News Roundup and Notes: February 24, 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.


German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported yesterday that the NSA has increased its surveillance of senior German government officials, since being ordered by President Obama to halt its spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel [Reuters]. The information comes from a high-ranking NSA employee in Germany, who is quoted as saying, “We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor’s communication directly.”

DNI James Clapper has acknowledged that “[i]n the end, we will never ever be able to guarantee that there will not be an Edward Snowden or another Chelsea Manning because [the ODNI] is a large enterprise composed of human beings with all their idiosyncrasies” [The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake].


The New York Times (Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper) reports that under a new spending proposal expected to be released later today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II,” and will be “the first Pentagon budget to aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after [9/11].” According to the report, “[t]he new American way of war will be underscored in Mr. Hagel’s budget, which protects money for Special Operations forces and cyberwarfare.”


The Taliban issued a statement yesterday saying it had suspended mediation with the U.S. with regard to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay [AP’s Kathy Gannon]. According to the statement, the negotiations were being halted temporarily “due to the current complex political situation in the country.” A U.S. official familiar with the talks has said that the suspension was not the result of any issue between the United States and Taliban.

Meanwhile, a Taliban attack on an army outpost in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 21 Afghan soldiers early Sunday morning, in the “deadliest single incident in at least a year” [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil].


The Washington Post (Karen De Young) reports that one of the four options being considered by President Obama in Afghanistan would leave 3,000 U.S. troops beyond this year, based in Kabul and Bagram, according to U.S. officials. While military commanders have recommended 10,000 troops, the military is “studying what kind of reduced counterterrorism and training operations it could conduct under the smaller option, which some in the White House favor.”


The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on humanitarian aid access in Syria this weekend [UN News Centre]. The resolution does not call for sanctions, and only refers to “further steps” should it not be implemented [CNN’s Susanna Capelouto]. Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that Russia agreed to back the resolution when it “became balanced.”

Syria has submitted a new 100-day plan for the removal of its chemical weapons after failing to meet the February 5 deadline, but according to diplomats, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons believes the operation could be done in a shorter timeframe [Al Jazeera].

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” (David Gregory), National Security Adviser Susan Rice reiterated the administration’s position that “unless there is a political solution, [the Syrian conflict] is not going to be resolved” [The Hill’s Tim Devaney]. Rice added, “We have every interest to end this conflict, but in a way that does not insert the United States back into a hot conflict in the Middle East.”

Al-Qaeda’s chief representative in Syria and founder of rebel group Ahrar al Sham, Abu Khalid al Suri has reportedly been killed in a suicide attack in Aleppo [The Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn]. There has been no official claim of responsibility for the attack, although some reports are implicating rival rebel group ISIS.

And the New York Times (Ben Hubbard and Karam Shoumali) reports that the opposition Supreme Military Council “is in disarray,” with the body’s “full dysfunction spilled into public view recently when a group of its members decided at a secret meeting to oust its chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idris.”


Ukraine’s interim interior minister has issued an arrest warrant for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who was last seen in the Crimean Peninsula [BBC]. EU and U.S. officials have pledged support to Ukraine as it implements reforms and takes measures to stabilize the economic situation [AFP]. Reuters (Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk) and the Washington Post (William Booth) have more details on the latest developments in the country.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” (David Gregory) yesterday that Russia does not have a “mutually exclusive” relationship with Ukraine, and warned that a Russian military intervention “would be a grave mistake.” Rice emphasized that the U.S. is “on the side of the Ukrainian people.” Meanwhile, Moscow recalled its ambassador from Kiev, blaming the opposition of breaking the peace deal by “having in effect seized power in Kiev, refused to disarm and continued to place its bets on violence” [The Telegraph’s Ben Farmer].


France 24 reports that Egypt’s interim military-backed government resigned this morning.

And at the second hearing of ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s trial on Sunday, state prosecutors accused Morsi of divulging “national defense secrets” and providing “Iranian Revolutionary Guards with security reports in order to destabilize the security and stability of the country” [Al Jazeera America].

Other developments

The Guantánamo military commission held a closed session on Saturday on defense lawyers’ efforts to uncover evidence of the detention and interrogation of alleged USS Cole bomber, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri during his time in the CIA’s overseas black sites [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

South Korea launched its annual joint military exercises with the U.S. today, “despite vocal opposition from North Korea which could threaten a recent upswing in cross-border ties,” reports AFP.

Gunmen believed to be from militant group Boko Haram have killed several residents and burnt down Nigerian town Izghe in an attack over the weekend [BBC].

An official in China’s People’s Liberation Army has said that “[t]he establishment of another [air defence identification zone] over the South China Sea is necessary for China’s long-term national interest” [South China Morning Post’s Minnie Chan and Reuters].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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