Trump to order troop reductions in Afghanistan and Iraq

The Trump administration is expected to cut the number of US troops in Afghanistan almost in half to 2,500 by January 15, an official has said.

The order would stop short of outgoing President Donald Trump’s goal to have all troops withdrawn by the end of the year, which had faced opposition from military and diplomatic advisers.

The Pentagon also expects to cut the number of troops in Iraq to 2,500, a reduction of more than 500. The decisions come as no surprise, following Mr Trump’s shake-up of the Pentagon leadership last week in which he installed loyalists who share his frustration with the continued troop presence in the war zones.

The cuts give Mr Trump an accomplishment in his final weeks in office even as he refuses to concede his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

The official said military leaders were told over the weekend about the planned withdrawals and an executive order is in the works but has not yet been delivered to commanders.

There are between 4,500-5,000 troops in Afghanistan now, and more than 3,000 in Iraq.

Under the planned order, the troop cuts would be completed just five days before Mr Biden takes office, leaving him with a smaller military footprint in the two key war zones.

Mr Trump’s new Pentagon chief, Christopher Miller, hinted at the troop withdrawals over the weekend in a carefully worded message to the force that suggested compromise.

He said that “we remain committed to finishing the war that al Qaida brought to our shores in 2001″. And he warned that “we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish”.

But he also made it clear that “all wars must end”.

“This fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous and many are weary of war – I’m one of them,” he said. “Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”

The accelerated withdrawal, however, goes against the long-standing advice from Mr Trump’s military leadership, including marine general Frank McKenzie, top US commander for the Middle East. But officials suggested this week that commanders will be able to live with the partial pull-out, which allows them to keep counter-terrorism troops in Afghanistan and gives more time to remove critical equipment.

Mr McKenzie and others have repeatedly argued that a hasty withdrawal could undercut negotiations to finalise ongoing peace negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of Afghan society, including the current Afghan government. And they also warn that US forces should remain in the country to keep militants from the so-called Islamic State in check.

Read More: Significant changes due to the Afghanistan locally employed staff ex-gratia scheme or ‘Afghan Interpreters Scheme’. 

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Categories: Afghanistan, Iraq, News, Troop reductions, Trump administration, US Troops

Rise in home working could lead to increase in prejudice, researchers warn

Increased home working and fewer opportunities to socialise during the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to make society less tolerant of diversity, a report warns.

Reduced access to workplaces, leisure centres and other communal facilities is likely to make it much harder to form friendships that break down prejudices, the Woolf Institute said.

Without alternative opportunities for social mixing, its researchers believe this will lead directly to an increase in prejudice.

The research centre, based in Cambridge, is launching the results of a two-year study, which saw 11,701 adults surveyed about their attitudes towards diversity in England and Wales.

The report, How We Get Along, suggests that there is an emerging consensus that diversity is a positive thing, but that change has occurred too quickly.

More than half (53%) agree that ethnic diversity is good for society, 46% believe the same of migrants and 41% believe the same of religious diversity.

However, 60% of respondents said they feel the number of migrants in Britain has risen too quickly over the past decade, half believe ethnic diversity has increased too quickly and 43% believe the same of religious diversity.

The findings also suggests that negative beliefs about religions such as Islam continue to be widely held.

Religious prejudice, particularly towards Muslims, is the “final frontier” for diversity as people still appear willing to express negative attitudes.

The report authors are concerned that Covid-19 will make people become less tolerant, as it reduces their opportunities to make friends outside of their ethnic, religious or national groups.

Workplaces provide opportunities to create “shared goals, break down stereotypes and foster positive attitudes”, with the report finding that those without work are twice as likely to have no friends outside their own ethnicity, nationality and religion.

Dr Ed Kessler, founder director of the Woolf Institute, said: “As people are forced to work from home during Covid, there is a risk that they go back into isolated silos.

“Creating new opportunities for friendships should be a key ingredient of public policy.”

While overall trends are positive, attitudes towards religious diversity were markedly less so, suggesting religion is a “red line” for many people in England and Wales.

The polling found less than half (44%) of people would be comfortable with a close relative marrying a Muslim.

This compares to around seven in 10 respondents feeling comfortable with a loved one marrying an Asian or black person.

However, the data also suggest that a majority of Muslims had the same negative marriage attitudes towards Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Sikh people and those of no faith.

Dr Hargreaves said: “The good news is that there is a strong consensus in our findings that diversity is good for our country, whether we look at ethnicity, migration or religion. It is, however, also clear that, of these three forms of diversity, acceptance of religious diversity lags significantly behind.

“Being Muslim, in particular, appears to remain a “trigger” for prejudice, making religion a ‘final frontier’ for prejudice in England and Wales.”

Overall, women, younger people, Remain, Labour and Liberal Democrat voters appear to be more positive towards ethnic and religious diversity in Britain.

People living in more ethnically and religiously diverse communities were more likely to hold negative attitudes.

Remain, Labour and Liberal Democrat voters showed more positive attitudes towards migrants in Britain.

Attitudes towards migrants were more negative everywhere outside of London except for the south east, which the authors said may be a “regrettable bad news story from the provinces” for multicultural Londoners.

People in the North West were the least likely to have ethnically diverse friendships, and were 54% more likely than Londoners to only have friends from the same ethnic background.

Those in the North East were the least likely to have any non-British friends, and were two-and-a-half times as likely as Londoners to only be friends with British people.

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Categories: Corona Virus, Diversity, Faiths, Home Working, marriage, Muslim, News, prejudice