February 8th, 2012
05:35 PM ET

U.S.: Humanitarian aid to Syria not likely soon

By Jamie Crawford

As the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues its relentless assault on the city of Homs, the United States says it is still too soon to determine how a humanitarian aid package could be effectively delivered to those who need it.

"We're not prepared to speak about what the delivery options might be," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday at a daily briefing with reporters. "We have quite a bit of work to do with other governments, so I'm not going to speculate."

After a Russian and Chinese veto of a United Nations resolution aimed at stabilizing the situation in Syria, the United States is working to create a mechanism, possibly outside the U.N. Security Council, that could best serve besieged areas of Syria.

One such option would be a "Friends of Syria" contact group of U.S. allies and partners who support a free and democratic Syria, Nuland said. The group would support the Arab League plan on Syria that served as the basis for the failed U.N. resolution.

Afghan forces in lead, but not in control
February 8th, 2012
04:10 PM ET

Afghan forces in lead, but not in control

By Larry Shaughnessy

The Obama administration plan for Afghanistan is this: The United States and NATO are training a growing Afghan security force to take over security of their own country, allowing American and other international troops to leave in two years time.

But the second-highest-ranking officer in Afghanistan said Wednesday that so far, almost no Afghan units are capable of operating without American or NATO assistance.

When asked during a briefing at the Pentagon about how many Afghan Security units can operate independently, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, replied "probably one percent ... to be honest with you ... It's a very low number."

That means while the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has turned control of about half of Afghanistan over to Afghans, almost everywhere that has happened the security forces working in those areas are still doing so with help from American and other international forces. FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • ISAF • Karzai • Military
February 8th, 2012
02:41 PM ET

Egypt sends U.S. formal charges against NGOs

By Adam Levine

The United States received the formal charging document from the Egyptian government that outlines the case against the staff of pro-democracy organizations, including 16 Americans, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The Egyptians say the pro-democracy organizations had received illegal foreign financing and were operating without a proper license. But some of the groups had been tacitly operating for some time in Egypt without permission, even under former leader Hosni Mubarak, who was pushed from office in the initial wave of the Arab Spring protests last year.

The report , which Nuland said was between 100 and 175 pages and written in Arabic, was given to the U.S. on Wednesday morning.  It is being translated and reviewed to understand the legal case, implications and what is expected of those charged, Nuland said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Nuland said that despite the charges, the U.S. does not consider the case truly a judicial one.

"Our view remains that this is not fundamentally a judicial issue. This is an issue between the two governments," Nuland said, saying it is really a disagreement about the "appropriate role" that foreign NGOs should play in supporting a democracy and "ensuring that the environment for their operation is clear, is well understood, and that we have an agreement among us."

"We've been asking to resolve this goverment-to-government," Nuland said. As part of that effort, CNN reported that the top U.S. military official, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, will be traveling to Cairo later this week to meet with his Egyptian counterparts.

Dempsey will not present any ultimatums to the Egyptian military on the Americans being detained but will suggest that the Egyptians be aware U.S. aid is at risk.

"He will say you have choices and there are consequences to those choices," according to Dempsey's spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.

Of the Americans charged, less than half are still in Egypt. Those who are still in country have been invited to move onto the embassy compound.

 The Egyptian government has not asked for those Americans at  the embassy to be turned over or turn themselves in, although Nuland said there might be instructions in the charging document that they are still reviewing.

Filed under: Diplomacy • Egypt
February 8th, 2012
10:22 AM ET

Why Syria isn't Libya

By Tim Lister

Amid growing outrage over civilian casualties in Syria, there are ever more urgent calls to aid - or at least protect - the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. There is renewed talk of creating safe havens and humanitarian corridors inside the country. And those demanding tougher measures are again asking why events in Syria should not prompt Libyan-style intervention by NATO and its Arab allies.

In Washington Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said the United States "should consider all options, including arming the opposition. The blood-letting has got to stop."

So far, the international community's response to the violence in Syria has been limited. There has been diplomatic censure, with envoys withdrawn or "recalled for consultations," and Syrian ambassadors expelled from several Arab states. A growing raft of sanctions is draining the Syrian regime's coffers but only gradually sapping its strength. This is not a country that has relied on international trade for its survival. FULL POST

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Filed under: Arab League • Libya • Middle East • NATO • Syria
Joint Chiefs chairman heading to Egypt
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will travel to Egypt this week.
February 8th, 2012
07:52 AM ET

Joint Chiefs chairman heading to Egypt

by Barbara Starr

General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Cairo later this week for what top aides are saying is a 'long planned' visit with his military counterparts.

The visit comes at a time of crisis between the two countries with to warnings that $1.3 billion in US aid is at jeapardy while Egypt is holding a number of US citizens working for non profit organizations.

Col David Lapan, Dempsey's spokesman, told CNN the fate of the Americans is not a specific item on Dempsey's agenda, and he is not going to Egypt with the idea of pressing for their release, though he expects the issue to come up. “He will discuss common interests, choices and consequences,” Lapan said. FULL POST

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Filed under: Dempsey • Diplomacy • Egypt • Military
In Syria: Fears of terrorism out of chaos
A rally in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Deir Zor, Syria
February 8th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

In Syria: Fears of terrorism out of chaos

By Suzanne Kelly

(CNN) - As the international community debates how to stop the bloodshed in Syria, intelligence experts are looking closely at possible terrorist scenarios that could occur should the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad go.

Among those scenarios is the question of whether terrorists could get their hands on Syria's weapons arsenal , which includes not only stockpiles of chemical and biological agents that have not been accounted for with the international community, but also a sophisticated anti-ship missile system as well as a small fleet of surface to surface missiles.

"If things continue to deteriorate in Syria, there are a number of scenarios in which proliferation becomes a risk," said Aram Nerguizian, visiting fellow at Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The Syrians have been playing with chemical weapons capabilities for decades. By regional standards, you have a regionally mature chemical weapons system in Syria."


Filed under: Assad • Intelligence • Pentagon • Syria • Terrorism • UN Security Council • United Nations
February 8th, 2012
05:54 AM ET

Drone strike in Pakistan kills 10 near Afghan border

By Reza Sayah, CNN

Ten people were killed Wednesday when a suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at an insurgent hideout in Pakistan's northwest tribal region, three security officials said.

The early morning attack took place 10 kilometers east of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the news media on the matter.

North Waziristan is one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border and widely believed to be a haven for the Haqqani network and other militant groups that are fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The attack Wednesday morning was the fourth suspected U.S. drone strike on Pakistani soil this year, all of them targeting locations in North Waziristan.


Filed under: Afghanistan • drones • Haqqani • Military • Pakistan • Terrorism