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Afghan Taliban Stronger Than Ever After U.S. Spends $900 Billion

Afghan Taliban Stronger Than Ever After U.S. Spends $  900 Billion(Bloomberg) — For many Afghans like Zohra Atifi, whose husband was killed under Taliban rule, the American invasion in 2001 marked a chance to start over after living under an oppressive regime.Yet 18 years later, after the U.S. spent nearly $ 900 billion and more than 147,000 people died, the Taliban are growing more confident of returning to power. The militant group controls or contests half of the country, more territory than any time since they were toppled in 2001. And they’ve come close to a deal with the U.S. that could give them even more power, even after President Donald Trump abruptly put the talks on hold.What’s worse for the U.S. and its allies: Many Afghans are growing disillusioned with the American-backed regime in Kabul and its inability, along with its foreign allies, to contain not just the Taliban but another deadly insurgent group — the Islamic State. One of Atifi’s sons was killed by IS extremists two years ago.“The collapse of their brutal regime by the Americans once gave us a hope — a cheerful hope — that we will all again be free of fears and violence like other countries,” Atifi, 45, said at her stone house in the capital’s Kart-e-Sakhi neighborhood. “But that didn’t happen.”The high cost of the war, and the lack of clear gains on the battlefield, have contributed to a growing argument that it’s time for the U.S. to cut its losses and move on. Trump himself has signaled a determination to withdraw from what he’s described as an “endless war,” even as concerns mount in Afghanistan that such a move could lead to an all-out civil war.“We’ve spent over $ 30 billion a year in Afghanistan for decades now,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Sunday. “That’s not a sustainable model. We’ve got to get it right.”Concern over America’s presence in Afghanistan reaches across party lines. During a Democratic presidential debate Friday, Senator Elizabeth Warren said she’d bring U.S. troops home without a peace deal, while former Vice President Joe Biden said the American military presence in the country isn’t working.High CostSince ousting the Taliban, the U.S. alone has spent about $ 877 billion dollars until March 2019 to restore stability, rebuild the country and fight the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a Pentagon Watchdog. About 14% ($ 121 billion) was for the reconstruction costs in both the civilian and security sectors.Despite the sacrifices and significant financial costs, the U.S. efforts have failed to produce a secure or developed Afghanistan, said Afghan lawmaker Breshna Rabi.“The Taliban are stronger than at any time and are capable of spreading violence everywhere in the country, even under the nose of foreign forces’ headquarters,” said Rabi, who represents Balkh province in the lower house of parliament, and was one of more than 60 women elected in the 2018 poll. “Some of the U.S. billions have been lost to corruption,” she said. “The U.S. money never reached the remote areas to improve the living standards of the poor people.”The U.S. now has just 14,000 of the 22,673 foreign troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2011. More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers and 1,144 NATO coalition soldiers have been killed, according to icasualties.org that tracks U.S. and NATO fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, while more than 20,500 American soldiers were wounded, it said.Afghans have suffered even more. More than 32,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and about 60,000 wounded since 2009 by Taliban bombings, Afghan and foreign airstrikes and in the crossfire, a UN report found. A separate 2018 report by Brown University says a total of around 140,000 Afghan forces, civilians and Taliban militants died in the conflict.Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told a summit in Davos the toll was far higher: his government estimates more than 45,000 Afghan forces were killed just since he took office in 2014.Sliver of HopeStill, Afghanistan has come a long way since the Taliban’s brutal regime was ousted. The media sector is thriving, with more than 1,800 print, broadcast and digital news outlets now operating in the country. Art and music scenes are flourishing, more than 3.5 million Afghan girls have enrolled in schools and many women have entered politics, now accounting for almost a third of 250 parliament seats. All these activities had been previously banned by the Taliban.Over the years, the conflict has been both positive and negative for the Afghan economy, Tamim Asey, a former deputy defense minister, said by email. U.S. contracts and development aid has boosted incomes, but the ongoing violence had inflicted a heavy human toll.“The life of the Afghan people is definitely better — their living standards have gone up and at least they have a functioning government and a local economy,” Asey said. “But due to the war economy nothing is sustainable. Everything could fall apart once the U.S. cuts off its aid and withdraws its troops from Afghanistan.”The agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban would’ve allowed the U.S. to withdraw about 5,000 troops out of total 14,000 from five bases 135 days after the signing of the deal. More than 10,000 Americans military contractors and more than 8,600 military personnel from 40 NATO allies and non-NATO partners are also in the country to train and advise Afghan forces.But even as the peace talks were coming to an end, the Taliban intensified its campaign of violence. Trump questioned whether they could negotiate a meaningful agreement: “How many more decades are they willing to fight?” he asked on Twitter.He received the answer late Thursday — the Taliban addressed the president directly on Twitter, saying he has “yet to grasp the type of nation he is dealing with.” Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed went on to refer to Afghanistan by its infamous epithet, the “graveyard of empires.”Deadly AttacksAdding to skepticism that any deal with the Taliban would improve security on the ground, Islamic State — among 20 other terrorist groups active in the country — has continued to cause carnage, mainly targeting civilians. The group emerged in 2015 after the U.S. handed over the security responsibility to the Afghan forces, and has since made significant inroads in the north. It is responsible for carrying out deadly attacks such as the bombing of a wedding party last month that killed 80 people.Safety aside, food security and shelter also top the country’s challenges, according to a survey conducted by Gallup. Ninety percent of 1,000 interviewed Afghans say its “difficult” to get by on household income and 57% have struggled to afford food in the past year, the report says.Atifi, whose husband was killed in 1998, now supports her family of seven on just $ 27 per week. Her second-oldest son died in 2017, one of 20 others who perished in an Islamic State suicide bombing at a wrestling club in Kabul. She doesn’t see much difference no matter who takes power in Afghanistan.“You tell me what the difference between the Taliban regime and now is?” Atifi said, her voice cracking as tears rolled down her cheeks. “They’re all murderers and they killed my beloved son.”(Updates with Democrat comments in seventh paragraph, map)To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at enajafizada1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Daniel Ten KateFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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Hurricane Dorian may be similar to Matthew — but stronger and slower, forecaster warns

