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Karzai Postpones Parliamentary Recess

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday ordered parliament to postpone its winter recess until a new list of Cabinet nominees is announced, following last week's stinging rejection of most of his choices.

The rejection by lawmakers of 17 of 24 nominees was a surprising slap and an obstacle to Karzai getting his second term in office into full operation and focusing on badly needed reforms.

Karzai's credibility both at home and abroad was shaken by the fraud-plagued presidential elections in August. In the vote on the Cabinet nominees Saturday, lawmakers rejected nominees viewed as Karzai's political cronies, those believed to be under the influence of warlords and others deemed unqualified. The parliament did approve his retention of incumbents in the key portfolios of defense, interior and finance.

The order, under a constitutional provision that allows the president to call extraordinary sessions of parliament, states that Karzai will introduce a new slate of Cabinet nominees within a few days. Karzai clearly hopes to have a full government in place before the Jan. 28 international conference in London on Afghanistan.

The dispute over the Cabinet came as the country faces an increasingly active insurgency. A roadside bombing killed four U.S. service members, the first American combat deaths of the year in Afghanistan, while a British soldier died during a foot patrol elsewhere in the volatile south, officials said Monday.

A statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the explosion that killed the U.S. service members took place Sunday in the south, but did not give further details on the location or the victims' branch of service.

The deaths are the first U.S. fatalities from hostile action in Afghanistan this year. One U.S. service member has died of noncombat causes so far in 2010.

The British soldier died while on foot patrol Sunday in Helmand province, the British Ministry of Defense said.

Afghan insurgents are increasingly turning to improvised explosive devices in their fight against Afghan and international forces. Of the 304 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan last year, 129 were caused by IEDs, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said its soldiers killed more than 10 Taliban fighters in heavy fighting Sunday in northern Kunduz province's Imam Sahib district, which borders Tajikistan. One soldier was wounded in the clash.

Also Monday, NATO said a joint Afghan-international force discovered a huge cache of marijuana and turned it over to police for destruction. NATO said the cache contained up to 28,000 cubic feet of marijuana - the equivalent of about seven standard semi-trailers.

As the U.S. and other Western nations have tried to help Afghanistan stamp out its poppy fields - the country is the world's leading opium producer - an increasing number of farmers have turned to marijuana, which is receiving less attention from authorities.

The Interior Ministry said 256 pounds of heroin were seized Sunday in an operation in Badakhshan province, and 4,100 pounds of opium were incinerated Sunday in Helmand province in a joint operation of counternarcotics police and U.S. Marines.

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