Special Operations forces risk being overused, misused, former chief says
July 27th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

Special Operations forces risk being overused, misused, former chief says

By Pam Benson, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

The use of military Special Operations Forces has been a proven success in Iraq, Afghanistan and - with last year's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound - in Pakistan, but that success has some people concerned. Will the forces become the tool of choice for a president?

The former head of the U.S. Special Operations Command told the Aspen Security Forum Thursday he fears there could be a misuse of the highly trained specialists.

"It's a real danger," retired Adm. Eric Olson said. "They come to be thought of as a utility infielder, sometimes a utility infielder with guns, and they may be asked to solve problems that are not necessarily special operations problems."


Could Syria be worse post-Assad?
July 27th, 2012
01:24 PM ET

Could Syria be worse post-Assad?

As the U.S. considers what to do if Syria's president falls, a former director of the C.I.A. says the Obama administration should look to the lesson of Iraq.  Gen. Michael Hayden, who was appointed to run the C.I.A. under President George W. Bush, writes on CNN's Opinion page that  the mistaken approach post-Saddam Hussein is an important warning when it comes to Syria:

We should not allow the dramatic power of the most visible narrative, the struggle between oppressed and oppressor, to drown out the sad reality of another less noble story line - namely that this is still, at least for now, a sectarian conflict.

That this is the dominant narrative, the one that is most controlling and the one we should pay most attention to, is suggested by Vali Nasr's 2006 post mortem on Iraq. Nasr observed that we mistakenly "thought of politics as the relationship between individuals and the state" rather than recognizing "that people in the Middle East see politics also as the balance of power among communities."

We would do well to keep that in mind as the Syrian end game approaches. We should accelerate work to get the minorities into the game against the regime, hastening its end and broadening its opposition. The Christian and Kurdish communities have historic ties to the West that should play to our advantage in this.

Read Hayden's story on CNN's Opinion page

Filed under: Assad • Iraq • Middle East • Opinion • Syria
July 26th, 2012
02:48 PM ET

Intel official: U.S. concerned about security of Syria's chemical weapons

By Jamie Crawford, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

The question of whether some of Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons have fallen out of government control is a source of great concern for the U.S. government, according to one of the nation's top intelligence officials.

"The key for us is, are we able to identify where those weapons are? Are they safe and secure, are they falling into the wrong hands," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center said Thursday at the Aspen Institute Security Forum.

But when asked by the moderator, David Sanger of the New York Times, whether there has been a clear accounting of those weapons, Olsen was non-commital.

Read all our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

"No, not yet," he said. "This is a very sensitive time for this situation so it's an important question that we are following."


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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Iran • Iraq • Israel • Middle East • Pakistan • Syria
How al Qaeda can grow in Syria
July 25th, 2012
09:48 PM ET

How al Qaeda can grow in Syria

By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

U.S. officials and experts on Al Qaeda agree that al Qaeda has a presence among the opposition in Syria.  But how strong are they?  How deeply do they influencet the opposition?

At the Aspen Security Forum all you have to do to find an opinion on that is stand under the aspen trees and wait for an expert to saunter by.

RECOMMENDED:  Our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

I button-holed Richard Barrett, coordinator of a New-York-based team appointed to advise the Security Council on the effective development and implementation of sanctions aimed at al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“There’s no doubt at all that some of the people who refer to themselves as al Qaeda from Iraq have gone into Syria. I think that’s absolutely without doubt," Barrett tells me.   FULL POST

July 16th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

Syria's al Qaeda boomerang

Since the start of the uprising in Syria there has been great concern about al Qaeda in Iraq infiltrating the Syrian opposition groups to unseat the Syrian government. Though not considered present in large numbers, it is one reason cited by U.S. officials for resistance to arming Syrian rebels.  The Syrian government

But for Syria's leadership, al Qaeda's work against the Bashar al-Assad regime is a boomerang.  In an interview with CNN's Ivan Watson, the highest level government official to defect described further how Damascus has collaborated with al Qaeda since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Former Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al Fares said Syria "coordinated" with al Qaeda because they were threatened by the U.S. invasion: FULL POST

Filed under: Al Qaeda • Assad • Iraq • Middle East • Syria • Terrorism
July 15th, 2012
02:08 PM ET

Most senior diplomat to defect from Syria talks to CNN

The most senior Syrian diplomat to defect and publicly embrace his country's uprising is calling for a foreign military intervention to topple president Bashar al-Assad.

