France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops

France's President Emmanuel Macron looks on as he welcomes Chilean President upon his arrival at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, on June 17, 2024. (AFP)
France's President Emmanuel Macron looks on as he welcomes Chilean President upon his arrival at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, on June 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 18 June 2024
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France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops

France to cut military presence in West, Central Africa to 600 troops
  • Army not ruling out ‘pooling’ its bases with Americans or European partners, says chief of staff Gen. Thierry Burkhard

PARIS: France is planning to reduce its military presence in West and Central Africa to around 600 troops, which is in line with President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to limit the French military footprint in the region, three sources said.

In February 2023, Macron announced a “noticeable reduction” of French troop presence in Africa, as anti-French sentiment is running high in some former colonies, and countries like Russia are vying for greater influence.
According to a plan currently under discussion with African partners, France plans to reduce its so-called “pre-positioned” forces in Africa drastically.
According to two sources close to the government and a military source, France will keep only around 100 troops in Gabon in Central Africa, down from 350 today and around 100 in Senegal, in West Africa, down from 350.

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In February, President Emmanuel Macron tasked former Minister Jean-Marie Bockel with working out the new modalities of the French military presence with African partners.

Paris plans to keep around 100 troops in Ivory Coast on the southern coast of West Africa — down from 600 troops today — and around 300 personnel in Chad in north-central Africa, down from 1,000 now.
The three sources said the reduced presence could be periodically expanded based on the needs of local partners.  The French General Staff declined to comment.
Until two years ago, in addition to around 1,600 forces pre-deployed in West Africa and Gabon, France had over 5,000 troops in the Sahel region of Africa as part of the Barkhane anti-jihadist operation.
But it has been gradually pushed out by the juntas that came to power in Mali in 2021, in Burkina Faso in 2022 and Niger in 2023.
All three countries have now concluded security agreements with Russia, which has been seeking to expand its footprint on the continent.
Chad, ruled by Mahamat Idriss Deby, the son of Idriss Deby Itno, who was president for over 30 years, is the last Sahel country to host French soldiers.
Landlocked Chad is surrounded by the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, and Niger, host Russian paramilitary forces resulting from the reorganization of the Wagner group, whose founder Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a mysterious plane crash last August.
In February, Macron tasked former Minister Jean-Marie Bockel with working out the new modalities of the French military presence with African partners.
His conclusions are expected in July.
In May, Bockel told the Senate that France wanted to “reduce its visible presence, but maintain logistical, human and material access to these countries while reinforcing our action in response to their aspirations.”
The French army plans to set up a Paris-based command dedicated to Africa this summer, two sources close to the matter said.
The French army is not ruling out “pooling” its bases with Americans or European partners, the chief of staff of France’s armed forces, General Thierry Burkhard, has said.
According to Burkhard, the tighter new structure will make it possible to maintain relations with local military authorities, “gather intelligence,” and “pursue operational partnerships,” among other tasks.
Instead of combat missions, French soldiers will provide training and capabilities to partner countries at their request.

 


Biden tests positive for COVID-19, White House says

Biden tests positive for COVID-19, White House says
Updated 18 July 2024
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Biden tests positive for COVID-19, White House says

Biden tests positive for COVID-19, White House says

US President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 while on a campaign trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday and is experiencing mild symptoms, the White House said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the positive test for the 81-year-old Democrat after the president of UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights organization, said Biden would not be able to speak at a scheduled event due to the diagnosis.
“He is vaccinated and boosted and experiencing mild symptoms, Jean-Pierre said.


