U.S. plans reducing troops in Afghanistan, official says

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by about 2,500 over the next few months, a 13 percent drop that will reflect an increasing NATO presence there, an official said Monday.

The move, which has yet to be finalized, would reduce the number of U.S. forces from 19,000 to about 16,500. Instead of sending the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade to replace the 173rd Airborne Brigade, as planned, the Army instead would send a 1,200-troop task force from the unit, a Pentagon official said Monday.

An announcement of the reduction could come soon.

Officials also said plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq are likely to go forward after last week’s Iraqi elections, as the U.S. military continues to shift responsibility for security to Iraqi forces. The planned reduction, first reported last month, could bring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to about 129,000 from a baseline of 138,000.

There are approximately 150,000 U.S. troops there now because military strength was increased for the elections.

Judge orders fees in Indian case

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday ordered the government to pay $7 million in legal fees and expenses in an ongoing lawsuit on behalf of half a million American Indians, saying the Interior Department had acted in bad faith in the case. The class-action suit accuses the department of not properly compensating Indians for oil and gas production on their land, alleging government mismanagement of more than $100 billion in royalties dating back to 1887.

Greenhouse gases rise 2 percent

Emissions of gases blamed for warming the atmosphere grew by 2 percent in the United States last year, the Energy Department reported Monday. That’s 16 percent higher than in 1990, and an average annual increase of 1.1 percent.

Frontal crash tests won’t be revised

The government has decided to maintain the testing and ratings system it uses to help consumers evaluate new automobiles in head-on collisions despite complaints that the program needs an upgrade. The decision being announced today calls for keeping the current 35 mph test for frontal crashes and ratings procedure.

New Mexico: Explosives missing

About 150 pounds of commercial plastic explosives has disappeared from a private storage site, along with 2,500 blasting caps and 20,000 feet of explosive detonation cord, authorities said Monday. The materials were reported missing by the owner of Cherry Engineering Inc. Two containers, both stored inside two bunkers southwest of Albuquerque, were burglarized sometime between Dec. 13 and Sunday, officials said.

California: Mayors appeal for food

Americans needed more emergency food and shelter last year than the year before, according to a 24-city survey released Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco. Requests for food assistance grew by 12 percent overall during the past year, with 76 percent of the cities surveyed reporting an increase. Appeals for shelter assistance increased by 6 percent, with 71 percent of cities showing an increase, according to the annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey.

Segregation of inmates ending

Ending a long-standing practice, California prison officials have agreed to stop using race as a principal criterion in segregating inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in February that California prisons cannot automatically house inmates by race, even temporarily.

Minnesota: Seven firefighters hurt

An explosion in north Minneapolis on Monday rocked a building whose occupants had complained Monday of an odor of natural gas. The building was a former gas station. One firefighter was blown off a ladder and two others were briefly buried in rubble. Seven firefighters were hurt in all, but none of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening, officials said.

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