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U.S. Officials Propose Sending up to 120,000 Troops to the Middle East

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  • The New York Times reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces or advanced their nuclear weapons development.
  • Many U.S. and European officials are worried that expanding military influence could lead to a conflict between the U.S. and Iran, arguing that Washington is promoting the confrontation, which has been escalating in recent months.
  • The State Department ordered all non-essential embassy and consular employees to leave their posts in Iraq Wednesday, also issuing a separate travel advisory warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”

Shanahan’s Proposal

Ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated Monday when it was reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan that would send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces or sped up their nuclear weapons development.

The story was first reported by The New York Times, which spoke to Administration officials who were present at a meeting of top security aides on Thursday. Officials told the Times that the plan does not explicitly call for invading Iran, a move that would require a lot more troops.

However, many officials were still reportedly shocked by the number of troops called for in the proposal. The Times noted that the 120,000 troops would almost approach the number of U.S. forces that invaded Iraq in 2003.

Many are skeptical that President Trump would want to send so many U.S. forces to the Middle East in the first place. While people high up in his administration like National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have pushed for hardline policies against Iran, Trump has been more reluctant.

On May 5, Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran.

In a statement, Bolton said that the move was “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but did not elaborate. The Trump administration has since said that U.S. intelligence showed Iran’s proxy groups mobilizing in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces.

Trump, however, has made it clear that he does not want to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East and has actively pushed to remove U.S. presence in Syria.

Trump, outright denied the Time’s report on Tuesday but did not rule out military intervention.“It’s fake news, OK?” Trump told reporters.

“Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Divisions in the Administration

The divisions between Trump and his advisors are representative of broader divisions in the Trump administration.

While some in the administration fall in the same camp as Bolton and Pompeo, others do not agree with their approach, arguing that hard-lines instead of diplomacy will only encourage more aggression.

Some officials have said that deploying troops to the Middle East would just give Iran and its proxies more targets to strike, which could risk drawing the U.S. into a conflict. Others still point out that more troops would reverse efforts of both the Trump and Obama administration to remove U.S. troops from the Middle East.

That said, some officials and experts believe that Pompeo and Bolton actually want a confrontation with Iran. One U.S. official who spoke to the Times said the intelligence Bolton and others have cited as showing an increased Iranian threat was actually just “small stuff.” Even going as far as to say that it did not merit the military plan that has been proposed.

The official also said that the goal of the sanctions on Iran is to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the U.S.

Divisions Abroad

Those divisions regarding the situation with Iran also extend beyond the U.S. and to its allies.

According to the Times, military and intelligence officials in both the U.S. and Europe have said the most aggressive actions have actually come from the U.S., and not Iran. Those same officials also expressed concern that Bolton has pushed Trump into backing Iran into a corner.

During his tour in Europe, Pompeo tried to rally European leaders against Iran, but they did not take the bait. Following a meeting in Brussels on Monday, European officials told reporters they had urged the U.S. to restrain from escalating the situation, out of fear that it could lead to conflict with Iran.

Privately, several European officials said Bolton and Pompeo are pushing Trump to take a series of steps that could put the U.S. on a course for war.

On Tuesday, senior British military official Major Gen. Chris Ghika, who is also the deputy commander of the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, pushed back against the U.S.’s claim of an Iranian threat presented in their intelligence.

“There has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria,” Ghika told reporters at the Pentagon.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, gave a rare statement in response. “Recent comments from [Operation Inherent Resolve’s] deputy commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” the lead spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Iraqi officials have also been skeptical of the intelligence the U.S. said it has on Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday morning, the State Department ordered that all non-essential diplomatic personnel at the U.S. embassy and consulate in Iraq leave the country.

The State Department also issued a separate travel advisory, warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.” Again, Iraqi officials have expressed skepticism over this claim.

Continued Escalation

The alleged proposal from Shanahan comes as both the U.S. and Iran have been escalating geopolitical tensions in the region in recent weeks.

