Taliban offensive exposes fragile US hopes for Afghan peace

WASHINGTON — A year after the Trump administration introduced its strategy for Afghanistan, the Taliban are asserting themselves on the battlefield even as U.S. officials talk up hopes for peace. That’s raising questions about the viability of the American game plan for ending a war that began when some of the current U.S. troops were in diapers.

A Taliban assault on Ghazni, a key city linking areas of Taliban influence barely 75 miles from Kabul, has killed about 100 Afghan security forces and 20 civilians since Friday, the Afghan Defense Ministry said. That has demonstrated the militants’ ability to attack, if not hold, a strategic center on the nation’s main highway, and highlighted the vulnerability of Afghan security forces.

In a reminder that U.S. troops and their families are paying a heavy price, even with Afghan forces in the lead combat role, the Pentagon announced Monday that a 36-year-old soldier, Staff Sgt. Reymund Rarogal Transfiguracion of Waikoloa, Hawaii, died Sunday of wounds sustained on a combat patrol in the Helmand province.

Against that turbulent backdrop, some wonder whether President Donald Trump can resist pulling the plug on a war in which the U.S. is still spending $4 billion-plus a year just to keep Afghan forces afloat. He said when he introduced his strategy on Aug. 21, 2017, that his instinct was to withdraw entirely.

Fighting across the country has intensified in recent weeks despite a fleeting outbreak of peace earlier in the summer. Taliban and the Afghan government called separate, briefly overlapping, national cease fires in June, and the administration has made its own contact with the Taliban in hopes of nudging them into talks with Kabul.

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Reality White House: Trump, Omarosa trade insults, charges

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman faced off Monday in a messy clash that involved an explosive tell-all book, secret recordings, an ethnic slur and plenty of insults — reviving their roles as reality show boss and villain.

Late Monday, Trump tackled Manigault Newman’s claim that she had heard an audiotape of him using the N-word.

He tweeted that he had received a call from the producer of “The Apprentice” assuring him “there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa.”

Trump insisted, “I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have.” He said Manigault Newman had called him “a true Champion of Civil Rights” until she was fired.

Manigault Newman, the former White House liaison to black voters, writes in her new memoir that she’d heard such tapes existed. She said Sunday that she had listened to one after the book closed.

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Seattle airplane theft prompts review of security measures

SEATTLE — The spectacular theft of a 76-seat plane from the Seattle airport by a ground crew employee is prompting an industrywide review of how to thwart such insider security threats, though it remains unclear what steps airlines might take.

“This is too big a deal. It’s not going to go away,” said Glen Winn, a former Secret Service agent who teaches in the University of Southern California’s aviation security program. “There’s going to be a lot of discussion, a lot of meetings, a lot of finger-pointing, and it’s going to come down to: How do we stop it?”

Investigators are continuing to piece together how 3½-year Horizon Air employee Richard Russell stole the empty Bombardier Q400 turboprop on Friday evening and took off on a roughly 75-minute flight, executing steep banks and even a barrel roll while being tailed by fighter jets. He finally crashed into a forested island south of Seattle.

Russell was killed. No one else was hurt. In conversation with an air-traffic controller, he described himself as “just a broken guy,” said he “wasn’t really planning on landing” the aircraft, and claimed he didn’t want to hurt anyone else.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire called the theft from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport “truly a one-in-a-million experience,” but added, “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it.”

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Glacier latest US park to be scorched by Western wildfires

A wildfire destroyed structures and forced evacuations Monday from the busiest area of Montana’s Glacier National Park, as officials in California prepared to reopen Yosemite National Park following a two-week closure at the height of the summer season.

Glacier’s Sprague Creek campground was closed and evacuated, a day after a fast-moving fire triggered the evacuation of dozens of guests from the historic Lake McDonald Lodge late Sunday night.

Park officials said in a statement that structures on the north end of Lake McDonald were lost, but they did not provide details on the number and type. The fire grew to between 2 and 4 square miles (between 5 and 10 square kilometers) by Monday afternoon.

“It just completely exploded. Yesterday we were watching it grow all day, and now it’s so smoky you can’t see anything,” said Kyersten Siebenaler with Glacier Outfitters, which rents boats in Apgar, a small community at the south end of the lake.

The outfitting company was trying to help tourists who evacuated find places to stay on the east side of the park, where it was not as smoky, Siebenaler said.

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Gore: Trump not yet as damaging to environment as he feared

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Trump administration has made some dangerous changes to environmental policy, but the damage so far has been less than it initially appeared, former Vice President Al Gore said in an interview Monday.

