Trump’s claims of US success in Afghanistan ring hollow amid Taliban talks, reality on ground

WORLD NEWS Trump's claims of US success in Afghanistan ring hollow amid Taliban talks, reality on ground

Ruskpp/iStock(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump touted the U.S. talks with the Taliban in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, projecting an air of strength and asserting that the Taliban had been forced to bargain for peace.

“The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor, and thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict,” Trump said.

But in reality, the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist militant group that ruled Afghanistan for a period, have control of more territory in Afghanistan in recent years despite Trump’s escalation of U.S. troop levels, and they’re now dictating the terms of talks as the U.S. reaches for the exit after nearly 18 years of war, according to experts.

“I don’t understand how Trump can say that the U.S. is achieving military success in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to gain ground. These peace talks, these negotiations — however you want to categorize them –- this is happening because of the U.S. desire and desperation to withdraw from Afghanistan, not because the Taliban is being beaten on the battlefield,” said Bill Roggio, editor of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s Long War Journal, which tracks the U.S. war on terror.

The U.S. has had to reassure its nervous ally, the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, that it will not make a deal without it after being so far been excluded from the U.S. talks with the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to President Ghani on Tuesday, with Ghani saying Pompeo “underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process.”

But with the conflict locked in a stalemate, Trump appears poised to pull out at least the majority of U.S. troops — a welcome move for the Taliban, which said Wednesday half of U.S. troops would be gone by April.

“This Trump administration, they are more keen to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan and bring peace in Afghanistan,” said Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban chief negotiator told BBC News Wednesday.

A State Department spokesperson denied there was any agreement on a timeline for withdrawal, and the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Scott Miller told ABC News’s David Muir in Afghanistan recently, “There’s no order to draw down.”

According to the latest Special Inspector General’s report, the militant group controls or contests 46.2 percent of Afghan territory, a slight increase in the last few months. While the Pentagon said last week territorial control is “not indicative” of how well the U.S. strategy is working “or progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan,” the most recent U.S. commander said it was integral to both those things.

The U.S. strategy had been to keep Afghan government control at 80 percent of the population because “this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile, or they die,” Gen. John Nicholson told reporters in November 2017.

To drive that policy, Trump increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to over 14,000 starting in August 2017, despite his gut: “My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts,” he said at the launch of his South Asia strategy in August 2017.

While he argued Tuesday that the pressure is why the Taliban is now seeking peace, his stated desire to leave has undermined the U.S. position all along, analysts say.

“Unfortunately, as time has elapsed, the United States and the Afghan government have lost leverage,” said Chris Kolenda, a senior adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Pentagon under President Barack Obama and a retired U.S. Army colonel.

“We all know, or can sense, that disaster may be only 280 characters away,” he told BBC News, in a reference to Trump’s Twitter, “And we certainly hope that we have the patience to let a peace process progress that respects the service and sacrifices of Americans and Afghans alike.”

That loss of leverage is evident, especially in how the Taliban has set the terms of talks.

While the U.S. has pushed for “intra-Afghan” negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government, the Taliban continues to refuse to recognize, let alone meet with President Ghani or his representatives.

While U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad has briefed the Afghan government before and after each meeting, starting last summer, the U.S. agreed to the Taliban demand to meet one-on-one, in a move that critics say has undermined Ghani’s government.

“By acceding to this Taliban demand, we have ourselves delegitimized the government we claim to support,” retired Amb. Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and several other countries, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “By going to the table we were surrendering; we were just negotiating the terms of our surrender.”

That does not have to be the case either, Crocker argued, saying the U.S. could demand the Afghan government has a seat at the table before continuing negotiations.

Kolenda, who also served as the Pentagon envoy for peace talks, said the Taliban even offered to agree to that between 2010 and 2012 after certain confidence-building measures by the U.S. that did not include a demand for U.S. withdrawal. It’s one of several missed opportunities to talk when the U.S. was in a stronger position, he added.

Instead, the U.S. has now agreed to a withdrawal of troops, according to Trump and Special Representative Khalilzad. It’s still an early framework and, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” a State Department official told ABC News.

