Trump likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents

A migrant, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photo after climbing up the border fence between Mexico and United States while moving to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Idrees Ali and Lizbeth Diaz

WASHINGTON/TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents stationed along the U.S. border with Mexico if they come under threat from migrants seeking to cross into the United States, a U.S. official said on Monday.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections earlier this month, Trump denounced the approach of a caravan of migrants as an “invasion” that threatened American national security, and he sent thousands of U.S. troops to the border to help secure it.

Currently, the troops do not have authority to protect U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel. The new authority could be announced on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials briefly closed the busiest border crossing from Mexico early on Monday to add concrete barricades and razor wire amid concerns some of the thousands of Central American migrants at the border could try to rush the crossing.

Northbound lanes at the San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana to San Diego, California, were temporarily closed “to position additional port hardening materials,” a U.S. CBP spokesperson said.

A Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity, told reporters on a conference call that U.S. officials had heard reports some migrants were intending to run through border crossings into California.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, move to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, move to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The closing was rare for the station, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world with tens of thousands of Mexicans heading every day into the United States to work or study.

“Today was a lost day of work. I already called my boss to tell her that everything was closed and I did not know what time I would be able to get in,” said Maria Gomez, a Mexican woman who crosses the border every day for work. “I cannot believe this is happening.”

Trump had remained mostly silent about the caravan since the Nov. 6 vote, but on Monday he posted a photo on Twitter showing a fence that runs from the beach in Tijuana into the ocean now covered with razor wire.

Critics charged that his talk of a migrant “invasion” was an effort to rouse his political base ahead of the elections.

Officials have stressed that the 5,900 active-duty U.S. troops on the border are not there in a law enforcement capacity and that there are no plans for them to interact with migrants.

Instead, their mission is to lend support to the CBP, and they have been stringing up concertina wire and erecting temporary housing.

The commander of the mission told Reuters last week that the number of troops may have peaked, and he would soon look at whether to begin sending forces home or shifting some to new border positions.

About 6,000 Central Americans have reached the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, according to local officials. More bands of migrants are making their way toward Tijuana, with around 10,000 expected.

Hundreds of local residents on Sunday massed at a monument in a wealthy neighborhood of Tijuana to protest the arrival of the migrants, with some carrying signs that said “Mexico first” and “No more migrants.”

Last month, thousands of Central American migrants began a long journey from Honduras through Mexico toward the United States to seek asylum.

Other bands of mostly Salvadorans followed, with a small group setting off on Sunday from San Salvador.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)

Massive U.S. defense policy bill passes without strict China measures

U.S. Army soldiers carry a large U.S. flag as they march in the Veterans Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Wednesday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military and sidestepping a potential battle with the White House over technology from major Chinese firms.

The Senate voted 87-10 for the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. The annual act authorizes U.S. military spending but is used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters as it has passed annually for more than 50 years.

Since it cleared the House of Representatives last week, the bill now goes to Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

While the measure puts controls on U.S. government contracts with China’s ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd because of national security concerns, the restrictions are weaker than in earlier versions of the bill.

This angered some lawmakers, who wanted to reinstate tough sanctions on ZTE to punish the company for illegally shipping products to Iran and North Korea.

In another action largely targeting China, the NDAA strengthens the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews proposed foreign investments to weigh whether they threaten national security.

Lawmakers from both parties have been at odds with the Republican Trump over his decision to lift his earlier ban on U.S. companies selling to ZTE, allowing China’s second-largest telecommunications equipment maker to resume business.

But with his fellow Republicans controlling both the Senate and House, provisions of the NDAA intended to strike back at Beijing and opposed by the White House were softened before Congress’ final votes on the bill.

Separately, the NDAA authorizes spending $7.6 billion for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

And it would prohibit delivery of the advanced aircraft to fellow NATO member Turkey at least until after the production of report, another measure that was stricter in earlier versions of the bill.

U.S. officials have warned Ankara that a Russian missile defense system Turkey plans to buy cannot be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system. They are also unhappy about Turkey’s detention of an American pastor.

