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Feb. 22, 2013 at 12:21 PM
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Judge grants runner Oscar Pistorius bail

PRETORIA, South Africa, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Runner Oscar Pistorius, charged in his girlfriend's death, got bail Friday, with a South African magistrate saying he didn't think the Paralympian would flee.

Besides saying he didn't think Pistorius was a flight risk, Magistrate Desmond Nair said he didn't think the prosecution demonstrated that Pistorius had a tendency for violence, that the public would be outraged if he were released or that the state's case was so compelling that Pistorius' only reaction would be to flee if released.

Pistorius, a 26-year-old double amputee, is charged with premeditated murder in the Feb. 14 shooting death of his girlfriend, 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius said he thought an intruder, not his girlfriend, was behind a closed bathroom door when he fired four shots.

Bail was set at 1 million rand (about $112,600).

Looking ahead to trial, Nair said Pistorius' version of events had several holes, including why Pistorius didn't determine Steenkamp's whereabouts and why he didn't verify who was in the bathroom before shooting.

Sorm system carries snow, sleet, rain

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Snow fell in parts of the Midwest and other regions had a snow-sleet-rain mix Friday, all part of a storm system pushing eastward across the United States.

The system that carried the snow to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois is the same one that dumped more than a foot of snow across Kansas and Oklahoma Thursday and closed schools, highways, even state legislatures in some states, NBC News reported.

The storm system spanned 20 states, CNN said.

Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled at airports in the system's path Thursday, and more delays and cancellations were expected Friday.

Sleet and freezing rain were forecast for Friday in southern and central Ohio, West Virginia, western Virginia, parts of central and western Pennsylvania and possibly northern North Carolina.

The same weather system could dump snow on New England for the third straight weekend, AccuWeather.com said.

Boston, which has received 32 inches of snow so far this month, could break a February snowfall record with this storm, meteorologists said. The February record is 41.6 inches.

Military chiefs note sequester's effects

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. military leaders said mandated budget cuts would have serious consequences, including the curtailing of training for 80 percent of the ground forces.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the $46 billion in cuts to the Pentagon in the sequester deal between the White House and Congress would force him to extend deployments of troops in Afghanistan.

"If we have to reduce the amount of training we give our pilots, they will go in with a hell of a lot less capability. That means mistakes will be made. That means we'll have accidents. That means we'll be more likely to be shot down by enemy fire," he said.

The Washington Post said the U.S. Navy delayed the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf as a result of the looming cuts and U.S. Air Force representatives said reductions would force the cutting of 200,000 flying hours.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta notified 800,000 employees Wednesday that they may face a 20 percent pay cut if furloughs are implemented as a result of the sequester, the Post reported.

NATO mulling post-withdrawal Afghan aid

BRUSSELS, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- NATO defense ministers on Friday mulled a plan for military assistance to Afghanistan once the bulk of coalition forces are withdrawn, officials said.

The draft proposal would create a force of up 15,500 troops that would train Afghan troops after 2014, The New York Times reported.

The plan currently suggests that 9,500 of the troops would likely be U.S. forces, although no final decisions have been made.

Pentagon spokesman George Little denied reports the United States would contribute 8,000-12,000 service personnel. He said those figures were discussed as the potential size of the "overall" NATO mission.

In its present state, the plan foresees coalition forces operating out of a headquarters in Kabul but connected to training bases in four regions of the country.

Afghan troops would be trained by conventional forces at the Kabul headquarters, with Special Operations forces mentoring at the training bases.

Some 66,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan and U.S. President Barack Obama has said 34,000 of the soldiers will be withdrawn by February 2014.

About 37,000 NATO and coalition forces are in Afghanistan.

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