AFGHAN WAR - TURNING POINT?
-BIG PICTURE…Is this a bad week - or a sea change? Can the U.S. still trust its Afghan allies? And if not - if the entire effort to train Afghan forces is compromised - how devastating a blow would that be for the U.S.-led mission? As Nick SCHIFRIN says, "The troop withdrawal hinges on the close mentoring and training of Afghan army and police. What does it say about the viability of that strategy when the U.S. has cut off close partnership inside the most secure buildings in Kabul?…and the shooting Saturday shows that despite a decade-long training effort that just in the last two years cost more than 20 billion dollars, the Afghan National Security Forces are still riddled with untrustworthy soldiers and police officers." And - from Martha RADDATZ: "Embedding US troops with Afghans is key to the overall drawdown. And the trust was already shaky…If this is a new organized Taliban effort - or just the culmination of years of frustration with Americans - it could have very serious consequences beyond the sad loss of life."
-TODAY…A Taliban suicide bomber killed at least nine people at Afghanistan's Jalalabad airport, in revenge for the Koran burning. Meanwhile, as SCHIFRIN reports, the manhunt continues for 25-year old Abdul Saboor Salangi, accused of killing two American advisors.
-WARNING TO AMERICANS…The US Embassy in Kabul's latest warning is for all US citizens in Afghanistan to be on heightened alert.
-SOME RELIEF?…Alex MARQUARDT reports: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says its teams have succeeded in entering the central Syrian city of Hama to bring an emergency delivery of food and other items for 12,000 people. Meanwhile, French President Sarkozy told French radio RTL on Monday that "we have the beginning of a solution" to evacuate Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, the French and British journalists trapped in Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs.
-AFTER THE VOTE, THE FIGHTING…Fighting was reported to have resumed in Syria Monday as state media reported that vote-counting was under way after a referendum on a new constitution. That vote, and its offer of reform, is being dismissed by critics as too little too late; many Western leaders - Hillary Clinton among them - have labeled the vote a farce.
-DISPATCHES FROM INSIDE…The BBC's Ian PANNELL in northern Syria reported - over the phone - waking up to gunfire and shelling; while The Guardian ran a dispatch over the weekend from Javier Espinosa, a correspondent for Spain's El Mundo inside Homs, who describes a harrowing scene, trapped in the Bab Amr neighborhood that has seen such heavy shelling.
-E.U. SANCTIONS…European Union foreign ministers are trying to increase the pressure on Syria's regime to stop its crackdown on opponents by preparing to freeze the assets of seven Syrian government officials, impose sanctions on the country's central bank and ban Syrian cargo flights from the European Union.
-IS ASSAD COUP-PROOF?…Reuters reports this morning that the Obama administration along with its Arab and European allies are trying to push Syria's leader from power, but U.S. officials acknowledge they see no good candidates to replace him, either inside the government or from the nation's fractured opposition.
-CHINESE SMACKDOWN…From the People's Daily: "The United States' motive in parading as a 'protector' of the Arab peoples is not difficult to imagine. The problem is, what moral basis does it have for this patronizing and egotistical super-arrogance and self-confidence?"
BIN LADEN COMPLEX DEMOLISHED
Habibullah KHAN reports that the Abbottabad compound in which Osama Bin Laden was killed last year has been completely demolished. Work began late Saturday and bulldozers and pneumatic machinery worked through the weekend to flatten the property. We have strong ABC material.
COSTA CONCORDIA: ANOTHER MESS?
Breaking now… The Italian coast guard says a fire has broken out on an Italian cruise ship off the Seychelles islands and the ship is adrift, but the passengers are safe. Coast Guard Commander Cosimo Nicastro told SkyTG24 TV Monday that the ship's captain has told Italian authorities the blaze was quickly extinguished. Nicastro says the Costa Allegra's motors are not working. Nicastro says the Italian coast guard has dispatched cargo ships near the Allegra to help, and that the Seychelles is sending a motorboat, a plane and two tugboats to the scene. The ship owner Costa Crociere says in a statement there were no injuries or casualties among the 636 passengers and 413 crew members. Phoebe NATANSON reports: A spokesman for the Italian coast guard say that 3 merchant navy ships (not Italian) in the area have been diverted to go to the cruise ship. The Seychelles Navy are sending 2 tugs, a fuel tanker and a plane…
PUTIN ASSASSINATION PLOT FOILED?
