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News Wrap: Turkey strikes new round of Kurdish targets

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JUDY WOODRUFF: In other news, the Turkish military unleashed a powerful new barrage of airstrikes on Kurdish rebel targets in Northern Iraq overnight.

They pounded Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, sites in six areas. The pro-Kurdish political opposition demanded an end to the attacks today, charging a political motive by President Erdogan. But in Ankara, Turkey’s prime minister warned that peace will only be achieved if rebel fighters stop all their attacks.

PRIME MINISTER AHMET DAVUTOGLU, Turky (through interpreter): Our might is enough to simultaneously fight not just three terror organizations, but 33. And we will show that might. Within this framework, we will continue to take our precautions and this process will continue until terrorism elements lay down their arms and until they get out of Turkey and until public order is absolutely restored.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, Turkey’s cabinet officially approved an agreement to allow the U.S.-led military coalition to use its Incirlik Air Base to launch strikes on the Islamic State.

GWEN IFILL: In Washington, the military’s top brass joined the secretary of state on Capitol Hill to defend the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Republican John McCain insisted he can’t make an informed decision without all the facts, and that includes documents Iran negotiated with international nuclear inspectors.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: We agree, all of us, I believe, that we should see those instruments of verification. Otherwise, how can we make a judgment as to these — this agreement can be enforced and verified with a country that has a long record of cheating?

GWEN IFILL: The nuclear deal’s lead negotiator, Secretary of State John Kerry, again played down any talk of secret agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We have relied on the IAEA for years and years. And, historically, the IAEA always creates what’s called a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, a CSA, which they negotiate with a country. And we don’t get that exact — it’s not shared with the world.

And their reasons that it’s confidential have to do with what you can get out of that country, but we do get briefed on it.

GWEN IFILL: After a 60-day review period, the House and Senate will vote on the Iran nuclear agreement in September.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The House of Representatives late today approved a three-month funding extension of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The fund, which funnels federal money towards bridge, road and transit projects is due to run out of money at midnight this Friday. The Senate plans on taking up the $8 billion bill later this week.

GWEN IFILL: Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah was indicted today on federal racketeering and bribery charges. The longtime Philadelphia congressman allegedly paid off a campaign loan with charitable donations and used campaign money to pay down his son’s student loan debt. Charges ranged from bribery to bank and mail fraud to money laundering. In a statement, Fattah said he’s never participated in any illegal activity or misused taxpayer dollars.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Federal Reserve Board opted today to keep interest rates unchanged, for now. In its latest statement, the Central Bank said it’s still waiting to see further economic recovery and higher inflation before it will raise them. Today’s Fed statement caused stocks to close higher on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 121 points to close at 17751. The Nasdaq rose 22 points and the S&P 500 added 15.

GWEN IFILL: Outrage grew around the world today over the death of a famous lion in Africa. Minnesota dentist Walter J. Palmer paid Zimbabwe hunter Theo Bronkhorst to go on the trophy hunting trip that ultimately led to the lion’s killing.

Bronkhorst left a courtroom in Zimbabwe with his lawyer today, charged with failing to prevent an American from unlawfully killing Cecil, the country’s most well-known lion.

QUESTION: How do you feel?

MAN: Terrible.

GWEN IFILL: Earlier this month, the beloved Cecil was allegedly lured out of his sanctuary at a national park into unprotected territory, where he was shot with a bow and an arrow. The man behind the bow and arrow was American Walter J. Palmer, who has killed wild animals before, like this lion in 2008. He admits he killed Cecil, but said he thought the hunt was legal.

Cecil, one of the park’s oldest lions, didn’t die right away, but he had to be shot days later, when he was also beheaded.

PRINCE MUPAZVIRIHO, Zimbabwe Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary: If we had not been having strong conservation efforts in terms of protecting the animals from poachers, it wouldn’t have gone to that age of 13 years.

GWEN IFILL: Amid a social media backlash, Palmer is now being sought on poaching charges, and the public has turned his dental practice in Minnesota into a makeshift memorial to the dead lion. For now, the office remains closed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pledged today to assist officials in Zimbabwe in whatever manner is requested.

