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350 more troops sent to protect the American Embassy in Baghdad

The main building inside the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by U.S. State Department

The main building inside the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by U.S. State Department

The U.S. is adding 350 more troops to help protect the American Embassy in Baghdad and its support facilities in the capital, raising the number of U.S. forces in the country to over 1,000, officials said Tuesday.

President Barack Obama approved the additional troops for protection of American personnel following a request by the State Department and a review and recommendation by the Defense Department, the White House said in a statement.

The buildup of U.S. troops in Baghdad follows the growing threat from Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. Since early August the U.S. has carried out 124 airstrikes against the militants, the latest taking place near Mosul Dam on Monday.

The additional troops will not serve in a combat role, the White House said. Most are from the Army and some are Marines, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Approximately 820 troops have now been assigned to augment diplomatic security in Iraq, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s spokesman.

The additional troops will come from within the U.S. Central Command area of operations and will include a headquarters element, medical personnel, associated helicopters and an air liaison team, Kirby said. Fifty-five troops in Baghdad since June will be redeployed outside of Iraq and replaced by 405 newly deployed troops, he said.

The airstrike Monday near Mosul Dam involved fighters and attack aircraft that damaged or destroyed 16 armed vehicles, Central Command said in a statement late Tuesday.

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One family’s quest to unite orphaned Chinese girls with a happy home

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, one woman’s efforts to transform the way orphans are cared for in China.

“NewsHour” correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports as part of his Agents for Change series. A version of Fred’s story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”

And a warning:  This piece contains some disturbing images.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the Bowen family, this was a huge day.

MAN: She got the international baccalaureate diploma, and then she got the biliteracy medal, as opposed to bilingual. It’s like she can read and write and talk.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That 18-year-old Maya Bowen can talk, let alone graduate with honors, seems both natural and unlikely, given her early childhood in a distant orphanage. Richard and Jenny Bowen adopted her when she was two.

Jenny Bowen, Half the Sky Foundation: No one had ever talked to her and, you know, language develops when people talk to you. That’s how you learn to speak, so she had no language at all.

WOMAN: OK. Daddy is going to take pictures of you.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jenny Bowen recently published a book called “Wish You Happy Forever,” chronicling how Maya and later Anya came to be part of the family. The California couple were already in their 50s, with grown children, but they were moved by reports of child neglect on a vast scale in China.

WOMAN: Here, we found toddlers tied to bamboo seats, with their legs splayed over makeshift potties.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This 1995 film, shot undercover, called “The Dying Rooms” showed orphanages filled with girls, abandoned in a country that had begun restricting families to one child in a culture that traditionally favored boy children.

JENNY BOWEN: We thought the thing we could do was save one life. So that’s what we did. We went to China to save a life.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But she found it impossible to ignore the conditions Maya would escape, but where millions of others still languished — in the custody of indifferent or untrained workers, invisible in a nation focused on industrializing its way out of Third World poverty.

Sixteen years later, Jenny Bowen heads a group called the Half the Sky Foundation that’s helping transform the way orphans are cared for across China, with the blessings of and often in partnership with the government.

The name derives from a Chinese proverb that says women hold up half the sky. The group has so far trained 12,000 teachers and nannies in 27 provinces. We visited in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

JENNY BOWEN: All these children are abandoned. Many of them are abandoned because they have what are called special needs.

Before Half the Sky, children are tied to their chairs. They were lying in bed. You could see the tragedy. You walk into a room, and you were just confronted with the tragedy. Here, it’s invisible. These children are going on with their lives. They’re being treated like their lives matter. And they know it. They know they’re loved, and so they thrive.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says children need a sense of being part of a family, in whatever shape family takes.

JENNY BOWEN: It doesn’t mean that they have to be back with their birth families or permanently adopted or anything. They just need to have the love that a family gives naturally to a child, and, to me, it was like a no-brainer.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It was not a no-brainer to get her ideas across in an opaque state-run welfare system. What’s more, the publicity about orphanage conditions was deeply insulting to a government highly sensitive about China’s image.

Zhang Zhirong works for Half the Sky’s China offices.

ZHANG ZHIRONG, Half the Sky Foundation: China always want to tell the world she is the best, everything perfect. We are serving the people. We are helping the people. That’s China politically. But, as you know, China is such a big country. At that time, it was difficult to let people, especially foreigners, to come in to see some of the problems, to see some of the dark side.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Zhang was a key early ally, an English professor and official interpreter well-versed in the culture and politics of the bureaucracy. She was convinced of Bowen’s sincerity.

ZHANG ZHIRONG: I really feel she had the heart. She wanted to help. No other intentions.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Did it help that she had Chinese daughters as well?

