The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says he’s ordered new restrictions on air strikes targeting Taliban militants hiding in residential homes. The directive from General John Allen prompted the Afghan government to claim the U.S.-led NATO occupation force has agreed to stop bombing residential areas and homes altogether. But U.S. officials say the attacks will continue but now under stricter guidelines for air strikes, not ground operations. The new policy was unveiled amidst widespread anger over the latest NATO attack that killed 18 civilians, including nine children, last week. On Friday, Allen met directly with some of the victims’ families and apologized to the Afghan people.
Gen. John Allen: “This was a joint Afghan and U.S. force. They were taken under fire. A hand grenade was thrown. Three of our people were wounded. We called for the people who were shooting to come out. And then the situation became more grave, and the innocent people were killed. On those occasions when our forces accidentally kill or harm Afghan people, we are very sad. And I have come here today to offer you my condolences and my regrets, but importantly, to apologize to each of you for this tragedy.”
General Allen’s new directive to limit air strikes comes nearly two years after his predecessor, General David Petraeus, also issued new rules that were billed as a major step toward reducing civilian casualties.
Syrian government forces have launched new attacks in several parts of Homs province in one of its largest offensives in recent weeks. Syrian activists say at least 35 people were killed in bombings in the city of Homs as well as nearby towns. The attacks come days after U.N. monitors were able to reach the village of al-Qubair in central Hama province in the aftermath of a massacre of up to 80 civilians. Syrian forces had previously blocked the monitors from visiting the site, fueling allegations the regime was trying to hide evidence of the killings. A member of the U.N. team said the observers had come across human remains.
Sausan Ghosheh: “What we saw were, the most prominent things were two homes, that once was that — one was damaged mainly from rockets on BMPs and other caliber — small and large calibers bullets. We found a variety of different kinds of bullets there. And the other one was burnt [buildings] with bodies inside. The bodies — you can smell the burn, the smell of dead bodies. And you could also see body parts in and around the village.”
According to U.N. figures, government-backed forces in Syria have killed more than 10,000 people during the more than year-long uprising against the Assad regime.
President Obama took criticism from Republicans over the weekend after saying the private sector is “doing fine.” Obama was comparing the private sector’s gain of 4.3 million jobs in the past 27 months to the public sector’s loss of 550,000 jobs over the same period. On Friday, Obama clarified his stance.
President Obama: “The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak and too many homes under water. And that’s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference. What I’ve been saying consistently over the last year, we’ve actually seen some good momentum in the private sector. We’ve seen 4.3 million jobs created, 800,000 this year alone, record corporate profits. And so that has not been the biggest drag on the economy.”
While Obama’s comments drew widespread scrutiny, Republican candidate Mitt Romney drew far less media attention after openly attacking the hiring of firefighters, police officers, and teachers. Speaking in Iowa on Friday, Romney invoked the recent election in Wisconsin to criticize Obama for pushing a measure to help states regain public sector jobs.
Mitt Romney: “He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two prosecutors to head a probe into recent leaks of information on classified government programs. Holder announced the investigation after bipartisan anger over published reports revealing President Obama’s secret “kill list” as well as the U.S.-Israeli use of cyberweapons to target Iran’s nuclear program. The FBI had already announced a probe of the cyberweapons operation last week. In appointing the prosecutors, Holder rebuffed calls from lawmakers to appoint an independent special counsel outside of his office’s control. At a White House news conference on Friday, President Obama rejected suggestions the leaks may have come from his administration to bolster his re-election bid.
President Obama: “The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.”
Wildfires are continuing to spread through parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as high temperatures fan the flames. The High Park Fire in Colorado has already scorched more than 20,000 acres of land amid high winds and temperatures above 90 degrees. More than 1,800 people have been evacuated across the four states.
New figures meanwhile show 2012 continues to be the warmest year on record in the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this spring has been the warmest of all time, and last month was the second-warmest May since record keeping began more than a century ago. The average temperature for the 48 states not including Alaska and Hawaii from March through May was more than five degrees higher than the 20th century average.
New figures show this year’s military suicide rate is on pace to reach a record high. The Pentagon says there have been at least 154 suicides among active-duty troops through last Thursday, a rate of nearly one each day. The figure marks an 18 percent increase over the same period a year ago. More U.S. soldiers have died by taking their own lives than been killed on the battlefield.
Spain has agreed to accept a European Union bailout offer of up to $125 billion for its debt-ridden banks. The move makes Spain the fourth and largest European country to accept emergency international aid as part of the continent-wide sovereign debt crisis. Details on the terms of the deal have been kept under wraps, with no mention of new austerity measures that have sparked an uproar across Europe. After the bailout was announced, demonstrators with Spain’s Indignado movement gathered in Madrid to protest.
Mari Paz: “We are saying that this is a scam precisely because the aid should not be for the banks. It should be for the citizens who are the most affected by this crisis, not the bankers. I don’t think they are doing as badly as the citizens. The crisis has its origin in the markets, not in the citizens.”
In Iraq, at least six people have been killed and 38 wounded in a bombing of a crowded square in Baghdad. The attack targeted a gathering of Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims.
Hundreds of people rallied in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Sunday to protest the screening of a new film honoring the late military dictator, Augusto Pinochet. The premiere of the film, titled “Pinochet,” drew a number of former ministers and army generals who served under his regime. Protesters came under assault from supporters of the film, who threw rocks, eggs and red paint at the large crowd. Lorena Pizarro, head of a group representing victims of the regime, denounced the attacks on protesters.
Lorena Pizarro: “They are violators of human rights, and today this is the only response that they have: to suppress us, to be violent towards us, to mistreat us and abandon [their country]. And they, those genociders, are inside the [theater].”
Three people were killed in Auburn, Alabama, on Sunday after an argument at an apartment complex turned violent. Two of the victims were former members of the Auburn University football team. Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson announced the deaths.
Tommy Dawson: “It’s sickening that these young lives were cut short, and also the shooter is such a young man. You know, as a society, we’ve got to learn the value of life again. If I could bring them back today to their parents, I would. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. And to the parents and the families of these victims, I am very sorry. Please let it be known, we’re grieving with you.”
In other gun violence nationwide, four people were killed in an apparent gang-related shooting in Sacramento on Sunday, and four people died when a father in California’s Fresno County killed his wife and two children before taking his own life.
And a group of Latin musicians has won a campaign for the Grammy Awards to reinstate the category of Best Latin Jazz Album following its elimination last year. Latin jazz was among dozens of ethnic music award categories cut from the annual event by the Recording Academy in a controversial move. Last August, four Latin jazz artists filed a lawsuit with the New York Supreme Court claiming that the dropping of such categories had adversely affected their careers. The suit was dismissed in April, but after continued campaigning, the Recording Academy announced the award’s reinstatement on Friday.