US Army sergeant kills 16 Afghan civilians in shooting spree, threatening US-Afghan relations
BALANDI, Afghanistan (AP) -- Moving from house to house, a U.S. Army sergeant opened fire Sunday on Afghan villagers as they slept, killing 16 people -- mostly women and children -- in an attack that reignited fury at the U.S. presence following a wave of deadly protests over Americans burning Qurans.
The attack threatened the deepest breach yet in U.S.-Afghan relations, raising questions both in Washington and Kabul about why American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan after 10 years of conflict and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The slayings, one of the worst atrocities committed by U.S. forces during the Afghan war, came amid deepening public outrage spurred by last month's Quran burnings and an earlier video purportedly showing U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban militants.
The Quran burnings sparked weeks of violent protests and attacks that left some 30 Afghans dead, despite an apology from President Barack Obama. Six U.S. service members were also killed by their fellow Afghan soldiers, although the tensions had just started to calm down.
According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Sunday's attack began around 3 a.m. in two villages in Panjwai district, a rural region outside Kandahar that is the cradle of the Taliban and where coalition forces have fought for control for years. The villages are about 500 yards (meters) from a U.S. base in a region that was the focus of Obama's military surge strategy in the south starting in 2009.
US officials scramble to contain damage from Afghanistan shooting spree
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta both called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express their condolences after an American soldier in Afghanistan wandered off base and allegedly gunned down 16 villagers, and Panetta vowed to "bring those responsible to justice."
In a statement released Sunday by the White House, Obama said, "This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan."
Panetta said a full investigation was already under way.
A U.S. official said the suspect is a conventional soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Another U.S. official said the sergeant is married and has two children. He served three tours in Iraq, and had been serving his first deployment in Afghanistan since December.
A look at major questions surrounding the decade-long Afghan war
A look at major questions surrounding the decade-long Afghan war:
Why is the U.S. in Afghanistan?
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 because the Taliban were harboring al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks. After the Taliban regrouped in 2005 and 2006, President Barack Obama ramped up U.S. involvement in the war after taking office in 2009. He said the goal was to reverse Taliban gains and "disrupt, defeat and dismantle" al-Qaida and its extremist allies who were allied with the Taliban.
GOP hopefuls dig in before pivotal contests in Miss., Ala.; polls show tight 3-way battle
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on Sunday nudged rival Newt Gingrich to step aside, arguing a head-to-head contest between himself and Mitt Romney should "occur sooner rather than later." A defiant Gingrich predicted victories in Tuesday's primaries in Alabama and Mississippi and called Romney the weakest GOP front-runner in nearly a century.
Santorum and Gingrich were campaigning hard two days before what has become a potentially decisive Southern showdown for the Republican contenders battling to challenge President Barack Obama in the fall.
Losing Alabama and Mississippi would effectively spell the end for Gingrich, who has banked his waning prospects on an all-Southern strategy. The former House speaker's lone primary wins have been in South Carolina and Georgia, a state he represented in Congress for 20 years.
A win for Romney in Alabama, where polling shows a tight contest between Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, could all but bring the GOP nominating contest to a close.
The former Massachusetts governor has built a substantial delegate lead against his rivals but has failed so far to win a state in the deep South, home to the Republican Party's most dedicated base voters. An Alabama victory would provide a key breakthrough for Romney among the socially conservative and evangelical voters who have thus far proven resistant to his candidacy.
International push to end Syria crisis stalls as U.N.'s Annan fails to stop violence
BEIRUT (AP) -- An international push to end Syria's conflict stalled Sunday as U.N. envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus without a cease-fire and President Bashar Assad's forces pounded opposition areas and clashed with rebels throughout the country.
Western and Arab powers are struggling for ways to stem the bloodshed in the year-old conflict while both the regime and the opposition reject dialogue. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appeared to make little progress during two visits with Assad during his first trip to Syria as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy.
Annan was seeking an immediate cease-fire to allow for humanitarian aid and the start of a dialogue between all parties on a political solution. After meeting with Assad on Sunday, Annan said he had presented steps to ease the crisis, but gave no details.
"Once it's agreed, it will help launch the process and help end the crisis on the ground," he told reporters. He called for "reforms that will create a strong foundation for a democratic Syria -- a peaceful, stable, pluralistic and prosperous society, based on the rule of law and respect for human rights."
But he said a cease-fire must come first.
If Obama's health law survives Supreme Court, it will take nearly a decade to put into effect
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It took only a year to set up Medicare. But if President Barack Obama's health care law survives Supreme Court scrutiny, it will be nearly a decade before all its major pieces are in place.
And that means even if Obama is re-elected, he won't be in office to oversee completion of his signature domestic policy accomplishment, assuming Republicans don't succeed in repealing it.