Hurricane Dorian may be similar to Matthew — but stronger and slower, forecaster warnsWhile residents should "think in Matthew terms," the storm could still come over the Florida Coast, forecaster Bryan Norcross said.

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US negotiators trying to end the Afghanistan war are frustrated that Trump keeps giving the Taliban a stronger hand

US negotiators trying to end the Afghanistan war are frustrated that Trump keeps giving the Taliban a stronger handTrump sees himself as a powerful negotiator, but in Afghanistan his desire to withdraw forces his negotiator to work with "one hand behind his back."

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Hurricane Barry is hitting Louisiana as the first hurricane of 2019. Here's why storms are getting stronger, slower, and wetter.

Hurricane Barry is hitting Louisiana as the first hurricane of 2019. Here's why storms are getting stronger, slower, and wetter.Hurricane Barry is moving over the Louisiana coast. Here's how climate change is making storms stronger, wetter, and more frequent.

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Pope Francis Calls for Stronger Bonds of Brotherhood Across the World in Christmas Message

Pope Francis Calls for Stronger Bonds of Brotherhood Across the World in Christmas MessagePope Francis offered a Christmas wish for fraternity among people of different nations, cultures, faiths, races or ideas.

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Aeromexico crash: Stronger planes can mean fewer fatalities

Aeromexico crash: Stronger planes can mean fewer fatalitiesPassengers in plane crashes like the Aeromexico accident — in which no one died — have better chances of survival due to better aircraft construction and safety standards, experts say.

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Stronger winds loom as crews make progress on California wildfire

Stronger winds loom as crews make progress on California wildfireBy Steve Gorman LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling Southern California’s sprawling wildfire made incremental progress in containing the two-week-old blaze but faced forecasts for stronger winds on Wednesday that threatened to make it the biggest in state history. With progress being made against the blaze – which has scorched the dry coastal mountains, foothills and canyons of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties northwest of Los Angeles – officials said they had cut the number of firefighters to 6,500 from a peak of 8,500 over the past few days.

