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Pope Francis Marries 20 Couples at Vatican: Why It’s Important

Pope Francis Marries 20 Couples at Vatican: Why It’s Important

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) — In another signal that Pope Francis’ Catholic Church is not your mother’s Catholic Church, the transformative pontiff married 20 couples at the Vatican on Sunday, some of whom had lived together and one who had a child out of wedlock.

Yes, you read that right. Couples who had lived together, couples who had sex before marriage, even one with a grown child were married in the Vatican by the pope himself.

All of those things remain a sin in the Catholic church. But the pope’s message Sunday was not one of blame. In his homily before the exchange of vows, the pope stressed forgiveness for past sins.

“To spouses who ‘have become impatient on the way’ and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment,” the pope said to the brides and grooms, “God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them.”

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So why is it important?

1. It’s another signal that Pope Francis is changing the church to be more open and inclusive. Last July, Pope Francis suggested that that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation. The pope has also said the church is too focused on issues such as abortion, contraception and divorce. In an interview last year, the pope warned that “the church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” The church’s teaching “must be more simple, profound, radiant,” he wrote. Sunday’s wedding ceremony appears to be a practical application of that philosophy.

2. Being married by the pope is incredibly rare. Pope John Paul II was the last pope to publicly perform the rite of marriage, when he married eight couples in 2000. So rare is the event that one couple said that “when we discovered that it was happening, that it wasn’t a dream — well, it transformed us,” The New York Times reported. The marriage of those, by the pope himself, who might have been shunned just a couple years ago, sends a powerful message not only to those couples but also to the rest of the world.

3. He wanted to stress the importance of marriage for all Catholics, whatever their situation. He also want to encourage local priests to follow his example and marry couples in similar situations. Pope Francis has long emphasized the importance of the family and marriage between a man and a woman and these topics will be discussed at a Vatican meeting of bishops later this year.

Marriage, the pope said, “is a symbol of life, real life: it is not fiction.” It’s also not fiction that the Catholic Church is changing — and changing from the top down.

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British PM on New ISIS Beheading: ‘They’re Not Muslims, [But] Monsters’

British PM on New ISIS Beheading: ‘They’re Not Muslims, [But] Monsters’

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) — British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday that the brutal beheading of a British aid worker by the terror group ISIS, which follows the execution of two American journalists, showed exactly why the U.K. needed to work to destroy the organization, “the embodiment of evil.”

“The fact that an aid worker was taken, held and brutally murdered at the hands of ISIL [ISIS] sums up what this organization stands for,” Cameron said in an address to the British people. “They boast of their brutality; they claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters.”

Cameron spoke hours after a video emerged online that appeared to show the murder of British citizen David Haines at the hands of a black clad ISIS militant. Before his death, Haines reads from a scripted statement, saying Cameron is “entirely responsible” for his impending murder.

“You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State [ISIS], just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst British Prime Ministers who can’t find the courage to say no to the Americans,” Haines says.

Sunday, Cameron said the U.K. would not be cowed.

“We cannot just walk on by if we are to keep this country safe; we have to confront this menace,” he said. “Step by step, we must drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL [ISIS] and what it stands for. We will do so in a calm and deliberate way, but with an iron determination. We will not do so on our own, but by working closely with our allies, not just the United States and in Europe, but also in the region because this organization poses a massive threat to the entire Middle East.”

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Australia To Send Personnel, Aircraft to Join International Coalition Against ISIS

Australia To Send Personnel, Aircraft to Join International Coalition Against ISIS

iStock/Thinkstock(CANBERRA, Australia) — Australia will send personnel and aircraft to the United Arab Emirates in an effort to assist in the international coalition against ISIS, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Sunday.

In response to a request from the U.S. government, the country’s Defence Force is set to prepare a Special Operations Task Group to help security forces in the region.

“We are not deploying combat troops but contributing to international efforts to prevent the humanitarian crisis from deepening,” Abbott said in a statement.

