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US Judge Sentences One of 'El Chapo's' Alleged Leaders for Drug Smuggling


iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) --  Captured Mexican drug lord "El Chapo" remains in custody in Mexico, but one of his friends, and alleged high-ranking leaders, has been sentenced in federal court in Chicago.  

Federal prosecutors believe Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez was a high-ranking member of the infamous Mexican Sinaloa cartel, helping his boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman smuggle drugs into the U.S. from Mexico.

In a plea deal, Vasquez-Hernandez admitted to smuggling 276 kilograms of cocaine into Chicago, but he denied playing a major role in the cartel.  Vasquez-Hernandez has been sentenced to 22 years behind bars.  

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How Chuck Hagel's Resignation Might Affect ISIS Fight


Department of Defense/Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- Chuck Hagel’s departure as Defense Secretary will probably have a minimal impact on the administration’s three-part strategy to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria that is expected to take years.

Hagel had raised questions about the strategy’s lack of focus on the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad, but not about the president’s decision that American troops sent to Iraq will not serve as combat troops.

Online supporters of the Islamic terror group ISIS have taken to Twitter to cheer the resignation of Hagel, claiming it was ISIS that forced him out.

An Arabic-language hashtag that roughly translates to “ISIS toppled American Defense Secretary” has been used dozens of times on the social networking site, sometimes alongside images mocking Hagel and the Obama administration. It’s unclear if the social media-savvy terror group actually started the campaign, or if it was the just product of the group’s online supporters.

Regardless of how ISIS supporters may want to interpret Hagel’s resignation, it does not mean the administration’s strategy to combat ISIS is about to change.

The three-part strategy is focused initially on pushing back ISIS’ territorial gains in Iraq by providing material support, and sending American military advisers to advise and train Iraq’a military forces.

There are currently 1,400 U.S. troops in Iraq and President Obama has authorized that those numbers could grow to 3,100 specifically for an advisory and training mission. The administration has been emphatic that these U.S. military personnel are not “boots on the ground” who will serve on the front lines as combat troops.

The U.S. and some of its coalition partners are also conducting airstrikes in Syria to hold ISIS in check by attacking its logistical operations and training facilities that support ISIS fighters inside Iraq.

The third part of the strategy plans to train as many as 5,000 Syrian moderate rebels to fight ISIS inside Syria. However, that training program in Saudi Arabia is going to develop slowly with the first trainees not returning to Syria until well into 2015.

It is the administration’s policy that the American troops sent to Iraq will not be “boots on the ground” serving on the front lines as combat troops that has drawn the most criticism on Capitol Hill.

Members of Congress like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have criticized the Obama administration’s strategy for locking itself into the concept that American ground troops will not be needed.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has told Congress that there may come a time when U.S. military personnel may have to accompany Iraqi front line troops in the future. He has explained that major complex fights like the Iraqi effort to retake Mosul from ISIS might require U.S. forward air controllers who could help call in airstrikes.

Hagel also raised concerns internally with the president’s national security team that the administration’s strategy did not address what to do about Assad's regime.

In late October, Hagel would not confirm to reporters that he had sent a letter to National Security Adviser Susan Rice laying out those concerns. But he did acknowledge that the president’s advisers owe him their honest and direct advice.

“We are constantly assessing and reassessing and adapting to the realities of what is the best approach -- how we can be most effective,” said Hagel. “That's a responsibility of any leader." And he said that advice has “to be honest and it has to be direct.”

At that same briefing with Pentagon reporters, Hagel expressed concern that "Assad derives some benefits" from the coalition’s focus solely on ISIS. The strategic focus on ISIS has also disheartened moderate Syrian rebel groups who say the real threat to security in Syria is the Assad regime’s grip on power, not ISIS.

But in a congressional hearing in November, Hagel said the administration was not considering a change to the ISIS strategy that would include action against the Assad regime.

“There is no change and there is no different direction,” Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee.

Just last week, Dempsey acknowledged that the administration’s strategy will meet its long-term goals by adapting where needed.

“The objective is not going to change, but I'm not obsessing so much about what's in the middle, because the middle is going to change,” Dempsey said.

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US Military Conducts 24 Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria, Iraq


Stocktrek/Thinkstock(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The U.S. military continued its attack against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria over the weekend, launching 24 more airstrikes on Nov. 21-24.

According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), seven of the strikes were in Syria, near Kobani. They destroyed three fighting positions and two staging areas, damaged another staging area and suppressed four fighting positions.

Two more airstrikes in Syria hit a headquarters building near Ar Raqqah.

In Iraq, the remaining 15 airstrikes were spread out near al-Asad, Baghdad, Ramadi, Tal Afar, Fallujah and Hit, and destroyed various targets in those areas.

