WASHINGTON

U.S. general: Afghan forces won’t be ready in July 2011

A senior U.S. commander on Monday wouldn’t predict when Afghanistan might take control of its own security and warned that NATO needs at least another year to recruit and train enough soldiers and police officers.

The assessment by Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, the head of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, further dims U.S. hopes that the planned U.S. withdrawal next year will be significant in size.

President Obama has said that troops will begin pulling out in July 2011, the size and pace of withdrawal depending on security conditions. Defense officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said they believe next summer’s pullout would be modest.

In a Pentagon briefing, Caldwell told reporters that Afghan army and police forces won’t reach sufficient numbers until Oct. 31, 2011 – three months after Obama’s deadline to start U.S. withdrawals.

THEODORE, Ala.

Ammonia leak sickens 120, many on BP cleanup crew

Authorities say more than 120 people were sickened by the leak of ammonia at an Alabama plant, and four are in intensive care.

Hospital officials at Mobile say 29 have been admitted, including the four in intensive care. Many of those sickened were part of BP’s oil spill cleanup crew on the Alabama coast.

The leak occurred Monday morning at the Millard Refrigerated Services plant at Theodore, south of Mobile. Scores were forced to hide inside their homes and at a school after the leak was reported.

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso

Two Spanish aid workers freed after hefty ransom

Two Spanish aid workers kidnapped almost nine months ago by an al-Qaida affiliate were freed Monday in Mali after a multimillion-dollar ransom was reportedly paid – a sign of the terrorist group’s growing sophistication in bankrolling operations through kidnappings, experts said Monday.

Aid workers Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta were abducted last November when their convoy of 4-by-4s was attacked by gunmen on a stretch of road in Mauritania. They were whisked away to Mali, whose northern half is now one of the many stretches of remote desert where al-Qaida of Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, has stretched its tentacles.

Late Monday afternoon, the pair stepped out of a helicopter that landed on the grounds of the presidential palace in Burkina Faso and were handed a cell phone. Reporters overheard them saying into the phone ‘muchas gracias.’

Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Spain had paid 3.8 million euros in ransom to secure the aid workers’ release. The government refused to comment.