The announcement comes one day after the release of a video showing the apparent execution of a British hostage at the hands of the militant group.

“The ISIL [ISIS] death cult threatens the people of Iraq, the region and the wider world. The conflict has reached out to Australia, with at least 60 Australians fighting with ISIL [ISIS] and other terrorist groups and another 100 or so supporting these extremists,” the prime minister continued. “This situation is as much a matter of domestic security as it is of international security.”

Australia has already provided air-lift assistance to Iraq, including humanitarian air drops to stranded residents and the movement of arms and munitions.

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ISIS Appears to Kill British Hostage in New Video

ISIS Appears to Kill British Hostage in New Video

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) — The terror group ISIS appears to have executed a British hostage, as seen on a video released online Saturday, making David Haines the third Western hostage the group is believed to have killed in such a public, brutal fashion.

Prior to his apparent beheading, Haines is seen kneeling in an orange jumpsuit next to an armed militant clad entirely in black. Haines gives a statement in which he says British Prime Minister David Cameron is “entirely responsible for [his] execution.”

“You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State [ISIS], just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst British Prime Ministers who can’t find the courage to say no to the Americans,” Haines says.

In another section of the video, the would-be executioner says, “This British man has to pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the peshmerga against the Islamic State.” The peshmerga are Kurdish forces who, along with Iraqi forces and heavy American air support, dealt ISIS a major blow by wresting from the terror group control of the Mosul Dam last month.
 
The new video is similar to two previously released by ISIS in which two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, appeared to be separately beheaded. In those videos, a black clad militant addresses President Obama, warning America to stop its aggressive bombing campaign against ISIS.

Haines, a 44-year-old aid worker, was previously seen at the end of the Sotloff video, ISIS implying that he would be next. Similarly, another hostage appears at the end of this new ISIS video.

“David has been murdered in the most callous and brutal way imaginable by an organisation that is the embodiment of evil,” Cameron said in a statement. “We will hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.”

“We are a peaceful people. We do not seek out confrontation, but we need to understand: we cannot ignore this threat to our security and that to our allies,” he continued. “There is no option of keeping our heads down that would make us safe. The problem would merely get worse, as it has done over recent months, not just for us but for Europe and the rest of the world. We cannot just walk on by if we are to keep this country safe; we have to confront this menace.”

Haines’ brother, Michael, issued a statement about David who he said “was recently murdered in cold blood.”

“David was like so very many of us, just another bloke,” Michael Haines said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office. “David was a good brother, there when I needed him and absent when I didn’t…He helped whoever needed help, regardless of race, creed or religion.

“David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles… He was and is loved by all his family and will be missed terribly,” Michael Haines said.

Earlier Saturday, before the video emerged online, Haines’ family released a public plea through the British government, urging his captors to contact them.

President Obama issued a statement saying the U.S. “strongly condemns the barbaric murder.”

“The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve,” Obama said.

In addition to the second hostage shown at the end of the video, ISIS is believed to be holding at least one other Westerner, a 26-year-old American woman.

Military special operations veterans told ABC News that in addition to the overt message delivered by Haines and his purported killer, the circumstances of the video’s production could be signal to Western intelligence. By filming in broad daylight and in open desert, the officials said ISIS could be saying that it feels safe from the long reach of Western and allied militaries and intelligence.

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Terror Cell Discovered in Uganda, ‘Imminent Attack’ Planned

Terror Cell Discovered in Uganda, ‘Imminent Attack’ Planned

iStock/Thinkstock(KAMPALA, Uganda) — Ugandan authorities discovered an al-Shabaab terrorist cell in the country’s capital, U.S. Embassy officials announced Saturday.

The findings appear to be linked to plans “for an imminent attack,” with officials warning U.S. citizens to remain at home or in a safe location until the issue is cleared.

“At this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport,” the statement reads.

Citizens are cautioned to be aware of surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor local news stations and “maintain a high level of vigilance.”