‘Of all the places’: Deep red Butler, Pennsylvania, grapples with Trump assassination attempt

‘Of all the places’: Deep red Butler, Pennsylvania, grapples with Trump assassination attempt
Updated 18 July 2024
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‘Of all the places’: Deep red Butler, Pennsylvania, grapples with Trump assassination attempt

‘Of all the places’: Deep red Butler, Pennsylvania, grapples with Trump assassination attempt
  • Butler, home to some 13,000 people, and the county whose grand courthouse graces its square are named for a Revolutionary War general

BUTLER, Pennsylvania: On the streets of Butler, Pennsylvania, in the wake of Saturday’s assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, the same four words have been spoken again and again: “Of all the places.”
Butler, home to some 13,000 people, and the county whose grand courthouse graces its square are named for a Revolutionary War general. American flags wave along its main drag alongside black-and-white photos of local heroes who died in other wars fought in the name of democracy. The first jeep was produced here in 1940 at the request of the US Army.
It’s rural. It’s neighborly. And it’s Trump country.
“Of all the places to go after him and try something. We’re like, in Butler County?” said Cindy Michael, a 44-year-old health care worker. “Everybody’s just shocked. So shocked.”
Trump isn’t the first person to have held the office of president who has been the target of a shooting in the area. Long before he became the nation’s first president, George Washington “narrowly escaped death” when a Native American shot at him from less than 15 paces away. A state historical marker marks the spot on a trail about 14 miles (22 kilometers) southwest of Butler.
This county on the western edge of a presidential swing state is a Trump stronghold. He won Butler County — where turnout hovers around an impressive 80 percent — with about 66 percent of the vote in both 2016 and 2020. About 57 percent of Butler County’s 139,000 registered voters are Republicans, compared with about 29 percent who are Democrats and 14 percent something else.
Between 2016 and 2020, Trump gained nearly 10,000 more votes in Butler County, but that wasn’t enough for him to carry Pennsylvania. Gains by President Joe Biden in the state’s cities and suburbs — and he secured 9,000 more votes in Butler County than Hillary Clinton in 2016 — helped him displace Trump from the White House.
Still, Butler County’s support for Trump runs deep. Local attorney Patrick Casey said that may have been part of the problem.
“A friend said to me this morning, ‘I think everyone assumed that Donald Trump would be safe in Butler County,’ and I replied to that friend by reminding him that when Pope John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt, it occurred in Vatican City,” Casey said. “Who would have thought there could have been a safer place than that?”
Indeed, the atmosphere was relaxed and neighborly at the Butler County fairgrounds on the day of the rally. Couples held hands, parents corralled their children, a woman accompanied her 75-year-old mother for a birthday treat. That was until 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks fired shots, including the one that Trump says struck his ear. A Secret Service sniper returned fire and killed Crooks. A bystander was shot and killed, and two more were injured.
Whether Butler can even approach a return to normal remains to be seen.
“We are deeply saddened by what has occurred here in our hometown,” Brenckle’s Farm and Greenhouse, which is located just outside the fairgrounds where the shooting happened, said in a Facebook post Monday. “Butler is a peaceful community and all who live here share similar qualities. The community is kind, generous and would give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it.”
While what happened that day weighs heavily on residents’ hearts, it did not appear to be swaying their votes. Some Trump supporters said the assassination attempt strengthened their resolve to vote for him while others said it didn’t impact their political feelings at all.
Victoria Rhodes, 25, a nurse who moved to Butler four months ago from Nashville, Tennessee, said she is still deciding how she will vote in November. She said what just happened in her new hometown isn’t a factor.
“This will be my first time voting in a presidential election,” she said. “I think I’m still trying to decide, because the political scene right now is kind of crazy.” While she is hopeful the assassination attempt will turn down the temperature on America’s political conversation, she said her experience has been that friends her age are able to speak about their political differences without anger.
Jamie Brackley, who manages the motorcycle shop in downtown Butler, called himself “a neither” in terms of declaring a political party. As for whether the attempt on Trump’s life will affect his politics, he said: “No. I’m a conspiracy theorist already, so it doesn’t affect me one way or another.”
Democrat Laneice Olesnevich, 66, has lived all her life in Butler. She called it “a good Christian town.”
Olesnevich said she remains undecided on her choice for president but that the assassination attempt wouldn’t affect her decision. Rather, she was waiting for more information on Trump’s running mate — he selected US Sen. JD Vance, of Ohio, later on Monday — and on Biden’s health.
“I feel bad for those parents of that young man, because you know their life now has become a living hell, and I don’t think (what he did) will make any difference in my decision,” she said.
She added: “I pray for this country daily, because we definitely need something to change everybody’s anger.”
In a place where people know each other, it’s common to consider the impact of such a cataclysmic event on individual people, especially those with a direct connection to what happened. It’s one more reason why the shock will linger for years.
“The world’s a crazy place,” said Jodie Snider, of nearby Clarion, a retired police officer, Army officer and sharpshooter, who was visiting the Butler County Courthouse on Monday. “Of all places, Butler.”


