Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pirates raid ship in Nigeria, abduct two crew

LAGOS, Feb. 29 (Xinhua) -- Suspected pirates have attacked and robbed a cargo vessel at a Nigerian port, a spokesperson for the International Maritime Bureau said on Wednesday.

Eight pirates armed with machine guns fired at a Curacao-flagged vessel anchored at southeast Nigeria's port Harcourt before boarding the ship Tuesday night, Micheal Howlet told Xinhua, adding that the chief engineer and the ship master were taken hostage.

The vessel has 14 crew members, he added, noting that one crew member was injured and another was reported missing.

The attack came only two weeks after armed pirates attacked a Panama-registered Chinese cargo ship near the port of Lagos in the early morning of Feb. 14.

The pirates stole goods and escaped when a nearby foreign naval ship came to the crew's rescue.

Piracy and armed robbery in the gulf have been increasing in recent years, drawing the attention of the international community.
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India Arrests Two Suspected Terrorists

English: India's Minister of Finance Palaniapp...
Image via Wikipedia
Indian officials say they have detained two men who were planning to carry out attacks in New Delhi.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters Wednesday that the men were affiliated with the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.  "Our agencies, working together with police forces of three states, have busted an important LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] sponsored terrorist module," he said. "Persons were arrested in Delhi and are being produced before the magistrate, shortly.''

Lashkar is blamed for the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Chidambaram did not give details of the arrests, but said the men organizing attacks in India's capital. "They were planning to detonate bomb or more than one bomb in a crowded locality," he stated. "That is the information.''

New Delhi has been the frequent target of terrorist attacks.  A bomb blast outside a courthouse in the city last September killed 12 people.  Earlier this month, an explosion in the capital seriously wounded an Israeli diplomat.
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6 Taliban militants killed in eastern Nangarhar province

According to local authorities in eastern Nangarhar province, at least 6 Taliban militants were killed following armed clahes with the international coalition security forces in this province.

The officials further added, the Taliban militants were killed in Khogyani district of eastern Nangarhar province on Tuesday night.

Provincial governor spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said, the incident took place after a number of armed Taliban militants attacked a coalition forces military base in this district.

Mr. Abdulzai further added, Afghan and coalition security forces did not suffer any casualties during the clashes.

In the meantime a spokesman for the Taliban militants group Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed the death of its fighters in the clashes and claimed at least 10 US and Afghan soldiers were also killed during the clashes.

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At Least 20 Injured In Afghan Attacks

KABUL -- At least 20 people have been reported injured in two explosions in Afghanistan -- one targeting a supply convoy for NATO-led forces, and the second targeting a bank in the northeast.

The Interior Ministry said a suicide car bombing on February 29 targeted nonmilitary vehicles of a NATO provincial reconstruction team in Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand Province.

Seven people, including two children and a policeman, were injured. A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said no one in the convoy was injured.

Also on February 29, a bomb exploded outside the private Kabul Bank in Taluqan city, the provincial capital of northern Takhar Province.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports that 13 civilians were injured, including five in critical condition.

from RFE/RL
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Danish Navy rescues 16 hostages from pirates, 2 more captives killed

English: Danish navy Absalon (L16) with a West...
Danish navy Absalon (L16) with a Westland Lynx. - Image via Wikipedia
The Danish Navy said on Tuesday it had freed 16 hostages held by pirates off the Somali coast the previous day, but that two more captives were killed in the rescue operation.

During a rescue operation by the Danish navy, two people that were being held hostage by alleged Somali pirates were killed. The mission did, however, successfully free 16 other prisoners off the Horn of Africa. Seventeen pirates were arrested.
Danish warship, the Absalon, fired shots onto the suspicious boat after it ignored orders to stop. The ship is a part of NATO’s counter-piracy mission Ocean Shield.
They had the boat under surveillance for some time, and stopped it when they attempted to sneak into open waters away from the coast.

After locating the severely wounded hostages, the ship’s doctor provided immediate aid, but was unable to save their lives. The other hostages have not reported any injuries, and there were also no killed or wounded pirates.
The warship Absalon fired on and intercepted a pirate mother ship as it tried to sneak away from the Somali coast Monday, according to a Danish Navy statement.

