State Department warns of poor religious freedoms in Egypt, China, Europe
Coptic Christians demonstrate in Cairo on Monday, May 9, 2011 in protest of Muslim-Christian clashes that left several dead days before.
July 30th, 2012
06:29 PM ET

State Department warns of poor religious freedoms in Egypt, China, Europe

By Elise Labott

Efforts to transition from dictatorship to democracy after the Arab Spring have endangered religious minorities, the State Department says in its annual report of religious freedom.

The annual survey of religious liberties around the world also warns against deteriorating religious freedom in China and Iran, the increased use of anti-blasphemy laws to restrict the rights of religious minorities and a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe

"In times of transition, the situation of religious minorities in these societies comes to the forefront," says the State Department's first report since the Arab Spring uprisings. "Some members of society who have long been oppressed seek greater freedom and respect for their rights while others fear change. Those differing aspirations can exacerbate existing tension."

While the report notes Egypt's interim military leaders had made gestures towards greater inclusiveness, it points to an uptick in sectarian tensions and violence in Egypt, particularly against Coptic Christians.

Report finds "waste" in Iraqi police training
An Iraq Police officer searches a car at a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq.
July 30th, 2012
05:49 PM ET

Report finds "waste" in Iraqi police training

By Jamie Crawford

A U.S. government watchdog says more than $200 million was wasted on a program to train the Iraqi police force, with security concerns and a lack of interest by the Iraqi government the main culprits for the program's shortcomings.

In an audit released Monday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, or SIGIR, auditors also said the Police Development Program faced challenges at the outset due to the lack of an assessment of Iraqi police force capabilities, and of a written commitment from the Iraqi government for the program to move forward.

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who as inspector general leads the SIGIR office, signed the report that was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

The purpose of the program is to help Iraqi police services develop the capabilities needed to lead, manage and sustain internal security and the rule of law. The State Department is hoping to reach those goals by 2016.

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Filed under: Iraq • State Department
July 30th, 2012
05:15 PM ET

Panetta says when, not if, al-Assad falls, Syrian military should remain intact

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says that when Bashar al-Assad loses his grip on power, he wants the Syrian military to remain in place.

"I think it's important when Assad leaves - and he will leave - to try to preserve stability in that country. And the best way to preserve that kind of stability is to maintain as much of the military, the police, as you can, along with the security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government. That's a key," Panetta told CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr in an exclusive interview in Tunis, Tunisia, Monday.

He said the United States shouldn't allow a repeat of the Bush administration's moves in Iraq, where it disbanded the Iraqi military.

"It's very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq," he said. "And that, particularly, when it comes things like the chemical sites. They (the Syrian military) do a pretty good job of securing those sites. If they suddenly walked away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands - hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area."

Panetta had some advice for the Syrian dictator whose nation is in the midst of a deadly civil war. "I'm sure that deep down Assad knows he's in trouble and it's just matter of time before he has to go," Panetta said. "I would say if you want to be able to protect yourself and your family, you better get the hell out now."

Panetta is in Tunisia for the start of a week-long trip to the Middle East and North Africa.

Earlier, on the flight to Africa, Panetta told reporters traveling with him that Syria will be on his agenda on every stop.

"The United States and the international community has made very clear that this is intolerable, and have brought their diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria to stop this kind of violence, to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government," he said. "The key right now is to continue to bring that pressure on Syria, to provide assistance to the opposition, and to provide whatever kind of humanitarian aid we can to assist the refugees."

Watch Barbara Starr and her exclusive interview with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tonight on CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

Congressional calls for investigation into anti-IED flap
July 30th, 2012
04:42 PM ET

Congressional calls for investigation into anti-IED flap

By Mike Mount

As roadside bombs continue to be the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a Republican House member is asking for a congressional inquiry into why an Army report favoring a system that increases detection of the bombs was altered to seem less effective, presumably to push an already existing Army system that troops said was inferior.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also is asking congressional investigators to look into why some Army units that requested the bomb-detection system were denied access to it by the Pentagon bureaucracy.

The investigation request surrounds a new privately developed software system called Palantir, which according to U.S troops and commanders who have used it, is more effective in helping troops in Afghanistan track and predict the location of deadly roadside bombs than the existing Army system.

Earlier this year, after ordering the system pushed out to units in Afghanistan that had been urgently asking for it, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno requested the Army's Operational Test Command to report on Palantir by surveying troops who have used it.

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Filed under: Congress • Military
July 30th, 2012
04:36 PM ET

Romney: Nuclear Iran is 'number one national security threat'

By CNN's Gregory Wallace

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney clarified his March remark that Russia is the nation's top foe, saying in an interview which aired Monday on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" that Iran potentially poses the greatest national security threat to the U.S.

"The number one national security threat, of course, to our nation is a nuclear Iran," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, speaking in Jerusalem about the nearby nation.

Asked about Israel's borders, the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the London Olympics, and campaign finance, Romney offered little new policy or criticism of President Barack Obama.

"I'm on foreign soil, and because it's long been a policy of both political parties to leave politics at the water's edge, I'm not going to go through specific foreign policy prescription," he said in response to one question, echoing a similar caveat he affixed to other answers.

Filed under: 2012 Election • Iran • Romney
July 30th, 2012
11:28 AM ET

Syrian rebels seize military base

By Ivan Watson reporting from Northern Syria

Rebels captured a government military base Monday on the outskirts of Aleppo, the hotly contested Syrian metropolis that has seen more than a week of bloody clashes.

The base had about 200 Syrian troops and appeared to be under attack by rebels from three sides overnight.

"The battle lasted around nine hours," said Fazad Abdel Nasr, a rebel commander working in the northern Aleppo suburbs. Nasr said six regime soldiers and four rebel fighters were killed.

The rebels also gained heavy equipment to supplement the lesser weapons they had been fighting with.


Filed under: Security Brief