Memorial Day. President Barack Obama made a surprise and very quick visit to Afghanistan on Sunday to mark what could be the last Memorial Day with a significant U.S. presence in the country. He flew in to Bagram Air Field under the cover of darkness and flew out before dawn because security in the country is still too tenuous to guarantee his safety. He spent the overnight hours meeting with military officials and visiting a base hospital. Before he left, he addressed about 3,000 troops. “I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d stop by,”he told them. “I’m here on a single mission and that’s to say thank you for your extraordinary service.…I’m also here representing 300 million Americans who want to say thank you as well.” The president brought along country singer Brad Paisley for entertainment.
Candy-man. Ukrainians went to the polls yesterday in what international groups are hailing as a legitimate election despite ongoing unrest in the east that kept some polling places from opening. Voters selected billionaire candy maker Petro Poroshenko to be the country’s next president. Less than 24 hours later, Ukrainian anti-terrorist forces launched an attack on pro-Russian separatist rebels who seized the Donetsk International Airport. The military ordered airstrikes when the fighters did not comply with orders to surrender. Poroshenko promised earlier today to negotiate an end to the pro-Russian insurgency and to begin talks with Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the offer, fueling hopes that the conflict could soon end.
Santa Barbara mourns. Police in Santa Barbara, Calif., are still trying to piece together what prompted a 22-year-old man to go on a shooting rampage that left six dead and 13 injured. The alleged gunman, Elliot Rodger, also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a shootout with police. In YouTube videos and a 141-page manifesto emailed to family and friends just before the attack, Rodger said he wanted to take revenge for his lack of popularity with women. Family members warned police about Rodger’s deteriorating mental state last month, but officers who conducted a welfare check determined there was no need for concern. Rodger is the son of Hollywood director Peter Rodger, who worked on The Hunger Games movies. Through an attorney, the family said he struggled with mental health issues. All of the victims were students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Burn notice. Firefighters in Alaska and Arizona are battling wildfires that have raged out of control for almost a week. In Alaska, officials ordered residents to evacuate 1,000 buildings near a wildfire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. The blaze has so far burned 140,000 acres. In Arizona, the fire burning near Flagstaff has forced hundreds of people from their homes and scorched 8,500 acres.
Spreading peace. Pope Francis ended a three-day visit to the Holy Land with a visit to the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, where he kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors who recounted their anguished stories. Earlier in his trip, the pope made a trip to the Western Wall, where he placed between the stones a note with the Lord’s Prayer, written in his native Spanish. On Saturday, the pope took his turn at encouraging the Middle East peace process by inviting the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to visit the Vatican. They both accepted.