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US Military Conducts Two More Airstrikes Near Mosul Dam

US Military Conducts Two More Airstrikes Near Mosul Dam

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) — U.S. military forces continued airstrikes in Iraq this week, targeting ISIS forces near the Mosul Dam.

Crews used attack aircraft to conduct two strikes Thursday and Friday in support of Iraqi Security Forces defending Irbil.

The assaults took down two ISIS armed vehicles, according to the United States Central Command.

“These strikes were conducted under authority to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, support humanitarian efforts, and support Iraqi forces that are acting in furtherance of these objectives,” officials said in a statement Friday.

The U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 160 airstrikes across the country.

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Pope Francis Speaks Against ‘Piecemeal’ World War III

Pope Francis Speaks Against ‘Piecemeal’ World War III

Franco Origlia/Getty Images(ROME) — At a mass in front of Italy’s biggest war memorial in Redipuglia, Pope Francis denounced war as “insanity,” saying numerous conflicts around the world today constitute a “piecemeal” World War III.

The pontiff condemed the arms trade and terrorism during his statements Saturday, saying wars are fueled by ambition and intolerance that are later justified by ideology, or a complete disregard for others’ lives.

In August, the pope said it would be legitimate for the international community to use force in order to stop “unjust aggression” by terrorist groups, including Islamic State militants who have carried out genocide against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.

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Pope Francis Expected to Travel to Turkey in November

Pope Francis Expected to Travel to Turkey in November

phant/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) — Pope Francis is expected to travel to Turkey in November, on invitation from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Press Office of the Holy See, the official letter of invitation from Erdogan was received this week. Lombardi also said that plans were underway to prepare the trip for the end of November.

Lombardi said Friday that “the length and the program of the visit are still to be confirmed.”

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Retired General to Lead Coalition Against ISIS

Retired General to Lead Coalition Against ISIS

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — The former commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan will lead President Barack Obama’s coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Retired Gen. John Allen is expected to be named the special presidential envoy for the global coalition against ISIS by Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday. Allen will report to Kerry and will work with the Department of Defense to “match specific campaign requirements and coalition needs with potential contributors, providing high-level diplomatic support to coordinate a global coalition that delivers tangible results,” a State Department official told ABC News.

Last month, Allen said on ABC’s This Week that defeating ISIS would require a “comprehensive approach.”

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Convoy Carrying Prince Harry Involved in Collision

Convoy Carrying Prince Harry Involved in Collision

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for Invictus(LONDON) — A car in Prince Harry’s motorcade was involved in a car crash when one of his police escorts ran head-on into another vehicle in central London, authorities said.

The motorcade was traveling on Prince Albert Road on Thursday at 9:40 a.m. and the 29-year-old was riding in a Range Rover when a motorcycle officer smashed into a white Prius, according to Scotland Yard.

Harry, who was not injured, was on his way to the Invictus Games at the time.

The police officer had been using his lights — standard when providing security detail. He suffered injuries and was taken to the hospital. He has since been discharged.

As seen in pictures, the Prius discharged it’s airbags during the crash and the roof of the car was later cut off to get the driver out. The driver of the car was also taken to the hospital for his injuries and discharged.

The Invictus Games, where the cars were heading, include “Over 400 competitors from 13 nations,” according to the games’ website, and feature wounded, injured and sick servicemen.

“The event, which is championed by Prince Harry, will be a celebration of resilience and passion,” the site adds.

Harry is set to celebrate his 30th birthday on Monday.

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Rob Ford Drops Out of Toronto Mayoral Race

Rob Ford Drops Out of Toronto Mayoral Race

Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images(TORONTO) — Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has decided to drop out of the race for re-election amid a health scare and has asked his brother Doug to run in his place.

“Doug loves our city as much as I do. He believes that standing up for the average person and watching the bottom line are what matters most at City Hall,” Rob Ford said in the statement. “Doug also believes in standing up for his family no matter what. His loyalty and willingness to be there for anyone, anytime is just who he is. I’ve asked Doug to finish what we started together, so that all we’ve accomplished isn’t washed away.”

