WASHINGTON (AP) — The debate over how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 comes down to risky business.
There is a risk that leaving too few troops after 2014 would stop or stall the already slow development of the Afghan army and police, whose competence — and that of the Afghan government as a whole — is crucial to ending the war successfully.
On the other hand, keeping too many foreign troops beyond 2014 might only prolong Afghanistan's dependence upon them, while Western forces absorb even more casualties. Perhaps the greatest risk is that a wrong calculation by the U.S. on troop levels could enable the Taliban and affiliated insurgents to regain lost territory and influence.
President Barack Obama has pledged to wind down the 11-year-old war, even as Congress presses for an accelerated withdrawal. The intent, approved by NATO in 2010, is to remove combat forces by the end of 2014 but to continue yet-to-be-defined security assistance.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has described the broad outlines of a post-2014 plan that amounts to a scaled-down version of what U.S. and NATO forces are already doing: fighting terrorists, training and assisting the Afghan forces, and providing logistical support.
Workers who escaped fire at Bangladesh garment factory want old jobs back, fear loss of pay
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — As 112 of her co-workers died in a garment-factory fire, Dipa Akter got out by jumping from the third floor through a hole made by breaking apart an exhaust fan. Her left leg is wrapped in bandages and she has trouble walking.
Now she wants back in.
"If the factory owner reopens the factory sometime soon, we will work again here," the 19-year-old said. "If it's closed for long, we have to think of alternatives."
Major retailers whose products were found in the fire have disavowed the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory, but workers who survived have not. They can't afford to.
Factories like the one gutted Nov. 24 are a rare lifeline in this desperately poor country, and now many of the more than 1,200 surviving employees have no work and few prospects.
APNewsBreak: DNA of John Wayne Gacy, other executed inmates, could help solve coldest cases
CHICAGO (AP) — Detectives have long wondered what secrets serial killer John Wayne Gacy and other condemned murderers took to the grave when they were executed — mostly whether they had other unknown victims.
Now, in a game of scientific catch-up, the Cook County Sheriff's Department is trying to be creative: They've created DNA profiles of Gacy and others and figured out they could get the executed men entered in a national database shared with other law enforcement agencies because the murderers were technically listed as homicide victims themselves when they were put to death by the state.
The department's hope is to find matches of DNA evidence from blood, semen or strands of hair, or skin under the fingernails of victims that link the long-dead killers to the coldest of cold cases. And they're hoping to prompt authorities in other states to submit the DNA of their own executed inmates or from decades-old crime scenes.
"You just know some of these guys did other murders" that were never solved, said Jason Moran, the sheriffs' detective leading the effort, noting that some of the executed killers ranged all over the country before the convictions that put them behind bars for the last time.
5 states to extend classroom time for almost 20,000 students in bid to boost achievement
WASHINGTON (AP) — Open your notebooks and sharpen your pencils. School for thousands of public school students is about to get quite a bit longer.
Five states were to announce Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.
The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools, with long-term hopes of expanding the program to include additional schools — especially those that serve low-income communities. Schools, working in concert with districts, parents and teachers, will decide whether to make the school day longer, add more days to the school year or both.
A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs of expanded learning time, with the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning also chipping in resources. In Massachusetts, the program builds on the state's existing expanded-learning program. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy is hailing it as a natural outgrowth of an education reform law the state passed in May that included about $100 million in new funding, much of it to help the neediest schools.
Spending more time in the classroom, education officials said, will give students access to a more well-rounded curriculum that includes arts and music, individualized help for students who fall behind and opportunities to reinforce critical math and science skills.
Suspect in Alaska barista murder found dead in cell, police cite links to 7 other killings
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Investigators say a man found dead of an apparent suicide in an Alaska jail was not only suspected of killing an Anchorage barista but may be linked to seven other possible slayings around the country.
Israel Keyes, who had also confessed to killing a Vermont couple, was found dead in his cell Sunday, authorities said at a news conference that included U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler, the FBI, and Anchorage police.
Keyes was facing a March trial in Anchorage federal court for the murder of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig, who was abducted from a coffee kiosk in the city last February. He was later arrested in Texas after using the victim's debit card.
Anchorage police chief Mark Mew said Keyes confessed to killing Koenig, as well as killing Bill and Lorraine Currier of Essex, Vt.
The bodies of the Curriers have never been found. They were last seen leaving their jobs on June 8, 2011. Co-workers reported them missing the next day.
Senate dodges sticky issue of gun rights for mentally incompetent veterans in defense bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — Should veterans deemed too mentally incompetent to handle their own financial affairs be prevented from buying a gun?
