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NATO, Afghan Troops in Second Day of Operation in Taliban Stronghold


AFGHANISTAN: A 15,000-troop NATO operation continued Sunday to press deeper into a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. The massive military offensive is concentrated on the farming community of Marjah in Helmand province. U.S. officials say General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, will update President Barack Obama Sunday about the military operation. U.S. helicopters and armored vehicles began the operation Saturday when they descended on Marjah. As many as 1,000 insurgents are thought to be entrenched in the area. U.S. troops say they encountered sporadic but "intense" resistance Saturday.
U.S. forces say they are working deliberately and slowly to clear roads of dozens of makeshift bombs as the troops advance into the area. Afghan army officials say at least 20 Taliban militants were killed during the initial fighting. NATO says one American and one British soldier were killed. Afghan, British and U.S. troops are taking part in the operation, designed to oust the Taliban from an area considered to be at the heart of the insurgency.
INDIA - BLAST: Indian officials are investigating who may be responsible forabombing that killed nine people and wounded scores of others late Saturday in the western city of Pune. The blast struck a bakery popular with tourists. India's Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, called the blast at the German Bakery a "significant terrorist incident," though there has been no claim of responsibility. The attack is the deadliest since the 2008 Mumbai siege blamed on Pakistani militants. Opposition Hindu nationalist leaders said Sunday the deadly attack in Pune brings into question the government's decision to resume talks with Pakistan.
PAKISTAN BLAST: Pakistani officials say a U.S. drone strike in the country's lawless northwest tribal belt has killed five people. Authorities say two missiles hit a building Sunday in North Waziristan, an area on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan that is used as a sanctuary by al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The U.S. has stepped up its drone attacks in the region since a bomber killed seven CIA employees late last year in Afghanistan.
In a separate development, Pakistani officials say an explosion in Sindh province, in the south of the country, has killed three people and wounded at least nine others.
CLINTON GULF TRIP: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Doha Sunday at the start of a trip to Qatar and Saudi Arabia for talks with U.S. allies on Middle East issues. Those issues include Iran and efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Clinton will meet with Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, as well as Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who serves as both the prime minister and foreign minister.
Clinton will also deliver a speech to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, as part of the Obama administration's bid to promote better ties with Muslim countries. President Barack Obama on Saturday appointed a special envoy to the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference ahead of Clinton's appearance at the forum. In a recorded video message to the conference, Mr. Obama said he was appointing White House lawyer Rashad Hussain to expand the partnership with the Muslim community he has pursued since his Cairo speech last June.

US - DALAI LAMA: A U.S. advocacy group says it will present the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, with an award for his commitment to democracy and human dignity. The National Endowment for Democracy says it will present the Dalai Lama with its Democracy Service Medal in a ceremony in Washington next Friday. It says the Tibetan spiritual leader is expected to address an audience of 500 people in his only public appearance during his upcoming visit to Washington. The Dalai Lama is traveling to Washington to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.
China has demanded that the meeting be canceled, but the White House has said the meeting will take place as planned.
LUNAR NEW YEAR:Hundreds of millions of people across Asia are celebrating the first day of the Lunar New Year. The holiday, which ushersin the Year of the Tiger, is the most important of the year in countries ranging from China, to North and South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam, with families welcoming in the New Year with fireworks, family reunions and traditional food. Snow in the north and freezing rain in the south of China threatened to cause chaos, as millions traveled to be with their families around the nation of 1.3 billion in what is believed to be the world's largest annual movement of humans.

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