ISLAMABAD (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Pakistan Monday for meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the nation's new army chief, hoping to further repair a strained and sputtering relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
His visit comes on the heels of the latest interruption of U.S. military shipments out of Afghanistan through the main border crossings into Pakistan. Anti-American protests along the route in Pakistan prompted the U.S. to stop the shipments from Torkham Gate through Karachi last week, due to worries about the safety of the truckers.
The protests center on the CIA's drone program, which has targeted and killed many terrorists but has also caused civilian casualties. Pakistan has called the drone attacks a violation of the country's sovereignty, but the issue is muddied by the fact that Islamabad and the Pakistani military have supported at least some of the strikes in the past.
Shireen Mazari, the information secretary for the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said in a statement Monday it's time for the government to speak forcefully to the U.S. to demand an end to the drone attacks. The party is leading the protests.
The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following U.S. airstrikes that accidentally killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the U.S. apologized.
The rift led the U.S. to sever most aid to Pakistan for some time, but relations were restored in July 2012. Since then, the U.S. has delivered more than $1.15 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, including advanced communications equipment, roadside bomb jammers, night vision goggles and surveillance aircraft.
A senior defense official said these issues will come up in Hagel's meetings, and acknowledged the lingering tensions between the two countries. Over the past year, relations between Washington and Islamabad have been improving, and Sharif met with President Barack Obama and Hagel in late October in Washington.
Hagel is expected to tell Pakistani leaders that the U.S. wants the border crossings to remain open, said the defense official, who was not authorized to discuss the private meeting plans publicly and requested anonymity.
The U.S. has also been frustrated by Pakistan's unwillingness to target the Haqqani terrorist network, which operates along the border and conducts attacks on U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Defense officials said Hagel will be the first high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Gen. Rahaeel Sharil, who took over as head of Pakistan's powerful Army at the end of last month.
Following their meeting in Rawalpindi, Hagel and Sharil echoed each other's desire to work to strengthen the countries' relationship.
The last Pentagon chief to visit Pakistan was Robert Gates in January 2010.
Hagel flew to Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he visited U.S. troops but declined to meet with President Hamid Karzai, who has rankled the U.S. by refusing to sign a security agreement before year's end.
Friends and family are preparing to say goodbye to a Belleville man killed in a mortar attack in Afghanistan.
Sixty-four year old Albert Haas was a civilian aircraft mechanic working at Bagram Air Force Base. He and a female coworker were killed last Friday (Nov. 29) when a rocket struck a barracks building.
Haas was a graduate of Althoff Catholic High School, and served 30 years in the military. He leaves behind a wife and three adult children.
Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at George Renner & Sons Funeral Home in Belleville. There will be a funeral service at the funeral home Friday at 9 a.m. Then Haas will be buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - A Springfield man is one of four soldiers killed in an attack in Afghanistan.
The Army announced Tuesday that 24-year-old Special Agent Joseph M. Peters and the three other soldiers died Sunday in Kandahar Province when their unit was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Peters was assigned to the 5th Military Police Battalion from Vicenza, Italy. He was a special agent assigned to the 286th Military Police Detachment.
He served two deployments in Iraq before being assigned to Afghanistan.
Peters is survived by a wife and 20-month-old son.
Crews at Scott Air Force Base have a massive project ahead of them.
The workers are in charge of moving military equipment out of Afghanistan back to the US. Troops are withdrawing from the country at the end of next year.
In total, 750,000 pieces of equipment with a value of $36 billion will be brought back. About $7 billion worth of equipment will be left behind of destroyed.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghan authorities say a battle with insurgents near Kabul's international airport has ended and all the attackers have been killed. A Ministry of Interior spokesman says two civilians were wounded in Monday's attack that was apparently targeting NATO's airport headquarters. The attackers had rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and at least one large bomb.
A deputy Kabul police chief says there were seven attackers. Two blew themselves up with suicide vests and five were shot and killed by police.
It was unclear if the attack had damaged facilities inside the airport. The attackers had taken over a four- to five- story building under construction nearby.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
It was the latest in a series of attacks against the capital this year.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A bus collided on Friday with the wreckage of a truck that was attacked by Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, killing 30 people aboard the bus in a fiery crash, officials said.
The battered truck was left in the middle of a narrow road on the border of Helmand and Kandahar provinces for several days after insurgents opened fire on it. Police considered the area too dangerous to enter, the officials said.
Before sunrise Friday, the bus smashed into the truck and both vehicles burst into flames, badly burning many of the bus passengers, said Abdul Razaq, the provincial police chief of Kandahar.
Razaq said eight passengers were injured. Omar Zawak, the governor's spokesman in Helmand province, put the injury total at 11. Both said the casualties included men, women and children.
The bus began its journey in the capital of Helmand province and was scheduled to stop in Kandahar city, then travel north to Kabul, the Afghan capital, Razaq said.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Officials say a helicopter owned by an Afghan company has made an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan, and the insurgents took all nine people who were aboard hostage.
A district administrator in the area says the helicopter landed on Sunday afternoon in strong winds and rain in a village of Logar province, southeast of Kabul and about 30 kilometers (or 20 miles) from the Pakistan border.
Hamidullah Hamid said on Monday that the Taliban captured all nine aboard the aircraft and took them from the area. He says the crew and passengers are all civilian.
Logar deputy police chief, Rais Khan Abdul Rahimzai, says the helicopter is owned by the Khaorasan company. He didn't know what cargo it was carrying or where it was heading.
The shooting took place while the troops were visiting the facility to help train the Afghans, a key part of the U.S. handover strategy before combat troops leave in 2014. According to coalition officials, the shooting also left several wounded.
A joint U.S.-Afghan team is investigating the shooting.
This latest insider attack in Wardak, a restive province in the country's east, comes one day after a deadline set by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for all U.S. Special Forces to leave the province. Karzai set the deadline two weeks ago, after accusing Afghans who work for U.S. Special Forces of harassing, torturing and murdering innocent civilians.
The attack also comes just a day after new U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's trip to Afghanistan, one marred by controversy.
Osama bin Laden's Son-in-Law Pleads Not Guilty in NYC Court Watch Video On Saturday, a suicide bomber on a bicycle struck just outside the Afghan Ministry of Defense, one of the most heavily fortified buildings in the country. At least nine Afghan civilians were killed. Though Hagel was in a meeting at a coalition military base at the time and never in any danger, nearby bases were put into lockdown, and reporters travelling with Hagel's press pool were ushered into a safe room in the basement of the base they were on.
Then on Sunday, Karzai implied the Taliban were serving U.S. interests by creating instability in Afghanistan. The inflammatory comments were made during a nationally televised speech.
Referring to recent insurgent attacks, including the one outside the Ministry of Defense, Karzai said the attacks were "not aimed at showing their strength to the USA, but to serve the USA.
"In fact, yesterday's bombings in the name of the Taliban were aimed at serving the foreigners and supporting the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and keeping them in Afghanistan, by intimidating us," Karzai said.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, quickly rejected the comments, calling them "categorically false."
"We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage," Dunford said.
Later that evening, Hagel cancelled a scheduled joint press conference with Karzai. A spokesperson cited security concerns, though a Karzai spokesperson said it was due to "scheduling pressures." The two still held a private dinner meeting with Dunford in attendance, but the cancellation of the joint press conference was widely seen as a snub to Karzai in response to his inflammatory remarks.