By Chris Lawrence
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
The U.S. military has updated options for a forceful intervention in Syria to give President Barack Obama a range of choices should he decide to deepen American involvement in a civil war where new claims surfaced this week about possible chemical weapons use by the regime.
A senior Defense Department official told CNN on Friday that target lists for possible air strikes have been updated. The planning also included updates on the potential use of cruise missiles, which would not require fighter pilots to enter Syrian airspace.
But the official cautioned the steps were taken "to give the president a current and comprehensive range of choices" and that no decisions were made at a national security meeting on Thursday at the White House.
The official said there are certain static targets, like government buildings and military installations, but that forces and equipment of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "continue to move" and thus require flexibility in planning.FULL STORY
(CNN) - The United Nations and the United States are calling for an immediate investigation of Syrian activists' claims that the Bashar al-Assad government used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians.
Anti-regime activist groups in Syria say more than 1,300 people were killed in the attack outside Damascus, many of them women and children. Video footage and witness reports appeared to bolster claims that chemical weapons were used.
President Barack Obama has directed the U.S. intelligence community to urgently gather additional information to try to assess whether chemical weapons were used Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.
At this time, she said, the United States is unable to "conclusively determine" chemical weapons use, but is focused on trying to nail down the facts, along with its international partners.
By Jamie Crawford
The United States sanctioned four senior members of Hezbollah on Thursday for their alleged roles in facilitating terrorist activity in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other countries.
The Lebanon-based Shiite organization, which is a member of the Lebanese government, has already been branded a terrorist group by the United States.
"Whether ferrying foreign fighters to the front lines of the Syrian civil war or inserting clandestine operatives in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere, Hezbollah remains a significant global terrorist threat," said David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Those sanctioned include Khalil Harb, who once headed a unit dedicated to terror activities in countries surrounding Israel, Treasury said.
By Dana Ford
The Army sergeant who admitted to gunning down 16 civilians in a 2012 rampage through two villages near his outpost in southern Afghanistan is expected to take the stand at his sentencing hearing and will apologize.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty in June to more than 30 criminal charges, including 16 premeditated murder counts.
The plea spares the 39-year-old Bales the prospect of a death sentence in the killings. He now faces life in prison, but a jury of four officers and two enlisted personnel will decide whether he will have a chance at parole.
"Yes, Bob will take (the) stand ... Yes, Bob will apologize," Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne said in an e-mail to CNN.
Bales admitted to slipping away from his outpost in southern Afghanistan and going on a house-to-house killing spree in two nearby villages in March 2012, a massacre that further strained ties between American troops and their Afghan allies.
But he has not offered an explanation for his actions.FULL STORY
By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
A veterans’ group says it has accumulated 29,000 signatures demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki be fired over persistent delays in processing disability claims.
Concerned Veterans of America sent a petition to President Barack Obama this week maintaining that Veterans Affairs disability claims have increased nearly 2,000 % since he took office in 2009.
Shinseki has been the only veterans affairs secretary under Obama.
In response, the Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged that “too many” veterans have to wait too long for benefits.
“That’s unacceptable, and we are implementing a robust plan to fix the problem,” a statement said.
By Evan Perez
The Obama administration on Wednesday declassified opinions from a secret court that oversees government surveillance showing the National Security Agency was broadly collecting domestic Internet communications of Americans and misrepresenting the scope of that effort to the court.
The three opinions include one from October 2011 by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who scolded government lawyers that the NSA had, for the third time in less than three years, belatedly acknowledged it was collecting more data than it was legally allowed to.
The focus of the opinion was the government's admission that for three years, under its authority to monitor foreign communications, it had been collecting information beyond what it gets from Internet service providers, and included sets of data that were entirely domestic.FULL STORY
By Paul Courson
For leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, Bradley Manning is set to spend the next three decades in prison.
A military judge on Wednesday sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison - less than the 60 years prosecutors sought, as well as the 90 years he could have received.
The former Army intelligence analyst - convicted in July of stealing 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos and disseminating them to WikiLeaks - will be credited for the roughly three and a half years he's already served in detention.
The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, also reduced his rank from private first class to private, and ordered him to be dishonorably discharged. Manning also will forfeit pay and benefits.FULL STORY
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Follow CSIS on Twitter.
(CNN) - There are no good or easy solutions for U.S. policy toward Egypt, and short-sighted arguments about military aid miss the broader issues entirely. America is relearning the lesson of the 1950s post-colonial period: Democracy depends on stable and experienced political parties and leaders, a willingness to compromise rather than conspire and to share or give up power until the next election.FULL STORY
By Jessica Yellin
The Obama administration is withholding some military aid to Egypt as it reviews how it wants to proceed, a U.S. official told CNN.
The move is being described as a "reprogramming" of some funds to Egypt, but in effect, Washington is temporarily holding up some military aid to that country as it prepares for the possibility that future aid could be cut, the official said.
A spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, David Carle, confirmed to CNN Monday that his office has been told the aid has been halted. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is chairman of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.
The United States gives about $1.23 billion in military aid to Egypt.FULL STORY
By Jill Dougherty
Four State Department workers who were put on leave after last year's attack on a U.S. mission in Libya will be allowed to resume work, but in different positions, a senior State Department official told CNN on Tuesday.
News of the move irked U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the Republicans who've pressed the State Department to punish employees for what the lawmakers say were ignored security warnings in advance of the September attack on the Benghazi mission, which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
"Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll," Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday.
"The Oversight Committee will expand its investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack to include how a supposed 'Accountability Review Board' investigation resulted in a decision by Secretary Kerry not to pursue any accountability from anyone," Issa added.FULL STORY