“He (President Trump) has had less of an impact so far than I feared that he would. Someone said last year his administration is a blend of malevolence and incompetence,” Gore said in an interview with The Associated Press in Greensboro. “I think they’ve made some mistakes in some of the moves they’ve made. The courts have blocked some of what they wanted to do as a result.”

Even the Republican-controlled Congress has stepped in at times, he said. “The U.S. system has a lot of inherent resilience,” Gore said. “It’s hard for one person, even the president, to change things very quickly if the majority of American people don’t want them changed.”

Gore was in North Carolina on Sunday and Monday to speak on behalf of the Poor People’s Campaign, which names “ecological devastation” as one of the problems hurting poor people. Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his campaign to protect the environment. He authored a 1992 book on the climate, “Earth in the Balance,” just before he became vice president. His work also includes the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” More recently he founded The Climate Reality Project .

Historians say a 1982 campaign against a PCB landfill in North Carolina’s majority-black Warren County helped give birth to the environmental justice movement so it’s especially appropriate that the Poor People’s Campaign has its roots in the state, Gore said. The campaign’s co-chair is the Rev. William Barber, who founded the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina and has served as president of the state NAACP chapter.

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Florida shooting: Man arrested in ‘stand your ground’ case

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Prosecutors charged a white man with manslaughter Monday in the death of an unarmed black man whose video-recorded shooting in a store parking lot has revived debate over Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Michael Drejka, 47, has been charged with the July 19 death of Markeis McGlockton outside a Clearwater convenience store, Pinellas County State Attorney Bernie McCabe said. Drejka was being held at the county jail on $100,000 bail. It was unknown if he had an attorney.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, relatives of McGlockton said they were pleased with the charge.

“I know this is going to be a long road,” said Michael McGlockton, the victim’s father. “We are up for the task. I just hope for a good outcome.”

Family attorney Michele Rayner said “the ultimate goal is conviction,” and that she believed manslaughter was the correct charge. She also noted that Monday was bittersweet.

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Why Turkey’s currency is plunging and what it means

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s currency and stock market kept on falling Monday, weighed down by investor fears about the country’s economic policies and worsening relations with the United States.

The lira fell as low as 6.89 to the dollar Monday, down about 7 percent on the day and 45 percent since the start of the year. The main stock index fell 3.5 percent.

Here is a look at some of the reasons behind the plunge and how it might affect the rest of the world.

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Q: WHY IS TURKEY’S CURRENCY SO WEAK?

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Drenching rains close roads, prompt rescues in Pennsylvania

DARBY, Pa. — Heavy rains triggered flash flooding in parts of central and eastern Pennsylvania on Monday, closing down a heavily traveled interstate and sending water into homes in the mountainous coal regions.

State highway and emergency management officials reported numerous closed roads in a wide swath of the state from Williamsport to the Philadelphia suburbs, and some motorists had to be rescued.

Hazel Coles said water rose so quickly at her home in Darby, outside Philadelphia, that she had to evacuate through a window. She said there was about 3 feet of water on her street, and some people had to be evacuated by boat. She said the Red Cross was helping displaced residents.

“It’s just crazy,” she said. “I thank God it wasn’t worse.”

The National Weather Service in State College said there were numerous reports of 6 inches of rain or more in Schuylkill and Columbia counties.

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Questions loom over Tesla deal after CEO reveals Saudi link

SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s elaboration on his plan to engineer a buyout of the electric car maker could get the Silicon Valley maverick into legal trouble by revealing that the deal is far more uncertain than how he initially described it in his brash tweet last week.

If everything falls into place, Musk plans to buy Tesla from any existing shareholders willing to sell using money raised through Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Until his Monday blog post , Musk hadn’t identified the source for financing a deal that analysts estimate could cost anywhere from $25 billion to $50 billion.

But when he initially dropped his bombshell in an August 7 tweet , Musk stated he had “funding secured” to buy Tesla stock at $420 per share — 23 percent above its August 6 closing price.

That assurance caused Tesla’s stock to surge 11 percent in one day, boosting the company’s market value by more than $6 billion to the dismay investors who had been betting Tesla’s shares would decline.

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Lordy, they have tapes: Secret tapes in Trump orbit not new

WASHINGTON — Lordy, there are tapes. And tapes and tapes and more tapes.

Omarosa Manigault Newman’s former colleagues say they are shocked that she secretly recorded private conversations with President Donald Trump and his chief of staff.

But surreptitious tapes in Trump’s world are nothing new, with the president himself once suggesting he secretly recorded fired FBI Director James Comey (who responded by saying : “Lordy, I hope there are tapes”). Trump’s ex-attorney Michael Cohen has his own cache of recordings, too.

Here’s what to know about the latest White House tapes and why they matter:

FROM PLUM JOB TO ‘WACKY’

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