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The 2017-18 high school sports season is here.

There is a ton of action coming our way this fall, and a ton to get ready for.

Who’s back? What’s new? When are the big games? Which teams will win them?

Our team analyzes 12 sports for Western New York’s upcoming season, across Section VI and the Monsignor Martin Association: Boys and girls soccer, volleyball, cross country and golf; plus girls swimming, field hockey, girls tennis and girls gymnastics.

Football goes under the spotlight next week: Our annual high school football preview will be published on Aug. 30.

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/21/preptalkpreview-boys-soccer-top-teams-face-daunting-rebuilds-strong-2016-postseasons/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/21/preptalkpreview-girls-soccer-game-gets-faster/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/22/preptalkpreview-girls-volleyball-training-days-at-beach-st-marys-embraces-being-the-hunted/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/22/preptalkpreview-boys-volleyball-area-still-talent-canisius-looks-keep-streak-going/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/20/preptalkpreview-boys-cross-country-maple-grove-seeks-sweet-repeat/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/20/preptalkpreview-girls-cross-country-big-season-east-aurora/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/18/preptalkpreview-girls-swimming-tradition-continues-ops-sapios/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/19/preptalkpreview-field-hockey-top-teams-reload-championship-runs/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/19/preptalkpreview-boys-golf-young-talent-streaks-headline-coming-season/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/19/preptalkpreview-girls-golf-medinas-green-goes-from-champion-to-trail-blazer/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/21/preptalkpreview-girls-tennis-area-loses-top-player-likely-second-best-high-school-competition/

http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/20/preptalkpreview-girls-gymnastics-can-kyriakopoulos-three-peat/

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The Section VI Executive Committee approved an emergency merger between the Frewsburg and Randolph football programs for the coming season Tuesday.

Week One is Sept. 1 with Randolph visiting Section VI Class D runner-up Franklinville/Ellicottville.

In a sport where injuries happen and the fact that the Bears do not have a junior varsity team, the move proved to be necessary because Frewsburg only had 18 players on its roster, according to Section VI Football Chairman Ken Stoldt. The total includes several freshmen and first-year players, prompting concern by the team as to whether it would be able to get through an entire season. The state requires teams to suit up a minimum of 16 players on game days.

"They were not confident they would make it through," Stoldt said.

The move actually helps Randolph too as the Cardinals have 22 players on the team – which is lower than usual amount for the perennial Class D contender.

Stoldt said some of the Frewsburg freshmen and sophomores deemed more suitable to play junior varsity will be able to do so with Randolph as a result of the partnership.

The merger reduces the number of Class D teams from nine to eight. The teams that were supposed to play Frewsburg now have a bye week unless the section is able to find opponents for them to give them an extra nonleague game.

There were two teams, however, not slated to play Frewsburg – Maple Grove and coincidentally Randolph.

The section will discuss this week how to handle the league schedule in-balance but options include using win percentage to determine playoff seeding for the Section VI Tournament or turning the game between longtime rivals Randolph and Maple Grove into a nonleague affair so that each team in Class D plays the same number of division games.

The reduction from nine to eight teams also means everyone in Class D makes the playoffs, which begin Oct. 20.

Frewsburg reached the Section VI Class D final in 2015, dropping a decision to Franklinville/Ellicottville.

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By MARK LANDLER and MAGGIE HABERMAN

PHOENIX – President Donald Trump, stung by days of criticism that he sowed racial division in the United States after deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, accused the news media Tuesday of misrepresenting what he insisted was his prompt, unequivocal condemnation of bigotry and hatred.

After declaring, “What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America,” Trump delivered a lengthy, aggrieved defense of his statements after the Aug. 12 violence that left one woman dead and the nation reeling at the images of swastikas in Thomas Jefferson’s hometown.

Notably, he omitted blaming “both sides” for the violence as he had Aug. 15. Those remarks had prompted intense criticism, including from fellow Republican leaders, for seeming to equate the hate groups and the protesters who turned out to oppose them.

