August 12th, 2011
09:30 AM ET

Officials: Egypt to target al Qaeda cells said to be training in Sinai

By Mohamed Fadel Fahmy

Egyptian military and intelligence officials say they are preparing to launch an operation against al Qaeda cells that have recently been established in the restive Sinai peninsula.

While Egypt has seen a number of homegrown militant Islamist groups emerge and dissipate over the past 20 years, none has had clear organizational links with al Qaeda.

But senior officials told CNN that al Qaeda cells have now surfaced in northern Sinai, which has seen acts of sabotage and clashes between rival Salafist groups this year. Among the incidents, a gas pipeline to Israel was blown up several times.

The focus of their concern is the coastal area between el-Arish, a resort town of about 80,000 people on the Mediterranean, and Rafah on the border with Gaza.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Egypt • Intelligence
Budget Super Committee, friend or foe of Defense Department?
The Pentagon Photo By: CNN's John Bodnar
August 12th, 2011
06:52 AM ET

Budget Super Committee, friend or foe of Defense Department?

By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy

The final three members of the 12-member so-called "super committee" on deficit reduction were announced Thursday, but there are not a slew of pro-defense lawmakers on the panel charged with tackling the next stage of the national debt debate.

Two are well-known supporters of defense issues, but only one of the 12 is a member of an armed services committee.

Aviation Week magazine's website pointed out, "despite the hopes of U.S. defense industry advocates to stave off steep cuts to the Pentagon, the military-minded have scant representation" on the committee.

Should that be a cause for concern in the halls of the Pentagon?


Filed under: Congress • Kerry • Military • Panetta • Secretary of Defense
August 12th, 2011
06:33 AM ET

US disputes report alleging high civilian death toll from drone strikes

By Pam Benson and Elise Labott

A senior U.S. official is dismissing a report that says covert American drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 385 civilians, nearly half of them children, saying the findings by the London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism are faulty and uncorroborated.
The response by the official late Thursday follows a report released this week by the nonprofit group, which includes British and Pakistani journalists, that found CIA covert drone strikes since 2004 killed at least 2,292 people. Of those killed in the strikes, the group said it had credible reports of at least 385 civilians, including 160 children.
"The numbers cited by this organization are way off the mark," the official told CNN. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the drone program. FULL POST

To go or not to go: US dances around Syrian president's ouster
Syrian President Bashar Assad (right) with military officials Photo By: AFP/Getty Images
August 12th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

To go or not to go: US dances around Syrian president's ouster

Anaylsis by CNN Senior National Security Producer Elise Labott

Each day the Obama administration is inching closer to saying of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: "He must go."

The United States has been dancing around that line for months. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already said that Assad has lost legitimacy and the U.S. has nothing invested in his continued rule of Syria. The latest missive, offered this week by White House spokesman Jay Carney and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is that Syria "would be better off without Assad."

The question is not really about timing, but whether Assad would listen. He has ignored warnings from Arab titans like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to stop the bloodshed against his people. So why would he heed the call of the United States with whom he has had a prickly relationship at best?

The answer is, he probably won't. At least not now. Even as the script is being written, U.S. officials and Syria watchers alike recognize a call from President Barack Obama himself for al-Assad to step down is highly unlikely to move him.