News Roundup and Notes: January 27, 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.

Syria

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. has resumed the delivery of non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, a month after suspending supplies after extremist rebels seized warehouses belonging to the moderate opposition. U.S. officials have said that the aid is being funneled only to non-armed opposition groups for now.

Joint Special Representative of the UN and Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi announced yesterday that the Syrian Government has agreed to allow women and children in the besieged Syrian city of Homs to leave “immediately” [UN News Centre]. The government has demanded a list of male civilians who wish to leave. However, opposition delegates said that the regime could not force civilians out of their homes by starvation [Wall Street Journal’s Stacy Meichtry and Maria Abi-Habib]. The opposition’s chief negotiator said, “We must let [humanitarian] convoys to go in first and then allow civilians to make a decision whether to leave Homs or not.”

As UN-brokered negotiations continue today, the BBC reports that the talks are due to move on to “wider political questions such as the divisive issue of transfer of power in the country,” although discussions on humanitarian aid are also expected to continue.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called upon “all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria” and expressed hope for a negotiated settlement between the Syrian people [AP’s Matthew Lee].

In a related development, Al-Akhbar (Radwan Mortada) covers how the Syrian extremist rebel groups, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the al-Nusra Front have expanded into Lebanon, “ushering in a paradigm shift in terror attacks in the country.”

NSA Surveillance

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Bruce Ackerman writes about “Obama’s NSA blind spot” and the 4th Amendment. Ackerman argues that the President “has no right to sit on the sidelines waiting for the Supreme Court to tell him what the Constitution means.”

ICYMI, on Friday, a resolution from the Republican National Committee (RNC) called upon Republican lawmakers “to immediately take action to halt current unconstitutional surveillance programs and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s data collection programs” [Politico’s James Hohmann]. The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) covers the “public skirmish” between Republicans over the surveillance programs. A group of former Bush-era intelligence officials criticized the RNC in a letter on Saturday for passing a resolution that “threatens to do great damage to the security of the nation.”

Edward Snowden has claimed in a new interview with German broadcaster ARD that the NSA is involved in industrial espionage [AP].

Afghanistan

According to administration, military and intelligence officials, the possibility of an exit from Afghanistan has raised concerns about the U.S.’s drone program in the region [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt]. The risk that the U.S. may be forced to pull all troops out by 2014 has caused concern among U.S. intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases in the country, used for drone strikes against al-Qaeda in neighboring Pakistan.

The New York Times (Matthew Rosenberg) reports that the Afghan government brought in seven men to a news conference yesterday to support its claims that U.S. forces were responsible for the deaths of civilians in a remote village last week. The briefing was reportedly arranged to counter an earlier news report in the New York Times that much of President Hamid Karzai’s evidence on the issue had been misrepresented or could not be verified.

In the latest attack in Kabul, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a military van on Sunday, killing four people, including two soldiers [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri].

Iraq

Iraqi government forces have intensified airstrikes and artillery fire on the rebel-held city of Fallujah, in an effort to expel the al-Qaeda-linked militants, with at least seven people killed, according to hospital officials and tribal leaders [Washington Post’s Ahmed Rasheed].

In a conversation with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden “commended the [government’s] commitment to integrate tribal forces … into Iraqi security forces, to provide compensation for those injured and killed protecting Iraqi citizens from AQ/ISIL, and to rebuild communities in Anbar damaged from the fighting,” according to a White House statement [The Hill’s Jonathan Easley].

Israel-Palestine

Haaretz (Barak Ravid) reports that Secretary of State John Kerry plans to present a framework agreement on the resolution of the core issues between Israel and Palestine within a few weeks. However, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to downplay the importance of the framework agreement, the U.S. administration stressed its significance.

The Associated Press reports that Netanyahu’s office suggested this morning that the Palestinians’ “extreme and reckless” rejection of an Israeli proposal that some Jewish settlers remain in a future Palestinian state proves that they are not committed to peace.

And the Washington Post (William Both and Ruth Eglash) covers how the Jordan Valley is a “core issue” in the Middle East peace talks.

Egypt

The Associated Press (Sarah El Deeb) notes that Egypt’s interim leader, Adly Mansour  announced yesterday that the country will elect a president before voting for a parliament, in “a widely expected change in a political transition plan as public support for army chief … Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi grows stronger.”

Violence in the country continues. Al Jazeera America covers the anti-government marches over the weekend, during which at least 49 people were killed. And five soldiers were killed in Sinai when an army helicopter crashed during an operation against insurgents.

Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste has written two letters from Egypt’s Tora Prison, where he is currently being held without charge [here and here]. Among other issues, Greste covers how the prisons “are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government.”

In a separate development, CNN reports that at least two of the five Egyptian diplomats kidnapped on Friday in Libya have been released, according to state news agencies in Egypt and Libya.

Other developments

A U.S. military strike in southern Somalia yesterday has reportedly killed a senior member of the al-Qaeda-aligned militant group al-Shabaab, according to U.S. officials [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]. A senior U.S. official said the targeted militant leader was influential in overseeing al-Shabaab’s strikes outside Somalia.

President Obama has signed off on the nomination of Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers as NSA Director, according to sources familiar with the decision [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima].

The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reports on previously undisclosed files of military investigations into personal misconduct by U.S. generals and admirals. The files, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, “add to a litany of revelations about misbehaving brass that have dogged the Pentagon over the past 15 months and tarnished the reputation of U.S. military leadership.”

The Independent (Cahal Milmo) reported this weekend that draft proposals tabled by four lawmakers in the UK’s House of Lords call for greater oversight of American military bases in the UK, “provoked by evidence that the installations are being used for drone strikes and mass spying activities.”

The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has said that the U.S.’s threat of military option against Iran “is only useful for remaining on the table, and that the use of this option in practice would not be to the benefit of U.S. national security” [Mehr News Agency].

The Defense Department is restricting observer access to a Periodic Review Board hearing for Guantánamo detainees, requiring reporters and others to view proceedings by video link from Washington [AP]. Additionally, observers will not be able to listen to detainees when they address the review board.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that Pentagon officials have offered the Russian government help with security for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, but have not received any requests [DoD News].

Two terror suspects in the UK, including one suspected al-Shabaab-trained extremist, have been released from all restrictions on their movements [The Telegraph’s Tom Whitehead]. The terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which restricted and monitored the suspects’ activities, have a two-year limit and expired yesterday.

Tunisia’s national assembly has approved the country’s new constitution, three years after the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, marking “another crucial step to getting the democratic transition back on track in the birthplace of the Arab Spring” [Al Jazeera].

The State Department has expressed concern over renewed inter-religious violence in the Central African Republic and has stated that the U.S. “is prepared to consider targeted sanctions against those who further destabilize the situation, or pursue their own selfish ends by abetting or encouraging the violence.”

The BBC covers the latest developments in Ukraine, with the country’s Justice Minister warning anti-government protesters occupying her ministry she will call for a state of emergency if they do not leave.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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