Removing his earlier statements about the Charlottesville violence from his jacket pocket, Trump on Tuesday glibly ticked off a list of racist groups that he had been urged to explicitly denounce and ultimately did two days after the clashes. But he said the news media quoted him selectively, accused him of responding too late, and ignored his message of unity.

“I hit ‘em with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let’s see. KKK, we have KKK,” Trump said sardonically of his rebuke to Charlottesville racists, after being faulted for failing to condemn those groups in his initial response on the day of the clashes.

Trump also implied that he planned to pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who became a national symbol of the crackdown on unauthorized immigrants with round-’em-up searches that landed him in legal trouble. “Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Trump asked to wild whoops and cheers.

“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Trump said. “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine.”

In an angry, unbridled and unscripted performance that rivaled the most sulfurous rallies of his presidential campaign, Trump sought to deflect the anger toward him against the news media, suggesting that the press, not him, was responsible for deepening divisions in the country.

“It’s time to expose the crooked media deceptions,” Trump said. He added, “They’re very dishonest people.”

“The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news,” he said.

Trump also derided the media for focusing on his tweets, which are his preferred form of communication. “I don’t do Twitter storms,” said Trump, who often posts a few tweets in a row on a given subject, with exclamation points.

It was the latest shift in what has become a nearly daily change of roles for this president: from the statesmanlike commander in chief who sought harmony Monday evening by citing the example of America’s soldiers to the political warrior who, just a day later, preached unapologetic division to his supporters here, eliciting louder cheers with every epithet.

Returning repeatedly to Charlottesville, he said the media failed to focus on anarchists, who he said turned out in their “helmets and the black masks – Antifa,” Trump said, spitting out the nickname for the anti-fascist groups.

Trump accused the media of “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” an apparent reference to the debate over removing statues to heroes of the Confederacy, which prompted the rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.

The president singled out a familiar list of malefactors – including the “failing New York Times,” which he said erroneously had apologized for its coverage of the 2016 election; CNN; and The Washington Post, which he described as a lobbying arm for Amazon, the company controlled by the paper’s owner, Jeff Bezos.

Pointing repeatedly to the cameras in the middle of a cavernous convention center, Trump whipped the crowd into fevered chants of “CNN Sucks.” Members of the audience shouted epithets at reporters, some demanding that the news media stop tormenting the president with questions about his ties to Russia.

The people in Arizona on Trump’s enemies list include both of the state’s Republican senators: Jeff Flake, a longtime nemesis whom Trump has described as “toxic,” not to mention a “flake”; and John McCain, who cast the decisive Republican vote in the Senate to dash Trump’s effort to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

His voice thick with sarcasm, Trump said he had been instructed not to mention either of the senators by name. Of Flake, he said, “Nobody knows who the hell he is.” Of McCain, he repeated over and over, “One vote,” which cost Republicans health care.

Trump recited a familiar litany of complaints about lawless immigrants and naive trade deals. But aside from a reference to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico – he said he expected he would have to terminate the accord first – the speech was light on policy specifics.

At another point, he heralded the arrival of clean coal plants, adding, “They are taking out coal, they are going to clean it” – which is not how clean coal plants function.

Trump also said little about foreign policy, offering only a bare summary of the Afghanistan policy he unveiled Monday night, and suggesting that North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, had retreated in the face of Trump’s threats of military action against him.

The president made no mention of the accident involving the Navy destroyer John S. McCain, named for the grandfather and father of the senator, which left several sailors presumed dead.

Hours earlier, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, had said that Trump would not issue a pardon for Arpaio on Tuesday. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court after he flouted an order to stop detaining people his office suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio said in an interview Tuesday night that he did not know Trump was going to mention his name at the rally and reiterated that he had not talked to the president since last fall. But he said he “wasn’t really surprised” to hear he would likely be pardoned.

“I just know him,” Arpaio said of the president. “And even though everybody said he’s not going to talk about it – deep in my heart I knew he was going to say something. I had no hints, but that’s who he is.”

