Top US commander makes secret visit to Syria
NORTHERN SYRIA (AP) — On a secret trip to Syria, the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Saturday he felt a moral obligation to enter a war zone to check on his troops and make his own assessment of progress in organizing local Arab and Kurd fighters for what has been a slow campaign to push the Islamic State out of Syria.
“I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel said in an interview as dusk fell on the remote outpost where he had arrived 11 hours earlier. “So it’s imperative for me to come and see what they’re dealing with — to share the risk they are dealing with.”
Votel, who has headed U.S. Central Command for just seven weeks, became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer known to have entered Syria since the U.S. began its campaign to counter the Islamic State in 2014. The circumstance was exceptional because the U.S. has no combat units in Syria, no diplomatic relations with Syria and for much of the past two years has enveloped much of its Syria military mission in secrecy.
Votel said he brought reporters with him because, “We don’t have anything to hide. I don’t want people guessing about what we’re doing here. The American people should have the right to see what we’re doing here.”
Votel flew into northern Syria from Iraq, where he had conferred on Friday with U.S. and Iraqi military commanders. In Syria he met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters and consulted with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the U.S.
Smoke, cockpit woes signal chaotic end for EgyptAir plane
CAIRO (AP) — Leaked flight data showing trouble in the cockpit and smoke in a plane lavatory are bringing into focus the chaotic final moments of EgyptAir Flight 804, including a three-minute period before contact was lost as alarms on the Airbus 320 screeched one after another.
Officials caution it’s still too early to say what happened to the aircraft — France’s foreign minister said Saturday that “all the hypotheses are being examined” — but mounting evidence points to a sudden, dramatic catastrophe that led to its crash into the eastern Mediterranean early Thursday.
The Egyptian military on Saturday released the first images of aircraft debris plucked from the sea, including personal items and damaged seats. Egypt is leading a multi-nation effort to search for the plane’s black boxes — the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — and other clues that could help explain its sudden plunge into the sea.
“If they lost the aircraft within three minutes that’s very, very quick,” said aviation security expert Philip Baum. “They were dealing with an extremely serious incident.”
Authorities say the plane lurched left, then right, spun all the way around and plummeted 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) into the sea — never issuing a distress call.
Experts say perfect security is elusive at all airports
PARIS (AP) — Explosives in the form of paper, or concealed in a medicine-sized bottle and looking like salt. Tiny electric detonators. Security agents at the main airport in Paris are trained to detect all manner of increasingly sophisticated devices that could doom a flight.
But the chilling reality is that security is ultimately fallible.
“The infinitely perfect does not exist,” said Sylvain Prevost, who trains airport personnel seeking the coveted red badge that allows them access to the airport’s restricted areas.
That is especially true when 85,000 people at Charles de Gaulle airport hold red badges, which are good for three years, and many of them work for a host of private companies. Add to the mix, concern over religious extremism in an age of increasing radicalization that can transform people within months.
Airport authorities in France and elsewhere are painfully aware of the risks, but hesitant to speculate as to whether an airport security lapse could have contributed to Thursday’s crash of EgyptAir Flight 804. The Airbus A320 took off from Charles de Gaulle with 66 people on board before lurching wildly to the left and right, spinning around and crashing into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, according to officials.
Pentagon: US airstrike targets Taliban leader Mullah Mansour
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. conducted an airstrike Saturday against Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, the Pentagon said, and a U.S. official said Mansour was believed to have been killed.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the attack occurred in a remote region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He said the U.S. was still studying the results of the strike, essentially leaving Mansour’s fate uncertain.
But one U.S. official said Mansour and a second male combatant accompanying him in a vehicle were probably killed. President Barack Obama authorized the attack and was briefed before and after it was carried out, a White House aide said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity and were not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.
Mansour was chosen to head the Afghan Taliban last summer after the death several years earlier of the organization’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, became public. The Taliban is the most powerful insurgent group in the war-ravaged country, where an estimated 11,000 civilians were killed or wounded and 5,500 government troops and police officers died last year alone.
Cook said Mansour has been “actively involved with planning attacks” across Afghanistan. He called Mansour “an obstacle to peace and reconciliation” between the Taliban and the Afghan government who has barred top Taliban officials from joining peace talks, which have produced few signs of progress.
No kidding: Exaggerator beats Nyquist in Preakness
BALTIMORE (AP) — Despite the fog, the rain and an undefeated Kentucky Derby winner to contend with, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux knew the best route to the Preakness winner’s circle with Exaggerator — stay inside and wait.
The rider who started his career in Maryland, guided Exaggerator to a 3 ½-length victory over Cherry Wine in Saturday’s $1.5 million Preakness, ending any chance for Triple Crown follow up after American Pharoah accomplished the rare feat last year. Nyquist finished third.
