Report: Strides, challenges for Afghan security forces
November 9th, 2013
01:10 PM ET

Report: Strides, challenges for Afghan security forces

By Joe Sterling
CNN

In what a new Pentagon report calls "a fundamental shift in the course" of the Afghan conflict, local security forces are improving their performance and "successfully providing security for their own people."

But according to a report to Congress on Friday, the successes come with a cost: a sharp increase in security force casualties during this year's April to September fighting season and challenges remaining for the indigenous force after U.S. forces leave.

This snapshot of the security forces is all-important as the United States prepares to withdraw all of its troops from the country by the end of next year.

The report said the Afghan National Security Forces "have seen their capabilities expand rapidly since 2009, while insurgent territorial influence and kinetic capabilities have remained static." But the report also says more needs to be done.

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Filed under: Afghan Security Force • Afghanistan • ISAF • Pentagon
June 18th, 2013
10:59 AM ET

Security handover, diplomacy in Afghanistan. A new chapter?

By Kyle Almond, Elise Labott and Joe Sterling

Hope flickered in war-torn Afghanistan on Tuesday as national security forces formally took over security leadership and peace talks with the Taliban are now in the works.

NATO-led troops transferred security responsibility to Afghan forces. The United States and an Afghan government group dedicated to peace and reconciliation will hold talks with the Taliban militant group in Qatar.

"I wish a long-term peace in Afghanistan," Afghan President Harmid Karzai told his troops at a handover ceremony in Kabul.

But a senior U.S. official said reconciliation is likely to be "long, complex and messy" because trust between Afghans and the Taliban is extremely low.

The latest moves could portend a hopeful chapter in the long and costly Afghan conflict. What do these developments mean for Afghanistan and the United States?

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October 18th, 2012
04:36 PM ET

Changing of guard for Africa command

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.

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Filed under: Africa • Carter Ham • David Rodriguez • Military • US Africa Command
Limits on joint patrols may undercut transition in Afghanistan
In this photograph taken on August 5, 2012, an Afghan National Army soldier walks during a patrol with US soldiers from Apache team, Task force Geronimo in the village of Karizona, Sabari District in Khost Province.
September 19th, 2012
02:43 PM ET

Limits on joint patrols may undercut transition in Afghanistan

By Joe Sterling

NATO's decision limiting some operations with Afghan troops might lessen so-called insider attacks, analysts say.

But the move could undermine the coalition's efforts to help the locals take over their nation's security.

Coalition forces have been regularly partnering with small Afghan units in operations for years.

But in an order Sunday from Gen. John Allen, head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, a regional commander now must give the OK for a joint operation, a move seen as a setback to the transition of military power to Afghans by the end of 2014.

The spurt of attacks by Afghan police and soldiers against their coalition counterparts and the anger of the anti-Islam video that went viral across the world forced the NATO-led force to adjust the relations between coalition and Afghan forces.
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Filed under: Afghanistan • Green on Blue Attacks • NATO
Higher-level traces of uranium found in Iran
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (R) poses with European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) before a meeting in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on May 23, 2012
May 25th, 2012
01:12 PM ET

Higher-level traces of uranium found in Iran

By Joe Sterling

Inspectors found a high level of enriched uranium in Iran, a U.N. report said Friday, as world powers attempt to work to stop the country from developing the capacity for nuclear weapons.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency asked Iran this month to explain the presence of particles of enrichment levels of up to 27%, found in an analysis of environmental samples taken in February at the Fordo fuel enrichment plant near the city of Qom.

The previous highest level had been 20%, typically used for hospital isotopes and research reactors, but is also seen as a shortcut toward the 90% enrichment required to build nuclear weapons.

Iran said in response that the production of such particles "above the target value" may happen for "technical reasons beyond the operator's control." The IAEA said it is "assessing Iran's explanation and has requested further details."
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Filed under: IAEA • Iran • Nuclear
Obama: I'm not bluffing on Iran
March 2nd, 2012
09:49 AM ET

Obama: I'm not bluffing on Iran

By Joe Sterling

President Barack Obama says he isn't bluffing when he says Iran shouldn't have a nuclear weapon, but he cautions against a premature Israeli strike against the Islamic republic.

"At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, (Syria,) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?" he said this week in an interview with the Atlantic.

Obama, who will be meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, said a permanent solution is necessary.

