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Trump agrees to keep U.S. troops in Syria for undetermined period of time to defeat ISIS

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“The president made his displeasure clear about any kind of long-term presence in Syria,” the official said, adding that Trump was trying “light a fire” under his team to get the military mission wrapped up.

Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and John Sullivan, the acting U.S. secretary of state, were in the meeting, which took place Tuesday after Trump’s comments on Syria at a joint press conference with the Baltic heads of state, along with Mattis. John Bolton, Trump’s nominee to replace H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, was not in attendance, nor was Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA director and pick to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to the official.

The official said Trump told his aides that he expects partner governments in the region to make good on verbal pledges to help pay for reconstruction. In the meeting, according to two U.S. officials, Trump said the Saudis would provide as much as $4 billion in stabilization efforts for Syria.

The U.S. has around 2,000 forces on the ground in Syria fighting ISIS.

Tuesday’s meeting followed a scramble by Trump’s national security aides to address his recent threat to pull out all U.S. forces from Syria.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to get out of Syria and bring U.S. troops back home — only moments after his top advisers said publicly that the fight against ISIS was not finished.

 A convoy of U.S. troops drive on a road leading to the tense front line with Turkish-backed fighters in Manbij, north Syria, on Saturday. Hussein Malla / AP

“I want to get back, I want to rebuild our nation,” Trump said, reiterating comments about withdrawal that he made last week. “It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS; we’ll be successful against anybody militarily, but sometimes it’s time to come back home. And we’re thinking about that very seriously.”

The president, speaking at a joint news conference at the White House with the leaders of the Baltic states, did not give a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops but said a decision would be made soon.

Just minutes earlier, however, the president’s envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, had stressed that the job was not finished.

“We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission,” McGurk said, standing alongside Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Our mission is not over. And we are going to complete that mission.”

U.S. and coalition partners on the ground have taken control of almost 95 percent of the territory in Syria once held by ISIS, but U.S. officials have said their remaining presence will prove difficult to eliminate quickly and could take months.

Votel, for his part, stressed on Tuesday the importance of stabilization in Syria, and said the U.S. military can help.

“The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes,” Votel said.

In a statement Wednesday, the White House said the U.S. mission in Syria was “coming to a rapid end.”

“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed. The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.”

But Nick Rasmussen, former director of the National Counterterrrorism Center and an MSNBC and NBC News national security and intelligence analyst, said Wednesday that the U.S. should exercise caution in declaring victory over the terrorist group.

“There is still a significant ISIS problem we’re dealing with. When you use words like defeat and destroy, that’s a pretty high bar to get to in terms of eliminating a terrorist organization,” Rasmussen said.

Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube reported from Washington, and Adam Edelman from New York.

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Nicola Sturgeon blasted by Lord who says SNP leader 'doesn't want a referendum'

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NICOLA STURGEON “doesn’t want an independence referendum”, a former Scottish secretary has sensationally claimed.

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BBC QT: Michelle Dewberry clashes with Lisa Nandy over Brexit – ‘Who do you represent?’

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LABOUR’s Lisa Nandy and former Brexit party politician Michelle Dewberry clashed during BBC Question Time on Thursday.

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Arizona Senate Republicans sign lease to continue vote audit

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PHOENIX — Republicans in the Arizona Senate have signed a lease to continue their slow-moving audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County through the end of June.

The state Senate and its contractors had rented the Veterans Memorial Coliseum through Friday, when they must vacate the old basketball arena because it is booked for high school graduations next week.

Republicans have hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity firm, to oversee an unprecedented, partisan review of the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county. They are conducting a hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots and looking into baseless conspiracy theories suggesting there were problems with the election, which have grown popular with supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Under the new lease signed Wednesday, the ballots, computers, tables and related equipment will be stored elsewhere at the state fairgrounds next week. The Senate will regain access to the coliseum on May 23 and have it through the end of June.

The effort has gone far slower than expected, and only a fraction of the ballots have been counted. The audit was to stop Thursday evening, then packing would begin and continue into Friday, said Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state who is serving as the Senate’s liaison to the auditors.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official, has asked the Senate to detail its plans for keeping ballots secure while they are in storage.

Meanwhile, Senate President Karen Fann sent a letter Wednesday to Jack Sellers, chairman of the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, requesting that county officials publicly answer questions at the Senate on Tuesday, but she stopped short of her threat to issue subpoenas.

Fann repeated the Senate’s demand for access to administrative passwords for vote-counting machines and internet routers. County officials say they have turned over all the passwords they have and have refused to give up the routers, saying it would compromise sensitive data, including classified law enforcement information held by the sheriff’s office.

Fann proposed allowing its contractor to view data from the routers at county facilities under supervision of the sheriff’s office. “The Senate has no interest in viewing or taking possession of any information that is unrelated to the administration of the 2020 general election,” she wrote.

The county says the passwords the Senate is seeking are maintained by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., which makes the vote-counting machines and leases them to the county. The company said in a statement Thursday that it cooperates with auditors certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and did so for two prior audits of 2020 results in Maricopa County, but won’t work with Cyber Ninjas.

“Releasing Dominion’s intellectual property to an unaccredited, biased, and plainly unreliable actor such as Cyber Ninjas would be reckless, causing irreparable damage to the commercial interests of the company and the election security interests of the country,” Dominion’s statement said. “No company should be compelled to participate in such an irresponsible act.”

Fann’s letter also questions the county’s records that document the chain of custody of the ballots and accuses county officials of deleting data.

In a statement, Trump called it “a devastating letter” and said “the Fake News and Lamestream Media is doing everything they can not to cover this major story.”

The Board of Supervisors met in private late Thursday, after which Sellers issued a blistering statement denying that any data was deleted, calling Fann’s allegations “false and ill-informed” and demanding a retraction.

“It’s clearer by the day: the people hired by the Senate are in way over their heads,” Sellers said. “This is not funny; this is dangerous.”

He did not directly respond to Fann’s request for county officials to answer questions at the Senate on Tuesday, but said the county will hold its own public meeting the day before “to refute lies and lay out facts about these issues.”

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