Bagram Air Base (Afghanistan) (AFP) - US President Barack Obama promised a decision on post-2014 US troop numbers "fairly shortly," after he flew into the country on a surprise night time visit Sunday. Obama is deliberating on the size of the force that will be left behind after the longest US war to continue to train Afghan forces, who will shoulder the burden of confronting the Taliban and preventing an Al-Qaeda resurgence. Obama told the top US General in Afghanistan Joseph Dunford and the US ambassador to Kabul James Cunningham that he was facing tough decisions on the US posture after the end of the year when all combat troops pull out. US officials said as Obama flew into Afghanistan aboard Air Force One that they believed that both candidates in Afghanistan's run-off election, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, would sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow US troops to stay.
Slavyansk (Ukraine) (AFP) - The body of an Italian photographer was being flown to Kiev on Sunday after he became the first journalist to die covering the violent pro-Russian insurgency gripping the east of Ukraine. Andrea Rocchelli, 30, and his Russian assistant Andrei Mironov, a former Soviet-era dissident, were killed when they were caught up in a fierce firefight in the rebel-held flashpoint of Slavyansk on Saturday. "These deaths are horrid reminders that not enough is being done to protect journalists who risk their lives reporting from conflict zones in Ukraine," said the OSCE's representative for media freedom Dunja Mijatovic.
Scores of Turkish Cypriots complained they were denied the right to vote in European Parliament elections in divided Cyprus on Sunday because they had no registered address, officials said. A group of Turkish Cypriots crossing over from the Turkish-held north of the island held a protest. Mehmet Pasa, 44, said he was given no reason why he was prevented from casting his ballot at a polling station in Nicosia. But Interior Minister Sotiris Hasikos told the official CNA news agency that only those with a registered address were allowed to cast a ballot under Cyprus's electoral law.
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. and British forces began launching airstrikes into Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against America. The initial strikes were aimed at Taliban troops, training camps and air defenses. By early November there were about 1,300 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Bagram Air Base (Afghanistan) (AFP) - President Barack Obama swooped out of the night sky into Afghanistan Sunday on a surprise visit, to honour the sacrifices of the soldiers of America's longest war, seven months before he ends the combat mission for good. Obama, who normally brings cities to a standstill when he moves around, slipped out of the White House and boarded a darkened Air Force One after night fell on Saturday and flew unannounced across the globe, before making a high-speed landing at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul on his fourth visit to Afghanistan as president and his first since 2012. The president had no plans to meet outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with whom he has a tense relationship, nor Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani, the two candidates in Afghanistan's run-off election to find his successor in June.
Senator Richard Blumenthal said on Sunday he wanted to revive gun control legislation rejected by Congress in the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, saying it could have helped prevent this weekend's deadly California shooting spree. Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program the legislation, which failed last year, could be revised to emphasize the mental condition of potential gun buyers. "Obviously, not every kind of gun violence is going to be prevented by laws out of Washington," he said. On Friday night a 22-year-old college student identified as Elliot Rodger allegedly stabbed three people to death in his apartment in Santa Barbara, California, and then drove through the city and fatally shot three others with handguns he had legally bought.
Bogota (Colombia) (AFP) - Colombian voters headed to polls Sunday for a presidential vote seen as a referendum on the government's peace talks with Marxist guerrillas to end a half-century-old civil war. Polling stations in Colombia opened on schedule at 8:00 am (1300 GMT) for the first-round election, with more than 32 million eligible to vote. The election pits President Juan Manuel Santos, seeking a second four-year term after launching peace talks in 2012, against main rival Oscar Zuluaga, who has vowed to take a harder line against rebels.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday that Syria's regime and the "resistance axis" including his Lebanese Shiite militant group would triumph in the Syrian conflict. "Syria will triumph and the resistance axis will triumph," Nasrallah said in a televised address to mark the 14th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels, saying they are defending an "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West.
South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday tapped former junior minister Nhlanhla Nene to become the country's first black African finance minister. In the 20 years since South Africa struggled free from the fetters of racist apartheid rule, the economy remains predominantly in white hands, despite a raft of empowerment programmes. Nene had served as an understudy to internationally respected finance chief Pravin Gordhan. But the appointment of a relatively inexperienced finance minister after the post was occupied by Gordhan and similarly well regarded Trevor Manuel, will test investors' faith in the South African economy.
Chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko appeared poised to lead Ukraine as it grapples with its worst crisis since independence after exit polls showed him winning Sunday's presidential election outright. He won almost 56 percent of the vote against almost 13 percent for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, according to a joint survey conducting by Ukraine's three leading polling agencies. "The first thing we must do is bring peace to all the citizens of Ukraine," the 48-year-old self-made billionaire said as he cast his vote earlier in Kiev. The ex-Soviet nation on the EU's eastern frontier is fighting for its very survival after Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the popular overthrow of a Kremlin-backed leader by seizing Crimea, parking thousands of troops on the Ukraine border and backing an uprising in the east.
Boko Haram is probably beyond the reach of global sanctions but attempts to curb the Nigerian Islamists' reign of terror is an indication of growing international commitment, analysts said. But with sanctions designed to cut off overseas funding and support for Boko Haram, which kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last month, there are doubts about what impact they might have on the ground. "Boko Haram has for several years now existed beyond the formal parameters where an arms embargo or asset-freeze would affect the group," Jacob Zenn, from the Jamestown Foundation think-tank in the United States, told AFP. Omoyele Sowore of Nigeria's Sahara Reporters website told BBC radio on Friday that Boko Haram was different from global extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda in terms of structure and funding.
The leader of Nigeria's Muslims on Sunday called for followers of the faith to unite against Boko Haram extremists, pledging the government full support to ensure their defeat. But the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, also said the government should address issues of inequality towards Muslims, which have been seen as factors in fuelling the five-year insurgency. "Terrorism has no place in Islam," he told a congregation, including Nigeria's Vice-President Namadi Sambo, clerics and traditional rulers, at the National Mosque in the capital, Abuja. The Sultan, who is president of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, has come under pressure to speak out against Boko Haram, who have killed thousands in their quest for an Islamic state in the north.