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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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Brexit breakthrough as trade talks could enter crucial new phase next week

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BREXIT negotiations could go into a crucial “tunnel” phase as early as Monday as a trade deal looks to be within reach.

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Supreme Court sides mostly with Republicans in last-minute voting cases

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has faced a stream of last-minute appeals over election procedures since the spring, and most of the time it has rejected calls to allow less restrictive voting measures despite the pandemic.

That has generally meant that Republicans prevailed in seeking to block changes that would make it easier to vote, especially in casting mail-in ballots. Of 11 election-related cases filed as emergency appeals since April, Republican interests won in eight.

The court rejected Democratic efforts to lift an age eligibility requirement for mail ballots in Texas, or allow curbside voting and waive the witness requirement for mail ballots in Alabama, or suspend the witness requirement in South Carolina. And it put a hold on lower court orders that would have made it easier to get initiative measures on the ballot in Idaho and Oregon.

“I think a deference to the states is at work here,” said Edward Foley, an expert on election law at Moritz College of law at The Ohio State University.

That could explain why the court reached opposite conclusions on mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

On Oct. 20, the court rebuffed a Republican attempt to block a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that allows mail ballots to be counted if they arrive up to three days after election day. By contrast, the court granted a GOP request to block an extension on the mail ballot deadline that was ordered by a federal court in Wisconsin during the primary.

“The Pennsylvania case was coming from the state’s own judiciary rather than a federal court,” Foley said, and the state’s top election official was not supporting the Republicans.

Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, who frequently argues election cases in federal court, agrees.

“There seems to be some feeling on the Supreme Court that state election officials should be left alone to make their judgment,” he said.

At the same time, he added, that has tended to allow Republicans to prevail, limiting voting opportunities.

In August, the Supreme Court denied an effort by Republicans to block lower court rulings that suspended the witness requirement for mail ballots in Rhode Island, but state officials supported that rule change making voting easier. And in October, the court rejected a Republican appeal seeking to block ranked-choice voting in Maine. There, too, the change was endorsed by the top court in the state, not by a federal judge.

Two more rulings could come at any time ahead of Election Day Nov. 3 from the U.S. Supreme Court, on Republican efforts to block lower court rulings that extend the mail ballot deadline in the presidential battleground states of Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Judge Amy Coney Barret’s confirmation by the full Senate is expected Monday, so she could jump in and vote on any of those pending emergency appeals, as well as others that will undoubtedly come before Election Day.

The vote in the Pennsylvania case was 4-4, one vote short of the number needed to grant a stay of a lower court ruling. Barrett’s arrival removes the possibility of further ties.

A third factor may also be at work in the court’s unwillingness to allow last-minute rule changes.

When the court ruled for Republicans in the South Carolina case, maintaining the signature requirement for mail ballots, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the Supreme Court has for years tended to disfavor such changes.

“This court has repeatedly emphasized that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election rules in the period close to an election,” he wrote.



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Michael Portillo issues damning prediction for US election as Biden races ahead in polls

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MICHAEL PORTILLO said there can be no real winner in the US election, as he hit out at both Joe Biden and Donald Trump ahead of the crunch presidential vote.

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