-BIG PICTURE…You'd never know it, listening to the President or to Mitt Romney, but there's a war on, there are 85,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and while a drawdown is underway ("drawing down" is the one thing the Obama Administration does discuss), the war is still being fought - it's still really rough - and there are still very difficult days like this one.
-HIGH-RANKING AMERICANS KILLED…We've learned that a suicide attack Wednesday took its toll at a high level. From Luis MARTINEZ: The blast that killed three American service members and a civilian working for USAID targeted senior officers of the Army's 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, operating in eastern Afghanistan. We now know that the casualties include senior officers: the brigade's senior ranking enlisted soldier, Command Sergeant Major Kevin Griffin, was killed; also killed were two majors, one of them an Army major who worked for the Colonel, the other an Air Force major. As Martha RADDATZ reports, "This is a devastating loss for a brigade (3,000 plus soldiers) - it wipes out the leadership at the officer and enlisted ranks." The brigade is based in Fort Carson, Colorado. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement identifying the USAID worker as Ragaei Abdelfattah. The release also said that a US Foreign Service officer was injured in the blast and that an Afghan civilian was killed.
-"GREEN-ON-BLUE" KILLING…Aleem AGHA in Kabul reports: Three American soldiers were shot dead today by a man in Afghan army uniform, the third so-called "green-on-blue" attack this week alone. Reuters has some pretty grisly details of the attack - they say an Afghan police commander and several of their men killed the three soldiers after inviting them to dinner to discuss security. ABC News has NOT yet confirmed these details.
-AFGHANS FEAR THE PULLOUT…A good piece on Afghan entrepreneurs "grappling with a fatal flaw in their business plans: They expected the Americans to stick around longer." Now, with U.S. forces preparing to depart Kandahar next year, the American electricity will disappear, too. American funding for the generators runs out at the end of next year, well before alternative energy sources reach the city. The cash-strapped Afghan government says it can't afford to foot the bill.
-REBELS WITHDRAW FROM ALEPPO STRONGHOLD…The Guardian reports Syrian rebels have withdrawn completely from their stronghold in the key Aleppo neighborhood of Salaheddin after heavy shelling by government forces. Free Syrian Army commanders say the withdrawal was tactical, but the move seems to mark a significant moment in the fight for the city. Two videos were uploaded to YouTube, purportedly from the besieged Salaheddin neighborhood. The heavy fighting and destruction gives you good sense of why the rebels may have withdrawn. Watch here…and here. The Guardian's Martin Chulov is one of the few reporters in Aleppo. Elsewhere, fighting was reported in Damascus, Hama and Daraa.
-WAR, AND A CRIME WAVE…The New York Times reports a crime wave is engulfing Syria even as the uprising - and the crackdown - rage on. Kidnappings, rare before, are rampant; people bury jewelry and other valuables inside their furniture; some no longer keep money in their pockets and residents have taken to padlocking their property.
-THE DIPLOMACY…The UK's Foreign Secretary William Hague has taken to The Times of London op-ed page to say the UK will offer the Free Syrian Army $7.8 million to pay for communications equipment and medical supplies. Also today, the FSA announced President Assad's protocol chief Muheddine Musalmani has defected, though the regime denies that.
-AT THE GAMES TODAY…On the hoops court, Argentina is all that stands between Team USA and the gold medal game. Carmelo Anthony says he knows Argentina will challenge them tonight at 4PM EDT: "They're going to bring it." Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius gets a chance to run the 400 meter final, after a crash cost him his turn with the baton. South Africa won an appeal to compete in the relay tonight at 5:20PM ET. And Usain Bolt's Jamaica squad is looking to set a new world record in the 4x100m relay; preliminaries are at 3:45PM ET today but Bolt may not run until Saturday.
-FASTER THAN BOLT?…Yahoo! Has compiled a humorous list of ten things faster than Usain Bolt, including a lightning bolt, a speeding locomotive and a 1971 Ford Pinto.
-BOLT V. CARL LEWIS?…Usain Bolt took a momentary break from basking in his historic Olympic sprinting double to fiercely criticize former US athlete Carl Lewis. Bolt said on Thursday he had "lost all respect" for Lewis after the American was quoted as saying Jamaica's doping controls were not as strong as other countries. While not making any direct accusations, former 100 and 200 Olympic champion Lewis has said in recent years that Jamaican drug testing procedures might need to be tightened. The comments brought a stern reaction from Bolt at Olympic Stadium, right after he roared to an unprecedented second 200m title at the games. "I'm going to say something controversial right now. Carl Lewis, I have no respect for him," Bolt said."The things he says about the track athletes is really downgrading for another athlete to say something like that. I think he's just looking for attention, really, because nobody really talks much about him."
