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Reuters: Trump poised to settle for partial Afghan withdrawal, despite Pentagon shakeup

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Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali of Reuters have reported on Monday that, according to sources, President Donald Trump may settle for a partial withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.

An anonymous U.S. official told Reuters that the military was expecting formal orders in the coming days to go down to about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early next year from around 4,500 currently.

Another anonymous official, this time from NATO, reportedly also cited expectations of a 1,500 to 2,000 troop decline.

This comes one week after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. The president appointed other top Pentagon officials last week, Reuters said, after longstanding concerns that his priorities were not being dealt with urgently enough at the Defense Department.

According to Reuters, these concerns included the ambitious goal of ending the 19-year-old war in Afghanistan before Christmas. Those who oppose the longest war in the history of the U.S. were receptive this goal, but Trump’s critics have warned that completely pulling out troops could be reckless amid continuing violence from Taliban militants that has been disrupting Afghanistan.

An anonymous senior U.S. defense official told Reuters that Afghanistan has been featured in a number of introductory calls by Miller to U.S. allies’ defense ministers and chiefs of defense.

“It was a part of many of them because it is of great importance to our NATO allies, our allies in the region and also just global security and protecting the American homeland,” the unnamed official said.

But the official, speaking after the calls with allies, suggested to Reuters that Trump would not push a withdrawal faster than conditions on the ground allow.

Furthermore, U.S. and Afghan officials are concerned by the ongoing violence by Taliban insurgents and persistent Taliban links to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

Following the September 11th attacks in 2001 that al-Qaeda carried out, it was those ties between the two groups that triggered the initial U.S. military intervention in October 2001. Nearly 2,400 American troops and over a thousand coalition troops have died in fighting in Afghanistan since its start.

Some U.S. military officials, citing U.S. counter-terrorism priorities in Afghanistan, have privately urged Trump against going to zero at this point and want to keep U.S. troop levels at around 4,500 for now, per Reuters.

“The president has acted appropriately in this, has never said: ‘Hey, we’re going to zero. Let’s go tomorrow.’ It has always been a conditions-based effort and that effort continues,” the senior U.S. defense official said, without explicitly detailing future drawdown plans.

However, U.S. officials say Trump has yet to issue orders to carry that withdrawal out. On Monday the first U.S. official said to Reuters that the Pentagon had told commanders to start planning for the more moderate reduction to 2,500 troops.

Additionally, the aforementioned NATO official said to Reuters that the belief was the United States could soon announce a drawdown to 2,500 to 3,000 troops by Christmas.

NATO allies also in Afghanistan are very reliant on the U.S. for logistical support, which U.S. officials told Reuters would make a total withdrawal at this moment difficult for the U.S. military to execute.

Taliban militants have asked that Trump stick to an agreement made back in February that would see U.S. troops withdrawn by May 2021 as long as certain security guarantees are upheld.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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China

REPORT: China uses psychiatric institutions to suppress dissent

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China has a vast network of psychiatric institutions that it uses to suppress dissent, according to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, an NGO that focuses on human rights violations in China and other Asian countries. The report compiled data found on 99 victims involved in 144 instances on involuntary hospitalizations in 109 institutions from 2015 through 2021. Of the 99 victims in the report, 80 were petitioners [i.e., those who file complaints against officials] and 14 were activists.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. “China’s regime has been torturing, maiming, and killing dissidents and others in psychiatric facilities for seven decades,” said Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. “The only way to end the horrific abuse is to end the rule of the Communist Party.”

The report detailed especially harsh treatments, which include: forced medication (in 77 percent of cases), physical restraints on the bed (60 percent), beatings by staff or other patients (25 percent) and electroshock therapy (14 percent). Otherwise normally healthy people were given anti-psychotic and psychotropic medications, causing severe side effects like memory loss, insomnia and tremors. Electroshock therapy was often administered to the victims as they were fully conscious, rather than under anesthesia in small doses as would be clinically appropriate for certain patients.  According to the report, “[Electroshock therapy] without anesthesia is not only unimaginably painful and frightening for the patient but carries serious side effects, including the risk of bone fractures, joint dislocation, muscle tears, disruption of the heart beat and lung damage.”

Family and friends are often used as weapons against the victims. They were not permitted to call or visit the victims in 76 percent of cases, which essentially makes these cases “enforced disappearances.” 11 percent of cases were committed with the assistance of family (either voluntarily or coerced by authorities). Family and friends who petition for the victim’s release are often faced with persecution, and involuntarily commitment themselves.

The peak of psychiatric detentions occurred from 2015 through 2016, which was around the same time as China’s “709 Crackdown” where the government persecuted hundreds of human rights lawyers.

Some of the detentions are rather draconian. As a petitioner who called for local authorities to investigate a robbery in his house, Zeng Jiping was detained for almost two years. For “live tweeting herself splashing paint over a portrait of Xi Jinping,” Dong Yaoqiong received 1 year, 4 months detention. Twenty-nine out of the 99 victims in the report were hospitalized more than once. In two-thirds of cases where data was known, the authorities did not perform a psychiatric evaluation, in direct violation of China’s Mental Health Law.

The report also gives the example of Andy Li, a member of the “Hong Kong 12” pro-democracy protestors, as falling victim to involuntary detention in Hong Kong’ Siu Lam Psychiatric Center in 2021. The report noted that, as Li’s family didn’t know about his detention, “Li’s cases appears to be a worrying sign that the political abuse of psychiatry practiced on the mainland is now being exported into Hong Kong…”

Those who are finally released from their involuntary committals face lasting physical and phycological pain, and stigma within their communities. People seeking damages for their treatment are often faced with doctors and attorneys who do not want to assist them for fear of retaliation from the government.

Conclusion

According to the report, China is using “peace and health asylums” and other healthcare institutions to “punish and remove activists and petitioners from society without the trouble of going through a trial.” While the report details various Chinese laws that are supposed to protect citizens from such involuntary hospitalizations, in reality Chinese authorities do not abide by these laws and the citizens are not protected. The policy of involuntary hospitalizations show the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party will go to suppress dissent.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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