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Ahmad Masood

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In today’s pictures, girls in Spain ‘dance’ on women’s shoulders, the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates a softball win, a dock from Japan washes ashore in Oregon, and more.

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In early April, in an attempt to accelerate the transition of military responsibility to the Afghan government, the US agreed to hand control of special operations missions to Afghan forces, including night raids, relegating American troops to a supporting role. This deal cleared the way for the two countries to move ahead with an agreement that would establish the shape of American support to Afghanistan after the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline. Domestic support for the war (in the US) has dropped sharply. We look back at March in the troubled country. -- Paula Nelson (37 photos total)
Young Afghan women use an umbrella to shield themselves from the sun in Kabul, April 5, 2012. The position of women in Afghanistan has improved dramatically since the fall of the Taliban, with the number of girls in education soaring. But as the Americans and the Afghan government have pursued peace efforts with the Taliban, women are increasingly concerned that gains in their rights may be compromised in a bid to end the costly and deadly war. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

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RAGING ON
RAGING ON: An Afghan boy who works at a bakery watched a protest in Kabul Friday. Twelve people were killed on Friday in the bloodiest day yet in protests over the desecration of copies of the Quran at a U.S. military base. Riot police and soldiers braced for more violence. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

DAMAGED
DAMAGED: A police station in Peshawar, Pakistan, was attacked Friday morning by three militants who blew themselves up after nearly two hours of gun battle with the police. Four policemen were killed and five others injured in the shootout. (Umar Qayyum/Xinhua/Zuma Press)

ASHES
ASHES: A refugee boy from Myanmar searched the ruins of his home at the Um-Piam refugee camp on Friday. According to local officials, around 5,000 people lost their homes in a fire in Um-Piam, a refugee camp along the Thai-Myanmar border that houses more than 17,600 refugees. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

PADDLE SPORT
PADDLE SPORT: American Tyler Hinton competed during the Oceania Championships/Olympic Qualifier at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium in Sydney, Australia, on Friday. (Dean Lewins/EPA)

HEADING TO THE MOSQUE
HEADING TO THE MOSQUE: A man rested next to his crutches along the pathway leading to Haji Ali Mosque in Mumbai on Friday. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

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MARK OF FAITH
MARK OF FAITH: A Catholic man’s forehead was marked with ash for Ash Wednesday in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Jose Cabezas/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

LOOKING AFTER LOOTING
LOOKING AFTER LOOTING: A man peered into a closed shop after it was looted by people who were protesting against the cost of living on the island of Réunion Wednesday. (Grondin Emmanuel/Maxppp/Zuma Press)

GUN READY
GUN READY: An Afghan police officer patrolled in Kabul as people gathered for another day Wednesday to demonstrate against the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. At least seven people were killed and dozens injured in violent clashes in several cities. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

MONOCHROMATIC
MONOCHROMATIC: Carnival revelers performed at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday. (Vanderlei Almeida/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

CENTRAL SPOT
CENTRAL SPOT: A farmer fed buffaloes at a farm in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday. (Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

NEW POINT OF VIEW
NEW POINT OF VIEW: Nepalese man Chandra Bahadur Dangi, 72 years old, flew to the capital, Katmandu, Wednesday. Guinness World Records representatives were going to measure Mr. Dangi, who claims to be the world’s shortest man at 22 inches tall. (Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

MANY MIRRORS
MANY MIRRORS: A man looked at mirrors displayed for sale outside a car-accessories shop in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Wednesday. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press)

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Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that American forces in Afghanistan would be accelerating their withdrawal. "Hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013," Panetta said, "we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice, and assist role." This announcement came shortly after the Taliban declared its plans to open a political office in Qatar, allowing for direct peace negotiations. At the moment, the U.S. still has 90,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 scheduled to return home later this year. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during an operation near the end of their third deployment in three years in Afghanistan. They were securing route 611, which runs Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking. (Cpl. James Clark/USMC)

