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Pentagon Announces More than 300 Airstrikes Against ISIS Since August


Department of Defense/YouTube(WASHINGTON) -- Since last August, the U.S military has launched more than 300 air strikes targeting Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby announced at press briefing Tuesday.

Kirby stressed that the attacks on the Sunni extremist group are planned carefully to avoid the risk "of collateral damage or civilian causalities."

His announcement came as Britain undertook its first military campaign against ISIS Tuesday by giving air support to Kurdish fighters in northwestern Iraq.

Although the U.S. and its allies have had some measure of success in helping to stop the advance of the militant group, Kirby warned it would not be a swift operation.

He told reporters, "No one said this would be easy or quick and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate air strikes. We will not --we cannot -- bomb them into obscurity."

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Bum Ankles May Have Sidelined Kim Jong-un


Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who hasn't been seen in public since early September, reportedly underwent surgery on both ankles and is still recuperating at an exclusive hospital.

A South Korean newspaper said that a source familiar with Kim's condition claimed surgery was necessary after Kim injured one ankle last June but neglected treatment. Subsequently, he suffered cracked bones in both ankles.

If the report is true, Kim, who has been in power for three years, could be laid up for a while since it can take many months for ankles to return to pain-free motion and strength.

Although Pyongyang remains typically secretive about where Kim has been, its state television said he was experiencing “discomfort."

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Yonhap News said Kim might be suffering from gout, a painful and debilitating condition, that can be relieved through surgery.

This development comes as the U.S. and South Korea have been pressing North Korea to its end its illicit nuclear program. However, at least one Japanese expert on the North says that the government may decide to show its nuclear muscle during Kim's supposedly unexplained absence.

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Australian Police Arrest Man Accused of Sending Money to American in Syria


TkKurikawa/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- Australian police arrested a 23-year-old man on Tuesday and charged him with financing terrorism.

According to a media release put out by the Australian Federal Police and the Victoria Police, the unidentified man allegedly made about $12,000 available to an organization that he was aware was a terrorist organization.

The arrest was the result of an operation that got under way earlier this year, when the FBI provided a tip to the Australian Federal police that a Melbourne man was providing funding to a U.S. citizen who later traveled to Syria to participate in the fighting.

AFP National Manager of Counterterrorism Neil Gaughan said that "providing funding is equally criminal as actually travelling to participate and we will use all our resources to cut off the supply of funds to terrorists."

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World Wildlife Fund Says Animal Populations Showing Drastic Decline


1xpert/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The World Wildlife Fund released its annual Living Planet Report on Tuesday, noting that the number of animals on Earth has dropped drastically in just two human generations.

Since 1970, the WWF says, population sizes of vertebrate species have diminished by 52 percent. The most dramatic figures were among freshwater species, which saw populations drop by 76 percent in that timespan.

A WWF statement notes that while protecting nature may seem to be a luxury to some, the opposite is true: "For many of the world's poorest people, [nature] is a lifeline."

Interestingly, even though high-income countries tend to have among the largest carbon footprints and low-income countries have the smallest, the WWF's measure of biodiversity shows an inverse relationship. High-income nations showed a 10-percent jump in biodiversity, while low-income nations saw a marked (58 percent) decline.

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UK Conducts First Airstrikes in Iraq


Spiderninja/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The United Kingdom announced that it had conducted its first airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets in Iraq on Tuesday.

According to a release from the U.K. government, the two fighter jets were tasked with providing assistance to Kurdish troops under attack by ISIS terrorists. The release says that a guided bomb was used to attack an ISIS ground position and a Brimstone missile was used against an armed pickup truck believed to be operated by ISIS militants.

U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the Royal Air Force "have been flying day and night since Parliament gave that authority last Friday...gathering intelligence, deterrents against [ISIS] terrorism, driving them back from the villages, as well as being there in close support when they are tasked to go down and help."

U.S. and coalition forces have conducted over 220 airstrikes in Iraq and at least 66 in Syria.

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US, Partners Conduct 22 Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria and Iraq


iStock/Thinkstock(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The U.S. military, with the help of partner nations, conducted 22 more airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Tuesday.

Eleven of the strikes were conducted throughout Syria on Monday and Tuesday. According to CENTCOM, two near Dayr ar Zawr destroyed an ISIS armored vehicle and armed vehicle; five near Sinjar destroyed one artillery piece, one tank, three armed vehicles, two facilities, an observation post and hit four fighting positions; three near Mazra al Duwud destroyed one artillery piece, damaged another, and destroyed two rocket launchers; and one northeast of Aleppo destroyed four buildings occupied by ISIS.

The attack, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft used in these airstrikes all managed to exit the areas safely.