It says Absalon crew members boarded the ship and found 17 suspected pirates along with 18 hostages from the ship's original crew.  It says two of the hostages were found badly injured and died, despite medical attention.
The Absalon follow proper protocols when engaging with the pirate boat; direct fire to parts of the vessel was a last resort in the attempt to halt the pirates. The Navy will still conduct a thorough investigation into this situation nonetheless.
Reuters reports that the captured pirates would be held aboard the Absalon until Denmark could determine if it could hand them over to a country in the region to be prosecuted.

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Nigeria's Boko Haram sect razes another school

MAIDUGURI, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- The militant Boko Haram sect responsible for the bombings in northern Nigeria on Tuesday razed the Gomari Costain Primary School in Borno State.

The sect was linked to the razing of the Maiduguri Experimental School, a private institution in the state capital, on Monday.

Pupils of the Gomari Costain Primary School woke up on Tuesday to discover that their school had been destroyed by fire.

According to residents, the school was razed by an overnight fire suspected to be done by the dreaded sect members.

Some teachers of the school told a Xinhua reporter in the state that a group of persons, mainly teenagers, drove away the security guard in the night before setting the school ablaze.

Ismaila Gambo, one of the teachers who lives near the school premises, said he heard a loud noise in the school at night and thought it was a minor thing.

"But when we reported for duty in the morning we discovered that fire had burnt the school," he said.

State police spokesperson Samuel Tizhe, who confirmed the incident, said the police had opened investigation to unravel the masterminds of the act, but no arrests have been made.

On Monday, a section of the Maiduguri Experimental School was burnt by unknown persons.

Last week, the Budum and Kulo Gomna Primary Schools were set ablaze, forcing hundreds of pupils to remain at home, according to reports.
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IED explosion kill Taliban leader and fighters in Helmand

A local Taliban commander was killed along with his three fighters in southern Helmand province, Afghan interior ministry said on Tuesday.

According to a press release issued by the interior affairs ministry, the Taliban commander was killed along with his three fighters while he was planting improvised explosive device.

The source further added, the incident took place at Nawzad district of southern Helmand province after the improvised explosive device went off.

This comes as 7 members of an Afghan family were killed after an explosive device went off in their home at southern Kandahar province.

Local security officials said the explosion possibly took place as a result an explosive device which was kept by them inside their house.

The officials also said a member of their family had links with the Taliban group.

Improvised Explosive Device and roadside mines are the key weapons used by the Taliban group to target Afghan and coalition security forces.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Serving Our Troops - 2012 - St.Paul to Kuwait - videos

Serving Our Troops is embarking on their 9th project and largest since 2004, "Saint Paul to Kuwait," is happening now, February 25th, 2012, in both Kuwait and St. Paul, Minnesota.
With more than 2,700 Minnesota National Guard soldiers from the 34th Red Bull Infantry representing over 500 Minnesota communities currently serving in Kuwait, Serving Our Troops and a full team of volunteers will be providing a message of appreciation in the form 13,000 12 ounce steaks during massive simultaneous meals for both our soldiers overseas in Kuwait and their family members back home in Saint Paul.

Serving Our Troops will visit all five bases where the 1st Brigade Combat Team Red Bull Soldiers Operate (Camp Arifjan, Camp Buehring, Camp Virginia, Ali Al Salem and the Kuwait Naval Base) to serve up a sincere message of appreciation.
Simultaneously back home at the River Centre in Saint Paul, their family and friends will be treated to a fantastic event with food, entertainment and opportunities to connect with their loved ones - all linked via live video

Videos by Spc. Bob Brown and Pfc. Linsey Williams

Camp Arifjan videos playlist (720p HD):

Camp Buehring videos playlist (720p HD):

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7 Civilians Killed in Helmand Blast

At least seven civilians were killed on Monday in a blast in the southern Helmand province, local officials said on Tuesday.

A provincial spokesman, Dawood Ahmadi, told TOLOnews that "seven civilians were killed when a blast occurred yesterday in Nawzad district of Helmand."

Four women and three children are among the victims and the explosion took place in a house in Sarkhdaz area of the district, he added.

He did not provide more details, adding that Afghan police started its investigation about what caused the blast.

