US To Screen Passengers For China Mystery Virus

A US healthcare company/AFP

 

US authorities will begin screening passengers Friday arriving on direct or connecting flights from a Chinese city at the heart of a mysterious SARS-like virus responsible for two deaths.

Travelers from Wuhan to the United States will undergo entry screening for symptoms associated with the new coronavirus at three airports: San Francisco, New York’s JFK and Los Angeles.

China has now reported 45 cases linked to the virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official Nancy Messonnier told reporters in a press call, most linked to seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, while two cases have been found in Thailand and one in Japan.

The CDC said that based on current information, the risk to Americans from the virus, known by its technical name 2019-nCoV, is currently deemed low. Nevertheless, it was enhancing precautionary measures.

The CDC will deploy 100 additional staff to the three airports, with incoming passengers asked to fill out a questionnaire and submit to a temperature check.

Those who show possible signs will be shifted to another facility for additional screening and a rapid diagnostic test.

Messonnier said that this test would currently take around a day, “but it’s going to get rapidly faster” as the diagnostic tool improves.

The UN’s health agency says that the outbreak of the disease comes from a never-before-seen strain belonging to a broad family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as SARS.

According to Arnaud Fontanet, head of Paris’ Institut Pasteur department of epidemiology, the new strain is the seventh known type of coronavirus that humans can contract.

The outbreak has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Fontanet added that the coronavirus appears to be “weaker” than SARS in its current form, but cautioned that it could mutate into a more virulent strain.

Surprise Eminem Album Urges Gun Control, Sparks Anger Over Bomb Lyric

 

 

Guess who’s back?… Rapper Eminem surprised fans Friday by dropping a new album featuring a strong anti-gun violence theme but also stoking the kind of controversy that brought him fame.

On the album, one track called “Darkness” tells the story of a loner going on a shooting spree, while another song, “Unaccommodating,” has triggered outcry and muddied the veteran singer’s call for gun control.

The song references the 2017 deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, Britain, which left 22 people dead.

“But I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” the 47-year-old artist, born Marshall Mathers, raps on the track.

READ ALSO: Whitney Houston, Biggie Among Rock Hall Of Fame Inductees

The lyric was met with scorn on social media, with some users dubbing it “disgusting” and “trash.”

The new album, called “Music to be Murdered by,” features appearances from the late rapper Juice WRLD, along with Q-Tip, Ed Sheeran, Anderson. Paak and regular collaborator singer Skylar Grey.

Dr. Dre is credited throughout as a producer.

Eminem released his last album “Kamikaze” in 2018 in a similar sudden fashion. That album included several attacks on President Donald Trump.

The rapper also released Friday a video for “Darkness” that featured audio and footage from the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest US gun massacre carried about by an individual in modern history.

It ends urging viewers to register to vote: “Make your voice heard and help change gun laws in America,” closing text reads.

Relations Between Nigeria And US Will Curb Extremism In The Sahel – Osinbajo

Osinbajo Proffers Solutions To Challenges Facing Legal Profession In Nigeria

 

The increase in activities and threats by terrorist groups in the Sahel region can be largely curbed by stepping up relations between Nigeria and the United States of America, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.

Prof. Osinbajo stated this in Abuja on Thursday when he received the new US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mrs Mary Beth Leonard, on a courtesy visit at the Presidential Villa.

Noting the good relationship between Nigeria and the US, the Vice President called for an even more robust cooperation.

He observed that apart from poverty, terrorism is a major issue affecting the Sahel region and this is the best chance of making progress on those issues.

READ ALSO: Buhari Attends UK-Africa Investment Summit In London

“Stepping up cooperation with the US in the area of counter-terrorism is something that should be pursued vigorously given the threats of terrorism in the Sahel,” according to the Vice President.

Responding to the proposition by Mrs Leonard for improved ties between Nigeria and the US including through the restoration of the Bi-National Commission, Prof. Osinbajo said there are indeed huge opportunities for improved cooperation between both countries.

“The challenges facing us as a country are many but they present opportunities for doing innovative and great things. This is our best chance to making serious progress.

