National Security Brief: Senate Votes For Accelerated Afghanistan Exit

— The Senate voted overwhelmingly to voice its support for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. The 62-33 vote included 13 Republicans. “It is time to end this war, end the longest war in United States history,” the measure’s chief sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said.

— The Washington Post reports: Some of the heaviest fighting since the Syrian uprising began last year forced the closure of Damascus’s international airport Thursday as communications throughout the country went dark after the government apparently shut down Internet access.

— Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that the United States and its allies are likely to battle al Qaeda for years to come. “Although we clearly have had an impact on (al Qaeda’s) presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. “And intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan as well.”

— Two top U.S. officials defended the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes in combating al Qaeda operatives. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon called it a “targeted effort.”

— The Washington Post reports: Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, told a military judge on Thursday that he contemplated suicide soon after he was arrested in 2010 and that he was kept in isolation for 23 hours a day.

— CNN reports: Recent satellite photos show continued activity at a controversial Iranian military site that international weapons inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to, according to a Washington-based think tank.