KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan capital has become a city under siege as the Taliban stage almost daily attacks against government and foreign targets, penetrating layers of heightened security and fueling concerns that insurgents have infiltrated the security forces.
Kabul is protected by a fortress-like "ring of steel," with police and soldiers manning roadblocks and spot-checking vehicles. Streets around important buildings such as parliament, ministries and the presidential palace are blocked off, while others are protected by razor wire and concrete blast walls.
But in recent weeks, insurgents have managed to attack two foreign compounds in Kabul, carry out a suicide bombing meters away from the office of the city's police chief, sent suicide bombers against international military bases and convoys, and bombed the car of a prominent female parliamentarian.
The police chief and the parliamentarian survived, but civilian casualties have been high.
This year the Taliban has shown particular strength across the country, with Afghan security forces suffering record-high casualties after taking the lead in the war from international forces in mid-2013. The Haqqani network -- which like the Taliban is based in neighboring Pakistan -- has also escalated attacks characterized by deployment of suicide bombers.
The decision by President Ashraf Ghani to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with Washington immediately after his September inauguration has prompted the escalation in attacks, according to analysts, diplomats and the Taliban themselves.
The BSA, along with a Status of Forces agreement with NATO, will keep around 12,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan after the U.S. and NATO withdraw combat forces at the end of the year.
Waheed Mozhda, formerly a diplomat for the Taliban's 1996-2001 administration and now a political analyst, said: "This war will continue for years and years because of the BSA."
"There are a lot of people inside the government cooperating with the insurgents because they are opposed to the BSA," he said.
Attacks have become so frequent that First Deputy President Abdul Rashid Dostum turned up at the site of a suicide attack on a foreign compound on Tuesday to accuse forces within the Afghan government of collusion with insurgents.
He was expressing the concerns of many Kabul residents, who also accuse Pakistan of harboring the insurgents and using them as a means to preserve influence in Afghanistan after the Western combat mission ends.
"These attacks are part of an intelligence war with involvement of a foreign country," said Gen. Mohammad Zahir, Kabul's police chief, referring to Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. Zahir narrowly escaped an assassination attempt earlier this month when a suicide bomber detonated his payload in the heart of the city's heavily-guarded police headquarters in a major security breach.
The complexity of the attacks — with gunmen, suicide bombers, explosives and intricate planning to gain access to high-security installations and prominent people — was evidence of the backing of "foreign intelligence," he said.
Analyst Antonio Giustozzi said the attacks were "sending political messages to Ghani, the Americans, the expatriate community and probably to those members of the Taliban that might be interested in negotiating for peace."
The message, he said, is "this is jihad, we have to kick out the foreigners, the Americans, the crusaders and until that is achieved no compromise is possible."
Western diplomats and analysts have said Ghani's efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, with support from Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan, will be met with intensified insurgent activity for at least another two years as the Taliban test his resolve.
Mozhda, however, said "There is no door open for peace talks."
His warning was echoed by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who described the BSA as "against the interests of the Afghan nation."
"The attacks in Kabul are aimed at breaking the backs of the foreign troops and the Afghan government; the fight will not stop," he said.
NEW YORK (AP) — NBC has scrapped a Bill Cosby comedy that was under development and TV Land will stop airing reruns of "The Cosby Show," moves that came a day after another woman came forward claiming that the once-beloved comic had sexually assaulted her.
NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said Wednesday the Cosby sitcom "is no longer under development." A TV Land representative said the reruns will stop airing immediately for an indefinite time. "The Cosby Show" also was to have been part of a Thanksgiving sitcom marathon.
The NBC sitcom and "Cosby Show" reruns joined a Netflix Cosby standup comedy special, which was indefinitely postponed late Tuesday, as mounting evidence of Cosby's faltering career. They occurred a day after model Janice Dickinson, in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight," became the third woman in recent weeks to allege she'd been assaulted by Cosby — charges strongly denied by the comedian's lawyer.
The developments, which involve allegations that were widely reported a decade ago as well as new accusations, have gravely damaged the 77-year-old comedian's reputation as America's TV dad at a time when he was launching a comeback. A year ago, a standup special — his first in 30 years — aired on Comedy Central and drew a hefty audience of 2 million viewers. His prospective new series was announced by NBC in January.
Cosby has never been charged in connection with any of the allegations. Former Pennsylvania prosecutor Bruce L. Castor Jr., who investigated a woman's claims that Cosby had sexually assaulted her in 2004, said Wednesday he decided not to prosecute because he felt there was not enough evidence to get a conviction.
"I wrote my opinion in such a way as I thought conveyed to the whole world that I thought he had done it, he had just gotten away with it because of a lack of evidence," the former Montgomery County district attorney said.
If Cosby hadn't been cooperative with the investigation, "I probably would have arrested him," Castor said.
Cosby was asked about the growing furor by an Associated Press reporter when the comedian was promoting an exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art that features the comedian's African-American art collection alongside African artworks.
When the AP interviewed Cosby, on Nov. 6, the story involved long-circulated accusations from several women and recent criticism from comedian Hannibal Buress. Cosby declined to comment, saying "We don't answer that."
