- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

AFGHANISTAN

France to withdraw special forces

PARIS — France plans to pull a contingent of 200 special forces out of Afghanistan at the start of next year, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced during a visit to Afghanistan yesterday.

The troops were first deployed in 2003 to bolster a U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in response to the September 11 attacks.

They are separate from the main 32,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. About 1,100 French troops will remain in the region of Kabul as part of the force, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

AFGHANISTAN

Ex-Taliban minister dies in NATO air strike

KANDAHAR — The former religious police minister in the ousted Taliban government has been killed in a NATO air strike in southern Afghanistan, a senior provincial official said.

Abdul Wali, along with 30 other militants, was killed three days ago in the NATO raid in Panjwai district of Kandahar, Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said.

Taliban sources confirmed the raid but said Mr. Wali, the radical Islamic movement’s one-time minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, was not killed.

CUBA

U.S. lawmakers told Castro not dying

HAVANA — Cuban officials told a group of visiting U.S. lawmakers that Fidel Castro does not have cancer or a terminal illness, the head of the delegation said yesterday.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said Cuban officials did not provide details about the 80-year-old leader’s health but said he eventually will return to being a public figure.

Mr. Castro underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding in late July and temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro.

FRANCE

Scientists identify gene linked to autism

PARIS — Scientists from the Pasteur Institute in Paris have identified genetic mutations in a small number of children with autism that could provide insight into the biological basis of the disorder.

They sequenced a gene called SHANK3 in more than 200 people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which includes autism, and found mutations in the gene in members of three families.

ASD covers a range of problems that affect communication, social interaction, verbal skills and behavior. The study was reported in the journal Nature Genetics.

ISRAEL

McCain meets kin of captured soldiers

JERUSALEM — Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who spent five grueling years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, met with the families of two captured Israeli soldiers yesterday, sharing his own harrowing story of survival and promising to work for their release.

Reserve soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were captured July 12 by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in a cross-border raid that ignited a 34-day war. Nothing is known about their captivity.

BANGLADESH

U.S. envoy criticizes interim government

DHAKA — Bangladesh’s caretaker government has failed to be neutral ahead of January elections, the U.S. ambassador said yesterday, echoing criticism of a multiparty alliance that has demanded electoral reforms.

The government headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed took over in October after Begum Khaleda Zia ended her five-year tenure as prime minister.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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