News Roundup and Notes: February 11, 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.

Drones

The Associated Press (Kimberly Dozier) reported yesterday that the Obama administration is debating whether to use a drone strike against an American citizen and suspected member of al-Qaeda, who is allegedly plotting attacks on U.S. targets overseas. Check out Just Security’s Jennifer Daskal’s post questioning some of the reported details in the AP story.

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt) has since reported that the U.S. citizen is living in Pakistan. The report states that under Obama’s classified policy, there is a “strong preference” for the Pentagon, not the CIA, to target American citizens. According to a senior congressional aide, the DoD “was initially reluctant” to place the individual on the targeting list, while the CIA had “supported [the strike] from the beginning.” The Los Angeles Times (Ken Dilanian), Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman) and Washington Post (Greg Miller) also report on this development.

Meanwhile, Pakistani anti-drone activist and journalist, Kareem Khan is missing after being abducted from his home last week, according to his lawyer [CNN’s Saleem Mehsud and Chandrika Narayan].

Syria

The second round of peace talks got off to a “faltering start” yesterday, with each side blaming the other for violations of a local ceasefire in separate meetings with chief UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi [Reuters’ Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Mariam Karouny]. The two delegations are due to meet for face-to-face talks this morning, in a session chaired by Brahimi [Al Jazeera].

A UN Security Council meeting on a draft resolution that would require all parties to allow access for humanitarian organizations was cancelled yesterday when representatives from Russia and China failed to attend [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]. Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin said, “we didn’t find [the meeting] necessary” as the resolution “won’t have any practical or encouraging effect on the situation and, on the contrary, it will undermine humanitarian efforts” [Itar-Tass]. Meanwhile, UK Foreign Minister William Hague, writing in The Independent, makes a case for UN action on ensuring humanitarian access to food and medical aid in Syria.

The ceasefire in Homs has been extended by a further three days, with aid organizations hoping to evacuate more civilians from the city [BBC]. And the Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) covers the anger expressed by regime supporters, who have accused the UN humanitarian relief mission of bias against minorities that support President Bashar al-Assad.

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission has confirmed that a third shipment of chemical weapons material has been removed from Syria. The Joint Mission encouraged Syria “to expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials.”

The Obama administration’s debate about the scope of the president’s power to use force against terrorist organizations has been “accelerated by al-Qaeda’s recent decision to sever ties” with extremist Syrian rebel group ISIS, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller].

The Daily Beast (Jamie Dettmer) notes that the video of British extremists allegedly torturing a moderate rebel in Syria and reports of a suicide attack by a British jihadi in Aleppo have fuelled concerns of “increasing radicalization among continental fighters.”

Counter-terrorism

The Washington Post (Adam Goldman) has obtained a video showing the U.S. capture of suspected al-Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Anas al-Libi, in October 2013 in Libya.

A newly-released email shows that 11 days after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, the U.S. military’s top special operations officer told subordinates to destroy any photographs of bin Laden’s remains or send them to the CIA [AP’s Stephen Braun].

The Washington Post notes that the “unofficial U.S. list of al-Qaeda affiliates is down to four, including offshoots in Yemen, North Africa and Somalia.”

Assaf Moghadam explores “al-Qaeda’s innovative middle managers” and suggests that counterterrorism strategies “should focus on containing threats at various levels of the organization, including both the terrorist leadership as well as middle-ranked managers that are the hubs of innovation” [New Republic].

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes) reports that the White House plans to wait until Afghan President Hamid Karzai leaves office before concluding a security pact (BSA) and deciding on a post-2014 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. A senior U.S. official said, “If he’s not going to be part of the solution, we have to have a way to get past him. It’s a pragmatic recognition that clearly Karzai may not sign the BSA and that he doesn’t represent the voice of the Afghan people.”

A suicide car-bomb attack in Kabul yesterday killed two NATO contractors [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Haris Kakar]. The militant group Hizb-i-Islami has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Other developments

A report of the House Armed Services Committee, to be released today, has “largely exonerated the U.S. military” from responsibility for the 2012 Benghazi attack, “instead blaming the White House and the State Department for ignoring heightened threats in the area,” reports the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung).

A representative of the Pakistani Taliban has said that the group has as many as 500 female suicide bombers ready to act, “underscoring the risk of further violence if talks [with the government] fail” [Bloomberg’s Augustine Anthony]. Meanwhile, a Pakistani employee of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar was killed yesterday in a targeted assassination [Washington Post’s Haq Nawaz Khan and Tim Craig].

Politico (Josh Gerstein) reports that the failed prosecution of an alleged Somali pirate, with the possibility of him living freely inside U.S. borders, “is highlighting anew the risks of trying terror suspects in American courts.”

Drew F. Cohen argues that “an overzealous security apparatus is not the driving reason behind government [surveillance] overreach.” Rather, he points to the price of surveillance technology, which has dropped “precipitously over the past two decades” [Politico Magazine].

Senators voted 94-0 yesterday to advance a bill that would restore cuts to some military pensions, “setting up a debate over how to pay for it” [Politico’s Austin Wright and Juana Summers]. The New York Times (Jonathan Weisman) notes that the House vote on Wednesday is likely to “extend the government’s borrowing authority into 2015 in exchange for reversing a cut to the pensions of working-age military veterans.”

A former U.S. Navy sailor has been sentenced to serve 30 years in prison for attempting to commit espionage against the U.S. on behalf of Russia [DoJ News].

According to Iran state media, the Iran Defense Ministry has successfully test-fired new missiles, including one designed to destroy “all types of enemy military equipment” [CNN’s Holly Yan]. Pentagon spokesperson Adm. John Kirby said this issue is being closely monitored by the U.S.

The Spanish parliament is expected to debate a bill that would reduce the scope of the national law that has allowed Spanish judges to pursue human rights cases around the world [New York Times’ Jim Yardley].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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