The Pentagon has started briefing the families of four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger last October, and the military acknowledges a series of missteps contributed to the deaths, one family member told NPR.
“I think in any instance where people lose there lives, there were obviously mistakes that were made,” said Will Wright, the brother of one of those killed, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. Will Wright is himself a combat veteran, having served as a staff sergeant in Afghanistan. He and his family were briefed by military officers on Thursday.
“Having seen combat, having an understanding of combat situations, you’re always going to make mistakes, you’re never going to do it perfect. There are things you wish you could change every time,” Wright told All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro.
Asked if the military briefers described the failures on this mission, Wright said they did. But he added, “Out of respect for the families that haven’t received their briefings yet, I’d like to avoid specifics.”
The officers did tell Wright that the U.S. troops in Niger now have assets they did not have before, including armed drones and armored vehicles.
The Pentagon has sent the classified report on the Niger ambush to Congress. The report has not been released publicly, but an official who has seen it described it to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. The official said there was both a lack of planning and training for the mission.
The report also raises questions about whether U.S. Special Forces in Niger are taking too many risks.
Five years in Niger
Twelve Americans, led by Green Berets, joined with a larger force of Nigerien troops on a routine patrol last Oct. 3 in the southwest part of Niger, near the border with Mali.
Americans forces have been in Niger since 2013 to train, advise and assist the Nigerien military in its battle with extremists linked to the Islamic State. The Americans are not supposed to take part in combat unless they come under fire.
As planned, the Americans and the Nigerien forces met with village leaders and spent the night. But instead of returning to their base the next day, the troops received a new mission. They were told to look for intelligence in an area where a militant leader had apparently fled.
According to the official who has seen the report, a lower-level officer signed off on this new mission, and higher-level officers were not aware of the change in plans.
The U.S. team was not expecting to encounter any militants and did not have heavy firepower or air support.
But the American and Nigerien forces ran into an ambush and were overwhelmed by some 50 fighters in a two-hour shootout in the village of Tongo Tongo.
The four Americans killed included Wright, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Sgt. La David Johnson. Two more Americans were wounded, and five Nigerien soldiers were killed.
“As a veteran myself, the fog of war is something that’s hard to unravel,” Will Wright said. “Having the details [from the military], it really helped put things in context.”
President Barack Obama sent the U.S. troops to Niger five years ago, and around 800 are believed to be in the country. The Americans are building a drone base, but do not have a large airfield for manned aircraft that could mount a rescue mission.
“We as a nation are involved in Africa, but it is not on our radar,” Will Wright said. ” Most Americans aren’t aware, they aren’t informed about the extent of our involvement in Africa.”
Niger and other African countries want U.S. training and expertise to deal with security threats, but they do not want a large, visible American presence.
Until the American deaths in Niger, the U.S. military presence there received little attention.
The New York Times reported that on Dec. 6, two months after the October ambush, another group of Green Berets and Nigerien forces killed 11 militants in a shootout. The U.S. military did not announce the fighting at the time. But the Times reported it last month, describing it as one of 10 previously undisclosed clashes in West Africa since 2015.
Trump Blames Iran For Tanker Attacks, Stoking Fears of Confrontation
DUBAI, June 14 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran on Friday for attacks on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf despite Tehran’s denials, stoking fears of a confrontation in the vital oil shipping route.
Iran has dismissed earlier U.S. charges that it was behind Thursday’s attacks that crippled two tankers and has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of globally consumed oil passes, if its oil exports were halted.
Thursday’s blasts followed a similar attacks a month earlier on four tankers, which Washington also blamed on Tehran.
Asked how he planned to address Tehran and prevent any further incidents, Trump told Fox News: “We’re going to see.”
He also said that any move to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which the world’s biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers ship crude, would not last long.
The U.S. military released a video on Thursday it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the blasts that struck the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, at the mouth of the Gulf.
Iran said it was being used as a “convenient” scapegoat.
