In brief: Taliban attacks claim at least 21

Kabul, Afghanistan – Taliban assailants stormed a government complex in eastern Afghanistan and raided police checkpoints Monday in a series of attacks that killed at least 21 people and marked the start of what the insurgent group dubbed a new spring offensive.

Militants also fired two rockets at Kabul International Airport, causing no casualties but underscoring the country’s fragile security even as it awaits the results of last month’s presidential election and the United States continues to withdraw its forces.

Fighting between the Taliban and government forces and their NATO allies typically increases in the spring as the weather improves and snow melts. But this year will the toughest test yet for Afghan soldiers and police, who are now completely in charge of security operations as NATO forces including the remaining 30,000 U.S. troops – the lowest number in six years – accelerate their withdrawal.

The Taliban announced last week that they would begin a new offensive Monday. The deadliest attack occurred in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where three militants dressed in police uniforms struck a compound housing the provincial justice department and engaged in a three-hour gunbattle with Afghan security forces. Five justice department employees and two police officers were killed, according to Afghan authorities.

U.S. alleges illegal trade, seeks extradition

Jerusalem – An Israeli citizen suspected of illegal trade with Iran and money laundering was arrested Monday at the request of American authorities, justice officials in Israel said.

According to a statement from Israel’s Justice Ministry, U.S. officials filed a request to arrest the 64-year-old Israeli in March, with plans to seek the man’s extradition. Israeli authorities described the man only as an Israeli citizen born in 1950 and residing in central Israel. He was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport on his way out of the country.

According to the request, made available to the press by the Justice Ministry, the man was indicted earlier this month by a U.S. district court in Connecticut.

The charges include conspiracy to export military items on the U.S. munitions list without permission from the State Department, actual export of banned items and conspiracy to commit money laundering to cover the tracks of the illegal trade.

Lew urges trade, currency action by China

Beijing – The U.S. treasury secretary pressed China today to ease politically sensitive exchange rate controls and lower barriers to foreign investment.

Beijing in March widened the narrow band in which it allows its yuan to fluctuate against the U.S. dollar. But it retained controls that critics complain keep the yuan undervalued and give its exporters an unfair price advantage.

“It is important that China demonstrate a renewed commitment to move to a more market-determined exchange rate,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement ahead of a meeting with a Chinese vice premier, Wang Yang.

Washington wants a more “open, balanced” trade and investment relationship, Lew said. That would include opening China’s markets wider to foreign investment and ensuring equal treatment for all companies, he said.

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