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Arab allies took lead role in airstrikes on oil refineries

Arab allies were responsible for the majority of airstrikes against the Islamic State militant group’s oil refineries on Wednesday, flying more warplanes and dropping more bombs than U.S. aircraft, a Pentagon official said.

Arab nations' military involvement in the mission has been crucial for the Obama administration, which wants to avoid accusations it was again intervening in the Middle East in the face of Arab opposition.

Fighter jets and drones belonging to the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dropped bombs on a dozen oil refineries in eastern Syria Wednesday in an attempt to begin dismantling the financial bulwark that has made Islamic State one of the world’s wealthiest terrorist groups.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE flew 16 fighter jets in the air campaign and dropped 23 bombs, which represented 80% of the tonnage dropped on the targets, U.S. officials said.

“Largely that comes from the fact that the bombs they were dropping were of greater weight,” Pentagon spokesman...

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Pentagon: No evidence that airstrikes killed civilians despite reports

Despite claims by activists that U.S. and allied Arab airstrikes killed up to two dozen civilians this week in Syria, a Pentagon official said the initial damage assessment did not confirm any civilian casualties. 

Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said military intelligence is still incomplete, but the before and after imagery of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda sites hit by missiles and bombs did not show any civilians.

“We took all available mitigating actions to reduce civilian casualties," he said. "Right now we believe there were no civilian casualties.”

Asked whether videos posted on social media sites that show workers trying to save civilians trapped under rubble were faked, Warren answered, “Yes.”

“We come to that statement by examining our battle damage assessment up until now,” Warren said.

In Syria, estimates varied of how many civilians were killed, from eight to 24.

Video showing people picking through flattened buildings emerged Tuesday after heavy airstrikes...

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Two Navy fighter jets crash in western Pacific; 1 pilot missing

Two Navy F/A-18 fighter jets crashed after taking off from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson while operating at sea in the western Pacific Ocean.

One of the pilots was quickly located and brought aboard the carrier for medical attention. Search efforts continue for the second pilot. No names were released.

The guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill, guided-missile destroyer Gridley and helicopters are scouring the ocean in the hunt.

The cause of Friday’s crashes are under investigation.

The Carl Vinson carrier is operating in the Navy's 7th Fleet area of responsibility, described as the “Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

In addition to carrier and expeditionary strike groups that deploy to the region, there are 23 ships forward deployed to U.S. facilities in Japan and Guam.

The Navy said the two F/A-18C Hornets have not been recovered. The “C” models made by McDonnell Douglas Corp., now owned by Boeing Co., were first delivered to the military in 1989.

The single-seat jet belonged to Strike...

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Pentagon confirms militant Shabab leader killed in Somalia airstrike

The Pentagon confirmed Friday that Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Somalia's Al Qaeda-affiliated Shabab militants, was killed in a U.S. airstrike that took place early this week.

Godane, 37, was killed Monday after a special-forces strike hit a militant encampment in a town south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, officials said. The mission illustrated the Pentagon's determination to take down Shabab members responsible for a wave of bombings and suicide attacks throughout the Horn of Africa.

Both manned and unmanned aircraft were used in the attack, which included several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions, officials said. The assault is seen by U.S. officials as a setback for the Islamic militant group, which has struggled in recent years with leadership disputes, military defeats and questions about its direction.

“Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to Al Shabab,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. “The...

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Chinese fighter jet intercepted Navy sub-hunter plane in South China Sea

An armed Chinese fighter jet conducted what Pentagon officials called an aggressive midair intercept of a U.S. Navy submarine-hunting aircraft during a routine patrol above international waters.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the incident occurred Aug. 19 about 135 miles east of Hainan island in the South China Sea and involved a Navy P-8 Poseidon plane.

He said the Chinese fighter made three passes dangerously near the U.S. plane. The jet also zoomed directly in front of the Navy plane at a 90-degree angle to reveal its belly, which was packed with weaponry, he said.

At one point, Kirby said, the Chinese warplane flew alongside the Navy aircraft, putting their wingtips as close as 30 feet apart. The encounter ended with the Chinese pilot doing a barrel roll over the top of the U.S. plane.

Kirby called the incident "very, very close" and "very dangerous."

The Obama administration has lodged a protest to China through official diplomatic channels.

"This kind of behavior...

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2 Liberians who got experimental Ebola medicine said to be improving

Two Liberian healthcare workers who received experimental medication to fight the Ebola virus have shown some improvement, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

In a statement, the international health agency said that doctors working in Liberia told them a doctor and nurse have shown “marked improvement” after receiving the experimental treatment ZMapp.

A second doctor being treated with the drug in Liberia remained in serious condition, the statement said, but “has improved somewhat.”

It’s not clear whether ZMapp is effective or even harmful. The survival rate for patients infected with Ebola in the current outbreak stands at about 50%.

