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News Wrap: Petraeus Acknowledges Slow Progress in Afghanistan

August 31, 2010 at 5:29 PM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Five more American troops were killed in Afghanistan today. That made 19 U.S. deaths in the last four days, bringing the total to 55 for August. The total killed in July is 66. Word of the latest casualties came as General David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, acknowledged, it’s been slow going.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, commander, International Security Assistance Force: It is very, very understandable that there would be impatience and a desire to see progress right now. But the nature of these endeavors is such that that progress is slow; it’s hard-fought. And, as I mentioned earlier, the fact is that we are just now, for the first time, getting the inputs right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Petraeus also said he shares Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s concern about threats from insurgents in Pakistan.

The FBI chased leads today on two Arab men arrested in the Netherlands after a flight from the U.S. American officials said it now appears they were not part of any terror plot. Still, the Dutch investigation continued full force. We have a report from Martin Geissler of Independent Television News.

MARTIN GEISSLER: This is Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, filmed by a passenger as he was led off a flight by Dutch police yesterday. He and his traveling companion, Hezem al Murisi, have spent the past two days facing questions about their trip to Holland and, more specifically, why al Soofi sent a bag carrying what’s been described as a mock bomb on a separate flight bound for Dubai and then Yemen.

The authorities here have been guarded with all but a few of the details they have at this stage.

Can you tell us how seriously it’s being taken by the Dutch authorities?

THEO D’ANJOU, Dutch Office of Public Prosecution: It’s being taken seriously because we have arrested them. We’re taking this seriously, because, otherwise, we didn’t arrest them.

MARTIN GEISSLER: Al Soofi fell under suspicion as soon as he began his journey in Alabama. Security agents searched his bag and found a phone taped to a bottle. Some reports also suggest he carried knives, box cutters and watches taped together. But, as none of the items presented a danger on their own, he was allowed to continue his journey. He flew first to Chicago, where al Murisi joined him.

They were due to travel on to Yemen via Washington and Dubai, but, at the last minute, their destination changed to Amsterdam. Now their bags were going through Washington and they weren’t. And that set alarm bells ringing again.

This case is particularly sensitive here because it has real echoes of the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab case. He’s a Nigerian accused of trying to blow up the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas Day, as well as the Schiphol Airport connection. This pair had addresses in Detroit, and they’re from Yemen, where Abdulmutallab is said to have attended terror training camps.

Dutch police say they’re working closely with the American authorities on this case. They have until Thursday night to decide whether there’s enough evidence to bring charges.

HARI SREENIVASAN: White House officials said today neither of the men was on a terror watch list in the U.S.

In the Middle East, a Palestinian gunman killed four Israelis in the West Bank. It came on the eve of new Middle East peace talks in Washington. Police said the shooter opened fire on a car, killing two men and two women. The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility. The Israeli government vowed to retaliate.

From North Carolina to New England, the East Coast turned its attention to Hurricane Earl today. The second major storm of the Atlantic season built up winds of 135 miles an hour.

The big storm churned toward the U.S. mainland as it left the Caribbean region in its wake. It battered Puerto Rico overnight after lashing various islands with strong winds and heavy downpours. But there was no word of any casualties in the Caribbean.

By this afternoon, forecasters projected Earl was on track to make a close approach to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, late Thursday, just in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend. It was expected to turn north and miss a direct landfall.

Still, the National Hurricane Center urged coastal communities to keep an eye on the storm’s path. And evacuations remain possible if the storm wobbles to the west.

Local emergency management officials were already taking heed.

RICHARD MUTH, executive director, Maryland Emergency Management Agency: Everybody is ready, and we’re watching it. We’re — we’re crossing our fingers that it doesn’t impact the weekend, and everybody can enjoy it. But, once again, people really need to pay attention to what’s going on over the next couple days.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For now, Earl was generating heavy surf and rip current warnings in several states.

Close behind the hurricane, another tropical storm, Fiona, neared the Caribbean today. It was expected to stay farther out in the Atlantic.

Wall Street has closed out its worst August in nine years. The Dow Jones industrial average gained five points to close at 10014. The Nasdaq fell nearly six points to close at 2114. And the price of oil continued its recent slide, falling below $72 a barrel.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.