July 28th, 2011
09:39 AM ET

Security brief – July 28, 2011

Compiled by Tim Lister

How deficit deal would impact national security

Many dead in Taliban attack on governor's HQ

Libyan rebels launch offensive in west

Congress committee mad at US policy on Syria

Norway: Breivik used just a 2' fuse on bomb...will be questioned again Friday

German minister warns about rise of far-right; Italian politician defends Breivik's thinking

Heavy fighting in Mogadishu

Debt and Defense: Battle Underway

Bolstered by warnings from top military officers about potentially dire national security consequences, some members of Congress are pushing back against the prospect that deep defense spending cuts will be part of a plan to reduce the nation’s burgeoning deficit.

Leadership-backed plans in the Senate and House would impose 10-year caps on discretionary spending, saving $1.2 trillion. Most of that would come from the Pentagon, since it accounts for slightly more than half of discretionary spending and is projected to take a greater share in the future.

President Barack Obama’s nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that existing proposals to save up to $1 trillion from Pentagon spending over 10 years "would be extraordinarily difficult and very high risk."

His remarks echoed those a week ago by Obama’s nominee for vice chairman, Adm. James Winnefeld, who told the same panel: "As we get to a higher and higher number, we’re going to find that the strategies we currently have are going to reach inflection points where we’re just going to have to stop doing some of the things we currently are able to do because what we can’t afford is to have any kind of a cut result in a hollow force.

US Aid budget – Clinton attacks cuts

From CNN's Jill Dougherty: Calling it "debilitating to my efforts to carry out a considered foreign policy and diplomacy" Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is warning members of the House of Representatives that she "will recommend personally" that President Barack Obama veto a bill pending in the House that would severely restrict State Department operations, international organizations and foreign assistance.

In a letter to Florida Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Secretary Clinton listed a number of what she termed "onerous" restrictions that would cut contributions from the U.S. to international organizations, ban funds for the Obama administration’s Global Climate Change Initiative and prohibit any economic or democracy aid to countries whose votes at the United Nations oppose the U.S. more than 50% of the time.

Secretary Clinton, in her letter, maintains the bill contains "crippling restrictions on security assistance where maximum flexibility is needed, especially with regard to the governments of Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen, and to the Palestinian Authority."

Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative: The "Gang of Six" plan, released last week and backed by several Republicans, called for a stunning $886 billion in cuts to security spending. This is more than double the $400 billion in cuts proposed by President Obama in April.

The plan currently on offer from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid embraces these cuts. House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon recently highlighted the fact that the Reid plan would cut "$868 billion in defense cuts over ten years when weighed against the FY11 budget request," thus having a "disastrous impact on our military."

Conservatives are right to focus on the dire state of the economy and the need to slash government spending. But these efforts should not and need not require Republicans to turn their back on the party’s traditional support for a policy of peace through strength.

The percentage of federal spending devoted to the core defense budget — excluding contingency spending in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars — has actually declined over the last ten years from 15.6 percent to 14.6 percent.

Navy in cross hairs

Sen. Tom Coburn wants the Navy to cut its aircraft carriers from 11 to 10 and reduce Navy Air wings by one as part of his plan to reduce Defense Department spending on buying and operating weapons.

It’s not an original idea. The Congressional Budget Office has proposed it and others have talked about it, but the Navy is not happy. Coburn notes that this single reduction "is not equivalent to an option of permanently decommissioning every single aircraft carrier in the Navy’s fleet."

Bigger gains could come from Coburn’s suggestions for the controversially expensive program to produce the new Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35. First, he proposes a multiyear procurement program for 602 of the planes destined for the Air Force in the next 10 years. That step would lock in a 10 percent savings on this $70 billion purchase.

Another Afghan Governor Attacked: Battle Raging

Reuters update 0730a ET: 18 people killed and 35 wounded in attacks in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan – Health official

The governor of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province is holed up inside his compound and is being protected by bodyguards as a gunbattle rages in and around the building, according to Jamil Khan, the governor's executive director.

Gunfire and explosions could be heard over the phone as Khan spoke with CNN.

Militants wielding guns and strapped with explosive devices on Thursday attacked the governor's office, a television station and a police base in the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt, officials said. International Security Assistance Forces are also engaged in the fight, according to ISAF spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff.

A provincial parliament member said Afghan forces had requested international assistance and at least one ISAF helicopter is engaged in the battle, according to Anan Ullah Azimi, a provincial parliament member currently in Tarin Kowt.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying six insurgents penetrated the governor's headquarters and are currently embroiled in a firefight with government forces, according to Taliban spokesman Qari Ahmad Yousofi.

Even before the spate of high-profile attacks, the insurgents were killing record numbers of other pro-government figures in Kandahar. In June, the United Nations singled out the southern city in its quarterly report. "The city of Kandahar and its surroundings registered the majority of the incidents during the reporting period, with a quarter of the overall attacks and more than half of all assassinations recorded countrywide."