The AP mentioned the allegations and Cosby's decision not to comment at the end of its story, which, like the interview, was primarily about his loan of more than 50 artworks to the Washington museum.
Since then, two women have come forward publicly to accuse him of sexual assault, Netflix, TV Land and NBC cut ties and an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" was canceled. In recent days, as the allegations gained increasing attention, AP went back through the full video of the Nov. 6 interview and decided to publish Cosby's full reaction to questions about the claims.
The AP was among a handful of news organizations granted interviews with Cosby in connection with the art exhibition. After his initial refusal to comment — as the interview was winding down but with the camera still running and Cosby wearing a lapel microphone — the comedian asked the AP to not use the brief on-camera refusal to comment he had just made about the allegations. "And I would appreciate it if it was scuttled," he said.
The interview was on the record. The AP had made no agreement to avoid questions about the allegations or to withhold publishing any of his comments at any time.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art has not changed its plans for the show, which opened this month on the National Mall and is scheduled to remain on view through early 2016.
"The exhibition has been very well received. We've actually had record numbers through the door," spokesman Eddie Burke said, adding the museum has had no complaints.
The NBC project was in the very early stages, without a script or commitment to production. But it would have brought Cosby back to the network where he had reigned in the 1980s with the top-rated "The Cosby Show."
There's some precedent for a network burying a project because of stories involving a star's personal life. NBC shelved a two-hour TV movie, "Frogmen," starring O.J. Simpson in 1994 after the former football star was implicated in his wife's death.
Cosby has continued working as a stand-up comic, and has at least 35 performances scheduled throughout the U.S. and Canada through May 2015. None of the performances has been cancelled.
National Artists Corporation, which is promoting part of the tour, said it will not be canceling any shows.
Dickinson told "Entertainment Tonight" that Cosby had given her red wine and a pill when they were together in a Lake Tahoe, California, hotel room in 1982. When she woke up the next morning, "I wasn't wearing my pajamas and I remembered before I passed out I had been sexually assaulted by this man."
Cosby's lawyer, Martin Singer, said in a letter to the AP that Dickinson's charges were "false and outlandish" and were contradicted by Dickinson herself in a published autobiography. Cosby's spokesman, David Brokaw, did not return calls for comment.
Singer said the first Cosby heard of any assault allegation from Dickinson came in the "Entertainment Tonight" interview, and suggested the actress was "seeking publicity to bolster her fading career."
Mark Kennedy and Frazier Moore in New York, Lynn Elber in Los Angeles, Kathy Matheson in Norristown, Pa. and Brett Zongker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this story.
LONDON (AP) — The global cost of obesity has risen to $2 trillion annually — nearly as much as smoking or the combined impact of armed violence, war and terrorism, according to a new report released Thursday.
The McKinsey Global Institute consulting firm's report focused on the economics of obesity, putting it among the top three social programs generated by human beings. It puts its impact at 2.8 percent of global gross domestic product.
"Obesity isn't just a health issue," one of the report's authors, Richard Dobbs, said in a podcast. "But it's a major economic and business challenge."
The company says 2.1 billion people — about 30 percent of the global population— are overweight or obese and that about 15 percent of health care costs in developed economies are driven by it.
In emerging markets, as countries get richer, the rate of obesity rises to the same level as that found in more developed countries. The report offers the stark prediction that nearly half the world's adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030 should present trends continue.
"We are on an unfortunate trajectory," Dobbs told The Associated Press. "We have to act."
The report's authors argue that efforts to deal with obesity have been piecemeal until now, and that a systemic response is needed.
McKinsey says there's no single or simple solution to the problem, but global disagreement on how to move forward is hurting progress. The analysis is meant to offer a starting point on the elements of a possible strategy.
"We see our work on a potential program to address obesity as the equivalent of the maps used by 16th-century navigators," McKinsey said in its report. "Some islands were missing and some continents misshapen in these maps, but they were still helpful to the sailors of that era."
MIAMI (AP) — Five prisoners have been released from Guantanamo Bay as part of a renewed effort to close the detention center on the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, officials said Thursday.
Three men were sent to Georgia and two to Slovakia for resettlement. They were among dozens of low-level prisoners at Guantanamo who were determined to no longer pose a threat and should be released by an administration task force in 2009.
Their release brings the total prison population to 143.
President Barack Obama had pledged to close the detention center upon taking office but has been thwarted by Congress, which has prohibited sending any prisoners to the U.S. for any reason and imposed restrictions making it harder to move them overseas.
U.S. State Department envoy Clifford Sloan has been trying to persuade other countries to accept prisoners cleared for release and he praised Georgia and Slovakia for their assistance.
"We are very grateful to our partners for these generous humanitarian gestures," Sloan said. "We appreciate the strong support we are receiving from our friends and allies around the globe."
Georgia took three prisoners from Guantanamo in 2010. Slovakia has now taken a total of eight men from Guantanamo.
One of the men sent to Georgia was Abd Al Hakim Ghalib Ahmad Alhag, the first prisoner from Yemen to be released since 2010. The U.S. has balked at sending prisoners to Yemen because it is unstable and Yemenis make up the majority of men cleared for release.
