DHS chief: Terror risk as high as on 9/11

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a stark warning Tuesday, calling the risk of a terror attack on the United States “as threatening today” as it was on 9/11.

Specifically, Kelly outlined the danger posed by homegrown terrorists and foreign fighters from around the world who have traveled to Syria and Iraq with plans to return home.

“The threat to our nation and our American way of life has not diminished,” Kelly said during a speech at George Washington University. “In fact, the threat has metastasized and decentralized, and the risk is as threatening today as it was that September morning almost 16 years ago.”

According to Kelly, the FBI currently has open terrorism investigations in all 50 states, and since 2013, there have been 37 ISIS-linked plots to attack the US.

Law enforcement agencies have investigated 36 cases of homegrown terrorism over the last 12 months, illustrating what Kelly called an “unprecedented spike” in a type of violence that is “notoriously difficult to predict and control.”

And the Internet is playing a major role in fueling this homegrown violence, he said, pointing to cellphones as a tool used by jihadists to spread their message and provide “how-to” manuals for building explosives.

“If you are a terrorist with an Internet connection, like the one on your ever-present cellphone, you can recruit new soldiers, plan attacks and upload a video calling for jihad with just a few clicks,” Kelly said. “And thanks to new and ever improving and proliferating encryption and secure communication techniques, it’ll be a lot harder to find you and stop you before you take innocent lives.”

While the US-led coalition has seen “wins” against ISIS and other radical groups on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, “the expectation is that many of these ‘holy warriors’ will survive, departing for their home countries to wreak murderous havoc,” he said.

Fighters from Asia and Europe, who have been trained by ISIS or other radical groups to make improvised explosive devices and acquired experience on the battlefield, are bringing those skills home.

Kelly’s comments echoed those made last month by FBI director James Comey, who warned of a wave of ISIS fighters coming out of a “crushed” Islamic State, and called Western Europe “the front line of the FBI’s and our US government’s efforts to stop those killers.”

“The future we worry about every single day is how do we spot and stop them as they flow out, bent on continuing the global jihad by taking the fight to innocent people?” he said.

Kelly also praised President Donald Trump’s decision to carry out a strike against an Assad-regime airbase in Syria, last week, and talked about what took place in the Situation Room.

“I was involved in all of the discussions in the situation room with the President and he was very open to anyone at the table talking, giving their ideas,” Kelly said.

“There was give and take, and he took all of that in and made in my opinion — I don’t think he’d mind my saying this — made exactly the right decision.”

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On North Korea, Trump signals break with US-China policy

President Donald Trump, eager to stop rapid advances in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, is signaling a break with decades of US policy as he looks to coax China into ramping up the pressure on North Korea.Trump’s sweetening the po…

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H.R. McMaster visits Afghanistan, touts ‘reliable’ partner

National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster talked up the US relationship with the current government of Afghanistan Sunday at a time when the US is considering increasing its military commitment there.

McMaster was speaking from Afghanistan, where he is visiting as the US mulls a full “strategy review” of Afghanistan plans and policy moving forward in consultation with Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US Force Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official. McMaster is the highest-level member of the Trump administration to visit the country.

US troops have been fighting there for nearly 16 years, and last week, the US military dropped one of its largest non-nuclear bombs on an ISIS target in the country. Asked on ABC’s “This Week” about the continued US military involvement there, McMaster praised the government under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“In recent years, at a period of our maximum effort, we didn’t have as reliable a partner in the Afghan government as we would’ve liked,” McMaster said. “Now we have a much more reliable Afghan partner and we have reduced considerably the degree and scope of our effort.”

McMaster described the US and Afghanistan fight against the Taliban and ISIS as one “between barbarism and civilization,” casting it as a “threat to all civilized peoples.” He said members of the administration from all over would present Trump with a “range of options” per his request.

“We’ll be prepared to execute whatever decision he makes,” McMaster said.

Ghani met with McMaster at the presidential palace in Kabul, according to a statement from the Afghan president. The statement said Ghani told McMaster he appreciated US assistance and sacrifice there and underscored the threat of terrorism.

“If we do not fight for the repulse of that on time, it will have negative impact on next five generations,” Ghani said.

Ghani’s predecessor, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has struck a much different tone with regard to continued US military involvement in the country.

On Saturday, he took to Twitter to say the recent US bombing was using a weapon of mass destruction and that he viewed the US presence in Afghanistan as against the interests of the people.

In testimony before Congress in February, Nicholson said the US was at a “stalemate” in Afghanistan and requested thousands of more troops.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported civilian deaths and injuries in the country had ticked up in 2016 to their highest point since at least 2009. The report attributed 61% of civilian casualties to “anti-government elements,” mainly the Taliban.

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H.R. McMaster visits Afghanistan, touts ‘reliable’ partner

National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster talked up the US relationship with the current government of Afghanistan Sunday at a time when the US is considering increasing its military commitment there.

McMaster was speaking from Afghanistan, where he is visiting as the US mulls a full “strategy review” of Afghanistan plans and policy moving forward in consultation with Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US Force Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official. McMaster is the highest-level member of the Trump administration to visit the country.