The fiscal 2019 NDAA was named to honor McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, war hero, long-time senator and former Republican presidential nominee, who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by James Dalgleish and David Gregorio)

Cyberwarfare, populism top ‘black swan’ events at Milken conference

Thomas Barrack, Executive Chairman, Colony Northstar, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Anna Irrera

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) -Cyberwarfare and populism are some of the top risks that could threaten global stability and financial markets in the years ahead, investors and policymakers warned at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference this week, as they characterized them as black swan events.

Thomas Barrack, founder and executive chairman of Colony Northstar, said cybersecurity was his greatest concern because “if the system itself is hacked or breaks or causes trauma, I am not sure what happens.”

Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed the sentiment, saying that “Russian weaponization of information” has been one of his main concerns.

“The impact that is having in terms of the effect on the democratic process there (in Eastern Europe) is very concerning,” Royce said. “Indeed, worldwide Russian efforts in this regard need to be effectively countered, and it’s been many years since we’ve done anything effective.”

Royce, who also expressed concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, called for more aggressive action.

“We need on social media and with respects to our sanctions push-back and make them (Russia) feel the price for doing this,” Royce said.

American intelligence agencies have said that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential race to try to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Trump has repeatedly denied receiving help from Moscow for his election campaign, and Russian has denied meddling in the election.

While government and business leaders worldwide have become more aware of cybersecurity risks, the threat may still be underappreciated, some speakers said.

“The cyberwarfare in this world is completely unknown, uncontemplated and has to be grasped as we think about where we are going,” Mary Callahan Erdoes, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Asset Management, said on Monday.

Others cited rising populism in the West as one of the biggest risks for the global economy and market stability.

“My black swan is politics, politics in the West which is getting bust,” said Peter Mandelson, a former European trade commissioner and British first secretary of state. “And bust politics has two effects. It generates populist nationalist pressures on government and regulators, draws them more into the economy, onto the backs of businesses and makes decision-making by investors and businesses much more difficult.”

Although speakers did share what might keep them up at night in the coming months, the outlook was generally upbeat at the event, with Citigroup Inc <C.N> CEO Michael Corbat describing the current state of affairs as being “OK.”

Ironically, the mood was so positive that some speakers worried about excessive optimism.

“I am really concerned regarding the overwhelming optimism, which we observed over the past two days,” said Hiro Mizuno, chief investment officer for Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund. “People say nothing matters to the capital markets, so that is scary.”

Chris Stadler, managing partner at CVC Capital, added: “When you sit here and…you talk about all these things hitting on all cylinders and you don’t know what could change it, you’re coming close to an event.”

(Reporting by Anna Irrera; Additional reporting by Liana Baker; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Leslie Adler)

Norway’s Christian Democrats meet to decide government’s fate

Norway's Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug and her political adviser Espen Teigen are seen in the Norwegian parlament after several parties supported a motion of no-confidence against her in Oslo, Norway March 15, 2018. NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad via REUTERS

By Joachim Dagenborg and Terje Solsvik

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power in parliament, were meeting on Monday to decide whether to back a no-confidence motion against the justice minister, a step that could bring down the government.

Sylvi Listhaug has rocked Norway’s traditionally consensual politics by accusing the opposition Labour Party – in 2011 the target of the country’s worst peacetime massacre – of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.

Five opposition parties last week said they would vote on Tuesday to oust the minister, leaving her fate in the hands of the small Christian Democratic Party.

“The polarizing rhetoric and behavior must end,” party leader Knut Arild Hareide told delegates in an opening address on Monday, before talks began in earnest behind closed doors.

He said he was seeking their advice on how to proceed. “The conclusion has not been drawn,” he added.

On Sunday, daily Verdens Gang and broadcasters NRK and TV2 quoted sources close to Prime Minister Erna Solberg as saying her cabinet would stand by Listhaug and resign if the no-confidence vote succeeded.

Snap elections are not allowed, and Norway’s next general election is not due until 2021. Solberg might be able to form a new government, but if the Christian Democrats switched sides the task could fall to Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere.

Political scientist Johannes Bergh said they were unlikely to do so.

“They do not want a new a government,” said Bergh, a researcher at the Institute of Social Research in Oslo. “They do not want to contribute to a Labour-led government coming to power.”

