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The CIA is said to be considering a drone strike on an American member of al Qaeda in an unnamed foreign country who is plotting attacks against US citizens overseas. President Obama and President Hollande of France jointly announced new strategic cooperation between their countries on combating terrorism as well as other endeavors. The Pentagon announced that the MV Cape Ray, the ship specially outfitted to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, will remain indefinitely in Rota, Spain until the Assad regime completes the handover of its chemical weapons.
New Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson said the war in Syria has become a matter of homeland security due to the risks posed by US jihadists. US officials said at least 50 Americans have traveled to Syria to fight. Last week National Intelligence Director James Clapper said parts of northern Syria were becoming like Pakistan's tribal areas, where al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremists have found safe havens since 2001. According to Senator Lindsey Graham, Secretary of State Kerry recently said al Qaeda is posing a real and direct threat.
Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Brett McGurk said suicide bombings in Iraq have tripled over the past year, and that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham is using a "global network" of jihadists to supply the bombers, who are often foreigners; he also accused Iraq of not doing enough to stop Iran from sending military equipment to the Assad regime in Syria. McGurk said US advisers have been assisting the Iraqi army in the fight against ISIS in Fallujah. Secretary of State Kerry cautioned that French business executives visiting Tehran risk possible Iran sanctions. The Homeland Security Department warned that toothpaste tubes filled with explosives could be smuggled into Russia on direct flights and used to assemble a bomb either aboard the airplane or at the Sochi Olympics.
US officials said US drone strikes in Pakistan are being curtailed in deference to Pakistan's wishes and in view of logistical constraints as the US winds down its combat role in Afghanistan; the officials denied recent reports that the change was to allow Pakistan to negotiate with the Taliban. Officials said the CIA plans to focus on high-value targets such as al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and his top lieutenants, but also admitted that top al Qaeda operatives have become increasingly elusive. Robert Ford, the US envoy to the Syrian opposition, is retiring; his replacement has not been named.
US officials said they have sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan at the request of the Pakistani government, which asked for a pause while it tries to negotiate with the Taliban. The Chair of the House Intelligence Committee charged that the Obama administration's revisions to the drone targeting criteria, which permit strikes only against al Qaeda operatives who pose a continuing and imminent threat to US persons and when there is a "near certainty" of no civilian casualties, "are an utter and complete failure" and leave American lives at risk. The head of the CIA warned that al Qaeda is using camps inside Syria and Iraq to develop capabilities for external as well as local attacks. The White House urged Egypt to release journalists and academics who have been arrested in a recent crackdown. The Director of the National Counterterrorism Center said the US and Russia are tracking "a number of specific threats" to the Olympic Games in Sochi.