Trump’s teased pardon of Arpaio energized the crowd at the convention center, where the president had been expected to stick to a theme of national unity.

Even so, the forum drew scores of protesters and fanned fears of arousing more of the ugly nativist sentiments that exploded more than a week ago in Charlottesville.

Outside the convention center, the scene was a tense cauldron, with hundreds of supporters screaming at one another, chanting slogans and hoisting placards that said “Fire Trump” and “Fake President.” Some voiced fears about the potential for the repeat of the violence that broke out in Charlottesville, while others griped about the 108-degree heat in Phoenix.

At one point, as Trump defended his remarks about the unrest in Charlottesville, protesters interrupted.

“How did he get in here?” Trump said. “He’s supposed to be with the few people outside.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump traveled to a sun-scorched border post in Yuma, Arizona, to highlight his determination to crack down on illegal border crossings from Mexico. In Phoenix, the president threatened to shut down the federal government if his proposal to build a border wall was not funded.

Arizona was the site of one of Trump’s most raucous rallies during the presidential campaign, and if anything, the atmosphere was even more charged on this visit, his first as president. The Democratic mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, pleaded with Trump to put off his trip, saying it would only aggravate racial tensions, coming so soon after clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Virginia.

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By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump issued an extraordinary challenge to his own party late Tuesday, threatening to shut down the government in a matter of weeks if Congress did not fund a wall on the southern border that was a signature promise of his campaign for the White House.

Trump followed up on that threat on Wednesday by going after a key Republican senator on Twitter who has been skeptical of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is also one of two Republican senators up for re-election next year in a swing state, and the president has put his finger on the scale toward a primary challenger, Kelli Ward.

On Tuesday night, he told a rowdy crowd in Phoenix, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

“We’re going to have our wall,” he added. “The American people voted for immigration control. We’re going to get that wall.”

Tuesday’s admonition sharpened a suggestion that Trump made early this year, in the wake of a budget agreement he grudgingly accepted even though it omitted money for the wall, that the U.S. needed “a good ‘shutdown’” this fall to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending. His campaign promise stressed that Mexico would pay for the border barrier, but that part of the promise seems to have dropped away.

Hard-line conservative nationalists such as Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist ousted from the White House last week, have counseled the president to take a hard line on wall funding to buck up his political base after the embarrassing defeat of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But the president’s Tuesday night salvo introduced fresh and potentially explosive irritant into his relationship with congressional Republicans, whose backing he badly needs in the coming weeks.

The president wants to push through a tax overhaul by year’s end, which would require Republicans to approve a budget to trigger special procedures – known as reconciliation – that would allow the package to pass the Senate with only 51 votes, instead of the 60 required to bring most legislation to an up-or-down vote.

A budget resolution is always difficult, but it will probably become entangled in another divisive issue, the debt ceiling: The Treasury Department has estimated that the government will reach its borrowing limit sometime in October, at which point Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit to avoid a default.

Most pressing, the government will run out of money on Oct. 1 unless Congress acts to approve new government spending bills. It would probably be the first time a government shut down while under complete control of one party. But in that conflict, the president may have handed Senate Democrats the whip. They can now filibuster any spending bill that contains wall funding, forcing Republicans to strip out the money and challenge Trump to veto it.

On Wednesday, Democrats quickly signaled they were willing to do just that.

“If the president pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading toward a government shutdown which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, called the president’s threat “the polar opposite of leadership,” and said government money should instead be spent on health care, education and job creation, among other pressing needs.

“If the president follows through on his threat to shut down the government, he and his enablers should be held fully accountable,” Lowey said.

Republicans, too, privately vented their dismay at the president’s tactics and language, which promised to further chill an already dysfunctional relationship between him and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. The contest between Flake and Ward appears to have become something of a proxy fight between the two men.

White House aides had urged the president not to mention Flake by name at the rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, which Trump used as an opportunity to savage the media as unpatriotic and “sick,” angrily defend his response to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and praise Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff whose aggressive immigration crackdowns led to a federal conviction for criminal contempt of court after he ignored a judge’s order to stop detaining people merely on suspicion of being unauthorized immigrants.

