US ‘not winning’ in Afghanistan: Pentagon chief

Mattis’s latest assessment comes nearly 16 years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and amid a war that continues to claim the lives of US troops each year — and those of thousands of local forces and civilians.

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The “Taliban had a good year last year, they are trying to have a good one this year,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing about the Pentagon’s budget.

“Right now I believe the enemy is surging.”

US military commanders, who saw fragile security gains eroded under Obama-era troop draw-downs, have been pushing for a new strategy that could see thousands of additional soldiers deploy to Afghanistan to help train and advise beleaguered Afghan partners.

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Media reports have said Mattis is considering asking for 3,000 to 5,000 additional US and NATO troops, but the defense chief has said little on the matter. 

In February, General John Nicholson, who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan, warned that he needs “a few thousand” more troops to reverse what he called a stalemate.

Despite months of expectation that a new Afghanistan strategy announcement is imminent, Mattis said this would not be ready before mid-July.

Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced his “palpable” frustration.

“We’re now six months into this administration, we still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan,” McCain said, noting it was hard to get behind an Afghanistan budget request without knowing what the plan is. 

“We know what the strategy was for the last eight years: Don’t lose. That hasn’t worked.”

Mattis acknowledged the reality on the ground.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. We will correct this as soon as possible,” he said.

Related readingResidual force 

The defense chief, who was a Marine combat commander in Afghanistan at the start of the war, stressed America must not walk away from the country and suggested a long-term residual US force needs to remain to help the Afghan army maintain a baseline of security.

“It’s going to be an era of frequent skirmishing and it’s going to require a change in our approach from the last several years if we’re to get it to that position,” Mattis said. 

The Afghan conflict is the longest in American history, with US-led NATO troops at war there since 2001, after the ousting of the Taliban regime just months after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

The body of a US soldier killed in a suspected attack in Afghanistan returned to the USAAP

The ongoing security crisis has seen not just the Taliban gain ground, but also the emergence of other groups such as a local Islamic State affiliate. 

On Saturday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an insider attack in which an Afghan commando turned his weapon on American troops, killing three and wounding another. 

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, who mainly serve in a training and advisory capacity.

France and Britain announce anti-terror action plan

After talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said both countries agreed that social networks were not doing enough to stamp out terror propaganda.

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Speaking after terror attacks in Manchester and London, Macron said the two countries had worked on a “very concrete” action plan.

He said one of the key measures would aim at preventing the incitement of “hate and terrorism” on the internet.

May said she and Macron agreed that “more should be done to tackle the terrorist threat online”.

She said the British and French campaign was aimed to “ensure the internet cannot… be used to host the radicalising material that leads to so much harm.”

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May said the British government was already working with social media companies “to halt the spread of extremist material and poisonous propaganda that warps young minds”, adding: “But we know they need to do more.

“Today we can announce that the UK and France will work together to encourage organisations to do more and abide by their social responsibility to step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks.”

The campaign includes exploring the possibility of legal penalties against tech companies if they fail to take the necessary action to remove unacceptable content, May said.

Britain was rocked by a suicide bombing at a pop concert on May 22 which killed 22 people, including children, followed two weeks later by a knife and van attack in central London, which left eight dead.

France has been a constant target for jihadist attacks since 2015, with more than 230 people killed.

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NT outback cat-proof fence world’s biggest

When the cat’s away, the mice and a raft of other endangered native animals will play.

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At least that’s what a group of conservationists in Australia’s red centre are hoping, with work under way on the world’s largest feral cat eradication project.

The Shark Bay Mouse is one of 10 creatures to benefit from a $10 million cat-proof fence being built in the central desert region to help combat an extinction crisis.

The project will create a 70,000-hectare bushland haven where reintroduced native mammals can thrive once again.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy chief executive Atticus Fleming says 30 native mammal species have disappeared since European settlement – the worst extinction rate on the planet.

He says cats are to blame for this “marsupial ghost town”, with the predators killing millions of native animals every night.

There are up to 11 million feral cats across the country, threatening at least 60 native mammals that are currently in danger of extinction.

They include bilbies, numbats, bettongs and rock wallabies.

