Troops in Afghanistan Mark Christmas at War

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(SHARANA, Afghanistan) -- American troops in Afghanistan spend Christmas away from their families and, in some cases, in the company of Afghan soldiers, who are key to the American exit strategy.

Creating a competent army and police force capable of taking over security duties in the country is not easy. On a recent mission to capture Taliban militants, Afghan soldiers accompanied Army Lt. Col. Dave Womack of the 506th Infantry Regiment's 1st Battalion.

 “The trick is putting them out front,” Womack told ABC News Radio’s Aaron Katersky, who is embedded with the troops. But putting the Afghan Army’s leadership out front is not always possible. For this mission, Womack’s counterpart never showed up.

“He sent his soldiers and he didn’t come, so I’m going to go have a nice little meeting about leadership,” Womack said.

Lack of leadership is a problem throughout the Afghan National Army. They are finding plenty of recruits, but need to produce more officers.

“There are guys that are amazing,” Womack said. “It’s just not to the level you’d like.”

Womack also suspects the loyalties of some Afghan troops are compromised, so he gives them no advance word on missions, making training more complicated.

The U.S. and NATO have said they would like to hand over security operations to the Afghans in 2014.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Pope Calls for Peace, Coexistence in Christmas Mass

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Christmas at the Vatican on Saturday, where he conducted Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

He called on Catholics to remember that Christmas marks the birth of Christ, and urged peace around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

"May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful co-existence," Benedict said.

He also hoped this season would bring consolation to Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

The pope criticized China for imposing limits on religious freedom among Catholics in the country.

He greeted the thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square, before dining at the Vatican with some of Rome's homeless.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Police Arrest 12 Somalis on Terror Charges

File photo. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands) -- Dutch police have reportedly arrested a dozen Somalis suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in the Netherlands.

Prosecutors say the men - aged between 19 and 48, and mostly from the Rotterdam area - were arrested based on intelligence that alleges they were in the process of preparing an attack in the country.

A number homes were searched, but no weapons or explosives have been found.

Authorities continue to question the men.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Female Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens in Pakistan

Photo Courtesy - ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images(KHAR, Pakistan) -- At least 40 people were killed and another 50 injured when a suspected female suicide bomber attacked a crowd of people receiving aid Saturday in a tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

“She threw a hand grenade, and before the security force could respond, she detonated herself,” an area official told The New York Times.

Several of the victims were reportedly children.

The attack is the latest in a string of violence in northwest Pakistan.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Indian Police Search for Four Suspected Terrorists in Mumbai

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MUMBAI, India) -- A terror alert has been issued in Mumbai, India, where police are searching for four men suspected of entering the city with plans to carry out a terrorist attack.

Indian police believe the men belong to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group based in Pakistan that was allegedly responsible for the three-day terrorist siege in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.

The group is planning to strike over the holidays, around the Christmas and New Year festivities, according to police.

"It is going to be a violent attack which will cause disruptions," said Himanshu Roy, the joint commissioner of the Mumbai Police at a news conference. "The four have recently arrived in Mumbai. We believe the threat is serious."

"We are not in a position to reveal their nationalities now but they are LeT members," said Roy, who did release the sketch of one of the four suspected militants.

The four men were named as Abdul Karim Musa, Walid Jinnah, Noor Abul Elahi and Mehfooz Alam.

Police put additional men on duty in public places and set up checkpoints along the city's major roads Friday. They closed roads near the Gateway of India landmark and the Taj Mahal hotel. Traffic and activity in most of Mumbai, however, has remained normal.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Strike and Freezing Temps Leave Thousands Stranded at Paris Airport

Photo Courtesy - PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Thousands will be spending Christmas Eve at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris. Freezing temperatures and a shortage of de-icing fluid brought on by a strike have grounded planes.

Roissy-Charles de Gaulle received a supply of de-icing fluid from the United States Friday morning after workers went on strike at the main French glycol factory. Authorities were forced to cancel half of the flights -- about 400 -- scheduled to leave the airport this morning.

Freezing weather meant more cancellations in the afternoon, and for security reasons, passengers were evacuated from a section of one of the airport's main terminals that was covered in large amounts of snow.

Rescuers from the French Protection Civile set up hundreds of camp beds for stranded passengers to sleep on.