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The New Year began violently in Afghanistan, with three bombings killing 13 people in one day in Kandahar. In addition, the French Defense minister told soldiers he backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, and President Obama was in talks about defense priorites as the US military readied for challenges from China and Iran while downplaying any future counterinsurgency efforts like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meanwhile, the foreign troop withdrawal process continued, as more responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces. The goal is a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014. -- Lloyd Young (41 photos total)
Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. The security responsibilities of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor province is handed over from the NATO forces to Afghan security forces. The process of taking over security from over 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF forces by Afghan troops would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from US and NATO forces. (Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press)

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Coal occupies a central position in modern human endeavors. Last year over 7000 megatons were mined worldwide. Powerful, yet dirty and dangerous, use of coal is expanding every year, with 2010 witnessing a production increase of 6.8%. Around 70 countries have recoverable reserves, which some estimates claim will last for over a hundred years at current production levels. Mining for coal is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. While deadliest in China, where thousands of miners die annually, the profession is still hazardous in the West and other regions as well. Our mining and use of coal accounts for a variety of environmental hazards, including the production of more CO2 than any other source. Other concerns include acid rain, groundwater contamination, respiratory issues, and the waste products which contain heavy metals. But our lives as lived today rely heavily on the combustible sedimentary rock. Over 40% of the world's electricity is generated by burning coal, more than from any other source. Chances are that a significant percentage of the electricity you're using to read this blog was generated by burning coal. Gathered here are images of coal extraction, transportation, and the impact on environment and society. The first eight photographs are by Getty photographer Daniel Berehulak, who documented the lives of miners in Jaintia Hills, India. -- Lane Turner (48 photos total)
22-year-old Shyam Rai from Nepal makes his way through tunnels inside of a coal mine 300 ft beneath the surface on April 13, 2011 near the village of Latyrke, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. In the Jaintia hills, located in India's far northeast state of Meghalaya, miners descend to great depths on slippery, rickety wooden ladders. Children and adults squeeze into rat hole like tunnels in thousands of privately owned and unregulated mines, extracting coal with their hands or primitive tools and no safety equipment. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

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In the year 2011, a total of 565 NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan were killed -- down from 711 in 2010 -- marking the largest decline in annual deaths during the decade-long conflict. The large number of NATO soldiers on the ground appears to have made a difference, a fact that worries Afghans as the U.S. and others accelerate their planned pullback. This year, 23,000 U.S. soldiers are scheduled to depart the country, heading toward a full withdrawal by 2014. For now, U.S. troops appear to be focusing on intensive training of Afghan forces and preparing for the logistical challenge of shipping home some $30 billion worth of military gear. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Cpl. James Hernandez, a combat engineer with Alpha Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, and a native of Goodyear, Arizona, uses an electric saw to dismantle a HESCO barrier at Firebase Saenz, in Helmand province, on December 13, 2011. FB Saenz is the first of several patrol bases being demilitarized by the Marines of 9th ESB throughout the month of December. (USMC/Cpl. Bryan Nygaard)

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ON THE TRAIL
ON THE TRAIL: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greeted a voter at a campaign stop in Portsmouth, N.H., Tuesday. He and the other Republican presidential hopefuls are gearing up for the Iowa caucuses, to be held Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primaries, Jan. 10. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

READY FOR THE SHOW
READY FOR THE SHOW: LaQuita Staten listened as her husband, Corey Staten, welcomed the audience to the Attucks Theatre’s sixth annual Kwanzaa concert in Norfolk, Va., Monday. (Amanda Lucier/The Virginian-Pilot/Associated Press)

SAD DAY
SAD DAY: Karen Bell wiped her eyes as she sat Tuesday with her mother-in-law, Pamela Alexander, left, and her father-in-law, James Bell III, not shown, at the burial of her husband, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Vincent Bell, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AFP/Getty Images)

ON GUARD
ON GUARD: A police officer watched as refugees and others at risk in the cold winter weather lined up for a distribution of U.N. aid packages in Kabul Tuesday. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

COLD MORNING
COLD MORNING: A man warmed himself by a bonfire at dawn Tuesday in the old quarter of Delhi. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

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