The president criticized Flake only obliquely in the speech – “Nobody knows who the hell he is,” Trump said – and waited until Wednesday morning to take aim at the senator on Twitter: “I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!”

He followed that message with one targeted at McConnell to change Senate rules that make most legislation subject to a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.

McConnell and other Republican leaders have repeatedly rejected the idea of altering the rules. The majority leader noted in July that his problem in delivering to Trump a health care repeal and replace measure was his inability to muster 50 Republican votes in the Senate, not because of a Democrat-led filibuster.

Trump appears to be in a fighting mood. Before his exit, Bannon repeatedly warned Trump and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, that September could be the breaking point for the Trump presidency – “a total meat grinder,” Bannon told them.

Conservatives will object to raising the debt ceiling unless it contains some provisions to help rein in government spending – an unlikely scenario. Instead, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and McConnell will have to rely on Democratic votes to pass the increase – and put the president in the awkward position of having to sign it despite repeatedly promising to tackle the country’s debt.

Bannon warned White House colleagues that that could send the conservative House Freedom Caucus into open revolt against the speaker.

To placate them, Bannon counseled, the White House must extract wall funding. The government funding resolution in late September is likely to contain money for two controversial items: cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and the border wall. Trump could probably live with signing a spending bill that contained money for the subsidies, White House aides said. But signing one that does not include a significant sum for the wall would enrage his political base.

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By Alexander Burns
and Jonathan Martin

WASHINGTON – The relationship between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, in Trump’s Cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership.

Angry phone calls and private bad-mouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Trump and McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous – for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Trump and McConnell are locked in a political cold war. Neither man would comment for this article. Donald R. Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

Still, the back and forth has been dramatic.

In a series of tweets this month, Trump criticized McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Trump initiated Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

McConnell has fumed over Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and, in a public speech, questioned Trump’s understanding of the presidency. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

In offhand remarks, McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s midterm elections and beyond, according to people who have spoken to him directly.

While maintaining a pose of public reserve, McConnell expressed horror to advisers last week after Trump’s comments equating white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., with protesters who rallied against them. Trump’s most explosive remarks came at a news conference in Manhattan, where he stood beside Chao. (Chao, deflecting a question about the tensions between her husband and the president she serves, told reporters, “I stand by my man – both of them.”)

McConnell signaled to business leaders that he was deeply uncomfortable with Trump’s comments: Several who resigned advisory roles in the Trump administration contacted McConnell’s office after the fact, and were told that McConnell fully understood their choices, three people briefed on the conversations said.

Trump has also continued to badger and threaten McConnell’s Senate colleagues, including Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., whose Republican primary challenger was praised by Trump on Twitter last week: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., who has found himself in Trump’s sights many times, alluded to the NATO alliance’s mutual defense doctrine in saying, “When it comes to the Senate, there’s an Article 5 understanding: An attack against one is an attack against all.”

The fury among Senate Republicans toward Trump has been building since last month, even before he lashed out at McConnell. Some of them blame the president for not being able to rally the party around any version of legislation to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, accusing him of not knowing even the basics about the policy. Senate Republicans also say strong-arm tactics from the White House backfired, making it harder to cobble together votes and have left bad feelings in the caucus.

When Trump addressed a jamboree of the Boy Scouts last month in West Virginia, White House aides told Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from the state whose support was in doubt, that she could only accompany him on Air Force One if she committed to voting for the GOP health care bill. She declined the invitation, noting that she could not commit to voting for a measure she had not seen, according to Republican briefed on the conversation.

Sen. Lisa A. Murkowski, R-Alaska, told colleagues that when Trump’s secretary of the interior threatened to pull back federal funding for her state, she felt boxed in and unable to vote for the health care bill.