CENTCOM said all the aircraft used in the attacks managed to exit the areas safely.

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Republicans Could Complicate Iran Extension


Architect of the Capitol(VIENNA) -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that he was confident President Obama and he could convince a skeptical Congress that an additional seven months of nuclear negotiations with Iran could lead to a deal they could support, but that confidence may be challenged by Congress.

“We have earned the benefit of the doubt,” Kerry said at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, just before getting on a plane back to Washington.

But back home on Capitol Hill, Republican critics of the administration’s position, bolstered by an incoming majority in both houses of Congress, seem to have already decided to take matters into their own hands to penalize the regime in Tehran if negotiations fail or lawmakers think whatever deal is reached is too weak.

Kerry said Congress should avoid passing judgment on the interim deal announced Monday until he’s able to brief top members behind closed doors, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP from flexing its soon-to-be-strengthened legislative muscles.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who will assume the gavel in the new session, released a statement after Kerry’s announcement indicating that Republicans – and some Democrats – could soon vote on additional Iran sanctions. He also insisted that Congress vote on any final deal before it can be implemented.

“With so much riding on these talks for the security of our nation and that of the region, Congress must have the opportunity to weigh in before implementation of any final agreement and begin preparing alternatives, including tougher sanctions, should negotiations fail,” Corker said.

The new extension would seek to reach an agreement on the broad political dimensions of a deal by March and work out the technical details by July 1. Iran is also still bound by an interim deal reached last year that froze its nuclear activity in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

A bill introduced early this year by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would have imposed additional sanctions on Iran if it walked away from negotiations or violated the terms of that interim deal, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked senators from voting on it in February.

One of the concerns that prompted Reid to pull the bill was the administration's contention that holding a vote on additional sanctions before Iran did anything bad could scare off the Iranians from continuing to negotiate.

No such roadblock, however, will exist come January, something incoming majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted earlier this month. “What we ought to do, if we can’t get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians, is tighten the sanctions,” McConnell said, noting that while Reid prevented such a vote the last time, “that’s the kind of thing a new Senate would be voting on.”

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a skeptic of the negotiations, said he expects Republicans to vote quickly on a trigger for strict new sanctions on Iran, but that such a measure might get slightly tempered by the need for Republicans to get a handful of less hawkish Democrats on board in order to surpass a presidential veto -- which requires at least 67 votes.

“Republicans are going to be in a position where they’re going to have significant leverage to negotiate a tough bill. But the reality of the numbers is such that they still need at least 14, 15 Democratic senators to overcome any veto,” Dubowitz said.

That calculus, Dubowitz suggested, could lead to a rare moment of bipartisanship in 2015.

“I think those numbers are there but I also think that they’re probably only there if Republicans are willing to compromise,” he said.

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Two ISAF Troops Killed in Enemy Attack in Afghanistan


U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Derec Pierson/Released(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Two service members of the International Security Assistance Force were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday.

According to a U.S. official, the two soldiers were U.S. military personnel.

The troops "died as a result of an enemy attack," ISAF said in a statement.

No other details were provided.

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Iran Nuke Talks Extended for Lack of a Deal


French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry talk as they meet for the dinner at the residence of British ambassador in Vienna on November 23, 2014. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)(VIENNA) -- The United States and its negotiating partners have agreed to extend talks with Iran over its nuclear capability, rather than concluding a long-sought deal by Monday’s deadline.

The talks, which have been conducted in Vienna, are now set to resume in December at a site yet to be determined, sources told ABC News.

The framework for the talks extension set a new deadline of March for a political agreement, with details of the arrangement to be hammered out by July 1 -- essentially a seven month extension.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been at the talks in recent days, but a last minute push failed to close the gap on the two sides.

As the talks wound down, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani sent a subtle message by posting a photo of himself on Instagram walking past a mural of the word “hope,” written in Farsi.

In the hours before the extension was announced, Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted: “We’re continuing to chip away in Vienna. P5 1 united,” referring to the negotiating group of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

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Italian Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti Spends Her First Day in Space


NASA(ROME) -- Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was greeted with hugs in zero G on Monday when she and fellow crew members arrived at the International Space Station to begin a long-term mission.

Cristoforetti, who is Italy's first female astronaut, has graciously shared moments on social media from the years she spent training for the mission -- and said she hopes to stay connected to her 143,000 Twitter followers during her scheduled five-month stay in space.

While Cristoforetti, 37, has yet to tweet about her new home, a video posted by the European Space Agency shows a beaming Cristoforetti and her fellow crew members being welcomed to their new home in low Earth orbit.