Read more about his comments here.

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Filed under: Iran • Israel • Obama
Conservatives urge 'immediate' U.S. action on Syria
February 18th, 2012
02:28 PM ET

Conservatives urge 'immediate' U.S. action on Syria

By CNN's Joe Sterling

Prominent U.S. conservatives want the Obama administration to "take immediate action" against the Syrian regime, including "no-go zones" for President Bashar al-Assad's military and "self-defense aid" to resistance forces.

Fifty-six foreign policy experts and former U.S. government officials signed a letter dated Friday calling for proactive U.S.-led steps against the government. It comes as Syrian citizens and activists plead for world powers to help stop the government's bloody crackdown.

They include Karl Rove, the former Bush administration adviser; Paul Bremer, in charge of the U.S. occupation in Iraq after the 2003 invasion; R. James Woolsey, former CIA chief; Robert McFarlane, former Reagan national security adviser, and Dan Senor, a former Bremer adviser and spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

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Filed under: Assad • Syria
Somali terror group joining Al Qaeda
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri appearing in an Al-Qaeda video released in October 2011
February 9th, 2012
12:55 PM ET

Somali terror group joining Al Qaeda

By Joe Sterling

Al-Shabaab, the Somali militant group, has decided to join the al Qaeda terror network, a monitoring service reported Thursday.

Mukhtar Abu al-Zubeir, leader of the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement, gave his pledge to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video released by al Qaeda's media arm, as-Sahab, SITE Monitoring Service said.

"Today, I have glad tidings for the Muslim Ummah that will please the believers and disturb the disbelievers, which is the joining of the Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement in Somalia to Qaedat al-Jihad, to support the jihadi unity against the Zio-Crusader campaign and their assistants amongst the treacherous agent rulers," al-Zawahiri said.

"Muslim Ummah" refers to the Muslim community. Qaedat al-Jihad refers to the central al Qaeda group led by al-Zawahiri.

Al-Shabaab suffered a series of setbacks in recent months:  an ouster from the center of the capital, Mogadishu, by African Union and government forces; the killings of key personnel; and combat losses to Kenyan troops. However, the group controls large parts of southern Somalia.

The group, long closely affiliated with al Qaeda, in June endorsed al-Zawahiri to head the group after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden. It had previously vowed allegiance to bin Laden.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Al-Shabaab • Al-Zawahiri • Somalia • Terrorism
Al Qaeda in northern Africa an "afterthought" no more
Armed youth in AQIM video released in 2011
February 1st, 2012
07:34 PM ET

Al Qaeda in northern Africa an "afterthought" no more

By Joe Sterling

A terrorist peril that's notorious in Africa and Europe but less publicly well known in the United States may wreak havoc in the coming year, warns the top senator on intelligence matters.

The terror group, an al Qaeda affiliate in northern Africa known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was singled out by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who chairs the Senate's intelligence committee.

"For the past few years, AQIM has been almost an afterthought when discussing the terrorist threat. This may be about to change," she said on Tuesday during a hearing.

A report issued by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ahead of the intelligence committee hearing made brief reference to AQIM when discussing al Qaeda's regional affiliates. Feinstein said the intelligence community needs to be ready to tackle the militant movement.
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Intel report cites strides, threats
New Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri appearing in an Al-Qaeda video released in October 2011. The deaths of Osama bin Laden and top lieutenants under Zawahiri have weakened the terrorist network according to the annual U.S. intelligence community's threat assessment released Tuesday.
January 31st, 2012
10:19 AM ET

Intel report cites strides, threats

From CNN's Joe Sterling and Pam Benson

The al Qaeda terror network is weakening and the embattled Afghan government is making modest strides, but cyber security threats are on the rise and Iranian nuclear aspirations remain a major peril.

These are among the main themes in the annual U.S. intelligence community's threat assessment, a sweeping 31-page document released Tuesday that touches on a range of issues across the globe.

"The United States no longer faces - as in the Cold War - one dominant threat," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in prepared testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which will meet on Tuesday to discuss the report.

He said "counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cyber security and counter-intelligence are at the immediate forefront of our security concerns" and that the "multiplicity and interconnectedness of potential threats - and the actors behind them ... constitute our biggest challenge."

Al Qaeda - the terror network that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 - "will continue to be a dangerous transnational force," but there have been strides, the report concludes.
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