Tehran and Washington have both said they have no interest in starting a war. But this has done little to assuage concerns that the two arch foes could stumble into a conflict.
Oil prices surged on Thursday, reflecting the jitters, although they have since given up some of those gains.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday the world could not afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region”.
China, the European Union and others have called for restraint from all sides. Germany said the U.S. video was not enough to apportion blame for Thursday’s attack.
The U.S. military said black-and-white footage it filmed from a U.S. aircraft showed Iran’s Guards on one of their patrol boats drawing up to the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine from its hull.
The Japanese-owned tanker, abandoned by its crew, was being towed to a port in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, after a Dutch firm said it had been appointed to salvage the ships.
The second tanker, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, which was set ablaze by a blast, was still languishing at sea, although the fire that had charred the hull had been put out.
Iranian-U.S. tensions ratcheted up after Trump pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Since then Washington has toughened its sanctions regime, force Iran’s oil customers to slash their imports.
Iran’s crude exports fell to about 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, starving Iran’s economy of its main source of revenues.
Washington has also blamed Iran or its proxies for attacks on May 12 that crippled four oil tankers in the same area. In addition, it has said Tehran was behind May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations. Tehran has denied the charges.
“These accusations are alarming,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, adding that blaming Iran for Thursday’s attacks was “convenient” for U.S. officials.
Tehran has said the United States and its regional allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were “warmongering” by making accusations against Iran.
The cause of Thursday’s blasts remains unclear. An initial report that Kokuka Courageous was struck by torpedo was dismissed by a source familiar the issue. The owner of the tanker that carried methanol later said it was hit by two “flying objects”.
A source has said a magnetic mine could have caused the explosion on Front Altair, which had a cargo of naphtha.
Iranian TV showed 23 crew in Iran believed to be from Front Altair on Friday, and said it experts would assess whether they could return to the ship. The crew from Kokuka Courageous were picked up and handed to a U.S. Navy ship on Thursday.
U.S. and European security officials cautioned against jumping to conclusions, leaving open the possibility that Iran’s proxies, or someone else, might be behind Thursday’s attacks.
Britain said it took the matter “extremely seriously” and, if Iran was involved, “it is a deeply unwise escalation”.
The Trump administration said in May it would send troops and other forces to the Middle East, citing Iranian threats, a move Tehran has called “psychological warfare”.
Pompeo said U.S. policy was to make economic and diplomatic efforts to bring Iran back to negotiations on a broader deal.
Thursday’s attack took place while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran with a message from Trump. Japan was a big Iranian oil importer until Trump stepped up sanctions.
But Iran dismissed Trump’s overture, details of which were not made public. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said.
In abandoning the nuclear deal, Trump said he wanted Iran to curb its nuclear work and development of missiles, as well as halt support for proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Analysts said Iran could have carried out the attacks in a bid to gain negotiating leverage.
“There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians,” said Jon Alterman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort to bolster Iranian diplomacy by creating a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk.”
New York Could Be The First State To Decriminalize Sex Work
New York is aiming to become the first state in America to fully decriminalize sex work via a new bill introduced this morning by legislators and activists from Decrim NY, a coalition of various organizations advocating for the rights of sex workers.
The bill, called Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, is sponsored by Democratic Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, as well as assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Yuh-Line Niou. It is the first statewide bill of its kind in the history of the United States and purposefully cites no reference to a specific gender in its language.
Currently, New York state law has over two dozen anti-prostitution penal codes. About half of them pertain only to sex work between consenting adults, while the other statutes focus on trafficking, exploitation of minors, and coercion in the sex trades.
This bill upholds the felony anti-trafficking statutes designed to punish traffickers as well as to protect minors, however it would repeal important sections in the penal code that prohibit prostitution and the criminalization of consenting adults.
Specifically, the bill would ensure that adults who are over 18 will not be criminalized for consensually selling or buying sex. However, it will still be a crime if a person is forced or intimidated into engaging in sex work.
