It was a harrowing international debut for Chuck Hagel, whose first trip to Afghanistan as U.S. defense secretary went dramatically off-script and challenged the American narrative about the 11-year-old war.
His first full day in Afghanistan began with the sound of suicide bomb attack about a kilometer away from his morning meetings at a NATO facility. But the real damage came the next day when Washington’s mercurial ally in the war, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, accused the United States of colluding with the Taliban hours before the two met.
Put in an awkward position, Hagel appeared cautious and at pains to avoid sharply criticizing the Afghan leader, even as he firmly disputed Karzai’s assertions. Having weathered a brutal confirmation battle last month, the former two-term Republican senator at one point even appeared to commiserate with Karzai.
“I was once a politician,” Hagel, 66, told reporters traveling with him. “So I can understand the kind of pressures - especially leaders of countries - are always under.”
Niger has given permission for U.S. surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, a senior government source said.
The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Monday with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, the source said.
“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.
A spokesperson for the United States’ African Command (AFRICOM) declined to comment.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is under investigation for alleged inappropriate communication with a woman at the center of the scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus, a senior U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.
The revelation threatens to fell another of the U.S. military’s biggest names and suggests that the scandal involving Petraeus - a retired four-star general who had Allen’s job in Afghanistan before moving to the CIA last year - could expand.
READ ON: Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan under investigation, scandal widens
FLASH: Military investigation wraps up in Koran burnings
Up to 100 Korans and other religious materials were burned in the February incident in Afghanistan, a U.S. military investigation concluded on Monday. The U.S. Military investigation rejected any suggestion that the soldiers involved had malicious intent to defame Islam.
More soon on Reuters.com.
Japan on Tuesday flagged the Chinese army’s growing role in shaping the country’s foreign policy as a security risk, saying a sense of caution exists across East Asia about Beijing’s apparent military expansion in the region.
In its annual defense white paper, Tokyo said some believe that relations between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Communist Party leadership were “getting complex” and said this was a matter of concern.
There is a possibility that the degree of military influence on foreign policy decisions has been changing, the paper said, without elaborating.
“This situation calls for attention as a risk management issue,” it added.
A first-year midshipman, or plebe, is splashed with mud while participating in Sea Trials at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in this May 15, 2012 photograph released on May 21, 2012.
Sea Trials, modeled after the Marine Corps’ Crucible and the Navy’s Battle Stations recruit programs, is an annual capstone event for fourth class midshipmen and serves as a leadership challenge for upper class midshipmen, who lead each activity during the exercise. [REUTERS/Chad Runge/U.S. Navy/Handout]
FULL FOCUS: The best photos from the past 24 hours
An Army captain who collapsed and died in Afghanistan while communicating with his wife over Skype was not shot and his body showed no immediate evidence of trauma beyond minor abrasions, an Army spokesman said on Monday.
The Virginia-based U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) said its investigation into Captain Bruce Clark’s May 1 death is continuing.
“Although we have not completely ruled it out to ensure a complete and thorough investigation is conducted, we do not suspect foul play in the death of Captain Clark at this point in our ongoing investigation,” said CID spokesperson Chris Grey.
Clark’s family released two statements over the weekend on his death, according to USA Today.
Virginia Beach Police guard one of the ejection seats which landed about 100 yards from the crash site, after an F/A-18D fighter jet crashed into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach April 6, 2012. The plane was part of a training squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana for Navy and Marine aviators in Virginia Beach. [REUTERS/Thomas Slusser]
New poll shows Americans favor diplomacy over war with Iran
- 69% of Americans prefer a diplomatic approach instead of an Israeli attack on Iran, according to a new poll from the University of Maryland
- 38% of Republicans polled favor military action by the Israeli government, a percentage likely to surprise experts and policymakers
- 17% of Democrats and independents polled agreed with their Republican counterparts, preferring military action over diplomacy source