The other 11 strikes took place in Iraq Tuesday, seven of which destroyed an armored vehicle, two transport vehicles and four armed vehicles, and damaged an armed vehicle in the northwestern part of the country.

Two strikes near Mosul Dam destroyed an ISIS fighting position and armed vehicle. The remaining two airstikes destroyed an armed vehicle northwest of Baghdad and struck an ISIS checkpoint in west Fallujah.

The fighter and remotely piloted aircraft used in these attacks also managed to exit the areas safely.

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US, Afghanistan Sign Bilateral Security Agreement


iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- After a long wait, the U.S. and Afghanistan finally signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on Tuesday, allowing U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of the year.

The signing came a day after Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as the new president of Afghanistan.

The BSA allows about 10,000 American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. military's combat mission ends on Dec. 31, to help train Afghan forces as they take over responsibility for the country's security.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign the agreement, prompting the Pentagon to threaten to pull all of its troops out.

President Obama praised the signing of the BSA, saying it marks a 'historic day' in the U.S.-Afghan partnership.

"This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan Government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces," Obama said in a statement Tuesday.

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Russia Pulls of Out US Funded Student Exchange Program


iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Amid political tensions with the West, Russia is pulling out of a popular high school exchange program funded by the U.S. government, according to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

“We deeply regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States,” Ambassador John Tefft said in a statement.

The Future Leaders Exchange program, known as FLEX, places students from former Soviet countries in year-long exchanges at high schools around the United States, where they live with an American family.

According to the U.S. Embassy, more than 8,000 Russian high school students have participated in the program since it launched 21 years ago. The goal was to help foster closer ties and understanding between the former Soviet world and the West after the Cold War.

One of those students was Elena Chernenko, now a correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant. From 1999-2000 she attended high school in Arlington, Texas, and forged lifelong friendships.

“It was a great experience, both for me, as a participant of this program and for my host family and the friends that I met there. I think this program is very important,” she said in a phone interview, using the English she perfected in the U.S.

Chernenko said the program helped break down stereotypes she held of Americans and she was able to teach her classmates about Russia.

“I was the only foreigner there. And my friends were asking, like, do you have television? Do you have electricity?” she recalled with a chuckle.

“I do not understand really why our government would shut down a program like this,” she lamented. “I’m very sad. I don’t think that this is something that should be done. Cultural exchanges, student exchanges, scientific exchanges, they should stay whatever the political situation is.”

She also left an impact on her host family, inspiring her “younger brother” to study Russian in college.

Chernenko said the program taught her as much about herself as it did about the United States, and she left determined to go back and work in Russia.

Russian authorities have yet to explain the decision to suspend cooperation with FLEX, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has taken a confrontational stance towards the United States in recent years. In 2012, Russia kicked out the U.S. Agency for International Development and has targeted non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding, branding them “foreign agents.”

Those tensions boiled over this year after Russia seized Crimea and fomented tensions in Ukraine, leading to several rounds of American and European sanctions.

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Hong Kong Protests Grow Over Demands for Reforms


PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is showing no signs of receding as demonstrators continued filling the streets Tuesday to protest Beijing's attempt at quashing reforms.

At issue is mainland China's determination to run its own candidate in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership election with most in the financial hub of seven million demanding open nominations.

Up to now, Chinese soldiers have not intervened as demonstrators are condemning what they say are heavy-handed tactics by police that include tear gas and billy clubs.

Massive protests are rare in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. However, fears are growing that Beijing is increasingly trying to wield more influence in what has long been an autonomous city.

If Beijing doesn't respond by Wednesday, leaders for reform say they will announce new civil disobedience rules.

Meanwhile in Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest urged Chinese authorities to "exercise restraint," adding, "The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong" and residents should have "a genuine choice of candidates."


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New Afghan President Tore Page Straight from Obama-Like Playbook


Zoonar/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The road to a new Afghan government has been paved with confusion over election results, accusations of fraud and the shape of a new unity coalition. But for newly inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani, his campaign strategy was just the opposite, largely mimicking those of successful Western politicians like President Obama, Ghani’s social media guru and longtime adviser said.

“We did take cues from other campaigns; we studied up on them,” Hamdullah Mohib said in an interview with ABC News before Ghani’s victory was certified Sunday by a United Nations-supervised election audit.

The exact vote tally is being withheld for now but, as of Monday, Ghani was officially the new president. During Mohib’s visit back in July, he shared some keys to his candidate’s victory, which bears a striking resemblance to those that netted Obama two terms in office.