JUDY WOODRUFF: New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady vowed to fight his four-game suspension by the National Football League for his involvement in deflating footballs during last year’s playoff run.

In a statement, Brady also denied allegations made by the NFL that he destroyed his cell phone to hide information. The NFL Players Association filed a motion in federal court in Minnesota today challenging the league’s decision to uphold Brady’s suspension.

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Why is word of Mullah Omar’s death coming out now?

Mullah Omar of Afghanistan's Taliban regime is shown in this undated U.S. National Counterterrorism
         Center image. Afghanistan said on July 29, 2015 it was investigating reports that Mullah Omar, leader of the militant Taliban
         movement behind an escalating insurgency, was dead.  REUTERS/National Counterterrorism Center/Handout via Reuters   FOR EDITORIAL
         USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED,
         EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX1M95N

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the future of Afghanistan after a longtime enemy of the United States is reportedly dead.

Earlier today, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence agency confirmed the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. According to the agency, the reclusive figure died two years ago at a hospital in Pakistan. So far, the Taliban has not publicly commented on the claim. But as recently as two weeks ago, the group was issuing statements in his name. He had not been seen publicly since 2001.

Jessica Donati is covering the story for the Reuters news agency. She’s in Kabul. And I spoke to her a short time ago.

Jessica Donati, welcome.

So, tell us more about what these reports say and how solid are they?

JESSICA DONATI, Reuters: Well, we’re not getting a lot out of the reports, other than that the Afghan intelligence agency has said that they confirmed that Mullah Omar is dead.

And we have the Afghan government saying that they have reason to believe that the reports are credible. But from the Taliban side, we don’t have anything.

JUDY WOODRUFF:
And in terms of he died two years ago in a hospital in Pakistan, any more information than that about why he died, how he died?

JESSICA DONATI: There isn’t a lot of detail.

We have been speaking to some commanders who suggest that he might have died of tuberculosis. And there are different rumors about different illnesses that he may have had. And it’s not clear where he died or what he died of. I think the question really is, why is it coming out now, about two days before there was supposed to be another round of peace talks scheduled to take place somewhere on Friday?

So the question is, why are the reports now? Because it’s possible that they would weaken — make the Taliban appear more weak. So there are a lot of questions being asked as to who is behind these reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a theory about who is behind them? And you’re saying the Taliban would be weakened because their leader would be gone?

JESSICA DONATI: Yes, and that would suggest that there is more of a split, which would put them in a more difficult position if they were going to be bargaining with the Afghan government.

On the one side, there seems to be a group of commanders who are in favor of going ahead with the peace talks. And on the other side, there are commanders who are saying, well, look, the paramilitary foreign forces have left and we’re making progress this year in the fighting season. So, this is not a good time for us to be negotiating.

So it is not really a good position for them to be in without leadership. And that could be why they aren’t commenting either way.

JUDY WOODRUFF:
So how strong is the Taliban seen to be right now in Afghanistan?

JESSICA DONATI: At the moment, they have — they’re coming out stronger this year than last year.

First of all, the Afghan security forces are on their own. The — most foreign forces have left and there is only a limited amount of air support, along with the training mission. So the casualty rates are higher. They have taken over tens of villages in the north. They have captured a couple of district centers which are quite symbolic.

They have threatened a major city in the north, although they haven’t really come close to recapturing it. So they are making progress. On the other hand, they also have to face the fact that there is an Islamic State threat that is rising and is getting attention and perhaps competing for young fighters.

So, this might not be such a bad time for them to negotiate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how far along are the talks between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government seen to be?

JESSICA DONATI: At the moment, we aren’t even entirely clear how official these talks are. There were talks taking place in early July between the Afghan government, the Pakistani government. There were American and Chinese officials present and several Taliban.

But it is not clear who these Taliban leaders were representing and whether they had authority from leadership — the leadership. So we have statements from the Afghan and the Pakistani side saying that these were the first round of official peace talks and that the next time, they would be talking about an agenda and a possible cease-fire.

But the Taliban never said anything about whether these talks were official or not. So you could say that they’re not very far ahead at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one more twist in, I guess, an endless set of twists and turns.

Jessica Donati with Reuters in Kabul, we thank you.

JESSICA DONATI: Thank you.

