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Trump says US forces cornered IS leader in dead-end tunnel

WASHINGTON — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world’s most wanted man, blew himself up as U.S. special operators cornered him during a raid in Syria, President Donald Trump said Sunday.

“Last night, the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump announced at the White House, providing graphic details of al-Baghdadi’s final moments at the helm of the militant organization. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”

In a national address, Trump described the nighttime airborne raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, with American special operations forces flying over heavily militarized territory controlled by multiple nations and forces. No U.S. troops were killed in the operation, Trump said.

The death of al-Baghdadi was a milestone in the fight against IS, which brutalized swaths of Syria and Iraq and sought to direct a global campaign from a self-declared “caliphate.” A yearslong campaign by American and allied forces led to the recapture of the group’s territorial holding, but its violent ideology has continued to inspire attacks.

As U.S. troops bore down on al-Baghdadi, he fled into a “dead-end” tunnel with three of his children, Trump said, and detonated a suicide vest. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward.”

Al-Baghdadi’s identity was confirmed by a DNA test conducted onsite, Trump said.

Trump had teased a major announcement late Saturday, tweeting that “Something very big has just happened!” By the morning, he was thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish fighters in Syria for their support.

The operation marks a significant foreign policy success for Trump, coming at one of the lowest points in his presidency as he is mired in impeachment proceedings and facing widespread Republican condemnation for his Syria policy.

The recent pullback of U.S. troops he ordered from northeastern Syria raised a storm of bipartisan criticism in Washington that the militant group could regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled. Trump said the troop pullout “had nothing to do with this.”

Planning for the operation began weeks ago, Trump said, after the U.S. gained unspecified intelligence on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Eight military helicopters flew for more than an hour over territory controlled by Russian and Syrian forces, Trump said, before landing under gunfire at the compound.

Trump vividly described the raid and took extensive questions from reporters for more than 45 minutes Sunday. He said U.S. forces breached the walls of the building because the doors were booby-trapped and chased al-Baghdadi into the tunnel, which partially collapsed after al-Baghdadi detonated the suicide vest. Many homes in Syria, which has been riven by civil war since 2011, have subterranean tunnels or shelters from the fighting.

Trump also revealed that U.S. forces spent roughly two hours on the ground collecting valuable intelligence. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the U.S.-led Coalition launched at least one airstrike in western Aleppo aimed at Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, an aide to al-Baghdadi.

Trump said he watched the operation from the White House Situation room as it played out live “as though you were watching a movie.” Trump suggested he may order the release of the video so that the world knows al-Baghdadi did not die of a hero and spent his final moments “crying, “whimpering” and “screaming.”

Trump approved the operation Saturday morning after receiving “actionable intelligence,” Vice President Mike Pence told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump had spent Friday night at Camp David and flew by helicopter Saturday morning to golf at his private Virginia club. He then returned to the White House.

Trump said he teased the announcement as soon as American forces landed safely in a third-country. An Iraqi security official confirmed the U.S. aircraft took off from the Al-Asad air base in western Iraq, where Trump visited American forces in December.

Trump said he did not follow convention in informing leaders on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., before the raid, saying he was fearful of leaks.

Pelosi said the House “must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the administration’s overall strategy in the region.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the mission was to capture or kill the IS leader. While Trump had initially said no Americans were injured, Esper said two service members suffered minor injuries but have already returned to duty. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a military dog chasing al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded by an explosive blast.

In his address from the White House, Trump suggested that the killing of al-Baghdadi was more significant than the 2011 operation ordered by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Trump later repeated a false claim that he predicted the threat posed by bin Laden in a book before the 2001 attacks.

He also praised Russia and the Syrian government — American foes — and defended his ban on entry to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries. He called European allies “a tremendous disappointment” for not repatriating foreign IS fighters.

Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said al-Baghdadi’s remains would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law and buried at sea in the same way that bin Laden’s were.