Furthermore, friends and family who help to facilitate a consenting adult in the sex trade will no longer be committing a crime. (For example, if a friend drives someone to another location to sell sex, that friend will not be punished.) If passed, loitering will also be decriminalized, as well as the discriminatory police practices of arresting people based on their clothing, gender presentation, the neighborhood in which they’re in, and their use of the public space.
The bill also introduces several amendments, including an update to the definition of “advancing prostitution” so that young people between the ages of 17 and 21 are not criminalized for working together. This will particularly help LGBTQ youth in the state of New York, who are statistically more vulnerable to engaging in survival sex work.
According to data from the Urban Institute, queer youth in New York state partake in sex work at seven to eight times the rate of their straight peers. Despite the numbers, resources remain scarce and many urban cities fail to combat the rising numbers. In fact, the National Coalition for the Homeless states that despite the nearly 500,000 youth experiencing homelessness, there are only 4,000 shelter beds in the United States. Consequentially, many LGBTQ youth have no choice but to trade sex in exchange for basic needs like housing.
Furthermore, the bill will also add an option for sex workers to apply for criminal record relief for crimes they were previously convicted of that are repealed under this bill and no longer a crime.
“We want to bring sex workers out of the shadows,” Senator Ramos stated at a press conference. “When we decriminalize sex work, we will be taking a giant leap towards ending sex trafficking. We know that by giving sex workers agency, humanity, and acknowledging their existence, we’re empowering them to report violence against them. This is why we chose the decimrinaltzion model and not the models seen around the world. We want sex workers to support each other… Every worker has an inherent right to a safe work place, and we are here to affirm today that sex work is work.”
One study points to the disproportionate amount of trans people (specifically trans women of color) who engage in the sex trade.
According to a study called Meaningful Work, co-sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality, an overwhelming majority (69.3 percent) of sex workers reported experiencing an adverse job outcome in the traditional workforce, such as being denied a job or promotion or being fired because of their gender identity or expression (vs. 44.7 percent of non-sex workers). Those who lost a job due to anti-transgender bias were almost three times as likely to engage in the sex trade (19.9 percent vs. 7.7 percent).
Additionally, unemployment rates were dramatically higher for those who reported involvement in the sex trade (25.1 percent) compared to those who were not (12.4 percent).
Transgender sex workers were more than twice as likely to live in extreme poverty (under $10,000 per year) than those who hadn’t participated (30.8 percent vs. 13.3 percent) and were less likely to be higher income earners, only 22.1 percent reported household income over $50,000/year (compared to 43.4 percent of nonparticipants).
Sex workers living with HIV have the added weight of worrying about draconinan crime laws currently on the books in over 30 states that virtually equate HIV as being a weapon, making it a felony for someone who’s poz to engage in sexual acts without disclosing their status first. However, for many people of color who’ve fallen victim to these laws, it is highly unregulated and enforced by stigmatizing narratives that have made little movement since the time of the AIDS crisis.
If passed, the bill will make an enormous impact on the safety of sex workers in the state of New York. It could also lead the way for a other states and jurisdictions to also decriminalize sex work.
(Reporting By The Advocate)
Trump Meets Queen Elizabeth, Escalates Feud With London Mayor
LONDON (AP) — Mixing pageantry and political pugilism, President Donald Trump opened a state visit to Britain on Monday by drawing a smile from Queen Elizabeth II and stepping up a long-running feud with London’s anti-Trump mayor before his plane had touched down on English soil.
Trump and his wife, Melania, flew by helicopter to Buckingham Palace, landing on a lawn where Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, greeted them. They received a deafening royal gun salute as they walked to the palace where a waiting queen smiled at the president.
Those were the images sought by a White House eager to showcase Trump as a statesman while, back home, the race to replace him — and talk of impeaching him — heated up. Yet Trump, forever a counter-puncher, immediately roiled diplomatic docility by tearing into London Mayor Sadiq.
With the trip already at risk of being overshadowed by Brexit turmoil, Trump unleashed a Twitter tirade after a newspaper column in which Khan said Trump did not deserve red-carpet treatment and was “one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat” from the far-right to liberal democracy.
