Four experienced Sherpa guides say they will attempt to climb to the top of Mount Everest in the span of less than a week during the brutal winter season to set a new record on the world's highest peak.
The team is flying on a helicopter to the Everest base camp on Monday and will begin the ascent on Tuesday.
Team leader Tashi Lakpa, 34, said he and the others plan to reach the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit on Saturday, make a quick descent and return to Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, on Sunday.
"The last teams that scaled the peak in winter did it in two months, but we are planning to do it in five days. We are attempting to set a new mountaineering record," Lakpa said Monday in Kathmandu.
The team members will be battling extreme cold, high winds and piled-up snow and ice as they try to become the first to reach the top of Everest in the winter in 27 years.
Only a handful of climbers have reached the mountain's peak during that season. The feat was first accomplished in 1980, and has not been done since 1993.
Everest is mainly scaled during the spring climbing season in April and May, when weather conditions are favorable.
There are already two foreign teams on the mountain this winter who have been battling rough weather for the past few months.
Team leader Lakpa said he and the others have been training on other mountains in preparation, acclimatizing their bodies to the high altitude.
Between the four climbers, Lakpa has scaled Everest eight times, while the others have done it three times, twice and once.
Lakpa said it was also an attempt to bring glory to Nepalese climbers. Nepalese climbers and guides, who were once relegated to support staff, have recently been emerging out of the shadows of their Western peers, setting new mountaineering records.
With Israel's prime minister eager to court the votes of the country's influential West Bank settlers, President Donald Trump's Mideast plan seemed to be the key to ramping up their support ahead of critical elections next week.
The plan envisions Israel's eventual annexation of its scores of West Bank settlements — a longtime settler dream. But in the weeks since it was unveiled, Benjamin Netanyahu has stumbled over his promises to quickly carry out the annexation, sparking an outcry from settler leaders and threatening any goodwill he hoped to gain from the plan.
"If there is something that undermines the stability of the campaign in Netanyahu's eyes, it is attacks from the right," the columnist Mati Tuchfeld wrote in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom. "It is not only the fate of Judea and Samaria that is on the line. His political fate is as well." Judea and Samaria is the biblical name for the West Bank.
Israel heads to the polls for the third time in less than a year on next Monday. The previous two rounds ended in deadlock, with neither Netanyahu nor his challenger Benny Gantz able to secure a 61-seat parliamentary majority. Pre-election polls show a similar impasse emerging from the next vote.
Facing a corruption trial two weeks after the election, Netanyahu is desperate to remain prime minister, a position he can use to rally public support as he fights the charges.
In a bid to move the needle in his favor, Netanyahu has spent the final weeks of the campaign handing out political gifts to different constituents. The Trump plan has been the centerpiece of that strategy.
The plan, announced at the White House in late January with much fanfare, sides with Israel on most of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's main sticking points. Beyond granting Israel sovereignty over large parts of the occupied West Bank, it falls far short of the Palestinian dream of an independent state. Instead, it calls for giving them limited autonomy over a disjointed archipelago of land, and only if they meet a stringent set of demands.
Seeing the plan as a green light, Netanyahu quickly pledged to steam ahead with annexation. But a Cabinet meeting announced by his office never convened, with Netanyahu apparently reined in by officials at the White House who balked at his premature zeal.
Netanyahu has since tempered expectations on his annexation vow, fending off attacks from hard-liners by saying he must first map the territory with the Americans beforehand.
"We don't want to risk this. We are working responsibly and rationally," Netanyahu told his Cabinet earlier this month. "To all those chirping in from outside and even from within the government: We did the work, we will complete the work."
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The international community, including a string of U.S. presidents, has long opposed Israel's settlements, seeing them as obstacles to peace that gobble up Israeli-occupied land sought by the Palestinians for an independent state.
But Trump, backed by a team of Mideast advisers with close ties to the settlement movement, has taken a more lenient approach. His vision, with its tacit approval of Israel's settlements, sparked feverish calls from settlers for Israel to immediately annex parts of the West Bank, including more than 120 settlements, home to nearly 500,000 Israelis.
Netanyahu's about-face has triggered a backlash among settler leaders, including some within his own party. Settlers have erected a protest tent outside Netanyahu's Jerusalem office, and have staged protests and been outspoken in their criticism.
"Israel should impose sovereignty even if America doesn't agree," said Yossi Dagan, a settler leader who has led the charge for annexation and is also an influential activist in Netanyahu's Likud party. "This was a mistake and the prime minister must correct it."
