On surprise visit to Afghanistan, Obama says U.S. to keep limited role after combat mission ends
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) -- President Barack Obama slipped into Afghanistan for a surprise visit Sunday and made clear that the U.S. will likely maintain a limited role here even after its combat mission ends this year and America’s longest war comes to a close.
"America’s commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure," he pledged.
Speaking to troops gathered in an airplane hangar on this sprawling military base, Obama said the war had reached a pivotal point, with Afghan forces assuming primary responsibility for their country’s security. But while many of the 32,800 U.S. forces now in Afghanistan will leave in the coming months, Obama said a continued military presence could help protect gains made during nearly 13 years of fighting.
"After all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win and we’re going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever, be used again to launch an attack against our country," Obama declared.
At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded.
Exit poll suggests billionaire candy tycoon elected Ukraine’s president vote
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Exit polls suggested candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko was elected president Sunday in the first round of balloting in the bitterly divided country, and he vowed "to bring peace to the Ukrainian land."
The billionaire who supports strong ties with Europe but also wants to mend relations with Russia claimed victory after a vote that took place amid weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine where pro-Moscow separatists have seized government buildings and battled government troops.
The rebels had vowed to block the ballot in the east, and less than 20 percent of the polling stations were open there after gunmen intimidated locals by smashing ballot boxes, shutting down polling centers and issuing threats.
But nationwide, about 60 percent of 35.5 million eligible voters turned out, the central elections commission said, and long lines snaked around polling stations in the capital of Kiev.
The exit polls, conducted by three respected Ukrainian survey agencies, found the 48-year-old Poroshenko getting 55.9 percent of the vote in the field of 21 candidates. A distant second was former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with 12.9 percent, the poll showed. Full results are expected Monday, but if that margin holds, Poroshenko would avoid a runoff election next month with the second-place finisher.
Lawmakers overseeing VA hospital system urge remedies to ease long waits and backlogs
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairmen of House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on Sunday decried long waits and backlogs at the nations VA hospitals but stopped short of calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
"You’ve got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veterans," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House panel
"I think some people may by cooking the books" to suggest waiting times are shorter that they actually are, said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who chairs the counterpart Senate committee.
Both chairmen were interviewed on CNN’s "State of the Union."
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on CBS’ "Face the Nation" that the Justice Department "has to be involved." He said there is "credible and specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing across the country" at VA hospitals.
Pope visit to Bethlehem gives Palestinians welcome boost of support
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Pope Francis delivered a powerful boost of support to the Palestinians during a Holy Land pilgrimage Sunday, repeatedly backing their statehood aspirations, praying solemnly at Israel’s controversial separation barrier and calling the stalemate in peace efforts "unacceptable."
In an unscripted move, Francis arranged a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian presidents at the Vatican next month. The meeting, while largely symbolic, shows how the pope has sought to transform his immensely popular appeal into a moral force for peace.
On the second day of a three-day swing through the region, the pope arrived in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, before heading to Israel for the final leg of his visit.
While Francis mingled warmly with his Israeli hosts, his trip to Bethlehem included the day’s most powerful images as he expressed sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinians.
"I am with you," he told a group of Palestinian children at a stop in Bethlehem’s Deheishe refugee camp. He also held a private lunch with five Palestinian families who say they have been harmed by Israeli policies.
Exit polls: Far right, Euroskeptics make sweeping gains in European Parliament election
BRUSSELS (AP) -- The far right and Euroskeptics made sweeping gains in European Parliament elections Sunday, according to exit polls, signaling a major political shift toward parties that want to slash the powers of the European Union or abolish it altogether.
Polls in recent days had predicted that Euroskeptics could snag as many as a third of the seats in the EU’s 751-seat legislature in the vote ending Sunday.
One of the most significant winners appeared to be France’s far-right National Front. Two polling companies said the party, led by Marine Le Pen, was the outright winner in France with one-quarter of the popular vote.
"The sovereign people have spoken ... acclaiming they want to take back the reins of their destiny," Le Pen said in a statement. She called the results "the first step in a long march to liberty."
Voters in 21 of the European Union’s 28 nations voted Sunday. The other seven countries had already voted in a sprawling exercise of democracy that began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands.
Sheriffs never saw threatening videos made by suspect before deadly California rampage
GOLETA, Calif. (AP) -- The threats of suicide and violence captured in Elliott Rodger’s online videos were unsettling, even terrifying.
In one, he stares icily into the camera, despairs over his hollow romantic life, then delivers a dark promise: "That’s a problem that I intend to rectify. I, in all my magnificence and power, I will not let this fly."
His parents said they were so concerned that they called police. Officers who showed up at Rodger’s doorstep for a mental health check in April, however, found a well-mannered if shy young man that they concluded posed no risk.
They hadn’t seen the videos, and by the time law enforcement had, it was too late: Rodger had gone on a deadly rampage.
The sheriff’s office "was not aware of any videos until after the shooting rampage occurred," Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.