US Authorities Blame Parents For Migrant Kids’ Deaths

The U.S. authorities, rather than improving their immigration policies, have sought to shift the blame for the deaths of migrant children to the parents. 

From Wednesday all the detained migrant children under the custody of the United States Border Patrol, will go through more rigorous medical check-ups. This measure came after two Guatemalan children died while under U.S. custody a few days apart.

RELATED:More Broken Promises? US Border Authority to Change Policies After Death of 2 Kids

Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, “This tragedy, the death of a child in government custody is deeply concerning and heartbreaking. In the last 24 hours, I have a directed a series of additional actions to care for those who enter our custody.”

She said that the Department of Homeland Security has been investigating the cases.

She also has “personally engaged with the Centers for Disease Control to request that their experts investigate the uptick in sick children crossing our borders.”

Felipe Gomez-Alonzo, an eight-year-old Guatemalan migrant boy died early on Christmas Day after being detained by the United States border agents. His death followed the death in early December of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, also from Guatemala. She died of dehydration after being detained along with her father by U.S. border agents in a remote part of New Mexico.

Rather than recognizing the way U.S. border authorities treat immigrants who have the right under international law to seek asylum, Nielson, shifted the burden onto the immigrant parents who “bring their children on a dangerous and illegal journey” adding that these parents do not face consequences for their actions.

The unempatheic comments come as Felipe's mother, back in Guatemala faces the consequence of never seeing her son again. “I’m sad and in despair over the death of my son,” the boy’s 32-year-old mother, Catarina Alonzo, told Reuters by phone from her home in the tiny village of Yalambojoch, speaking through a translator because of her limited Spanish.

The Secretary goes further to say: "Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders. Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north … Given the remote locations of their illegal crossing and the lack of resources, it is even more difficult for our personnel to be first responders,” said the secretary.

  • Published in World

US Withdrawal Of Troops In Afghanistan Raises Big Questions

The 17-year-old US war in Afghanistan took a new turn last week when President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 7,000 American troops from the country.

Trump has long questioned the utility of US involvement in Afghanistan, seeing it as a wasteful expense - and a conflict without a clear victory strategy. The White House decision was followed by the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had pushed for continued US engagement in Afghanistan.

Here are three questions about how the troop drawdown may affect the situation in Afghanistan.

What happens now to the peace talks with the Afghan Taliban?

The drawdown risks undermining the nascent peace process between the United States and the Afghan Taliban, ultimately making it more difficult for the US government to leave the country on its terms. In 2018, US diplomats worked to persuade the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table. For much of the year, the Afghan Taliban remained unwilling to talk.

Scholars of civil war suggest that rebels prefer fighting over negotiations when external state support and illicit economies make them confident of their military prospects - criteria which the Taliban meet. This past week, the Taliban came around to some preliminary talks but refused to speak to the Afghan government.

The Taliban's long-held strategy has been to erode the US government's resolve to stay in Afghanistan. Even with 14,000 American troops fighting alongside Afghan security forces, the Taliban inflicted sustained losses on Afghan forces, retaining control of large parts of the country and challenging key urban centers.

With only half as many US troops remaining in the country, the Afghan Taliban may press home their advantage by accelerating the pace of attacks. The reduction in force level could now give the Taliban confidence that their strategy is working and that a full withdrawal of US forces is a reasonable expectation.

The drawdown, in fact, might have been a potential US bargaining chip on the negotiating table with the Afghan Taliban. But the White House decision was out of sync with the negotiations. It appears to have undercut the US diplomat leading the negotiations with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was trying to signal that "American commitment was firm."

Will Afghanistan see domestic political realignment and renewed danger of a civil war?

The US drawdown risks triggering serious domestic political realignments in Afghanistan, destabilizing the political structure underlying the US-backed regime. Senior Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai observes that Afghan political elites are comparing the modern period to the chaos following the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Back then, the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Najibullah, after losing its great power patron, rapidly lost ground as warlords and armed groups wrestled for control.

Those memories, combined with the state of the Taliban insurgency, may prompt domestic players to prepare for the worst-case scenario - a multiparty civil war. Some leaders may mobilize their ethnic bases of support while stepping up the process of arming themselves. Others may reach out to their foreign patrons and seek direct material support. These political realignments may increase the already high rate of defections from rank-and-file Afghan security forces.

Such realignments pose a threat to the faltering coalition of President Ashraf Ghani, who announced he will seek re-election in the April presidential election. The worsening security situation combined with elite squabbling may make an election more improbable.

And will terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, stand to gain?

The drawdown can help Afghanistan-based terrorist groups intent on attacking the United States, specifically al-Qaida. In 2015, battered by the US drone war in Pakistan, al-Qaida revived some operations in Afghanistan, using its South Asia franchise, al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent.

