AFGHAN WAR: A FIREFIGHT, UP CLOSE
-BATTLE ON A MOUNTAIN RIDGE…Danger, drama, and a fascinating story from Muhammad LILA and Matt MCGARRY in eastern Afghanistan. They were covering a mission designed and led by Afghan forces – in which the Afghans were expected to take the lead – with a small group of Americans in the rear in a support role. The mission: to sweep a series of villages where they believed Taliban insurgents were hiding. From Muhammad and Matt: The Afghan forces were just leaving the first village, about five miles from the forward operating base, when Taliban fighters ambushed the Afghan troops along a mountain ridge. The Afghan troops fired back – beginning a sustained firefight that lasted about ten minutes – but ultimately the Afghan commander had to turn to the Americans to call in airstrikes. The airstrikes came – and effectively ended the battle. Our team was with the Americans, who were hanging back on the lower end of the ridge. McGarry, who last saw Afghan forces up close some two years ago, described a sea change in their abilities and professionalism – and in the Americans’ confidence in the Afghan soldiers. Back at the Kala Gush base now, one American soldier tells us that on a scale of 1-10 he would give the Afghans a “6″ for their performance today – a high grade, given past performance. Casualty counts not set as yet – but at least one Afghan soldier wounded – one villager killed by the Taliban – and an unknown number of Taliban casualties, from the firefight and the American strike that was called in.
-NATO TRUCKS CROSS INTO AFGHANISTAN…A crucial bit of good news for the war effort: After a 7-month shutdown, NATO supply trucks are moving again today from Pakistan in Afghanistan, after the U.S. apologized to Pakistan, and Pakistan in turn agreed to reopen the supply line.
U.K.: TERROR ARRESTS, TERROR SCARE
-THE ARRESTS…Jeffrey KOFMAN and Rich ESPOSITO report: Six people were arrested on terrorism-related charges in London this morning. Police are describing the arrests as “significant,” and the results of a long-term terror investigation. But we are getting no suggestion that any attack was imminent, and a flat declaration that – although the arrests were made near the Olympic venue – the arrests were not linked to the Olympics in any way.
-BUS STOPPED, ROADWAY CLOSED…Meanwhile, quite a scene on the M6 road near Birmingham. Soon after the arrests – in an apparently unrelated incident – British police stopped a bus, ordered passengers to sit along the side of the road, and then closed down the roadway – after one passenger spotted another pouring a liquid into a container which then started sending off smoke. False alarm, it turns out – just another sign of the jitters…
-OLYMPIC JITTERS…Worth noting – on the subject of jitters – that British authorities are sweeping up every shred of potential threat-related intelligence – and of course deploying those missile batteries on London rooftops – as the opening of Olympic Games nears. We may have many more days like this one.
-”READY TO FIRE” AT U.S. BASES…A bold and specific threat from Iran today. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says Iran is “ready to fire missiles at U.S. bases” – and he lists several – in the event of any U.S. military action against his country. The Guards commander says Iran could strike back at U.S. bases in the Gulf and Israeli targets within minutes of any attack.
-IRANIAN OIL, WITH NOWHERE TO GO…The NYTimes reports on a fleet of about 65 Iranian tankers serving as floating storage facilities for Iranian oil, each one given a nautical makeover to conceal its origin and make a buyer easier to find. Iran, faced with increasingly stringent economic sanctions imposed by the international community to force it to abandon any ambitions to develop nuclear weapons, has been reluctant to reduce its oil production, fearing that doing so could damage its wells. But Iran has insufficient space to store the crude it cannot sell. So while it furiously works to build storage capacity on shore, it has turned to mothballing at sea.
WIKILEAKS RELEASE “SYRIA FILES”
WikiLeaks has released what it’s calling “The Syria Files,” more than two million e-mails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, sent between August 2006 and March 2012. Founder Julian Assange says the leaks will be “embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.” No one has yet had time to digest these emails…more as we have it.
CHIMP ATTACK VICTIM MOVED TO JOHANNESBURG
As Adam SECHRIST reports, chimp attack victim Andrew Oberle has been moved from the Nelspruit clinic to a hospital in Johannesburg. His family decided to move him after doctors advised that Oberle would get better care at Johannesburg’s Millpark Hospital.
