News Roundup and Notes: September 23, 2013

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Terrorist attack in Kenya

The terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi continues today. The attacks, which began on Saturday, have left at least 69 dead and more than 170 injured [BBC].  The Washington Post reports that al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militia has claimed responsibility for the operation, which has been Kenya’s deadliest attack since the U.S. embassy bombings in 1998.  JSB’s Jen Daskal and Steve Vladeck wrote earlier this morning regarding what a U.S. response could—and should—look like.

Tom Watkins at CNN has a useful Q&A on al-Shabaab. While live updates on today’s developments can be found at the Guardian.

Nicholas Kulish et al. at the New York Times examine al-Shabaab’s increased sophistication, even as it loses territory and influence in its home country of Somalia. While the Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman et al.) notes that the “common, brutal goals” of al-Qaeda-backed attacks across Africa this past year has been to kill civilians.

NBC News reports that the FBI is investigating claims that up to five U.S. nationals were part of the terrorist attacks. The allegations came from a Twitter feed purporting to represent Al-Shabaab. According to a former U.S. general, U.S. forces are likely to identify target lists for possible strikes against terrorist groups involved in the Nairobi attacks [Carlo Muñoz in the Hill].

Crisis in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has voiced concerns that foreign states may urge the opposition to attack UN chemical weapons inspectors and place blame on the Syrian regime, in an interview with the Chinese state broadcaster (Jethro Mullen at CNN).

In an interview with Fox News (Eric Shawn), commander of the Free Syrian Army General Salim Idris stated:

 We are not going to have any cease-fire with the regime.

Idris also dismissed the integrity of the chemical weapons list provided by the Syrian regime to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons last week. [Tune in tomorrow at Just Security for a post by a former OPCW official identifying the major gaps she sees in the US-Russia Framework.]

Asharq Al-Awsat’s Layal Abu Rahal reports that the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition rejected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s mediation offers as “laughable” because they “lacked credibility.”

Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S. of threatening non-cooperation on the US-Russia chemical weapons deal unless Russia agrees to authorize use of force against Syria, reports CNN (Matt Smith and Jill Dougherty). Lavrov also offered Russian military personnel to help implement the chemical weapons deal in Syria [BBC].

In the latest developments on the ground, AP covers a mortar round fired at the Russian embassy in Damascus. Three embassy employees were injured in the attack. The US Department of State condemned the attack stating, “We condemn any attack against individuals or facilities protected by international law.”

The Economist notes that as the world squabbles over chemical weapons, the Syrian regime “has resumed and escalated artillery, air and infantry assaults.” It also voices concern about the physical difficulty of implementation in Syria, the ambitious timetable and how the Chapter VII question will be resolved in the UN resolution.  

Iran’s diplomatic efforts

The Washington Post (Jason Rezaian) reports on Iran’s latest diplomatic maneuver, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used yesterday’s military parade to signal potential for cooperation with the U.S. and other Western countries. Ahead of President Rouhani’s trip to the UN this week, the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has also offered its support to the President, but has warned Iran’s diplomats to observe U.S. moves with skepticism.

The White House has maintained it is “open to engagement with the Iranian government,” although it will “make judgments based on the actions of the Iranian government, not simply their words.”

The Hill’s Julian Pecquet reports on U.S. lawmakers’ reactions to any potential meeting between U.S. and Iran at the UN this week. Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers have expressed misgivings, while some have welcomed the possibility but have urged caution.

Joel Greenberg at the Guardian covers reactions from Israel, where officials are concerned Iran’s rhetoric will lead to easing of Western pressure over Iran’s nuclear program. The New York Times’ Mark Landler reports on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech at the UN next week which warns that Iran’s moves should not set a trap for the West as North Korea’s negotiations did eight years ago, according to an Israeli official.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Kenneth Pollack writes that if the U.S. cannot reach a diplomatic deal with Iran, “containing a nuclear Iran until its regime collapses from its own dysfunction” is more favorable than the threat or use of force. And NBC News’ Tom Curry has a guide on the issues likely to face President Obama as he considers a diplomatic deal with Iran.

And earlier this morning, the Iranian President’s Twitter account reinforces its message of diplomatic engagement at the UN:

NSA surveillance

The independent experts appointed by President Obama to review the NSA’s surveillance programs have “effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts,” reports the AP.

Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal covers the continuing debate on surveillance. He notes that it is only in this past month that voices supporting the NSA have become vocal to “correct the record on how the [NSA] operates.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Alan Charles Raul calls for a “privacy czar.” He believes the “lack of centralized leadership on this nonpartisan, hot-button issue” explains the inability to deal with, among other things, the NSA leaks.

Other developments

The New York Times (Edward Wong) reports on Shanghai-based hackers’ attempts to obtain U.S. drone technology. The hacking operations can be linked to China’s current plans to build up their own drone capabilities, he writes.

Darrell Issa, the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is scheduled to travel to Libya next week as part of the Committee’s investigation into last year’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi [Ginger Gibson on Politico].

John Markoff of the New York Times notes that the U.S. military is lagging behind in the development of new high-tech ground vehicles that could replace “boots on the ground” in conflicts. In contrast, a third of the air fleet has been autonomous since 2012, with the imbalance between air and land technology attributable to Pentagon budget allocation.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism states they will be launching an initiative “Naming the Dead” today, which will record and publish the names and numbers of people killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan Pakistan as a counter to US official claims of no or low civilian deaths [Tracy McVeigh at the Guardian].

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has confirmed attendance at the UN General Assembly this week, although he is indicted by the International Criminal Court [Al Jazeera].

Al Jazeera and AP cover the escalating violence in Iraq this weekend. A suicide attack killed 78 people at a Shia funeral in Baghdad on Saturday. An attack yesterday at a Sunni funeral left 16 dead and at least 35 wounded.

In the deadliest attack against Pakistan’s Christian minority, the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for an assault against a church in Peshawar that has left 81 dead [Dawn].

Three NATO troops were killed in an attack against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan yesterday, as reported by the Hill’s Carlo Muñoz.

CNN’s Jamie Crawford reports on photos indicating that North Korea tested long-range rockets last month.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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