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U.S. troops to leave Syria as President Trump declares victory over ISIS

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U.S. accuses Iran of ‘extortion’ after uranium enrichment boost

…As Federal Reserve raises interest rates despite pressure from Trump***

President Donald Trump is pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, a sudden policy shift that blindsided Congress and most senior officials at the Pentagon and State Department.

“We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we have beaten them badly,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter Wednesday night. “We have taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

“Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back,” Trump added, expanding on a tweet he sent out earlier in the day. “And they’re coming back now. We won. And that’s the way we want it. And that’s the way they want it.”

But neither the president nor anyone else at the White House provided any details on changes in the Syria strategy that officials described as the next stage in the conflict.

The policy shift took many lawmakers and senior administration officials by surprise — and drew sharp denunciations from senators on both sides of the aisle. Several Middle East experts also criticized the shift in strategy, saying it will imperil the U.S.’s Kurdish allies and strengthen the hand of ISIS, Russia, Iran and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

A senior administration official could not say whether all U.S. troops will leave Syria or give a timeline for any withdrawal. The official said the small pockets of ISIS that remain in the country serve as “no excuse to remain in perpetuity” and can be eliminated by local forces and regional troops.

The president changed his mind after his administration’s recent declaration that American forces will not leave Syria until all Iranian troops and their proxies are gone, the official added.

“The issue here is that the President has made a decision,” the senior administration official said. “He gets to do that. That’s his prerogative.”

Trump’s decision came as a surprise even to the U.S. special envoy for Syria, Joel Rayburn, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rayburn had been scheduled to speak at a private event on Syria policy on Wednesday morning. His appearance was canceled less than half an hour before it was scheduled to start, right around the time that Trump tweeted about having defeated ISIS in Syria.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was among the first Republicans to condemn the plan.

“An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia,” Graham said in a statement. “I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.”

Graham called any plan for withdrawal in Syria “an Obama-like mistake” — a reference to President Barack Obama’s decision to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, only to redeploy American forces there several years later to combat ISIS.

Trump has repeatedly criticized Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called withdrawing from Syria “a grave error that will have incredible consequences, potentially not fully thought through.”

Not all senators criticized the plan. Sen. Rand Paul, R-K.Y., praised the president for defying the “naysayers on both sides of the aisle.”

“We have troops in so many countries. We’re fighting everywhere because no one knows how to declare victory,” Paul said. “So I’m very supportive of the president’s declaration. I’m very supportive of bringing the troops home.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the U.S. has defeated ISIS’s “territorial caliphate,” but she did not confirm that the administration is planning a complete withdrawal of American forces in Syria.

“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”

Sanders did not elaborate on what that next phase will look like.

In the meantime, the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates again on Wednesday despite intense, and unprecedented, pressure from Donald Trump to leave rates unchanged.

After a two-day meeting the central bank announced rateswould rise a quarter of a percentage point, to a range of 2.25% to 2.5%, theninth such move since late 2015 and further signaling the Fed’s confidence in the US economy.

The closely watched Fed fund rates is used to benchmark interest rates worldwide, and the Fed’s move is parsed by investors worldwide for signals about the strength of the US economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 70 points after the announcement to finish the day down 1.49%, while the S&P 500 lost 39.2 points, or 1.54%. US stocks are on course for their biggest December decline since 1931, the depths of the Great Depression.

The selling spread into Asian trade on Thursday, where the Nikkei in Tokyo was down 2.3% and the Hong Kong market was off 1.1%. In China, the Shanghai Composite was down 0.8%.

At a press conference Fed chairman Jerome Powell said the US economy remained strong overall but added that some “cross-currents” had emerged. “Despite this robust economic backdrop and our expectation for healthy growth, we have seen developments that may signal some softening,” said Powell, signaling that the pace of rate increases may slow next year.

Powell said that while US growth remained strong, globally economic growth had become more patchy. He said the Fed was carefully watching “event risks” – including Brexit – for their potential impact on the US. But he added US financial institutions are well prepared for any outcome of the UK’s exit from the EU and that the final decision should not have major implications for the US.

“Honestly, it shouldn’t have major implications for the United States, but there’s a lot of uncertainty because it’s not something that’s happened before,” he said.

Trump has wageda public campaign to halt further rate rises, a highly unusual movefor a president, calling the increases “crazy” and“foolish” and arguing the Fed’s policy was “the “biggest threat” to the USeconomy, larger than the administration’s trade dispute with China.

Last month Trump told the WashingtonPost he was “not even a little bit happy” with his selection of Powellto chair the Fed. On Tuesday, as the Fed was meeting, Trump pressed the Fed tohold off from “making another mistake”.

He pointed to a Wall Street Journal editorial that called for a pause in rate hikes,arguing that US growth may be slowing, Trump’s tariff disputes have dampenedtrade and sales of homes and cars, both highly impacted by rate rises, havedipped.

In spite of Trump’s criticism the Fed voted again for another small increase in rates. All four of the Fed’s rate increases this year have been approved on a unanimous vote.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s criticism of the Fed on Tuesday. “The president is stating his opinion, which he is perfectly within his right to do,” said Sanders. “He has been very clear about what his opinion is while at the same time he understands that the Fed is an independent agency. That doesn’t take away the president’s right to express his opinion on a particular matter.”

Powell defended the Fed’s independence. “Political considerations play no role whatsoever” in the Fed’s decision, Powell said, adding that the independence of the Fed is “essential” if the central bank is to do its job properly. Powell said the Fed based its decisions on the economic data it gathered and “nothing will cause us to deviate from that”.

The Fed is charged with helping to keep unemployment low and controlling inflation. The latest rise comes as the US unemployment rate has dropped to levels unseen since 1969 and inflation has remained low. However, Trump’s trade disputes and the threat of a government shutdown over funding his proposed border wall with Mexico have rattled investors and stock markets have been highly volatile.

Powell said the Fed was watching the recent volatility inthe stock markets but downplayed their importance. “We follow markets reallycarefully but remember, from a macroeconomic standpoint, no one market is thesingle dominant indicator,” he said.

NBC with additional report from Guardian UK

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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