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NATO steps up Ukraine mission in response to Russia

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GWEN IFILL: The role of the U.S. military in Europe has shifted since the start of the Ukraine conflict. Along with other NATO countries, American forces now have a sizable presence in the region.

Today, the dispute was once again on view, at its center, Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Just over a year ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 crashed in a field in Eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch, were killed. The government in Kiev and in many other Western countries said Russian-backed separatists shot down the plane with a surface-to-air missile. It’s a claim Moscow still denies.

Now Malaysia, along with the Netherlands, Ukraine and others, wants to set up an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those responsible.

LIOW TONG LAI, Malaysian Transport Minister: An international tribunal will be best place to deliver justice to the families of all victims.

GWEN IFILL: The U.N. Security Council took up the proposal this afternoon, but Russia vetoed it.

VITALY CHURKIN, Russian Ambassador to United Nations (through interpreter): What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation? Can it resist the aggressive propaganda backdrop in the media?

GWEN IFILL: There have been 15 months of heavy fighting in Eastern Ukraine, known as the Donbass, between separatists backed by Russia and the kin military. More than 6,500 people have been killed.

The fighting there followed Russia’s March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. But even beyond that conflict, there’s been a spike this year in Russian air incursions near NATO countries, including the United States. Last month, American fighter jets intercepted Russian TU-95 bombers off the coasts of Alaska and California.

In response to Russia’s actions, NATO countries have stepped up military exercises in Ukraine and across the Baltic states. In a visit to Estonia last fall, President Obama made the U.S. commitment clear.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: An attack on one is an attack on all. So, if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who will come to help, you will know the answer, the NATO Alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now.

GWEN IFILL:
The U.S. has been training Ukrainian forces. So far, it’s limited to instructing national guard units, but the State Department said last week that the mission will be expanded to include regular military forces later this year.

The man overseeing U.S. operations in Europe and serving as NATO supreme allied commander is General Philip Breedlove. He visited Ukraine last week. And I spoke with him today at the Pentagon.

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NATO Commander: Russia’s use of force in Europe is a major threat

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GWEN IFILL: General Breedlove, thank you so much for joining us.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, NATO Supreme Allied Commander: Oh, thanks for having me.

GWEN IFILL: I want to start by talking about Turkey. How significant is it that Turkey has allowed us to start using Incirlik for a basing to attack ISIS?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Those things that we are working at now to use bases like Incirlik and Diyarbakir, those will be very important to our ability to prosecute a joint campaign with Turkey as a part of our coalition.

GWEN IFILL: How far does that buffer zone go and how far do we go into it?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: We’re not creating any specific zone.

What we’re talking about is bringing Turkey into an arrangement where, as a part of the coalition, they cooperate in our counter-ISIL campaign in the north. And that’s the real key to this.

GWEN IFILL: So, it’s not a no-fly zone, per se, is what you are saying?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: That’s correct.

GWEN IFILL: I want to take you to Ukraine, especially Russia’s role. The new incoming nominee to be — for Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, said at a congressional hearing last week that he saw Russia as our chief global threat. Is that something you agree with?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: I have testified to the same thing in the past.

GWEN IFILL: Why?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Well, clearly, there are lots of threats out there, for instance, ISIL.

But I think what you hear from numerous leaders is that Russia is a different case. This is a nation that for 20 years we have tried to make a partner. And in the last few years, we have seen that they’re on a different path. So now we have a nation that has used force to change internationally recognized boundaries. Russia continues to occupy Crimea.

Russian forces now are in the Donbass in Eastern Ukraine. So this nation has used force to change international boundaries. And this is a nation that possesses a pretty vast nuclear inventory, and talks about the use of that inventory very openly in the past. And so what I think you see being reflected is that we see a revanchist Russia that has taken a new path towards what the security arrangements in Europe are like and how they are employed.

And they talk about using, as a matter of course, nuclear weapons. For that reason, these senior leaders, I believe, see that as a major threat.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Kerry has not said that. And I wonder if the distinction there is between the diplomatic approach to dealing with Russia on things like Iran and the military concerns.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So, Russia can and we hope in the future will be a great partner. There are many places where our needs and requirements match.