Getting people home is "our goal for tonight," said Air France ground official Michel Emeyriat on the iTele TV channel. He said that priority would go to long-haul flights. "We will do everything so that our planes can take off with everyone."

"On a day like today, we would normally have had around 25,000 flights across Europe by now," Rena Fakhouri, a spokeswoman for the air safety organization Eurocontrol told The New York Times. "By contrast, we've had about 15,500 so far today."

In Germany, the Frankfurt Airport remains open, but large amounts of snow shut down Duesseldorf Airport for several hours Friday morning. About 65 flights were canceled. The weather affected Germany's railway system as well. The railway line between Berlin and Hannover was closed Thursday night because of ice covering the overhead electric wires. The line reopened early Friday morning.

Many flights at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam were delayed or canceled.

Ninety-five percent of flights at London's Heathrow Airport are still on schedule, with some airlines even adding extra flights to clear out the airport's stranded passengers. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Chilean Miners Invited to Visit Walt Disney World

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(BURBANK, Calif.) – The Walt Disney Company has given a well-deserved holiday gift to the Chilean miners and their families.

The workers, who spent almost 70 days trapped in a mine in Chile, have been invited to spend a week vacationing at Walt Disney World Resort next month.

The complementary stay will include visits to all four theme parks, meet and greets with Disney characters, gift cards and honorary roles in the Main Street, U.S.A. parade.

"The amazing story of these miners captured the attention of the world for demonstrating the true power and resilience of the human spirit," said Disney President and CEO Bob Iger. "We are proud to welcome these courageous men and their families to the Walt Disney World Resort."

The miners and their immediate family members will arrive at the resort on Jan. 27.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Packages Explode at Two Embassies in Rome; Injuries Reported

Photo Courtesy - Filippo Monteforte /AFP/Getty Images(ROME) -- A package exploded at both the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome Thursday, injuring one person in each location, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.  A suspicious package sent to the Ukrainian Embassy was also reported, but it contained no explosive material.

The explosions prompted authorities to check all embassies and consulates in Rome.

A device went off in the Swiss embassy's mailroom immediately after the package was opened.  One embassy employee, a clerk, suffered wounds to both hands.  He was rushed to the hospital and is listed in serious condition.

Another package exploded at the Chilean embassy and wounded one person.  That package was an identical envelope to the one delivered to the Swiss Embassy.  The parcels were about the size of a videocassette, sources told ABC News.

Law enforcement officials believe anarchists are behind the bombings.

The explosions follow the discovery of a rudimentary device in an empty subway car on the outskirt of Rome Tuesday.  Also over the past week, Italy has witnessed a number of anti-government protests, with some violence seen on the streets of Rome.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


South Korea Holds Military Drills; Receives No Threats from North

Photo Courtesy - Korea Pool/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- South Korea's army and air force held a large military exercise on its border Thursday, with criticism but no threats from North Korea.

The drills were held in the Pocheon region, close to the north-south border.  It was the largest combined army and air force drill during winter time.  Units involved included tanks, three dozen self propelled artillery, fighter jets and multiple rocket launchers.

In contrast to threats in recent weeks, North Korea had a muted response to the drills.  It said Thursday that South Korea is trying to hide provocative nature toward the north.  The response was part of a comment in the form of a news dispatch rather than in the name of the government wing.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Russia Welcomes Senate's Ratification of Nuclear Treaty

Photo Courtesy - Sasha Mordovets/ Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russia has welcomed news of the U.S. Senate’s ratification of the START treaty.

On Thursday, Russian President Medvedev’s press secretary said he is “satisfied to learn that the U.S. Senate ratified the new START treaty and expressed the hope that the Duma and the Federation Council will be prepared to consider this issue and also ratify the document.”

The precise timing of ratification by Russia’s parliament isn’t clear but it will likely be in the coming days or weeks.  It will go through the Duma  -- the lower house -- before going up to the Federation Council, which is the upper house.

The speaker of the Duma said the treaty could be ratified as early as Friday if they approve of the wording in the Senate resolution which they have yet to see.  The head of the foreign affairs committee in the Federation Council said that they are ready to ratify as soon as the Duma passes it.

The Senate voted 71-26 Wednesday to ratify the U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons control treaty.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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