OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: US kidnappings in Algeria an act of terror

“I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation," he added, declining to go into detail as to what those steps would include.

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Group leaders claim the attack was in retaliation to the ongoing French-led offensive against al Qaeda safe havens in northern Mali. The Pentagon has agreed to provide intelligence and military logistical support to Paris to aid the French attempt to sweep members of al Qaeda’s West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, from the country. 

Panetta declined to comment specifically on whether the Algeria attack was in direct response to France's aerial campaign in Mali, but did note the attack bore all the hallmarks of a terrorist operation.

Hagel confirmation hearing set: The confirmation hearing for former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will be on Jan. 31, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced Wednesday.

The hearing date sets a two-week pre-hearing window for Hagel to continue his campaign to win over senators privately, as opponents of the former senator try to mount opposition to his confirmation. Hagel continues to meet with as many senators as he can, after winning the key endorsement of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) Tuesday following their meeting.

His track record with Republican senators hasn’t been as strong, as both Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Wis.) and the new top Republican on the Armed Services panel, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), said they were opposed to Hagel after sitting down with their former Senate colleague.

Another outside group also joined the Hagel fray Wednesday, launching an ad campaign in the run-up to Hagel’s confirmation hearing. The campaign from the American Future Fund, a conservative group that spent more than $24 million in the 2012 elections, includes print ads and a new website, Hagelno.com, that went live Wednesday evening.

Bomb blast rocks Kabul: A coordinated suicide attack by Taliban fighters rocked the Afghan capitol of Kabul on Wednesday, in an attempt to destroy the headquarters of the country's intelligence directorate. 

A minivan laden with high explosives detonated outside the main gates of the government compound housing the Afghan National Directorate of Security and other ministerial officers in downtown Kabul. An Afghan guard was killed and more than 30 others wounded in the blast, which destroyed nearby buildings and vehicles and could be felt by residents three blocks away from the attack, according to reports. 

Several Taliban fighters armed with suicide vests pulled up to the blast site in an attempt to storm the compound and inflict further damage to NDS headquarters. Afghan security forces killed the would-be bombers before they could breach the compound's perimeter and were able to defuse a second bomb discovered in the gunmen's van.

The attack comes as the White House announced that U.S. and NATO forces would accelerate the transfer of all security operations in Afghanistan to local forces. The decision as part of a larger post-war plan agreed to by President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai during last Friday's visit by the Afghan leader to Washington. 

Initially, American and allied leaders had planned to hand over control sometime in 2014, shortly before U.S. combat forces are scheduled to withdraw from the country.

Armed Services sets Lackland hearing: The House Armed Services Committee announced its own high-profile hearing Wednesday, as it will hold a hearing on the Lackland sex scandal next week.

Among the witnesses will be Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command, and Jennifer Norris of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group that publicly called for a hearing on the Lackland scandal.

The hearing, titled “A Review of sexual misconduct by basic training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base,” is the committee’s first of the year. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has said his committee may launch its own investigation into the Lackland scandal, which has involved more than two-dozen basic training instructors, once the Air Force investigation is completed.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

— State Department to recognize Somali government 

— Joint Chiefs warn of 'hollow force' to Congress 

— Gen. Dempsey, NATO hash out Afghan postwar plans 

— US Ambassador presses Taliban peace talks


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