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News Wrap: Petraeus Hands Over Afghanistan Duties to Gen. John Allen

July 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Worries about the debt troubles in the U.S. and Europe weighed down Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 94 points to close at 12,385. The Nasdaq fell 24 points to close at 2,765.

Violence flared across Afghanistan today. Four NATO troops were killed in bombings in the east and the south. And 11 Afghan policemen died in separate attacks. Amid the killings, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, handed over his duties. He is leaving to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. His replacement is U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen.

LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN, International Security Assistance Forces commander-designate: It is my intention to maintain the momentum of this campaign, this great campaign on which we have embarked. I will continue to support in every way possible the recruiting, the training, the preparation and equipping, and the fielding and the employment of the Afghan national security forces.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Allen’s tenure began just a day after Taliban insurgents claimed another high-profile assassination. A close aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai was killed Sunday in a gun battle at his home in Kabul. It followed the murder of Karzai’s half-brother last week.

For more on Afghanistan, we turn to Pam Constable, who covers South Asia for The Washington Post.

Pam, thanks for being with us.

The series of high-profile assassinations have picked off some important targets as well, most recently one of the former governors of a province. Why is it significant?

PAMELA CONSTABLE, The Washington Post: Well, particularly in light of the fact that it came so quickly after the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of President Karzai, who was killed in Kandahar just days before this.

The killing of this former governor in Uruzgan, another southern province, along with another guy who was also close to the president, this is — this is — cumulatively speaking, it’s a big blow for the Karzai administration. You know, its confidants, its relatives, its high-level aides going back into April, some of the, are being killed.

But more than who is doing it or who it’s happening to, I would put it all together by saying it’s a real danger for the stability of the government. And it makes it seem as if, as the Americans and NATO begin to pull out, it’s really not clear who is in control and it’s really not clear where these chips are going to fall.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, you wrote about that in one of your recent pieces for The Post, that the tenor of Kabul is changing, that people seem to be preparing for that day when the last U.S. troops are out of there and trying to figure out where the power is going to be.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Exactly.

People are very nervous and scared. The last time a superpower was involved in Afghanistan and suddenly left, which was, of course, the Soviet Union in 1989, it wasn’t long after that that civil war erupted, which was incredibly vicious and destructive and destroyed much of the capital. So nobody thinks that’s going to happen now, but they’re worried that something similar may happen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Pam Constable from The Washington Post, thanks so much for being with us.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: You’re welcome.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A wave of sectarian bloodshed swept through central Syria this weekend, with up to 30 people killed. The violence in Homs was sparked Saturday when the dismembered bodies of three government supporters were found. That led to revenge killings. The initial victims belonged to the minority Alawite Shiites, as does President Bashar al-Assad. The majority of Syrians are Sunnis.

In China, new trouble in Xinjiang in the country’s far west, with reports of at least four killed. State media said thugs stormed a police station and took hostages, before police opened fire and restored control. But members of the region’s Uighur minority said police started shooting as protesters rallied against illegal land seizures.

Japan celebrated today after their women’s soccer team defeated the U.S. on Sunday to win the World Cup. Fans watching on TV cheered as their team won the title match in Germany on penalty kicks. The team had to come from behind twice during regulation play. The Japanese team dedicated the victory to victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.