ISLAND MASSACRE

On July 22, 2011, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in downtown Oslo with a car bomb and then shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers, at a Labour party camp on Utoeya Island.

On March 9, Listhaug posted on Facebook a photograph of masked people clad in military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition with the text: “Labour thinks terrorists’ rights are more important than the nation’s security. Like and Share”.

The comments unleashed a political storm, and Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, apologized in parliament on March 13. Most opposition parties said her gesture was not sincere enough.

Many attempts have been made in parliament to oust governments via no-confidence motions, but the last to succeed in bringing down a cabinet was in 1963.

Daily Aftenposten on Monday said Solberg and Christian Democrat leader Hareide had discussed the possibility of defusing the situation by having Listhaug apologize again.

The dispute erupted after Labour and the Christian Democrats helped defeat a bill allowing the state the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they were suspected of terrorism or joining foreign militant groups.

Hareide’s party has backed Conservative leader Solberg for prime minister since 2013, but has declined invitations to join the cabinet, primarily due to its opposition to the Progress Party.

(Additional reporting by Camilla Knudsen and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Roche)

Pakistan summons U.S. ambassador after Trump’s angry tweet

David Hale, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, speaks at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, Pakistan, July 26, 2016.

By Drazen Jorgic

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan has summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s angry tweet about Pakistani “lies and deceit”, which Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif dismissed as a political stunt.

David Hale was summoned by the Pakistan foreign office on Monday to explain Trump’s tweet, media said. The ministry could not be reached for comment but the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad confirmed on Tuesday that a meeting had taken place.

Trump said the United States had had been rewarded with “nothing but lies and deceit” for “foolishly” giving Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he tweeted on Monday.

His words drew praise from Pakistan’s old foe, India, and neighboring Afghanistan, but long-time ally China defended Pakistan.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Tuesday chaired a National Security Committee meeting of civilian and military chiefs, focusing on Trump’s tweet. The meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, was brought forward by a day and followed an earlier meeting of army generals.

Relations with Washington have been strained for years over Islamabad’s alleged support for Haqqani network militants, who are allied with the Afghan Taliban.

The United States also alleges that senior Afghan Taliban commanders live on Pakistani soil, and has signaled that it will cut aid and take other steps if Islamabad does not stop helping or turning a blind eye to Haqqani militants crossing the border to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

In 2016, Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike inside Pakistan and in 2011, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. troops in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

Islamabad bristles at the suggestion that it is not doing enough to fight Islamist militants, noting that its casualties at the hands of Islamists since 2001 number in the tens of thousands.

“DEAD-END STREET”

Foreign Minister Asif dismissed Trump’s comments as a political stunt born out of frustration over U.S. failures in Afghanistan, where Afghan Taliban militants have been gaining territory and carrying out major attacks.

“He has tweeted against us and Iran for his domestic consumption,” Asif told Geo TV on Monday.

“He is again and again displacing his frustrations on Pakistan over failures in Afghanistan as they are trapped in dead-end street in Afghanistan.”

Asif added that Pakistan did not need U.S. aid.

A U.S. National Security Council official on Monday said the White House did not plan to send an already-delayed $255 million in aid to Pakistan “at this time” and that “the administration continues to review Pakistan’s level of cooperation”.

Afghan defense spokesman General Dawlat Waziri said Trump had “declared the reality”, adding that “Pakistan has never helped or participated in tackling terrorism”.

Jitendra Singh, a junior minister at the Indian prime minister’s office, said Trump’s comment had “vindicated India’s stand as far as terror is concerned and as far as Pakistan’s role in perpetrating terrorism is concerned”.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, asked during a briefing about Trump’s tweet, did not mention the United States.

“We have said many times that Pakistan has put forth great effort and made great sacrifices in combating terrorism,” he said. “It has made a prominent contribution to global anti-terror efforts.”

Pakistani officials say tough U.S. measures threaten to push Pakistan further into the arms of China, which has pledged to invest $57 billion in Pakistani infrastructure as part of its vast Belt and Road initiative.

(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic in ISLAMABAD, Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI, Malini Menon in NEW DELHI, Mirwais Harooni in KABUL; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

IBM urged to avoid working on ‘extreme vetting’ of U.S. immigrants

IBM urged to avoid working on 'extreme vetting' of U.S. immigrants

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coalition of rights groups launched an online petition on Thursday urging IBM Corp to declare that it will not develop technology to help the Trump administration carry out a proposal to identify people for visa denial and deportation from the United States.