On April 8, the Trump administration announced that they were designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization in an unprecedented moved that marked the first time the U.S. labeled part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.

Iran’s parliament responded to the U.S designation of the IRGC by passing legislation labeling the entire U.S. military as a terrorist organization a few weeks later, a move that came just days after the U.S. announced they would no longer allow countries that buy Iranian oil to be exempt from U.S. sanctions.

Then things really started to ramp up when Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying military forces to the region to counter Iran on May 5.

Iran reacted the news a few days later, announcing that they would stop complying with some of their commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, like restrictions on building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, which are used in nuclear reactors.

Iran also said that if the other countries that signed the deal do not work to ease the restrictions imposed by the U.S. in 60 days they would slowly stop their compliance with the restrictions outlined in the deal piece by piece.

Shanahan’s proposed plan appears to be a direct rebuke of Iran’s announcement last week. Shanahan’s posturing seems to explicitly imply that if Iran moves forward with its nuclear development as stated in their ultimatum to the other signatories of the deal, the U.S. could deploy troops to the Middle East, possibly risking an all-out confrontation.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Parliament Blocks Boris Johnson From Executing No-Deal Brexit

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  • British Parliament successfully passed a bill that blocks the U.K. from leaving the EU without a deal ahead of the U.K.’s Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
  • The House of Commons denied Prime Minister Boris Johnson a chance to hold snap elections for the second time.
  • Parliament has now been suspended until Oct. 19, per Johnson’s request. Opposition lawmakers openly protested the suspension in the House of Commons on Monday.

No-Deal Brexit Block

British Parliament passed a law preventing the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union on Monday ahead of its current Oct. 31 deadline. Lawmakers also passed an order forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to release private communications about his Brexit plans and blocked his second attempt to hold snap elections.

Last week, the House of Commons passed a first version of the bill after taking control of the House away from Johnson. After being sent to the House of Lords, it was then passed again and sent back to the Commons, which approved final amendments. The bill was finally enacted into law after receiving formal assent from Queen Elizabeth II. 

The passage of the law means Johnson may be forced to go back to the EU and ask for an extension to the current Oct. 31 deadline, something Johnson has repeatedly said he will not do.

Many now fear Johnson will attempt to find a loophole or challenge the law in court after he said Monday he would not allow the U.K. to remain in the EU following the deadline. Others have speculated Johnson might attempt to ignore the law altogether. 

Despite this, Johnson said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be a failure of the state, saying he would be partially to blame.

“I want to get a deal,” Johnson said in a press conference with the Irish Prime Minister. “Like you, I have looked carefully at no-deal. I have assessed its consequences… and yes, of course, we could do it. The U.K. could certainly get through it, but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.” 

Second Vote for Elections

Johnson also held another vote for elections after a vote in the Commons last week failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass; however, this vote similarly failed to attract that majority.

Johnson has argued he wants the British people to decide how lawmakers handle Brexit through elections, which would open up all 650 seats in the House of Commons three years early. That would also include his own position as prime minister.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he is eager to hold elections but wants the party to focus on ensuring a no-deal is fully blocked ahead of the October deadline. Many lawmakers, however, said they expect elections to be held by the end of the year.

Vote Over Johnson’s Private Communications

The Commons held another vote that requires Johnson to hand over private communications about his Brexit plans. 

The order comes after Johnson requested to suspend or “prorogue” parliament an additional week on top of an already scheduled recess. It primarily seeks to investigate why he issued the suspension, which will limit the time lawmakers have to discuss a Brexit deal. 

While Johnson has said the prorogue was called to create a “bold” new domestic agenda following Brexit, opposition lawmakers have rebuked the claim and denounced it as a power-grab by Johnson to be able to execute a no-deal, if necessary. 

“We will consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course,” a spokesperson for Johnson said after calling the information request “disproportionate and unprecedented.”

Parliament is Suspended

Following Monday’s votes, parliament was suspended until Oct. 14. That means it will only have a little more than two weeks to agree on a deal before it reaches the Oct. 31 deadline. 