The US government claims al-Qaida's strength in Afghanistan remains checked. My field research, however, suggests that al-Qaida still has a serious skeleton capability in the region, specifically in eastern provinces like Paktika, which it is actively trying to rebuild.

Reduction of US forces is likely to ease existing military pressures on al-Qaida - and give it more space to rebuild for local and external operations. Al-Qaida may be able to allocate more resources in support of the Afghan Taliban's military campaign. And it may be able to better marshal the capability needed for a major international terrorism operation.

The pressure on al-Qaida might be sustained if Afghan intelligence agencies can substitute for the US intelligence infrastructure that will fold with the drawdown. A surge in offshore US capabilities, like aerial surveillance and communication interception, and armed striking platforms such as drones could enable the US government to manage al-Qaida's threat.

But Afghan intelligence suffers from defections and rampant corruption, and has struggled to provide high-quality support to the US government. In addition, any meaningful increase in aerial and communication surveillance across Afghanistan will be costly. These expenditures may not be a priority in a White House with a stated goal of reducing US military deployment expenses.

That doesn't mean al-Qaida will be able to mount a major attack in the United States. Even with a robust external operations infrastructure, al-Qaida will struggle to execute an attack inside the United States because of the layers of US counterterrorism vigilance. However, the availability of a relatively conducive safe haven in Afghanistan can improve al-Qaida's ability to train recruits and plot the group's next moves.

The situation in Afghanistan was grim as is. The unexpected drawdown adds to the complexity of a difficult situation. And it adds to the woes of Afghan civilians who have been caught up in the web of internal conflict for four decades.

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US Envoy To Anti-ISIS Coalition Quits After Trump's Syria Decision

Washington: Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the anti-ISIS group coalition, has resigned, a State Department official said Saturday, capping a chaotic week that saw the departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Donald Trump's stunning decision to pull troops from Syria.

McGurk's resignation, effective December 31, comes on the heels of Mattis's decision to quit the Trump administration over key disagreements with the US president, notably the Syria withdrawal.

Just last week McGurk, a Barack Obama appointee whom Trump kept on, said "nobody is declaring a mission accomplished" in the battle against ISIS -- just days before the president blindsided politicians and allies with his announcement of victory against the jihadist movement.

Trump on Saturday said that the jihadist group "is largely defeated."

"When I became President, ISIS was going wild," the president tweeted. "Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We're coming home!"

Trump later took aim at McGurk on Twitter, referring to him as a "grandstander" who was quitting just before his time was up.

McGurk, 45, was set to leave his position in February, but reportedly felt he could no longer continue in the job after Trump's declaration and on Friday evening informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of his intention to wrap up at year's end.

His conclusion mirrored that of Mattis, who was seen as a voice of moderation in the mercurial Trump White House and quit after telling the president he could not go along with the Syria decision.

McGurk has served as the US envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, an acronym for the jihadist group, since 2015.

He also served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, and worked under Republican George W. Bush as a senior official on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Discussing the US role in Syria this month, he had told journalists that "it would be reckless if we were just to say, 'Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.'"

"I think anyone who's looked at a conflict like this would agree with that."

'Complete reversal of policy'

McGurk called Trump's move to leave Syria "a shock" and "a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us," in an email announcing his decision to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.

"It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered," he said, according to the newspaper.

"I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but -- as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls -- I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity."

Just after announcing his Syria decision, Trump again confounded international partners with plans to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan.

The momentous reversal of years of US foreign policy will leave the war-torn regions at risk of continued and potentially heightened bloodshed.

In typical fashion, Trump said Saturday that the media was treating him unfairly over the Syria withdrawal decision.

"If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America," he tweeted.

"With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!"

The troop pullout will leave thousands of Kurdish fighters -- which the Pentagon spent years training and arming against IS -- vulnerable to Turkish attack.

On Saturday, a senior Kurdish official called on the United States to prevent a potential Turkish offensive against areas in northern Syria inhabited by Kurds, calling it America's "duty to prevent any attack and to put an end to Turkish threats."

The US has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against IS in Syria.

Aldar Khalil, a key player in establishing Syria's semi-autonomous Kurdish region in 2013, said the US and its partners "must honor their commitments."

Heavyweight adviser Mattis -- a decorated Marine general who was often referred to as "the last adult in the room" -- made clear in his resignation letter that pulling out of Syria crossed the line.

The departures of Mattis and now McGurk follow those of national security advisor H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly -- leaving Trump, who has no political, diplomatic or military experience, increasingly alone.

  • Published in World

Exit of trusted Mattis sparks concern among U.S. allies

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Key allies of Washington expressed concern on Friday about the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the policies of President Donald Trump that prompted it, praising Mattis as a committed partner.

Mattis said on Thursday he would quit after falling out with Trump over the latter’s foreign policies, including the surprise decision to pull troops out of Syria and plans for a drawdown in Afghanistan.