“I am certainly looking forward to the Bi-National Commission and hope that important issues concerning our trade relations will be addressed because we have barely scratched the surface,” the Vice President said.

Earlier in her remarks, the US Ambassador, Mrs Mary Beth Leonard said it was an honour to serve in Nigeria and expressed hope that her tenure as Ambassador to Nigeria would be fruitful.

The Ambassador said improving trade and investment and resuscitating the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission will top her agenda in the coming years.

Senate Trial ‘Should Go Very Quickly’, Says Trump

Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens while US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

President Donald Trump predicted Thursday that his impeachment trial in the US Senate will not take long and again dismissed the abuse of power charges against him as “a hoax.”

“I think it should go very quickly,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as the upper chamber’s members were sworn in to serve as the jury in Trump’s historic trial over the Ukraine scandal.

“It’s totally partisan,” Trump said. “It’s a hoax. It’s a hoax and everybody knows it’s a complete hoax.”

Trump Impeachment Trial Begins In US Senate

A file photo of US President, Donald Trump. AFP Photo.

 

Amid a solemn silence, articles of impeachment against Donald Trump were read aloud on the Senate floor on Thursday as the bitterly divided chamber began a historic trial of the US president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Senate Sergeant of Arms Michael Stenger opened just the third impeachment trial of a US president in history with a warning to the 100 senators.

“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” Stenger said after the seven members of the House of Representatives who will serve as prosecutors gathered in the well of the Senate chamber.

“All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States, articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, President of the United States,” the sergeant at arms said.

Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who will serve as lead prosecutor for the trial, then read out the two articles of impeachment passed by the House on December 18.

“I will now read the articles of impeachment,” Schiff said, “impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.”

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is to be sworn in at 2:00 pm (1900 GMT) to preside over the trial.

Roberts, 64, who was appointed to the nation’s top court by president George W. Bush, will then deliver an oath to the 100 senators who will swear to administer “impartial justice.”

The proceedings will then adjourn and the trial will get underway “in earnest” on Tuesday, according to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

Impeachment rules require a two-thirds Senate majority to convict and remove a president and Trump’s acquittal is widely expected in the Republican-dominated Senate.

 ‘The Senate’s time is at hand’ 

Trump is accused of abuse of power for withholding military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting for the country’s president in exchange for an investigation into his potential presidential election rival Democrat Joe Biden.

The Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released Thursday that the White House violated federal law by putting a hold on the congressionally-approved funds for Ukraine.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” according to the GAO, a congressional watchdog.

The second article of impeachment — for obstruction of Congress — relates to Trump’s refusal to provide witnesses and documents to House impeachment investigators in defiance of congressional subpoenas.

McConnell has been extremely critical of Trump’s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House and pledged on Thursday that things would be different in the Senate.

“It was a transparently partisan performance from beginning to end,” McConnell said. “But it’s not what this process will be going forward.

“This chamber exists precisely so that we can look past the daily drama,” the Republican senator from Kentucky said. “The House’s hour is over. The Senate’s time is at hand.”

The two articles of impeachment were delivered to the Senate on Wednesday in a solemn procession by the seven House Democrats who will prosecute the case against the 45th US president.

“So sad, so tragic for our country, that the actions taken by the president to undermine our national security, to violate his oath of office and to jeopardize the security of our elections, has taken us to this place,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she signed the articles.

“This president will be held accountable,” she said. “No one is above the law.”

Pelosi held back on delivering the articles to the Senate as she pressured McConnell to agree to subpoena the witnesses and documents that the White House blocked from the House probe.

McConnell has refused to commit, saying the issue will only be decided after the trial’s opening arguments and questioning.

 ‘Con Job’ 

A Trump administration official told reporters they expect the trial to last no longer than two weeks, suggesting McConnell could use his 53-47 Republican majority to stifle calls for witnesses and quickly take the charges to a vote.

Trump ridiculed the investigation and trial on Wednesday, as he has for months.

“Here we go again, another Con Job by the Do Nothing Democrats,” he wrote on Twitter.

