Western powers could strike Syria within days

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
August 27, 2013

Leaders strategize on Syria attack, Afghan Taliban kill 12 suspected of government ties, and U.S. Attorney General pressed to explain how DEA uses hidden data. Today is Tuesday, August 27, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

U.N. chemical weapons experts visit people affected by an apparent gas attack at a hospital in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Abo Alnour Alhaji

Syria strike looms. Western leaders are poised to take military action in Syria after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called last week’s chemical weapons attack “undeniable.” Action against Syria likely would be quick and intended to punish Assad rather than change the direction of the war:

Any strike by the United States and its allies on Syria will probably aim to teach President Bashar al-Assad – and Iran – a lesson on the risks of defying the West, but not try to turn the tide of the civil war. U.S. and European officials say a short, sharp attack – perhaps entirely with cruise missiles – is the preferred response to what they believe is Assad’s responsibility for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas last week. If such a strike goes ahead, President Barack Obama’s administration will have to select its targets with extreme care as it tries to deter not only Assad but also Syria’s ally Iran over its nuclear program.

With the U.N. Security Council deadlocked due to Russia and China’s veto power, the U.S. could seek alternative ways to legally justify military action. Meanwhile, Russia, Iran and China continue to warn Western leaders against blaming Assad for the attack. Western officials say the U.S. is most likely to use cruise missiles, which could be launched from warships or aircraft outside Syrian airspace:

Choosing targets is fraught with danger. The most likely, officials say, would be Assad’s command and control facilities, air defenses and any part of his chemical arsenal they believe can be attacked safely. What must be avoided is any action that, while designed to punish the use of chemical weapons, perversely ends up releasing dangerous materials into the environment. Likewise if any technicians from Russia, a major arms supplier to Assad, were killed, this would inflame already troubled Western relations with Moscow.

A U.N. chemical weapons investigation team was finally able to collect samples from gas attack victims on Monday, after days of shelling that likely destroyed evidence, and will return on Wednesday to continue their investigation. For an explanation of the options facing Western leaders, read this imagined conversation by the New Yorker’s George Packer.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) speaks during a joint news conference as Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad, August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Taliban slay suspected government workers. Afghan officials said the Afghan Taliban executed 12 men over the weekend after accusing them of cooperating with the government.

The Taliban are increasingly targeting civilians seen to be cooperating with the government, raising concerns about the prospects for peace after most foreign troops pull out next year… Taliban executions of workers associated with the Karzai administration or the international community are not rare, but recent attacks have typically occurred in the restive eastern and southern parts of the country.

The Taliban kidnapped and killed six men working for a World Bank-funded program in Herat, one of Afghanistan’s most stable provinces, as well as six drivers in the restive province of Paktia.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks on stage during the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco, California, August 12, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

You didn’t hear it from us. U.S. lawmakers are asking Attorney General Eric Holder to respond to a recent Reuters report that detailed the NSA’s practice of sharing information with the Drug Enforcement Administration for non-terrorism related cases:

Five Democrats in the Senate and three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee submitted questions to Holder about the NSA-DEA relationship, joining two prominent Republicans who have expressed concerns. The matter will be discussed during classified briefings scheduled for September, Republican and Democratic aides said… The Reuters reports cited internal documents that show how DEA’s Special Operations Division funnels information from overseas NSA intercepts, domestic wiretaps, informants and a large DEA database of telephone records to authorities nationwide to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

According to the report, law enforcement agents were instructed to recreate the steps of an investigation, a method called “parallel construction,” to make it appear as though the NSA was not the source of information that led to arrests. DEA officials have said the practice is legal and standard, but critics say it could violate a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Nota Bene: A dispute between Russia and Belarus over potash ignites a major diplomatic row.

Standouts:

Deadly intel - Documents reveal the U.S. knew Saddam Hussein planned to carry out a deadly chemical attack. (Foreign Policy)

Epic fail - Not a single candidate passes Liberia’s college entrance exam. (BBC)

Gross domestic product - Cockroach farming is a lucrative business in China. (Quartz)

Pooch nuptials - Sri Lankan police apologize for elaborate dog wedding. (Associated Press)

Barefoot Gen’s back - Japan removes restrictions on classic anti-war Manga series. (The Guardian)

From the File:

  • China sees no basis for talks with Japan.
  • South Africa strikes escalate with petrol stations dispute.
  • China accuses Briton, American of illegally buying private data.
  • Tunisia blames “terrorist” group Ansar al-Sharia for killings.
  • Senior security official shot dead in Russia’s North Caucasus.
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