Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Congress, CIA Drones, and Iran

by Micah Zenko
May 17, 2013

John Vandiver, “US-trained Congolese Battalion Among Units Accused of Rape,” Stars and Stripes, May 10, 2013.

For U.S. diplomats and military officials who were involved in training a Congolese army unit, a troubling question loomed: Would the 391st Commando Battalion serve as protectors of the population or would they revert to acts of sexual violence once on the battlefield?

A United Nations report released this week indicates that their worst fears have been realized and that efforts at building up a Congolese unit of benevolent soldiers has failed. The report, issued Wednesday by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, accused members of the 391st Commando Battalion — which was trained by special forces troops assigned to U.S. Africa Command — and other Democratic Republic of Congo troops of engaging in a range of atrocities, including the mass rape of women and young girls in eastern Congo.

(3PA: Read the UN joint report.)


John Bennett, “‘Fragile’ Pursuit of a Grand Bargain,” Defense News, May 12, 2013.

Yet another reason the Senate — and even senior House members say a grand bargain will have to originate in the upper chamber — has so far failed to begin work on the big long-term budget measure is the institution’s inability to multitask.

The attention span around here is about that of a 4-year-old,” McCain told Defense News. “I think that’s why there hasn’t been as much attention on a grand bargain as you might have suspected.”


Aram Roston, “Targeted Killing: CIA’s Fleet of 80+ UAVs Unlikely to be Transferred to Military,” Defense News, May 15, 2013.

The Obama administration has floated the idea of putting the CIA’s controversial targeted killing operations under the control of uniformed armed service. But sources familiar with the still-classified program, which uses unmanned aircraft to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen, say the shift would be difficult to implement and would make little difference…

People familiar with the UAV program say that when it comes time to pull the trigger on a weapon aimed at a suspected terrorist, no matter whether the mission is run by the CIA or the Air Force, the action is always conducted by military officers. It is U.S. government policy that only uniformed personnel can be the “trigger pullers,” the sources said.

One former intelligence officer points out that the most important part of the entire program isn’t the UAVs at all. It’s the intelligence that officials use to pick their targets. And that’s the part the Air Force would have the most difficult time getting, if it were not for the CIA.

(3PA: Why transferring CIA drone strikes to the military is a good idea.)


Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “U.S. Policy Toward Iran,” May 15, 2013.

Sen. John McCain: On the [Iran arms shipments to Syria] overflights that were mentioned, I think we should be frank with the American people and the Congress. We’re not stopping those overflights, and we are not getting inspections. And those that are inspected are preplanned so that the inspection shows that there are no weapons being delivered from Iran to Syria. The fact is we know — absolutely know — that roughly one flight a way is going into Damascus filled with arms and weapons for the use of Bashar Assad

Wendy Sherman [Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs]: We currently assess that it would take Iran a minimum period of approximately one year if it made a decision today to acquire a nuclear weapon. And we assess that they have not yet made that decision, and it would be made by the supreme leader.

That effort to acquire a nuclear weapon would involve both the production of a sufficient amount of highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon and the completion of various weaponization activities needed to fashion a working nuclear device that could be fitted into a ballistic missile…

Sen. Christopher Murphy:  What are the things that would change that decision? And amongst those, what are the things that may be outside of our control that relate to the internal political dynamics of an upcoming election and a very fluid political situation on the ground within Iran?

Sherman:… I don’t think the supreme leader has made the strategic decision to, in fact, deal on their nuclear program. I believe it is all part of a broader projection of power and assertion of Iranian authority and point of view, not only in Iran but in the region, and ultimately in the world.

I think that we do believe that the imposition of sanctions and the pain that is being put on the Iranian regime is having an effect, perhaps not yet enough of an effect to change the calculus of the supreme leader, but on its way potentially to doing so…

I certainly think that the fall of the Assad regime will have a profound impact. It will either make them feel more or less secure. I think that you are quite right that they will look for a way to maintain a presence even after Assad falls, because Assad will most decidedly fall at some point in this process. And they will look for a way to recover, because they need that position in the region.

I think there are other actions that could be taken and other agreements made. If there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for peace in the Middle East, it may change the calculus of many players in the world; where we are in Afghanistan. What happens to DPRK’s program is watched by Iran.

So there are any number of factors that I think probably affect their calculus. But at the end of the day, my own experience is that this is ultimately about regime survival and survival of the choices they have made about how their country is governed, ones that we find extraordinarily repressive to their people. And it will be that regime’s survival that will affect their calculus.


Karen DeYoung, “Policy on Drone Strike Authorization Doesn’t Need to Change, Defense Official Says,” Washington Post, May 17, 2013.

A senior Defense Department official said Thursday that the Pentagon sees no need to change the broad congressional authorization under which the military conducts lethal drone strikes against terrorist targets and estimated that the war with al-Qaeda could continue for up to two decades.

“At this point we’re comfortable with the AUMF as it is currently structured,” Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan said of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001. “Right now . . . it serves its purpose,” he said.


Craig Whitlock, “Obama Deplores Sex Crimes in the Military, Says There’s ‘No Silver Bullet’,” Washington Post, May 16, 2013.

“The Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, said in a blog post addressed to his 540,000 soldiers. “It is time we take on the fight as our primary mission.”

Yemen Police ‘Dismantle’ al-Qaeda Cell,” Al-Arabiya, May 12, 2013.

Yemeni police Sunday raided a house in the southern city of Aden, killing one suspected Al-Qaeda militant and arresting three, an official said, adding that the cell was plotting attacks on vital installations.
“We have dismantled a terror cell in one of the houses near Mansura district” in Aden, the security official said.
“Security forces managed to kill one of its members who tried to blow himself up using two explosive-laden belts.”
Three other suspected members of the cell were arrested and police seized dozens of explosive belts, he said, adding that the cell had been planning attacks on strategic installations in Aden.

(3PA: Apparently, members of Al Qaeda can be captured in Yemen.)

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