Who is Usha Vance? Yale law graduate and wife of vice presidential nominee JD Vance

Who is Usha Vance? Yale law graduate and wife of vice presidential nominee JD Vance
Updated 18 July 2024
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Who is Usha Vance? Yale law graduate and wife of vice presidential nominee JD Vance

Who is Usha Vance? Yale law graduate and wife of vice presidential nominee JD Vance
  • Chilukuri Vance left the law firm where she worked shortly after her husband was chosen as Trump’s running mate

WASHINGTON: Usha Chilukuri Vance, Yale law graduate and trial lawyer, was thrust into the spotlight this week after her husband, JD Vance, was chosen as Donald Trump’s running mate in the 2024 presidential election.
Chilukuri Vance, 38, was raised in San Diego, by Indian immigrants. Her mother is a biologist and provost at the University of California at San Diego; her father is an engineer, according to JD Vance’s campaign. She received an undergraduate degree at Yale University and a master of philosophy at the University of Cambridge through the Gates Cambridge scholarship.
After Cambridge, she met her husband back at Yale, where the two studied law. In his 2016 memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” JD Vance said the two got to know each other through a class assignment, where he soon “fell hard” for his writing partner.
“In a place that always seemed a little foreign, Usha’s presence made me feel at home,” he wrote.
They graduated in 2013 and wed the following year.
After law school, Chilukuri Vance spent a year clerking for Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he served as an appeals court judge in Washington, followed by a year as a law clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts.
She has since become a trial lawyer for the Munger, Tolles and Olson law firm at its San Francisco and D.C. offices. Chilukuri Vance left the law firm where she worked shortly after her husband was chosen as Trump’s running mate.
“Usha has informed us she has decided to leave the firm,” Munger, Tolles & Olson said in a statement. “Usha has been an excellent lawyer and colleague, and we thank her for her years of work and wish her the best in her future career.”
Chilukuri Vance was not available Tuesday for comment, according to a spokeswoman for JD Vance’s campaign.
In his memoir, Vance credited part of his success and happiness to his wife.
“Even at my best, I’m a delayed explosion— I can be defused, but only with skill and precision,” Vance wrote. “It’s not just that I’ve learned to control myself but that Usha has learned how to manage me.”
Voter records show that as of 2022, Chilukuri Vance was a registered Republican in Ohio, and voted in the Republican primary that year — the same election that her husband was running in the Republican senate primary.
JD and Usha Vance live in Cincinnati, and have three children: Ewan, Vivek and Mirabel. Outside of work, she served on the Cincinnati Symphony Board of Directors from September 2020 to July 2023.


Explosions heard in Kyiv, air raid alert sounds: AFP

Explosions heard in Kyiv, air raid alert sounds: AFP
Updated 18 July 2024
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Explosions heard in Kyiv, air raid alert sounds: AFP

Explosions heard in Kyiv, air raid alert sounds: AFP
  • Kyiv was rocked last week by a Russian missile barrage that devastated a renowned children’s hospital

KYIV, Ukraine: Explosions rang out over the Ukrainian capital Kyiv late Wednesday and air raid sirens sounded, as officials urged residents to take shelter over the threat of a Russian aerial attack.
AFP journalists in central Kyiv reported hearing loud blasts echo over the city while Mayor Vitali Klitschko said air defense systems had opened fire.
He said emergency services were working on the scene where debris from a Russian drone had been shot down.
Ukrainian officials have been appealing to the country’s Western allies for more air defense systems to thwart a spate of fatal Russian drone and missile attacks.
Kyiv was rocked last week by a Russian missile barrage that devastated a renowned children’s hospital and sparked a wave of international condemnation.
The Kremlin said the damage to the facility in the center of the capital had been caused by Ukrainian air defense systems.


