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Jan. 13, 2013 at 5:00 PM
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Britain pledges non-combat help in Mali

BAMAKO, Mali, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged Britain will provide non-combat help to France's military intervention in Mali, British officials said Sunday.

Cameron committed to providing two planes to transport troops and their equipment within a day or two, The Times said in London.

The agreement came in a phone call between Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, the newspaper said.

The prime ministers office stressed no British troops would not engage in combat in Mali.

A Cameron spokesman said, ""The prime minister spoke to President Hollande to discuss the deteriorating situation in Mali and how the U.K. can support French military assistance provided to the Malian government to contain rebel and extremist groups in the north of the country."

French jets on Sunday again bombarded Mali, where Islamist extremists have occupied the northern part of the country for the past nine months, officials said.

Sunday was the third day of a French intervention in the West African country, Radio France Internationale reported.

"There were [airstrikes] last night, there are now and there will be today and tomorrow," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

"Our intervention is ongoing and we will continue in order to make them [Islamist fighters] retreat and allow Malian and African forces to go forward and re-establish the territorial integrity of the country," Le Drian said.

McCain: Not sure about voting for Hagel

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday he's not sure if he'll vote for or against his friend, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to be the new defense secretary.

Despite the fact that Hagel was McCain's 2000 presidential campaign chair and the two are friends, McCain said he has some concerns during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"My questions about him -- and they will be raised in the nominations -- are, what is his view of America's role in the world? Whether he really believes that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War. That clearly is not correct; in fact, it's bizarre. Why would he oppose calling the Iranian revolutionary guard a terrorist organization? [It's the] same outfit that's on the ground now in Syria killing Syrians, same outfit that was exploiting the most lethal IEDs [improvised explosive devices] into Iraq killing Americans," McCain said.

"So these are legitimate questions that need to be asked," he added. "I honor his service. We are friends, but I have an obligation to the men and women who are now serving in uniform."

McCain also voiced concerns about the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. He pointed to what he called discrepancies in Brennan's views on torture and his possible role in information leaks after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Powell predicts Hagel storm will blow over

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he believed Chuck Hagel would be confirmed as secretary of defense once his record is accurately examined.

Hagel, a former Republican senator, is expected to face a strong challenge from the GOP but will likely be confirmed because the allegations he is too dovish and anti-Israel will be disproved, Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"This is a gentleman who knows all of these issues in depth," said Powell, a former Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "He is a fellow who speaks his mind. He sometimes gets in trouble with those who think he should not speak his mind, but he says what he believes and he sticks with it."

Powell predicted Hagel would be a reliable ally of Israel while overseeing the Pentagon, particularly when it comes to direct threats to Israeli security. At the same time, Powell said: "I am very supportive of the State of Israel. So is Sen. Hagel and you will see this in the confirmation hearings. But it doesn't mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes."

Powell said the public-relations barrage against Hagel was partly the product of an attitude by Republican leaders that did not jibe with U.S. public opinion. He told NBC he believed the election of President Obama twice was evidence Americans were not anxious to see their country picking fights with other nations such as Iran.

NRA says Dem threats boost gun sales

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The president of the National Rifle Association denied the NRA was stirring up fears over U.S. gun control in order to increase sales by its members' companies.

David Keene said Sunday it was the Obama administration and congressional Democrats who were doing the stirring with their calls for increased controls on firearms, which in turn led to periodic runs on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

"They are the ones that are scaring American gun owners, it isn't the NRA," Keene said on CNN's "State of the Union." "From the 1970s on, we have emerged as the defender of Second Amendment rights, that is a core part of our mission."

Keene said that although the NRA receives financial support from the firearms industry, the association's core constituency were gun owners who hold a legitimate concern their right to bear arms could be curtailed without good reason. "Our constituency is twofold," he said. "It's the American people who want to own guns and use them legally, and it is the Second Amendment itself."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., was not convinced. He told CNN the powerful lobbying group was "not your father's NRA" and directly profited from gun sales through a "rounding up" program in which the purchase price is rounded up to the nearest dollar.

Murphy predicted the NRA would pull out all stops to block legislation curbing assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, which the U.S. public favored.

"You don't need an assault weapon to kill a deer, you don't need an assault weapon to do target practice," Murphy said. "Sportsmen are not going to have their rights abridged or their ability to enjoy their sport changed by having these dangerous, military-style assault weapons taken off of the streets."

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