ZHANG ZHIRONG: That’s also — we would tell — she always says, “I’m half-Chinese. My daughters are all Chinese.”

JENNY BOWEN: I know that resonated. Certainly, the international criticism let them know that something had to be done. I probably was the least threatening of the options out there.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bowen began by seeking guidance from child development experts. She raised funds in Hollywood, where she was a screenwriter and filmmaker, and from American couples who’d adopted Chinese daughters. She organized volunteer trips to train caregivers and spruce up the environment in which orphans spent their days.

Children who once sat impassively are now in busy preschools. Walls that had generic cartoon images now display the children’s own artwork and pictures.

JENNY BOWEN: Children in institutions, in traditional institutions, they move in packs. They all eat at the same time, they all sleep at the same time, they all pee at the same time, and they don’t separate themselves from each other.

So we use a lot of mirrors, we use things like this, where they can identify themselves and their friends, and it’s a way for them to start knowing who they are, and that’s the beginning of developing intellectual curiosity and opinions.

I can tell you already have opinions, right?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Teacher Lin Lin says Half the Sky’s approach, called responsive care, is tailored to children’s individual learning interests — a far cry from the previous rote learning.

LIN LIN, Schoolteacher, Half the Sky Foundation (through interpreter):  Kids were asked to recite a lot of things, old poems and literature, which they did not understand, they weren’t interested in. Now we’re doing things that are interesting to them. Gradually, you build a trust with these children, and they begin to consider you as part of their family.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s a key goal: to make such caregivers part of the child’s understanding of family. But Half the Sky is also building so-called family villages, a more traditional setting.

Couples, most with grown children, like Liu Peng Ying and her husband, Chen Yung Chang (ph), are given housing and a small stipend to raise their young orphaned charges. It’s an easy sell in a country where large families used to be the tradition.

LIU PENG YING, China (through interpreter): These are like my own children, like my grandchildren. My husband likes children even more than I do. That’s why we decided to apply for this program.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In today’s wealthier, more urbanized China, Bowen says fewer healthy female babies are abandoned. About three quarters of a million children are in state custody.

They are more likely to be from impoverished rural areas and more likely to have congenital or medical conditions their families cannot afford to treat.

JENNY BOWEN: So, in this room, we find children who have pretty severe special needs.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For them, Half the Sky runs a care center in Beijing, with corporate foundation and government support. It provides care for children as they await or recover from surgery or as, in the sad case of 4-year-old Pin Pin, chemotherapy

JENNY BOWEN: She has cancer in both of her eyes?

WOMAN: Yes, and eight times chemo.

JENNY BOWEN: Eight times chemo.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the weeks or months Pin Pin will spend here, a teacher will help her adjust to the loss of her sight.

JENNY BOWEN: You need to have a teacher, because you have a lot of things you have to learn. We don’t just worry about your eyes. We have to worry about your brain, huh?  Yes.

MAN: Maya Bowen!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Maya Bowen plans to become an elementary teacher. She and Anya, a high school junior, have gone from being thankful to impressed.

MAYA BOWEN: I did a paper and we could — at school, and it was a research paper, and we could do it on anything, so I chose my mom, because I thought that would be an easy topic. But then, when I started researching and learning everything she did, I was like, wow, like, this goes way farther than I thought. She has, like, a much bigger influence than I ever thought.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jenny Bowen is now 68 and CEO of a now $7 million-a-year enterprise that she hopes to expand beyond China to neighboring countries in Asia. She has no plans to retire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

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News Wrap: U.S. airstrike may have killed Somali militant leader

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Turning now to today’s other news.

The U.S. military was waiting for confirmation that it had killed the leader of an al-Qaida group in Somalia. Airstrikes overnight hit a vehicle carrying Ahmed Abdi Godane. They also struck a base of his Al-Shabab militia.

A Pentagon spokesman said warplanes and drones carried out the attacks against Godane about 100 miles south of Mogadishu.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, Pentagon Press Secretary: He is the recognized appointed leader of the Al-Shabab network in Somalia. So, if he was killed, this is a very significant blow to their network and to their organization, and we believe to their ability to continue to conduct terrorist attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Al-Shabab leader was the alleged mastermind of the attack on a Kenyan shopping mall that killed 67 people one year ago.

Another al-Qaida affiliate, in Syria, has named its conditions for releasing 45 U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji. The al-Nusra Front rebels abducted the peacekeepers last Thursday on the Golan Heights. Today, the group demanded to be taken off the U.N.’s terror list. It also called for compensation for the deaths of three fighters.