Praise for the military operation was swift, coming from American allies and even the president’s political opponents. In congratulating the U.S. forces and intelligence officials, but not Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden warned that IS “remains a threat to the American people and our allies.”

But one counterterrorism expert said al-Baghdadi’s death is not the end of IS.

“Counterterrorism must be part of the strategy, but reducing the strategy to just special operations raids and drone targeting, as this administration seems to want to, guarantees a forever war,” said Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute. She said extremists’ strength and staying power lies in the support they have locally among the disenfranchised and economically deprived populations.

Al-Baghdadi’s presence in the village a few kilometers from the Turkish border was surprising, even if some IS leaders are believed to have fled to Idlib after losing their last sliver of territory in Syria to U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in March.

Iraqi officials said Sunday they passed information that helped ascertain al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts to the U.S. from the wife of an Iraqi aide to al-Baghdadi, as well as al-Baghdadi’s brother-in-law, who was recently arrested by the Iraqis. The officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss intelligence operations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Al-Baghdadi had led IS for the last five years, presiding over its ascendancy as it cultivated a reputation for beheadings and attracted tens of thousands of followers to a sprawling and self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria. He remained among the few IS commanders still at large despite multiple claims in recent years about his death and even as his so-called caliphate dramatically shrank, with many supporters who joined the cause either imprisoned or jailed.

His exhortations were instrumental in inspiring attacks in the heart of Europe and in the United States. Shifting away from the airline hijackings and other mass-casualty attacks that came to define al-Qaida, al-Baghdadi and other IS leaders supported smaller-scale acts of violence that would be harder for law enforcement to prepare for and prevent.

They encouraged jihadists who could not travel to the caliphate to kill where they were, with whatever weapon they had at their disposal. In the U.S., multiple extremists have pledged their allegiance to al-Baghdadi on social media, including a woman who along with her husband committed a 2015 massacre at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi was far less visible in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings, including one just last month in which he called on members of the extremist group to do all they could to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.

The purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years. In that video, which included images of the extremist leader sitting in a white room with three others, al-Baghdadi praised Easter Day bombings that killed more than 250 people and called on militants to be a “thorn” against their enemies.

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin in Washington, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Report: Coal projections range from flat to continuing declines

HUNTINGTON — While loaded coal barges can be seen on the Ohio River and rail cars full of coal are coming out of the coalfields of Southern West Virginia, recent and projected trends in coal production in the United States continue to decline or remain flat, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

For the week ended Oct. 19, the EIA estimated U.S. coal production totaled about 13,000,000 short tons.

“This production estimate is 2% higher than last week’s estimate and 11.5% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2018,” the report stated.

A spokesman for the coal industry remains positive, though.

“The previous administration spent eight years closing down coal-fired power plants, but I remain positive that the coal industry will be able to maintain, or even grow, its coal production going forward,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 573,000,000 short tons, 5.2% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2018, the EIA report showed.

In West Virginia, coal production was down 13,000 short tons, or 0.99%, for the week ended Oct. 19 from the previous week. It was down 995,000 short tons, or 1.3%, from the same week in 2018 and down 1,633,000 short tons, or 1.7%, from the previous year.

“We are down less than a percent for that week, which is the least amount of reduction for any of the main coal-producing states,” Raney said.

Raney said exports of metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel, remains flat but steady.

“The Chinese are sending more steel into Europe, which has caused a drop in exports there, but there is still a very strong market in India,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to maintain those export levels as well.”

Electric power generation accounts for more than 92% of U.S. coal demand and domestic coal production has declined significantly over the past decade as coal has been displaced significantly by natural gas and renewables in electric generation, the EIA said in its report, and added coal production projections could range from flat to continuing declines through 2040.

“Despite some reports, we remain positive and hope the metallurgical coal market in particular will stay consistent and strong,” Raney said.

