Panetta cites turning point in Afghan war
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan believe the U.S. and its allies have ìturned the tideî after 11 years of war.
In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Panetta said the international military coalition has reversed a five-year trend of growing violence. He said Afghan forces are on track to take the lead for securing the entire country next year.
Panetta spent two days in Afghanistan last week, consulting with top U.S. commanders and with Afghan government officials. He announced during his visit that President Hamid Karzai will come to Washington next month to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the way ahead.
By all accounts, Panetta is in the final weeks of his tenure as Pentagon chief. AP
Bulgaria considers fighter jet purchase
Bulgaria has renewed efforts to choose a supplier of eight fighter jets by March to replace its old Russian-built aircraft and bring its air force in line with NATO standards.
Defense Minister Anyo Angelov said Dec. 19 that talks will be held with countries that have or produce fighter jets, such as the U.S., Germany, Portugal, Italy, Israel and Sweden.
He also said that no financial threshold has been imposed ìto allow flexible negotiationsî and that no open competition will be held to retain the option of buying secondhand aircraft.
Local media suggested that Bulgaria was considering buying secondhand F-16s from Portugal or the U.S., or new Saab AB Gripen jets from Sweden.
Earlier, the ministry had said that about (euro) 350 million was needed for the purchase. AP
Army seeks death penalty in Afghan massacre case
The Army says it will seek the death penalty against the soldier accused of massacring 16 Afghan villagers during pre-dawn raids in March.
The announcement Dec. 19 followed a pretrial hearing last month for SSgt. Robert Bales, who faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.
Prosecutors say Bales left his remote base in southern Afghanistan early on March 11. Prosecutors say he first attacked one village, returned to the base, and then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Sixteen people were killed, nine of them children.
No date has been set for his court martial, which will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, Wash. AP
Arianespace launches rocket from French Guiana
The European space consortium Arianespace has launched a rocket with two satellites from the South American country of French Guiana.
An Ariane 5 rocket first deployed a payload for the British military’s Skynet 5 satellite system. It will be in orbit over the Middle East. The second was for Mexsat Bicentenario and is designed to provide communication services to Mexico and its surrounding waters.
The Dec. 19 evening launch was the last one for 2012 from the French Guiana spaceport.
Arianespace has 21 shareholders from 10 European countries, including France’s CNES space agency. AP