News Roundup and Notes: April 23, 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 in Yemen

CNN (Mohammed Jamjoom and Barbara Starr) reports that the U.S. “offered extensive assistance beyond drone strikes during a massive anti-terror operation in Yemen [last weekend], including flying Yemeni commandos to a site where they killed scores of suspected al Qaeda members,” according to a U.S. official. Yemeni officials said that DNA tests are being carried out to determine if alleged al-Qaeda bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri is among those killed, while U.S. officials say the operation did not directly target al-Asiri.

At Just Security, Ryan Goodman and Sarah Knuckey offer a line-by-line analysis of the New York Times story on the U.S. and Yemeni military operations in Yemen. And be sure to check out Daphne Eviatar’s and Steve Vladeck’s posts discussing the decision by the Second Circuit in New York Times v. Department of Justice, which, among other things, orders the disclosure of a redacted version of an OLC memo relating to the targeted killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov has called on law enforcement agencies to renew their anti-terror operation in the country’s east, after reporting the discovery of two tortured bodies near the city of Slaviansk [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark and Gul Tuysuz]. Ukrainian intelligence chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko has said that up to a hundred Russian intelligence officers and special forces troops are leading the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine [Atlantic Council’s James Rupert And Irena Chalupa].

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the U.S. of “running the show” in Ukraine and said that Russia will respond if its interests in Ukraine are attacked [BBC].

The Pentagon has announced that around 600 ground troops will arrive in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the coming days for military exercises to “reassure” the U.S.’s allies in the region. Politico (Philip Ewing) and the Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes et al.) provide more details.

While pledging additional U.S. aid, Vice President Joe Biden emphasized yesterday that no nation “has the right to simply grab land from another nation.” Biden stressed that the U.S. “will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world, as was demonstrated by the overwhelming vote that took place in the … General Assembly.” The New York Times (Andrew Higgins and Andrew Roth) and Washington Post (Scott Wilson and William Booth) cover Biden’s speech in Kiev.

A White House fact sheet outlines the U.S. Crisis Support Package for Ukraine. And Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, urging Russia “to tone down escalatory rhetoric” and issue statements “calling for those occupying buildings to disarm and stand down in exchange for amnesty” [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

A State Department official has told BuzzFeed (Rosie Gray) that the department is “aware” of the kidnapping of Vice reporter and U.S. citizen, Simon Ostrovsky, and is working to provide “all appropriate consular assistance.”

The Guardian (Ewen MacAskill) explores whether the photographs, referred to by the State Department as proof of Russian special forces acting in eastern Ukraine, provide conclusive evidence.  And Josh Rogin [The Daily Beast] reports that NATO countries “have helped Russia revolutionize its armed forces,” with questions now being asked “about a German defense contractor that trained the Russian military.”

Iran

Iran has submitted a statement to the UN Committee on Relations with the Host Country over the denial of a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s choice for UN envoy. According to the statement, Iran claims:

“It is obvious that such refusal of granting visa by the Host Country authorities flagrantly contravene their legal obligations under the Headquarters Agreement … [T]he decision of the U.S. Government has indeed serious negative implications for multilateral diplomacy, as it could set a dangerous precedent and adversely affect the work of intergovernmental organizations and activities of their Member-States.”

Meanwhile, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, David Ignatius discusses the nuclear negotiations with Iran, noting that “details of a possible agreement are visible, but not yet the will in revolutionary Iran to compromise.”

Israel-Palestine

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli journalists yesterday that Israel’s policies had left his West Bank government without power [Al Jazeera]. Abbas warned, “If the negotiations stop, it’s the Israeli government that will bear the responsibility for the economic situation … just as it did before the establishment of the Authority.”

Haaretz (Jack Khoury and Barak Ravid) reports that Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ political party, Fatah, are preparing to implement a “historic reconciliation deal … nearly seven years after a schism between the rival Palestinian factions.” However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Abbas must choose between making peace with Hamas or Israel, and could not do both.

Syria

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission reported yesterday that 88 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile has been removed from or destroyed in the country. However, Reuters (Oliver Holmes) reports that if the latest allegations of chlorine gas attacks are proven, they “expose a major loophole in an international deal to remove chemical weapons from the war-torn country and suggest chemical warfare could persist after the removal operation has finished.”

The Washington Post editorial board writes that as Syrian regime forces “continue to make significant gains against rebels,” the “United States—the one power with the means to end the horrific crimes against humanity that are paving Mr. Assad’s road to “reelection”—no longer even pretends to have a strategy.”

The New York Times (Anne Barnard) covers how the Syrian city Homs has emerged as a “turning point in shaping Syria’s future.”

And French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is set to submit an anti-radicalization plan to his cabinet aimed at preventing young people from joining jihadist groups in Syria [France 24]. Measures include the re-introduction of legal authorization for minors to leave the country.

Other developments

A lawsuit filed on behalf of four men accuses the FBI of placing or keeping them on the U.S. no-fly list after they refused to spy on local Muslim communities in New York, New Jersey and Nebraska [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman].

Judge Pohl’s order in the al Nashiri military commission case last week, requiring the prosecution to provide defense lawyers with details of the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation of al Nashiri, has been unclassified. Just Security’s Thomas Earnest has more details. Meanwhile, the CIA has declined to comment on whether it will comply with the week-old order [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The New York Times editorial board notes that this month marks ten years since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. The board writes: “The anniversary marks two scandals. The first is the torture itself. The second is the government’s abysmal failure to provide a real measure of justice for victims.”

The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño reports that the U.S. has decided to resume delivery of Apache helicopters to Egypt, “backtracking on a decision officials made last summer following the country’s military coup and its violent aftermath.” Meanwhile, Egypt’s plan for new anti-terrorism legislation “is drawing searing criticism from rights groups and lawyers that it would grant authorities far-reaching powers to quash dissent amid an already alarming slide toward authoritarianism” [Washington Post’ Erin Cunningham].

China’s Huawei Technologies has said that the recent reports alleging the NSA accessed its servers will not affect the company’s growth [Reuters’ Yimou Lee].

Craig Whitlock [Washington Post] reports on the internal investigation into the Commander of the U.S. Army forces in Japan, which finds that Maj. Gen. Michael T. Harrison mishandled sexual assault allegations against a colonel on his staff.

The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins explores what the U.S. left behind in Iraq: “An increasingly authoritarian leader, a return of sectarian violence, and a nation worried for its future.”

Ahead of his seven-day, four-nation Asia trip, President Obama sought to reassure Japan and other allies that the U.S. will remain committed to their defense in light of China’s growing assertiveness in the region [Reuters’ Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies]. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to lift constraints on his country’s military so as to protect itself from potential military threats, which “may please [the U.S.], but rattle neighbors,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Yuka Hayashi).

In a speech to Bloomberg, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair blames the rising Islamic extremism in the Middle East for failures of Western intervention in the region [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour].

In light of yesterday’s killing of a Somali legislator by two al-Shabaab gunmen, the top UN envoy to Somalia has warned that the UN and other foreign diplomats may have to withdraw from Somalia if such violence continues [Al Jazeera].

The White House has condemned the violence by rebels in South Sudan as “an abomination” and “exactly the violence and suffering the South Sudanese people fought for decades to escape” [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

While votes in Afghanistan’s “turbulent” Andar district were “cast in high numbers” and hailed “as a triumph for Afghan democracy,” a review by the New York Times (Azam Ahmed) has found that fraud and a lack of security undermined the democratic process in the region and prevented many from accessing the voting polls.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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