-LONDON'S WINNING DESIGNS…The Wall Street Journal reports the facilities' special designs have enabled athletes to run faster, swim more swiftly and give fans a chance to see more record-breaking performances.
-TEAM USA'S SECRET WEAPON?…Back to hoops for a moment: Look for an 89-year-old man from Long Island, NY in the stands tonight, cheering on the Americans against Argentina. He's Ray Lumpp, and he competed on the US team that brought a gold medal home from London in 1948. Lumpp went on to play for the Knicks. U.S. basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski invited him back to London to motivate the team.
DRUG QUEEN EXTRADITED TO U.S.
The drug trafficker known as "Queen of the Pacific," Sandra Avila Beltran, was extradited to Miami yesterday on federal cocaine-trafficking charges. Prosecutors have alleged that Avila spent more than a decade working her way to the top of Mexico's drug trade. They say her romance with Colombian Juan Diego Espinoza brought together Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel with Colombia's Norte del Valle. "60 Minutes" profiled her - and her glamorous life - in 2009.
CLINTON'S LAST DAY IN AFRICA
Secretary of State Clinton attended a state funeral in Ghana for President John Atta Mills and is making her last stop on the continent in Benin before jetting off to Istanbul for talks on Syria.
VENEZUELA CLAIMS U.S. CITIZEN IS UNDER ARREST
President Hugo Chavez announced the arrest of an American suspected of being a mercenary, and possibly involved in an alleged plot to destabilize his country following the upcoming presidential election. Chavez says the man is Hispanic, has been detained since August 4th, and was carrying a US passport with stamps from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Chavez says he is being interrogated and suggested the man was recruited by his opponents to instigate protests if Henrique Capriles loses October 7th.
LIBYA HAS A NEW PRESIDENT
Libya's newly formed national assembly elected former opposition leader Mohammed el-Megarif as the country's interim president today, the latest move to establish a democratically-based leadership after decades of rule by deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
SOUTH KOREA VS. JAPAN IN ISLAND DISPUTE
The two nations have different names for these disputed islands in the Sea of Japan, and now tensions are escalating after the first visit by South Korea's President. Japan is threatening to pull its ambassador from Seoul. Although Japan has historic claims to the islands, South Korea controls the islands, which are situated on fishing grounds believed to contain large oil deposits.
FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR IS HUGE AT GITMO
The Miami Herald reports inmates at Guantanamo Bay have suddenly become big fans of the 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." It's not clear why reruns of the Will Smith show have caught on, but the prison librarian says demand is so hot that he's ordered all six seasons. You'll remember reports last year that the inmates were obsessed with Harry Potter books.
On the heels of NOAA's prediction that the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season may have as many as 17 named storms, a lot of new activity in the tropics: A new tropical depression churning more than 1,000 miles east of the Windward Islands; a tropical wave off Africa's Atlantic coast with a 50% chance of becoming Helene in the next 48 hours; and another new tropical wave northeast of Puerto Rico that has a 10% chance of development. Meanwhile, Ernesto has weakened to a tropical depression, continuing to bring heavy rains to Mexico. Two fishermen have drowned.
MANCHESTER UNITED BEGINS TRADING SHARES
One of the world's most popular soccer clubs, Manchester United, starts trading its shares today, priced at $14 a share. As Dealbook writes, investors will have to decide whether they want to own a company whose fortunes are largely dependent on the performance of players. Historically, they usually decide they don't - both the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Indians flopped when they went public.
RISING GLOBAL FOOD PRICES
We've reported it - dramatic global weather threatening to send food prices soaring. The Wall Street Journal has the numbers to support that today: the U.N. says its index of global food prices rose six percent in July, the biggest increase since November 2009. Corn prices are up 47 percent since the end of May. Soybean prices are up 26 percent over the same period. The USDA is expected to cut its harvest estimates for both crops in a report out today. And now those rising corn prices means ethanol production in the United States is coming under some scrutiny. The U.N. for one has asked the U.S. to cut ethanol production.
MASS OF ROCKS, THE SIZE OF BELGIUM, FLOATING OFF NEW ZEALAND
Here's weird one. A mass of volcanic rocks nearly the size of Belgium is floating off the coast of New Zealand. The rocks appear a brilliant white under a spotlight, like a giant ice shelf, and were likely spewed up by an underwater volcano. Pictures are underwhelming…
NAKED FISHERMAN PULLED FROM SHARK-INFESTED WATERS
A bizarre scene near Leeman, 170 miles north of Perth, Australia. A is plucked from the ocean after being spotted by a television helicopter - in a dramatic rescue involving five aircraft and five boats. It came after three men failed to return after setting out in a fishing boat from Leeman. Another man later died after being taken ashore, while the other was being treated for unspecified injuries, West Australian police said. "We haven't spoken to the survivor yet and until then we don't know what happened," a police spokesman said.