″@SadiqKhan, who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly “nasty” to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom,” Trump wrote just before landing. “He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me.”
The president added that Khan reminded him of the “terrible” leader of his hometown, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio though “only half his height.” De Blasio, a Democrat, is a longshot candidate in the 2020 presidential race. Khan supporters have previously accused Trump of being racist against London’s first Muslim mayor.
The president then added warm words for his hosts, tweeting that he looked forward “to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit.”
The agenda for Trump’s weeklong journey is mostly ceremonial: a state visit and audience with the queen, D-Day commemoration ceremonies on both sides of the English Channel and his first presidential visit to Ireland, which will include a stay at his coastal golf club.
During the palace welcome ceremony, Trump and Prince Charles inspected the Guard of Honor formed by the Grenadier Guards wearing the traditional bearskin hats. Royal gun salutes were fired from nearby Green Park and from the Tower of London as part of the pageantry accompanying an official state visit, one of the highest honors Britain can bestow on a foreign leader.
But the U.S. president arrived at a precarious moment. He faces a fresh round of impeachment fervor back home and uncertainty on the other side of the Atlantic. British Prime Minister Theresa May has faced months of political turmoil over Brexit and French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to use the 75th anniversary of the World War II battle that turned the tide on the Western Front to call for strengthening multinational ties the U.S. president has frayed.
A sense of deja vu quickly spread around London as Trump barreled into the visit.
A year ago, Trump also took aim at his hosts before landing on English soil, blasting May in an interview hours before she hosted him for dinner. Though he has spared May so far this time, he has praised her rival, prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson, just days before May steps down as Conservative leader on Friday for failing to secure a Brexit deal.
“I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent,” Trump told The Sun. “I like him. I have always liked him. I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person.”
It was not clear if the Trump endorsement would hurt or help Johnson’s chances of becoming prime minister. Trump said he may meet with Johnson this week.
Never shy about weighing in on other countries’ affairs, Trump also told the Sunday Times that Britain should “walk away” from Brexit talks and refuse to pay a 39 billion pound ($49 billion) divorce bill if it doesn’t get better terms from the European Union. He said he might meet with another pro-Brexit politician, Nigel Farage, and claimed Farage should be given a role in the Brexit negotiations.
After lunch with the queen, Trump was shown the collection at Buckingham Palace, where he inspected, among other items, an 18th-century map of New York, historic photos golf at St. Andrews and books about birds and George Washington.
He will be honored later Monday at an extravagant state dinner at the Palace. Demonstrators are expected, including the possible return of a balloon depicting the president as a baby.
Even some of the pageantry could produce awkward moments. The formal tea hosted by Prince Charles brings together a future king who has warned repeatedly about the perils of climate change and a president who is actively dismantling U.S. policies designed to slow global warming.
In an interview with The Sun, Trump weighed in on the American-born Duchess of Sussex. The former Meghan Markle, who gave birth to a son in May and will not attend the week’s events, was critical of Trump in the past, prompting the president to tell the tabloid, “I didn’t know that she was nasty.”
Trump said later he thought Markle would be “very good” as a royal and claimed he only meant her comments were “nasty.”
Trump will also make his first presidential visit to Ireland on Wednesday, spending two nights at his golf club in Doonbeg, which sits above the Atlantic. After Dublin balked at holding a meeting there, a deal was struck for Trump to meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the VIP lounge at Shannon Airport, hardly the grand setting usually afforded a meeting of world leaders.
The centerpiece of the president’s visit will be two days to mark the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day anniversary, likely the last significant commemoration most veterans of the battle will see. The anniversary events will begin in Portsmouth, England, where the invasion was launched, and then move to Normandy, France, where Allied forces began to recapture Western Europe from the Nazis.
The day is normally a heartfelt tribute to unity and sacrifice, outweighing any national or political skirmish. But some on both sides of the Atlantic are nervous about Trump, who has shown a willingness to inject partisanship into such moments.
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