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In recent weeks, President Obama quietly broadened the US mission in Afghanistan in 2015, authorizing US forces to conduct missions against the Taliban and other groups that threaten Afghanistan, the US, or Coalition forces and to support Afghan troops in combat missions. US troop levels in Afghanistan, to be reduced to about 4,900 by the end of 2015, reportedly will not be affected by the new guidelines. The US has already committed roughly 10,000 troops to the Coalition's 2015 "Resolute Support" training mission in Afghanistan. The US pledged to give the relief effort in Syria and Turkey an additional $135 million, bringing the total donated so far by the US for humanitarian relief for Syrians to more than $3 billion; the US will also admit some 7,000 refugees from Turkey into the US next year. The US has released detainee Muhammad al-Zahrani from Guantanamo and repatriated him to Saudi Arabia.




CENTCOM said US and partner nations have carried out seven airstrikes in Syria and 23 in Iraq against the Islamic State since Nov. 19. Vice-President Biden met with Turkey's prime minister in Ankara about the campaign against the Islamic State.




US authorities released three Guantanamo Bay detainees to Georgia, including Abdel Ghaib Ahmad Hakim, a Yemeni; the other two are Salah Mohammed Salih Al-Dhabi and Abdul Khaled Al-Baydani. The US also released two detainees to Slovakia, Hashim Bin Ali Bin Amor Sliti and Husayn Salim Muhammad Al-Mutari Yafai. Seventy-four inmates remain at Guantanamo awaiting resettlement. US officials have confirmed that ex-Gitmo detainee Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost is now recruiting in Pakistan for the Islamic State. Secretary of Defense Hagel said that the Assad regime is benefiting indirectly from the campaign against the Islamic State.




CENTCOM said that between Nov. 17 and Nov. 19, US and partner nations carried out 24 airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State and six airstrikes against the group in Syria; the US also conducted one airstrike near Haram in northwest Syria against al Qaeda's "Khorasan Group." US military records show that the US Air Force has carried out about two-thirds of the 956 airstrikes against the Islamic State between Aug. 8 and Nov. 16. John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, called the US' $103-billion dollar nation-building effort in Afghanistan "an abysmal failure."




President Obama condemned the terrorist attack on worshipers at a Jerusalem synagogue that left three US citizens, a Briton, and an Israeli policeman dead and several others seriously wounded. A spokesman for the National Security Council said Obama has directed relevant departments and agencies to review the government's policies for addressing the kidnapping of US citizens by terrorist groups; the White House said that the ban on paying ransoms will not be lifted.




CENTCOM reported that since Nov. 14, US forces have conducted 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, and US and partner forces have carried out 20 airstrikes in Iraq against the group. A US intelligence official indicated that US targeting in Syria and Iraq is hampered by insufficient intelligence on the ground. The American envoy to the IAEA said the US is "disappointed by Iran's failure to engage substantively" on the nuclear weapons issue. The Defense Department announced that Turkey has agreed to allow the US to start training and equipping Free Syrian Army fighters in Turkey. Secretary of State Kerry said the Islamic State does not intimidate the US.




Secretary of Defense Hagel announced plans to revitalize the US military's technological capabilities. Qatar's foreign minister warned that the US air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria is helping the Assad regime and straining Sunni-Shia relations in the Middle East; he suggested that Arab forces take over territory recaptured from the Islamic State. President Obama reiterated that the US does not plan to carry out military operations against the Assad regime. US military advisers have begun assisting Iraqi troops in Anbar province. The White House confirmed that former US soldier and Syrian aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded by the Islamic State.




In his first visit to Iraq since the US air campaign against the Islamic State began in August, Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the battle against the group in Iraq is "starting to turn," but cautioned that the effort to eradicate the group will take several years. The Obama administration is thinking of escalating the CIA program that vets and trains "moderate" Syrian rebels, as part of its strategy in Syria against the Islamic State; the program currently turns out 400 fighters a month. Attorney General Eric Holder said the US is sending 70 or more prosecutors and law enforcement officials to the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East "to help track down jihadist fighters returning from Syria."




CENTCOM said the US and its coalition partners have conducted 20 strikes in Syria since Nov. 12, including one strike west of Aleppo against al Qaeda's "Khorasan" network; 19 of the strikes targeted the Islamic State in three provinces. US and coalition forces have also targeted the Islamic State in Iraq since Nov. 12, carrying out 16 airstrikes.




Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Dempsey said the US is considering sending a small number of US combat troops to fight alongside Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, and that about 80,000 effective Iraqi troops will be needed. Dempsey also said some 15,000 Syrian rebels will be needed to pressure Islamic State forces in northern and eastern Syria. Defense Secretary Hagel claimed that the coalition air campaign has stalled or reversed some of the terror group's gains in Iraq, and reiterated that US troops will not be involved in a ground combat mission there. Rep. McKeon, head of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned how the US' declared mission to degrade and destroy the terror group could be accomplished without the use of ground troops. Hagel also said the US will continue to seek to release Guantanamo Bay inmates.




Since Nov. 10, the US and its coalition partners have carried out 16 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and seven airstrikes against the group in Iraq. The US also targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with a drone strike in Yemen, and a US drone strike yesterday in Pakistan killed several "foreign militants."




US officials indicated that more work needs to be done on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and said Secretary of State Kerry denounced comments by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei calling for the destruction of Israel. US Central Command said it has carried out 23 airstrikes in Syria and 18 in Iraq against the Islamic State since Nov. 7.




President Obama authorized the sending of an additional 1,500 US troops to Iraq, raising the number of US troops in country to almost 3,000. American trainers will be deployed across Iraq. He also plans to ask Congress for $5 billion for military operations against the Islamic State. Taliban commander Irek Hamidullin, the first Afghan detainee brought to the US for trial, pled not guilty to terrorism charges and will remain in custody until his trial in April. The FBI is conducting a counterintelligence investigation of veteran US diplomat and Pakistan expert Robin Raphael, who has been placed on administrative leave and had her security clearances withdrawn; no charges have been filed.




The US military conducted airstrikes in Syria's Idlib province near the Turkish border against the so-called Khorasan group, an al Qaeda cell within the Al Nusrah Front that "was plotting to attack in Europe or the homeland." The five targets of the strikes included an Al Nusrah headquarters and an Ahrar al Sham compound. President Obama reportedly has written to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, noting shared interests in the fight against the Islamic State, and touching on the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.




Fawzi al Odah, 37, a Kuwaiti man held at Guantanamo for nearly 13 years on suspicion of links to al Qaeda leaders, was released to Kuwait. Following the Republican Party's taking control of the Senate as well as the House in yesterday's election, President Obama said he will work with Congress to develop a new authorization for the use of force in the fight against the Islamic State. He said that the US' focus in Syria is "not to solve the entire Syria situation, but rather to isolate the areas" in which the Islamic State can operate. ISAF commander Lieut. Gen. Joseph Anderson warned that the current casualty rate of the Afghan National Security Forces is unsustainable.




Representatives of the US, Britain, and France have asked the United Nations to add Ansar al Sharia in Libya to the global terrorist sanctions list. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said no further troop reductions in Europe are on the horizon. Irek Hamidullin, a Taliban commander who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 after attacking US troops, appeared in federal court in Virginia to face terrorism charges.




Prosecutors revealed that Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, of suburban Chicago, had tried to take his 17-year-old sister and his 16-year-old brother with him to join the Islamic State in the Middle East. The head of US forces in Europe said more rotational troops are needed to address security challenges in Eastern Europe. The US is establishing a new task force to assist Iraqi military forces prepare for a major spring offensive against the Islamic State. Gen. Odierno, the US Army chief of staff, said the effort to defeat the Islamic State will take three to four years.




The State Department warned to US citizens in the Middle East to be vigilant, following an online jihadist threat against American and international schools. In its latest report on the Afghan war, the Pentagon said violence in Afghanistan fell by 30 percent between April and August, but warned that insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan and Afghan reliance on coalition air support present challenges.




Gen. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said US advisers should be deployed to Iraq's Anbar province, where Iraqi troops are battling the advance of the Islamic State. US officials said that the rate of foreign fighters flowing into Syria, about 1,000 per month, is remaining constant; this appears to be the case despite the US air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and US requests to Turkey to help stem the flow of foreign fighters. US officials also said that 20 to 30 former Gitmo detainees have joined the Islamic State or other jihadist groups in Syria. Donald Ray Morgan, 44, of North Carolina, was charged with attempting to join a terrorist organization; in August he had tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.




The Homeland Security Department said security will be stepped up around federal government buildings in Washington and in other US cities due to the threat of terrorism. Robel Phillipos, a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was convicted of lying to investigators.


 
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