SEATTLE

Sergeant charged in killings to plead guilty next week

The Army staff sergeant charged with slaughtering 16 villagers in one of the worst atrocities of the Afghan war will plead guilty to avoid the death penalty in a deal that requires him to recount the horrific attack for the first time, his attorney said Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was “crazed” and “broken” when he slipped away from his remote southern Afghanistan outpost and attacked mud-walled compounds in two slumbering villages nearby, lawyer John Henry Browne said.

But his client’s mental state didn’t rise to the level of a legal insanity defense, Browne said, and Bales will plead guilty next week.

BEIRUT

Assad government takes hard line on stepping down

Syria’s foreign minister laid out a hard line Wednesday, saying Bashar Assad will remain president at least until elections in 2014 and might seek another term, conditions that will make it difficult for the opposition to agree to U.N.-sponsored talks on ending the civil war.

Any deal reached in such talks would have to be put to a referendum, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem added in a TV interview, introducing a new condition that could complicate efforts by the United States and Russia to bring both sides together at an international conference in Geneva.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan

Suspected U.S. drone strike kills Pakistan Taliban leader

A suspected U.S. drone strike killed the No. 2 commander of the Pakistani Taliban on Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, although the militant group denied he was dead.

If confirmed, the death of Waliur Rehman would be a strong blow to the militant group responsible for hundreds of bombings and shootings across Pakistan. The United States has a $5 million bounty out on Rehman, who Washington has accused of involvement in the 2009 suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that killed seven Americans working for the CIA.

Missiles fired by a U.S. drone slammed into a house early Wednesday in Miran Shah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region, killing five people including Rehman, Pakistani officials said.

Two officials said their informants in the field saw Rehman’s body, while a third said intelligence authorities had intercepted communications between militants saying Rehman had been killed.

— From news service reports