US troops have been fighting there for nearly 16 years, and last week, the US military dropped one of its largest non-nuclear bombs on an ISIS target in the country. Asked on ABC’s “This Week” about the continued US military involvement there, McMaster praised the government under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“In recent years, at a period of our maximum effort, we didn’t have as reliable a partner in the Afghan government as we would’ve liked,” McMaster said. “Now we have a much more reliable Afghan partner and we have reduced considerably the degree and scope of our effort.”

McMaster described the US and Afghanistan fight against the Taliban and ISIS as one “between barbarism and civilization,” casting it as a “threat to all civilized peoples.” He said members of the administration from all over would present Trump with a “range of options” per his request.

“We’ll be prepared to execute whatever decision he makes,” McMaster said.

Ghani met with McMaster at the presidential palace in Kabul, according to a statement from the Afghan president. The statement said Ghani told McMaster he appreciated US assistance and sacrifice there and underscored the threat of terrorism.

“If we do not fight for the repulse of that on time, it will have negative impact on next five generations,” Ghani said.

Ghani’s predecessor, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has struck a much different tone with regard to continued US military involvement in the country.

On Saturday, he took to Twitter to say the recent US bombing was using a weapon of mass destruction and that he viewed the US presence in Afghanistan as against the interests of the people.

In testimony before Congress in February, Nicholson said the US was at a “stalemate” in Afghanistan and requested thousands of more troops.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported civilian deaths and injuries in the country had ticked up in 2016 to their highest point since at least 2009. The report attributed 61% of civilian casualties to “anti-government elements,” mainly the Taliban.

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Rep. Ed Royce: North Korea could soon be able to hit US with nuke

North Korea is still on its way to having the ability to hit any part of the US with a nuclear missile despite a failed test over the weekend, the House foreign affairs committee chairman said Sunday.

“We shouldn’t take too much comfort, because even in failure, this program continues to advance,” Rep. Ed Royce said on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper.

Royce, a California Republican, said he was concerned not only for his home state but for the entire country as North Korea’s abilities advance.

“They will be closely in the not-too-distant future in a position where they could hit all 50 states,” Royce said.

He called for international sanctions on a group of Chinese banks to stop them from doing business with North Korea, particularly Banco Delta Asia, which the Treasury Department has barred from working with the US financial system.

“Shut down any foreign banks doing any kind of business in hard currency with North Korea,” Royce said. “I think that’s the next step that has to be deployed.”

Later in the same program, Utah GOP Rep. Mia Love called for the Trump administration to engage with Congress and said she did not yet know what the Trump administration’s strategy on North Korea was.

“We really need to have a dialog to understand how serious the situation is with North Korea,” Love said. “All of us, on both sides of the aisle, really want to be engaged in what’s happening before we make any major steps.”

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Bernie Sanders explains opposition to Syria strike

The US must not get involved in “perpetual warfare in the Middle East,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday in explaining why he was one of the few senators to oppose the recent US missile strike on Syria.

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, the Vermont independent said the key to ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to forgo unilateral action and instead convince Russia and Iran to withdraw their support for the dictator at the heart of the more than six-year-long war.

“Assad has got to go. ISIS has got to be defeated,” Sanders said. “But I do not want to see the United States get sucked into perpetual warfare in the Middle East, see our men and women get killed, trillions of dollars being spent.”

The senator who ran unsuccessfully in last year’s Democratic presidential primary brought up the US military’s ongoing presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying the US could be “dragged into another war” to the detriment of domestic priorities.

“We have got to start paying attention to the needs back home,” Sanders said. “The war in Iraq was the worst blunder in the modern history of this country — precipitated mass instability. We cannot continue to make those mistakes.”

President Donald Trump greenlit a cruise missile strike earlier this month on an Assad airbase after the US said the Syrian president used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle hailed Trump’s action.

Asked about support for the strike from within the Democratic Party and even former Obama administration officials, Sanders said the Syria strike, as well as the US dropping one of its largest non-nuclear bombs in Afghanistan, were ineffective for problems that required a multilateral, diplomatic solution.

“It’s not a question of one strike or one big bomb in Afghanistan,” Sanders said. “What you need is a strategy. … This will require intensive negotiations to tell Russia that they cannot support a dictator who is destroying his entire country. One strike is not going to do very much in that process.”

Meanwhile, Sanders said he believed Trump understood he needed to work with China to rein in the North Korean nuclear threat.

“The United States must not act impulsively, and we must not act unilaterally,” Sanders said.

Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the US earlier this month and spoke by phone with him last week to discuss North Korea’s progress in missile development and another potential nuclear test.

Both Sanders and Trump have said the focus on the issue must remain on China. In recent days, China has signaled a possible shift on North Korea, including an editorial in Chinese media warning China could support UN sanctions on oil shipments to the isolated nation.

However, Sanders did not credit Trump with the possible progress, saying it was part of a trend.

“I think this policy shift on the part of China has been taking place for quite a while now,” Sanders said.

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