National Security Brief: May 17, 2012

— In an escalation of the U.S.’s clandestine war in Yemen, U.S. and Yemeni officials report that at least 20 U.S. special operations troops are using satellite imagery, drone video and eavesdropping systems to provide data for Yemeni airstrikes as government forces battle al Qaeda militants and other insurgents in the country’s south.

— Attacks by the Taliban jumped 31 percent this fighting season in three farming districts that were centerpieces of the American escalation under President Obama, according to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Huggins, which, along with less than 100 Al Qaeda fighters decamping in Afghanistan’s eastern mountains, hints at dangers of the coming U.S. withdrawal.  — Since India cut its Iranian oil imports by more than 10 percent, Iraq replaced Iran as its second largest oil supplier, after Saudi Arabia.

U.S. plans for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities are “fully available” but “It would be preferable to resolve [the showdown over Iran’s nuclear program] through the use of pressure than to use military force,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Israel’s Army Radio.

— An ideologically diverse alliance that includes liberal Democrats, Tea Party Republicans, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) “is attempting to throw out a post-9/11 law that grants the president broad authority to indefinitely detain any person apprehended on American soil.”


— A confidential U.N. report details that Iran is exporting arms to the Syrian government in violation of a ban on weapons sales and describes three seizures of Iranian weapons shipments, including two bound for Syria, within the last year.

— A U.S. official said the Obama administration is in a “holding pattern” waiting for Russia to abandon its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for economic sanctions on the Syrian government to take effect and for the Syrian opposition to organize to present a coherent vision for a post-Assad Syria.

— The top U.S. Air Force commander Gen. Norton Schwartz said he disagreed with a report citing retired Gen. James Cartwright calling for U.S. deployment of nuclear warheads to be cut in half.