OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Fate of Americans in Algeria remains unclear

Carney said the White House was in contact with Algerian authorities, though he did not say whether the United States was in contact with Algerian officials ahead of the raid they launched to try and release the hostages.

“We are certainly concerned about reports of loss of life and we are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria,” Carney said.

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The incident has sparked fresh criticism of President Obama’s record on counterterrorism in Northern Africa, which followed the U.S.-backed French incursion into Mali to go after al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb earlier in the week.

“Al Qaeda's North African franchises have become emboldened by our timid response to Benghazi, have gained significant wealth by ratcheting up kidnappings for ransom,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “They use this wealth to fund operations against the West and have reach inside the United States.”

New House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the terrorist attack in Algeria was “the latest demonstration of a large and growing radical movement across North Africa.”

Foreign governments angry over raid: The White House was not weighing in on the Algerian government’s decision to raid the BP-owned facility, but other governments expressed their displeasure Thursday. The hostage situation involved foreign nationals from a number of different countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called his counterpart in Algeria and urged a halt to the operation, citing his “strong concern,” Agence-France Presse reported.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron told Reuters that "the Algerians are aware that we would have preferred to have been consulted in advance."

Carney said the Obama administration was “clearly concerned about the loss of life” and was seeking clarity from Algerian officials.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told ABC World News before the raid that the United States was looking at how to “bring our military assets to bear in order to deal with it and also basically talk with the other countries that are involved here. There are a number of other countries that are in the same situation with these individuals. How can we address that situation together?"

Fighting words over sequestration: Looks like the pressure from the pending DOD budget cuts under sequestration is beginning to get to top Pentagon and congressional leaders.

Panetta and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) traded some sharp words Thursday over who should bear the blame for lawmakers' failure to come up with a plan to avoid the $500 billion in across-the-board cuts to the DOD budget.

Inhofe, who was recently named the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, fired the first shot on Thursday in a letter to Panetta demanding a report on the fiscal impacts of sequester on DOD.

"Rather than simply blaming Congress ... it is my hope that you and the [White House] will work with Congress to ensure that an agreement can be reached to spare our military from further devastating cuts," Inhofe wrote.

Speaking to troops in Italy, Panetta said Thursday that Inhofe and other congressional lawmakers should "suck it up" and come up with an alternative sequestration plan.

"This is not an unsolvable problem. We can do this. People have just got to suck it up and take some of the risks and take on some of the challenges that are required by people in leadership," Panetta told Army soldiers stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

"You guys go out and you put your lives on the line. You take the worst risks of all [and] ... it's a hell of a risk," the DOD chief added. "All we're asking of our elected leaders is to take a small part of the risk that maybe, you know, they'll piss off some constituents."

The reductions were initially set to hit the Pentagon in January, but lawmakers agreed to a two-month delay to the cuts, as part of a eleventh-hour deal on New Year's Eve to prevent the country from going over the so-called "fiscal cliff."

That said, Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey have ordered service leaders and combat commanders to begin taking "precautionary" cost-cutting measures in anticipation of sequestration, the two defense leaders announced last week. The measures include unpaid furloughs to the department's civilian workforce and near-term reductions to critical DOD accounts that fund operations, training and maintenance of weapons and equipment.

Special forces south of the border: U.S. special operations forces are taking the counterterrorism skilled honed over a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to Mexico, as part of the White House's effort to help stamp out the violent drug cartels that have turned the country into a virtual warzone.

The new special-forces counternarcotics hub, dubbed Special Operations Command-North, will be based at Northern Command's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., according to The Associated Press. The program will be based on ongoing advice and assistance programs between American forces and their counterparts in the Mexican military, the AP reports.

Specifically, American military trainers will school Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials on how track and target key traffickers within the country's numerous drug cartels.

The approach will be patterned closely after the U.S. counterterrorism strategy used to hunt down top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, according to the AP.

Based on previous lessons from U.S. trainers, Mexican authorities have already created an intelligence center in Mexico City designed to identify and target criminal networks and their connection to the larger drug trafficking organizations, according to The Washington Post.

Those centers mirror those created by U.S. and NATO forces in Baghdad, Kabul and Kandahar to root out senior commanders in the Afghan Taliban and within al Qaeda's faction in Iraq.


In Case You Missed It:

— Administration warns of Mali violence spillover

— Inhofe, Panetta trade sequestration barbs

— US drones deployed to Algeria

— White House condemns Algeria ‘terrorist attack

— Panetta backs Obama gun-control measures


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