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Dec. 19, 2012 at 10:24 PM   |   Comments

Cameron: Afghan withdrawal to begin soon

LONDON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Britain will begin a gradual withdrawal of its forces in Afghanistan in April, Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday.

During question time in Parliament, the prime minister said 3,800 soldiers will return home by the end of 2013, with 5,000 still in the country, The Guardian reported. Most of those will be withdrawn in 2014, and none of the remaining forces will be in a combat role, he said.

Senior commanders in Afghanistan have advised him that Afghan government security forces are more prepared to take over in Helmand province, Cameron said, allowing the troops to "come home in two relatively even steps in 2013 and 2014, leaving probably around 5,200 troops after the end of 2013".

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond gave a somewhat bleaker picture during defense question time, saying that some areas would probably not be under control of the Afghan government.

"It is not a perfect democracy and it never will be," he said.

British officials also urged the Taliban to recognize that "reconciliation is not surrender" and to begin talks with the Afghan government.


Army to seek death penalty for Bales

JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Army prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime rampage in March.

Bales, 39, is accused of 16 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and seven counts of assault.

In a news release Wednesday, the Army said Bales could be sentenced to death but acknowledged it may be difficult for the prosecution to win such a sentence, ABC News reported.

"For capital punishment to be imposed, the court-martial members must unanimously find: the service member is guilty of the eligible crime; at least one aggravating factor exists; and that the aggravating factor must substantially outweigh any extenuating or mitigating circumstances found by the court-martial members," the release said.

The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune reported in June recent history of military capital cases suggests juries are reluctant to impose capital punishment in crimes committed in a combat zone. In addition, the Army has not carried out an execution since 1961.


Thai police find 1.3 million meth pills

CHUMPHON, Thailand, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- An alleged drug dealer with 1.3 million methamphetamine pills in his pickup truck was arrested in Chumphon, Thailand, police said.

Highway Police Chief Pongsit Sangphet said the speeding truck of driver Ong-art Chengya was stopped Wednesday morning at a checkpoint, and officers found the drugs under crates of vegetables.

The drugs have an estimated street value of 390 million baht ($11.7 million), the Bangkok Post reported.

Police said the driver attempted to bribe the officers at the checkpoint, first with 200 baht ($6), then with 2,000 ($60), but they refused, adding he later confessed he was hired to drive the pills to a major drug dealer in Phuket, Thailand, province for 20,000 baht ($600).

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said the drugs were produced in neighboring Myanmar.


Russian lawmakers propose energy drink ban

MOSCOW, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- A group of Russian lawmakers have proposed banning energy drinks.

RIA Novosti reported Wednesday the LDPR party authored the bill, which they have tried unsuccessfully to get passed in previous sessions of the lower house of Parliament. The lawmakers cite potential averse health effects for the proposed ban.

"The excessive consumption of energy drinks may have a negative impact on a person's health. According to doctors, many consumers of energy drinks can, for example, become addicted to them, which, in turn, may exacerbate existing mental health problems," authors of the draft said in a summary of the bill.

Energy drinks are already banned in some regions, including the Republic of Chechnya, RIA Novosti said.

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