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Thursday, February 21, 2013

NATO Ponders Greater Afghan Forces Until 2018

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is examining proposals to maintain Afghan forces at 352,000 troops in order to keep stability and support the Central Asian nation’s government as the U.S. and its allies begin to depart. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in Brussels the goal would be to encourage Afghan leaders to continue to govern even as they keep fighting the Taliban. “I have confidence that we’ll be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size,” Rasmussen added. “This is a responsibility for the international community.” The U.S. funds $5.7 billion of the $6.5 billion cost of the Afghan military. Other NATO members pay for $300 million and Afghanistan for $500 million.

Explosions in Southern India Kill 12

Two bombs tied to parked bicycles exploded in Hyderabad, the capital and largest city of India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh, killing at least 13 people and wounding another 84. The two blasts occurred within two minutes of one another,  prompting the authorities to say they were coordinated by a “well-trained” group. The attack comes 17 months after an explosion in front of the Delhi High Court that killed 11 people, and two days after the central government asked states to tighten security, fearing retaliation for the hanging of Afzal Guru on February 9th. Guru, who was Kashmiri and a Muslim, had been convicted of being involved in a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that caused 14 deaths, although many people from Kashmir believed he hadn’t received a fair trial. ”This is a dastardly attack, the guilty will not go unpunished,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Intelligence services believe today’s blast may have been carried out by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), an Islamic group considered terroristic by India and the U.S. Guru may have exhorted the IM to organize attacks that would force India to accept the independence of Kashmir.

French, Malian Forces Fight Islamic Guerrilla in Northern Mali

French and Malian troops fought Islamic rebels today in the streets of Gao on the Niger River, while a car bomb exploded further north in Kidal, killing two people. While French Defense Minister Yves le Drian said Gao was back under army control, today’s incidents showed France’s military may find itself stuck in a guerrilla war. This happened only weeks before French soldiers were due to withdraw from the embattled nation as France hoped they would be replaced by West African forces, which now appear not to be ready to take over. “There was an infiltration by Islamists overnight and there is shooting all over the place,” said Gao Mayor Sadou Harouna Diallo, describing his office, which French and Malian troops targeted with machine-guns. The French military has been using Gao as a base for operations in Kidal, 300 km further north, were more rebels may have taken refuge while holding hostages.

U.S. State Politicians Request Mandatory Gun Insurance

A new idea is gaining traction in the debate on gun control: requiring that gun owners buy liability insurance. Lawmakers from California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York have been pushing for laws that would treat gun insurance much as car insurance and, they hope, motivate firearm owners to behave safely. “I believe that if we get the private sector and insurance companies involved in gun safety, we can help prevent a number of gun tragedies every year,” said Democratic Massachusetts State Representative David P. Linsky. “Insurance companies are very good at evaluating risk factors and setting their premiums appropriately.” Gun rights activists oppose such legislation, though many of them, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) support voluntary insurance. Meanwhile, insurers are wary of bills that may force them to cover “willful acts,” as is the case for a legislative proposal in New York.

New Test May Diagnose Leprosy Before it’s Too Late

A new test could facilitate and speed up the diagnosis of leprosy, an infectious disease notoriously difficult to identify. Until now leprosy, which is caused by bacteria that reproduce very slowly and spread under the skin, is found by cutting out nodules and detecting the bacteria with the help of a microscope. This new test would give results in 10 minutes. “It works like a pregnancy test and requires just one drop of blood,” said Malcolm Duthie, who led the test’s development for the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle. “I can teach anyone to use it.” The disease is curable, if caught early. This test could help identify the disease a year before the first symptoms appear. About 250,000 cases a year are diagnosed, mostly in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

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