France increases troop deployment to Mali

Updated 17 January 2013
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France increases troop deployment to Mali

BAMAKO, Mali: After a punishing bombing campaign failed to halt the advance of Al-Qaeda-linked fighters, France pledged yesterday to send hundreds more troops into Mali as it prepared for a land assault to dislodge the militants occupying the northern half of the country.
The move reversed France’s earlier insistence on providing only aerial and logistical support for a military intervention lead by African ground troops.
France plunged headfirst into the conflict in its former colony last week, bombarding the insurgents’ desert stronghold in an effort to shatter the militant’s domination of a region many fear could become a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the West and a base for coordination with Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
But despite five days of airstrikes, the rebels have extended their reach, taking over a strategically important military camp in the central Malian town of Diabaly on Monday.
On Tuesday, France announced it was tripling the number of soldiers in Mali from 800 to 2,500. The offensive was to have been led by thousands of African troops pledged by Mali’s neighbors, but they have yet to arrive, making it increasingly apparent that France will be leading the attack and not playing a supporting role.
French President Francois Hollande told RFI radio early Tuesday that he believed France could succeed in ousting the extremists in a week. But by afternoon he had outlined a far longer-term commitment.
“We have one objective: To make sure that when we leave, when we end this intervention, there is security in Mali, legitimate leaders, an electoral process and the terrorists no longer threaten its territory,” he said during a stop in the United Arab Emirates.
“We are confident about the speed with which we will be able to stop the aggressors, the enemy, these terrorists,” he added.
Supplies for the French forces arrived in a steady stream Tuesday, part of the enormous logistics operation needed to support thousands of troops in the baking Sahara sun, a terrain the rebels have operated in for nearly a decade.
Transport planes bringing military hardware landed in quick succession on the short airstrip: A giant Antonov, two C-17 Boeings and a C-160 disgorged equipment in preparation for a land offensive to try to seize back the northern territory held since March by a trio of rebel groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Burly French troops in fatigues carried boxes of munitions as armored personnel carriers lined up at the airport’s gasoline pump. Roughly 40 armored vehicles were driven in overnight by French soldiers stationed in Ivory Coast.
A convoy of French armored cars was spotted late Tuesday heading toward Diabaly, the strategic town seized by the rebels a day earlier, said a resident of the nearby town of Segou, who declined to be named out of fears for her safety.
The rebels appeared to be mostly equipped with Russian-made machine guns and other small arms, said a French army adjutant who gave only his first name, Nicolas, in keeping with military regulations. But, he added, the French force would not underestimate the insurgents. On the first day of the operation, a French helicopter gunship was downed by rebel fire.


No clear US plan yet on how to reunite children with illegal immigrant parents

Updated 37 min 9 sec ago
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No clear US plan yet on how to reunite children with illegal immigrant parents

  • More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May
  • In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the US illegally is criminally prosecuted

MCALLEN, Texas: Trump administration officials say they have no clear plan yet on how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border since the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the US illegally is criminally prosecuted.
“This policy is relatively new,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services “We’re still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication.”
Federal officials say there are some methods parents can use to try to find their children: hotlines to call and an email address for those seeking information. But advocates say it’s not that simple.
In a courtroom near the Rio Grande, lawyer Efren Olivares and his team with the Texas Civil Rights Project frantically scribble down children’s names, birthdates and other details from handcuffed men and women waiting for court to begin. There are sometimes 80 of them in the same hearing.
The Texas Civil Rights Project works to document the separations in the hopes of helping them reunite with the children.
They have one hour to collect as much information as they can before the hearing begins. The immigrants plead guilty to illegally entering the US, and they are typically sent either to jail or directly to an immigration detention center. At this point, lawyers with the civil rights group often lose access to the detainees.
“If we don’t get that information, then there’s no way of knowing that child was separated,” Olivares said. “No one else but the government will know that the separation happened if we don’t document it there.”
Olivares has documented more than 300 cases of adults who have been separated from a child. Most are parents, but some are older siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents. Some are illiterate and don’t know how to spell the children’s names.
More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May. The children are put into the custody of the US Department of Health and Human Services with the aim of keeping them as close to their parents as possible and reuniting the family after the case goes through the courts, said Wagner.
But it’s not clear that’s working.
According to Olivares, the agency is generally “very willing to help,” often helping to find a child even if there’s a misspelling in the group’s records. But if a child has been transferred out of a government shelter — including if the child has been deported — agency representatives won’t give any information.
“Sometimes the parent gives us contact information for a relative,” Olivares said. “If they have the phone number right and the phone number is working ... we call that number and sometimes we’re able to locate that relative and ask them what they know.”
In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the US illegally is criminally prosecuted. Children can’t be jailed with their parents. Instead, after the adult is charged, children are held briefly by Homeland Security officials before being transferred to Health and Human Services, which operates more than 100 shelters for minors in 17 states.
The department has set up new facilities to manage the influx of children, and Wagner said they were prepared to expand as more children come into custody.
The children are classified as unaccompanied minors, a legal term generally used for children who cross the border alone and have a possible sponsor in the US willing to care for them. Most of the more than 10,000 children in shelters under HHS care came to the US alone and are waiting to be placed with family members living in the US
But these children are different — they arrived with their families.
“They should just give the kids back to their parents. This isn’t difficult,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Gelernt represents a Brazilian asylum seeker in a closely watched lawsuit that seeks a nationwide halt to family separation. The woman, identified as Mrs. C in court documents, was split from her son for nearly a year after entering the country illegally in August near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
On Tuesday, Olivares’ team had seven people left to interview with five minutes left. They took down just the names, dates of birth, and countries of origin of the children.
“One woman (said), ‘What about me, what about me?’” Olivares said a few hours later. “She wanted to give us information because she realized what we were trying to do.”