By Mike Mount, Senior National Security Advisor
The Obama administration will make a decision within weeks on how many U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan as a residual force after the final combat troops leave at the end of 2014, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Panetta made the remarks on the way to Australia and Asia to meet with defense ministers in that region.
He said that top NATO commander Gen. John Allen had recently submitted various options for the final stage of the U.S. presence there. The Pentagon and White House would have to review the recommendations before deciding on a final plan.
"My hope is that we'll be able to complete this process in the next few weeks ... I'm confident that we'll be able to get to the right number that we're going to need for the post-2014 enduring presence," Panetta told the traveling press on his airplane while en route to Australia on the first leg of his trip.
Panetta said that various options would depend on the various types of missions U.S. forces would take part in after the 2014 withdrawal. The expectation is that the remaining U.S. forces will participate in follow-on training of Afghan security forces, while a smaller number will remain to conduct a counter-terrorism mission against al Qaeda.
Unlike many stories about powerful Washington figures having secret affairs, the downfall of spy chief David Petraeus goes beyond sex.
The scandal surrounding the decorated four-star Army general who once ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involves questions of national security, politics and even the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.
Petraeus, 60, resigned Friday after acknowledging he had an affair with a woman later identified as his biographer, Paula Broadwell, 40, a fellow West Point graduate who spent months studying the general's leadership of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
By Jill Dougherty
U.S. officials are relieved now that Syria's disjointed opposition has finally succeeded in creating a united front.
"What happened over the weekend was huge," a senior administration official told CNN. "I think it's fair to say that most of us were pessimistic, but the opposition did it. They have a long way to go, but this was a major step forward."
Nevertheless, the official admitted: "We are cautiously optimistic at best."
The United States has been pressing the opposition to unite and officials now say the Obama administration is urging the new National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to quickly form a technical working group with which it can coordinate assistance.
The network pool traveling to Australia with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reports that Panetta commented for the first time about the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus. The comments were given during a mid-flight press conference:
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: “First, obviously, it was a very sad situation to have a distinguished career like that end in this manner. And my heart obviously goes out to him and his family, but I think he took the right step and I think its important when you’re director of the CIA with all the challenges that face you in that position, that personal integrity comes first and foremost.”
“With regards to the future, you know, having served there the first 2 years of this administration, I think its really important to continue to have the CIA stay on track doing the job that is absolutely essential to our national security. They have very important mission focused on intelligence and intelligence operations and I think it’s very important to get someone strong and capable and dedicated to be able to continue that effort. This is a critical time to make sure that with all the threats that we’re dealing with in the world, that we maintain a strong intelligence operation.”
REPORTER QUESTION: Any indications the Petraeus affair started while he was on active duty? Could he be prosecuted? Would that be your call? (NOTE: CNN has learned that the affair started after Petraeus was already serving as CIA director)
PANETTA: “You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I guess, I’m reading the papers like you are to determine just what the committees finds out, what the ultimate investigation determines on that issue. We obviously are going to watch this closely to determine just exactly when that took place. But I think right now my view is lets see what the investigation turns up and what the congress, these committees are able to determine just exactly what took place.”
REPORTER QUESTION: As a former member of congress – do you think Capitol Hill should have been briefed sooner?
PANETTA: “That’s another issue I think we ought to look at, because as a former director of the CIA and having working very closely with the intelligence committees, you know I believe there is a responsibility to make sure that the intelligence committees are informed of issues that could affect, you know the security of those intelligence operations.”
With reporting from Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
While affairs may be commonplace in Washington, when they involve the director of the CIA, things can take on a different tone.
A U.S. official has said there was no breach of national security as a result of David Petraeus' affair, but that hasn't stopped discussion that Paula Broadwell could have gained access to classified information as a result of what she has routinely described as "unprecedented access" to Petraeus.
That discussion seemed to gain momentum Monday thanks to comments Broadwell made in a speech last month at the University of Denver.
"I don't know if a lot of you have heard this, but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to get these prisoners back," Broadwell said.
A senior intelligence official told CNN on Monday, "These detention claims are categorically not true. Nobody was ever held at the annex before, during, or after the attacks."
Broadwell's source for that previously unpublished bit of information remains unclear, and there's no evidence so far that it came from Petraeus. Administration officials have said the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack. FULL POST
By Paul Cruickshank
Editor's note: "Al Qaeda," a five-volume collection of writings about the terrorist network, edited and introduced by CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank, was published last week.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri again referenced the Benghazi, Libya, attack in an audio tape posted on jihadist websites last week, in remarks that, like all his statements, were immediately carefully scrutinized by counter-terrorism analysts searching for clues about the terrorist network's operations.
Al-Zawahiri had called for Americans to be targeted in Libya the day before the diplomatic mission was attacked, leading to speculation that al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan had some sort of role or influence in the attack.
Al-Zawahiri made the passing reference to the September 11 attack on Benghazi in a message addressed to al Qaeda's affiliate Al-Shabaab in Somalia, in which he also referenced violent protests outside U.S embassies in Egypt and Yemen that occurred just before and just after the Benghazi attack. But notably, the al Qaeda chief did not claim responsibility for the deadly attack in eastern Libya.
"They were defeated in Iraq and they are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and their ambassador in Benghazi was killed and the flags of their embassies were lowered in Cairo and Sanaa (Yemen), and in their places were raised the flags of tawhid (monotheism) and jihad," al-Zawahiri stated, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group
By Jennifer Rizzo
Future unmanned ships could be retrofitted with missile-firing systems following successful prototype tests, but how long before the technology can be deployed remains a question, U.S. Navy officials say.
Six long-range missiles were fired during three days of testing last month, marking the first time missiles have been fired from any unmanned ship.
The seafaring drone, called the NUWC-4, is a smaller craft developed to defend against a potential attack of ships swarming toward naval vessels, according to the Navy. Terrorists and pirates have been known to use these tactics.
The "project was developed in response to recent world events involving swarms of small attack craft, as well as threat assessments outlined in recent studies conducted by the Naval Warfare Development Command," said NAVSEA Special Warfare Program Manager Capt. Thomas D. Gajewski. "Technology demonstrated in this project can provide a capability to combat terrorists who use small low-cost vehicles as weapons platforms."