December 12th, 2012
12:48 PM ET

U.S.: North Korean missile launch earlier than expected

By Mike Mount

The North Korean rocket launch caught the United States by surprise as it occurred earlier than expected, defense and senior U.S. officials told CNN on Wednesday.

Military and intelligence were on heightened readiness for the launch because of intelligence and that North Korea had announced a window, according to a defense official.

One U.S. official disputed the suggestion that the launch was a surprise saying that, "North Korea's launch occurred during the anticipated window."

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U.S. encouraged by Pakistan efforts to go after terrorists
December 12th, 2012
06:31 AM ET

U.S. encouraged by Pakistan efforts to go after terrorists

By Mike Mount

Pakistan is taking steps to try to limit terrorist safe havens inside the lawless western part of that country where various insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan find sanctuary, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him overseas, Panetta said recent meetings between the United States and Pakistan yielded encouraging signs that Pakistan is working on the long-standing problem.

"My sense is that they're in a better place, that they understand their responsibility," Panetta said. "General Kiyani [Pakistan's military chief], in particular, has indicated a willingness to try to put more pressure on the safe havens," Panetta said.

The United States and Pakistan have had a frosty relationship over the past few years during which time Pakistan closed border crossings or supply routes following a series of incidents.

These included U.S. troops firing into Pakistan while chasing insurgents, the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American special forces in May 2011 in Pakistan, and NATO shelling that killed a number of Pakistani soldiers in November of that same year.

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And the next secretary of defense will be ...
December 7th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

And the next secretary of defense will be ...

By Mike Mount, CNN

One of the worst-kept secrets in Washington is that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will soon leave his post for a calmer life at his beloved Northern California ranch.

Panetta and those close to him have given no public indication he will leave upon the start of the next Obama administration, but people close to the defense secretary say Panetta is more than ready to retire from his long public service life.

Four choices to replace Panetta seem to be getting the most buzz as the announcement day gets closer.

Security Clearance talked to people inside the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill and in the defense community about what each potential nominee could bring to the table, and what issues might work against them being chosen by the president for the top job.

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Challenges persist in confronting growing threat of al Qaeda in Mali
Armed youth in AQIM video released in 2011
December 3rd, 2012
06:16 PM ET

Challenges persist in confronting growing threat of al Qaeda in Mali

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.

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Accused WikiLeaker to take stand over his claims of prison abuse
November 26th, 2012
07:22 PM ET

Accused WikiLeaker to take stand over his claims of prison abuse

By Mike Mount

U.S. Army private Bradley Manning is expected to take the stand for the first time this week as his lawyers plan to use his claim of mistreatment by military jailers to get his case thrown out.

The Army intelligence analyst is suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military and State Department documents while serving in Iraq. Many of them ended up on the WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Manning was the source of the information.

Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, filed a motion last August to dismiss charges based on a claim, Manning says, of harsh treatment while held at the brig at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.

The pre-trial hearing that starts Tuesday at Ft. Mead, Maryland, will be the first time Manning will have spoken in court other than answering procedural questions, said Jeff Paterson, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning Support Network.
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Flap over military combat awards grows
November 26th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Flap over military combat awards grows

By Mike Mount

The U.S. military's combat awards process is in disarray and because of that the official Department of Defense statistics do not accurately reflect those who have been awarded combat medals for bravery in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to some members of Congress.

One of those congressmen, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, is calling for the Army and other services that supply information for the Pentagon's statistics to correct the dozens of disparities, because it is a "disservice" to those who have fought bravely in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and in our past wars and conflicts.

"There have been repetitive and serious breakdowns at multiple levels of the awards process. Problems are visible across all services, but, overall, there appears to be a lack of transparency and even accountability," according to Hunter.

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U.S. still concerned over violence in Bahrain
A Bahraini Shiite Muslim protestor holds petrol bombs to be used against riot police during an anti-government demonstration
November 20th, 2012
06:22 PM ET

U.S. still concerned over violence in Bahrain

By Mike Mount

Continued violence by protesters and security forces and a deeply divided population remain concerns of the United States a year after an independent commission offered a scathing report into Bahrain's crackdown on anti-government protests.

Two Obama administration officials briefed reporters in Washington about concerns the U.S. had over the tiny Persian Gulf nation, considered to be a longtime ally in the Middle East and home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

"There needs to be created an environment for the possibility of genuine dialogue and negotiation that leads to a prosperous and rights-respecting Bahrain," according to a senior Obama administration official.

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November 19th, 2012
05:49 PM ET

Why Israel might hesitate to start a ground invasion

By Mike Mount

Thousands of Israeli troops with tanks and armored vehicles are poised on Gaza's borders ready to move in if Israel believes there is no chance for a cease-fire in its conflict with Hamas.

The Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, told reporters Monday at a briefing at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC that Israel would like to avoid a ground invasion, but war planning is complete and they are ready to move in if necessary.

But Israel, which continued to press its air offensive against Gaza militants for a sixth day on Monday, is said to be well aware that a ground invasion would carry broad risks.

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November 14th, 2012
11:57 PM ET

Air Force changes training structure after sex assault investigation

By Mike Mount

An investigation into sexual assaults and harassment at the basic-training facility for the U.S. Air Force has led to sweeping changes of how instructors are chosen, as well as to an increase in the number of female instructors for new recruits.

The announcement came on Wednesday as the Air Force briefed reporters at the Pentagon on the findings of an investigation into claims earlier this year that dozens of female recruits had been sexually assaulted.

The Air Force's final report into the Air Education and Training Command at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas said some of the instructors, "lacked the experience necessary to effectively serve as mentors and leaders and had little to no supervisory experience...this lack of experience is considered particularly relevant when a single (instructor) is generally responsible for a flight of 50 or more trainees."

Some 23 instructors have been identified as having been allegedly involved in the misconduct against 48 recruits at the school. The report says five people have been convicted in military courts on rape and adultery charges, with punishments ranging from 30 days in prison to 20 years behind bars.

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Pentagon, White House planning on post-2014 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan
November 12th, 2012
07:54 PM ET

Pentagon, White House planning on post-2014 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan

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.

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