The announcement comes after Ford was hospitalized due to a tumor in in his abdomen. A biopsy has been conducted, but the results will not be known for at least one week.

In the statement, Ford said that the details about his health problem remain “unknown” but he knows he is not going to be able to serve as mayor while addressing the issue.

“Now I could be facing a battle of my lifetime, and I want the people of Toronto to know that I intend to face this challenge head on, and win,” he said. “With the advice of my family and doctors I know I need to focus on getting better. There is much work to be done and I can’t give it my all at this point in time.”

There had been calls in the past for Ford to resign after he gained international notoriety for a series of drug and alcohol scandals. He also admitted to using crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor.”

The election is scheduled for Oct. 27.

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Oscar Pistorius’ Ex-Girlfriend Thought ‘It Could’ve Been Me’

Oscar Pistorius’ Ex-Girlfriend Thought ‘It Could’ve Been Me’

ABC News(PRETORIA, South Africa) — The ex-girlfriend of paralympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted Friday in the shooting death his current girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, says she believes she could have been Pistorius’ victim instead.

“I definitely thought it could’ve been me,” Samantha Taylor told ABC News’ Matt Gutman in an interview for 20/20 before the verdict was delivered.

After a seven-month murder trial, South African Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius guilty Friday of culpable homicide, similar to manslaughter. He was also found guilty of discharging a gun in a public area, but acquitted of other charges, including murder. His bail was later extended ahead of sentencing on Oct. 13.

After the verdict was announced, Taylor told ABC News in a statement, “No one besides Oscar knows what happened on the morning of Reeva’s death, but having said that we all need to move forward with our lives.”

Steenkamp was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day 2013. Prosecutors alleged Pistorius intentionally shot his model girlfriend. The double-amputee sprinter maintained he thought there was an intruder in his home and fired his gun in self-defense, accidentally shooting and killing Steenkamp through the door while she was in the bathroom.

When news of Steenkamp’s death broke, Taylor, 20, of Johannesburg, said she received many “rest in peace” messages, “because people thought it was me…It was a real shock.”

Taylor said she dated Pistorius before he began dating Steenkamp. At his murder trial, Taylor served as a valuable witness for the prosecution. She said parts of Pistorius’ story about what happened the night Steenkamp died did not ring true.

“There were things that didn’t match up to my experience staying at his house,” she said.

For example, while Pistorius claimed during his testimony the bedroom was pitch black so he didn’t see Steenkamp go to the bathroom, Taylor said Pistorius did not typically keep his room that dark.

“He usually slept with the curtains fairly open. He always had some light coming in,” said Taylor.

And although Pistorius did startle easily, Taylor said he would always ask her about any sudden noises and found it odd that he said he didn’t make physical contact with Steenkamp the night she was killed.

Taylor said she was just 17 years old when she first met the then 24-year-old Pistorius at a rugby match in 2010.

“When I met him, I actually didn’t know who he was,” Taylor said. “He was very charming. He is a really good guy, you know. He was very respectful, very kind.”

But over time, Taylor said Pistorius would get angry at her for little things, such as not taking her plate to the kitchen, and that he could be jealous and possessive.

“He used to often look through my phone, ask me who my friends were. I think he had that control over who’s in my life and who’s not,” she said. “I was his.”

Life with Pistorious was living on the edge, she said. Taylor recalled when he would drive his car 200 miles per hour on the highway.

And, she said, Pistorius also always carried around a gun.

“He definitely had a passion for guns,” she said. “It was natural that the gun was…there. It was a part of him.”

Taylor claimed one time she was in the back seat of a car with Pistorius and a friend when Pistorius fired his gun out of the sunroof.

“It was really loud. I got such a fright,” she said.

A Pistorius spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

There were also times, Taylor said, when Pistorius was an emotional wreck. She said she heard him cry about 300 times.