Democrats released documents this week that showed Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani worked with Ukrainian-born American Lev Parnas to pressure Kiev to investigate Biden.

They also showed the two, working with Ukrainian officials, trying to force out the US ambassador to the country, Marie Yovanovitch, eventually removed by Trump.

In a televised interview Wednesday, Parnas told MSNBC that “President Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

“He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas said.

Aside from Schiff the prosecution team will include Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler; House Democratic Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries; Zoe Lofgren, a veteran of two previous impeachment investigations; and three others.

Trump’s Trial ‘Extraordinarily Unlikely’ To Go Over Two Weeks – US Official

File Photo: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate is almost sure to end within two weeks, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “I think it’s extraordinarily unlikely it will be going beyond two weeks.”

According to the official, the White House believes it has an easy case and the Republican-controlled Senate will quickly acquit. Trump is accused of abusing his office and obstructing Congress.

Trump’s Impeachment Articles Heading For US Senate

Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens while US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  AFP

 

The House of Representatives is expected to transmit articles of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate Wednesday, setting the stage for a trial next week that will decide whether the 45th US president is forced from office.

After a weeks-long standoff over rules and witnesses, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that what will be only the third presidential impeachment trial was now ready to move forward.

Pelosi is expected to sign the articles of impeachment at around 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) before they are then ceremoniously transferred from the House and travel through the US capitol’s main hallways before being delivered to the Secretary of the Senate.

That ceremony will follow an announcement by Pelosi on which Democratic lawmakers will lead the prosecution case against Trump in the Senate, expected to begin next Tuesday.

Trump was impeached in December by the Democrat-controlled House on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

But his conviction in the Senate is highly unlikely as the president’s Republican Party has a 53-47 majority. A two-thirds majority to approve his guilt is needed if he is to be removed from office at the end of a trial expected to last two weeks.

Although the trial itself is unlikely to start until next week, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts could be sworn in to preside over the process on either Thursday or Friday.

Trump has consistently painted the charges against him as part of a witch-hunt and again took to Twitter on Tuesday evening to decry his impeachment in the House as “the most lopsided & unfair basement hearing in the history of Congress!”

“While we’re creating jobs and killing terrorists, Democrats in Congress are wasting America’s time with demented hoaxes and crazy witch hunts,” he told supporters at a rally in Winconsin.

At times, he has called the whole process to be stopped in its tracks while on other occasions he has apparently relished the prospect of turning the tables against his tormentors in a chamber where his supporters are in the majority.

McConnell pushed back on Tuesday against any suggestions that he would try and prevent the trial from going ahead.

“There’s little or no sentiment for a motion to dismiss. We have an obligation to listen to the arguments,” he added.

Pelosi meanwhile called for a fair trial and demanded the Senate subpoena witnesses and documents from the White House that will be crucial in the trial.

“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial … The president and the senators will be held accountable,” she added.

Pelosi attacked suggestions by Trump and some of his supporters that the Senate, as soon as the trial opens, vote to dismiss the charges. That would only require a majority vote.

“A dismissal is a cover-up,” she charged.

Trump was impeached on December 18 when the House voted to formally charge him with abusing his power by illicitly seeking help from Ukraine for his reelection campaign.

He is accused of holding up aid to Ukraine to pressure Kiev to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Trump is also charged with obstruction for holding back witnesses and documents from the House impeachment investigation in defiance of Congressional subpoenas.

 Subpoena push 

The White House is steeling itself for a trial that could present damaging evidence against the US leader on national television.

Pelosi had delayed delivering the articles of impeachment to pressure the Senate to agree to subpoena witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine actions, including his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton.

McConnell said that, as with the impeachment trial of president Bill Clinton in 1999, the witness issue will only be considered after the 100 senators — the jurors in the trial — hear the prosecution and defense arguments.

AFP

Asian Markets Fall As US, China Prepare To Sign Trade Pact

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on August 23, 2019 in New York City.  Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP

 

Asian markets fell Wednesday as investors took their foot off the pedal following weeks of gains, with focus on the signing later in the day of the China-US trade deal.

