Kerry arrives in Afghanistan to meet presidential candidates, urge calm for smooth transition

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The U.S. and its allies are growing increasingly concerned as Afghanistan shows signs of unraveling in its first democratic transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai. With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan’s dispute over election results poses a new challenge to President Barack Obama’s effort to leave behind two secure states while ending America’s long wars.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a hastily arranged visit to Afghanistan on Friday to help resolve the election crisis, which is sowing chaos in a country that the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost more than 2,000 lives trying to stabilize. He was to meet with the two candidates claiming victory in last month’s presidential election runoff.

"I’ve been in touch with both candidates several times as well as President (Hamid) Karzai," Kerry said before leaving Beijing, where he attended a U.S.-China economic meeting. He called on them to "show critical statesmanship and leadership at a time when Afghanistan obviously needs it."

"This is a critical moment for the transition, which is essential to future governance of the country and the capacity of the (U.S. and its allies) to be able to continue to be supportive and be able to carry out the mission which so many have sacrificed so much to achieve.


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With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan’s power dispute over the election results is posing a new challenge to President Barack Obama’s 5 1/2-year effort to leave behind two secure nations while ending America’s long wars in the Muslim world.

Israeli military presses offensive in Gaza, more than 85 Palestinians killed

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The Al Haj family never heard it coming: An Israeli missile smashed into their home in the middle of the night, destroying the structure and killing eight relatives in a matter of seconds. A survivor said all the dead were civilians.

As Israel intensified its bombardment Thursday of the Gaza Strip in an offensive against the Hamas militant group, with more than 900 targets attacked so far, it said it was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties in the crowded urban landscape. The risk of more civilian deaths will remain high, especially if Israel moves in with ground forces.

More than 85 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians, and over 300 wounded since the offensive began Tuesday, Palestinian medical officials said.

Undeterred, Hamas militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, including salvos Thursday at the country’s two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, that were intercepted by the rocket-defense system known as the Iron Dome.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern about the threats to civilians in Israel and Gaza as he urged an immediate cease-fire.

Possible compromise emerges on border crisis as GOP pushes for deporting kids faster

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Outlines of a possible compromise that would more quickly deport minors arriving from Central America emerged Thursday as part of President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency request to address the immigration crisis on the nation’s southern border.

Republicans demanded speedier deportations, which the White House initially had supported but left out of its proposal after complaints from immigrant advocates and some Democrats. On Thursday, the top House and Senate Democrats pointedly left the door open to them.

"It’s not a deal-breaker," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Let them have their face-saver. But let us have the resources to do what we have to do." Her spokesman Drew Hammill later clarified that any changes "must ensure due process for these children."

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: "I’m not going to block anything. Let’s see what comes to the floor."

But opposition arose late in the day from key Democratic senators, suggesting battles ahead before any deal could be struck.

Gunman accused of killing Houston family demanded to know whereabouts of ex-wife

SPRING, Texas (AP) -- A man charged with killing four children and their parents forced his way into the family’s suburban Houston home, tied them up and shot them in the back of the head when they refused to tell him where his ex-wife was, authorities said Thursday.

The lone survivor of the attack, the slain couple’s 15-year-old daughter, suffered a fractured skull when a bullet grazed her head. She played dead and called 911 after Ronald Lee Haskell left the house, authorities revealed at a court hearing.

A day after the slayings, investigators slowly built a picture of Haskell, who was the dead couple’s estranged brother-in-law.

The 33-year-old man is accused of killing his sister-in-law, Katie Stay, and her husband and the children ranging in age from 4 to 14. The teenage daughter remained in critical condition in a Houston hospital.

Haskell had a handful of previous run-ins with law enforcement in Utah, where he had lived with his wife. Neighbors said Haskell’s marriage was so rocky that Stay went to Utah last fall to help her sister escape the relationship and start a new life in Texas.

Officers’ testimony undermines Benghazi ‘stand down’ theory

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The testimony of nine military officers undermines contentions by Republican lawmakers that a "stand-down order" held back military assets that could have saved the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed at a diplomatic outpost and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.

