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U.S. will deploy a new special operations force to the Middle East to help fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria

Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region. Carter said the U.S. is deploying a new special expeditionary force to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces fight Islamic State militants.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region. Carter said the U.S. is deploying a new special expeditionary force to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces fight Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will deploy a new special operations force to the Middle East to help fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.

Carter told the House Armed Services Committee that over time, these special operators will be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture Islamic State leaders. Carter said that will improve intelligence and generate more targets for attacks.

Carter did not offer troop numbers amid a growing call from some Republicans for more U.S. boots on the ground and a divide among war-weary Americans about the prospect of greater military involvement. He said the number in the expeditionary force will be “larger” than 50 but would not be more specific and didn’t say exactly where they would be based.

There currently are about 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, and President Barack Obama had previously announced he was sending fewer than 50 special operations forces to Syria.

Carter said the raids in Iraq will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focused on defending its borders and building the Iraqi security force’s own capacity. But the force also will be in position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria, he said.

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Iraqi forces surround Ramadi, but it could be a long siege

BAGHDAD (AP) — After months of sluggish progress, stalled advances and outright failures, Iraqi troops and militias backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have surrounded the key city of Ramadi and appear poised to launch a new attempt to wrest it from the Islamic State group.

The battle that is shaping up threatens to turn into a drawn-out siege, with thousands of residents caught in the middle as the forces try to wear down the militants since they took over the capital of western Anbar province in May. Western officials and analysts warned that the strategy of a methodical, slow siege could make the fight even more difficult.

On Monday, the Iraqi military dropped leaflets into the city, telling the remaining residents — estimated at anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 — to leave, the strongest signal yet that an assault is imminent.

But residents told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the militants have clamped down, setting up checkpoints across the city to monitor civilians’ movements and prevent anyone from going.

“Loudspeakers from mosques give warnings that civilians are not allowed to leave, and anyone who tries to do so will be either arrested or killed,” one resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his safety.

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For gays under IS rule, isolation and fear of a cruel death

REYHANLI, Turkey (AP) — Before a crowd of men on a street in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the masked Islamic State group judge read out the sentence against the two men convicted of homosexuality: They would be thrown to their deaths from the roof of the nearby Wael Hotel.

He asked one of the men if he was satisfied with the sentence. Death, the judge told him, would help cleanse him of his sin.

“I’d prefer if it if you shoot me in the head,” 32-year-old Hawas Mallah replied helplessly. The second man, 21-year-old Mohammed Salameh, pleaded for a chance to repent, promising never to have sex with a man again, according to a witness among the onlookers that sunny July morning who gave The Associated Press a rare first-hand account.

“Take them and throw them off,” the judge ordered. Other masked extremists tied the men’s hands behind their backs and blindfolded them. They led them to the roof of the four-story hotel, according to the witness, who spoke in the Turkish city of Reyhanli on condition he be identified only by his first name, Omar, for fear of reprisals.

Notorious for their gruesome methods of killing, the Islamic State group reserves one of its most brutal for suspected homosexuals. Videos it has released show masked militants dangling men over the precipices of buildings by their legs to drop them head-first or tossing them over the edge. At least 36 men in Syria and Iraq have been killed by IS on charges of sodomy, according to the New York-based OutRight Action International, though its Middle East and North Africa coordinator, Hossein Alizadeh, said it was not possible to confirm the sexual orientation of the victims.

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Chicago mayor fires police chief in wake of video release

CHICAGO (AP) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the city’s police superintendent Tuesday, a week after the release of a dash-cam video that showed a white Chicago officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times.

Emanuel called a news conference to announce the dismissal of Garry McCarthy, who only days ago insisted to reporters that the mayor had his “back.”

The mayor praised McCarthy’s leadership of the force but called it an “undeniable fact” that the public’s trust in the police had eroded.

“Now is the time for fresh eyes and new leadership,” Emanuel said.

Protesters have been calling for McCarthy’s dismissal in response to the handling of the death of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old who was killed in October 2014.

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Appalachia grasps for hope as coal jobs fade

WELCH, W.Va. (AP) — The seams of coal in some of Eddie Asbury’s mines in McDowell County are so thin workers can barely squeeze down them. They enter on carts nearly flat on their backs, the roof of the mine coursing by just a few inches in front of their faces. They don’t stand up all day.

To keep his business operating with such a paltry amount of coal, Asbury has to do everything himself. He has no use for the shiny, multimillion-dollar mining machines on display this fall at the biannual coal show nearby. His equipment is secondhand stuff that he repairs and refurbishes. The coal he and his workers scrape out of the mountain is washed and prepared for sale in a plant Asbury and a colleague built themselves.

“It’s how we survive,” says Asbury, 66, a miner since 1971.

Even coal is barely surviving in coal country — and coal is about the only thing Central Appalachia has.

