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In our news wrap Wednesday, Afghan troops continued to fight to retake the city of Kunduz, but the Taliban captured a key fortress. Also, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia says that a vessel was stopped carrying weapons from Iran off the Southern Arabian Peninsula. However, a U.S.-backed naval coalition says it stopped the ship and that the crew claimed to be bound for Somalia.
Moscow's military buildup in Syria came to full flower today, with the opening of an air barrage. The Russians said they're targeting the Islamic State, but that claim was disputed. And American officials issued a series of warnings about where the airstrikes could lead. We will have a full report after the news summary.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban kept a tight grip on a major provincial capital they overran on Monday, and Afghan government forces faced the prospect of a critical test when they try to take it back.
William Brangham reports on the day's developments.
Afghan troops could be seen in action around Kunduz today, as fighting raged for a third day. And the local police chief insisted they're making progress, backed up by U.S. airstrikes.
MAN (through interpreter):
The situation is better now. As you are aware, some areas have been retaken by security forces. The operation is ongoing. We retook the new police headquarters, the jail and some parts of the city.
But there was no sign of a broader counteroffensive, and a regional official complained that Afghan troops had — quote — "no will to fight." The Taliban seized Kunduz on Monday, sealing off roads and hunting down government officials.
Up to 5,000 police and soldiers retreated to the city's airport, which Taliban fighters tried and failed to take overnight. But Taliban forces did capture a key hilltop fortress today. And civilians were in full flight.
QADIR KHAN, Kunduz resident (through interpreter): Kunduz is under fire as a result of the conflict over these few days. The situation is very bad. All of the residents are fed up and thousands of families are escaping the province.
The loss of Kunduz was a blow to President Ashraf Ghani and his fractious national unity government. Ghani and chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah faced angry denunciations in the Afghan Parliament today.
IQBAL SAFI, Member of Afghan Parliament (through interpreter): The leaders of the Afghan national unity government are unable to administrate the current situation in the country. The people must stand against them and the people must stone them and kill them in their palaces.
All of this came with some 9,800 American troops still in Afghanistan, largely in a training role. And reports surfaced that U.S. commanders will recommend keeping several thousand in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest:
JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:
We're going to continue to monitor the efforts by the Afghan government and Afghan security forces to retake Kunduz. And that will factor into a longer-term assessment of the conditions on the ground, which will influence longer-term policy decisions that the president will have to make.
President Obama's current plan calls for withdrawing all but about 1,000 U.S. troops by the end of next year.
I'm William Brangham for the PBS NewsHour in Washington.
There's word that a ship carrying weapons from Iran was intercepted last week off the Southern Arabian Peninsula. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia says the vessel was smuggling arms to Shiite rebels in Yemen. Sunni Arab states are fighting against the rebels. A U.S.-backed naval coalition says, in fact, that it actually stopped the vessel, and that the crew claimed to be bound for Somalia.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared today that he will no longer be bound by agreements signed with Israel. He addressed world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, and said there's no point in further negotiations.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian National Authority (through interpreter):
As long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, which render us an authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities, Israel has thus left us no choice. We will not remain the only ones committed to those agreements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Abbas' remarks as — quote — "a speech of lies."
Back in this country, the state of Georgia has executed a woman for the first time in seven decades. Kelly Gissendaner was put to death by lethal injection just after midnight. She had been convicted in the 1997 murder of her husband. More than 100 supporters gathered outside the state prison in Jackson. In addition, Pope Francis had asked that her death sentence be commuted.
It turns out the Kentucky county clerk who refused marriage licenses to gay couples met with Pope Francis last week. Kim Davis told ABC News she spoke briefly with the pontiff in Washington on Thursday, and that he had told her to — quote — "stay strong." The Vatican had no comment.
An internal report out today finds that a Secret Service official targeted Congressman Jason Chaffetz for investigating scandals at the agency. It says the official suggest leaking damaging information from an old job application by the Utah Republican. It also says that scores of Secret Service employees accessed his file, possibly illegally.
The Atlantic Coast is now waiting to see what Hurricane Joaquin will do. The storm gained hurricane strength today, brushed the Eastern Bahamas, and kept growing. The National Hurricane Center predicted that it would churn north, possibly striking the U.S. Eastern Seaboard by early next week. That's likely to add to flooding in several Southeastern states. They have been hit by heavy rainstorms over the past two days.
Wall Street has been flooded by sell orders in recent days. But, today, traders went looking for bargains. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 235 points to close near 16285. The Nasdaq rose more than 100 points. And the S&P 500 added 36. Even so, stocks here and abroad ended their worst financial quarter in four years.
And a federal appeals court has struck down a plan to let colleges pay student athletes up to $5,000 a year. Today's ruling said the proposal to offer cash to football and basketball players would destroy amateur athletics.
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