AWC is raising $10 million to build a 180-kilometre electrified fence in the heart of the nation by 2021.

Stage one has already begun at Newhaven Sanctuary, 350km northwest of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, where a 45km fence will enclose a 9500-hectare area by early next year.

This initial stage costs $5 million over four years and AWC has raised half of that, including $750,000 from the federal government.

The foxes, rabbits and cats should be removed by the end of 2018, after which animals including the central rock rat, mala and phascogales will be reintroduced.

The restoration of ecological health will also benefit endangered reptiles and declining birds, Mr Fleming says.

AWC is partnering with traditional owners by tapping into the expertise of indigenous trackers and creating local jobs.

“The mala is a little kangaroo which is of great cultural significance to the Warlpiri people, and this project will increase numbers by over 400 per cent,” he said.

“It’ll more than double the population of at least six of Australia’s most endangered mammals.”

Verizon takes over Yahoo in $US4.5b deal

Verizon has taken over Yahoo, completing a $US4.

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5 billion ($A6 billion) deal that will usher in a new management team to attempt to wring more advertising revenue from one of the internet’s best-known brands.

Tuesday’s closure of the sale ends Yahoo’s 21-year history as a publicly traded company.

It also ends the nearly five-year reign of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who isn’t joining Verizon. She will walk away from Yahoo with a compensation package currently worth about $US125 million ($A166 million), including her severance pay and stock awards that will be fully vested with the deal’s completion.

Yahoo’s email and other digital services such as sports, finance and news will be run by Tim Armstrong, who has been running AOL since Verizon bought that company for $US4.4 billion ($A5.8 billion) two years ago. Armstrong will now be CEO of a new Verizon subsidiary called Oath, which will consist of Yahoo and various AOL services.

About 2,000 Yahoo and AOL workers are expected to lose their jobs as Verizon trims expenses and eliminates overlapping positions.

Despite the company’s struggles, Yahoo’s stock more than tripled while Mayer was CEO, creating more than $US30 billion ($A40 billion) in shareholder wealth.

But most of those gains stemmed from Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce company whose fortunes have soared while Yahoo faded. The Alibaba investment was engineered 12 years ago by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang in what is now widely regarded as one of the savviest deals in internet history.

Yahoo’s stock performance is the main reason most shareholders haven’t complained too loudly about Mayer’s lavish compensation package.

Tanning without sunlight: Scientists develop drug which reduces cancer risk

The drug stimulates cells that produce the pigment that absorbs ultra-violet light, the researchers said in the US journal Cell Reports published on Tuesday.

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They stressed that further tests are needed to safeguard against potential side-effects in humans.

Applied as a cream to the skin, the drug allowed red-haired mice to develop a deep tan. Like their pale-skinned human counterparts, the mice are particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun’s ultra-violet rays.

The original breakthrough in mice was announced more than a decade ago, in a study published in the British journal Nature in 2006. But it has taken scientists that much time to work out how to make much thicker human skin absorb the substance.

The initial report revealed that a substance called forskolin gave red-haired mice a deep tan without exposure to UV light.

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But because human skin is relatively hairless compared to animals’, it has evolved to be much tougher in order to protect against heat, cold and other environmental factors, and the topical substance could not penetrate it effectively.

“Human skin is a very good barrier and is a formidable penetration challenge. Therefore, other topical approaches just did not work,” said David Fisher, chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and one of the authors of the study.

“But 10 years later, we have come up with a solution. It’s a different class of compounds, that work by targeting a different enzyme that converges on the same pathway that leads to pigmentation,” he said.

The scientists tested the substance on samples of human skin kept in laboratories and found that it darkened in proportion to the dosage applied. The tan lasted several days.

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In animal tests, red-haired mice became “almost jet black in a day or two with a strong enough dose,” the researchers observed. When the dosage was removed, normal skin regeneration meant the color faded within a week or so.

“We believe the potential importance of this work is towards a novel strategy for skin cancer prevention,” Fisher said.

“Skin is the most common organ in our bodies to be afflicted with cancer, and the majority of cases are thought to be associated with UV radiation,” he said.

The long-term aim would be to create a cream that develops a tan without exposure to sunlight but which also absorbs harmful UV rays like traditional sun screens.

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