Netanyahu's enthusiasm for the plan has drawn criticism from even more hard-line settler supporters who believe it doesn't go far enough.
Although they support the annexation plans, they oppose the establishment of the limited Palestinian state and the proposed creation of settlement "enclaves" surrounded by Palestinian territory. They believe the creation of a Palestinian state — even in its weakened form — endangers Israel in the long term.
Also threatening Netanyahu is the fringe hard-right political party Jewish Power. The party, led by followers of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who was expelled from Israeli politics over his racist views, has been Netanyahu's foil throughout the repeated election campaigns.
Jewish Power's leaders have rejected Netanyahu's calls for the party to drop out of the race, despite forecasts that it will not come close to reaching the threshold for entering parliament. That means those votes, which could prop up Likud or the allied pro-settler Yamina party, are likely to go to waste.
The pro-settler vote is typically split between Likud, which mainly appeals to secular nationalists but also has a religious-nationalist cohort, and Yamina, where many settlers find an ideological home.
In a new gesture to the settlers, Netanyahu on Thursday promised to build thousands of new homes in east Jerusalem, including the last remaining open space that could potentially link Palestinian areas of the West Bank to the city.
While it's unclear whether the recent developments will harm Netanyahu, they have roused longstanding settler wariness of him. Many accuse him of making empty promises and not being committed enough to their cause.
"There is suspicion of Bibi, over 'how much is he on our side?'" said Yair Sheleg, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. "The question is, in the contest between between Likud and Yamina, what will they prefer?"
Eli Rosenbaum, a school principal who lives in the Ateret settlement, which under Trump's plan would be encircled by a Palestinian state, said he wasn't buying Netanyahu's pitch.
"Bibi used (annexation) as election spin and he quickly understood that he doesn't want to do it," Rosenbaum said from his kitchen, which overlooks a huge Palestinian flag rising from nearby Rawabi, a Palestinian town. "The moment he thought that he received our support, he backed down."
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tendered his resignation to Malaysia's king Monday while his political party quit the ruling alliance in a shocking political upheaval less than two years after his election victory.
The prime minister's office said in a brief statement that Mahathir submitted his resignation to the palace at 1 p.m. but gave no further details.
The stunning turn of events come amid plans by Mahathir supporters to team with opposition parties to form a new government and thwart the transition of power to his named successor Anwar Ibrahim, replaying their decades-old feud.
Minutes before his resignation was offered, Mahathir's Bersatu party announced it would leave the alliance and support Mahathir as the premier. Eleven other lawmakers, including several Cabinet ministers, also announced they are quitting Anwar's party.
With some 50 lawmakers from Bersatu and Anwar's party leaving the ruling alliance, the maneuvers leave doubt whether Anwar has enough support to take power.
Mahathir and Anwar were Malaysia's top two leaders in Mahathir's first stint as premier but fell out politically before reuniting in the political pact that ousted a corruption-tainted government in the May 2018 election. Their relationship has been testy, with Mahathir refusing to set a date to relinquish power despite a preelection agreement to hand over power.
Anwar said earlier Monday that he was satisfied the government's reform agenda will continue. He refused to say more.
Ironically, the maneuvers could restore to power the Malay party of disgraced former leader Najib Razak, who with several of his party leaders are standing trial for corruption. It could also propel to national power a fundamentalist Islamic party that rules two states and champions Islamic laws. The two Malay parties still have strong support from ethnic Malays, who account for 60 percent of Malysia's 32 million people.
Anwar and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is currently the country's deputy prime minister, were due to meet the king on Monday. Wan Azizah tweeted that "men can plan but Allah decides," urging supporters to believe God will side with those who are patient.
Analysts said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah could decide which faction has the majority support in Parliament or call a snap election. They warned that such a new government could give rise to Malay Islamic supremacy that will derail Malaysia's multiethnic society.
"Mahathir's top political priority is to stave off Anwar's increasingly vigorous claim on the premiership. So he had to work with otherwise unsavory opposition parties to form a working parliamentary majority to counter and warn off Anwar," said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. "If the new government goes through, Malaysia is heading toward a a very regressive stage whereby racial supremacy and religious extremism would become the rule of the day."
Togo's electoral commission says the country's president has easily won a fourth term, extending the grip his family has had on power since 1967.
The commission announced overnight Sunday that President Faure Gnassingbe received 72% of the votes in preliminary results.
Shortly before Saturday's vote, the West African nation expelled a major U.S.-based election observer and decided against using an electronic vote-counting system. In both cases, the electoral commission said it feared disruption, while critics objected.