West Virginia is the only state in the country where more than half of adults are not working, according to the Census Bureau. It is tied with Kentucky for the highest percentage of residents collecting disability payments from Social Security, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And the death rate among working-age adults is highest in the nation, 55 percent higher the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Voters wonder if Cruz can heal Washington’s bitter divisions

CLINTON, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Republican Sharon Gilbert thinks her party veered off course in the past two presidential elections by nominating candidates who were too moderate.

This time around, the 73-year-old Gilbert wants to send a staunch conservative into the general election, and she thinks Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might be that candidate. But she also has a nagging feeling that Cruz’s hard-line views and combative style might keep him from getting anything done in Washington, a city where he’s frustrated his own party’s congressional leaders as much as — if not more than — the Democrats.

“I know he’s very far to the right, but I hope that he could work with both sides,” says Gilbert, who attended a town hall event with Cruz in her hometown of Clinton. “We don’t know that now because he’s been against Washington.”

It’s a central question of Cruz’s campaign as he gains momentum in the Republican primary: Can the uncompromising conservative unite a polarized nation and work with what he’s derisively called Washington’s “cartel” of career politicians, lobbyists and special interests?

Asked by a voter this week how he’d persuade Washington to follow his lead, Cruz said he planned to remake the way the nation’s capital works instead of trying to succeed within the current system.

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Southern California man dies in crash hours after good deed

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A San Diego-area woman is working to honor the memory of a stranger who died hours after he paid for her groceries and asked her to “pay it forward.”

Matthew Jackson, of Oceanside, was killed in a crash on Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after he met Jamie-Lynne Knighten, KNSD-TV in San Diego reported (http://bit.ly/1Prk0aK ).

Knighten was ahead of Jackson in line to pay for her groceries with her crying infant when her card was declined.

That’s when Jackson stepped up and offered to foot the bill, which came to more than $200.

The 28-year-old wanted one thing in return.

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Dancing cop disinvited from 2nd city, blasts NAACP head

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A second city on Tuesday withdrew its invitation for Rhode Island’s “Dancing Cop” to direct holiday traffic because of his activism against the Black Lives Matter movement. The retired officer responded by blasting the head of the Providence NAACP and threatening to sue his detractors for defamation.

East Providence Mayor Thomas Rose called Tony Lepore on Tuesday morning to tell him city leaders did not support his planned performance, Lepore said. A City Council vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday evening was canceled.

Lepore, who retired from the Providence Police Department in 1989, has been directing traffic with dance moves since 1984. His act became a holiday tradition in Providence. But city officials told Lepore last month they were letting him go after he organized a small protest outside a coffee shop where a worker wrote “#blacklivesmatter” on another officer’s cup.

Officials in neighboring East Providence then invited Lepore to perform, but that sparked a protest attended by dozens of people, including Providence NAACP President Jim Vincent.

Both men said Tuesday they are longtime friends who know each other because they film TV shows in the same studio, and both said they were shocked by the other’s actions.

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Mexico experts: passageway may lead to Aztec ruler’s tomb

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican archaeologist said his team has found a tunnel-like passageway that apparently leads to two sealed chambers, the latest chapter in the search for the as-yet undiscovered tomb of an Aztec ruler.

The Aztecs are believed to have cremated the remains of their leaders during their 1325-1521 rule, but the final resting place of the cremains has never been found. Outside experts said Tuesday the find at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor ruin complex would be significant.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said Monday that a team led by archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan had discovered an 8.4-meter (27-foot) long tunnel leading into the center of a circular platform where dead rulers were believed to be cremated.

The mouth of the tunnel was sealed by a 3-ton slab of rock. When experts lifted it in 2013, they found a hollow space marked by offerings by both rich and grisly.

Gold ornaments and the bones of eagles and infants were found in an offering box. Two skulls of children between five and seven years old were found with the first three vertebrae, suggesting they may have been decapitated. The kind of stone knives used in human sacrifices were also found, as well as a hand and bones from two feet.

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Rising cigarette taxes tied to lower infant deaths: Study

CHICAGO (AP) — When it costs more to smoke, fewer babies die, according to a new study that links rising cigarette taxes with declines in infant mortality, especially among blacks.

With nearly 4 million annual births nationwide, the results suggest that a $1 increase in cigarette taxes would be expected to lead to 750 fewer infant deaths each year, the researchers said.

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to complications including sometimes dangerous premature births and sudden infant death syndrome. U.S. smoking rates declined during years examined in the study — 1999 to 2010. The research, paid for by the National Institutes of Health, was published online Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics.

THE STUDY

Cigarettes are subject to state and federal excise taxes. Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University and colleagues examined data on changes in those taxes and cigarette prices from every state over 11 years. They also analyzed federal data on infant mortality in each state.

 

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