1. Keep it simple.

Ghani’s background as an academic and technocrat meant he was used to speaking with high-level officials, not throngs of everyday Afghans. So he had to work on appealing to voters without speaking down to them. “His language is not as simple,” Mohib said. “He had to work on that to make sure he can simplify what he says so he can reach the masses.”

Plus, not everyone in the country is literate. To make the balloting process simple, Ghani campaign workers passed out cards with symbols that would show them what to do, as in showing which box they would need to tick next to a picture of Ghani’s face. That was a lesson learned after a preliminary round of voting in which Ghani lost handily to Abdullah. “We had problems in the first round,” Mohib said.

2. Network, network, network.

Like successful U.S. campaigns, the Ghani team first targeted the support of influential voices within individual communities. In Afghanistan, those tend to be the leaders of mosques and, Mohib said, Ghani’s campaign won the coveted clerical vote. “The day before this election, in these provinces the imams told people it’s their civic duty to vote,” Mohib said.

The campaign also used a robust social media presence (like Obama, Ghani signs his personal tweets with his initials -- “AG” -- and his team routinely live-posted about his campaign events) to reach better connected, more educated Afghans who, in turn, would sway their family members toward whom to support. “When we reach one influential, educated person who has access and can afford Internet in the country, [he] has influence over the rest of the family,” Mohib said. “It’s a conservative society where people go by what others say.”

3. Keep that network.

Like the Obama campaign, which converted its Obama for America campaign apparatus into “Organizing for Action,” a second-term organization that focused on implementing the president’s policies, the Ghani campaign wants to apply its Election Day(s) network to the business of governing. “We have a way for [Ghani] to know what’s happening and how [voters] feel” down to the tiniest village, Mohib said. “Once you build a network, you don’t let a network go.”

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Nigerian Ebola Hoax Results in Two Deaths


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two people have died and at least 20 were hospitalized, all because of a social media prank urging Nigerians to drink excessive amounts of salt water to avoid catching the Ebola virus.

The hoax started with a text message sent by a Nigerian student at the beginning of August, according to Edwin Ikhuoria, a development consultant for U2 frontman Bono’s ONE campaign who lives in Nigeria.

"Once the word was out, it spread like wildfire," Ikhuoria told ABC News.

Within hours of the first text being sent, Ikhuoria said that everyone he knows had received the message multiple times on social media -- including the Minister of Health.

The Nigerian newspaper Vanguard News reported two dead and 20 more hospitalized due to excessive consumption of salt water. The deceased were believed to have had high blood pressure, a condition that is especially sensitive to high salt intake.

"Please ensure that you and your family and all your neighbours bath with hot water and salt before daybreak today because of Ebola virus which is spreading through the air," the text said in part, according to Ikhuoria.

The message also urged people to drink as much salt water as possible as protection against catching the deadly virus, which has killed nearly half of the more than 6,000 infected throughout West Africa.

Symplur, a company that tracks health information trends on Twitter, said that Nigerians first began sending tweets using the words "Ebola," "salt water" and "drinking" starting on Aug. 4 with social network activity ramping up to a peak of about 450 tweets on the day of Aug. 8.

"People seem to [have been] woken up by friends and relatives in the early morning in order to drink and bathe with salt because the local town doc said you needed to do this before sunrise," said Thomas Lee, co-founder of Symplur, noting that much of the activity took place overnight.

And then, just as quickly as the rumors proliferated, they were quashed.

Ikhuria said as soon as the government got wind of the hoax, it immediately began its own campaign using both traditional and social media to reiterate the fact that there is no vaccine or cure for the virus.

"Other people also amplified the message from the ministry and it was all over," he said.

By Aug. 10, there were almost no tweets mentioning the bogus treatment, Symplur data revealed.

"The power of social media to rapidly spread information, both accurate and inaccurate, is enormous, and nowhere is that more impactful than on topics related to our health," said Lee.

According to Informa Telecoms, nearly 70 percent of the Nigerian population owns a cell phone, a typical onramp to popular social media platforms such as texting, Twitter and Facebook. The ability to mobilize information quickly through social channels has contributed to an effective campaign against the Ebola virus in that country, Lee speculated.

Nigeria had only 17 confirmed cases of Ebola and there are currently no new cases, the Nigerian Health Ministry reports. Nearby Sierra Leone, where under 2 percent of the population uses the Internet, has seen nearly 2,000 Ebola cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Toheeb Ojulari, a Nigerian blogger who also received the salt water tweets, said that when the prankster realized what she had done, she immediately took to social media again to apologize.

"All efforts to tell people that I was the one who started the joke failed," reads the message Ojulari and thousands of other Nigerians reposted. "Even my mum [called] me this morning, I did not know what to tell her."

