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AP EXCLUSIVE: US remains in N. Korea lost in political limbo

RYONGYON-RI, North Korea (AP) — The village elder put his shovel aside, stooped down by a scraggly bush and pulled a sack from the freshly turned dirt. Spreading open the sack, he reached in to reveal femurs, skull and jaw fragments, boots and a rusted green helmet.

“These are your American GIs,” Song Hong Ik said at a burial mound near the top of a small hill.

Perhaps they are. But for more than a decade, no one has been trying to find out.

“Until They Are Home” is one of the most sacred vows of the U.S. military, yet Washington has long suspended efforts to look for 5,300 American GIs missing in North Korea whose remains are potentially recoverable. The countries’ abysmal relations suggest that no restart is coming soon.

In the meantime, possible remains and recovery sites are being lost as North Korea works to improve its infrastructure with projects such as the Chongchon River No. 10 Hydroelectric Power Station. The bones Song revealed came from that project’s construction site.

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Q&A: America’s missing GIs in North Korea

Questions and answers about the Korean War and the U.S. troops missing in action:

WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE KOREAN WAR?

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950. It was the first military conflict of the Cold War, pitting the Soviet-advised North Korean People’s Army, which later had massive support from communist China, against a U.S.-led coalition of United Nations forces supporting South Korea. Fearing the conflict would expand into a broader war directly against China or the Soviet Union, the U.S. sought an armistice agreement, which was finally agreed upon in July 1953. Estimates vary widely, but well over 1 million troops are believed to have died — including 36,574 Americans — along with more than 1 million civilians. Virtually all cities in the North were destroyed by heavy U.S. bombing. The war is technically not over, since no peace treaty has ever been signed.

HOW MANY KOREAN WAR GIs ARE MISSING?

More than 7,800 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. That’s almost five times more than the Vietnam War and is second only to World War II. The remains of about 5,300 US GIs are believed still in North Korea. Pyongyang returned more than 3,000 remains in 1954 and from 1990-94 returned boxes which could contain the remains of as many as 400 more. Joint recovery operations in the North from July 1996 to May 2005 recovered 229 sets of remains. They are being processed for identification in Hawaii.

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10 Things to Know for Today

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

1. WHERE THE U.S. IS NOT SEARCHING FOR THE REMAINS OF ITS KOREAN WAR DEAD

An AP investigation finds that in at least one construction project, North Koreans have dug up and reburied dozens of sets of remains along with boots and helmets but no one is trying to find out if they belong to American soldiers.

2. IRAQ SAYS IT HAS LAUNCHED OFFENSIVE TO RECAPTURE IS-HELD MOSUL

An Iraqi military spokesman says Iraqi forces retook several villages east of Mosul, with the U.S.-led international coalition providing air support, but there is skepticism that such a complex military operation is ready for full execution.

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Reports: 2nd suspect believed in Brussels subway attack.

BRUSSELS (AP) — A second attacker is suspected of taking part in the bombing this week of a Brussels subway train and may be at large, according to Belgian and French media reports, amid growing signs that the same Islamic State cell was behind the attacks in Brussels and bloodshed in Paris last year.

The chief suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, is facing a hearing in Brussels on Thursday morning after his arrest last week in the Belgian capital. Belgian authorities have charged him with terror offenses, and French authorities are seeking his extradition.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels and Paris, which have laid bare European security failings and prompted calls for better intelligence cooperation.

Belgian prosecutors have said at least four people were involved in Tuesday’s attacks on the Brussels airport and a subway train, including brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, identified as suicide bombers. European security officials identified another suicide bomber as Najim Laachraoui, a suspected bombmaker for the Paris attacks.

Prosecutors have said another suspected participant in the airport attack is at large. Belgian state broadcaster RTBF and France’s Le Monde and BFM television reported Thursday that a fifth attacker may also be at large: a man filmed by surveillance cameras in the Brussels metro on Tuesday carrying a large bag alongside Khalid El Bakraoui. RTBF said it is not clear whether that man was killed in the attack.

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History points to limited economic pain from Belgium attacks

LONDON (AP) — Financial markets barely registered this week’s attacks in Brussels, which killed more than 30 people, a sign that investors think the economic impact on Belgium and across Europe as a whole will be limited. Recent history suggests they may be right.

The experience of terror attacks in Europe in the past decade have helped the business community keep their cool in the face of horrors like this week’s deadly bombings at the Brussels airport and subway.

Firms have gotten better in their responses. From identifying personnel, to clearing offices or sanctioning remote working, even at recovery sites, they manage to contain the disruption. The people have shown a willingness to get back to life as usual as soon as they can, whether it be shopping, boarding a train or having a meal. And governments learn to put in place security measures they hope will deter more attacks.

“While these events remain rare, they’re now sadly frequent enough for markets to have plenty of experience in how business and society reacts — and almost always they’ve proven to be resilient, so the fears of prolonged disruption to the key areas of the economy have faded,” said David Lea, senior Europe analyst at Control Risks, an international consultancy that advises firms on how to manage risks.

