The president called Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on Tuesday to inform him that the Pentagon is preparing for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. But Obama did dangle a carrot: Should Karzai’s successor sign a bilateral security agreement after April’s elections, the U.S. would be willing to leave a contingency force to conduct training and counter-terrorism operations. The move is not surprising given that some lawmakers and military leaders are worried a complete withdrawal could create an opening for a Taliban surge.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They never thought they’d leave the base alive, but even when they did, former U.S. prisoners now home in Afghanistan say they still feel trapped. Some were welcomed back as heroes. But many can’t find jobs, or found their former livelihoods gone — like one man who’s vineyard died. Some are starting to speak out against the abuses they suffered, even meeting with American officials in Kabul. But others say they’re too frightened to talk, still — even ones who the U.S. declared not guilty.
The Swiss bank is being accused of helping more than 22,000 U.S. customers hide their Swiss accounts to avoid paying billions in taxes. The U.S. congressional committee report alleges that the bankers helped customers set up offshore shell entities and helped with transactions meant to avoid detection. While Credit Suisse declined to comment, it is not alone in the firing line: U.S. officials are pointing fingers at 14 Swiss banking institutions for allegedly helping tax cheats. The committee is encouraging tough action against the banks, and the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into the claims.
U.S. and Russian leaders are looking to smooth ruffled feathers in the wake of Ukraine’s political crisis. European and U.S. diplomats visited Ukraine and pledged their support on Tuesday, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his nation’s non-intervention policy would continue. But Russia did warn other states against trying to find “unilateral advantages” in Ukraine, as Putin ordered a combat readiness drill. The interim Ukrainian leadership voted in favor of trying fugitive and former president Viktor Yanukovych at the International Criminal Court for the deaths of more than 100 protesters.
As estranged loved ones from North and South Korea said heart-wrenching goodbyes after their brief reunion, South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed a renewed commitment to Korean unification. In a speech marking her first year in office, Park promised greater engagement with the North and the establishment of a reunification committee under her direct control. But for the elderly participants in the official reunion, who had just days with fellow family members, the president’s speech will provide little comfort.
Suspected Boko Haram attack claims 29 in Nigeria. (DW).
Missouri executes Michael Taylor for 1989 murder. (Kansas City Star).
Trading platform site’s failure sparks outrage with users. (NYT).
TV prepares to show Pistorius trial in South Africa. (The Guardian).
FDA mulls controversial “three-parent babies.” (Washington Post).
”One of the greatest buried treasures ever unearthed” in the United States was found by a couple walking their dog. The pair, known only as John and Mary, noticed an old can half-buried while going for a walk on their extensive property. When they looked more closely, they discovered a hidden jackpot of gold coins. The so-called Saddle Ridge Hoard comprises gold coins dating from 1847 to 1894 and has been valued at over $10 million. Maybe we should all be as diligent as John and Mary about picking up trash in our yards.
New data suggests that the obesity epidemic may be declining, spurring hopes that America’s youngest citizens will enjoy a healthier future. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows that obesity rates in young children aged 2 to 5 have dropped by a whopping 43 percent over the past decade. Why the U-turn? Some suggest we’re seeing the long-term effects of anti-obesity education and legislation, and others credit healthier parenting. Whatever the cause, Americans seem to have realized that baby fat, though adorable, is unhealthy.
Spending hundreds of dollars on cell phones may soon be as dated as Internet Explorer if Mozilla gets its way. The firm that gave us Firefox — the free web browser that took the world by storm a decade ago — has developed a smartphone that costs just $25. It is aiming to meet Internet demand in the developing world. The Firefox OS is made of cheap components, but it has a web browser, calling and texting capabilities, a camera and room for apps, just like the iPhone but at a fraction of the cost.
The Oscar-nominated 12 Years a Slave will be used in U.S. high schools to teach students about slavery. Steve McQueen’s film will be distributed by the National School Boards Association by September. The movie recounts the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a kidnapped free man sold into enslavement who regained his liberty. Although it features graphic scenes of violence, proponents hope the story will help students critically engage with the issue of slavery. Whether or not the film comes up trumps at the Academy Awards on Sunday, the academic world at least has given it top marks.
The New York Knicks suffered an agonizingly close defeat against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, but an even greater blow was on its way. While starting point guard Raymond Felton was on the court, his estranged wife, Ariane Raymondo-Felton, was making a statement to Manhattan police, alleging that her husband had threatened her with a firearm. The 29 year old turned himself in later that night and was held in custody to face charges of criminal possession of a firearm. The news is likely to disrupt the already struggling team’s preparations for Friday’s game against Miami.