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Army study gives women taste of combat tasks
Written by LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 07:19
WomenInCombat_Pool_rotator
Spc. Karen Arvizu, left, puts on her hydration pack in preparation for her role as a volunteer in a physical demands study, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Ft. Stewart, Ga. The Army is conducting a study that will determine how all soldiers, including women, for the first time, will be deemed fit to join its fighting units from infantry platoons to tank crews. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) — Standing just over 5 feet, Army Spc. Karen Arvizu is barely a foot taller than the anti-tank missile she carries in both arms and loads into an armored vehicle. She stands on her tip-toes to wrestle open the 300-pound top hatch.

"I have to step on the seat to get the missile into the launcher," said Arvizu, a 24-year-old soldier from Los Angeles. "It's half my body weight."

Arvizu typically drives Humvees or transport trucks at Fort Stewart in Georgia, but for the past three weeks, she and 59 other women soldiers have been getting a taste of what it takes to serve in combat. By spending their days lifting 65-pound missiles and .50-caliber machine guns, all while wearing 70 pounds of body armor, they're helping make history as part of an Army study that will determine how all soldiers — including women, for the first time — will be deemed fit to join the front lines.

The Pentagon ordered last year that women must have the same opportunities to serve in combat jobs as men, with thousands of positions slated to open to both genders in 2016. And while an Army survey shows only a small fraction of women say they want to move into combat jobs, it also revealed soldiers from both genders are nervous about the change.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:04
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Arizona governor returns home amid furor over rights bill
Written by BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 07:01

PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Jan Brewer returned to Arizona on Tuesday and faced a pressing decision about a bill on her desk that has prompted a national debate over religious and gay rights.

The Republican governor has been in Washington the last five days for a governors conference, and she is returning to a political climate that is much different from just a week ago.

The Arizona Legislature passed a bill last week allowing businesses whose owners cite sincerely held religious beliefs to deny service to gays. It allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.

The legislation has caused a national uproar. The chorus of opposition has grown each day, with the business community, the state's Super Bowl Committee and both Republican U.S. senators calling for a veto. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the latest prominent voice to weigh in and urge Brewer to veto the bill.

Brewer will likely spend the next day or more pondering Senate Bill 1062 before deciding whether to sign or veto the legislation.

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Ukraine disbands police unit accused of violence
Written by MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:57

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's acting interior minister on Wednesday ordered the disbandment of a feared riot police force that many accuse of attacks on protesters during the country's three-month political turmoil.

Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that he has signed a decree to disband the force known as Berkut and said more detail would be announced later.

Anti-government protesters have blamed Berkut for violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators protesting authorities' decision to ditch closer ties with the European Union and turn to Moscow instead. Those attacks galvanized long-brewing anger against police and the protests quickly grew into a massive movement, attracting crowds exceeding 100,000 and establishing an extensive tent camp in the capital's main downtown square.

The force, whose name means "golden eagle," consisted of about 5,000 officers. It was unclear Wednesday if its members would be dismissed or if they would be reassigned to other units.

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Obama threatens Karzai with full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
Written by JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:58

WASHINGTON (AP) — Frustrated with his Afghan counterpart, President Barack Obama is ordering the Pentagon to accelerate planning for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year. But Obama is also holding out hope that Afghanistan's next president may eventually sign a stalled security agreement that could prevent the U.S. from having to take that step.

Obama spoke Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the first direct conversation between the two leaders since last June. The White House has become increasingly frustrated with Karzai, who has refused to sign a security pact that the White House says is crucial to keeping a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes at the end of this year.

With no sign that Karzai will sign the agreement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "has tasked the Pentagon with preparing for the contingency that there will be no troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014." However, he added that the U.S. remains open to keeping troops in Afghanistan if an agreement can be signed later this year, likely after the April Afghan elections.

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Avalanche deaths spike as storms bring snow, risks
Written by PHUONG LE, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:52

SEATTLE (AP) — Skiers and snowboarders rejoiced when a series of storms dumped several feet of snow in the mountains across the West, after what had been a disappointing start for those seeking fresh powder in the backcountry.

But all the new snow and strong winds in the past month have fueled dangerous conditions from the Cascades to the Rockies, prompting forecasters to issue warnings of considerable or high avalanche danger for many places outside of established ski areas.

Seventeen people have died in an avalanche this winter, 11 of them since early February. Many more skirted disaster and survived with broken bones or other injuries. Some were partially buried in snow, but managed to dig themselves out or were dug out by companions.

Avalanche experts are seeing a similar problem across the region: too much snow and strong winds overloading weak layers of old snow. With too much stress and not enough time to bond or stabilize, that weak snow layer eventually gives way.

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