The spike in assassinations has been part of an overall increase in violence: Kandahar saw a 347-per-cent increase in violence incidents from 2007 to 2011, according to data for the first 22 weeks of each year compiled by security analyst Sami Kovanen of Indicium Consulting.

US Commander: al Qaeda 1.0 on the ropes, but... 

Associated Press: The top commander of U.S. special operations forces said Wednesday that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda is bloodied and "nearing its end," but he warned the next generation of militants could keep special operations fighting for a decade to come.

Navy SEAL Adm. Eric T. Olson described the killing of bin Laden by a special operations raid on May 2 as a near-killing blow for what he called "al-Qaeda 1.0," as created by bin Laden and led from his hideout in Pakistan.

Olson said the group had already lost steam because of the revolts of the Arab Spring, which proved the Muslim world did not need al-Qaeda to bring down governments, from Tunisia to Egypt.

But the four-star admiral warned of the fight to come against what he called al-Qaeda 2.0, with new leaders like American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, who Olson said understands America better than Americans understand him.

"It will morph, it will disperse," he said of the movement. "It will become in some ways more westernized, (with) dual passport holders" and "fewer cave dwellers," he said.

Libyan Rebels Launch Offensive in western mountains

Reuters: Rebels in Libya's Western Mountains launched an offensive on Thursday against Muammar Gadhafi's troops, one day after Britain granted diplomatic recognition to the opposition.

With prospects of a negotiated settlement fading, both sides appear to be preparing for the five-month-old war to grind on into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August.

"We have started attacking Ghezaia with rockets and tanks," rebel spokesman Mohammed Maylud said. Ghezaia is a town near the Tunisian border which has been in government hands since the conflict began.

Basim Ahmed, a fighter coming back from the front, said rebels had taken control of parts of three villages and many government troops had fled, but this was not possible to verify.

Peace deal hopes for Libya fade

With Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi showing no signs, so far, of yielding to Western demands, diplomats from the United States, Britain and France have adopted a new tactic in recent days: offering the besieged leader the opportunity to remain in Libya if he dissolves the government and steps aside.

But the offer, conveyed by American diplomats to Libyan government officials during a July 16 meeting in Tunis, came with a huge caveat: rebels based in eastern Libya would have to agree. The rebels have expressed mixed views on that possibility, and they seemed to reject it on Wednesday. Reuters reported that Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the rebel leader, told reporters in Benghazi, Libya: "This offer is no longer valid."

Beyond getting the rebels to sign on, American and European diplomats would have to find a way around the war crimes indictment hanging over Colonel Qaddafi at the ICC at The Hague.

And finally, Colonel Qaddafi himself would have to be persuaded that he would not end up in the same boat as his neighbor to the east, Hosni Mubarak.

CNN's Ivan Watson in Tripoli writes: Barely 15 days ago, there was optimism from regime insiders here in Tripoli that a deal was in the works to resolve the five-month conflict. Perhaps this was because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was fast approaching, and with it, an anticipated slow-down in fighting on the front-lines. Also, the regime was engaged in talks on multiple fronts with its European, American, and Libyan opponents.

Developments over the last two weeks appear to have killed those hopes.

First, the United States joined the growing list of countries officially declaring the rebel council based in Benghazi the "legitimate governing authority for Libya."

A day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement in Istanbul, Turkey, the message was personally delivered during a round of secret talks in Tunisia. The Americans said they had one message for the Libyans, "Gadhafi must go."

Syria: Congress mad at Administration 

Senior State Department officials came under tough questioning from lawmakers Wednesday over the Obama administration's reluctance to call for Syrian President Bashar Assad's departure.

Despite the Assad government's bloody crackdown on demonstrators, U.S. officials have shied away from calling directly for his ouster. They worry that the United States would end up looking weak if Assad managed to hang on in the face of popular pressure. And with American leverage limited in Syria, they also have been reluctant to raise expectations about what the administration might be prepared to do to unseat the regime.

At Wednesday's hearing, an unusual coalition of Republican and Democratic members of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee complained that the effort to carefully calibrate a message had failed to make it clear that America stands with pro-reform protesters against an oppressive regime.

"How many must die before we have the courage to stand up and say that Assad is illegitimate and he must go?" asked Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the subcommittee's chairman.

New al Qaeda leader backs Syria protests 

The new head of al Qaeda describes Syria's president as "the leader of criminal gangs, the protector of traitors," and applauds anti-government protesters seeking to topple him, in a video that appeared on extremist websites this week.

Ayman al-Zawahiri's message is believed to be his first since he was named leader of the terror network. CNN could not independently verify its authenticity. In the video, the bespectacled 60-year-old dressed in a white robe gestures and points with his finger as he speaks.

He uses the seven-minute video, which first appeared Wednesday, to discuss Syria and address the protesters seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.