The "stand-down" theory centers on a Special Operations team of four -- a detachment leader, a medic, a communications expert and a weapons operator with his foot in a cast -- who were stopped from flying from Tripoli to Benghazi after the attacks of Sept. 11-12, 2012, had ended. Instead, they were instructed to help protect and care for those being evacuated from Benghazi and from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The senior military officer who issued the instruction to "remain in place" and the detachment leader who received it said it was the right decision and has been widely mischaracterized. The order was to remain in Tripoli and protect some three dozen embassy personnel rather than fly to Benghazi some 600 miles away after all Americans there would have been evacuated. And the medic is credited with saving the life of an evacuee from the attacks.

Transcripts of hours of closed-door interviews with the military leaders by the House Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees were made public for the first time on Wednesday. The Associated Press had reviewed the material ahead of its release.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight panel, has suggested Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the order, though as secretary of state at the time, she was not in the military chain of command.

Germany kicks out top U.S. spy in anger over espionage allegations

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany on Thursday demanded Washington’s top spy in Berlin leave the country as a new round of allegations of U.S. espionage worsened the friction between the two allies.

The immediate trigger was the emergence of two new cases of alleged American spying. They inflamed a furor that erupted last year when it was learned that the U.S. was intercepting Internet traffic in Germany and eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone calls.

More broadly, the move to expel the CIA station chief appears to reflect a Germany out of patience with what it sees as a pattern of American disrespect and interference.

"The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

"The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany," he added. "The government takes the matter very seriously."

Divisions appear among Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Deep strains emerged Thursday in the ranks of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow insurgents as dozens turned in their weapons in disgust at Russian inaction and bickering broke out between rebel factions.

In the past two weeks, Ukrainian government troops have halved the amount of territory held by the rebels and have grown better equipped and more confident by the day. Once fearful of losing further pieces of Ukraine to Russia, they have shifted their strategy to containing the insurgents, whose pleas to join Russia have been ignored by President Vladimir Putin.

Pushed back into Ukraine’s eastern industrial city of Donetsk, the pro-Russia militias appear to be focusing their efforts now on hit-and-run operations, bombing transportation links and bracing for more assaults from government forces.

Signs of a rift within the rebellion became evident Thursday when the head of the influential Vostok battalion announced he would not submit to the authority of the military leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin.

Girkin, a Russian better known by his assumed name Strelkov, has attained hero status among supporters of the insurgency. Ukrainian authorities have identified him as a former Russian military intelligence agent active in taking over Crimea before Russia annexed it in March.

Police in Georgia looking at heroin death of boyfriend of woman charged in Google exec’s death

MILTON, Ga. (AP) -- The high-priced prostitute accused of leaving a Google executive to die after injecting him with a lethal dose of heroin on his yacht had called 911 two months earlier when she found her boyfriend in the throes of a fatal overdose in their home. Police said Thursday they are now re-examining that case.

Alix Tichelman, 26, was never charged in the September 2013 death of her boyfriend, Dean Riopelle, the 53-year-old owner of a popular Atlanta nightclub and music venue.

But police said Thursday that they would re-examine Riopelle’s death after Tichelman was charged with manslaughter in the death of Google executive Forrest Hayes in November 2013.

"Both subjects in these cases died of heroin overdoses so there’s just several factors we want to look at to make sure that we didn’t miss anything," McCarty said.

It is not clear how long Tichelman may have been involved in prostitution. Numerous social media postings, photos and other articles online suggest she was pursuing a career as a fetish model and a life with Riopelle.

’Iron Dome’ anti-rocket system is changing the face of battle by limiting Israeli casualties

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel’s "Iron Dome" defense system has emerged as a game-changer in the current round of violence with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, shooting down dozens of incoming rockets and being credited with preventing numerous civilian casualties.

By shooting down more than 90 percent of its targets, the system is ensuring Israel’s decisive technological edge that has helped it operate virtually unhindered in Gaza.

At the same time, it’s also providing a much-needed sense of security on the home front.

Gaza militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, some more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) deep, covering an area of about 5 million. But beyond some jitters and discomfort, they haven’t hurt Israelis much, causing no casualties and very little damage.

"The Iron Dome system and its impressive success thus far have had a strategic impact on managing the campaign. It gives us wide options," said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. "Having said that, we cannot become complacent."