News Roundup and Notes: April 24, 2015

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. DRONE STRIKES

A U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed an American and an Italian who had been held hostage by al-Qaeda for years. The January strike targeted an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan, close to the Afghan border. A U.S. official said the CIA had observed the compound for some time but did not know that the hostages were being kept there. [Reuters’ Will Dunham and Julia Edwards; Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous et al]

President Obama said he takes “full responsibility for all … counterterrorism operations,” in a statement apologizing to the victims’ families, and added that he has already “directed a full review of what happened.” An initial assessment of the operation indicates that it was “fully consistent” with current guidelines for such missions, the president said. A video is available at the New York Times.

The killing of two American al-Qaeda figures by drone strikes in Pakistan in January “deepens” the ongoing debate over the use of the drone program to target American citizens, writes Mark Mazzetti. The administration said the two, Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq, had not been “specifically targeted.” [New York Times]  J.M. Berger writes that “the rise and decline of [Adam] Gadahn mirrors the trajectory of al-Qaeda after September 11,” and that the “saga of America’s al-Qaeda members may be winding down.” [Politico Magazine]

Incidents such as the killing of the two hostages “should never happen,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, saying that she looked forward to the declassification of all information pertaining to the strike, as promised by the president. [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]

“The only thing surprising about the news … is that the U.S. actually admitted it,” writes Trevor Timm, criticizing the complete lack of public accountability for the CIA and the military’s killings outside of official conflict zones. [The Guardian]

It has become apparent that “when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world,” they often lack knowledge of who they are targeting, instead making “an imperfect guess,” writes Scott Shane. [New York Times]

Obtaining intelligence on hostages and their locations is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in “volatile regions” in which the U.S. has limited access and terrorist groups have highly-developed operations, report Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball. [Reuters]

Sen. Dianne Feinstein helped to retain the drone program within the CIA, inserting a classified amendment in a bill last year which required the administration to confirm that there would be no negative impact on the war on terror if the Pentagon was given a greater role in the program, according to intelligence sources. [Politico’s Bryan Bender]

Rep. Michael Burgess is introducing legislation prohibiting the use of weaponized drones in U.S. airspace, saying that “arming a surveillance drone for day-to-day law enforcement purposes clearly violates … ideals of liberty and must be banned.” [The Hill’s Keith Laing]

IRAQ and SYRIA

The U.S. is looking at ways to speed up air attacks against ISIS targets, including a plan to train Iraqi forces to call in strikes, said a senior Obama administration official yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

An American A-10 fighter jet deployed for the fight against the Islamic State suffered “catastrophic” damage during a routine refueling mission, forcing the plane to divert to Al Asad Base in Iraq, according to a report from the Air Force. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am April 22 and 8am April 23. Separately, military forces conducted a further 16 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

A potential confrontation in the Gulf of Aden appears to have been averted, after reports that an Iranian flotilla thought to be carrying weapons for delivery to Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi rebels reversed course, according to U.S. officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Hakim Almasmari]  The Pentagon reported that the ships do remain in the waters around Yemen, and that their activities will continue to be monitored. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The New York Times editorial board decries the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, commenting on the humanitarian catastrophe now facing the impoverished country and arguing that despite the inevitable challenges, a political solution “is the only hope for bringing some stability to the country.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Italian authorities carried out a counterterrorism operation today targeting an al-Qaeda-inspired network, leading to 18 arrests across seven provinces. [NBC News’ Claudio Lavanga and Alexander Smith]  Two of the men arrested are believed to have been bodyguards of Osama bin Laden. [AP]

The Senate confirmed Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly played an important role in rounding up enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton]  The Washington Post editorial board comments on the “thin margin” of 56-43, which it argues is “embarrassing … to the Republicans who voted against a nominee who should have breezed through.”

Mechanisms are not yet in place to resume the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, according to U.S. officials, even as some in the administration are keen to restart the process. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The Pentagon unveiled its new strategy for cyberwarfare yesterday. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter outlined the circumstances in which cyberweapons could be used to respond to an attack. Carter also revealed that his department’s unclassified networks had been intruded by Russian hackers a few months ago. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]

David Petraeus has been sentenced to two years of probation for sharing classified information. The maximum fine of $100,000 was also imposed on the former CIA director, who agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge earlier this year. [WSCO-TV’s Jim Bradley and Jenna Deery]

A Senate fight over the direction of NSA reform has halted progress on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, reports Cory Bennett. [The Hill]

Obama’s “dream of extricating the U.S. from messy foreign conflicts remains just that.” Politico’s Michael Crowley notes that despite the president’s pledge to end a decade of war, the U.S. is now taking lethal action in at least five countries.

Russia and the U.S. traded barbs over Ukraine, accusing one another of endangering the terms of the country’s fragile ceasefire by inserting troops into the conflict zone. [Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison]

A 14-year-old British boy has been charged with inciting and encouraging terrorist activity overseas in Australia, British authorities have said. [Reuters]

Terrorists groups are finding new ways of raising revenue, experts have told Congress’ Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing. [National Security Zone’s Tobias Burns]

What makes genocide different from other mass killings? The Economist explores the question against the backdrop of the 1915 Armenian massacres.

Vice President Biden said that the White House commitment to protecting Israel’s security was unwavering and “personal,” expressing his desire to “set the record straight” at a time of fraught relations between the two allies. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

Charles Krauthammer comments on Obama’s strategy on Iran, noting that the president is “recapitulating the Nixon doctrine, but with a fatal twist,” in a Washington Post op-ed.

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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