– Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that U.S. and allied troops will take a supporting combat role in Afghanistan by 2014 reportedly caught some Atlantic Alliance allies by surprise. But NATO defense ministers agreed that their troops will most likely continue some combat missions after Afghan troops take the lead.
– Panetta sought to mollify European concerns of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and clarified his comments about a shifting role for U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan, telling reporters, “As I stated to our allies today, we hope that the [Afghan National Security Forces] will be ready to take the combat lead in all of Afghanistan sometime in 2013.”
– The Pentagon’s monthly spending in Afghanistan dipped late last year to just over $5 billion from an average of nearly $8 billion as the level of U.S. troops started to decline.
– The U.N. Security Council reached a tentative consensus on Thursday supporting an Arab League plan for political change in Syria but dropped references to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ceding power and a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions.
– U.S. officials report that Iran recently gave new freedoms, including the ability to leave the country, to five top al-Qaeda operatives who have been under house arrest in Iran since 2003.
– A senior State Department official said yesterday that the U.S. still does not know how many antiaircraft missiles are missing in Libya as a result of the fall of the late leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
– Libya’s ambassador to France under Qaddafi died from torture within a day of being detained in Zintan, the town where Gaddafi’s prominent son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is being held, reports Human Rights Watch.
– President Obama plans to announce details today for a $1 billion Veterans Job Corps that the White House says will put up to 20,000 veterans to work over the next five years.