In a show of solidarity, albeit one planned well before Trump took aim at Flake, McConnell will host a $1,000-per-person dinner Friday in Kentucky for the Arizona senator, as well as for Sen. Dean A. Heller of Nevada, who is also facing a Trump-inspired primary race next year, and Sen. Debra S. Fischer of Nebraska. Flake is expected to attend the event.

Former New Hampshire Sen. Judd A. Gregg, a Republican who is close to McConnell, said frustration with Trump was boiling over in the chamber. Gregg blamed the president for undermining congressional leaders and said the House and Senate would have to govern on their own if Trump “can’t participate constructively.”

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By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MARK LANDLER

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Monday put forward a long-awaited strategy for resolving the nearly 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, but one that failed to specify either the number of troops that would be committed, or the conditions by which he would judge the success of their mission there.

In a nationally televised prime-time speech to troops at Fort Myer, Virginia, Trump was planning to say there would be no “blank check” for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, according to senior administration officials who insisted on anonymity to preview his remarks. But in announcing his plan, Trump was embracing deepened American involvement in a military mission that has bedeviled his predecessors and that he once called futile.

Trump campaigned for president promising to extricate the United States from foreign conflicts, and many of the steps that he was expected to announce Monday have been proposed by previous administrations.

Trump was planning to portray the strategy as a stark break with the Obama administration, arguing that while his predecessor set artificial timetables for American involvement in Afghanistan, his would be a comprehensive, conditions-based regional approach that would aim for a political solution there. Yet the officials acknowledged that part of the plan would be to deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to continue to train Afghan forces there, with the goal of persuading the Taliban – which has recently gained substantial ground in the war – that they could not win on the battlefield.

Trump was also planning to say that the United States would put significant new pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the terrorist sanctuaries that line its border with Afghanistan. His comments could open a turbulent new chapter in relations with Pakistan, which has veered since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from being an ally in the fight against terrorism to a haven in which Osama bin Laden hid out until he was killed in 2011.

By refusing to place a number on troops or to specify benchmarks for success, Trump was in essence shielding himself for potential backlash from his political base and from the American public, which has grown weary of the war in Afghanistan.

The president was expected to heap contempt on his predecessor’s strategy, promising that he would avoid President Barack Obama’s mistakes. But in substance, Trump’s strategy was not all that different, relying on a mix of conventional military force and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. One administration official conceded that there was to be no major change in the mix of U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan, and that the priorities would remain training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

An estimated 8,400 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, most assigned to an approximately 13,000-strong international force that is training and advising the Afghan military. About 2,000 U.S. troops are tasked with carrying out counterterrorism missions along with Afghan forces against groups like the Islamic State’s affiliate.

In recent days, Trump administration aides have hinted that the president’s strategy would include new steps to pressure neighboring Pakistan to shut down the sanctuaries there for the Taliban and other militants, a goal Republican and Democratic administrations have pursued for years with little success.

Trump administration officials have also suggested that continued U.S. military involvement and economic assistance in Afghanistan would be contingent on steps by the country’s leaders in Kabul, the capital, to rein in rampant corruption – another Western aspiration that has repeatedly been dashed in the country, parts of which have been largely lawless for decades.

The move comes with steep risks for Trump, potentially increasing U.S. troops without yielding many military gains in a conflict that has proved intractable. Still, U.S. military and intelligence officials have argued that doing nothing in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are increasingly gaining ground, is not an option. In February, Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, told Congress that the United States and its NATO allies were facing a “stalemate.”

There were potential political perils for Trump, as well. At least two Republicans who challenged Trump last year for the presidential nomination issued statements hours before his speech to oppose extending the war in Afghanistan in any way.

“Sixteen years and the lives of over 2,000 American heroes are more than enough of a price to have paid to eradicate a terrorist sanctuary,” Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, who has positioned himself as a possible primary race candidate in four years, said in a statement. “America cannot afford to make an open-ended commitment of further lives and treasure to the improbable proposition of building a cohesive nation in Afghanistan.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flatly opposed a troop increase. “The mission in Afghanistan has lost its purpose, and I think it is a terrible idea to send any more troops into that war,” he said in a statement.

