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U.S. and Pakistani Forces Clash

Pakistani and U.S. ground troops exchanged fire along the border with Afghanistan on Thursday, according to a top U.S. military official, ratcheting up tensions as the United States increases its attacks against militants in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas.

The clash started after the Pakistanis fired shots or flares at two U.S. helicopters that Pakistan says had crossed its border.

The two U.S. OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters were not damaged, and no casualties were reported on either side from the ground fire. But U.S. and Pakistani officials agreed on little else about what happened in the fleeting mid-afternoon clash between the allied troops.

U.S. and NATO officials said that the two helicopters were flying about one mile inside Afghan air space to protect a U.S. and Afghan patrol on the ground when the aircraft were fired on by a Pakistani military checkpoint near Tanai district in Khost province. The officials said small-caliber arms were used.

In response, the U.S. ground troops shot short bursts of warning fire, which hit well shy of the rocky, hilltop checkpoint, and the Pakistanis fired back, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the Central Command.

Earmarks Abound as Congress Proceeds With Spending Bill

As Congress tried to cobble together a plan to spend huge sums on a financial bailout, lawmakers also moved Thursday toward final approval of an omnibus spending bill with more than 2,300 pet projects, including a $2 million study of animal hibernation.

Many lawmakers had promised to go on a diet, but their appetite for the pet projects, known as earmarks, has returned as Congress finishes its work for the year and Election Day looms less than six weeks away.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, calculates that earmarks account for $6.6 billion of the omnibus bill’s cost, which totals more than $630 billion. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who is on trial a few blocks from the Capitol on ethics charges related to financial disclosure, appears to have gotten more earmarks than anyone else: 39 items totaling $238.5 million, according to the organization’s tally.

Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., was the apparent winner in the House, with 30 items totaling $111 million, including $24.5 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, his hometown.

China’s Milk Scandal Hits Europe

European Union regulators on Thursday ordered rigorous testing of imports containing at least 15 percent milk powder after concluding that food containing tainted milk powder from China may well be circulating in Europe and putting children at risk.

The action, announced by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission, significantly expands the potential geographic reach of a milk adulteration scandal in China to now include a range of foods sold around the world. The Europeans said cookies, toffees and chocolates are the major concerns.

The World Health Organization and the U.N. Children’s Fund also expressed concern on Thursday about the Chinese milk contamination and the implications for other foods. In the United States, some consumer groups called on the Food and Drug Administration to restrict imports of foods that may contain suspected dairy ingredients from China.

In China, milk products contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine have sickened more than 50,000 young children in recent weeks and created a spiraling government scandal.