By Jamie Crawford
High levels of sectarianism, carnage and the overall grinding nature of Syria's civil war continue to make that country a top destination for extremists, a top U.S. official said.
"Syria has become the pre-eminent location for al Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, to train and to equip what is now a growing number of extremists, some of who seek to conduct external attacks," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a congressional hearing on Thursday.
"From a terrorism perspective, the most disturbing element is that al Qaeda has declared Syria its most critical front," he said.
Olsen testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee alongside Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet about the crisis in Syria and the ongoing standoff with Russia over the situation in Ukraine.
The United States will provide Ukraine $1 billion in loan guarantees to help insulate the Ukrainian economy from the effects of reduced energy subsidies from Russia, senior Obama administration officials said.
The loan guarantees will help Ukraine move forward with an assistance package from the International Monetary Fund, which is calling for the country to raise energy prices.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who landed Tuesday in Kiev to show American support for the fledgling Ukrainian government, will announce this diplomatic move and others in Ukraine. FULL POST
Senior Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, cautioned Monday that any U.S. move toward sanctions against Russia over Ukraine should be carried out in accordance with European allies.
Separately, Republican Ron Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he's urging fellow lawmakers to speak with "one voice" as they discuss action over the developing situation in Crimea.FULL STORY
By Laura Koran
Syria carried out "egregious human rights violations" last year, according to a State Department assessment released on Thursday that also singled out abuses in Russia and the Ukraine.
The 2013 Human Rights Report, based on assessments from America's embassies abroad, reserved its strongest language for the Syrian government, which allegedly gassed its own people last August in an atrocity linked to the ongoing civil war.
"Hundreds were murdered in the dead of night when a disaster occurred at the hands of a dictator, who decided to infect the air of Damascus with poisonous gas," Secretary of State John Kerry said in presenting the report.
"And many more have been, unfortunately, confined to die under a barrage of barrel bombs, scud missiles, artillery and other conventional weapons," he said.
By Barbara Starr
Russian military exercises near Ukraine are raising concerns that Moscow may be putting troops in position to move across the border if such orders are issued, a senior U.S. official familiar with the most recent administration assessment told CNN Thursday.
But the United States still believes that Russia doesn't plan to order its forces into its tumultuous neighbor, the official said.
U.S. officials - who are monitoring the area 24 hours a day - have not yet seen signs that Russia is preparing to secure supply and transportation routes that would be crucial to any such movement, the official said.
Russian military activity levels observed by the United States also "appear to be within normal range," the official said.FULL STORY
By Jamie Crawford
The U.S. homeland security chief says chaos and instability in Syria remain a top concern for protecting the country from attack.
"I would say that for those of us in national security and homeland security in this government, this particular issue is at the top of the list or near the top of the list for us," Homeland Security Secretary told a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
By Jim Sciutto
With Pakistan suffering from terrorist attacks "left, right and center," a senior Pakistani government official said Tuesday a massive military operation is underway in North Waziristan to "close the chapter" on the Haqqani network in Pakistan.
When the operation is complete, the Haqqani network will "reach a conclusion" in Pakistani territory, the official said.
A recent wave of terror attacks has claimed more than 200 lives in the last month alone, according to the official.
By Barbara Starr and Tom Cohen
We're not bluffing, the Obama administration told Afghanistan on Tuesday in announcing for the first time it has started planning for the possible withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of the year if no security agreement is signed.
Statements by the White House and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel showed President Barack Obama's impatience with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign the agreement that would keep several thousand American troops in the country after combat operations conclude this year.FULL STORY
CNN’s Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto recently returned from Iran to cover U.S.-Iran relations. It was his 11th trip there. Sciutto also covers everything from U.S. foreign policy to defense, terrorism, and intelligence issues.
On Monday, he took 90 minutes to answer questions about national security during a Reddit “Ask me Anything” session.