Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is scheduled to retire June 30, visited Afghanistan for a farewell tour and met with coalition troops in bases around the country. Gates said troops were about to deliver a “decisive blow” to the Taliban and that they were preparing to “turn a corner” in the nearly decade-old conflict.
As he prepares to leave office, Gates is facing pressure from within elements of the Obama administration to speed up the pace of troop withdrawals, scheduled to begin in July, but said at this juncture it is necessary to maintain the pressure on the Taliban.
There are roughly 100,000 U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan.
Syrian Town Fears Retaliation After Weekend Violence
The Syrian government claimed 120 people, including members of its security forces, were killed over the weekend in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, near the border with Turkey in what it calls a “massacre” perpetrated by “armed gangs.” There are conflicting reports from state media, opposition figures and witnesses as to the number killed or who was primarily responsible for the casualties.
The identity of all groups involved in the fighting remain murky, and outside media is not allowed to report on the conflict in Syria. According to the New York Times:
The town was the target of a military operation that began on Saturday night. Attacks using helicopter gunships and armored cars mounted with machine guns killed more than two dozen people and drew forces from other cities like Latakia and Homs, said activists in those towns.
On Tuesday residents were on edge after the government warned that it will move “with force” to restore order in the city.
Messages, reportedly from residents, popped up on Facebook with pleas for help and protection from government forces. There were also videos on YouTube showing footage of dead bodies. Some communication around the town has been cut off.
19 Reported Killed in Yemen Clashes
Violence continues unabated in Yemen, despite the absence of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after being injured in an attack on his compound. According to reports cited by the Associated Press, 19 people, including children, were killed Tuesday after fighters believed to be Muslim militants fought government forces in the southern town of Abyan. There has also been fighting in recent days in Taiz, near the presidential residence.
Saleh has said he will return following successful surgery to remove shrapnel lodged in his body, but many fear Yemen is sliding toward civil war between government forces, protesters and separatist groups.
Despite an alliance with the United States based on battling an al-Qaida offshoot in the country, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a peaceful transition of power after four months of unrest.
Japan Doubles Radiation Level Figures, Says 3 Reactors Melted Down
Nearly three months after a massive tsunami and earthquake hit Japan’s northeast coast and crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, Japan’s nuclear safety agency doubled the amount of radiation it says was released by the plant — now gauged at 770,000 terabecquerels.
That amount, which represents less than a fifth of the level released in the Chernobyl accident, raises concerns about how far the radiation could spread. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency released its report ahead of a larger inquiry into the causes of the disaster.
Workers are still attempting to shut down the plant, a process that could take another seven months.
The report also says reactors 1, 2 and 3 melted down, possibly earlier than believed. Tokyo Electric Power Company had shied away from classifying the early damage as a full meltdown.