IBM and several other technology companies and contractors, including Booz Allen Hamilton, LexisNexis and Deloitte [DLTE.UL], attended a July informational session hosted by immigration enforcement officials that discussed developing technology for vetting immigrants, said Steven Renderos, organizing director at petitioner the Center for Media Justice.

President Donald Trump has pledged to harden screening procedures for people looking to enter the country, and also called for “extreme vetting” of certain immigrants to ensure they are contributing to society, saying such steps are necessary to protect national security and curtail illegal immigration.

The rights group said the proposals run counter to IBM’s stated goals of protecting so-called “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation.

Asked about the petition and whether it planned to work to help vet and deport immigrants, an IBM spokeswoman said the company “would not work on any project that runs counter to our company’s values, including our long-standing opposition to discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”

The petition is tied to a broader advocacy campaign, also begun Thursday, that objects to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Extreme Vetting Initiative.

In an Oct. 5 email seen by Reuters, Christopher Padilla, IBM’s vice president of government affairs, cited the company’s opposition to discrimination in response to an inquiry about the vetting program from the nonprofit group Open Mic.

Padilla said the meeting IBM attended was only informational and it was “premature to speculate” whether the company would pursue business related to the Extreme Vetting Initiative.

Booz Allen Hamilton, LexisNexis and Deloitte did not immediately respond when asked about the campaign, which also highlighted their attendance at the July meeting.

ICE wants to use machine learning technology and social media monitoring to determine whether an individual is a “positively contributing member of society,” according to documents published on federal contracting websites.

More than 50 civil society groups and more than 50 technical experts sent separate letters on Thursday to the Department of Homeland Security saying the vetting program as described was “tailor-made for discrimination” and contending artificial intelligence was unable to provide the information ICE desired.

Opponents of Trump’s policies ranging from immigration to trade have been pressuring IBM and other technology companies to avoid working on proposals in these areas from the Republican president’s administration.

Shortly after the presidential election last year, for example, several internet firms pledged that they would not help Trump build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations.

IBM is among dozens of technology companies to join a legal briefing opposing Trump’s decision to end the “Dreamer” program that protects from deportation about 900,000 immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children.

“While on the one hand they’ve expressed their support for Dreamers, they’re also considering building a platform that would make it easier to deport them,” Renderos said.

CREDO, Daily Kos, and Color of Change also organized the petition.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington, additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez in San Francisco, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and David Gregorio)

U.S. attorney general ties gang violence to immigration

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on the growing trend of violent crime in sanctuary cities during an event on the Port of Miami in Miami, Florida, U.S. on, August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – Protesters gathered outside a federal court in Boston on Thursday where U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to address law enforcement about what he called the need to tackle transnational gang violence and to secure the Mexican border.

Sessions reemphasized what he said was a need to target cross-border criminal organizations, specifically the gang MS-13, which the Justice Department says has more than 30,000 members worldwide and 10,000 members in the United States.

Tying the effort to fight the gang and Republican President Donald Trump’s administration’s efforts to crackdown on illegal immigration, Sessions said the Justice Department was directing more prosecutorial resources to the U.S.-Mexican border.

He also made an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, saying such a wall would help protect against gang members who are smuggled across it.

“Securing our border, both through a physical wall and with brave men and women of the border patrol restoring an orderly and lawful system of immigration, is part and parcel of any successful crime fighting, gang fighting strategy,” he said.

He also said the Trump administration was examining the “exploitation” of a program that helps unaccompanied refugee minors by gang members using it to “come to this country as wolves in sheep clothing” and to recruit new members.

Outside the courthouse, around 40 people gathered in a protest organized by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, holding signs saying “Jeff: Go Home” and “Racism is #Notwelcome.”

MS-13, also called La Mara Salvatrucha, has taken root in the United States in Los Angeles in the 1980s in neighborhoods populated with immigrants from El Salvador who had fled its civil war.

