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News Wrap: Afghanistan confirms direct talks with Taliban

In our news wrap Tuesday, the government of Afghanistan confirmed it has engaged in direct, face-to-face talks with the Taliban, its first formal encounter since 2001. Also, the U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State was heavily criticized by Senate Republicans, including Sen. John McCain.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The government of Afghanistan confirmed today that it has opened direct talks with the Taliban. It's their first formal face-to-face encounter since a U.S. coalition ousted the Taliban from power in 2001. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the goal is to change this meeting into a process of continuing talks. Officials said the talks are taking place in Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State came in for heavy criticism today from Senate Republicans.

    John McCain, chairing the Armed Services Committee, challenged the president's policies on ISIS at a hearing.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: There is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are doing currently will be sufficient to achieve the president's long-stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL, either in the short-term or the long-term. Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends. That suggests we are not winning, and when you're not winning in war, you are losing.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Defense Secretary Ashton Carter conceded only 60 Syrians have been trained to fight Islamic State forces so far.

  • ASHTON CARTER, U.S. Defense Secretary:

    This number is much smaller than we'd hoped for at this point, partly because of the vetting standards. We make sure that they, for example, aren't going to pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers, that they don't have any history of atrocities. These are all things that are required of us, and that they're going they're willing to engage in the campaign in a way that's compliant with the law of armed conflict.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Meanwhile, inside Syria, Kurdish fighters, backed by U.S. airstrikes, recaptured 10 villages from Islamic State control. The Kurds have been advancing toward the militants' de facto capital.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In Yemen, fighting has flared again, and with it, the number of deaths. Local residents and Shiite rebels say nearly 200 people were killed yesterday. Many died in airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

    Today, air assaults badly damaged the rebels' political offices. The group has Iran's support, while the Saudis back Yemen's government in exile.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Violence also surged again in Nigeria, where a bomb blast killed at least 25 people. It targeted civil servants at a government building on the outskirts of Zaria, in the northern part of the country. Attacks by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram have killed several hundred people in recent days.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This was a day of remembrance in Britain, marking 10 years since the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005; 52 people died when four suicide bombers attacked London's transport system. Victims' relatives, politicians and royalty marked the day at a service in Saint Paul's cathedral in London. Flower petals drifted down during a nationwide minute of silence. A separate service brought relatives and survivors to Hyde Park.

    Emma Craig was 14 years old at the time of the attacks.

  • EMMA CRAIG, Attack Survivor:

    Quite often, people say, it didn't break us. Terrorism won't break us. The fact is, it may not have broken London, but it did break some of us.

    Sometimes, I feel that people are hell-bent on trying to make a point about terrorism not breaking us that they forget about all the people that got caught up in it. Not for my sake, but for those who were killed on that day and their families, they are the people we are here today to remember. May we never forget.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Britain is currently on its second highest alert level, severe. That's mainly because of the threat posed by Britons who've become Islamic State fighters.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Eurozone leaders today called a final summit on the Greek crisis for Sunday. That came after they came away empty-handed from a meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Instead, the parties spiraled closer to a so-called Grexit, a Greek exit from the Eurozone.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports from Brussels.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    Alexis Tsipras, supposedly under pressure to present a new reform plan for serious talks to begin, but this relaxed-looking Greek bears no such written gift today, his unspoken message, perhaps, that he won't sign a bad deal just because the Germans want him to.

    And the row over Greece's future is now perilously close to dividing its European creditors. Francois Hollande of France fearful of Grexit and desperate for compromise.

  • PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter):

    We want Greece to stay in the Eurozone. That is our aim. But to achieve this, we expect Greece to make some substantial and real proposals. We wait for them.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    Yet the word forgiveness, forgiveness of more Greek debt, is not in Chancellor Merkel's vocabulary. And she won't sign a bad deal for Germany just because Grexit is the alternative.

  • CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter):

    It's not about weeks here anymore. It's about a few days.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    After more than five months of often acrimonious negotiations with the Greeks, confidence in Athens is at a very low ebb here. All day, we have heard senior European government officials saying that they are waiting for serious and credible proposals for Greek reform.

    Instead, it seems that the Greeks have turned up with no concrete proposals at all. But the new Greek finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, was giving nothing of his game plan Away, in stark contrast to his outspoken predecessor, who was sacked yesterday to help pave the way for a deal. "Here's Looking at Euclid," as one Irish newspaper put it today.

    The closest to concrete proposals: some bullet points apparently written on hotel note paper, though a written document is expected to be delivered here tomorrow.

    Latvia's finance minister telling me he could scarcely believe how little the Greeks had told him.

  • JANIS REIRS, Finance Minister, Latvia (through interpreter):

    We were very surprised and shocked by what we saw. We were expecting more. We have been waiting for over five months. We have been waiting over the past two days to get a response to see what the Greeks are ready to do in order to save their own country and to help themselves, but we haven't received that.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    And talk of Greece leaving the euro now out in the open.

  • MAN:

    Minister, can we understand that you don't exclude Greek exit from the table?

  • PETER KAZIMIR, Finance Minister, Slovakia:

    I would like to be honest with you, so I cannot exclude.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    So, tonight, Mr. Tsipras has been talking to a German chancellor who has said there is no basis for negotiations. And so Greek exit is more a probability than it was only yesterday.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Greek leader also spoke by phone with President Obama. The White House urged Europe to try to reach a resolution that promotes growth and stability in Greece.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Back in this country, there's a news report that the U.S. Army plans to cut 40,000 troops from its ranks in the next two years. And 17,000 civilian workers will also be laid off. According to USA Today, the plan is to be announced this week. It would leave an Army of about 450,000 soldiers. Some of the downsizing has been expected, as U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The man accused in the mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, was indicted today on additional charges. Prosecutors added three counts of attempted murder against Dylann Roof. He'd already been charged with murdering nine people at a historic black church.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In the presidential campaign, Democrat Hillary Clinton went after Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans on immigration. She told CNN that the GOP should have condemned Trump for remarks on Mexican migrants that drew widespread criticism.

    HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), Presidential Candidate: I feel very bad and disappointed with him and with the Republican Party for not responding immediately and saying, enough, stop it. But they are all in the same general area on immigration.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Clinton said she favors a path to citizenship for migrants, while the Republican hopefuls do not.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Heroin abuse in the U.S. has risen dramatically over the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today the number of users grew by nearly 300,000 people over the 10-year period between 2002 and 2013.

    Use of the drug doubled among white Americans, even as it leveled off in other racial groups. The increase was driven in part by the falling price of heroin.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The World Health Organization is urging more countries to hike taxes on cigarettes. The U.N. health agency reported today that the tax needs to be more than 75 percent of the retail price before people are deterred from smoking. Agency figures show around six million people die each year from tobacco-related illnesses.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 90 points to close above 17775. The Nasdaq rose five points, and the S&P added 12.

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