The law's carefully orchestrated phase-in is evidence of what's at stake in the Supreme Court deliberations that start March 26.
The Affordable Care Act gradually reorganizes one-sixth of the U.S. economy to cover most of the nation's 50 million uninsured, while simultaneously trying to restrain costs and prevent disruptions to the majority already with coverage.
Despite the political rhetoric about what "Obamacare" is doing to the nation, only a fraction of the law is in effect.
Double sacrifice: Arkansas family copes with grief after 2 sons killed in Afghanistan conflict
PRESCOTT, Ark. (AP) -- When their older brother Jeremy died in Afghanistan, Ben and Beau Wise did what loyal brothers and soldiers do. They stood solemnly in uniform at his memorial, laid red roses in front of his picture, and Ben spoke bravely to a chapel full of loved ones who came to mourn.
Soldiers themselves, Ben and Beau knew what their fallen brother had experienced and seen. They knew the difficulties of being a warrior and a devoted husband, and what a testament it was to Jeremy's character that he had excelled at both.
"Jeremy, I miss you and I love you, brother," Ben said. "And see you again."
Two years later, Ben died at a hospital in Germany after an insurgent attack left him with injuries that first cost him his legs, then cost him his life. He was 34, a year younger than Jeremy was when a suicide bomber killed him at a CIA base where he was working as a defense contractor.
For a family that had already paid the highest price of war, it was time for another funeral, another eulogy, another grave.
Brazil's new consumer class flocks to US for bargains, filling suitcases, reviving economies
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- The overstuffed bags filling Fernando Mello's luggage cart wobbled precariously as the gym owner made his way home one morning through Rio's international airport. Navigating the terminal, Mello was part of a horde of other Brazilian travelers returning with loot found in the strip malls and discount outlets of southern Florida.
Mello's girlfriend's freshly purchased Michael Kors handbag in gold lame sat atop four bulging suitcases like a shining crown -- a testament to the newfound consumer power of Brazilian travelers, who now spend more per capita than any other visitors to the U.S.
In fact, Brazilians are spending so much that flights with Brazil's top airline TAM originating in the U.S. have had to carry more fuel to accommodate the dramatically overweight baggage.
"We left with nothing, just a piece of hand luggage," said the 30-year-old Mello. "We go to the U.S. once a year, stay in great hotels, have a fantastic holiday and shop till we drop and it's still cheaper than shopping in Brazil. It's a no-brainer."
According to the latest statistics, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion in the U.S. in 2010 in a tsunami of cash that's shifting American immigration practices and boosting economies in hard-hit parts of the U.S. that remain in the doldrums.
Amateurs hunt malware, perfect firewalls and fend off mock hacks in UK cyber-competition
BRISTOL, England (AP) -- Amateur cybersleuths have been hunting malware, raising firewalls and fending off mock hack attacks in a series of simulations supported in part by Britain's eavesdropping agency.
The games are intended to pull badly-needed talent into the country's burgeoning cybersecurity sector, according to former security minister Pauline Neville-Jones, who spoke at a closing ceremony held Sunday at the Science Museum in the English port city of Bristol.
"The flow of people we have at the moment is wholly inadequate," she said, warning of a skills gap "which threatens the economic future of this country."
The exercises, dubbed the Cyber Security Challenge, are intended to help bridge that gap, drawing thousands of participants who spent weeks shoring up vulnerable home networks, cracking weak codes and combing through corrupted hard drives in a series of tests designed by companies such as U.K. defense contractor QinetiQ and data security firm Sophos.
The challenge was supported in part by British signals intelligence agency GCHQ and Scotland Yard's e-crimes unit -- a sign of the government's concern with supporting a rapidly-developing field.
Upsets but no surprises: Kentucky, Syracuse, N. Carolina get top seeds despite losses
Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina tried to manufacture some chaos before the brackets came out. Like a group of 7-foot forwards roaming the middle, the members of the NCAA selection committee simply swatted all that noise away.
Even though they lost over the weekend, the Wildcats, Orange and Tar Heels turned out to be what they thought they were: top seeds -- all armed with a well-timed bit of humble pie as they gear up for a run through the NCAA tournament they hope will end at the Final Four in New Orleans.
"It's done now," Kentucky coach John Calipari said of the 24-game winning streak that ended Sunday with a surprising loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament final. "Now let's just go onto these three weekends. We've got a weekend in front of us. It's going to be a bear. Know what? Good. Throw anything you want to at us."
Michigan State earned the last No. 1 seed and was the only one of the four top-billed teams to win its conference tournament. The Spartans defeated Ohio State 68-64 in the Big Ten title game Sunday -- a contest widely viewed as the game for the last No. 1 seed, even if selection committee chairman Jeff Hathaway wouldn't quite go there.
"As it turned out, this game put the No. 1 seed into the field," he said.