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Government Robots Will Decide If Your Thai Food Tastes Right


iStock/Thinkstock(BANGKOK) -- Pad Thai dishes don’t always taste the same. But they could from today onward.

Thailand is unveiling two new robots that can evaluate whether Thai food around the world is made according to government-standardized recipes, according to a spokeswoman from the Thai National Innovation Agency (NIA), which was tasked by the Ministry of Science and Technology to promote Thai food.

"It is found that the flavors of Thai food in many standalone restaurants and in hotels abroad are deviated from the authentic ones," the NIA said in a written statement.

To resolve the issue, the agency developed equipment to measure and analyze flavors of Thai food.

Dr. Krit Chongsrid, who developed the robots, told ABC News the biggest challenge was syncing the taste analysis to the smell analysis.

"There is a 5 to 10 percent error probability," Chongsrid said.

The first robot is called e-Delicious, according to a report provided by the NIA to ABC News.

The machine, equivalent to a human food critic, is composed of an electronic nose made with 16 gas sensors and an electronic tongue made to detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (meat or savory) flavors.

The second robot is called ESenS, according to the same report. It’s a smart application on Android, and is the size of a printer that uses micro-sensors to compare samples to an existing database of recipes.

It took Chongsrid's team about a year to develop the two robots. He told ABC News the team hoped to develop at least 100 or more.

So far, samples can be compared to 11 recipes approved by the Thai government and its “Thai Delicious Committee.”

The recipes include Tom Yum Kung, Pad Thai, Mussaman Curry and Golek Chicken Sauce, according to the NIA. The agency is currently working on standardizing 10 more recipes.

The NIA also launched an iPad and iPhone app called “Thai Delicious” for users to download recipes.

Many university laboratories and nanotechnology companies around the world have joined the race to develop "taste robots."

For example, Spanish researchers recently managed to distinguish between different varieties of beer using an “electronic tongue.” According to the journal Food Chemistry, the beer tasting technology is accurate in 82 percent of cases.

Similarly, in Denmark, scientists have inaugurated a nano-sensor that evaluates a wine's quality by measuring its astringency. They've called it "mini-mouth."

While Thailand’s goal to preserve its culinary reputation is understandable, questions remain on the government’s ability to market the new robots and make sure it is used properly -- or to get restaurants to use them at all.

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US Doing 'Everything Possible' to Avoid Civilian Deaths in Airstrikes


Hope Milam/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- The Pentagon was unable to corroborate reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Syria.

According to Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. and partner nations are doing "everything possible to mitigate the risk to civilians." Still, when reports of civilian deaths come out, "we'll certainly look into them," he said.

Air Force Deputy Director of Operation Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan spoke to reporters Monday to discuss the role the U.S. Air Force has had in the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. He noted that 74 percent of those missions in Iraq and 50 percent in Syria have been conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

In total, the U.S. and coalition forces have conducted 224 strikes in Iraq and 66 in Syria.

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University of Hong Kong Condemns Violence at Protests, US Not Taking Sides


Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- The University of Hong Kong issued a statement on Monday condemning violence that occurred at protests between police and citizens.

"The University of Hong Kong profoundly regrets the escalation of events in recent days," the statement said. "We condemn violence of any kind by any party. We cannot understand the use of tear gas yesterday: the police and the government are accountable for that decision."

The school also implicitly allowed students and staff to participate in peaceful pro-democracy protests, saying that they "will be flexible and reasonable in understanding the actions of students and staff who wish to express their strongly-held views."

The U.S. consulate general in Hong Kong said on Monday that it wouldn't take sides in the ongoing protests.

In a statement, the consulate general said that the U.S. "strongly supports Hong Kong's well-established traditions and Basic Law protections of internationally recognized fundamental freedoms." As such, the U.S. will not offer its support to either side of the debate, "nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it."

The consulate general did say, however, that it would urge "all sides to refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions, to exercise restraint, and to express views...in a peaceful manner."

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Pentagon's Field Hospital Arrives in Liberia to Help with Ebola Outbreak


U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kelly Goonan(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. military 25-bed field deployable hospital arrived in Monrovia, Liberia, this weekend, three weeks after the Pentagon announced plans to send the hospital there to help with the Ebola outbreak.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Monday the hospital was shipped to the African country aboard three C-17’s. Additional military personnel also arrived in Liberia this weekend, pushing the total up to 150.

The extra 40 personnel who arrived include 34 who will set up the hospital and six who will set up a mobile lab. The plan all along has been that military personnel will set up the facility but not staff it or treat Ebola patients.

The hospital, which is intended to be used to treat health care workers who become infected with Ebola, is expected to be up and running in mid-October.

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