The United States is abandoning plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past a year-end withdrawal deadline, the Associated Press has learned. The decision to pull out fully by January will effectively end U.S. involvement in Iraq, despite concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability.

The decision ends months of hand-wringing by U.S. officials over whether to stick to a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline that was set in 2008, or negotiate a new security agreement to ensure that gains made and more than 4,400 U.S. military lives lost since March 2003 do not go to waste. In recent months, Washington has been discussing with Baghdad the possibility of several thousand U.S. troops remaining to continue training Iraqi security forces.

But a senior Obama administration official said Saturday that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq except for about 160 troops attached to the U.S. Embassy.


Despite a sharp increase in assassinations and a continuing flood of civilian casualties, NATO officials said Saturday that Taliban attacks are falling for the first time in years.

It was the most optimistic assessment yet from NATO, and runs counter to dimmer appraisals from some Afghan officials and the United Nations. With the United States preparing to withdraw 10,000 troops by year's end, it raises questions about whether NATO's claims can be sustained.

Attacks were down 26 percent in the quarter ending September over that quarter last year.

But the coalition's numbers clash with those of the United Nations, which reported that the average number of monthly episodes through August was up 39 percent compared with the same period last year.


Militants tried to blast their way into a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, striking before dawn with rocket-propelled grenades and a car bomb. All four attackers were killed as well as two truck drivers parked nearby, said provincial Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh. Two Afghan security guards were wounded.

A NATO spokeswoman said there were no U.S. injuries and no significant damage.


A U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan killed a son of an Egyptian-born militant cleric imprisoned in the United States for plots in the 1990s to blow up New York City landmarks, an Islamist group said Saturday.

Egypt's Gamaa Islamiya, or Islamic Group, posted on its website a notice mourning the death of Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, the son of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, 73, known as the "Blind Sheik", who is serving a life sentence in the United States.

The sheik was the spiritual leader of the Gamaa, as well as of the men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.


Lawmakers agreed Saturday to pay back Afghanistan's central bank $830 million for bailing out Kabul Bank, the country's largest private lender. The move could clear the way for a new line of credit for the country from the International Monetary Fund, Afghan and Western officials said.

The bank almost collapsed after revelations its leadership had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to its own shareholders and Afghan officials.