- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. sees spike in troop deaths

KABUL | American deaths in Afghanistan increased threefold during the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period last year, after thousands more were deployed and commanders ramped up winter operations against an increasingly violent insurgency.

Twenty-nine American troops died in Afghanistan during the first two months of 2009 - compared with eight in the first two months of 2008.

Part of the increase is because of the influx of troops. In early 2008, there were about 27,000 forces in the country, about 10,000 fewer than today.

U.S. troops also are operating in new, dangerous areas. A brigade of 10th Mountain Division soldiers were deployed in January to two insurgent-heavy provinces outside Kabul - Wardak and Logar. And U.S. forces are increasingly operating in Taliban heartland in the south.

IRAQ

Oil prices may drag budget lower

BAGHDAD | Iraq’s parliament pushed back voting Saturday on this year’s budget and could be forced to make further cuts because of falling oil prices.

The latest delay in trying to ratify the current $64 billion budget proposal highlights the financial squeeze facing Iraq as declining oil revenues cut into reconstruction plans such as new roads and improved utilities - which the Shi’ite-led government hopes to use as showcases in national elections later this year.

The pinch also has brought calls by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for proposals to diversify Iraq’s oil-dependent economy with expansion of agriculture and other trade. But Iraq’s plans for this year have been dragged down along with the price of oil, which is now less than $45 a barrel after hitting highs last summer of $150 a barrel.

VENEZUELA

Chavez sends troops to rice processors

CARACAS | President Hugo Chavez on Saturday ordered troops to intervene in Venezuelan rice processing businesses, saying some have balked at producing under regulated prices.

“This government is here to protect the people, not the bourgeoisie or the rich,” said Mr. Chavez, ordering military authorities to “take control of and intervene in all of these businesses that process rice in Venezuela.”

Mr. Chavez said some companies had threatened to paralyze production, but any rice processing plants that did so would be expropriated. He did not spell out what the intervention might involve or how long it would last.

Mr. Chavez has often threatened to go after suppliers he has accused of hoarding food supplies to sell later at inflated prices.

BANGLADESH

72 missing after mutiny

DHAKA | Bangladesh’s military says 72 officers are still missing after a two-day mutiny by border guards in which at least 76 people were killed.

Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mahmud Hossain said Saturday that at least 33 officers survived the carnage but 72 were still unaccounted for.

He demanded a full investigation of the mutiny. The uprising, which ended Thursday, was reportedly triggered by longstanding anger over pay and benefits.

Authorities have found scores of bodies buried in shallow mass graves in the Dhaka headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles border force.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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