But what the Taliban has agreed to in exchange. critics say, is not much: A promise to prevent foreign terrorist organizations from using Afghanistan as a safe haven — the very issue that brought the U.S. invasion in 2001.

“The Taliban will offer any number of commitments, knowing that when we are gone and the Taliban is back, we will have no means of enforcing any of them,” wrote Crocker.

“The Taliban have said since the 1990s that it wouldn’t allow its soil to be used by foreign terrorist groups, and yet it continues to do so to this day, so why should we trust them?” said Roggio. “It’s nonsense from the Taliban, and there’s no reason you can trust it.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 06 Feb 2019

Company claims to have ‘complete cure for cancer’ within a year, but is it too good to be true?

Jakub Rupa/iStockBY: DR. ERICA ORSINI

(NEW YORK) — An Israeli biopharmaceutical company recently announced that it would be able to cure cancer within the next year. But is this claim too good to be true?

“We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer,” Dan Aridor, chairman of the board for Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies (AEBi), told The Jerusalem Post. “Our cancer cure will be effective from day one, will last a duration of weeks and will have no or minimal side-effects at a much lower cost than other treatments on the market. Our solution will be both generic and personal.”

AEBi claims it has developed a technology that makes use of personalized therapy to target cancer cells specific to each patient, a claim that has been met with skepticism in the medical community.

“There are over 200 human cancers,” said Vince. C. Luca, Ph.D., principal investigator in drug discovery at the Moffitt Cancer Center. “Finding a cure for even one of two would be a major accomplishment. Claiming to cure them all is impossible.”

Targeted cancer therapy is not new. Researchers have already been able to target specific components of cancer cells by replicating antibodies, the proteins that our bodies naturally produce to mark disease cells for the immune system to attack. More than a dozen of these antibodies have already been approved by the FDA to treat different cancers, such as some types of breast cancer and some forms of leukemia.

AEBi, however, plans to achieve its goal with another technique, known as “functional phage display,” which would create protein components known as “therapeutic peptides.”

Phage display uses viruses that infect bacteria, called phages, which hijack the bacteria’s cellular machinery to replicate into more viruses. Scientists have figured out how to insert foreign genetic material into phages to create drugs, which replicate along with the viruses — adalimumab, which treats rheumatoid arthritis, is one of them.

According to the company, its technology would use phage display to create multiple therapeutic peptides in order to target more than one receptor at a time — something current drugs made with phage display can’t do.

“Instead of attacking receptors one at a time, we attack receptors three at a time — not even cancer can mutate three receptors at the same time,” Ilan Morad, Ph.D., founder and CEO of AEBi, told The Post.

Luca, however, says it’s not as simple as AEBi claims. “A tumor is made up of the same genetic information as the rest of your cells, except tumors have developed several mutations. It will not be easy to isolate targets unique to the cancer cells without putting healthy tissue at risk.”

AEBi declined requests for comment from ABC News. However, in December 2018, Aridor tweeted images of a press release announcing that the United States Patent Office had issued a patent for the company’s technology.

AEBi claims to have had success killing cancer cells in the lab with its therapeutic peptides. However, its studies on the matter have not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, meaning no one but people within the company have seen the results. Nevertheless, AEBi claims it has seen success in mice, and says it is pursuing a clinical trial in humans, according to The Post.

New drugs require a long approval process before they are available for use by the public, and the studies supporting the drug are scrutinized closely. On average, it takes 12 years for a drug to be approved by the FDA, and only one out of 5,000 drugs that enter pre-clinical testing are typically approved for use in people.

Luca said that without seeing the results, there’s no reason to take AEBi’s claims seriously.

You need to ask yourself, “has this technology been peer-reviewed and has it been tested in a clinical trial?” Luca said. “[If not], claiming effectiveness is unsubstantiated and should not be taken seriously.”

Erica Orsini, MD, is a resident physician in internal medicine and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Man with ALS who received tickets to Super Bowl through Team Gleason dies the day before the game

Sports News Man with ALS who received tickets to Super Bowl through Team Gleason dies the day before the game

tfoxfoto/iStock(SHELBY, N.C.) — A man with ALS who received tickets to the Super Bowl through the Team Gleason Foundation was killed in a fatal car fire before the game.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety said that Ed Cushman, 39, of Shelby, North Carolina, was killed on Saturday when the 2007 Dodge Caravan he was riding in caught fire on I-85 in Franklin County, Georgia, on Feb. 2. Ed’s brother, Robert Cushman, was driving the vehicle.