In Saudi Arabia, authorities say they have rounded up 88 people on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks. The Saudi Interior Ministry announced today that some of the suspects have links to the Islamic State or to al-Qaida groups. Officials said many of them may have been planning assassinations inside Saudi Arabia and abroad.

European Union diplomats laid out plans today for expanding sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine. And, as they did so, Russian President Vladimir Putin stirred new outrage when he was quoted as saying, “If I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks.”  The Kremlin complained that Putin was taken out of context.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in Eastern Ukraine, and the United Nations reported a new exodus from the region.

ADRIAN EDWARDS, Spokesman, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:  The number of people displaced inside Ukraine has more than doubled in the past month. As of 1st September, UNHCR estimates that 260,000 people were displaced, compared to 117,000 in early August.

Most of the displaced are from Eastern Ukraine, the remaining in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Kiev regions. UNHCR believes the actual number of people displaced is much higher.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Talks to reach some kind of an accord among Ukraine, Russia and the pro-Russian rebels have adjourned until Friday, when a cease-fire discussion may be back on the table.

President Obama headed for the Baltic region of Europe today, with tensions running high over Russian intentions in Ukraine. He will stop in Estonia before attending a NATO summit in Wales later in the week. Ahead of his arrival, the president of Estonia called for permanent NATO bases in his country, as a safeguard against the Russians.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram militants seized most of a northeastern town overnight after battling government forces. There was word of heavy casualties, and up to 5,000 people were forced to flee. The town, Bama, is just 45 miles away from the capital of Borno state, where the militants abducted more than 200 schoolgirls last April.

Pakistan’s parliament rallied today behind the country’s embattled prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The body convened after a weekend of violent protests by thousands of people. But a string of Pakistani lawmakers voiced their support for Sharif.

CHAUDHRY NISAR ALI KHAN, Interior Minister, Pakistan (through interpreter): Today, when the entire parliament and the entire nation is standing on one side and an armed mob is on the other, I think no one should have any doubts about who the nation will support. The nation is with their elected representatives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Outside the parliament building, thousands of demonstrators camped on the lawn, but there were no reports of any new violence. The parliament session could last all week.

Back in the U.S., the oil field services giant Halliburton will pay more than $1 billion to settle claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company was cement contractor on the well site that exploded in 2010 and caused the largest spill in U.S. history. BP operated the well. It’s already reached a $9 billion settlement.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 31 points to close at 17,067. The Nasdaq rose almost 18 points to close at 4,598. And the S&P 500 slipped one point, to 2,002.

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U.S. rejects bid for low-cost U.S.-Europe flights

LN-NGN Boeing 737-800 Norwegian Air Shuttle. Photo by Flickr user Mark Harkin.

LN-NGN Boeing 737-800 Norwegian Air Shuttle. Photo by Flickr user Mark Harkin.


WASHINGTON — In a case that has labor and trade policy implications, the Obama administration on Tuesday rejected a request that would have immediately permitted a low-cost air carrier to begin flights between the U.S. and Europe while the government is still reviewing its application for new service.

The Transportation Department turned down a request by Norwegian Air International that would have allowed the carrier to offer new service between London’s Gatwick Airport and New York, Orlando, Florida, and other U.S. cities. Officials for the airline said they hoped to charge as little as $150 each way. Such exemptions are usually granted European carriers under a U.S.-European Union aviation agreement.

Norwegian Air International is a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost carrier founded in 1993 and headquartered in Fornebu, Norway. The parent company has 417 routes to 126 destinations. Most of those routes are in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but it also flies some long-haul flights to the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

Its subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, plans to register its planes in Ireland, an EU member, to take advantage of the U.S.-EU treaty that extends many privileges granted domestic carriers to each other’s airlines. That also would make Ireland responsible for the airline’s safety oversight even though the carrier hasn’t announced any plans to fly into or out of Ireland. The airline also plans to hire flight crews through a Singapore hiring agency and base them in Thailand.

U.S. airlines and pilot unions in the U.S. and Europe vigorously campaigned against the exemption, saying Norwegian Air International would set a dangerous precedent by driving down wages and undermining the ability of U.S. airlines to compete in the global market. Ed Wytkind, head of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, recently accused Norwegian Air of trying to “usher in a Walmart-style race to the bottom for cheap labor.”

Critics also questioned the ability of Irish authorities to safely oversee planes and pilots that are only available at distant locations. Dozens of members of Congress signed letters to the Transportation Department opposing the exemption.

Norwegian officials, however, said the large airline mergers and establishment of global airline alliances in recent years have undermined competition and created great pent-up consumer demand for the cheaper air travel they want to offer.

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