Just call Pimlico Race Course home track advantage, Desormeaux.
Stride by stride, Exaggerator made up ground along the rail as Nyquist and Uncle Lino dueled for the lead. Desormeaux was watching.
“I had a dream trip,” he said. “To me it looked like Nyquist was trying to establish an outward position, maybe in the four path. He was jockeying for position all the way down the back side. And Exaggerator just kind of slid up the fence to the far turn where I actually got to slow him down and say ‘whenever I’m ready.’ “
Owners of Barbaro suffer another loss on Preakness day
BALTIMORE (AP) — Ten years after Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro tragically broke down at the start of the Preakness, the owners of the popular colt watched another horse they bred die during a race on a rainy Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
In a tragic start to a day that ended with Exaggerator upsetting Nyquist in the 141st Preakness Stakes, Gretchen and Roy Jackson’s 4-year-old filly Pramedya broke down during the fourth race on the Preakness undercard, and was euthanized on the track. The filly’s jockey, Daniel Centeno, broke his collarbone in the spill that occurred on the turn of a race run over a wet turf course.
“It’s ironic, right?” Roy Jackson told The Associated Press. “It was tough to watch.”
In the opening race of day, Homeboykris collapsed and died after winning and having his picture taken in the winner’s circle. Pimlico officials believe the 9-year-old gelding suffered cardiovascular collapse. The horse was being taken to New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania for an autopsy — the same animal hospital Barbaro was taken to after his break down.
Racing officials said Pramedya broke her left front cannon bone.
In swing state suburbs, white women are skeptical of Trump
WESTERVILLE, Ohio (AP) — For Donald Trump to win the White House in November, he’ll need the votes of women like lifelong Republican Wendy Emery.
Yet the 52-year-old from the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, is struggling with the idea of voting for her party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
“I’m just disappointed, really disappointed,” she said while standing in her arts and crafts shop. She and her circle of friends are “still in shock” over Trump’s success and wonder who’s voting for him, “because we don’t know any of them.”
Emery’s negative impression of Trump was shared by most of the dozens of white, suburban women from politically important states who were interviewed by The Associated Press this spring. Their views are reflected in opinion polls, such as a recent AP-GfK survey that found 70 percent of women have unfavorable opinions of Trump.
Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign sees that staggering figure as a tantalizing general election opening.
Survivors of tornado that leveled Missouri city look back
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A sky-darkening storm was working its way into southwest Missouri around dinnertime on a Sunday evening, zeroing in on the city of Joplin.
Will Norton was among 400 graduates of Joplin High School emerging from their commencement ceremony. Liz Easton was watering plants in her yard, while Mark Lindquist was tending to residents of the group home where he worked. About 10 miles away, the county coroner, Rob Chappel, was at home.
Forecasters knew the storm’s potential was fierce and gave early warnings. Then, as storm sirens blared, one of the nation’s deadliest tornados hit — leveling a miles-long swath of Joplin on May 22, 2011. The storm was eventually blamed for 161 deaths.
Here are stories about some of the victims and survivors, and the city’s recovery:
Dutch, Australian climbers die after reaching Everest summit
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An Australian climber who died on Mount Everest has been identified as a finance lecturer at a university in Melbourne.
Monash University’s business school posted on Facebook that the community was deeply saddened by the death of Maria Strydom.
An earlier post on the business school’s website said Strydom and her husband were attempting to climb the seven summits, the highest peaks on the seven continents.
Australian media reports say Strydom reached the summit of Everest on Friday but died after showing signs of altitude sickness while descending Saturday afternoon.
A Dutch climber who died Friday was confirmed as the year’s first death on the world’s highest mountain.
Iowa zoo expecting rare baby eastern black rhino this fall
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A zoo in Iowa is expecting a new and rare addition in the fall: an eastern black rhinoceros.
Ayana and Kiano, eastern black rhinos at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, are expecting a baby in late October or early November, the Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1WIFaov ). Ayana’s pregnancy is the first confirmed among the eastern black rhino zoo population in almost two years, experts say, marking a major turning point in the species’ decadeslong decline.
Listed as critically endangered by the World Wildlife Fund, Des Moines’ rhinos are two of just 46 eastern black rhinos in North American zoos, according to leading zoological nonprofit organization Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Only six of those 46 rhinos are breeding females.
“This is fantastic for us and for the rhino population,” said Robyn Scanlon, a large animal zookeeper who has been working with Ayana and Kiano for three years.
In the wild, rhinos “are poached very, very frequently,” Scanlon said. “Their numbers have declined quite drastically over the past century, so having our own baby and being able to contribute to that population is awesome.”