In Boston, federal prosecutors have since January 2016 brought racketeering, drug trafficking, weapons and other charges against 61 people linked to MS-13 in Massachusetts including leaders, members and associates of the gang.

 

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Diane Craft)

 

California to file lawsuit over Trump border wall

A view of a section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at El Paso, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California’s attorney general plans to file a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging President Donald Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the border with Mexico, the state AG’s office said, adding to the obstacles facing a key Trump campaign promise.

Trump has insisted Mexico would pay for building the wall, which experts said could cost about $22 billion and take more than three years to complete.

With Mexico refusing to pay, Trump has said since taking office in January that the wall will initially need U.S. funding but that he will find a way to make Mexico ultimately pay for it.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress, however, firmly oppose the border wall, and at least some Democratic senators would need to vote for its inclusion in a spending package.

Democratic attorneys general including California’s Xavier Becerra have sued the Trump administration on a range of issues.

The border wall lawsuit set to be filed on Wednesday will allege that Trump’s wall violates federal environmental standards, as well as constitutional provisions regarding the separation of powers and states’ rights, a Becerra spokesperson said.

Last month the Trump administration said it had selected four construction companies to build concrete prototypes for a wall, which will be will be 30 feet (9 meters) tall and about 30 feet wide and will be tested in San Diego.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Trump to present vision for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan war

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011.

By Steve Holland and John Walcott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – It will be President Donald Trump’s turn on Monday to address a problem that vexed his two predecessors when he details his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest military conflict.

In a prime-time speech to the nation, Trump may announce a modest increase in U.S. troops, as recommended by his senior advisers.

Trump has long been skeptical of the U.S. approach in the region, where the Afghan war is in its 16th year.

He announced a strategic review soon after taking office in January and has privately questioned whether sending more troops was wise, U.S. officials said.

“We’re not winning,” he told advisers in a mid-July meeting, questioning whether Army General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, should be fired, an official said.

Trump, who on Sunday ended a two-week working vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, reached his decision on Afghanistan after lengthy talks with his top military and national security aides at Camp David, Maryland, on Friday.

A White House statement on Sunday said Trump would “provide an update on the path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia.”

A senior administration official said the likeliest outcome was that Trump would agree to a modest increase in U.S. troops. Current U.S. troop numbers are about 8,400.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and overthrew the Islamist Taliban government. But U.S. forces have remained bogged down there through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump.

“I took over a mess, and we’re going to make it a lot less messy,” Trump said when asked about Afghanistan earlier this month.

 

TALIBAN THREAT

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has argued that a U.S. military presence is needed to protect against the ongoing threat from Islamist militants.

Afghan security forces have struggled to prevent advances by Taliban insurgents. The war stymied the Obama administration, which committed an increase of tens of thousands of U.S. troops to reverse Taliban gains, then committed to a troop drawdown, which ultimately had to be halted.

Earlier this year, Trump gave Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, opening the door for future troop increases requested by Nicholson. The general, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said in February he needed “a few thousand” additional forces, some potentially drawn from U.S. allies.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are concerned that a Taliban victory would allow al Qaeda and Islamic State’s regional affiliate to establish bases in Afghanistan from which to plot attacks against the United States and its allies.

One reason the White House decision has taken so long, two officials who participated in the discussions said on Sunday, is that it was difficult to get Trump to accept the need for a broader regional strategy that included U.S. policy toward Pakistan before making a decision on whether to send additional forces to Afghanistan.

Both officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to disclose Trump’s decisions on troop levels and Pakistan policy before he does.

The difficulty in reaching a decision was compounded, the two officials said, by the wide range of conflicting options Trump received.

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other advisers favored accepting Nicholson’s request for some 4,000 additional U.S. forces.

But recently ousted White House strategic adviser Steve Bannon had argued for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces, saying that after 16 years, the war was still not winnable, U.S. officials said. Bannon, fired on Friday by Trump, was not at the Camp David meeting.

The officials said that another option examined was shrinking the U.S. force by some 3,000 troops and leaving a smaller counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering contingent to carry out special operations and direct drone strikes against the Taliban.

Proponents argued that option was less costly in lives and money and would add less to the damage already inflicted on U.S. special operations forces by the long-running battles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali traveling with Mattis in Amman; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing Peter Cooney.)