No group including the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the blast.
Insurgents often use homemade bombs in their attacks against Afghan and Nato troops, but most of the victims are civilians.

More than 3,021 Afghan civilians have been killed in 2011 conflict, the UN said in its recently released report.

Taliban-led insurgents caused 77 percent of the deaths last year, up to 14 percent from 2010, while Nato-led and Afghan government forces were responsible for killing 410 civilians -14 percent of the total, it added.

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18 killed as gunmen open fire on bus in Kohistan, Pakistan

At least 18 people have been killed after gunmen opened fire on a passenger bus in a northern Pakistan village in an apparently sectarian attack, police officials say.

The incident occurred on Tuesday in the remote mountainous village of Harban Nala in Kohistan district, about 200km north of the capital Islamabad, as the bus was carrying at least 25 passengers from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, police said.

"Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked the bus," local police chief Mohammad Ilyas said. "Initial reports said 18 people died and seven [were] wounded,"he said.

The motives of the attack were unclear, but a senior police official told Reuters news agency that all aboard the bus were Shia and that the gunmen belonged to a local Sunni group.

"It appears to be a sectarian attack," Abdul Sattar Khan, a local member of parliament, told the AFP news agency. "It is a remote area. We are getting reports that the gunmen forced people to get off the bus. They checked their papers and shot them dead."

Human rights groups have heavily criticised the Pakistani government for failing to curb sectarian violence between the country's majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslim communities that has killed thousands.

Sunni groups have targeted Shias with deadly attacks across Pakistan, particularly in the northwest.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

R.I.P. - Staff Sgt. Ahmed K. Altaie -- last missing soldier in Iraq

DOD Identifies Army Casualty

             The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On Feb. 25, the armed forces medical examiner at the Dover Port Mortuary in Dover, Del., positively identified the remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed K. Altaie, of Ann Arbor, Mich.  He was assigned to the Provincial Reconstruction Team, Divisional Training Center, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

            On Dec. 11, 2006, a casualty review board declared Altaie “missing – captured” after his disappearance in Baghdad, Iraq on Oct. 23, 2006.  Altaie was the final missing soldier and casualty to be recovered from the Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn mission.

             For more information the media may contact the U.S. Army public affairs office at 703-697-5662, 703-693-5084 or 703-697-2163.
The U.S. Army said Sunday it has identified the remains of the last missing U.S. service member unaccounted for in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Ahmed K. Altaie of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was kidnapped October 23, 2006, after he left the Green Zone in Baghdad. The military said Altaie, then 41, and serving as a translator for the U.S. military, was visiting family members when he was abducted.

A group in February 2007 claimed on a militant Shiite Web site that it had Altaie and posted a 10-second video of a man it claimed was him. The man in the video was Altaie, his uncle told CNN then.

Altaie's remains were identified on Saturday by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner at the Dover Port Mortuary in Delaware, the Army said.
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5 killed, 15 injured in Nowshera blast after ANP rally

NOWSHERA: A blast hit the site where Awami National Party (ANP) was holding a public rally that killed five persons and injured 15 others, including four policemen, our sources reported Monday.

The bomb went off soon after chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Amir Haider Hoti, and other ministers in his provincial cabinet had left the meeting in the town of Nowshera.

According to police, a remote-controlled bomb that was fixed in a motorcycle hit the ANP rally venue after the public address concluded.

As a result of blast, five persons were killed while 15 others were injured including four policemen. The injured were shifted to District Headquarter Hospital where five are said to be in critical condition.

Approximately three kg of explosives were used in the blast, police said.

Rescue work has kicked off while the area has been cordoned off.

from PakTribune
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R.I.P. - Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II

DOD Identifies Army Casualty

              The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, 48, of Baltimore, Md., died Feb. 25, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Marchanti was assigned to 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Division Security Partnering Team of the Maryland Army National Guard, Baltimore, Md.

             For more information related to this release, media may contact the Maryland National Guard public affairs office at 443-250-7242.

Maryland National Guard Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II was one of two U.S. military officers shot to death inside a secure Afghan ministry building on Saturday, guard officials said Monday.

The former Baltimore County physical education teacher had been working since September as a mentor to the Afghan National Police, part of the NATO partnering mission at the center of U.S. strategy in the wartorn country. It was his first tour in Afghanistan.