While the mood on trading floors was broadly upbeat as tensions between the economic superpowers eased, analysts warned there will not likely be much more progress on the next phase of talks ahead of the US presidential election in November.

The mini pact, which has de-escalated a two-year standoff that has jolted the global economy, saw the White House halve tariffs imposed on September 1 on $120 billion of Chinese goods and cancel another round set for December 15.

In return, Beijing pledged vast sums to buy US products including pork and soybeans.

Still, the next round of negotiations is expected to be the toughest, with key issues including China’s massive subsidies for state industry and forced technology transfer proving key sticking points.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied a report that it could include provisions to roll back more levies on China after the presidential vote, with progress on phase two the key to measures being removed.

But he did tell Fox Business network: “I think phase one is an enormous step in the right direction.”

Officials said full details would be made public after the signing ceremony in Washington.

‘Constructive process’ 

“We should not expect further tariff relief until after the November presidential elections, suggesting that today’s agreement is probably as good as it gets for 2020,” said National Australia Bank’s Tapas Strickland.

But he added: “Importantly for China… the deal will allow it to re-focus on its domestic economy which should reduce fears of a slowing economy.”

However, Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson, warned that the year could see fresh volatility.

“It’s possible that instead we see Trump threaten China more, dangling the prospect of abandoning the deal and taking an even tougher stance going into the election,” he said in a note.

With few other catalysts to drive buying on Wednesday, regional markets tracked a weak lead from Wall Street.

Tokyo and Shanghai both ended down 0.5 percent, while Hong Kong was off 0.4 percent.

Seoul and Singapore each dropped 0.4 percent, while there were also deep losses in Mumbai, Taipei, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila, though Sydney and Wellington rose.

Still, with most negative headlines in the rearview mirror, analysts were upbeat.

“Right now we are in a more constructive process,” Omar Aguilar, at Charles Schwab, told Bloomberg TV.

“While the uncertainty is still there, the fact that there’s a laid-out plan for phase one and phase two has already been priced by the market and there is a positive view.”

In early trade, London and Paris both rose 0.2 percent, while Frankfurt was flat.

Key figures at 0820 GMT 

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 23,916.58 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 28,773.59 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,090.04 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,633.51

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3029 from $1.3019 at 2145 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.44 pence from 85.46 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1135 from $1.1126

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.93 yen from 109.98

Brent Crude: DOWN 15 cents at $64.34 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 16 cents at $58.07 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 28,939.67 (close).

AFP

 

Senate Likely To Begin Trump’s Impeachment Trial Next Tuesday

US President Donald Trump speaks during the 9th Shale Insight Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on October 23, 2019, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

The Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump is likely to begin in seven days with key players sworn in later this week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. 

McConnell said he expected the House of Representatives to deliver the articles of impeachment against Trump to the upper chamber on Wednesday.

“We believe that if that happens — in all likelihood — we’ll go through preliminary steps here this week which could well include the chief justice coming over and swearing-in members of the Senate and some other kinds of housekeeping measures,” McConnell told reporters.

“We hope to achieve that by consent which would set us up to begin the actual trial next Tuesday.”

READ ALSO: US Slaps Sanctions Over N.Korea Workers But Appeals For Dialogue

Trump faces charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and the 100 senators will be his judge.

On Thursday or Friday this week, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to be sworn in to preside over the trial, which should last at least two weeks, and could run through mid-February.

‘People Deserve The Truth’

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, called for a fair trial and demanded the Senate subpoena witnesses and documents from the White House that will be crucial in the trial.

“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial… The president and the senators will be held accountable,” she added.

Trump will become only the third president in US history to go on trial, risking his removal from office.

But his conviction is highly unlikely, given Republicans’ 53-47 control of the Senate, and the high two-thirds vote threshold required to find him guilty.

But both parties were girding for tense weeks of hearings that could lay bare the US leader’s alleged wrongdoing to the American public on live television.

Tense Trial

Pelosi attacked suggestions by Trump and some of his supporters that the Senate, as soon as the trial opens, vote to dismiss the charges. That would only require a majority vote.

“A dismissal is a cover-up,” she charged.