The Department of Public Safety said Robert pulled over when smoke started coming out of the vehicle. Robert said that smoke began pouring out and flames erupted on both sides of the vehicle after he exited, and he was unable to get Ed out when the flames became too intense, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

“Eventually, I just knew that this was his time, and I just felt the presence of God saying, ‘Get out while you can. Save yourself,'” Robert told ABC affiliate WSOC-TV.

Ed received tickets to the game through Team Gleason, a foundation which helps people with ALS and other related neuromuscular diseases. The group was founded by Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, and his wife, Michel.

“All of us at Team Gleason are deeply saddened after learning about the tragedy that resulted in the loss of Ed Cushman’s life,” Team Gleason said in a statement. “Our brief relationship with Eds family was filled with excitement, as Team Gleason secured the ADA Super Bowl tickets he requested. Like so many with ALS, Ed was passionate about living and he dreamed of going to the Super Bowl. We were honored to have played a small role in helping make that possible for such an amazing man.

The organization told ABC News that it has given ADA Super Bowl tickets to people with ALS every year since Gleason was diagnosed. Cushman was one of three people who, along with their families, received tickets for this year’s Super Bowl.

“Words cannot express how shocked we are for Ed and his entire family. We remain committed to our ALS community and Ed’s family in this time of incredible sadness,” Team Gleason said in the statement.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 06 Feb 2019

MLB legend Tommy John and son discuss youth sports and arm injuries

Sports News MLB legend Tommy John and son discuss youth sports and arm injuries

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Former MLB pitcher Tommy John is best known for the surgery he underwent that has become a staple in sports and has saved the careers of so many professional athletes.

“I really feel honored and proud that Dr. [Frank] Jobe would name the surgery after me,” he says in an exclusive conversation with ABC News. Rather than pronouncing the expanded medical title, it was simply easier to dub the operation, “Tommy John surgery,” as it is now widely known.

However, John is maddened by the way his name has crept into youth sports: “It’s reprehensible… Kids should be healthy until they get into minor league or major league baseball. Then you hurt your arm. But not a kid.”

John and his son, Dr. Tommy John III, visited ABC to discuss an initiative to prevent adolescent athletes from undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Dr. John III treats athletes of all ages, and within the past decade, has noticed a troubling trend among young athletes: “The degenerative wear and tear that comes in life, I was seeing in these kids at about ten, eleven, twelve-years-old.”

The surgery, performed on the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in an athlete’s elbow, is common among baseball players, but can affect athletes in any sport. There has been concern for years over how many professional pitchers undergo the operation, even though several have resumed their careers successfully.

More recently, teenagers and even pre-teens have considered or actually undergone the operation, and both Tommy John and his son believe the way parents and children train for sports today is part of the reason why.

The former ballplayer believes playing multiple sports as a kid helped create a healthy path for him to make it to the majors: “I played baseball in spring and summer, and when the leagues were over in August, I put the bat and baseball down and played basketball until March.”

Dr. John III once ran and operated a baseball school. Now, he believes training kids for baseball through the offseason months was not always beneficial, and hyper focusing on one sport could actually increase an athlete’s risk of injury.

Dr. John III outlines more tips for healthy performance in his new book, Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance: A Sports Parent’s Survival Guide.

With the book, he hopes parents and athletes will understand that intense training and focus on one sport can actually limit a young child’s athletic potential, as well as the potential for them to succeed in the sport they are so focused on:

“The book is a way to empower people outside of myself, outside of my office, to put themselves the position to be the best at whatever they’re going to perform at in life and be their healthiest option.”Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 06 Feb 2019

Second Trump-Kim summit propels Vietnam to geopolitical center stage

WORLD NEWS Second Trump-Kim summit propels Vietnam to geopolitical center stage

iStock(HANOI) — Vietnam will host the second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later this month, Trump announced last night, throwing a spotlight on the Southeast Asian nation that has friendly relations with all of the main players.