Marchanti, 48, was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division Security Partnering Team II. He was due to return from his one-year deployment in September.

"He will be missed very much," sister-in-law Trish Sauter said Sunday. "He was a very caring person. He wanted to help."

The Towson University graduate had worked full-time for the Maryland National Guard since 2008. Before that, he spent 17 years in the Baltimore County schools, teaching at Bedford Elementary, Victory Villa, Mars Estates, Dundalk Elementary and Carney.

Marchanti joined the U.S. Army in 1984 and the Maryland National Guard in 1986, guard spokesman Lt. Col. Charles Kohler said. He had worked since May 2008 at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore as a construction and facilities management technician.

Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, the commander of the Maryland National Guard, informed guard members of Marchanti's death in a message Monday.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Marchanti family during this most difficult time," Adkins said. "He was married and had four children and one grandson. It is impossible for most of us to understand the emotional turmoil they must be going through. The loss of one of our own is always very difficult, and little can be said to ease the pain, but we will always remember Rob's dedication to our nation as we honor his service and sacrifice."

Marchanti is survived by his wife, Peggy; four children, Aaron, Leah, Ian and Jonah; and a three-year-old grandson.

from BaltimoreSun

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24 armed militants join peace process in Baghlan province

Around 24 armed insurgents in northern Baghlan province surrendered to Afghan government and joined the Afghan peace process.

The militants group under the commandment of Mawlai Jalaluddin, were actively plotting and carrying out insurgency activities during the past 3 years at Tala Barfak district of northern Baghlan province.

The militants also handed over 19 different types of weapons to the Afghan security forces.

Provincial intelligence, National Directorate for Security Chief Gen. Abdul Hafiz told reporters, the militants were playing a vital role in the instability in this province and were encouraged by religious scholars and Afghan intelligence officials to join peace process.

He also added the security situation will improve in Tala Barfak district and emphasized that the reconciliation process will continue to attract more militants in peace talks.

Mawlawi Jalaluddin commander of the surrendered militants urged the Afghan government to implement welfare projects in Tala Barfak district and further accelerate the reconstruction work in this district.

Around 150 militants have joined peace process who were once acting as anti-government militias during the past two months.

Author: Ajmal Omeri, Baghlan province.

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Three killed in bomb explosion in Nepali capital

KATHMANDU, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- At least three people were killed after a powerful petrol bomb exploded in the Nepali capital Kathmandu Monday afternoon, police said.

Two of them died on the spot while the third died at a local hospital.

More than six people were injured and five of them were said to be in very critical condition at Bir Hospital in the capital.

The three deceased are a senior lady and two men.

Police have cordoned off the explosion site in Babarmahal, a key location of government offices.

"We have arrested two suspects in relation to the blast, investigation into the incident is underway," Nepal Police spokesman Binod Singh said.

The explosion came three days after the Nepal Oil Corporation ( NOC) increased the prices of petroleum products in line with the ballooning fuel prices on the international market.

It has been reported that a meeting of Public Accounts Committee on fuel price hike was underway when the explosion took place.

Meanwhile, Samyukta Jatiya Mukti Morcha-Bishwokranti, a little known underground outfit, has claimed responsibility for the blast. The group had carried out an explosion at the mobile phone tower in Dhadhing recently.
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HMS Somerset welcomed home from counter-piracy mission

A Military Operations news article

27 Feb 12
More than 600 joyous family members and friends greeted their loved ones on the jetty at HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth on Friday when HMS Somerset returned from a six-month counter-piracy mission.

