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hopes to slow down the withdrawal of U.S. troops over the next two years, hinting that he would like to see a more gradual withdrawal during a meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Adam Entous]

The U.S. has handed to Pakistan a senior Pakistani Taliban leader and two other prisoners held in Afghanistan, as it attempts to empty its Afghan detention centers ahead of the end of the U.S. mission this year. [Reuters’ Kay Johnson and Saud Mehsud]  However, several officials in Pakistan say the transfer indicates a thaw in the country’s strained relations with both the U.S. and Afghanistan. [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]

Taliban fighters attacked a police headquarters in southern Afghanistan earlier today, killing five people. [Reuters]

The “Valley of Death,” a deadly road close to Kabul, is a stark example of Afghanistan’s security problems, as Taliban suicide bombers regularly attack the road and surrounding area, Sudarsan Raghavan reports. [Washington Post]

The influence of the Islamic State is increasing in Afghanistan, a country “already mired by daily bombings and attacks by Taliban insurgents,” reports Reuters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Pakistani military killed a top al-Qaeda operative—who was indicted in the U.S. for alleged involvement in a plot targeting New York’s subway—in a raid in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on Saturday. [AP’s Munir Ahmed]

The bill aimed at easing disclosure of records under the FOIA is likely to be delayed after numerous federal regulatory agencies raised concerns over possible interferences with their internal decision-making processes. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

The nuclear deal with Iran could be concluded in under four months, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, who defended the decision to extend the negotiations for a further seven months. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]  Meanwhile, Kerry expressed concern at reports of American journalist Jason Rezaian being charged with unspecified charges by the Iranian judiciary, and reiterated his call for the release of Rezaian and other U.S. citizens being held by Iran.

An American Navy engineer has been arrested on charges of passing defense information and technical data on a new nuclear aircraft carrier to Egypt. [AFP]

Ready-to-launch nuclear weapons pose a high risk of deliberate or accidental nuclear attacks, and the action to limit such risks is “insufficient,” according to a global group of political and military figures. [Press Association]

“America is failing today’s troops and veterans.” Hope Hodge Seck reports on the state of the military, including the “worsening morale crisis.” [Military Times]

The problem of military sexual assaults remains “unresolved,” writes the New York Times editorial board, urging congressional leaders to resolve what it argues is an important matter of both “justice and national security.”

Russia is “creating problems” in Moldova and Georgia, and attempting to make some Balkan nations “politically and economically dependent” on Moscow, warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an interview with German newspaper, Die Welt am Sonntag. [Financial Times’ Stefan Wagstyl and Roman Olearchyk]

More than 200 prisoners have been freed from a jail in Nigeria by armed men, the third such mass break since November. [Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia has arrested 135 individuals suspected of planning a terrorist attack inside the country, as authorities step up efforts to counter Islamic State-linked attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security