The commission said the election results will be handed to Togo's constitutional court for the final, official announcement.
Opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo was second with 18% of the vote, with Jean-Pierre Fabre third with 4%.
The Army, for the first time, will send soldiers from one of its new training brigades to Africa in the coming weeks, expanding the use of the new specialized units as the Pentagon looks at possible troop cuts on the continent.
The decision to send a couple hundred soldiers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade has been in the works for months. And it's the next step in the Army's broader plan to use the training teams to free other brigades who had been working as advisers to move on to other combat jobs.
The plan comes as Defense Secretary Mark Esper eyes potential troop cuts in Africa. as part of a global review aimed at directing more focus on Asia. U.S. lawmakers and allies have voiced opposition to any cuts, and sending the new training teams isn't likely to affect the overall troop numbers in Africa, at least initially.
For Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, the deployment to Africa means preparing his soldiers for a new type of mission. As commander of the 1st SFAB, he helped build the inaugural training brigade, and took it to Afghanistan for its first deployment in 2018. Two other SFABs have deployed to Afghanistan since then, so Jackson will now be the first to take the trainers to a new region — one that will be dramatically different from their war-zone mission.
In Africa, his soldiers won't have the vast U.S. and coalition support system with its network of bases, supply chains and readily available helicopters and armored vehicles.
"We won't have the military structure we had in Afghanistan," said Jackson, in an Associated Press interview from Ethiopia. The soldiers, he said, may be in downtown areas of cities rather than military-equipped forward operating bases. And they're likely to be moving about in Ford Broncos, rather than armored trucks.
Part of their training for the mission has focused on improving their ability to sustain themselves for longer periods of time on their own, without the benefits of nearby military storehouses filled with food, supplies, ammunition and medical equipment.
"You can't get anywhere fast in Africa," said Jackson, who was attending a major Africa training exercise and getting to know some of the military and national leaders his soldiers will be working with. He said they also got instruction on how to better work with embassies and their staffs.
At the same time, his medics had to take a two-week tropical medicine course so they can be ready to deal with an entirely new set of diseases, bugs and other elements the soldiers will be exposed to.
Jackson was tapped in 2017 to lead the first Security Force Assistance Brigade, after Gen. Mark Milley — then chief of staff of the Army — launched the program to create permanent training teams that could be deployed around the world. Milley is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each SFAB includes a little more than 800 soldiers.
The goal is to use the teams to advise and assist security forces in other countries, and take the pressure off other Army brigades that have been used to do training but are needed for other national security missions. In addition to the three brigades that have already deployed, three others, including one in the National Guard, are in various stages of development and training.
Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, specifically requested the SFAB, and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said it's the right move.
"The key is what is the right capability you've got to have in there, and the SFAB is uniquely suited for this," said McCarthy. "Smaller elements have a huge impact on who they're training."
Esper said that roughly 200 soldiers from the 1st SFAB will replace soldiers from the 101st Airborne who are returning home from Africa, "so that they can train for high-intensity conflict," in line with the National Defense Strategy. He provided no estimate of the number of 101st infantry soldiers will come home from Africa, but said the net result would be roughly a wash, numerically.
There are between 6,000 and 7,000 U.S. forces on the continent at any one time, including about 4,000 that are at the U.S. base in Djibouti. Other forces train and advise local forces and conduct counterterrorism missions against militants, such as al-Shabab in Somalia and other al-Qaida-linked groups and Islamic State affiliates in west and north Africa.
"My aim is to free up time, money and manpower around the globe, where we currently are, so that I can direct it" toward Asia or return forces to the United States to improve combat readiness, Esper said. But he has also assured nervous allies that the U.S. won't totally withdraw from Africa.
Members of Congress have also pushed back against any troop reductions.
"Our small military presence across Africa is meaningful, and provides significant return on investment," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe led a delegation of senators to Africa this month to discuss the importance of continued military cooperation in the region. They visited Uganda, Ghana and Mauritania.
"Our partners are grateful for our leadership," Inhofe said. "Downgrading our investment now would only increase our risk and make future competition or potential conflict more costly down the road."
Under current plans, about one-third of the training brigade will deploy to various countries in Africa. Officials will not disclose the countries, but acknowledge some will continue an ongoing training mission with the Djibouti military.
The remainder of the brigade will continue to reset and train in the U.S., and then those team would be available to rotate into Africa to replace the first group when it comes home. Jackson said he doesn't know exactly how many months the teams will be in Africa, but it's likely to be less than the brigade's nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.