Syrian forces pursued a deadly crackdown on anti-regime dissents Wednesday, killing 11 people in a "vengeance" raid near Damascus and arresting hundreds outside the capital, activists said.

The latest violence came as about 200 Syrian youth activists opened a four-day meeting in Istanbul to discuss ways of improving coordination among groups seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

The raid targeted Kanaker, a town of 250,000 people west of Damascus, Ammar Qorabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights, told AFP in Nicosia.

UN envoy tries to broker Yemen deal

A United Nations envoy to Yemen has extended his week-long visit to continue talks with parties seeking to end the prolonged political standoff between the country's ruling party and the opposition.

Jamal bin Omar, who arrived on July 20, was expected to leave today after warning on Monday that Yemen is facing collapse and poses a serious threat to the region and the rest of the world. His visit has been extended until the end of the month.

"Yemen is suffering from the collapse of the state. There are regions, with acknowledgment of the state officials, [that are] out of control. This is a serious situation," Mr bin Omar told reporters on Monday.

Oslo: New video of explosion

Johan Christian Tandberg was able to film Norway's main government bldg moments after a massive deadly bomb exploded there. His story on CNN this morning and his images a profound testament to the devastation.

CNN's Nic Robertson in Oslo: It's emerging that Breivik used just a 75 second fuse to reduce amount of smoke given off by this type of fuse, and there should have been far more damage for a 900kg bomb – but the underground car park absorbed a lot of the blast. That saved the lives of people 30m from the blast.

CNN's Eliot McLaughlin traces the teenage years of Breivik: Breivik joined Oslo's hip-hop movement at age 12 and by 15 was the most active graffiti artist in the Norwegian capital, he wrote. He had Muslim friends and hung out with violent Pakistani street gangs, which he said was essential to the safety of Norwegian teens in Oslo.

"Unless you had Muslim contacts you could easily be subject to harassment, beatings and robbery. Our alliances with the Muslim gangs were strictly seen as a necessity for us, at least for me," the manifesto states.

Italian politician defends Breivik's views 

One of Silvio Berlusconi's former ministers has defended the thinking of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

Interviewed on a popular radio show, Francesco Speroni, a leading member of the Northern League, the junior partner in Berlusconi's conservative coalition, said: "Breivik's ideas are in defense of western civilization."

The Italian politician was endorsing the comments of another high-profile member of the league who had drawn fierce criticism for arguing that the killings might have been part of a plot to discredit hardline conservative thinkers. Like many in his party, Mario Borghezio, who sits in the European parliament, is an admirer of the writings of the late Italian journalist and author Oriana Fallaci, who popularized the term Eurabia to describe a future, supposedly Islamised Europe.

"Lionheart" disowns Breivik 

A rightwing blogger who is a member of an anti-Muslim group with a similar name to the one Breivik claimed to belong to denies meeting the Norwegian gunman.

Breivik said in his 1500-page manifesto that he attended the founding meeting of the Knights Templar "military order" in London in 2002 where he met a "mentor" who used the pseudonym Richard – after Richard the Lionheart.

Paul Ray, who writes a blog under the name Lionheart, says he belongs to an anti Muslim group called The Ancient Order of the Templar Knights but denies ever meeting Breivik and says he was horrified by the mass killings on Friday. In a telephone interview with Associated Press, Ray said he was not at the 2002 London meeting that Breivik described in his manifesto.

Germany anxious about rise of far-right 

Germany's interior minister warned that the homegrown far-right scene had a dangerous fringe potentially capable of mounting attacks such as those in Norway, in an interview published Wednesday.

Hans-Peter Friedrich of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc told the daily Rheinische Post that although the number of right-wing extremists was on the decline in Germany, the number prepared to use violence was rising.

"I am particularly worried about the so-called 'national anarchists' who take leftist anarchists as their example," he said. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the chief intelligence service, says Germany has about 1,000 "national anarchists", mainly young neo-Nazis prepared to use violence to advance their ideology.

Friedrich said it was possible that such extremists could plan and carry out an assault similar to the twin attacks that killed 76 people in Norway for which a man espousing far-right links claimed responsibility.

Heavy fighting in Mogadishu

AFP: Heavy fighting broke out Thursday in the Somali capital Mogadishu, after government forces backed by African Union troops launched an assault against a stronghold of the hardline Shebab insurgents, officials and witnesses said.

"There is heavy fighting this morning in several locations, it is too early to say about casualty numbers, but there are some civilians who were injured in the crossfire," said Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service.

Fighting erupted near the city's key Bakara market and Suqbacad areas, with both sides exchanging fire using heavy machine guns and artillery.

The clashes come just a day after the UN World Food Program began an airlift of emergency relief into the war-torn capital, to bring supplies for thousands at risk of starvation from an extreme drought in the Horn of Africa.

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