Notably, the law barring a no-deal Brexit will force Johnson to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline until January if a deal is not reached by Oct. 19. 

A day prior to that, Johnson will attend an EU summit in Brussels where he will try to strike a deal. 

During the traditional prorogation proceedings, many opposition lawmakers broke formality and jeered, chanting “Shame on you!” and holding signs that read, “Silenced,” in reference to Johnson’s suspension.

Before the suspension began, House Speaker John Bercow announced he will be resigning on Oct. 31. Bercow is known for his flamboyant remarks during House proceedings.

“This is not a standard or normal prorogation,” he said Monday. 

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International

One Person Dies Every 40 Seconds From Suicide, WHO Says

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  • Despite progress in national suicide prevention strategies, one person dies every 40 seconds from suicide and only 38 countries have prevention practices in place. 
  • WHO said some ways to help reduce suicide rates are to restrict access to means often used, educate the media on responsible suicide reporting, identify people at risk early, and implement programs to teach young people how to better cope with stress.
  • The agency also launched its “40 Seconds of Action Campaign” in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, encouraging those struggling to take 40 seconds to reach out to someone they trust. You can also support the campaign by initiating private conversations or sharing messages of hope with someone you are concerned for.

Suicide Prevention 

One person dies every 40 seconds from suicide, the World Health Organisation said in a news release Monday, ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day. 

While the number of countries with national suicide prevention strategies has increased in the five years since WHO issued its first global report on suicide, the agency said the overall number is still too low.

Just 38 counties have strategies in place and the WHO is encouraging more governments to commit to establishing similar life-saving practices.

“Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

According to WHO data, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide every year. “While 79% of the world’s suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries, high-income countries had the highest rate, at 11.5 per 100 000,” the WHO said.

“Nearly three times as many men as women die by suicide in high-income countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rate is more equal,” their statement continued. 

Their data also found that in 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people between 15-29, after road injury. For teens 15-19, suicide was the second leading cause of death among girls and the third leading causing of death in boys.

Key Ways to Prevent Suicides

WHO said one way to decrease global suicide rates is to limit access to means often used. The agency said the most common methods of suicide are hanging, pesticide poisoning, and firearms. “The intervention that has the most imminent potential to bring down the number of suicides is restricting access to pesticides that are used for self-poisoning,” WHO said. 

For instance, in Sri Lanka, a series of bans on hazardous pesticides lead to a 70% fall in suicides, saving an estimated 93,000 lives from 1995 to 2015, according to the WHO news release.

Similarly, in South Korea, the herbicide paraquat accounted for the majority of pesticide suicide deaths in the 2000s. But when paraquat was banned in 2011-2013, suicide rates decreased by 50% the following year. 

The agency also recommends reducing suicide by educating the media on how to report responsibly on the topic, identifying people at risk early on, following up with those at risk, and helping younger people build skills to better cope with stress. 

World Suicide Prevention Day

The WHO partnered with the World Federation for Mental Health, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, and United for Global Mental Health, to launch a campaign on Tuesday called the “40 Seconds of Action Campaign.”

The campaign encourages those struggling with suicidal thoughts to take 40 seconds to start a conversation with someone they trust about their feelings. 


You can also support the campaign by initiating private conversations with someone you are concerned for or sharing a message of hope with someone you know is struggling.

According to the agency, “If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, talk to them about it. Listen with an open mind and offer your support.” WHO also has a website with more resources about what you can do and how to identify warning signs. 

Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the U.S. from the Crisis Text Line. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Canceled U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks

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  • President Trump tweeted Saturday that he canceled secretly scheduled peace negotiations with the Taliban.
  • The proposed peace deal involved the U.S. taking troops out of Afghanistan and the Taliban promising to no longer engage in violence in areas where the U.S. military is present.
  • Many opposed the plan and the meeting, including officials in the Trump administration who worried the Taliban could not be trusted.
  • Afghan officials were also skeptical of the plan, arguing that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

Trump’s Announcement

President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday” the president wrote on Twitter. 