WHIRLWIND WORLD TOUR FOR SECRETARY CLINTON
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Andrews Air Force Base this morning for what can only be described as a whirlwind world tour. Her first stop is Paris, where she will attend a Friends of Syria meeting tomorrow, before going on to Tokyo, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Egypt, Israel and another country that cannot yet be named. Whew. A tour befitting the “rock star diplomat,” as the New York Times Magazine called her last week.
RESULTS EXPECTED IN MEXICAN RECOUNT
Results are expected today in the Mexican presidential election recount. Voting inconsistencies were found in more than half of all votes cast, but observers say Enrique Pena Nieto is still expected to clinch the victory once the results are announced.
FUKUSHIMA FINAL REPORT: A “MANMADE DISASTER”
As Akiko FUJITA reports, a final report out today on the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan calls it a “manmade” accident. The report accuses the Japanese government and nuclear plant operator TEPCO of deliberately misleading the public. Much of what’s in this investigation has been reported before – but this commission goes further by accusing TEPCO and nuclear regulators of working together, so the operator would have to do the least amount of work to be in compliance with government regulations. Meanwhile, the first nuclear reactor to go back online in Japan since the disaster did so this morning. The number three reactor at the Ohi nuclear plant went back on the grid this morning, according to the plant’s operator. Ohi is the first reactor to be restarted since last year’s earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns and massive radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
FINAL REPORT ON AIR FRANCE CRASH
The final report on what caused an Air France jet to crash into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009 is due to be released today. As the Guardian writes, the report is expected to blame both human error and technical malfunction. A preliminary report released last summer said the pilot didn’t react correctly when the Airbus jet stalled and lost altitude after speed sensors froze up and failed.
COSTA CONCORDIA CAPTAIN: HOUSE ARREST LIFTED
From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome: Ansa news agency and TG1 RAI news reporting that a judge has lifted the house arrest of Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino. He cannot however leave his hometown of Meta di Sorrento near Naples, said his laywer. Schettino is under investigation for multiple manslaughter, abandoning his post before the evacuation of all 4,200 passengers and crew had been completed, and failing to communicate properly with the maritime authorities.
EURO-CRISIS: KEY RATE CUT
As Zunaira ZAKI reports – and as expected – the European Central Bank has cut interest rates to a record low, in its latest effort to breathe life into a deteriorating eurozone economy and back up measures taken last week to tackle the bloc’s debt crisis. The quarter-point cut in the ECB’s main refinancing rate to 0.75 percent was in line with market expectations and followed a dire batch of economic data that show even euro zone powerhouse Germany is entering a modest downturn. European shares extended gains on the news – and the euro fell.
STEPHEN HAWKING LOSES BET ON “GOD PARTICLE”
The Telegraph reports renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking lost a $100 bet with a University of Michigan scientist that the so-called “god particle could not be found.
WORLD’S BIGGEST COMPANIES
Fortune Magazine unveils its annual ranking of the world’s largest corporations today. Last year, the list was headed by Wal-Mart, Shell and ExxonMobil.
CAMBODIA: MYSTERY KILLER OF CHILDREN
The World Health Organization and the Health Ministry of Cambodia jointly announced they were investigating an unknown respiratory disease with neurological symptoms. 62 children have been admitted to hospitals, and 61 of them have died. The illnesses start with a high fever. The cases have been dispersed across the country, particularly in southern Cambodia, the health agencies said in a news release, and there have been no clusters of children who knew each other and fell sick together — clusters could be a warning sign of a highly infectious disease like influenza.
FIRST PANDA BORN AT TOKYO ZOO IN 24 YEARS
From Akiko FUJITA again: A panda has been born at a Tokyo zoo for the first time in 24 years. Ueno Zoo said the panda was born today to Shin Shin, a 7-year-old brought to Japan from China just before Japan’s tsunami last year. The gender of the baby panda was not immediately known.
WOMEN’S SEMIFINALS AT WIMBLEDON
Serena Williams takes on Victoria Azarenka, while Germany’s Angelique Kerber meets Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska. Just yesterday, Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton made an appearance in the royal box on Centre Court.
EUROPE’S TALLEST BUILDING OPENS
Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, in London is set to be opened to the public today. The event marks the completion of the building’s exterior with work on the interior expected to continue into next year. The Shard is owned in part by the royal family of Qatar whose prime minister will be on hand for the opening. A laser show will be projected from the top of The Shard shortly after 5p ET.