“Secretary Mattis has made a key contribution to keeping NATO strong and ready to deal with the significant security challenges we face,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. “He is widely respected as a soldier and a diplomat.”

Mattis has been seen in Europe as firmly committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance, unlike his ex-boss.

Trump has warned European allies the United States could withdraw its support unless they boost defense spending.

“We are grateful for the iron-clad commitment of the United States to NATO. U.S. leadership keeps our transatlantic alliance strong,” Lungescu said.

Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, head of the liberals in the European Parliament, said the resignation only made it more urgent for the European Union to push on with its plans to bolster its own defense capabilities.

“Mattis checked President Trump’s worst instincts & was a strong supporter of NATO & multilateralism. His departure is bad news & makes it look like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s plan is being delivered on,” Verhofstadt said on Twitter.


Mattis’ resignation also sparked concern among Washington’s Asia-Pacific allies, who credit the retired general with building trust and tempering isolationist impulses.

The region includes strong U.S. allies Japan, South Korea and Australia and has some of the world’s most volatile flashpoints, with high tension on the Korean peninsula and China’s militarization of the South China Sea causing friction.

The resignation also surprised Kabul, where the retired Marine had been seen as a guarantor of U.S. engagement. Afghan officials reacted with unease to plans to withdraw more than 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in the country.

After being tipped off by White House sources and diplomats, French President Emmanuel Macron called Trump on Tuesday to warn him against the Syria decision, a French official said.

“He told him: Be careful, we think that would be a bit too early’,” the official said.

Macron has often been cast as the one leader who had some influence on Trump, with a good personal and working relationship.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly said Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria in the belief that Islamic State (ISIS) had been defeated was “extremely grave”.

“We do not share the analyses that the territorial caliphate has been annihilated,” Parly said on RTL radio. “It’s an extremely grave decision and we think ... the job must be finished.”

German Defense Minister Ursula Von der Leyen called for clarity on future policies.

“Because the United States has such a prominent role and responsibility in the global security architecture, it is important for everyone to quickly get clarity about succession and the future course,” she said in a statement.


  • Published in World

What Was Michelle Obama Thinking After Trump Inauguration? "Bye, Felicia"

Standing in the doorway of a Boeing 747, former president Barack Obama has one arm wrapped around Michelle Obama. The pair are waving, smiles plastered across their faces. It was Jan. 20, 2017. President Donald Trump had just been inaugurated and the Obamas' time in the White House had come to an end.

On Tuesday, Jimmy Fallon had a question for the former first lady about the moment she and her husband waved goodbye for the final time at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on that overcast January day. Obama was on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" to promote her best-selling memoir "Becoming."

"Can you just, walk me through," Fallon said, trying to ask Obama what she was thinking at the time. Only Fallon didn't get to finish his question.

"Bye, Felicia," Obama said, interrupting Fallon and causing the host to double over from laughter. Obama's cheeky response - a slang phrase defined as a "dismissive term" most commonly used "as a cold way to bid someone farewell" - earned raucous cheers from Fallon's studio audience and even prompted a quick musical riff from the show's band, The Roots.

"Is that what was going through your mind?" Fallon asked after he was able to somewhat regain his composure.

Briefly hesitating, Obama said, "A lot was going on that day."

"That was a day," she added, her voice betraying exasperation.

Obama went on to explain that the day before the inauguration, her daughters' friends decided they "needed" a final sleepover in the White House.

"'Are you guys kidding me?'" Obama said, recalling her reaction to the situation. "'We're leaving. You gotta take all your stuff, pick it up. The blankets, the bears.' They're all crying, and it was like, 'Get out. We've got to go.'"

The stress, Obama said, continued into Inauguration Day.

"Then the Tiffany's box," Obama said, her face scrunching with confusion as she referenced the now-viral moment she was caught on camera visibly befuddled by the unexpected gift first lady Melania Trump presented to her outside the White House. "It just all, you know, a lot."

On social media, Obama's "Bye, Felicia" comment once again had people clamoring to praise the former first lady for being, as one Twitter user wrote, the "Queen of authenticity." Obama drew similar reactions earlier this month when she accidentally swore in front of a sold-out crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn while criticizing Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's controversial "lean in" mantra.

The words "Bye, Felicia" were first popularized by the 1995 comedy "Friday," starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. In 2015, Ice Cube explained to Conan O'Brien that the phrase is meant "to get anyone out of your face that's saying something stupid." According to KnowYourMeme, a website that tracks viral internet content, the dismissive expression started being widely used in 2014, gaining traction among Twitter users who included the hashtag #ByeFelicia.

However, even though Obama may have been ready to say "Bye, Felicia" to the presidency in 2017, she told Fallon on Tuesday she is still optimistic about the future of the country.

