By Elise Labott
Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.
The former head of U.S. forces in Africa said the September 11, 2012, attack on the American mission in Benghazi quickly appeared to be a terrorist attack and not a spontaneous protest.
It was clear "pretty quickly that this was not a demonstration. This was a violent attack," former Gen. Carter Ham told the Aspen Security Forum on Friday. Ham is the former chief of U.S. Africa Command, commonly known as AFRICOM.
By Barbara Starr
U.S. officials believe extremists across northern Africa, emboldened by the terror attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria, are growing more daring.
A senior American intelligence official tells CNN that "what we have seen is intelligence suggesting a desire to carry out more attacks" against western and U.S. interests in the region.
The United States is not aware of any specific threats, the official said.
But one of those believed to be plotting is Moktar Belmoktar, a veteran militant who has claimed responsibility for the attack this month on the BP facility in eastern Algeria that left at least 37 hostages dead.
By Joe Sterling
President Barack Obama will nominate a new leader for the Pentagon command in charge of Africa.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday the president is picking Gen. David Rodriguez to replace Gen. Carter Ham as head of the U.S. Africa Command.
Rodriguez is the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, responsible for the training, equipping and oversight of active duty, National Guard and reserve soldiers.
The choice comes during a turbulent time across the continent. Political turmoil rages in Libya, fighting continues to engulf the fractious state of Somalia, a militant presence has emerged in Mali, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has made its presence known in northern Africa, and sectarian strife plagues Nigeria.FULL STORY
By Barbara Starr
Just three months ago, the four-star chief of the U.S. Africa Command warned of a growing threat from al Qaeda and other militant groups in Libya.
"There is a real concern in Libya. As Libya is coming out of the revolution and forming its new government, there very clearly are those who wish to undermine the formation of that government," said Gen. Carter Ham in a speech to senior military and civilian officials from Africa, Europe and the U.S.
"We see some worrying indicators that al Qaeda and others are seeking to establish a presence in Libya," Ham warned. Ham often worked closely with the late Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Ham has been trying to establish the initial stages of a military relationship with Libya, but the effort has been slowed by the presence and influence of armed militias, such as those suspected of being involved in the attack. Ham noted back in June the problem of bringing even more mainstream groups under the control of the central government. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
The first four-star general to command U.S. military operations in Africa is facing the possibility of being demoted after an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general found that Gen. William "Kip" Ward spent thousands of dollars on inappropriate travel expenses, according to several administration officials directly familiar with the case.
Ward had been known to be under investigation but this is the first indication of the results of the probe.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was presented with the findings this week and is expected to make a decision on the case within days, the officials said Wednesday.
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 Mike Mount, Senior National Security Producer
In what is shaping up to be a classic congressional right vs. left fight over defense and war funding, both the House and Senate are gearing up to battle over some expected and not-so-expected items in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the bill, showing its hand to members of the House of Representatives on what it felt should be authorized for military spending.
The act authorizes spending limits and sets defense policy, but it does not actually appropriate the funds.
The committee version must still pass a full Senate vote. The House signed off on its bill this month. While a date has yet to be announced, both the final House and Senate versions will go through extensive negotiations to hammer out a final version of the legislation, expected in the fall.
Both bills have numerous amendments that will be debated and fought over in the coming months. Keep an eye on these five if you like political fireworks.
By Tim Lister
Africa has seen some ugly divorces in recent times: Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan. Now Mali is threatened with partition as a rebellion flares in the north and political uncertainty grips the capital, Bamako. Mali’s neighbors and western governments are looking on anxiously as drug traffickers and Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda take advantage of the vacuum – in a region already blighted by hunger, poverty and weak government.
The origins of Mali’s collapse are two-fold. In January Tuareg rebels began attacking towns in the vast deserts of northern Mali. Many had recently returned from fighting for Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, bringing guns and vehicles with them. Then, on March 22, there was a coup by mid-ranking officers in Mali’s army angry with corruption and the lack of resources for fighting the rebellion. FULL POST
From Larry Shaughnessy at the Pentagon, with reporting from Justice Producer Terry Frieden
Timing of the raid
The president authorized the operation on Monday, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little and “the military commanders decided to move ahead with this yesterday.”
"We're confident that there was enough of a sense of urgency and there was enough actionable intelligence to take the action that we did for the President to make the decision that he did,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby.
"Well there are a variety of factors that you consider when you are planning an operation that you hope will contribute to success. And I'm not going to get into specifics, but those factors can range from weather to other considerations,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
When Obama said “good job” as he strode to the podium for his State of the Union address, the military “had indications at that point that the two hostages were secured,” Little said.
"I think it's safe to say at that point we knew that we had recovered the hostages and that they were in good condition. But there was still work to do to complete everything. Meaning making sure everybody is out and safe,” added Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby. FULL POST
From Larry Shaughnessy
All nine of the kidnappers were killed in the rescue operation last night in Somalia, a Pentagon spokesman said.
"There were nine criminal suspects who were killed. They were heavily armed and had explosives at the site," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "They were not Al Shabab. They were suspected criminals,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
"They were kidnappers, we don't have any indication that they were connected to any terrorist group or idealogical group at that point. We don't have any firm indication that there was a connection to piracy although piracy is nothing more than a crime so I certainly can't rule out the fact that they might have had those kind of connections but nothing to indicate definately that they were,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby.
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