 

U.S. Supreme Court breathes new life into Trump’s travel ban

People walk outside the the U.S. Supreme Court building after the Court granted parts of the Trump administration's emergency request to put his travel ban into effect immediately while the legal battle continues, in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to President Donald Trump by reviving parts of a travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries that he said is needed for national security but that opponents decry as discriminatory.

The justices narrowed the scope of lower court rulings that had completely blocked key parts of a March 6 executive order that Trump had said was needed to prevent terrorism in the United States, allowing his temporary ban to go into effect for people with no strong ties such as family or business to the United States. [http://tmsnrt.rs/2seb3bb]

The court issued its order on the last day of its current term and agreed to hear oral arguments during its next term starting in October so it can decide finally whether the ban is lawful in a major test of presidential powers.

In a statement, Trump called the high court’s action “a clear victory for our national security,” saying the justices allowed the travel suspension to become largely effective.

“As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm. I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive,” Trump added.

Trump’s March 6 order called for a blanket 90-day ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day ban on all refugees while the government implemented stronger vetting procedures. The court allowed a limited version of the refugee ban, which had also been blocked by courts, to go into effect.

Trump issued the order amid rising international concern about attacks carried out by Islamist militants like those in Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin and other cities. But challengers said no one from the affected countries had carried out attacks in the United States.

Federal courts said the travel ban violated federal immigration law and was discriminatory against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Critics called it a discriminatory “Muslim ban.”

Ahmed al-Nasi, an official in Yemen’s Ministry of Expatriate Affairs, voiced disappointment.

“We believe it will not help in confronting terrorism and extremism, but rather will increase the feeling among the nationals of these countries that they are all being targeted, especially given that Yemen is an active partner of the United States in the war on terrorism and that there are joint operations against terrorist elements in Yemen,” he said.

Groups that challenged the ban, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said that most people from the affected countries seeking entry to the United States would have the required connections. But they voiced concern the administration would interpret the ban as broadly as it could.

“It’s going to be very important for us over this intervening period to make sure the government abides by the terms of the order and does not try to use it as a back door into implementing the full-scale Muslim ban that it’s been seeking to implement,” said Omar Jadwat, an ACLU lawyer.

During the 2016 presidential race, Trump campaigned for “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. The travel ban was a signature policy of Trump’s first few months as president.

‘BONA FIDE RELATIONSHIP’

In an unusual unsigned decision, the Supreme Court on Monday said the travel ban will go into effect “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

A lack of a clearly defined relationship would bar from entry people from the six countries and refugees with no such ties.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin, who successfully challenged the ban in lower courts, said that students from affected countries due to attend the University of Hawaii would still be able to do so.

Both bans were to partly go into effect 72 hours after the court’s decision. The Department of Homeland Security promised clear and sufficient public notice in coordination with the travel industry.

Trump signed the order as a replacement for a Jan. 27 one issued a week after he became president that also was blocked by federal courts, but not before it caused chaos at airports and provoked numerous protests.

Even before the Supreme Court action the ban applied only to new visa applicants, not people who already have visas or are U.S. permanent residents, known as green card holders. The executive order also made waivers available for a foreign national seeking to enter the United States to resume work or study, visit a spouse, child or parent who is a U.S. citizen, or for “significant business or professional obligations.” Refugees “in transit” and already approved would have been able to travel to the United States under the executive order.

A CONSERVATIVE COURT

The case was Trump’s first major challenge at the Supreme Court, where he restored a 5-4 conservative majority with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, who joined the bench in April. There are five Republican appointees on the court and four Democratic appointees. The four liberal justices were silent.

Gorsuch was one of the three conservative justices who would have granted Trump’s request to put the order completely into effect. Fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion in which he warned that requiring officials to differentiate between foreigners who have a connection to the United States and those who do not will prove unworkable.

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding – on peril of contempt – whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Thomas wrote.

The state of Hawaii and a group of plaintiffs in Maryland represented by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the order violated federal immigration law and the Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on the government favoring or disfavoring any particular religion. Regional federal appeals courts in Virginia and California both upheld district judge injunctions blocking the order.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Andrew Chung and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa, Yemen; Editing by Will Dunham and Howard Goller)