McConnell, however, pushed back against suggestions that he would try to prevent the trial from going ahead.

“There’s little or no sentiment for a motion to dismiss. Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments,” he said.

Trump was impeached on December 18 when the House voted to formally charge him with abusing his power by illicitly seeking help from Ukraine for his reelection campaign.

He is accused of holding up aid to Ukraine to pressure Kiev to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Trump is also charged with obstruction for holding back witnesses and documents from the House impeachment investigation in defiance of Congressional subpoenas.

‘Witch Hunt’

The president used a rally in Wisconsin on Tuesday night to berate the Democrats for pursuing impeachment while he was busy with issues that he said affected everyday lives.

“While we’re creating jobs and killing terrorists, Democrats in Congress are wasting America’s time with demented hoaxes and crazy witch hunts,” he told supporters.

But the White House is steeling itself for a trial that could present damaging evidence against the US leader on national television.

Pelosi had delayed delivering the articles of impeachment to pressure the Senate to agree to subpoena witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine actions, including his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton.

McConnell said that, as with the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, the witness issue will only be considered after the 100 senators — the jurors in the trial — hear the prosecution and defense arguments, which could take two weeks.

New Evidence

Late Tuesday Adam Schiff, the House Democrat who led the Trump investigation and is expected to lead the team of House impeachment managers in the Senate, announced that they had received new evidence supporting the charges that they would forward to the Senate.

The evidence comes from phone records provided by Ukrainian-born American Lev Parnas, who allegedly worked with Trump’s private lawyer Rudy Giuliani in the alleged scheme to pressure the Ukraine government for dirt on Trump’s Democratic rivals.

Parnas’s records “demonstrate that there is more evidence relevant to the president’s scheme, but they have been concealed by the president himself,” Schiff said.

“There cannot be a full and fair trial in the Senate without the documents that President Trump is refusing to provide to Congress,” he said.

AFP

US Slaps Sanctions Over N.Korea Workers But Appeals For Dialogue

File Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP

 

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two companies for exploiting North Korean overseas labor but joined allies Japan and South Korea in appealing for diplomacy to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

Showing a united front, Japan’s defense and foreign ministers and South Korea’s foreign minister all held talks with American counterparts Tuesday on both coasts, two weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to launch a new weapon.

In a UN-backed bid to curb North Korea’s cash flow, the United States announced that it was freezing any US assets of the two companies and making any transactions with them a crime.

The Treasury Department targeted the Korea Namgang Trading Corporation, a North Korean firm which it said has maintained workers in Russia, Nigeria and the Middle East.

It also blacklisted Beijing Sukbakso, a Chinese company that has handled lodging and remittances for workers.

“The exportation of North Korean workers raises illicit revenue for the government of North Korea in violation of UN sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Under a UN resolution unanimously approved in 2017, countries had until December 22 last year to send back all workers from North Korea.

Human rights groups have charged that the workers live in virtually slavery-like conditions, with proceeds going to the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang.

US officials said in 2017 that North Korea had some 100,000 overseas workers, bringing in $500 million a year.

The vast majority work in China and Russia although some have been seen around the world including in Eastern Europe, according to a study by the East-West Center.

The North Koreans are most frequently seen on construction sites, performing labor for long hours and staying in isolated housing.

The 2017 resolution came after nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, but US President Donald Trump soon afterward opened talks with North Korea, holding three landmark meetings with Kim.

The regime had been pressing unsuccessfully for the United States to remove sanctions in return and had set a New Year’s deadline.

– Growing unity among allies –
In a January 1 speech, Kim warned that he will no longer abide by the moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and said Pyongyang would test a destructive new weapon.

Asked Tuesday if North Korea had made an idle threat, Defense Secretary Mike Esper declined to speculate but said the United States was prepared.

“We’ll see what happens. It’s in Kim Jong Un’s hands what he intends to do,” Esper told a news conference at the Pentagon with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono.

“We continue to send a message that we remain ready to fight tonight if necessary,” he said.

But he stressed: “The best path forward is through a diplomatic solution that results in the denuclearization of North Korea.”

