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Showing posts from February 23, 2013

NATO considers post-2014 Afghan force of 8,000-12,000

* NATO discusses size of post-2014 force in Afghanistan

* No decisions made, Obama weighing U.S. plans

* Afghan troops gradually assuming security role

(Adds quotes)

By Adrian Croft and Phil Stewart

BRUSSELS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - NATO Allies are discussing keeping a training force of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after most foreign soldiers leave in 2014, the United States said on Friday.

NATO-led forces are gradually handing over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts as the bulk of foreign combat forces prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.

"A range of 8-12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission," Pentagon spokesman George Little said after a NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not decided how many American troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014, he said, adding: "The president is still reviewing options."

German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizier…

Thirteen Chadian soldiers, 65 rebels killed in Mali

N'DJAMENA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Thirteen Chadian soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Mali on Friday, the heaviest casualties sustained by French and African troops since the launch of a military campaign against Islamist rebels there six weeks ago, Chad's army said.

Chadian troops killed 65 al Qaeda-linked fighters in the clashes that began before midday in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near Mali's northern border with Algeria.

"The provisional toll is ... on the enemy's side, five vehicles destroyed and 65 terrorists killed. We deplore the deaths of 13 of our valiant soldiers," said a statement from the army general staff read on state radio.

France intervened in its former West African colony last month to stop a southward offensive by Islamist rebels who seized control of the north last April.

Troops from neighbouring African nations - including 2,000 soldiers from Chad - have since deployed to Mali and are meant to take over leadership of the operati…

Russia accuses US of double standards over Syria

* Russia criticises US over response to Syria car bomb

* Russia backs Assad, Washington blames him over conflict (Recasts, adds quotes, analyst comment)

By Alessandra Prentice

MOSCOW, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States on Friday of having double standards on Syria, saying it had blocked a U.N. Security Council statement condemning a car bomb attack in Damascus.

Washington denied it had blocked the statement and said it had only asked for balance. The disagreement was likely to sour the atmosphere before Lavrov meets newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry next week in Berlin.

Lavrov told a news conference Washington had disappointed Moscow by blocking a statement condemning "terrorist attacks" near the Russian embassy in Damascus that killed more than 50 people and that Washington was threatening international unity in the "war on terror".

"We believe these are double standards," Lavrov said after talk…

Brahimi says 100 killed in Damascus 'war crime' attack

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is seen during a meeting with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby during their meeting in Cairo February 17, 2013. Brahimi called on Sunday for talks between the Syrian opposition and an "acceptable delegation" from the Damascus government on a political solution to the country's 23-month-old civil war. REUTERS photo
International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Friday that a devastating bomb blast in the Syrian capital was a "war crime" that had left about 100 people dead.

The toll given by Brahimi was grimly higher than the 61 dead given by Syrian activists after a suicide bomber staged the attack Thursday near the entrance to President Bashar al-Assad's ruling party offices.

Brahimi said he "strongly condemns the savage and horrible explosion in Damascus yesterday, which resulted in the killing of around 100 and the injuring of two hundred fifty civilians.

"Nothing could justify such horrible actions that amount…

53 die in Syrian car bombing

A massive car bomb has exploded near Syria's ruling party headquarters in Damascus, killing at least 53 people and scattering mangled bodies amid the smouldering wreckage.

Syrian state media put Thursday's toll at 53, with more than 200 wounded. However, anti-regime activists said 59 died, which would make this the deadliest attack in the capital since the Syrian uprising began nearly two years ago. In May, a double suicide bombing killed 55 people in Damascus.

Three straight days of mortar attacks on the centre of Damascus after recent rebel advances in the suburbs marked the most sustained rebel challenge in the heart of President Bashar Assad's seat of power.

Within hours of the car bombing, two other bombs went off elsewhere in the city and a mortar attack struck the army's central command. Thirteen people were killed by the other two bombs, activists said.

While no group has claimed responsibility, the attacks suggest that rebel fighters who have gotten bogged down in…

Masked gunmen kill seven in Iraq

Masked gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms have shot dead seven members of a government-backed militia in an apparent attempt to provoke unrest against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

No group claimed responsibility, but Sunni insurgents have increased their attacks over the past two months, a year after US troops pulled out of the country, where Shi'ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish factions still struggle over how to share power.

Riding motorbikes, the gunmen dragged "Sahwa" fighters from their beds in a caravan and killed seven of them, seriously wounding an eighth near the town of Tuz Khurmato, 170 km north of Baghdad.

"The seven dead bodies were in the same place. Each had a deadly shot to the head, but the eighth one had several shots in the back," said a policeman at the scene who declined to be named.

The Sahwa or "Sons of Iraq" are former Sunni insurgents who rebelled against al Qaeda in the Sunni heartland province of Anbar at the height o…

Militant group probed in India bombing

Indian police are investigating whether a shadowy Islamic militant group was responsible for a dual bomb attack that killed 16 people outside a movie theater and a bus station in the southern city of Hyderabad, a police official said Friday.

The group, the Indian Mujahideen, is thought to have links with militants in neighboring Pakistan. India's recent execution of an Islamic militant is being examined as a possible motive for the bombings, said the official, an investigator who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal details of the probe.

Police have not detained anyone in connection with Thursday evening's attacks, the first major terror bombings in India since 2011.

According to a New Delhi police report, two suspected Indian Mujahideen militants who were arrested last year said during questioning that they had done reconnaissance of Dilsukh Nagar, the Hyderabad district where the blasts occurred. They had also visited v…

Rocket kills at least 12 in Aleppo

Rockets have struck two eastern districts of Aleppo city, killing at least 12 people and trapping many families in the ruins of their homes, activists in the city said.

"There are families buried under the rubble," said an activist called Baraa al-Youssef, speaking by Skype after visiting the scene in his Ard al-Hamra neighbourhood.

"Nothing can describe it, it's a horrible sight."

Video footage posted by several activists showed a burning building and people carrying the wounded to cars to be ferried to hospital. It was hard to gauge the scale of the damage in the night-time footage but rubble was clearly visible on the ground.

Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three explosions shook the city and reported at least 12 people had been killed - a toll he said was likely to rise.

Youssef said 30 houses were destroyed by a single rocket.

On Tuesday activists said at least 20 people were killed when a large missile of the same …