The Taliban’s back in the saddle, and Afghan troops are taking aim. Yesterday the Islamic fundamentalists seized control of their first provincial capital since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, claiming the northern city of Kunduz. Afghan forces today are on the counteroffensive, backed by American airstrikes. Troops are trying to retake the city, though militants now control many government buildings — including police headquarters and the city’s jail, where they freed hundreds of prisoners — and pressure is mounting on President Ashraf Ghani’s unity government to restore the peace.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Better the devil you know. That was the Russian leader’s message at the United Nations yesterday as he presented his case that Bashar Assad should retain control in Syria, noting that power vacuums are bad for stability. His American counterpart took a different view of the crisis, insisting that the Syrian president be ousted through a “managed transition.” Despite a “constructive” 90-minute meeting between Obama and Putin, in which the Kremlin chief revealed that Russia might coordinate with the U.S. on airstrikes, it’s unclear whether the two can bridge the Assad divide.
Can he get a lift? Yesterday at the United Nations the Cuban president pushed for an end to the decades-old trade embargo, saying it must be lifted before relations between the U.S. and his island nation can be normalized. He also demanded the return of the Guantanamo Bay military base and a halt to U.S.-sponsored anti-communist broadcasts aimed at Cuba. Obama, who met with Castro at the U.N. today, has also called for the embargo to be lifted — and says he believes the Republican Congress will soon oblige.
Asian markets — Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney — dipped into the red today over concern for China’s slowdown, with key stocks hitting three-year lows. New data shows China’s industrial profits declining around 9 percent, their biggest drop since 2011. Equities in the U.S. took a hit, with the Dow and Nasdaq down 1.9 and 3 percent respectively yesterday. And now investors are anxiously awaiting Thursday’s survey on Japan to see how well Tokyo is managing its battle against stagnation.
Republicans set to push on defunding Planned Parenthood. (USA Today)
Former Fifa VP Jack Warner banned from soccer life. (BBC)
Qatar sovereign wealth fund suffers $12 billion loss. (FT) sub
NASA scientists say Mars has flowing water. (Bloomberg)
New Zealand to launch enormous marine reserve. (BBC)
Shell’s Arctic exit brings applause and fears for future. (NYT)
How do you build neighborly trust across unsafe borders? In Georgia and its disputed Abkhazia territory, would-be peacemakers are hoping to accustom children from each side to working as part of an internationally cooperative team — via cross-border Minecraft sessions. Games have been used to soothe global tensions since long before the Internet existed, and while gaming has limitations — it can’t replace face to face interaction — there’s hope that creating virtual houses together can help break a “vicious circle of hatred” and eventually lead toward peace.
The U.S. wants a leg up in the propaganda war against ISIS — so they’re turning to the masters of media. According to reports, the State Department has reached out to HBO, Snapchat and screenwriter Mark Boal (who penned Zero Dark Thirty) for help creating their own campaigns that’ll encourage young people to turn to hobbies that don’t include joining extremist militant groups. The key piece will be securing the participation of Middle Eastern broadcasters who can get the carefully crafted message out.
It’s enough to make you sick. Expectant moms diagnosed with cancer have historically had to decide whether to seek treatment, not knowing how it could affect their unborn children. But a new study presented at the European Cancer Congress on Monday found no adverse effects on 129 children whose mothers had chemotherapy or other cancer treatments while pregnant. Though more research may be needed to look at specific drugs, this holds great promise for cancer-stricken moms facing terrible and emotional decisions.
That’s one way to cut bills. The high-end grocery chain, recently embroiled in an overpricing scandal and looking to bring down overhead costs, is balancing its books by cutting about 1.6 percent of its workforce over the next eight weeks. Many will reportedly leave through attrition or find new posts elsewhere in the company, which had been growing steadily, with 9,000 jobs added over the last year. Execs now hope a swift labor reduction will lure back customers who’d like to pay a whole lot less.
Jon Stewart didn’t get the last laugh. Telling fans that it was as strange for him as it was for them, the South African comic took the wheel of the satirical news show last night. Noah paid tribute to Stewart as our “political dad” before explaining that “the family has a new stepdad … and he’s black.” The 31-year-old brought “earnest” respect and some laughs, garnering mixed reactions: Some jokes died, others soared, and critics mostly took a “let’s wait and see” approach to assessing the show’s new millennial push.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has accused Ed Hochuli of saying that he “wasn’t old enough” to get a personal foul call during the Panthers’ victory over the Saints on Sunday. The veteran referee insists he told Newton, 26, that he didn’t get the call because he was running out of the pocket, which video of the encounter appears to substantiate. But this shines a spotlight on the perceived ageism faced by younger players, and if the league investigates and the accusation is proven, Hochuli could face disciplinary action.