Thursday, July 15, 2010

Afghan government agrees to new local defense force

Top story: The Afghan government on Wednesday announced the formation of a new local defense force, aimed at undercutting the Taliban insurgency's presence in remote areas of the country. The launch of the program represents a victory for Gen. David Petraeus, the new NATO commander, who hammered out an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over 12 days of talks. The creation of this force resembles, in some ways, the "Awakening" militias that Petraeus created in Iraq, and which played a key role in reducing violence in that country.

In response to Karzai's concerns, the program was placed under the command of the Afghan Interior Ministry. This move was meant to allay Karzai's fears that the new force could harden into autonomous militias, undermining his government's authority. The forces will also be issued uniforms and be paid through the Afghan government - making it a rare source of new jobs in a country suffering from rampant unemployment.

NATO officials described the new initiative as a temporary measure meant to give the government some presence in distant regions. It is also seen as a way to bypass the existing security services, which are widely viewed as corrupt. "Our position has been to develop a solution that bridges between having nothing and having Afghan National Police, and this program does that," said one senior NATO official.

Leak delays test at BP well: Further delays have bedeviled oil giant BP, as it prepares a crucial test meant to gauge the condition of its well in the Gulf of Mexico, which has been leaking oil since April. One of the lines leading to a valve on the well's new cap has sprung a leak, and engineers have decided to repair it being going forward with the test.

China's growth rate slowed to 10.3 percent.
Philip Morris recognized "serious issues" after the release of a report that accused the cigarette maker of purchasing tobacco from Kazakh farms that used child labor and forced families to work.
An explosion in Pakistan's Swat Valley killed four.

Middle East
Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri, who returned to Iran after defecting last year, now alleges that he was tortured by CIA.
An Iraqi court ordered a manhunt for a suspect in the murder of a British aid worker in 2004.
The United States handed the last prison under its control over to Iraqi authority.

Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon fired Interior Minister Gomez Mont, who had overseen the war on the drug cartels.
Two earthquakes shook central Chile, but no damage has been reported.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni vowed to eliminate Somalia's al-Shabab terrorist group for its role in the Kampala bombing on Sunday.
Approximately 40,000 people in northeast Congo fled their homes due to fighting.
A leading Rwandan opposition official, who had been missing for a day, was found dead.

The Vatican released new instructions to speed up the handling of sex abuse cases.
German police raided 13 Credit Suisse offices in a tax fraud investigation.
Spain raised $3.85 billion in a bond sale, easing concerns over the economically embattled country's ability to finance its debt.
-David Kenner

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