From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: Russian and Ukrainian special services have arrested a group of suspects over an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia's state television reported Monday. Channel One said the suspects, linked to a Chechen rebel leader, were preparing to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after next Sunday's presidential vote, in which he is all but certain to reclaim the presidency.
PUTIN SLAMS U.S.
Putin took aim at the U.S. in a lengthy article on foreign policy today, his 7th such essay ahead of Sunday's election. He criticized the US-led missile defense program in Europe and NATO expansion; and said Russia would not permit a "Libyan scenario" in the case of Syria, meaning he does not want to see military intervention under the guise of a UN-authorized humanitarian mission. Putin also said he was "alarmed" at reports of impending attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. He said such a strike would be "catastrophic".
Nelson Mandela is recovering at home and has resumed normal life after spending a night in hospital for a minor diagnostic procedure, South African President Jacob Zuma's office said Monday. "Following his discharge from hospital yesterday (Sunday), former president Nelson Mandela has resumed his normal day-to-day life," a statement from the presidency said. "He is recuperating at home with the support of his family." Mandela, 93, underwent a diagnostic laparoscopy, a procedure in which doctors probe the abdominal area using a tiny camera, to investigate complaints of persistent abdominal pain.
U.S. - SOUTH KOREA KICK OFF WAR GAMES
Joohee CHO reports that U.S. and South Korean troops kicked off annual computer-simulated war games today. This comes after North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un ordered troops to launch a retaliatory strike against South Korea if provoked. North Korea has called the drills an "unpardonable infringement" and threatened to wage "sacred war." These games could be seen as that provocation.
HUGO CHAVEZ'S CANCER SURGERY
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez traveled to Cuba for more cancer surgery late last week. He's likely to have that surgery either today or Tuesday.
GERMANY VOTES ON GREEK BAILOUT
The German Parliament has voted today to approve the latest Greek bailout. Germany's passage of the measure was seen as essential to Greece avoiding bankruptcy.
GOOD NEWS FROM DARFUR?
The New York Times reports that more than 100,000 people in Darfur have left the sprawling camps where they had taken refuge for nearly a decade and headed home to their villages over the past year, the biggest return of displaced people since the war began in 2003 and a sign that one of the world's most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled.
SAUDI WOMEN BANNED FROM THE OLYMPICS
First the roads - now the sports field. The Guardian reports that Saudi Arabia has been accused of breaching the spirit of the Olympic movement by discriminating against women in sport and failing to bring a female team to the 2012 London Games. One Olympics board member said that the Saudis were "clearly breaking the spirit of the Olympic Charter's pledge to equality."
From the AP: Iran's state TV dubbed their foreign film Oscar a big win over Israel. "A Separation" beat out the Israeli film, "Footnote", competing in the same category. One prominent Israeli film critic conceded: "It's very well acted, exceptionally well written and very moving… Ultimately you don't think about nuclear bombs or dictators threatening world peace. You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us."
BATTLE OF THE CASINO TYCOONS
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: There's an interesting boardroom battle brewing between casino tycoon Steve Wynn and his friend turned foe, Japanese gaming tycoon Kazuo Okada (who, by the way, helped bankroll Wynn's $14 billion gaming empire). It's a complicated scandal with plenty of twists, lies, billions at stake, and an internal investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. It boils down to this: each is accusing the other of bribing foreign gaming regulators to gain favors in their respective markets: Macau for Wynn, the Philippines for Okada. Expect long, ugly lawsuits. Read all about it here.
AUSCHWITZ - THEN AND NOW
Simon MCGREGOR-WOOD flags this: The Auschwitz Museum has published some fascinating stills of "then and now" at the prison camp - photos of the camp during the Holocaust alongside the exact same locations today.
CHANCELLOR MERKEL GETS A BEER SHOWER
This is not a case of an attacker - just a bad waiter. Five beers dumped on Angela Merkel.
On the penguin beat this morning, the Sun publishes a very cute photo of dancing Chinstrap penguins. The pirouetting penguins were snapped on the remote Half Moon Island in Antarctica by the Russian wildlife photographer Sergey Kokinsky.