Hagel optimistic US will work things out
JALALABAD, Afghanistan — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he believes U.S. officials will be able to work things out with Afghan leaders who have ordered special operations forces out of Wardak province, even as commandos face a Monday deadline to leave.
Hagel’s comments came on his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary. On his first morning in Kabul, two suicide bombings, one outside the Afghan Defense Ministry and the other near a police checkpoint in eastern Khost province, killed at least 19 people, including a U.S. contractor. A Taliban spokesman said the blast outside the defense ministry was a message to the visiting Pentagon chief.
The violence and the order to withdraw the special operations forces underscore the military and diplomatic complexities confronting the Obama administration and the U.S.-led NATO force as they work to end combat operations in 2014.
Venezuela sets April 14 for election
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s electoral council has set a presidential election for April 14 to choose the successor to President Hugo Chavez.
Acting President Nicolas Maduro will run as the ruling party candidate.
The coordinator of the opposition coalition says Henrique Capriles is being offered that bloc’s candidacy. Capriles lost to Chavez in an October election.
Chavez later anointed Maduro as his chosen successor before undergoing surgery in December for the cancer that led to his death Tuesday.
Rebels free 21 UN peacekeepers held captive in Syria
BEIRUT — Rebels in southern Syria freed 21 U.N. peacekeepers on Friday after holding them hostage for four days, driving them to the border with Jordan after accusations from Western officials that the little-known group had tarnished the image of those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The abduction and the tortured negotiations that ended it highlight the disorganization of the rebel movement, which has hindered its ability to fight Assad and complicates vows by the U.S. and others to provide assistance.