That realization has become apparent in the reaction in financial markets. Whereas markets were volatile after mass-casualty bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, from which the economic fallout turned out to be contained, they were not jolted much by the two attacks in Paris last year. That may be partly due to digital media, which helps traders understand more quickly the scale of an attack, but also the understanding that daily life resumes relatively quickly.

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Iraq says it’s launched offensive to recapture IS-held Mosul

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi military backed by U.S.-led coalition aircraft on Thursday launched a long-awaited operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants, a military spokesman said.

In the push, Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, early in the morning on Thursday and hoisted the Iraqi flag there, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.

It was not immediately clear how long such a complex and taxing offensive would take. Only recently, Iraqi and U.S. officials refrained to give a specific time on when the Mosul operation could begin, saying it would take many months to prepare Iraq’s still struggling military for the long-anticipated task of retaking the key city.

Some U.S. and Iraqi officials have said it may not even be possible to retake it this year, despite repeated vows by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Iraqi state-run TV interrupted its morning program Thursday with a series of news alerts announcing the operation and broadcasting patriotic songs and flag-waving video clips.

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Kerry in Moscow urges unity in face of Brussels attacks

MOSCOW (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Thursday for countries to boost efforts to fight the Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq and beyond in the wake of this week’s deadly attacks in Brussels.

In Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Syria and Ukraine, Kerry said the Brussels attacks should put nations on notice that the terror threat emanating from the Middle East must be stopped.

Kerry, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, said the “events in Brussels underscore to us all the urgency of every country that has the ability to make a difference to end this evil scourge that comes from Daesh and violent extremism.”

Kerry will be seeking clarity from Putin and Lavrov as to where Russia stands on a political transition for Syria, particularly on the future of President Bashar Assad, now that a fragile truce is holding and U.N. brokered peace talks are underway.

He said more progress was needed in reducing violence and delivering humanitarian aid but expressed hope that his discussions in Moscow would “further define and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible.”

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Effort in 3 US cities to combat extremism off to slow start

BOSTON (AP) — A federally funded effort in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis to combat extremist recruitment has been slow to start since it was announced a year and a half ago.

Few local programs have been directly created by the “Countering Violent Extremism” pilot initiative, with officials in those cities just starting to distribute more than $500,000 in Department of Justice grant money to jumpstart new local efforts.

The furthest along appears to be Minneapolis, where officials point to at least one newly created but still not operational effort: a privately financed mentorship program working with youth in the city’s sizeable Somali community, which has produced extremist recruits over the years.

Six other organizations there also recently received $300,000 in federal and private money to develop programs addressing mental health, employment and parenting issues among the Somali community and other refugee populations.

Boston and Los Angeles, in contrast, appear to be months away from distributing their share of the money — if at all.

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NATO breeds frustration, but is vital tool in IS fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s substantial support for NATO, both in money and military aid, has long been a source of frustration for U.S. leaders, and questioned by some as a throwback to the Cold War era.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, in interviews this week, suggested the U.S. should scale back its role in the alliance nearly seven decades after it was launched in the aftermath of World War II. Complaining that America is spending too much money on NATO, Trump said that the financial burden has to change.

But as attacks by extremists ripped through Brussels this week, NATO rose again as a rallying point and key player in the expanding fight against Islamic State militants. The attacks underscored the need for the U.S. and its European allies to work together to counter threats ranging from groups targeting the West to the growing Russian aggression in the region.

Created in 1949, NATO has expanded from 16 members at the end of the Cold War to 28 today.

“Given this attack, I think you will see more willingness from NATO nations to join in the coalition in real and practical ways,” said James Stravidis, the retired Navy admiral who served as NATO’s top military commander in Europe from 2009 to 2013. As an example, he said Belgium may look to participate in coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq or Syria, and other nations may step up their contributions of military advisers or special operations forces.

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Obama to mourn Argentina coup victims as US ponders its role

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Confronting a dark chapter in Latin America’s history, President Barack Obama will pay tribute to victims of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” as he works to bring closure to questions about the U.S. role in one of the region’s most repressive dictatorships.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup that opened a period of military rule still haunting Argentina, where millions are spent each year prosecuting perpetrators and searching for remains of the thousands who died or disappeared. Closing out his South America trip, Obama planned to use his visit to Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires Thursday to lay the groundwork for the U.S. to come clean about any involvement.

Though much remains unknown, rights groups believe U.S. backing for authoritarian regimes in Latin America extended to Argentina during the 1976 to 1983 period known as the “Dirty War.” As controversy mounted ahead of Obama’s visit, he announced the U.S. would declassify military and intelligence records shedding light on what happened, granting a request from new President Mauricio Macri’s government.

Yet that step, while welcomed by Macri, hasn’t quelled concerns. Even as Obama met with Macri on Wednesday, protesters gathered in Buenos Aires to protest his visit, while some prominent rights groups threatened to boycott Obama’s visit to Remembrance Park.

“We are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation,” Obama said. Of his pledge to release documents, Obama said: “I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries.”

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