By Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson
Al Qaeda's ability to carry out operations from its Pakistan base could be eliminated within the next two years, according to Michael Vickers, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Vickers told a conference at the National Defense University this week that, "Assuming sustained CT (counterterrorism) operations against the group, within 18 to 24 months, core al Qaeda cohesion and operational capabilities could be degraded to the point that the group could fragment and exist mostly as a propaganda arm and power could devolve to regional affiliates."
This marks the first time a senior U.S. official has put a time frame on the end of the threat of attack posed by al Qaeda's senior leadership operating in the ungoverned areas of Pakistan.
On his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary in July, Leon Panetta told reporters that the United States was "within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda." He said the successful operation to take out Osama bin Laden and the identification of other key al Qaeda leaders put the United States in a better position.
"If we can be successful at going after them, I think we can really undermine their ability to do any kind of planning, to be able to conduct any kind of attack" on the United States. "That's why I think it's within reach. Is it going to take some more work? You bet it is. But I think it's within reach," Panetta said.
In his speech on Tuesday, Vickers said al Qaeda's leaders "are being eliminated at a far faster rate than al Qaeda can replace them," and noted the replacements "are much less experienced and credible."
He said eight of al Qaeda's 20 key leaders have been eliminated this year, citing the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, the death of al Qaeda second-in-command Atiya Abdul Rahman in August, and the capture of Younis Mauritani, a senior planner of operations, earlier this month. FULL POST
By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
Six insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles attacked the heart of the U.S. presence in Kabul, Afghanistan. They fired grenades into the grounds of the U.S. embassy, killed three Afghans and injured 21 others over a 20-hour period.
The six men held off a counter-attack by U.S., NATO and Afghan soldiers and helicopter gunships for 20 hours before being killed.
How did the U.S. government characterize this attack? "Harassment," said the U.S. ambassador in Kabul. "Far from spectacular," said the top spokesman in the Pentagon.
At the same time, U.S. and NATO officials pointed to the reaction by Afghanistan security forces to fight back. Early on, the Twitter feed from the International Security Assistance Force media relations team had comments from the secretary general of NATO that he was "confident Afghan authorities can deal with the situation."
"Once again, I was impressed by the courage, skill and fighting spirit of Afghan forces. The insurgency has again failed," said Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, in a statement.
If you figure the six insurgents were aiming to seize or destroy the U.S. Embassy and ISAF headquarters, it was a major failure, the Pentagon spokesman said. No U.S. or coalition personnel were killed and no walls were even breached.
"They were defeated and roundly defeated at the end of the day," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. "It was far from spectacular."
Ambassador Ryan Crocker said it wasn't even an attack. "They were firing from at least 800 meters (half-mile) away and with an RPG, that's harassment. That's not an attack."
But for all the downplaying by U.S. and NATO officials, military analysts CNN spoke to said the Taliban did succeed in gaining attention, even if ultimately the action was stopped. FULL POST
By Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence
Terrorist groups are trying to set up for a long-term presence in Libya, a senior defense official said Wednesday, but American intelligence is not showing a mass movement into the country.
The official, who gave a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon on the condition that the official not be identified, said the fall of Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed some groups that were constrained during the Libyan leader's regime.
The official said terrorist groups "are playing it safe in the short term, but are trying to set up a footprint and network internally for the long haul." The official said terrorist groups now have more freedom to operate within Libya, and "we're concerned about it."
Because some of the terrorist groups were clearly anti-Ghadafi, the Gadhafi regime put its military and intelligence resources into clamping down on the groups, the official said. Now the regime has collapsed, and the NTC is more concerned with dealing with the remnants of that regime than keeping an eye on militant groups.
The official suggested that the United States is seeing some movement into Libya by outside militants, but "in the dozens," not on a large scale.
One reason for the militants' current low profile is the NATO presence. FULL POST
By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
A key U.S. congresswoman wants to change how the United States funds the United Nations, which she accuses of becoming a "bully pulpit for third-rate dictators and pariah states."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for the reforms in a news conference this week and introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act. She said new conditions on U.S. funding to the global body are needed as leverage to force reform in its operations.
While the United States is responsible for funding 22% of the United Nations' yearly budget, the vast majority of countries at the General Assembly pay "next to nothing" Ros-Lehtinen said, but still form a majority to adopt budgets while "sticking the U.S. and other big donors with the tab."
By CNN's Dan Merica
While a new CNN poll has his disapproval at the highest point of his presidency, President Barack Obama's woes at home do not appear to have tainted the president in the eyes of Europeans even three years after his election was watched around the world.
The Transatlantic Trends 2011 poll, released Wednesday, shows that 75 percent of people polled in the European Union approved of Obama's handling of international issues. These numbers remain markedly higher than President Bush, who scored a 20 percent in 2008, and other of European leaders, who scored an average of 54 percent.
"Obviously, Europeans, by in large, can't vote in American elections but I think what is important here is that with presidential approval from Europe, the support of America's overall international affairs also increases," said Zsolt Nyiri, director of Transatlantic Trends.
Obama's approval is not as high as it used to be, though. In 2009, 83 percent of those samples in the European Union approved of Obama's handling of international policies.
"I think it is highly unlikely that it will go back to the initial high percentages," said Nyiri. "It was really rare so I think what is happening now is Obama is still popular but his numbers are coming back to earth." FULL POST
By National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo
Over 300,000 jobs are at stake if the Pentagon suffers hundreds of billions more in budget cuts, a major defense industry trade association claimed Wednesday.
The Defense Department is already mandated to cut $400 billion from its budget, as part of an agreement that allowed President Obama to raise the debt ceiling. The same deal created a Congressional “super committee”, tasked to find another 1.5 trillion in government savings over the next decade. If the commission cannot come to agreement on where the cuts should come from by the end of November, another $600 billion will automatically be axed from the defense budget.
360,000 people employed by the aerospace and defense industry will lose their jobs if $1 trillion is ultimately slashed from the defense budget, according to a calculation by the Aerospace Industrial Association (AIA).
The Defense Department employs 3.1 million people, both military and civilian, and various sources estimate that another 3 million people are employed by the defense industry.
Members of AIA’s executive committee met with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Tuesday to discuss the potential far reaching effects of the cuts.
By Senior National Security Producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
Editor's note: This is the first 'Case File,' a new Security Clearance series. CNN national security producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson profile the key members of the intelligence community.
His predecessor joked about being compared to "Jack Bauer," but while the new head of the National Counterterrorism Center may not be running and gunning like the fictional '24' character, Matthew Olsen is tasked with keeping the country safe from attack.
Just weeks into the job, the former Justice Department lawyer was faced with the serious 9/11 anniversary threat that emerged last Wednesday. In real life, the clock doesn't stop ticking after 24 hours. Olsen's job may sound like a fictional hero's, but a big part of his day is spent managing, which is certainly less glamorous but its just as critical, according to Michael Leiter, the man who held the job for four years before retiring earlier this year.
Leiter had some words of advice for Olsen as he was about to take the helm of the agency tasked with making sure the mistakes of failed intelligence sharing - made evident in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 - never happen again.