But, again, in Europe, they have established a pattern now, Georgia, Transnistria, Crimea, Donbass, where force is a matter of course. And that’s not what we look for in partners in Europe.

GWEN IFILL: So NATO has talked about providing training and artillery and some sort of support against this force you describe, this Russian bear on the border. Is that enough?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE:
Well, NATO nations are offering some assistance to Ukraine, as is the United States. Many nations now are coming along to be a part of helping Ukraine to defend themselves. They have the right to defend themselves.

GWEN IFILL:
But is it enough?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: I think that question is yet to be determined.

We believe that there is a diplomatic and a political solution. So when you ask, is it enough, the question is, is it enough to set the conditions so that we can get to a political and a diplomatic solution?

GWEN IFILL:
What about the Baltics? There is a lot of nervousness that Russia is going to expand its view of aggression in that direction as well, and they will be entirely unable to defend themselves.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE:
Both NATO, as an alliance, and the United States have come to great measures of assurance for our Baltic nations.

We have U.S. soldiers alongside British and other soldiers inside of these countries now, exercising, doing training, to assure those allies that NATO is there and will be there. I was privileged to sit in the room at Wales when the leaders of 28 nations, including our president, were rock-solid on Article V, collective defense. And that includes the Baltics.

And I think that Mr. Putin understands that NATO is different.

GWEN IFILL: There is a lot of nervousness, however, that this option, if this doesn’t take hold, is war.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Well, the best way not to have a war is to be prepared for war. So, we’re in there now, training their soldiers.

As you know, we are looking at and have decided to preposition stops forward. We have heavy equipment that we train with in these nations now. And so we need to be prepared, so that we can avoid.

GWEN IFILL: Is there a line between preparation and provocation?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE:
Absolutely. I believe there is.

We do defensive measures, and in, I think, very easily defined defensive stances in our forward bases. We’re not putting big forces into the Baltics. Right now, there is a company of U.S. soldiers in each of the three Baltic states. That is well below a proportional issue.

GWEN IFILL:
If it is possible for there to be a diplomatic or a political solution to head off any future conflict, what would that look like?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: We always talk about a European land mass whole, free, and at peace.

To get to that, we need to have a partner in Russia, not someone that we are competing with. The Russian energy…

GWEN IFILL: Do you see a partnership that I don’t see?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: No, no, I’m saying we have to have one in the future.

GWEN IFILL: Right.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: If we really believe we’re going to get to whole, free, and at peace and prosperous, then we need a partner in Russia.

GWEN IFILL:
Well, give me an example of one way to get there, especially if the person who has to be your partner is Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t show any indication, other than being helpful at the Iran nuclear talks, of being the partner you envision.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So first, it’s communication. We need to reestablish those lines of communication.

You have seen our secretary of state, undersecretary of state reaching out in several forums. Mil-to-mil communications need to become routine again. They are not routine now, where they were once before, communication first.

GWEN IFILL: I guess I hear what you are saying, but I don’t see how you get there.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Its’ not going to be an easy road. And it’s not going to happen quickly. This business with Russia is a long-term thing.

I have said in testimony in other places that this is global, not regional. And it is long-term, not short-term. But we have to start down the path.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming for a moment there is a diplomatic-to-diplomatic impasse or president-to-president impasse, is there a military-to-military way of forging that kind of agreement?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE:
There is.

It is important also that, even if our countries are not getting along, when you are flying airplanes in close vicinity, when you are sailing ships in close vicinity, when you have soldiers on the ground exercising sometimes just on the other side of borders, military men and women have to be able to communicate in a very matter-of-fact way to preclude anything ugly from happening.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and we hope nothing further ugly happens.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove, thank you very much.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE:
No, thank you very much.

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BBC News

Plane part tested for MH370 link

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India executes Mumbai bomb plotter

India has carried out the execution of Yakub Memon, the man convicted of financing the deadly 1993 Mumbai bombings.

US lion killer 'sorry for disruption'

Dentist Walter Palmer apologises to his patients for the disruption caused by the backlash against him over the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe.

France boosts Calais tunnel security

France sending extra police officers to Calais, as migrants heading for Britain say they will keep trying to enter the Channel Tunnel.