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A 17-month U.S. effort to retrain and reunify Iraq's regular army has failed to create a large number of effective Iraqi combat units or limit the power of sectarian militias, according to current and former U.S. military and civilian officials.

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in a major new offensive against Islamic State vowed on Thursday to cut off the last remaining access route to the outside world for the self-proclaimed caliphate, and won vital, if tacit, backing from Turkey.

At least 700 migrants may have died at sea this past week in the busiest week of migrant crossings from Libya towards Italy this year, Medecins San Frontieres and the UN Refugee agency said on Sunday.

The selection of a hard-line cleric as the new Taliban chief on Wednesday all but dashes U.S. President Barack Obama's hopes for opening peace talks before he leaves office, one of his top foreign policy goals, current and former U.S. defence and intelligence officials said.

The crash of a missing EgyptAir [EGY.UL] jet has strengthened the case for "black boxes" that can pop out of an aircraft before an accident, removing the need for challenging searches on the seabed, Airbus' most senior engineer said on Tuesday.