"As we welcome Mr. Alhag's resettlement, we are reminded that the remaining Yemeni men should be sent home or resettled without further delay," said Wells Dixon, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
With the latest releases, there are now 74 prisoners at Guantanamo who have been cleared and are awaiting resettlement. Another 36 have been designated for continued detention without charge. There are 23 who have been slated for prosecution and 10 are either facing trial by military commission or have already been convicted or sentenced.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurning furious Republicans, President Barack Obama unveiled expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on "felons, not families."
CHICAGO (AP) — The Ebola epidemic has put adoptions in impacted west African countries at a standstill for obvious reasons.
Tessa and Joel Sanborn understand. The arrival of their 5-year-old adopted son Devine, who is in an orphanage in Liberia, is on hold, indefinitely, as the state of emergency continues there.
"We love Liberia, and we want what's best for the country as a whole," says Tessa Sanborn, who lives with her husband and their six other children in Maple Valley, Washington, just outside Seattle.
But the waiting is still difficult, as it is for other parents in a similar predicament. And even as some families keep their commitment to adopt, despite the Ebola threat, the numbers of children in west African orphanages who've lost parents is only increasing because of the deadly virus.
Some aid workers also say a shortage of food and supplies is making it difficult to care for those of children, and that fear is hampering efforts to place those who've lost parents to Ebola, even within their home countries.
It is just the latest crisis in Liberia, a country that was attempting to overcome the ravages of war before Ebola hit, says Patricia Anglin, executive director and founder of Acres of Hope, a children's aid organization in Liberia that houses many orphans, including Devine.
"Long after Ebola is even eradicated, we will have the devastation and challenges left behind of these orphans who need to be cared for," Anglin says.
Anglin, who is American but based in Liberia, is in the United States for a month, trying to raise emergency funds for food and supplies, and to keep her organization going.
Adoptions, while a relatively small part of the organization's services, help fund it, she says. So with those on hold, she and her staff have stopped taking a salary and are focusing on relief efforts.
"We can't do it alone," Anglin tells the philanthropy and school groups she's been addressing across the Midwest in recent weeks.
Already, the Sanborns have adopted twin daughters from Acres of Hope — 2-year-old Faith and Favor. Faith had a stroke at birth and, with the help of her new parents, is getting therapy to strengthen use of her right hand and foot.
The couple was able to adopt the girls because of Faith's medical needs. Favor was allowed to come with her. But, though they met him when they went to Liberia last December, Devine had to wait.
Then Ebola hit.
Tessa Sanborn tears up when recalling having to leave him. "It's never a place a parent wants to be," she says, sitting with husband Joel at their dining room table.
While they wait, they and other families have organized a food and supply drive for Devine's orphanage at local restaurant.
It's difficult, because of the scale of the Ebola outbreak, to calculate the number of children in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea who've lost one or both parents to the disease. The current estimate is about 7,000, according to Anglin and other aid workers.
Guinea has never been a significant source of children adopted by Americans, while the number of children from Sierra Leone adopted by U.S. families has ranged from 33 in 2013 to six in 2009.
Liberia used to be a major partner with U.S. adoption agencies, but the situation has changed recently due to complications unrelated to Ebola. According to State Department figures, there were only 12 adoptions from Liberia by Americans in 2013, down from a high of 353 in 2006.
Experts on international adoptions caution that disasters and emergencies, such as the Ebola crisis, should not be occasions to hastily encourage adoptions.
"The first priority is to reunite children with their close relatives or other community members willing to look after them," says Najwa Mekki, a communications officer with UNICEF. "Children are never more vulnerable than in the contexts of large-scale emergencies... Making permanent decisions about children's long-term care should be kept to an absolute minimum during this period."
The Joint Council on International Children's Services, a Virginia-based child-advocacy organization whose partners include many U.S. adoption agencies, has taken a similar stance, as has the State Department.
"We want to avoid the situation where adoptive parents go through the process and then are disappointed," says Niles Cole, a State Department spokesman.
Anglin, of Acres Hope, fully supports family reunification, but says that has been challenging when a child has been exposed to the virus, even if they haven't contracted it.
"Those that have extended families, some of those extended families are afraid to reach out to them," she says. "Often times, the traditional thinking is that those children will always be contagious."
The nature of this crisis — and fear that people who go to help will get sick — also makes it much more difficult to send aid workers to help reunify families, says Stephanie Francois, the director of international programs at Adoption Link, an adoption agency in Oak Park, Illinois.
Her organization sent a social worker to Haiti, as did others, after the 2010 earthquake there to help children find their families.
But that has not as possible in this crisis.
So Francois says fundraising efforts like Anglin's are especially important — and give people a way to help "without the fear factor."
Anglin, meanwhile, continues to track the status of orphans such as Devine, so she can update his parents. The impact of Ebola can be difficult to explain to a young child, she says.
"He's, I guess, doing as well as can be expected, but every day, asks, 'When do I get to go? When do I get to go to America and be with my family?'" Anglin says.
On the Internet:
Acres of Hope: http://acresofhope.org
David Crary in New York City and Ted S. Warren in Seattle contributed to this report.
Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or at http://twitter.com/irvineap