“It was really strange to me. I haven’t really heard men cry so much,” she said.

Taylor’s mother, Trish Taylor, says she became close to Pistorius over the course of his relationship with her daughter, even taking on an unexpected maternal role. In the book An Accident Waiting to Happen, co-written with Melinda Ferguson, Trish Taylor described Pistorius’ “dark side.”

In July 2012, Pistorius wrote in an email to Samantha and Trish Taylor, saying, “There are often very dark areas that haunt you…most of my adult life I have had moments that I sabotage the good that I have.”

Trish Taylor says that he would sometimes explode with fits of anger.

“I heard him screaming at Samantha once on the phone,” she told Gutman.

During his Olympic training, Trish Taylor said she even suggested he seek counseling and sent him links to meditation websites.

“I thought, ‘What if he commits suicide?’ I was getting really, really worried about him,” she said. “He had made all these promises on how he’s going to see a psychologist, how he was going to change his life, and everything was going to change.”

But nothing did change, Samantha Taylor said. Worst of all, she says she discovered Pistorius was cheating on her.

“I think our whole relationship there were lies,” she said. “From what I know, or from what I found out, there were definitely a lot of other women in his life at the same time as me.”

Taylor claimed she had not officially broken up when Pistorius showed up on television at an awards ceremony with Steenkamp. Pistorius testified that he and Samantha Taylor were no longer a couple when he was with Steenkamp, and denied cheating on Taylor, but all agreed that their relationship was over after that outing.

“I think we were so in love. And I mean, besides our downs, we had a lot of ups,” she said.

Taylor said she’s making peace with how Pistorius treated her.

“Our relationship, it wasn’t easy,” she said. “I’m getting there. I think it’s a journey.”

In the end, Taylor said she wants Pistorius to come to terms with what he’s done.

“He needs to, you know, face his consequences and not necessarily behind bars. But, you know, if he needs to go for help then I think that’ll be great for him,” she said.

Watch the full interview on ABC News’ 20/20 Friday at 10 p.m. ET


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Malala Yousafzai’s Plotters Captured After Two-Year Hunt

Malala Yousafzai’s Plotters Captured After Two-Year Hunt

Ida Mae Astute/ABC(ISLAMABAD) — The terrorist gang that plotted the attempted assassination of teenager Malala Yousafzai on a school bus have been arrested after a nearly two-year search.

The 10 terrorists confessed to Pakistani authorities that they were in the process of planning the murders of 22 other people at the time of their capture, Pakistani authorities said. The arrests were announced Friday but it remains unclear when exactly they were taken into custody.

An army spokesman said that the group was a known offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban.

The teen’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, put out a statement calling the arrests “good news for our family and most importantly for the people of Pakistan and the civilized world.”

“This first step of apprehending Malala’s attackers signifies the beginning of real hope for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been affected by terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Swat and the whole country,” the father’s statement read. “This is the beginning of the real restoration of the writ of the government, where the rule of law and justice prevails for everybody.”

Malala Yousafzai was 15 when two armed men, Israr ur Rehman and Izhar Ullah, stopped her school van while dropping children off on Oct. 9, 2012. After identifying Yousafzai, who had become an activist for educating girls, one of the men fired at her head with a 9mm pistol. They shot two other girls, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, during the attack but neither were injured as gravely as Yousafzai.

The Taliban is opposed to educating girls and has destroyed schools and killed teachers who educate girls.

Rehman was the first of the criminals to be apprehended by the joint task force comprised of local and state authorities. He confessed to his involvement and gave the names of the other members of the terrorist group, called Shura, that were involved with the planning of the attack, authorities said Friday.

He revealed that the group was run by Zafar Iqbal, a furniture shop owner who allegedly passed hit lists of names to an associate named Mullah Fazlullah.

During interrogation, the terrorists revealed that the plan was conceived by Fazlullah, and the Shura group was given the responsibility to execute it. The group also confessed its involvement in murder of Abdul Rasheed, watchman of Swat College of Science and Technology, in November 2012.

