KABUL, Afghanistan

Hagel visits Afghanistan, first time as Pentagon chief

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Afghanistan Friday for his first visit as Pentagon chief, saying that there are plenty of challenges ahead as NATO hands over the country’s security to the Afghans.

“We are still at war,” Hagel said, warning the U.S. and its allies to remain focused on the mission while noting that the U.S. never intended to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.

He said it was vital to remember why the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, including the need to rid the country of terrorists and a hostile government.

On the day of Hagel’s arrival, there was a fresh reminder of the conflict. Defense officials said three men wearing Afghan army uniforms and driving an Afghan army vehicle forced their way onto a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan at midday and opened fire, killing a civilian contractor and wounding other U.S. troops.


Police walk off job, adding new issue to political turmoil

Strikes by Egyptian security forces spread swiftly around the country Friday, as police walked off the job or took to the streets, angry at being blamed for crackdowns on protests against the Islamist president and accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of trying to control them.

The wave of police discontent adds a new layer to Egypt’s turmoil and political breakdown. In a sign of the disarray, a powerful hard-line Islamist group said its members would now take over policing a southern province because most security forces in the province were on strike.

The top security official in Assiut province, Gen. Aboul-Kassem Deif, said the announcement by Gamaa Islamiya — a group that in the 1990s waged an armed Islamic militant uprising but in the past two years entered politics — was illegal. But he seemed to acknowledge he could not stop it.

Strikes by policemen and riot police were reported in at least 10 of Egypt’s 29 provinces.


Foreign leaders urge U.S. to discuss drug legalization

Three former heads of state are urging the United States to engage in a serious discussion of drug legalization, saying its counternarcotics policies are becoming untenable in the wake of voter approval last fall of measures that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado.

The three – the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Switzerland — said the inconsistency in U.S. attitudes toward marijuana shows that American public opinion is changing, even as the United States continues to press Latin American nations for tough enforcement of anti-drug trafficking laws. The result is confusion and anger in Latin American nations embroiled in drug violence while Americans adopt an evermore lax approach toward marijuana.


Delinquent taxes among federal workers increases

The number of federal workers and retirees who owed delinquent income taxes jumped by nearly 12 percent in 2011, the Internal Revenue Service said Friday.

Nearly 312,000 federal workers and retirees owed more than $3.5 billion in back taxes as of Sept. 30, 2011, the agency said. The year before, about 279,000 workers and retirees owed $3.4 billion.

Overall, the 9.8 million workers included in the data had a delinquency rate of 3.2 percent. That’s better than the general public. The IRS says the delinquency rate for the general public was 8.2 percent.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development had the highest delinquency rate, at 4.4 percent.

— From news service reports