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Trump hardens stance on Mexico border, says 15,000 troops could be sent

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U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States could send as many as 15,000 troops to the border with Mexico, as he hardens his stance against a caravan of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

The numbers cited by Trump are significantly higher than defense officials have disclosed. The Pentagon said on Monday it was deploying more than 5,200 troops to the border but that the number would rise. On Wednesday, it said more than 7,000 troops would support the Department of Homeland Security along the border.

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Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have accused Trump of politicizing the military ahead of next week’s congressional elections with his plans to use active military personnel to buttress border patrol efforts.

“As far as the caravan is concerned, our military is out … We’ll go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel, on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Trump did not say how many of those 15,000 would be National Guard. There are already 2,100 U.S. National Guard forces at the border, sent after a previous Trump request in April, and they are authorized to go up to 4,000.

If 15,000 troops were drawn into the effort, it would mean there would be more U.S. troops on the border with Mexico than there are in Afghanistan, which has become America’s longest conflict.

Trump has sought to use immigration as an issue to motivate Republican voters ahead of the Nov. 6 elections, where Republicans will seek to maintain control of both congressional chambers.

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As a presidential candidate before the U.S. election in 2016, Trump promised to harden immigration laws and build a wall along the southern border with Mexico, but implementation of his signature campaign promise has been slow.

A caravan of Central American migrants estimated to number at least 3,500 people left Honduras in mid-October and is now in southern Mexico on its way to the U.S. border.

“WE DON’T DO STUNTS”
Before Trump’s comments, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday rejected criticism that deploying thousands of troops to the border with Mexico was a political stunt.

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“The support that we provide to the secretary for homeland security is practical support based on the request from the commissioner of customs and border police, so we don’t do stunts in this department,” Mattis said after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon.

Republican lawmakers and other Trump supporters have applauded the deployment. But critics argue Trump has manufactured a crisis to drive Republican voters to the polls.

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“The move to send 5,200 active duty troops to the southern border is a craven political stunt that sets a bad precedent and is arguably an abuse of power,” said Kelly Magsamen, a former senior Pentagon official who is currently with the Center for American Progress left-leaning think tank.

Trump’s decision to call in the military appears to be a departure from past practice. In recent years, such operations have been carried out by National Guard forces, largely part-time military members often called upon to respond to domestic emergencies.

A U.S. official told Reuters that as of Wednesday the Pentagon had identified more than 7,000 active-duty troops, which included about 2,000 on standby, that could be deployed to the border with Mexico if needed.

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Many basic questions remained unanswered days after the Pentagon announcement, including the scope of the mission as well as the Pentagon’s assessment of any threat posed by arriving migrants.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Idrees Ali; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Pressured by US sanctions, Cuba struggles to pay its debts

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Foreign companies going unpaid, creditor countries told to be patient: as Cuba struggles under the weight of US sanctions it has also been struggling to pay its debts, raising serious concern among its partners.

Having negotiated a restructuring of its debt with 14 countries through the Paris Club of creditors in 2015, Cuba last year failed to make timely payments to six of them - Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Japan and Spain.

The Caribbean nation was supposed to pay those countries "$32 to $33 million" of the total $82 million due in 2019, one diplomatic source said. Its failure to do so leaves it facing stiff interest payments of 9 percent.

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Israel’s ‘most vulnerable’ hit by political stalemate

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Israel's grinding political deadlock has squeezed funding for programmes helping troubled youths, disadvantaged communities and the disabled, forcing state-backed social organisations to rely on crowd-funding to get by.

Polls indicate the country's March 2 election, the third in less than a year, will not produce a clear win for right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his main rival Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party.

That result could force more fraught coalition talks, prolonging the stalemate that has kept lawmakers from passing a budget for this year.

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‘America First’ vs ‘Make in India’ as Modi hosts Trump

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Trade ties between the United States and India have long been problematic but under "America First" President Donald Trump and "Make in India" Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have worsened.

While eclipsed by his trade war with China, Trump's tussle with India, and New Delhi's prickly reaction, has made a major pact unlikely during the American president's visit to the world's fifth-largest economy from Monday.

"They've been hitting us very, very hard for many, many years," Trump said of India ahead of the 36-hour trip to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi accompanied by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.

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