Fazlullah was also said to be the one who came up with the new list of 22 targets that the men were planning to kill at the time of their arrest. The names of these targets have not been released.

Fazlullah, who has since been chosen to head the Pakistani Taliban, is not in custody.

Yousafzai survived the assassination attempt after being treated in the United Kingdom. She has become an international activist and was widely considered a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

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Strong Solar Storm Expected to Hit Earth

Strong Solar Storm Expected to Hit Earth

NASA(NEW YORK) — The energy from two back-to-back coronal mass ejections hit Earth Friday as expected, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Coronal mass ejections are bursts of radiation that explode from the sun — and these particular flares have been whizzing toward earth as fast as 2.5 million miles per hour. According to NOAA, the current storm level is just above the moderate threshold.

While solar storms may sound alarming, harmful radiation from the flares cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere. However, a perfect storm of intense radiation can impact satellite and radio transmissions and cause flights to be re-routed due to changes in Earth’s magnetic field.

The solar storm is expected to strengthen as it continues through Saturday — however no major problems have been reported so far.

There is a glimmer of good news in this all: As an added bonus, the solar storm will make the northern lights expand toward the south — providing a beautiful backdrop for star gazers.

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When Boots on the Ground Aren’t ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq

When Boots on the Ground Aren’t ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS comes with an additional 475 American troops gearing up to go to Iraq, bringing the total number of U.S. service members there to over 1,600 — but don’t call those “boots on the ground.”

Like the hundreds of American soldiers already in Iraq, the new crop has not been assigned to any combat duties, the military says, and on Thursday, that’s how the White House told ABC News it defines “boots on the ground” in this context: “U.S. military service members serving in combat roles.”

Last year after a Syrian chemical attack, Obama proposed action but promised no American “boots on the ground” there, a policy White House spokesperson Josh Earnest reiterated for Iraq last month.

In his address to the nation Wednesday night, Obama didn’t use the phrase, but emphasized the new American forces “will not have a combat mission.” On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC News the U.S. is not at war with ISIS.

While the hundreds of Americans in the Middle Eastern nation serve in support and advisory roles to Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces, already American airmen and soldiers have directly engaged and killed ISIS fighters, both in Iraq and Syria. But the men and women who pulled the trigger in those cases don’t fit the bill for “boots on the ground,” according to White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden.

In Iraq, the U.S. has launched more than 150 airstrikes against ISIS targets and released footage of successful strikes. Some bombs are dropped by American fighter pilots in F/A-18s operating off the USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf. But as Hayden pointed out, since they’re flying over their Iraqi targets, the fighter pilots are “in the air,” not on the ground.

Military officials said Thursday it plans to begin using “manned and armed” aircraft taking off from Erbil in northern Iraq, but hasn’t decided on which aircraft to use.

In Syria, the U.S. executed a complex rescue operation in July involving several dozen commandoes to save American hostages held by ISIS near its stronghold in Raqqah, senior U.S. officials told ABC News last month. The American commandoes flew in by helicopter, disembarked and managed to sneak to the location they believed to hostages to be, but found none there. A firefight ensued in which officials said the American forces killed several ISIS fighters, while only suffering a single minor injury in return.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel later said that other than there being no hostages around, from a military standpoint, the mission was “flawless.” It was also, according to the White House, exempt from the broader policy of not using boots on the ground.

“Again, we are not contemplating U.S. boots on the ground in Syria as part of a broader U.S. strategy against ISIL [ISIS],” Hayden said in an email. “That operation was a limited circumstance that was not related to our strategy against ISIL. It was about personnel recovery and we never rule out using our military in those circumstances anywhere in the world.”

Hayden declined to say whether such a special operation would be launched to kill or capture ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a potential echo of the Navy SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011. A Pentagon spokesperson also declined to comment on the “hypothetical.”

Late Thursday, The Washington Post reported Obama had given the U.S. military permission to specifically target al-Baghdadi and other high level ISIS figures.

Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism advisor to the White House and now ABC News consultant, said that when administration officials say “boots on the ground,” they probably mean larger organized combat units like infantry battalions, and said Obama’s phrasing Wednesday night was a “better formulation.”

Or, as the president put it on June 19: “I think we always have to guard against mission creep, so let me repeat what I’ve said in the past: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”

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Oscar Pistorius Guilty of Culpable Homicide, Judge Rules

Oscar Pistorius Guilty of Culpable Homicide, Judge Rules

Jemal Countess/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) — A South African judge found Oscar Pistorius guilty today of culpable homicide in the 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He was also found guilty of discharging a gun in a public area, but acquitted of other charges, including murder.

Judge Thokozile Masipa had Pistorius stand before she delivered her verdict.

His bail was later extended ahead of sentencing on Oct. 13.

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Culpable homicide is similar to manslaughter in the United States, and he could receive anywhere from a suspended sentence or house arrest to a 15-year sentence, with the sentence at the discretion of the judge. Mitigating factors, such as his emotional state, anxiety levels and disability could result in a lesser sentence.

Pistorius was found guilty of discharging a gun in a public area for a 2013 restaurant incident, Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled. He was acquitted in a 2012 incident in which Pistorius allegedly fired a gun out of the open sunroof of a friend’s car. He was also acquitted of illegal possession of ammunition.

Masipa had ruled Thursday that there was insufficient evidence to show that the athlete intentionally killed Steenkamp. Steenkamp died on Valentine’s Day 2013 when Pistorius fired four shots through a bathroom door in the middle of the night, saying he mistook his live-in girlfriend for an intruder.

Pistorius didn’t foresee the possibility that he would kill the model when he fired the shots, Masipa ruled.

The trial has spanned five months, prolonged by several interruptions including a month-long break so the paralympian sprinter could be examined by mental health experts. Pistorius – known as “Blade Runner” for his prosthetic legs – served as an international inspiration after performing in the London 2012 Olympics.

 

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Oscar Pistorius Guilty on One Gun Charge, Culpable Homicide Verdict to Come

Oscar Pistorius Guilty on One Gun Charge, Culpable Homicide Verdict to Come

Photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) — Oscar Pistorius was found guilty on a firearms charge on Friday morning and could still be convicted of culpable homicide and other charges, as verdict proceedings resume in his murder trial.

He was acquitted Thursday of murder – with South African judge Thokozile Masipa ruling that the athlete did not intentionally kill girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in a 2013 shooting.

Masipa called Pistorius a “very poor witness” during the murder trial and found he was at times vague and avoided answering some of the prosecution’s questions. Despite that, she says this does not necessarily indicate his guilt.

Culpable homicide is similar to manslaughter in the United States. Pistorius also faces two counts of discharging a gun in a public area, as well as illegal possession of ammunition.

If he is found guilty of murder without premeditation, or culpable homicide, he could receive a 15-year sentence as a first time offender. Mitigating factors, such as his emotional state, anxiety levels, and disability could result in a lesser sentence.

On Friday morning, Judge Masipa found Pistorius guilty on one count of discharging a gun in a public area, in connection with a Jan. 2013 incident at a restaurant. Pistorius was acquitted, however, on a second count of discharing a gun in a public area in relation to a separate incident.

Steenkamp was killed on Valentine’s Day 2013 when Pistorius fired four shots through a bathroom door in the middle of the night, saying her mistook his live-in girlfriend for an intruder. Pistorius testified that the shooting was a horrible accident.

The trial has spanned five months, prolonged by several interruptions including a month-long break so the paralympian sprinter could be examined by mental health experts. Pistorius — known as “Blade Runner” for his prosthetic legs — served as an international inspiration after performing in the London 2012 Olympics.

Masipa, along with two assistants, is tasked with determining whether Pistorius is guilty or innocent. South Africa does not use jury trials.

