OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Committee shake-ups begin to shake out

Besides Air and Land, the Seapower subcommittee chairman slot is also open on the House committee.

On the Senate side, the Armed Services panel gained four new members, including three freshmen.

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Recently reelected Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was added to the panel, along with freshmen Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

There will be more new faces as well in the coming days and weeks from the House Democrats and Senate Republicans.

House vote to conference coming Thursday: The House will vote to go to conference on the defense authorization bill Thursday after it was held up more than a day over an issue in the Senate-passed bill.

The Senate agreed to re-pass the defense bill Wednesday to dodge a procedural hurdle after the House argued that the Senate bill contained revenue provisions that need to have originated in the House.

The procedural issue surrounded to new sanctions against Iran and rebels in the Congo affecting tariffs and government revenue. Congressional sources say the issue was flagged by the Ways and Means Committee.

Despite the delay — the House had originally expected to vote to proceed to conference Tuesday evening — congressional aides say the defense bill’s conference report will not be delayed. Aides and the committee heads have been working on the compromise legislation already.

The conference report is expected to be completed early next week, and possibly by the end of the week.

Making a list...: State Department officials who handle the department's terrorist watch list have been busy over the last few weeks.

Days after officials slapped the Syrian-based al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra with the terrorist tag, the department added a former al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group based in West Africa to the list.

The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), and its top two commanders, Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi, are now banned from receiving any material support from the U.S. citizens, and any assets located in U.S. territories have been frozen as a result.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the move to put MUJWA and its leaders on the list, alongside groups like the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Pakistan-based Haqqani Network and al Qaeda, earlier this month.

The group is responsible for numerous kidnappings-for-ransom incidents in Western Africa, as well as various attacks against military and government targets in Algeria and elsewhere, according to the State Department.

The decision to add the West African terror cell to the list comes as the Pentagon and White House turn their focus to al Qaeda's ongoing efforts to establish a safe haven in Northern Mali.

Bands of MUJWA gunmen, known as the "Brigades of Osama Bin Laden" in honor of the slain al Qaeda leader, are fighting alongside members of al Qaeda's Africa cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to keep government troops out of northern Mali. AQIM-led forces have established a stronghold in Mali wake of a successful coup in the country.

...And checking it twice: A day after the Obama administration officially recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition as the legitimate political power in the country, coalition members are pressing Washington to take Jabhat al-Nusra off the U.S. terror list.

A radical Islamic group with known ties to al Qaeda cells in the region, Jabhat al-Nusra members have been fighting alongside Syrian rebel fighters battling President Bashar Assad's government forces during the 20-month civil war in the country.

On Wednesday, coalition members demanded the White House remove the group from the State Department's terror list during a high-level meeting with U.S., Western and Arab diplomats in Morocco.

"The decision to consider a party that is fighting the regime as a terrorist party needs to be reviewed," coalition official Mouaz Alkhatib said during the "Friends of Syria" meeting.

The State Department's decision to put the al Qaeda affiliate on the terror list could prove problematic for the White House, given the Obama administration's relationship with the coalition.

As the officially recognized political authority in Syria, the United States could begin shipping weapons and providing military support to the rebels as part of the White House's political ties with the organization.

If Washington decides to go down that road, it remains unclear how Pentagon and White House officials could arm members of the Syrian opposition while maintaining the ban on U.S. support to JAN forces.

"We might disagree with some parties and their ideas and their political and ideological vision. But we affirm that all the guns of the rebels are aimed at overthrowing the tyrannical criminal regime," Alkhatib said, in defense of JAN's role in the anti-Assad movement.

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed. 


In Case You Missed It:

— Canada begins search for F-35 replacement

— US terror list expands to West Africa

— White House vows North Korea ‘consequences

— Military preps for inauguration ceremonies

— Panetta reiterates defense bill veto threat

— Panetta visits Karzai in Afghanistan


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