HMS Somerset sails past Plymouth Hoe
HMS Somerset sails past Plymouth Hoe
[Picture: LA(Phot) Joel Rouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

Throughout her deployment the Type 23 frigate's ship's company have remained ready to respond to any tasking but have predominantly been working under Combined Maritime Forces as part of a task force which patrols the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
It is a multinational endeavour and exists to create a lawful and stable maritime environment free from terrorism, smuggling and piracy. Her principal mission was to deter, disrupt and defeat such actions.
On her homecoming on Friday, HMS Somerset's Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Bristowe, said:
"It is fantastic to be met by hundreds of families and friends on the jetty. The crew deserve this moment from their families who have been so hugely supportive which is appreciated so much by us all.
"My ship's company have been really professional, enabling the ship to conduct effective maritime policing operations including counter-piracy and counter-smuggling.
HMS Somerset's crew perform 'Procedure Alpha'
HMS Somerset's crew perform 'Procedure Alpha' as she sails into HM Naval Base Devonport
[Picture: LA(Phot) Joel Rouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

"One of the incidents came about when we came across a ship in which the crew had been effectively taken captive by pirates. We secured the vessel from the pirates and released the captured Pakistani crew.
"As well as disrupting two piracy acts we also rescued two separate crews in distress on the high seas. This was very rewarding and exactly why we were there and what we have trained for."
At the head of the queue of waiting family members, to meet her husband Chief Petty Officer Rob Lawes as he disembarked in privileged third place, was Leanne Lawes with their first child - 15-week-old son Daniel dressed in a sailor suit specially made by his mother for the happy occasion. Chief Petty Officer Lawes said:
"It's wonderful to see Daniel again. Leanne has done so well looking after him. Mind you I was lucky enough that the Navy flew me home to be there at his birth. Others have had to wait until today to see their families. It is a great day for everyone."
Julie Gale was overjoyed to see her daughter Leading Medical Assistant Donna Gale again following her first deployment on operations.
A member of HMS Somerset's ship's company receives a loving welcome home
A member of HMS Somerset's ship's company receives a loving welcome home from his partner
[Picture: LA(Phot) Joel Rouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

Her incident-packed time on Somerset included looking after a patient in Tanzania and giving medical cover to a football match in Saudi Arabia. Julie said:
"Donna's had a really busy time on her first ship. It's brilliant to see her again."
HMS Somerset remained at sea for up to six weeks continuously at any one time and visited Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and the Seychelles.
Whilst in various ports the crew engaged with their host nations in a variety of ways ranging from comparing maritime security tactics to playing football; all of which served to strengthen international co-operation based on the shared need to protect maritime trade routes.
Petty Officer Jamie Newman hugged his children Evie, seven, and Owyn, ten, who were delighted to see their father again. Evie said her dad was taking her to Brownies - the first time he had been able to. Owyn is looking forward to football football with his father. Their mother Lisa said:
'Aunty Abbie' receives a warm welcome home from her nieces
'Aunty Abbie' receives a warm welcome home from her nieces
[Picture: LA(Phot) Joel Rouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

"Although it has been hard keeping these two [children] occupied, Jamie is back and that more than makes up for everything."
Petty Officer Newman said:
"The deployment has been successful, especially with counter-piracy ops. It is tough being away from my family, but this is a wonderful welcome home."
Powerful and versatile with the capability to operate anywhere in the world, the Type 23 frigate is the mainstay of the Royal Navy's surface fleet. The 13 Type 23 frigates form half of the frigate/destroyer force in the Royal Navy.
Originally designed for the principal task of anti-submarine warfare, they have evolved into multi-purpose ships. As well as warfare roles, these ships conduct embargo operations using boarding teams, disaster relief work and surveillance operations.
The ship's crew is now on leave before returning to prepare the ship for a lengthy in-depth refit - her having deployed four times for six-months in the past five years. HMS Somerset will be regenerated and made ready for any operations next year.
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Senior Taliban commander killed in Ghazni province

According to local authorities in eastern Ghazni province, a senior Taliban commander was killed following a military operation by Afghan National Police forces in this province.

The officials further added, the Taliban commander was killed on Sunday evening at the eastern outskirts of Ghazni city.

Provincial Police Chief for eastern Ghazni province Zarawar Zahid said, Afghan police forces on Sunday evening conducted an operation at Qala-e-Joz where a senior Taliban commander was killed.

Mr. Zahid further added, the Taliban commander was recognized as Mosazai who was involved in plotting insurgency attacks and was playing a vital role in coordination among the Taliban fighters.

Taliban militants group yet to comment regarding the reports.

Eastern Ghazni province is considered to be one of the violatile regions in the country where the Taliban militants actively operating.

