South Ossetia fighting risks wider war

DZHAVA, Georgia - Russia dispatched an armored column into the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia on Friday after Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, launched a surprise offensive to crush separatists. Witnesses said hundreds of civilians were killed.

The fighting, which devastated the capital of Tskhinvali, threatened to ignite a wider war between Georgia and Russia, and escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington. Georgia said it was forced to launch the assault because of rebel attacks; the separatists alleged Georgia violated a cease-fire.

Shiite militia to become religious body

BAGHDAD - Anti-U.S. Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered most of his militiamen Friday to lay down their arms, and his spokesman said the young cleric might call off all resistance if the Americans accept a timetable to leave Iraq.

In the north, a car bomb exploded Friday evening in a crowded market in the city of Tal Afar, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens, police and U.S. officials said. Tensions have been rising among ethnic groups throughout the north because of a dispute over control of the oil-rich area around Kirkuk - claimed by Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds.

Gates endorses big expansion of Afghan army

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates has endorsed a new five-year, $17 billion plan to increase the size of the Afghan army by about 50,000 troops.

The move follows a proposal from the Afghanistan government, and the price tag includes the costs for routine Afghan Army combat operations and upgrading the air corps, beginning in 2010, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Friday. He said it generally costs about $1 billion a year to increase forces by 10,000, and another $100,000 to sustain them.

Storm becomes Hurricane Hernan

MEXICO CITY - The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Hernan has formed far off Mexico's Pacific coast and is expected to remain far from land.

The former tropical storm is the fifth hurricane of the eastern Pacific season. Hernan's winds reached almost 75 mph early Friday.