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover to Begin ‘Scientific Sequel’

NASA’s Curiosity Rover to Begin ‘Scientific Sequel’

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS(NEW YORK) — NASA’s Curiosity rover arrived on Thursday at a large Martian mountain, marking the beginning of what one NASA official excitedly called a “scientific sequel.”

The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012, and has been taking samples and photos of the Martian landscape. On Thursday though, the rover reached Mount Sharp, a mountain approximately the size of Mount Rainier in Washington state.

“Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division said. “After a historic and innovative landing along with its successful science discoveries, the scientific sequel is upon us.”

Earlier this year, the Curiosity team determined that a region of the Red Planet’s terrain was causing increased wear and tear on the rover’s wheels. That prompted a route change that led it to a different entry point than initially planned.

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EU, US to Enforce New Sanctions Against Russia

EU, US to Enforce New Sanctions Against Russia

berean/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — President Obama echoed the European Union on Thursday, saying that new sanctions against Russia in relation to its “illegal actions” in regards to Ukraine will be put into effect.

The latest measures, adopted earlier this week, including more restricted access to European Union capital markets and the prohibition of EU loans to five major Russian state-owned banks, three major defense companies and three major energy companies, will go into effect on Friday. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, noted that the measures the EU has taken are reversible and scalable.

President Obama said Thursday that U.S. sanctions would “intensify,” and that they will hit Russia’s “financial, energy and defense sectors.” The White House is expected to outline the specifics of the new sanctions on Friday.

“The international community continues to seek a genuine negotiated solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” Obama said in a statement, encouraging Russian President Vladimir Putin to work with international partners and Ukraine to “reach a lasting resolution.”

“If Russia fully implements its commitments, these sanctions can be rolled back,” Obama noted. “If, instead, Russia continues its aggressive actions and violations of international law, the costs will continue to rise.”

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How US Will Conduct Syrian Rebel-Training Program

How US Will Conduct Syrian Rebel-Training Program

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A key component of the Obama administration’s strategy to “degrade and defeat” ISIS in Iraq and Syria is the training and arming of moderate Syrian rebel fighters. But the biggest hurdle might be how the United States can vet those fighters to make sure they can become a viable fighting force able to take on ISIS.

The administration has asked Congress to authorize the training program, as well as the $500 million in funding needed to get the program started.

But the proposed program has raised questions about how it can effectively vet rebel fighters. Since the administration’s national security team first discussed proposals to train and equip Syrians, the concern has been that vetted fighters might take their training and arms to Islamist rebel groups.

For more than a year, the CIA has run a limited training program in Jordan for small numbers of vetted fighters. The military program would expand on that model and train larger numbers of fighters.

The U.S. military is accustomed to training the militaries of partner nations, but it does not have the legal authority to train a non-government fighting force. That would require specific congressional authorization, the reason the administration is asking Congress to pass such an authorization.

U.S. officials familiar with details of the proposed program say that it is slated to last for one year from the time that Congress authorizes it and passes the funding request.

A senior administration official revealed Wednesday that Saudi Arabia had agreed to host the train-and-equip program. A U.S. official told ABC News that Saudi Arabia will host multiple training sites for Syrian rebel fighters.

Officials said groups of fighters would cycle through the program to receive training that would last several months.

The plans for the program appear to have grown along with the ISIS threat. When the administration included a $500 million funding request for the program, it was projected to be a “training the trainers” program. Those are military training programs where fighters would go back to Syria and train their fellow fighters.

It appears to have evolved into a broader program. One official said the plans are for several thousand vetted Syrian fighters to receive U.S. training and arms.

Officials acknowledge that the biggest question to be resolved is how the vetting of moderate rebel fighters will be conducted.

For the most part, the rebel fighting force known as the Free Syrian Army has been identified as the most moderate of the many rebel groups in Syria.

But it has suffered setbacks on the battlefield from Syrian government forces and Islamist rebel groups. It is unclear whether it will be the main recipient of the U.S. train-and-equip program.

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