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people,” he continued. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” he concluded.

Here’s what you need to know about the agreement, the talks, and what comes next.

The Agreement

Under the agreement, which officials have been negotiating for almost a year, the U.S. would remove 5,400 of the remaining 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan within 135 days.

The broader goal of the deal would be to gradually withdraw the entire U.S. military presence, which has been in the country for nearly 18 years since the 9/11 attacks. In exchange for the U.S. withdrawing the troops, the Taliban would stop enacting and supporting violence in the regions of Afghanistan where the U.S. military is based.

Last Monday, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told local media in the country that both sides had agreed to the deal “in principle.” 

However, many people in the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani, were skeptical of both the peace deal and the meeting at Camp David.

Afghan critics of the agreement argued that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not really give them a seat at the table for negotiations.

The Trump administration addressed this concern by arguing that its talks with the Taliban would pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

But others worried that plan was problematic because the Taliban does not recognize the Afghan government, and has refused to negotiate with them in the past.

Those critical of the plan also argued that the deal only protected American troops because it did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

That is especially important because the Taliban now controls more territory in the country than it has at any time since the war started, and also because the Taliban has carried out and supported numerous deadly attacks over the last few months.

Now, Afghan officials are worried that if the U.S. pulled out, it would create a sort of security vacuum, leaving the Afghan military to fend for itself. They fear that, as a result, the Taliban would not only launch more violent attacks but also try to take over the government.

Opposition In Trump Administration

Afghan officials were not the only people who opposed the negotiations.

According to reports, multiple high-ranking officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton, also did not support the meeting. 

Bolton, among others, allegedly did not believe that the Taliban could be trusted and so the deal would just collapse anyway. 

Other administration officials who did not want the meeting reportedly worried about the optics of having an unprecedented meeting with a militant group on U.S. soil just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

One senior administration official also told NBC that Pence had argued the meeting could also send a bad message to members of the U.S. military and their families, especially those who had fought and been killed by the Taliban.

Taliban & Afghan Government Responds

After Trump’s tweets, a leader from the Taliban told NBC they were caught off guard by the news.

“It not only shocked us it made us realize the people we were talking with were not sincere in peace talks,” the leader said.

On Sunday, the Taliban also released an official statement on the matter.

Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience,” the statement read.

“We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also,” it continued. “Our previous eighteen-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate.”

President Ghani has not responded specifically to Trump’s tweets, but his office released a formal statement on Sunday.

“The people and the government of Afghanistan pursue a dignified and sustainable peace and are committed to putting any effort into ensuring peace in the country,” it said. “We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government.”

“The government of Afghanistan praises the earnest efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other partners to ensure honorable and enduring peace in the country,” the statement continued.

Conflicts on Cancelation Reasons

While speaking to news outlets Sunday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s comments by insisting that the reason the negotiations were canceled was because of the most recent Taliban attack.

However, a report from The New York Times suggested there could have been other factors. Citing Pompeo’s negotiator, the Times said the Taliban wanted to go to Washington, but not until after their deal had been announced. 

Trump, however, did not want their visit to be a celebration of the deal, instead, he “wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.”

What Next?

The breakdown of peace talks with the Taliban has left many wondering what comes next.

During Pompeo’s major news circuit Sunday, he provided some insight into that question. When asked by a Fox News anchor if Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo responded, “For the time being they are.”

However, he also told CNN that the U.S. is still interested in striking a deal, as long as the Taliban honors its commitments.

Right now for the U.S., it looks like it has three main options. It could try to come to the table with another deal, it could withdraw the troops without concessions from the Taliban, or the U.S. could just keep the troops in Afghanistan.

As for Afghanistan, it is set to have elections later this month, on September 28.

The Taliban does not want those elections to take place, and now, officials in both the U.S. and Afghanistan are concerned that the Taliban will have more incentive to ramp up their violent attacks as the election approaches.

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