 

Watch a replay of @AstroSamantha @AstroTerry and @AntonAstrey being welcomed to their new home #ISS #Futura42 http://t.co/5YDWBvB8Cx

— ESA (@esa) November 24, 2014

 

Cristoforetti will spend the next five months controlling the International Space Station and handling many of the scientific experiments that are being run by astronauts for scientists back on Earth.

Among the other guests aboard the ISS are 20 rodents, which arrived in September aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule. The animals have been living in NASA's Rodent Research Facility where researchers are studying the long-term impact of weightlessness on their bodies.

Also on board the ISS is the first 3-D printer launched into space. It could potentially crank out spare parts that will allow astronauts to one day fix their vessel on the spot.

Living in space may be a dream for the Italian astronaut, but she'll have to do without a few earthly pleasures. Before launch, she tweeted on Sunday that she had "what was probably my longest shower ever."

Cristoforetti also enjoyed a final feast on Earth before she has to switch over to space cuisine.

 

We just had our final meal. I was really hungry! Soon time to head to the cosmodrome. #Launchday #Futura42 pic.twitter.com/f0eeMGo9M1

— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) November 23, 2014

 

One other thing she'll have to do without, for now: A cup of genuine Italian espresso.

ISSpresso, an espresso machine designed by engineering company Argotec and coffee roaster Lavazza in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency, is one of the many items headed to space in April 2015, which comes toward the end of Cristoforetti's visit.


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Suicide Bomb Attack at Afghan Volleyball Match Leaves Dozens Dead


E /Getty Images(PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan) -- Dozens of people attending a volleyball match in eastern Afghanistan were killed Sunday when a suicide bomber set off explosives among the spectators.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in the Yahya Khel district of Paktika Province near the border with Pakistan. It came on the same day that Afghan lawmakers approved a bilateral security agreement to allow U.S. troops to remain in the country after the end of the year.

A spokesman for the Paktika province said at least 60 people were wounded in the bombing while one deputy governor put the death toll at 50.

The dead included eight members of the Afghan Local Police, a pro-government paramilitary outfit.

Paktika Province has been the scene of several suicide bombings this year as many militants receive their training across the border in Pakistan.

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Why UK Officials Believe Terrorism Threat in Britain Is Greater Than Ever Before


Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Image(LONDON) -- In perhaps her most stark message yet, British Home Secretary Theresa May warned that Britain is facing its greatest terrorism threat in its history.

"When the security and intelligence agencies tell us that the threat we face is now more dangerous than at any time before or since 9/11, we should take notice," May said Monday during a news conference in which she was laying out plans on the government's new counter-terrorism and security bill set to be introduced this week.

The home secretary also addressed the serious threat from ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, saying the "threat from ISIL has made no secret of their desire to bring death and destruction to the U.K., U.S. and other Western countries."

The new bill, introduced last week and touted as being tough, will be brought forward in order to try to stamp out home-grown extremism. It includes a set of new measures to prevent radicalization, making conditions difficult for extremists to operate, giving the government greater power to disrupt those wanting to travel abroad to countries such as Iraq and Syria to fight.

Since the attacks on July 7, 2005, about 40 terrorist plots against British targets have been disrupted by the police and intelligence services, May said.

"There have been attempts to conduct marauding Mumbai style gun attacks on our streets, blow up the London Stock Exchange, bring down airliners, assassinate a British ambassador and murder service members of our armed forces," she said. "Almost all of these attacks have been prevented by the first class men and women of our security and intelligence services, the police and our allies overseas."

The U.K.'s threat level was raised in August due to the threats from fighters returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe," meaning an attack on home soil is highly likely.

The message from May on Monday was clear: The country is engaged in a struggle that is being fought on many fronts and one that will go on for many years. She ended her speech on a sober note, saying, "The threat we face right now is perhaps greater than it ever has been -- we must have the powers we need to defend ourselves."

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Afghan Parliament Approves Bilateral Security Agreement


Credit: Keith Binns/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- A bilateral security agreement was approved on Sunday by the Afghan parliament, allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country after the end of the year.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai declined to sign the agreement, though the U.S. had hoped that new president Ashraf Ghani would agree to keep U.S. forces there. Ghani signed the agreement within 24 hours of taking office and the parliament approved on Sunday.

The agreement does state that U.S. forces "shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan," however, unless both nations agree.

In recent months, the Afghan army has seen large numbers of casualties, perhaps signalling to Ghani that the nation needs foreign forces helping their military.

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President Obama: 'Significant' Gaps Remain in Talks Over Iran Nuke Program


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Barack Obama said just days before the deadline for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program that the gaps in the talks remain "significant" and that it was too soon to tell whether the parties could reach an agreement by Monday.