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Feb.27., 2012. - ISAF Joint Command Evening Operational Update

KABUL, Afghanistan – Several insurgents were captured by an Afghan Provincial Response Company working with coalition forces during execution of a search warrant in Bala Boluk district, Farah province, Saturday, Feb. 25.

All of the detained insurgents were directly tied to IED and complex attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, as well as crimes against local Afghans in Farah province.

The combined force also discovered a cache of weapons and improvised explosive device materials during the operation. The materials included anti-personnel mines, grenades, ammunition, home-made explosives and various IED components. All of the weapons and explosives were destroyed on site.

In other International Security Assistance Force news throughout Afghanistan:


In Maiwand district, Kandahar province, one insurgent was killed during a vehicle search operation conducted by a combined Afghan and coalition security force, Saturday, Feb. 25. During the operation, the insurgent dismounted his motorcycle and ran at the security force carrying grenades and small arms ammunition. The security force perceived an immediate threat and engaged the man, killing him.

Following the engagement, the security force recovered several IED components and destroyed them on site.


A coalition security force captured a Taliban facilitator during an operation in Pul-e Alam district, Logar province, Feb. 27. The facilitator provided weapons and financial support for numerous insurgent fighters in the area. No shots were fired during the operation.

In Nadir Shah Kot district, Khost province, a Haqqani leader was captured by Afghan and coalition security forces during an operation today. The leader managed an insurgent network and directed operations against Afghan civilians and security forces in the district.
Two suspected insurgents were also detained during the operation.

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9 Killed in Jalalabad Suicide Attack (+video)

At least nine civilians were killed and 21 others were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in eastern Jalalabad city of Nangarhar province on Monday, a local official said.

The incident took place just before 9:00 am local time when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the gates of Jalalabad airport, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a provincial spokesman, told TOLOnews.

Two Afghan National Army soldiers and a private security guard are among the wounded, he said.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.
The blast follows six days of deadly protests and riots in Afghanistan after it was discovered last Tuesday that US servicemen burned Korans at Bagram Air Base. More than 30 people have been killed during the unrest.

In a televised address on Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed his calls for calm in the aftermath of the Bagram incident.

"Now is the time to return to calm and not let our enemies use this situation," Mr Karzai said.
US President Barack Obama apologised to Mr Karzai for the actions of the US soldiers.


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Nine killed in fresh sectarian fight in northwest Yemen

العربية: خريطة اليمن. Dansk: Adens beliggenhed...
Image via Wikipedia
SANAA, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- At least nine gunmen were killed Sunday in clashes between Shiite rebels and Sunni fundamentalists in Yemen's northwestern province of Hajja, a security official said, underscoring severe sectarian tension laying before the country's newly-elected president.

"Seven Sunni armed tribesmen and two Shiite rebels were killed early Sunday, while several others were wounded in a fresh fighting in Kishir district in Hajja," an official of the interior ministry told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Hajja, some 127 km northwest of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, has been the scene of almost daily sectarian clashes since early 2011. Local residents said Shiite rebels led by Saada-based Abdulmalik al-Houthi have been trying to overrun the northern regions bordering oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

The sectarian conflict has spread to the northern provinces of Hajja, Saada, al-Jouf and Amran.

Since anti-government protests erupted in late January 2011, the Houthi-led rebels have been attempting to expand their control over the restive northern provinces after the government's control was weakened by the protests.

On Aug. 26, 2010, the Yemeni government and the Shiite group signed an agreement in Doha to cement a fragile cease-fire to end an on-and-off war since 2004, but the rebels' clashes with local tribesmen are still rocking the region.

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took the constitutional oath before the parliament on Saturday to become Yemen's new president, after a landmark vote last week proposed in a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal to ease the long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office.

The Houthi Shiite group in the north, as well as pro-separatism Southern Movement in the south and resurgent regional al-Qaida network in the southern and eastern provinces, have announced that they will not recognize the legitimacy of Hadi and the transitional government.

Hadi has pledged to launch reforms during his transitional term and start a national dialogue with all political factions in Yemen after he takes office. He also promised to combat with the resurgent al-Qaida off-shoot.
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F-35 Local Area Flights Could Start This Week

English: The first F-35 Lightning II joint str...
Image via Wikipedia
By DAVE MAJUMDAR - DefenseNews

F-35A Lightning II local area flights might start as early as this week at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Fla., an Air Force source said. Such flights would commence once the Air Force issues a military flight release (MFR).

The Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base might issue such a military flight release as early as this week, sources said.

According to Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) chief engineer Doug Ebersole, an Air Force airworthiness board declared the F-35A as being compliant with its Tailored Airworthiness Certification Criteria on Feb 23, which is a crucial step in granting a formal MFR.

The declaration means the Air Force is satisfied that its version of the aircraft, the F-35A, is safe to fly. It also means that the Air Force understands and accepts the risks where there are gaps in the jet’s compliance with service airworthiness regulations, Ebersole said.

A MFR would allow qualified F-35 test pilots to begin flying the stealthy fifth-generation fighter around the Florida base. Eglin currently has two test pilots who are qualified to fly the jet: Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith and Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann.

Once those local area flights prove that the aircraft and maintenance procedures at Eglin are robust enough to sustain a full-scale training course for transitioning instructor pilots and students, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) will start the syllabus.

Smith and Bachmann will act as the initial instructors for the rest of the cadre at the 33rd Fighter Wing. The three services have selected some of the best, most experienced pilots to form the initial batch of instructors at Eglin.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has also cleared the Marines’ F-35B short take-off vertical landing jets to operate at Fort Worth, Texas, where the planes are built.

However, the sea service requires an additional independent safety audit before fleet pilots are allowed to fly the aircraft, Ebersole said.

“We expect that to happen in the mid-to-late March timeframe,” he said. “Probably late March.”

After the audit, Marine pilots, who fall under NAVAIR’s purview, will be able to start training along side their Air Force brethren in their F-35B model jets next month.
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

R.I.P. - Lt. Col. John D. Loftis

DOD Identifies Air Force Casualty

            The Department of Defense announced today the death of an airman who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 44, of Paducah, Ky.,

died Feb. 25 from wounds received during an attack at the Interior Ministry, Kabul, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 866th Air Expeditionary Squadron, Kabul, Afghanistan.

            For more information media may contact the Air Force Special Operations Command public affairs office at 850-884-8900.


He served as a space and missile officer who became a regional affairs strategist in 2008. He entered the Air Force in 1996, receiving his commission through Officer Training School.
Prior to deploying in March 2011, he had been assigned to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School, Air Force Special Operations Training Center, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Loftis was deployed in support of OPERATION Enduring Freedom and working in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of the Interior with the AfPak Hands program as the chief plans advisor. The AfPak Hands program stood up in September 2009 to develop a cadre of specially trained U.S. servicemembers skilled in Afghan and Pakistani culture and language.
Lt Col Loftis was previously awarded the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal.

Releated articles:
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Blast kills four, wounds nine in Iraqi market

15 September 2008 Balad Ruz bombing
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BAGHDAD, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- An explosion ripped through a shop at a popular market in eastern Iraq Sunday evening, leaving four dead and nine injured, a local police source said.

The blast, believed to be caused by a bomb, destroyed the shop and levelled two adjacent shops in a town located in Diyala province, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Three children and one woman were among the wounded, he added.

Iraqi security forces have cordoned off the area and carried out investigations.

Diyala, which borders Iran, has been plagued by violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraq has seen an uptick of violence in recent weeks as a result of reignited Sunni-Shia conflict.
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Six militants killed in Khyber Agency, Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Six militants were killed and numerous of their hideouts were destroyed in an aerial operation in Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency on Sunday, confirmed officials.

After a week of turmoil in Khyber Agency in which three security officials were killed, three others injured and numerous clashes took place between the local peace committee and the militants, this morning gunship helicopters targeted militant hideouts in the Naray Baba area of Bara.

“At least six militants were killed and numerous of their hideouts were destroyed,” said an official from the area.

The Tirah valley of Khyber Agency is considered to be the strong hold of Lashkar-e-Islam and the security forces launched an operation against the banned organisation. The operation in the area has been continuing for almost three years now.

The officials said that the investigation into many suicide attacks and bomb blasts that have claimed innocent lives have been traced back to the tribal belt of Khyber.

On Saturday, a stray shell fired from an unknown location destroyed a house and killed three children of a single family while leaving four women injured.

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