By Mike Mount
Military operations to stop the growth of al Qaeda's influence in northern and western Africa will only make the violent situation there worse if done prematurely, said the top U.S. military commander overseeing operations in Africa.
The concern shows the challenge of dealing urgently with a growing threat from Northern Mali, which has become a safe haven for al Qadea-linked terrorists, who are gaining momentum across northern Africa. The al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been linked to the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, according to U.S. officials.
By Larry Shaughnessy
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spelled out the future battle against al Qaeda, praising what has been done so far but warning much more work remains.
Speaking about the September 11 attacks in a speech at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, Panetta said, "We will do everything possible to ensure that such an attack never happens again. That means counterterrorism will continue as a key mission for our military and intelligence professionals as long as violent extremists pose a direct threat to the United States."
He said efforts against the core al Qaeda group have been largely successful. "Al Qaeda's leadership ranks have been decimated. This includes the loss of four of al Qaeda's five top leaders in the last 2½ years alone - Osama bin Laden, Shaikh Saeed al-Masri, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and Abu Yahya al-Libi."
By David McKenzie, reporting from Nairobi, Kenya
Two Iranian nationals, accused of plotting to plant explosives in Kenya, were in the advanced stages of planning of a terror attack in Kenya, according to a senior Kenyan government official familiar with intelligence updates.
"We do not want to speculate exactly on the seriousness of their plan," the official said, adding the suspects may have wanted to use Kenya as a transit point to hit targets in neighboring countries. "We are still working to uncover it. We don't allow organizations or countries to commit terror in our country, and we will prosecute such acts accordingly."
The suspects were arrested June 19 in Nairobi and led security officials to 15 kilograms (more than 30 pounds) of RDX explosives hidden at a Mombasa golf club, on Kenya's coast, according to court documents. FULL POST
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of opinion articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.
To end World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin demanded an unconditional surrender from the Nazis. But there will be no such surrender from al Qaeda. The group is not a state that is capable of entering into such an agreement, even if it wanted to do so, which seems highly unlikely.
So we are left with a choice: We can continue fighting al Qaeda indefinitely and remain in a permanent state of quasi-war, as has already been the case for more than a decade now.
Or we can declare victory against the group and move on to focus on the essential challenges now facing America, notably the country's sputtering economy, but also containing a rising China, managing the rogue regime in North Korea, continuing to delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, and - to the extent feasible - helping to direct the maturation of the Arab Spring. FULL POST
By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
The man in charge of U.S. Africa Command calls growing cooperation between "the three most violent" Islamic extremists groups in Africa a concern for Africa and America.
Gen. Carter Ham, USAFRICOM commander, spoke Monday to a meeting of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
By Jamie Crawford
The United States has designated as terrorists three senior members of Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group in Nigeria whose attacks and those of its associates have left more than a thousand dead.
The State Department announced the designation Thursday of Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi as "specially designated global terrorists" under the authority of an existing presidential executive order.
Shekau is the most visible leader of Boko Haram, the State Department said, while al-Barnawi and Kambar maintain close links to al Qaeda affiliates as part of their role in the group.
"These designations demonstrate the United States' resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks," the State Department said in a written statement announcing the designation. "The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury."
By Jamie Crawford
The United States sanctioned an Iranian airline, three Iranian officials, a trading company and a shipping agent Tuesday for providing support to an elite Iranian military unit that has already been branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
All of the entities sanctioned were involved in the shipments of weapons to the Levant, a collection of countries on the eastern Mediterranean Sea that includes Syria, as well as to Africa, the Treasury Department said in a press release.
They have all assisted Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, the Treasury Department said.
"Today's action again exposes Iran's malign influence in the Middle East, Africa and beyond," David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the release. "As the Iranian regime exports its lethal aid and expertise to foment violence in Syria and Africa, Treasury will continue to expose the officials and companies involved and work to hold them accountable for the suffering they cause."
By Carol Cratty
The U.S. government's list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to the United States or within its borders has more than doubled over the past year, a counterterrorism official told CNN Thursday.
The "no fly" list produced by the FBI now has approximately 21,000 names on it, according to the official, who has knowledge of the government's figures. One year ago about 10,000 individuals were on it.
Only about 500 people currently on the no-fly list are Americans, the official said.
The dramatic jump in the numbers resulted from reforms made after a Nigerian man with explosives in his underwear was able to get on an international flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. It was later learned the father of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab had gone to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria prior to Christmas to raise concern about his son, but that did not result in his going on the no-fly roster.
From Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming "We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen" (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
After an explosive festive season that spilled into the New Year and growing stories of increased connections to other regional networks, Nigerian group Boko Haram is likely to be one of the main focuses of attention for counter terrorism experts in this coming year.
While definitively predicting whether it is going to metastasize into a global threat, or remain a regional one, is something dependent on many variable factors, some lessons from other regional violent Islamist networks can be drawn to understand better the general direction Boko Haram is going in.
Three groups are particularly useful to look at: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, al Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). All three are groups that have a clear globalist violent Islamist rhetoric and varying degrees of connectivity with al Qaeda core in Pakistan. FULL POST
By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
Two weeks ago, dozens of armed men descended on a town in northern Nigeria and killed more than 100 people in a coordinated series of bombings and gun attacks.
Many of those targeted were Christians, but police stations and mosques deemed "insufficiently Islamic" were also attacked.
The town was Damataru, capital of the Nigerian state of Yobe, and the assailants belonged to the group Boko Haram, which translates from the local Hausa as "Western education is outlawed."
In two years, Boko Haram has morphed from a radical Muslim sect into an insurgency responsible for dozens of attacks in Nigeria and beyond. Western intelligence analysts believe it is also developing links with al Qaeda affiliates in Africa.
Boko Haram's targets include police outposts and churches, as well as places associated with 'western influence.' Its signature attack is a Karachi-style drive-by shooting from a motorbike, but this year it has begun a campaign of suicide vehicle attacks.
In Maiduguri, the epicenter of the insurgency, there is a heavy military presence, with security checkpoints, sandbagged military positions and the scars left by bomb attacks.
House-to-house searches are common. A senior military officer admitted last week that Maiduguri was a dangerous place, with "miscreants" slipping across the nearby borders with Chad and Niger. The Nigerian authorities seem unable to overcome Boko Haram - and its growing footprint worries neighboring states and the U.S. Africa Command.
Many Christians in northeastern Nigeria have fled their homes as the violence has worsened this year. FULL POST