"The good news is that the interim deal that we entered into has definitely stopped Iran's nuclear program from advancing. .... So it's been successful," Obama told This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview. "Now the question is, can we get to a more permanent deal? And the gaps are still significant."

Obama said if an agreement is reached, he was confident he could convince a skeptical Congress of its strength in preventing Iran from creating a nuclear weapon, even as members of the incoming Republican majority insist they'll impose additional sanctions on Iran if they don't like the deal.

"I'm confident that if we reach a deal that is verifiable and ensures that Iran does not have breakout capacity, that not only can I persuade Congress, but I can persuade the American people that it's the right thing to do," Obama told Stephanopoulos Friday.

While skeptics of the negotiations say they agree with the administration's goal for the talks -- a rollback of Iran's nuclear program -- many disagree with the idea of allowing Iran to have any nuclear capability, even for what Tehran contends is a peaceful civilian program.

But Obama laid out a more targeted objective than simply eradicating Iran's nuclear program completely.

"Our goal is to solve a particular problem here, which is making sure Iran doesn't trigger a nuclear arms race, can't threaten the United States, can't threaten allies like Israel," Obama said.

"What a deal would do is take a big piece of business off the table and perhaps begin a long process in which the relationship not just between Iran and us but the relationship between Iran and the world, and the region, begins to change," he added.

The United States and the five other world powers involved in the talks in Vienna are still deadlocked with Iran over several key issues, including the scope of Iran's ability to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, the length of the deal, and the way in which the current sanctions on Iran get phased out.

Iran wants all the sanctions rolled back immediately if a deal is reached, while the western negotiators say they should be phased out over time.

Obama said the position on sanctions was non-negotiable.

"I think Iran would love to see the sanctions end immediately, and then to still have some avenues that might not be completely closed, and we can't do that," he said.

The interview took place as negotiators remain camped out in Vienna. Secretary of State John Kerry met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Saturday afternoon, and also tweeted that he spent the morning making phone calls to international partners, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Diplomats May Consider Extension in Iran Nuclear Talks


RONALD ZAK/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With the deadline for a deal fast approaching, diplomats are considering a range of options, including an extension to negotiations, in the P5 1 talks regarding Iran's nuclear capabilities.

"Our focus remains on taking steps forward toward an agreement," a western diplomat told ABC News. "But it is only natural that less than 48 hours from the deadline we are discussing a range of options. An extension is one of those options."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during a cabinet meeting that "no agreement at all would be preferable to a bad agreement that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and all of humanity."

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Kenya Bus Attack Leaves 28 Dead


Credit: omer sukru goksu/Getty Images(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- An attack on a bus in northern Kenya left 28 people dead at the hands of terror group al-Shabab.

The Kenya Red Cross confirmed the attack, for which gunmen from the Somali militant group claimed responsibility. BBC News reports that the gunmen asked passengers to read from the Koran, and those who failed were shot in the head. Some Somali passengers were shot after they pleaded with the gunmen to spare the other passengers' lives.

Al-Shabab has been responsible for numerous attacks in Kenya in recent years, including the shooting at the Westgate Mall in September 2013, in which at least 61 civilians were killed.

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British Teen Arrested at Heathrow Airport on Suspicion of Preparing for Acts of Terrorism


Credit: Caspar Benson/Getty Images(LONDON) -- A British teenager was arrested earlier this week on suspicion that he was preparing for acts of terrorism.

According to the West Midlands Police, the department's Counter Terrorism Unit detained the unidentified suspect, 19 years old, at about 3 p.m. on Thursday as he was getting off a flight from Jordan at Heathrow Airport. The suspect remains in custody this weekend.

Police say the arrest was planned in advance and that the suspect did not pose any risk to the flight.

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Guantanamo Detainee Transferred to Saudi Arabia


Credit: Alex Potemkin/Getty Images(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) -- Another detainee who had been held at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center was released on Saturday, as the Department of Defense announced the transfer of Muhammed Murdi Issa Al-Zahrani from Guantanamo Bay to the government of Saudi Arabia.

Al-Zahrani is the sixth detainee transferred in the last three days and the seventh in two weeks. He had been subject to a periodic review process, including representatives from numerous government agencies. That board determined that Al-Zahrani does not pose a significant threat to U.S. security.

"In the past two weeks, the Department of Defense has transferred seven detainees," Paul Lewis, special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure said. "A total of 13 detainees have been transferred this year. This strikes a responsible balance and reflects the careful deliberation the Secretary of Defense brings to the transfer process, and follows a rigorous process in the interagency to review several items including security review prior to any transfer."

Approximately 142 detainees remain at Guantanamo.

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