Trump said during the State of the Union address that he would meet Kim on Feb. 27 and 28, although he did not name a host city. A U.S. official previously told ABC News that the White House would pick one of three cities: Hanoi, Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City.

A spokesperson for Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a tweet on Wednesday that the country welcomed the summit and “strongly supports” dialogue on peace, security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Vietnam has warm relations with the main players

The United States and Vietnam normalized ties in 1995, decades after the end of the Vietnam War. Over the ensuing quarter-century, their economic and trade relations have grown stronger. From 1995 to 2016, bilateral trade grew from $451 million to nearly $52 billion, according to the State Department.

President Barack Obama visited Vietnam in 2016, and Trump attended an international summit there in 2017. Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited the White House in 2017, too.

South Korea and Vietnam normalized relations in 1992, and they’ve built similarly strong ties anchored on a high volume of trade. Vietnam was South Korea’s fourth-largest trading partner last year, according to Vietnamese and South Korean media reports.

North Korea and Vietnam, meanwhile, have maintained relations far longer — since 1950 — and share a socialist ideology and histories of command economies. Vietnam has opened up markets and avoided leadership as concentrated as the Kim dynasty, though.

What’s in it for Vietnam?

Hosting such a prominent diplomatic event would give Vietnam a chance to showcase its economic success and geopolitical relevance.

In addition to its ties with the Koreas and the United States, Vietnam boasts partnerships with Russia, China and others. It’s hosted high-level international gatherings before, including a World Economic Forum meeting in Hanoi in September and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang in 2017, which was attended by world leaders, including Trump.

Phuc last month told Bloomberg News that, if selected as the Trump-Kim summit host, his country would “do our best to facilitate the meeting.”

Vietnam is also often lauded as an economic success story that North Korea could emulate. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made that case in June in Hanoi, when he pointed to the country’s evolving relations with the U.S., which went from fighting to a partnership.

“The miracle could be yours,” Pompeo said, addressing Kim. “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 06 Feb 2019

Taliban official says US promised to withdraw troops in Afghanistan by April

WORLD NEWS Taliban official says US promised to withdraw troops in Afghanistan by April

iStock(MOSCOW) — The United States has promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by April, according to a Taliban official.

The official, Abdul Salam Hanafi, made the comments in Moscow, where he was part of a Taliban delegation attending peace talks with senior Afghan political figures. Afghanistan government officials did not attend the delegation.

“The Americans have agreed to us that half of American forces will start leaving from beginning of February until end of April,” Hanafi told reporters Wednesday, saying the promise had been made during breakthrough talks with U.S. negotiators in Qatar’s capital Doha last month, which he had taken part in.

Last week, U.S. and Taliban negotiators announced they had agreed in principle to a framework for a deal that could potentially lead to full peace talks, raising hopes that an end to Afghanistan’s 18-year war could be closer. Under that deal, the Taliban would pledge that Afghanistan would never become a base for international terrorist groups again, allowing the U.S. to make a full withdrawal of its troops. For a full withdrawal to take place, the insurgent group would also have to agree to a cease-fire and start direct negotiations with Afghanistan’s government.

President Donald Trump in December announced his intention to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan as well as Syria, prompting warnings from Democrats and Republicans against a precipitous exit. No timeframe has been announced publicly.

The Pentagon and the White House did not immediately respond to the Taliban comments.

In December, a U.S. official said Trump was planning to pull out more than 5,000 troops, or about a third of the total 14,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 06 Feb 2019

Report: Clippers agree to send Tobias Harris to 76ers in six-player deal

Sports News Report: Clippers agree to send Tobias Harris to 76ers in six-player deal

TuelekZa/iStock(LOS ANGELES) — The Los Angeles Clippers have reportedly agreed to trade forward Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers.

League sources tell ESPN that in exchange for Harris, the Clippers will receive guard Landry Shamet and forwards Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala from the Sixers. Philadelphia is also giving LA two first-round picks (2020 and 2021) and two second-round picks (2021 and 2023).

Along with Harris, the Clippers are also sending center Boban Marjanovic and forward Mike Scott to the Sixers, according to the sources.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 06 Feb 2019