Raney says America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 could provide a boost for coal, if passed. It is the largest amount of funding provided for highway reauthorization legislation in history. The bill authorizes $287 billion from the Highway Trust Fund over five years in investments to maintain and repair America’s roads and bridges.

“This would require lots of metallurgical coal to make the steel needed for these roads and bridges,” he said.

The bill has bi-partisan support in Congress, but currently President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remain stalemated over moving forward on the large infrastructure package that advocates and engineers say is urgently needed.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

MD group:
More severely obese kids should get surgery, MD group says

Even some severely obese preteens should be considered for weight loss surgery, according to new recommendations.

The guidance issued Sunday by the American Academy of Pediatrics is based on a review of medical evidence, including several studies showing that surgery in teens can result in marked weight loss lasting at least several years, with few complications. In many cases, related health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure vanished after surgery.

While most of those studies involved teens, one included children younger than 12 and found no ill effects on growth, the policy says.

“Safe and effective is the message here,” said Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a Duke University pediatrics professor and the policy’s lead author.

Armstrong said children who have not gone through puberty may not be mature enough to understand the life-changing implications of surgery but that age alone shouldn’t rule it out. She doesn’t do surgery but works at a center that offers it; the youngest patient was 14.

It’s not a quick fix, she said. “It’s a lifelong decision with implications every single day for the rest of your life.”

Nearly 5 million U.S. children and teens are severely obese, a near doubling over 20 years. Many have already developed related health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and liver disease. But most kids don’t get obesity surgery, mainly because most public and private health insurance doesn’t cover it or they live far from surgery centers, Armstrong said. Costs can total at least $20,000.

The academy’s recommendation say children and teens are generally eligible for surgery if their body mass index is 40 or higher, or at least 35 if they have related major health problems. These criteria may vary by gender and age, Armstrong said. They are similar to criteria for surgeons from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. A BMI of 30 and above is considered obese.

Faith Newsome was a typical patient. At 5 feet, 8 inches and 273 pounds, her BMI was almost 42 and she had high blood pressure and prediabetes when she had gastric bypass surgery at Duke at age 16. After about a year, she had shed 100 pounds and those health problems disappeared. She slimmed down enough to become active in sports, shop for prom dresses and gain a better self-image. But to avoid malnutrition she takes vitamins, must eat small meals and gets sick if she eats foods high in fat or sugar. Her BMI, at just under 30, puts her in the overweight range.

Now 21 and a senior at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Newsome is quick to answer whether she has regrets.

“Never,” she said. “Teens should be able to discuss every option with their doctors, and surgery should be one of those options.”

Follow AP Medical Writer at @LindseyTanner.

Police: Abducted Virginia girl could be in Logan, Cabell counties

HUNTINGTON — Police said a 14-year-old Virginia girl who was abducted by a man on Oct. 21 could be in Logan or Cabell counties.

The Logan County Sheriff’s Office was notified Sunday that Isabel Shae Hicks could be in West Virginia, although an exact location could not be provided, according to a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page. An Amber Alert was updated Sunday to include both Logan and Cabell counties.

Hicks is 4 foot 11 inches tall and weighs approximately 120 pounds. She was last reported seen at her home in Bumpass, Virginia, and is believed to be in extreme danger.

Her alleged abductor is Bruce William Lynch, 33, who is described as being 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing about 195 pounds. Lynch has cross tattoos on both upper arms and a tattoo of “Bruce” on the top of his back.

Police said Lynch is believed to be armed and dangerous with a 9mm handgun. He allegedly displayed recent suicidal ideations.

The pair may be traveling in a 2003 Matrix Toyota that is blue or silver in color with Virginia license plate tag “VEM9071.” Lynch may have switched license plate tags to Virginia “UXW3614” or Virginia “249-9UT.”

Police said Lynch appears to be traveling out of state and staying in places where they may camp.

Anyone with information about Lynch or Hick’s whereabouts is asked to call the Louisa County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office at 540-967-1234.