Nawaf al Fares spokes to CNN's Ivan Watson in Doha, Qatar. Fares also accused the Damascus regime of collaborating with al Qaeda militants against opponents both in Syria and in neighboring Iraq.

Here's a transcript of the interview: FULL POST

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Assad • China • Iran • Iraq • Kofi Annan • Middle East • Russia • Syria • UN Security Council • United Nations
State Department warns of 'impasse' over moving Iranian group from Iraqi camp
Members of the Iranian militant group MeK at Camp Ashraf, Iraq
July 6th, 2012
06:43 PM ET

State Department warns of 'impasse' over moving Iranian group from Iraqi camp

By Jill Dougherty

Two senior U.S. State Department officials warned Friday that the government of Iraq and an Iranian exile group that the Iraqi government is trying to remove from its refugee camp at a military base in Iraq are at a dangerous "impasse" and the issue must be resolved soon.

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism, told reporters in a conference call that the Iraqi government's "patience is running thin" over the refusal of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq to continue transferring to another location in Iraq.

The U.S. government has designated MEK as a terrorist group. It is committed to overthrowing the government of Iran but also has been implicated in a series of terrorist attacks, including the deaths of seven Americans in the 1970s.

Benjamin said it appears that the group has misunderstood a recent court order that requires U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by October 1, to decide whether to remove the MEK from the terror list. The secretary has said several times that her decision would be guided, in part, by whether the group moves peacefully from Camp Ashraf to a holding facility near Baghdad as the Iraqi government is demanding.


June 20th, 2012
02:14 PM ET

Former U.S. soldier aids Syria's wounded

Tattooed and pale, with an Arabic vocabulary of a few dozen words at best, 24-year-old American Peter Kassig is not who you would expect to see striding up and down the corridors of a hospital in Tripoli, Lebanon, clutching a wad of bloodied bandages.

CNN's Arwa Damon finds out how this former U.S. Army Ranger ended up in a Lebanon hospitaltreating wounded Syrians from months of escalating violence.

Kassig's journey began when he joined the Rangers in 2006 and deployed to Iraq in 2007. He was honorably discharged for medical reasons after a brief tour and returned to the United States to study political science and train for 1500-meter runs. But something wasn't right.

Read the whole story here

Filed under: Army • Iraq • Libya • Middle East • Military • Syria
Iranian dissident group warned delisting from US terror not guaranteed
Iranian-Americans rally outside the White House to urge the administration to remove the MEK, from the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organizations List.
June 19th, 2012
12:00 AM ET

Iranian dissident group warned delisting from US terror not guaranteed

By Jamie Crawford

The United States warned an Iranian dissident group that it may have "over-interpreted" recent events, and should not presume its removal from the U.S. terror list is guaranteed.

The Obama administration has told Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) an orderly departure from its base Camp Ashraf inside Iraq will be a central condition to any decision regarding the group's removal from the list.

From Camp Ashraf, the residents travel by convoy under United Nations and Iraqi government auspices to a former U.S. base in Iraq where they can be processed and eventually re-settled to countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Some 2,000 MEK members have left Camp Ashraf since the process began, but none have moved since May 5. Some 1,200 to 1,400 still remain at Camp Ashraf.

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Filed under: Hillary Clinton • Iran • Iraq • M.E.K. • Secretary of State
Obama nominee withdraws after controversy
Brett McGurk during testimony before the U.S. Senate.
June 18th, 2012
04:07 PM ET

Obama nominee withdraws after controversy

Brett McGurk, President Obama's pick to be ambassador to Iraq, has withdrawn from consideration following revelations about questionable conduct, an administration official said Monday.

"We greatly appreciate Brett's years of service on behalf of the United States, to include tireless and effective leadership in Iraq from the height of the war to the moment our last troops left Iraq in December and through the challenging transition earlier this year," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

Vietor added that while the White House regrets McGurk's withdrawal, "there is no doubt that he will be called on again to serve the country."

Read the full story here

Filed under: Diplomacy • Iraq
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