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Feb. 12, 2013 at 11:59 AM   |   Comments

State of the Union: More troops may return

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- President Obama was expected to say in his State of the Union speech Tuesday 34,000 U.S. troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year, CNN said.

The withdrawal would cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in half -- there are about 66,000 troops in the country now, CNN reported.

Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month in Washington and agreed to accelerate the burden of the military role from U.S. to Afghan troops, the report said.

The administration is looking at a range of U.S. troop levels to remain in Afghanistan past the official withdrawal at the end of 2014, CNN said, from about 15,000 to zero.

Obama also was expected to outline "his plan to create jobs and grow the middle class," the White House said.

"You will hear in the president's State of the Union an outline from him for his plan to create jobs and grow the middle class," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of the 9 p.m. speech before a joint session of Congress.

"The middle class is the engine that drives this country forward and which will, if it is given the right tools and the right opportunities, drive us forward in the 21st century," Carney said.

Obama himself previewed his speech last week, telling congressional Democrats meeting in Leesburg, Va., Thursday creating middle-class jobs means focusing "on education and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century."


World leaders condemn N. Korea nuke test

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- North Korea's nuclear test Tuesday drew swift criticism from world leaders who condemned it as a provocative act that threatened world peace.

Hours after seismic activity was detected at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test complex, North Korea's Central News Agency said the test used a smaller nuclear device compared to two previous nuclear tests and was conducted in a safe manner that wasn't harmful to the surrounding environment.

It is the country's third nuclear test since 2006.

Once confirming the nuclear test occurred, South Korea said in a statement the test violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The nuclear test "is an unacceptable threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region and a head-on challenge to the international community," the statement said. "North Korea won't be able to avoid grave responsibility."

In a statement issued early Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said the test "is a highly provocative act that, following its December 12 ballistic missile launch, undermines regional stability, violates North Korea's obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, contravenes its commitments under the September 19, 2005, Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, and increases the risk of proliferation."


Military: 'Shooter' can get healthcare

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. military said an Esquire magazine article was wrong in stating the former Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden was denied health insurance.

In an article posted on Esquire magazine's website, the former SEAL Team 6 member, identified as "the Shooter," recounts how he fired three shots into bin Laden's forehead during the raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

The Esquire article also said the Shooter -- as well as his comrades in the raid -- didn't get any of the $25 million reward and he also was left without a pension, healthcare or other support for himself or his family.

Stars and Stripes reported Monday all combat veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including the Shooter, are automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The writer of the Shooter's story, Phil Bronstein, head of the Center for Investigative Reporting, told Stars and Stripes his assertion that the government gave the SEAL "nothing" in terms of healthcare is fair and accurate because the SEAL didn't know the VA benefits existed.


Third day of protests in Egypt

CAIRO, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Protesters blocked entrances to the Mogamma administration building in Cairo's Tahrir Square for a third day Tuesday, police said.

The demonstration against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood left some members of the public angry at not being able to access services in Egypt's largest administration building, Ahram Online reported.

The situation was relatively calm Tuesday morning compared to late Monday when dozens of protesters were injured as security forces used birdshot, teargas and water to disperse the crowd.

Clashes intensified after midnight when an armored Central Security Forces vehicle reportedly drove toward protesters and was set on fire.

Hundreds of protesters in Cairo and other governorates took to the streets Monday to mark the second anniversary of the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Thirty-nine arrests were made across Egypt, the state news agency MENA reported.


Colombia's missing set 10-year high

BOGOTA, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- More than 7,500 Colombians disappeared in 2012, the highest number in 10 years, the country's coroner says.

The 7,530 missing people is a 76 percent increase from 2011, Colombia Reports said Monday.

The capital, Bogota, recorded the most missing people -- 3,235 -- in 2012, the coroner said in a report. Medellin, the country's second largest city, had 609.

Some 43 percent of the registered missing were women, the report said. Five years ago, women accounted for only 26 percent of the missing.

The report does not distinguish between those who are voluntarily missing and those who are forcibly disappeared.

More than 60,000 Colombians have disappeared over the past decades, the coroner said. Some human rights organizations claim about 250,000 people have disappeared since the start of the country's conflict with drug gangs.

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