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The Link Between These Everyday Chemicals and Breast Cancer Risk Just Got Stronger

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Exposure to certain chemicals in household and industrial products is a significant risk factor for breast cancer, according to a new review, especially when the exposure occurs at an early age.

Scientists have been studying the link between breast cancer and environmental exposures—to chemicals in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the products we use on a daily basis—for many years. In 2007, a widely cited review from the Silent Spring Institute identified 216 such chemicals that cause mammary tumors in animals, providing a roadmap for future studies in humans.

A decade later, Silent Spring scientists have published an update in the journal Environmental Research, and they say that the evidence today—including documented effects in people of all ages—is stronger than ever. They hope their report will help shape prevention strategies and increase public awareness as breast cancer rates continue to rise worldwide.

RELATED: A Smart Guide to Scary Chemicals

For the new review, researchers identified and analyzed 158 studies, with human participants, published between 2006 and 2016. “We wanted to pair the human studies with what had been found in the lab and in animal studies, and see how much their findings were similar,” says lead author Kathryn Rodgers, a research scientists at Silent Spring.

In many cases, says Rodgers, they were. The researchers concluded that exposure to certain chemicals in the womb, during puberty, and through pregnancy all increase the risk of developing breast cancer later on. “During these periods, the body is changing and cells are dividing quickly, and the breasts are very sensitive and vulnerable to environmental chemicals,” says Rodgers.

For example, early-in-life exposure to air pollution, dioxin, the chemical PFOSA (used in some food packaging), and the pesticide DDT are all associated with a two- to five-fold increased risk of breast cancer, the review found.

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Workplace exposure before age 36 to solvents, textiles, and inks were associated with postmenopausal breast cancer in one study. In other research, exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—a chemical in vehicle exhaust—was associated with increased risk for women with certain genetic variants.

Evidence linking breast cancer and chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates—found in plastics, cosmetics, and countless other store-bought items—is still limited in humans, says Rodgers. Most research in this area is relatively new, she adds, but animal studies so far have suggested a connection. These chemicals have been shown to disrupt the body’s endocrine system and hormone production, which researchers suspect may fuel cancer growth.

Despite the fact that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, and that rates in the United States are among the world’s highest, only 5 to 10% of cases are due to inherited high-risk genes, the researchers say. Other well known risk factors include obesity, smoking, synthetic hormones, and a sedentary lifestyle.

RELATED: 9 Ways to Detox Your Home

“We hope that physicians and nurses will start to talk to their patients about their environment—like occupational exposures, neighborhood air pollution, or hobbies or household activities—in the same way they talk to patients about smoking or diet,” says Rodgers.

People who are concerned about their risk or their children’s risk can also reduce their exposure to these chemicals by avoiding flame-retardant and stain-resistant chemicals, not microwaving food in plastic containers, and researching the chemicals in products like pesticides, cleaning products, and cosmetics, she adds. (Silent Spring also offers a free smartphone app, Detox Me, with more helpful hints.)

But ultimately, Rodgers says, better regulation and public-health policies are needed. “It shouldn’t be someone’s job when they’re going to the store to scrutinize every chemical to see if there’s something in there that can harm you,” she says. “We need stronger health protection at the state and federal level—and so voting and letting your elected officials know that you care is also something you can do.”

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The Latest: Moon, Abe call for stronger sanctions on NKorea

The Latest: Moon, Abe call for stronger sanctions on NKoreaSEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The Latest on North Korea's nuclear test (all times local):

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Virginia Governor Delivers Defiant Speech Against White Supremacists: 'We Are Stronger Than Them'

Virginia Governor Delivers Defiant Speech Against White Supremacists: 'We Are Stronger Than Them'McAuliffe encouraged Virginians to denounce bigotry

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