According to the Associated Press, the three healthcare workers received the last known doses of ZMapp, and were the first Africans to receive the experimental medication, which had never been used in humans.

The medicine was also previously used to treat two Americans working with Ebola patients in Liberia, who were later evacuated to Emory...

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Ebola crisis: CDC warns travelers to avoid deeply affected countries

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday warned Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the continuing Ebola crisis in those countries.

The CDC and the World Health Organization have said the risk of travelers contracting the disease was remote, since Ebola doesn’t spread easily through casual contact, and is not airborne or food borne.

But with the West African health system deep in the throes of the outbreak, the CDC is concerned that travelers with medical emergencies unrelated to Ebola – a broken leg or a heart attack – might be exposed to the disease at a hospital.

“What has concerned us is the possibility that healthcare facilities in the region … might be deeply stressed because of the Ebola challenge, and second, there might be a risk that you were exposed to Ebola,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

Frieden said the United States is sending a “surge” of about 50 CDC personnel to West Africa, in an effort to...

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Britain has ambitious plan for driverless cars, but roadblocks remain

Britain has announced a plan to fast-track driverless cars, meaning self-driving cars could hit public roads by early 2015.

It is the first sovereign state to make such a large-scale and public commitment to testing the cars, experts said.

“It’s an early statement by a national government that this is a policy priority," said Bryant Walker Smith, an associate law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies the legal implications of driverless cars. “I wouldn’t say we’ve seen a similar announcement, say, by a U.S. federal agency.”

The British government is also promising to review current driving laws to better accommodate driverless car technology, but the country might still have some legal obstacles to tackle.

For one, the 1968 U.N. Vienna Convention on Road Traffic requires that every moving vehicle have a driver, and that the driver must always be in control of a car while it’s moving. 

The treaty has been ratified by more than 70 countries, including the U.K. and...

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Bomber who killed Afghan president's cousin hid explosives under cap

A young suicide bomber with explosives hidden beneath his cap assassinated a politically influential cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, a provincial official said.

The 24-year-old attacker blew himself up in a reception room at Hashmat Khalil Karzai’s home in the southern province of Kandahar, according to Dawa Khan Minapal, the spokesman for the province’s governor. The bomber was bowing to kiss Hashmat Khalil Karzai’s hand after morning prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the Associated Press reported.

One other person, described only as a civilian, was wounded by the blast.

The attack was the latest to target an Afghan political leader, and was not the first to claim a relative of President Karzai. Ahmed Wali Karzai, his half brother, was killed in his home in Kandahar in 2011.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on Hashmat Karzai. The Taliban is waging an insurgency that has targeted other powerful figures in the country, and has...

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Teen's body discovered on U.S. military plane at base in Germany

The body of a teen stowaway was found in the wheel well of a U.S. military plane in Germany on Sunday night, military officials said.

The victim, described as an "adolescent black male, possibly of African origins," was found during a routine inspection of a C-130J military aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times that the aircraft had been on a support mission in Africa and had stopped in several countries during the last few days.

It was not clear where or when the teen climbed in, and the cause of death was not immediately known, Hillman said.

"We have no way of knowing, right now, at what point the child entered the plane," she said.

The teen's body has been taken to a German medical facility for an autopsy. 

 Follow @JamesQueallyLAT on Twitter for breaking news.

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Air Algerie wreckage found; French send troops to secure site

The French government confirmed Thursday night that wreckage from an Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people that disappeared from radar earlier in the day had been found.

Wreckage from the flight was found in Mali's Gossi region, according to a news release from French officials.

The debris was “clearly identifiable” as the Air Algerie flight, officials said. 

A French military detachment was deployed to secure the site and collect initial information, officials said.

The plane crashed during a storm over northern Africa early Thursday.

The flight took off from Burkina Faso at 1:17 a.m. Thursday but its disappearance was not made public until several hours after it didn't make its 6:10 a.m. scheduled arrival in Algiers.

Shortly before the plane vanished from the screens, the captain asked permission to depart from his planned route because of heavy storms and poor visibility over northern Mali. The plane is believed to have crashed shortly after making the diversion.

The passengers...

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FAA lifts U.S. flight restrictions for Tel Aviv

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday night lifted its ban on U.S. flights to and from Tel Aviv.

The decision was made after the U.S. government determined that Israel had proper measures in place to "mitigate potential risks to civil aviation" during the ongoing hostilities in and around the Gaza Strip, according to an FAA news release.

The FAA "will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation ... and take additional actions, as necessary," according to the release.  

The FAA ban was imposed Tuesday after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a home about a mile from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, apparently circumventing Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense system.

The ban was greeted with criticism from Israel, where tourism from the United States is a key driver of the economy, especially in the summer. A cutoff of flights to the U.S. was also seen as an important psychological setback in a country that feels isolated in a region where it is surrounded by...

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