September 20th, 2012
07:22 PM ET

U.S. officials appear less certain of events ahead of Libya attack

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

U.S. officials appear less certain about what happened in Benghazi, Libya, just before the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last week.

"We certainly acknowledge contradictory information about whether there was a protest prior to the attack," a U.S. official told CNN on Thursday. "We're continuing to collect information and evaluate exactly what the circumstances were prior to the attack."

U.S. officials have been saying they believe, based on the intelligence, that the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest over a trailer for an anti-Muslim film that was circulating on the Internet, and there is no indication it was a planned attack. It is a contention that critics like Republican Sen. John McCain have said is hard to believe true given the extensive attack and the amount of weaponry involved.


September 20th, 2012
06:07 PM ET

FIRST ON CNN: U.S. officials say beefed up Benghazi security no match for ferocity of assault

By Elise Labott

Amid accusations from Libyans and leading senators on Capitol Hill that the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi, Libya, was not adequately protected, top State Department officials offered the agency's most vigorous defense yet of security measures taken to fortify the post in the months before last week's deadly attack on the compound.

The sources, who spoke on the condition they only be identified as senior State Department officials because of the sensitive nature of the information, agreed to speak to CNN to respond to claims the United States did not respond to warnings about the dangerous conditions in Benghazi.

The September 11 attack on the compound, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, has led to questions about whether proper precautions were taken to protect diplomatic personnel in an area where there was growing concern about extremism.
There also have been questions as to whether the post in eastern Libya should have been closed.

CNN's Arwa Damon reported earlier this week that the Libyans had a meeting just three days before the attack with senior employees from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. They talked about the rising threat against western interests in Benghazi. FULL POST

Filed under: Libya • Middle East
September 20th, 2012
04:27 PM ET

Questions swirl about Libyan militant's role in Benghazi attack

By Barbara Starr, Suzanne Kelly and Tim Lister

Whether he likes it or not, a Libyan by the name of Sufian bin Qumu has suddenly made it into the bloodstream of the international media in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week.

Fox News reported late Wednesday that bin Qumu may have been involved in the attack, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.  However, a senior U.S. official told CNN Thursday that so far the United States had no evidence that he was - either in leading or planning the attack.

Qumu is a senior figure in the group Ansar al Shariah, which appeared to condone the attack immediately after it occurred, but later stressed it was not involved.

The U.S. official said Ansar al Shariah had not been positively identified as responsible for the attack, "which is more likely to turn out to be a bunch of various elements and basically AQ militants."

Another senior official told CNN: "Ansar al Sharia is only one of the elements they are looking at. The notion that the intelligence community has zeroed in on either Ansar al Sharia - its leader Sufian bin Qumu in particular is completely untrue."

"The U.S. intelligence community has no intelligence indicating that bin Qumu was on scene or even directly involved in the attack," the official said. FULL POST

September 20th, 2012
04:03 PM ET

Meet the 'foreign fighters' in the Syrian rebel ranks

The presence of foreigners among the ranks of Syria's rebels has been seized on by nearly all sides to suit their purposes.

The Syrian government says they are proof the rebels are extremists and terrorists. The rebels sometimes point to them as a sign that they haven't had the outside help NATO gave their Libyan counterparts and have instead had to rely on foreign militants with genuine experience of battle, and sometimes let in people who they would not normally have asked to fight alongside.

Among the rebel ranks are, according to who you listen to, al Qaeda, foreign jihadis, Salafis seeking a radical Islamist state, and then plain old freedom fighters - Muslims seeking to support their Arab brothers in this brutal battle.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and James Foley talk to one rebel who staunchly rejects claims that foreign fighters are radicals or have links to al Qaeda.

"I'm only a student. I left my money, my student, my family. We are not al Qaeda. We are not coming to break this country, we're coming to help," said Libyan Feras.

Read Nick and James reporting here.

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Filed under: Libya
September 20th, 2012
04:30 AM ET

Source: Slain ambassador Stevens worried about security threats in Libya

By Ed Payne

In the months leading up to his death, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens worried about what he called the never-ending security threats in Benghazi and mentioned his name was on an al Qaeda hit list, a source familiar with his thinking told CNN

Stevens specifically mentioned a rise in Islamic extremism and al Qaeda's growing presence in Libya, the source said.

American intelligence officials are investigating, but Matthew Olsen, the National Counterterrorism Center director, said Wednesday that it was unlikely that Stevens and his security team were killed by random protesters.

"I would say, yes, they were killed in course of terrorist attack on our embassy," Olsen said at a Senate Homeland Security hearing.

Stevens and three other Americans were killed when protesters, angry over a film made in the United States that mocked the Muslim prophet Mohammed, attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Libya • Terrorism
Payoff? Assessing the Afghan surge
September 20th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

Payoff? Assessing the Afghan surge

By Mike Mount

The surge of U.S. forces into Afghanistan is all but over. Within days, the last several hundred troops will have left the country, according to U.S. military officials, ending an almost three-year operation to quash what was widely viewed as Taliban resurgence.

In December 2009, just over eight years after the war in Afghanistan started, President Barack Obama ordered more than 30,000 additional troops to stabilize the country enough so U.S. and international trainers could focus on developing the Afghan security forces.

While the U.S. spent years pouring troops and resources into the war in Iraq, the Taliban used that time to rebuild and start re-taking their traditional stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

Ahead of his decision to move these additional troops into Afghanistan, Obama spent several months reviewing numerous options from his advisers on how he should proceed with the "Afghan surge, as it came to be known. It would be one of his administration’s biggest gambles.

"Any time you send our brave men and women into battle, you know that not everyone will come home safely, and that necessarily weighs heavily on you. The decision did help us blunt the Taliban's momentum, and is allowing us to transition to Afghan lead," the president said last month while talking to the online community Reddit.


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Filed under: Afghanistan • Gen. John Allen • Taliban