The issue, for a time last week, threatened to become the biggest sticking point in a $631 billion defense bill for reshaping a military that is disengaging from a decade of warfare.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sought to amend the bill to stop the Veterans Affairs Department from putting the names of veterans deemed too mentally incompetent to handle their finances into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which prohibits them from buying or owning firearms.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., objected, saying the measure would make it easier for veterans with mental illness to own a gun, endangering themselves and others.
"I love our veterans, I vote for them all the time. They defend us," Schumer said. "If you are a veteran or not and you have been judged to be mentally infirm, you should not have a gun."
Japan orders immediate inspection of 49 tunnels following collapse that killed 9 people
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese officials ordered the immediate inspection of tunnels across the country Monday after nine people were killed when concrete ceiling slabs fell from the roof of a highway tunnel onto moving vehicles below.
Those killed in Sunday's accident were traveling in three vehicles in the 4.7-kilometer (3-mile) long Sasago Tunnel about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tokyo. The tunnel, on a highway that links the capital to central Japan, opened in 1977 and is one of many in the mountainous country.
The transport ministry ordered that inspections be carried out immediately on 49 other tunnels around the country that are either on highways or roads managed by the central government and of similar construction.
Police and the highway operator Central Japan Expressway Co. were investigating why the concrete slabs in the Sasago Tunnel collapsed. An inspection of the tunnel's roof in September found nothing amiss, according to Satoshi Noguchi, a company official.
An estimated 270 concrete slabs, each weighing 1.4 metric tons (1.54 short tons), suspended from the arched roof of the tunnel fell over a stretch of about 110 meters (120 yards), Noguchi said.
Friend: 'Normal couple stuff' preceded Chiefs Belcher's slaying of his girlfriend, suicide
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — As investigators search for a motive to help explain why Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself, a discordant picture of the couple began to emerge.
Belcher and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, had lived apart briefly earlier in the year but had gotten back together by Thanksgiving, according to a friend of Perkins.
Brianne York, 21, said Sunday the couple, who had a 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, argued about "normal couple stuff" but that her friend was "really happy about being a mom."
When she learned Saturday that Belcher had fatally shot Perkins at the couples' home, York said, she thought someone must have been mistaken.
Afterward, Belcher drove about five miles to Arrowhead Stadium, where he thanked general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel for all they'd done for him. Belcher then fatally shot himself in the practice facility's parking lot, police said.
David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, Led Zeppelin among 7 receiving Kennedy Center Honors in DC
WASHINGTON (AP) — David Letterman's "stupid human tricks" and Top 10 lists vaulted into the ranks of cultural acclaim Sunday night as the late-night comedian received this year's Kennedy Center Honors with rock band Led Zeppelin, an actor, a ballerina and a bluesman.
Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world joined President Barack Obama at the White House on Sunday night to salute the honorees, whose ranks also include actor Dustin Hoffman, Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy and ballerina Natalia Makarova.
The honors are the nation's highest award for those who influenced American culture through the arts. The recipients were later saluted by fellow performers at the Kennedy Center Opera House in a show to be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.
Obama drew laughs from his guests when he described the honorees as "some extraordinary people who have no business being on the same stage together."
Noting that Guy made his first guitar strings using the wire from a window screen, he quipped, "That worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitoes were getting in."
Romo breaks Dallas record for TD passes as Cowboys hand Eagles 8th straight loss, 38-33
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Tony Romo knows what matters the most when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. So while it's nice to break Troy Aikman's franchise record for career touchdown passes, he's focused on getting his team to the playoffs.
Romo threw three second-half touchdown passes to answer a strong game by Philadelphia's rookie duo of Bryce Brown and Nick Foles, and the Cowboys sent the Eagles to their eighth straight loss with a 38-33 victory Sunday night.
The first two scoring tosses from Romo erased seven-point deficits, including a 23-yarder to Dez Bryant that was vintage Romo and broke Aikman's career mark of 165 TD passes. Romo scrambled to his right and threw back across the field to Bryant, who weaved through the Philadelphia defense to tie it at 17 in the third quarter.
Romo tied it again at 24 on a throw to Miles Austin, and had one more answer after Brown and Foles led the Eagles to a go-ahead field goal. He threw deep to Bryant for 35 yards on third down, and Bryant found his way into the end zone again by taking a screen pass 6 yards just inside the pylon for a 31-27 lead with 5:40 remaining in the game.
"It's about winning games," said Romo, who was 10 of 10 in the second half and completed his last 12 passes. "We desperately had to have this win tonight, and our team fought like heck to get a win."