"Everywhere I go, I get to see young people and we owe young people that optimism, that hope, because what's the alternative?" she said. "They come into this world . . . with so much promise and so much openness and we're the ones that shut them down."

She added: "There are dark days in so many of our journeys, but we have to push that arc towards hope, and that's what I try to do every day."

  • Published in World

Robert De Niro labels Donald Trump a 'nightmare'

Robert De Niro has reignited his feud with Donald Trump, labelling the US president a "nightmare".

The revered actor, 75, appeared on long-running US comedy show Saturday Night Live last week, playing special counsel Robert Mueller in a sketch alongside Alec Baldwin as Mr Trump.

Mr Mueller is in charge of the investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The president has dismissed the probe as a "witch hunt".

De Niro, star of films including The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Meet The Parents, and Casino, appeared on CNN on Monday to discuss his animosity towards the president.

"I never thought in my lifetime, and I have seen a lot in my lifetime, I never thought - I was working out with my trainer the other day, we have seen horrible things over the years, but this is one of the worst I have ever seen and ever thought I would see, but it's real," he said.


* Suspicious packages to Joe Biden, Robert De Niro seized, similar to earlier bombs
* 'Wake up punchy': Donald Trump describes Robert De Niro as 'a very low IQ individual'
* It's not the first time Robert De Niro has slammed Donald Trump
* Robert De Niro takes aim at US President Donald Trump's climate change policy
* Robert De Niro on Trump's America: A 'tragic dumb-ass comedy'
* Robert De Niro writes letter of support to Meryl Streep following Golden Globes speech

During the Tony Awards in June, De Niro took to the stage and said, "f... Trump". The president responded by saying the Raging Bull star was "punch drunk and "a very Low IQ individual".

On CNN on Monday, De Niro was asked why he was so vocal about the president.

He replied: "I know what kind of person this guy is, he is a New Yorker who I never would want to meet, and now he's president. And the reason I wouldn't want to meet him is because of the kind of person he is."

"As we all know now, there's nothing new. It's disgraceful but we'll get past it. It will be like a nightmare that you remember."

In October, De Niro was one of the high-profile opponents of the president who had suspicious packages addressed to them. Police were called to De Niro's Tribeca Productions in Manhattan.

The discovery came after a series of glass-filled pipe bombs targeting Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, other prominent Democrats and CNN were thwarted without injury.

  • Published in Culture

Trump, Without Evidence, Blasts Social Media Giants For Opposition "Bias"

Washington: US President Donald Trump took a swipe Tuesday at tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google, accusing them of being biased in favor of opposition Democrats.

"Facebook, Twitter and Google are so biased toward the Dems it is ridiculous!" Trump tweeted. "Twitter, in fact, has made it much more difficult for people to join @realDonaldTrump. They have removed many names & greatly slowed the level and speed of increase. They have acknowledged-done NOTHING!"

Trump's tirade follows a detailed US Senate report on Russian troll farms that disrupted the 2016 US presidential election via social media.

  • Published in World

North Korea Warns US Sanctions Could Derail Denuclearization

The United States Department of Treasury's sanctions on North Korean figureheads could 'block' denuclearization efforts, says Pyongyang. 

The United States has recently imposed sanctions on senior North Korean regime figures which have prompted the Asian country to decry a “deliberate provocation” which could block denuclearization efforts.

RELATED: Seoul Train Crosses DMZ With Experts to Update North's Rail

During the last six months, North Korea and the United States have been holding talks with the purpose of achieving the denuclearization of the Korean nation.

The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, and the President of the United States, Donald Trump, have had a rocky relationship ever since the U.S. leader assumed office in 2016. They have both attacked each other and exchanged pleasantries in the public realm, at different times.

The decision to impose sanctions on the three North Korean figureheads came from the US treasury department.

Pyongyang manifested its reproach to this action saying it could “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever.”

Moreover, the regime stated that if relations are to improve between both nations, then each needs to take gradual measures to promote this process, “We have been proposing that the DPRK-US relations be improved on a step-by-step approach.”

However, there is concern that the opposite is taking place after the department of treasury’s actions, which have been interpreted as “bent on bringing DPRK-US relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire,” the policy research director of the North Korean foreign ministry, stated.

By exchanges of fire, the spokesman refers not to actual direct confrontation but to the series of missile tests conducted by North Korea and the verbal exchanges which took place between both leaders, in the recent past.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was supposed to meet his counterpart Yong-chol to further discuss relations between both countries in November. The meeting did not take place and it has not been rescheduled thus far.

The sanctions on North Korea come at a time when the United States government is holding negotiations with China to end the tariff-war which has been ongoing for several months. The process was put in suspense as the U.S. government orchestrated the detention of Huawei’s CFO on grounds of violating sanctions against Iran through the company’s business dealings.

  • Published in World
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