Allied and Afghan security forces have killed 59 Taliban militants in fighting since the weekend, a US spokesman said Tuesday. The report came as Defense Secretary Gates ended a visit to Kabul, saying senior British and UN officials were being "defeatist" in claiming the conflict with militants cannot be won. Gates added, however, that the US supports talks with "reconcilable" Taliban who might be persuaded to break ranks and stop fighting. In Germany, meanwhile, the government decided to extend and increase its commitment of troops to Afghanistan even though the mission generally lacks public approval.

By Thursday, Russian forces will have withdrawn from the buffer zone they occupy along Georgia's boundary with South Ossetia, their commander said. Under agreements brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the pullout must be complete as of Friday from Georgia's side of the boundary as well as from its border with Abkhazia. But the Russian commander did not mention the latter deployment. Russia has recognized both territories as independent states and plans to station 7,000 "peacekeepers" there.

A plane apparently carrying personnel from a Hungarian aid agency was forced down for violating Iran's airspace, reports said Tuesday. But the plane and its passengers were permitted to continue to their destination in Afghanistan a day later. A senior defense official contradicted his own country's news agencies, denying that the craft and some of those aboard were American.

"If need be," Turkish forces will cross the border with Iraq to raid Kurdish rebel camps, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament.But he said any such operation would not target Iraqi civilians or compromise "unity and integrity." Turkey is smarting from a cross-border ambush by rebels last Friday that killed 17 soldiers, the heaviest casualty count this year. Turkish jets struck Kurdish encampments in Iraq again Tuesday, but it was not known whether they caused any rebel casualties.

Scheduled military exchanges with the US over the next several weeks were canceled by China, the Pentagon said Tuesday. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing has denounced a planned US sale to rival Taiwan of $6.5 billion in advanced helicopters and hundreds of Patriot missiles, which it said "gravely jeopardizes China's national security." China regards Taiwan as its territory.

"If there is any delay, it will be because of weather," a spokesman for the Indian space agency said Tuesday, announcing an Oct. 22 liftoff for the nation's first unmanned mission to the moon. The launch originally was scheduled in April but had to be postponed for technical reasons. Despite a limited budget, India already has 16 orbiting research and communications satellites and is aiming to send its first astronaut into space by 2014.

An American and two Japanese will share the Nobel Prize for physics, its organizers announced Tuesday. Yoichiro Nambu of the University of Chicago and Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, who work in Japan, were honored for their discoveries in subatomic physics and will divide a $1.4 million cash award.

Voters in the Maldives, one of the world's most exotic tourist destinations, go to the polls Wednesday to decide whether President Mamoun Abdul Gayoom should have a seventh term. For the first time since coming to power in 1978, Asia's longest-serving leader faces opposition: five challengers who accuse him of using his office to enrich family members and friends. The election also takes place amid a worsening drug culture and growing Islamic fundamentalism.

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