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News Wrap: Karzai Says Afghan Troops Must Secure Nation by 2014

July 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: The debt-ceiling stalemate in Washington pulled stocks on Wall Street down today. Trading was also relatively light, in spite of a round of healthy earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 91 points to close at 12,501. The Nasdaq fell nearly three points to close below 2,840.

In Afghanistan today, President Hamid Karzai rallied his country’s security forces. He warned they face a challenging year ahead, as the U.S. military begins the first part of a phased withdrawal. In the last two weeks, seven areas of the country have been handed over to Afghan control.

Speaking in Kabul, Karzai told Afghan troops they must step up even more to eventually secure the entire nation by 2014.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan (through translator): In the coming three years, this transition will be completed. And that will be the day when the Afghan nation celebrates taking responsibility of security, where Afghanistan will be secured by its own people again. Its sovereignty will be defended by them and we will defend its integrity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The transition in Afghanistan takes place as the Pentagon navigates budget cuts. In Washington, the nominee for head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed what he called a new fiscal reality, and warned against tightening the purse strings by too much.

President Obama has called for $400 billion in military spending cuts over 12 years. During an exchange with Republican Sen. John McCain, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said proposals to cut more than that would be dangerous.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: What would an $800 to $1 trillion cut in defense spending over the next 10 years do to our readiness, General?

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman-designate: Based on the difficulty of achieving the $400 billion cut, I — I believe $800 billion would be extraordinarily difficult and very high-risk.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Dempsey added, the Pentagon is currently reviewing how to make the cuts the Obama administration has requested, and will present those options to the president.

The U.N. is starting an airlift of food aid to drought-stricken parts of southern Somalia. It is venturing for the first time in two years into areas that had been banned by the militant group Al-Shabab. The World Food Program will send five tons of high-energy bars into Dolo, on the border with Ethiopia, on Thursday. The agency’s feeding efforts will reach about 175,000 people. And it aims to stem the flow of people fleeing their homes to Kenya and Ethiopia in search of aid.

Weapons linked to a U.S. law enforcement operation targeting Mexican drug cartels have been recovered from nearly 50 crime scenes in Mexico. That is according to a new report from Republican congressional investigators. The controversial program, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Explosives, is known as Fast and Furious. It was designed so ATF agents could track illegal gunrunners along the border, but many of the weapons ended up in Mexico.

In Washington, the ATF official who oversaw part of the program came under fire today from the chairman of the committee investigating it.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-Calif. Oversight and Government Reform Committee
chairman: Before this investigation ends, I have got to have somebody in your position or at Justice admit you knowingly let guns walk, because, right now, your agents, both the agents here today from Mexico and the agents that were part of Phoenix and part of this program who became whistle-blowers, have told us you were letting guns walk.

WILLIAM NEWELL, former ATF special agent in charge: Sir, in this investigation, it’s my opinion that we did not let guns walk.

REP. DARRELL ISSA: You’re entitled to your opinion, not to your facts.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As many as 1,000 guns traced to the Fast and Furious program are still unaccounted for.

The U.S. Postal Service is considering whether to shutter more than 3,600 post offices across the country. That amounts to more than one in 10 of its retail outlets. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said most of the cuts would be in rural communities with low volumes of mail. Donahoe said the measures are necessary in the face of declining business.

PATRICK DONAHOE, U.S. postmaster general: It’s no secret that the Postal Service is looking to change the way we do a lot of things. And it’s driven by a large part on — on what makes sense financially and what makes sense for our customers and the communities that we support. We do feel that we are still very relevant to the American public and the American economy, but we also have to make some pretty tough choices as we work through some of the financial issues that we face.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Post offices that close would likely be replaced by mail services in local stores, public libraries, or government offices. The Postal Service has already cut about 130,000 jobs, and slashed costs by $12 billion over the last four years.

Democratic Congressman David Wu of Oregon announced he is resigning after the debt-ceiling vote. The seven-term congressman has been accused of having an unwanted sexual encounter with the teenage daughter of a campaign contributor. Wu has said whatever happened was consensual, but Democratic leaders called for a House ethics investigation. Wu said resigning is in the best interests of his family.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.