The Afghanistan strategy was a consequential moment after a tumultuous week for Trump, whose response to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, raised questions about his ability to shoulder the responsibilities of a president. Having missed an opportunity to calm the tensions after that unrest, he faced the challenging task of marshaling public support for a potentially bloody military mission.

Trump had said little about Afghanistan, either since taking office or during his presidential bid, although his “America First” campaign message envisioned a turn away from foreign military intervention and a refocusing on addressing challenges at home.

As a private citizen, he was actively hostile to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, dwelling on the high cost of the lengthy conflict and suggesting there was no way for the United States to succeed. In a 2012 post on Twitter, Trump questioned why U.S. forces continued to train Afghans, writing, “Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!”

The president’s ambivalence about the mission in Afghanistan was on display in June, when he outsourced to the Pentagon the task of announcing that he had granted Mattis authority to send 3,900 troops to the war, but said nothing about it himself. On Monday, by contrast, Trump was to announce his new strategy with great fanfare, choosing a military backdrop and the attention-grabbing format of a presidential address to sketch out for the first time how he saw the mission.

In announcing his plan, Trump became the third consecutive U.S. president to be confounded by the conflict in Afghanistan, now the longest military operation in the history of the United States.
Obama, who campaigned for president pledging to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, eventually agreed to send tens of thousands more troops to carry out an ambitious and expensive counterinsurgency mission that involved trying to win over Afghans by building roads, bridges, schools and a well-functioning government.

Trump’s decision is expected to be a victory of sorts for Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who had argued of dire consequences if the United States did not act quickly to stabilize Afghanistan. The Pentagon had long pointed to the return of extremists in Iraq shortly after the U.S. military withdrew forces after that eight-year war, and warned that any advances in Afghanistan could similarly be lost without a stable troop presence.

The strategy was to be announced the week after Trump dismissed his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who had argued forcefully against sending more troops. Bannon had warned doing so would be a slippery slope toward nation-building, and agitated for alternatives, including using private contractors instead of U.S. forces.

As such, the new strategy raised new political perils for the president as it risks alienating core supporters who are leery of U.S. involvement in faraway conflicts, and disdainful of spending taxpayer dollars on things that do not directly benefit Americans. In the hours before Trump’s speech, Breitbart News, the conservative news site to which Bannon returned after his departure from the White House, published several articles critical of the president’s anticipated announcement, one of them suggesting that he was proposing “an extension of the failed status quo.”

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By MAGGIE HABERMAN

Stephen Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Donald Trump win the 2016 election but clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers, is leaving his post, a White House spokeswoman announced Friday.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Earlier Friday, the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Bannon, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion. But a person close to Bannon insisted that the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week. But the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The loss of Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped propel some of Trump’s campaign promises into policy reality, raises the potential for the president to face criticism from the conservative media base that supported him over the past year.

Bannon’s many critics bore down after the violence in Charlottesville. Outraged over Trump’s insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human rights activists demanded that the president fire nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House is led by Bannon.

Bannon’s dismissal followed an Aug. 16 interview he initiated with a writer with whom he had never spoken, with the progressive publication The American Prospect. In it, Bannon mockingly played down the U.S. military threat to North Korea as nonsensical.

He also bad-mouthed his colleagues in the Trump administration, vowed to oust a diplomat at the State Department and mocked officials as “wetting themselves” over the consequences of radically changing trade policy.

Privately, several White House officials said Bannon appeared to be provoking Trump and they did not see how Trump could keep him on after the interview was published.

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Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. and its partners are about two-thirds done with a $19 million project to convert the former Mentholatum Co. headquarters and manufacturing building on Niagara Street into 49 market-rate apartments.

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Western New York is a beautiful place – and each day, Buffalo News photographers will bring you a photo to prove it. Our challenge is to look at things differently, to remind us all to slow down and enjoy our surroundings. Check back each morning to see our favorite image for the day. View the images in full screen for the most impact.
– Cathaleen Curtiss, director of photography

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