Kono said that Japan, which has especially tense relations with North Korea, supported US pressure on Pyongyang.

Japan hopes that “Kim Jong Un can come to dialogue and, hopefully, he will make the right decision for his own people,” he said.

Esper emphasized unity with Japan and South Korea, mutual US allies whose relations sharply soured last year over disputes linked to Tokyo’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

But tensions have since eased, with South Korea in November backing down on scrapping a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

The Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers, Toshimitsu Motegi and Kang Kyung-hwa, met jointly Tuesday near San Francisco with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The three “stressed that trilateral cooperation is essential to ensure the future of peace in the region,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

US Wants To Reduce Military Presence In Africa – Top Officer

(L-R) Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley arrive for briefing with members of the U.S. House of Representatives about the situation with Iran, at the U.S. Capitol on January 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

The United States wants to reduce its military presence in Africa, Washington’s top military officer said, as France hosts Sahel leaders as it seeks to bolster the fight against jihadists in the region.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said resources “could be reduced and then shifted, either to increase readiness of the force in the continental US or shifted to” the Pacific.

His comments came as he flew in for talks with NATO counterparts in Brussels.

The announcement follows President Donald Trump’s call last week for NATO to do more in the Middle East and comes as French President Emmanuel Macron gathers his counterparts from Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania.

Milley said his boss, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, had not made up his mind what changes to make.

“We’re developing options for the secretary to consider, and we are developing those options in coordination with our allies and partners,” Milley said.

After 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter collision in Mali last month, Macron wants the Sahel leaders to publicly restate their support for France’s 4,500-strong military presence, after local demonstrations against it.

The United States wants to reduce the number of its troops deployed across Africa over the next few years to focus more on responding to the threats posed by Russia and China.

Washington has some 7,000 special forces on rotation in Africa carrying out joint operations with national forces against jihadists, particularly in Somalia.

Another 2,000 soldiers are conducting training missions in some 40 African countries and taking part in cooperative operations, in particular with France’s Operation Barkhane in Mali, to which they provide mainly logistical assistance.

French concerns

One option would be to close a drone base in Agadez, northern Niger, which gives the US a major surveillance platform in the Sahel but has been estimated to cost around $100 million.

Milley said no decisions had been made yet and insisted Washington was not pulling out of Africa completely. “Economy of forces does not mean zero,” he said.

French officials are nevertheless alarmed, with a presidency source saying the US made “irreplaceable” contributions to Sahel operations — particularly in surveillance and air-to-air refuelling.

“We would not be able to get these from other partners, especially when it comes to intelligence,” the presidency official said. Paris would be sharing its concerns with the US “at all levels”, the source added.

NATO military chiefs will use this week’s meeting to debate the future of the alliance’s training mission in Iraq, suspended over security fears after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.

The Iraqi parliament voted on January 5 to oust foreign forces, including some 5,200 American troops, who have helped local troops beat back the Islamic State group, angering Trump and throwing international operations there in doubt.

“I can’t guarantee anything about the future and I don’t make the policy decisions,” Milley said.

“I can just say what our current policy is and what our current plans are. And my current guidance from the secretary of defense and the president is that we will stay in Iraq.”

 

AFP

US Condemns Latest Missile Attack On Iraqi Base

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo/ AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he was “outraged” by another missile attack on an Iraqi airbase where US forces have been stationed, as neighboring Iran signalled a wish to de-escalate tensions.

“Outraged by reports of another rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase,” Pompeo tweeted. “These continued violations of Iraq’s sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s rocket attacks, in which the Iraqi military said eight missiles wounded two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

The US has previously blamed such attacks on Iran-backed groups in Iraq.

The Al-Balad base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but most were evacuated following a sharp rise in friction between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources told AFP.

Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq’s F-16s, which it bought from the US.

Military bases hosting US troops have been subject in recent months to rocket and mortar attacks that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month.

That death set off a series of dramatic developments, with the US carrying out deadly strikes against a pro-Iran paramilitary group in Iraq as well as a convoy carrying top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport.

Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for those raids.

AFP