Biden says could quit race if ‘medical condition’ emerged

Biden says could quit race if ‘medical condition’ emerged
Updated 17 July 2024
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Biden says could quit race if ‘medical condition’ emerged

Biden says could quit race if ‘medical condition’ emerged
  • Biden’s comments were the first time he has even slightly opened the door to abandoning the White House race
  • Adam Schiff became the first Democrat to call for him to step aside since the assassination attempt against Trump

LAS VEGAS: US President Joe Biden said he could drop his reelection bid if doctors found he had a medical condition, as a top Democrat on Wednesday urged the 81-year-old to step aside.
Biden’s comments were the first time he has even slightly opened the door to abandoning the White House race, and came as Representative Adam Schiff, a key ally from California, urged Biden to “pass the torch.”
“If I had some medical condition that emerged, if somebody, if the doctors came and said ‘you’ve got this problem, that problem,’” Biden told the Black media outlet BET in an interview taped Tuesday, when asked what could make him rethink.
Biden however defended his decision to stay on for a rematch with Republican Donald Trump in November, and explained why he had not handed over to a younger generation after one term.
“I said I was going to be a transitional candidate, and I thought I’d be able to move on from this, pass it on to someone else,” he said. “But I didn’t anticipate things getting so, so, so divided.”
Biden has been fighting for political survival since a disastrous debate against Trump nearly three weeks ago, in which his tired and confused appearance sparked concerns about his age.
Schiff became the first Democrat to call for him to step aside since the assassination attempt against Trump on Saturday, which had briefly silenced the growing chorus against Biden.
“A second Trump presidency will undermine the very foundation of our democracy, and I have serious concerns about whether the President can defeat Donald Trump in November,” Schiff said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
Schiff, who is expected to win a Senate seat this November, is a key White House ally in the legislature and shot to nationwide prominence as lead prosecutor during then-president Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Biden was set to make a fresh attempt to prop up his candidacy in a speech to crucial Latino voters in the battleground state of Nevada later Wednesday.
Around 20 House Democrats and one senator have now called on Biden to leave the White House race but Biden has refused, insisting he is best placed to beat Trump.
Most polls show Biden trailing in a tight race, with Trump pulling ahead in key swing states but no dramatic movement since the debate debacle or shooting.
Biden said his mental acuity was “pretty damn good” in an NBC interview on Monday, one of a series of unscripted outings aimed at showing he has what it takes.
With pressure on Biden mounting, Democrats said on Wednesday they plan a virtual nomination for the president in the first week of August, ahead of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on August 19.
Some Democrats have slammed the scheme, accusing the party of trying to ram through Biden’s candidacy and avoid a full discussion of alternative choices.
Party chiefs say they need to carry out the virtual roll-call by August 7, which is the deadline set by the Republican-led state of Ohio for the submission of nominations.
Biden otherwise risks not being on the ballot in Ohio, the home state of Trump’s new running mate J.D. Vance.
While Ohio’s governor has signed a law giving Biden more time, the DNC said it feared further legal challenges.
“None of this will be rushed,” the heads of the DNC’s rules committee said in a letter to lawmakers obtained by AFP. “No matter what may be reported, our goal is not to fast-track.”
But several lawmakers are planning to sign a letter against the virtual nomination plan and others have criticized it, according to US media.
Biden insists that Democratic voters support him, but a poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said Wednesday that nearly two-thirds want him to step aside.